Special Needs Parents: Finding your Mission Field

Monday, January 2, 2017

Standing in the hall entrance to the NICU, John and I were praying and then conversing with our pastor.  He had stopped by just to be with us, pray with us, and check on Alli.  I'm not sure how old she was at the time, but she had to be several months old, with still a very long and heavy journey left to finish between those very walls.  

Our Pastor was stressing the need for John to get on a plane that very weekend for Uganda. I remember him saying, "you have to get on the mission field.  You need to put your feet on that dirt."  I just knew John was going so I held back tears, frustration, and a tinge of jealousy.  

One of my first real world memories of missionaries was during World Visions  30-Hour famine my church youth group participated in when I was in high school.  I believe the famine is meant to raise money and awareness for world hunger and World Visions mission, but my take away was not on the people in need, but in the people who went.  I became intrigued with missionaries and longed to have that desire and confidence to go be the hands and feet of Jesus.  This was long before I realized there are mission fields in our very homes, back yards, and communities.  

Our home church in Tennessee had a humanitarian effort called The Lord's Child.  While we were involved in the local efforts of the Appalachia region, I dreamed of teaching in an orphanage in Uganda.  I sometimes still do.  As we stood in that hallway of the NICU, our child still very much fighting for her life, I just knew John was getting on that plane.  While it wasn't necessarily the right time, it was an incredible opportunity for him to go.  And while I know he wrestled in his spirit and I wrestled in mine, I was thankful when he said no.

We were already standing in our mission field.  

A year or so later, sitting cross legged in our living room floor John spoke of a conversation he had had earlier that day at church.  The gentleman had said, "don't let time and circumstances steal your testimony." I let those words sink in deep, because I wasn't about to let that happen to us. But time and circumstances do have their way.

In March of 2011 God placed a burden so abundantly clear on our hearts for the need of a NICU support group in our hospital.  With broken hearts, shattered dreams of a healthy take home baby, but tons of hope we created the Saving Grace Project.  Progress was slow and support from hospital administration was next to nothing.  But with every parent connection, we knew this was a needed ministry.  Connection and hope, especially during a traumatic experience, are like a balm of God's love soothing those dried cracked wounds.  Those connections we were making were food for the soul to these families.  And to us.  

Healing was taking place.

Hope was alive.

We left Tennessee in August 2013 and I've spent the better part of our time here in Missouri feeling like I was a hamster on a wheel.  True story.  And it's all because I have struggled with my identity in kingdom work. 

Prior to our move, I had a confidence in that work.  I was building a Christian based non-profit support for NICU families, I was speaking at various events and churches, we were both on leadership with our church, and I was planning on writing a book.  I had found what I thought was my mission field and then it was gone with a single move and a set of circumstances.

And with it, my identity in kingdom work.

But here's the thing I learned in 2016.  We tend to make it too hard.  Or is that just me?  I don't believe I'm alone here so hear me out.

The last 3.5 years my spirit stirred and wanted more because I didn't think I was being used.  Because I no longer had a non-profit, because I wasn't speaking, because that book wasn't being written, I didn't think I was being used.

But I was being used.  And so are you.   

Every time we sit in a waiting room, every ambulance ride, at the doctor's office, every hospital admission, the therapist's office, every special need parent we encounter in person or online is our mission field.  

Stand in the middle of your world right now and take a look around.  Your very own mission field surrounds you and while it's not Africa it is a battleground full of hurting, tired, and hopeless people.  Jesus would be right up in the middle of these people, I feel certain.  

Because caring for a special needs child provides a unique set of responsibilities that parents of typical children miss.  We spend draining hours on the phone with doctors and battling insurance companies.  We drive back and forth to hospitals, clinics, therapists office.  We hold them during seizures, as they wake from anesthesia, and some of us have even performed CPR on our children, multiple times.  We agonize over calories put in and spend more time on our knees cleaning up vomit and feeding tube mishaps than we probably do in prayer if I'm being honest.  

The hurting, the hopeless, the bruised, the battered, the scared, the worn.

 I think of so many missed opportunities because I was thinking too big and God just wanted me to be still and take a look around.  He could have handed me a mission field on a silver platter, but He just wanted me to go where I was already going.  He wanted me to see the weary Moms, Dads, and caregivers all around me.  The weary siblings.  To see that nearly 90% of people with disabilities are unchurched and that 4 out of 5 marriages that have a disabled child end in divorce.

My very own marriage was almost one of them.  

If that's not a mission field, I don't know what is.  

Of all the miracles Jesus performed in the Gospels, a good portion were done for people with physical needs. There is no doubt that Jesus ministered to the lame, mute, blind, and sick — the disabled. 

As his followers, we’re called to do the same.  And I don't think for two seconds that excludes their parents. The healing ministry of Jesus was motivated by compassion.

We can follow the example of Christ and be the peace and light in those waiting rooms, be the compassion in those school circles, and in those community support groups (online or in person) that someone so desperately needs.  Special needs parents have a leg up more so than anyone else on the planet because we already know the language.  We know the fear that comes from walking through the NICU doors for the first time or after the doctor calls you in.  We already know the feeling of hopelessness and grief that comes with a new diagnosis and how isolating this journey can get.  We already know what trauma feels like and that PTSD is real and can greatly effect special needs parents.  But we also know that there will come a time where God heals our wounds and uses that pain to bring others hope.  

 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too." 
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

We don't have to be an expert in any particular disability, we just need to follow the author of compassion and learn to be an expert in empathy.  

And we just need to take a look around.

My favorite new quote that I will be printing out to put in a place I can see every.single.day.




  1. Oh Jackie, your words are true and good and such balm for my weary soul this morning. Thank you. I'm grateful to walk this alongside you, even if it is from a distance.

    1. Oh Erika! So thankful they were a balm for you! And how crazy that I messaged you this morning?! Wow, just wow!


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