The day our newly-adopted daughter was placed in our arms, a million thoughts ran through my mind.
We had traveled around the world to China to bring her home. We had spent months filling out paperwork to make her our own.
Now that she was ours, I had so many doubts about her future and my own abilities to parent her because of developmental delays. But not once did I think, How will she be accepted at church?
WHAT WOULD PEOPLE THINK?
The church has always been a big part of my life. I’ve attended church three times a week since I was born. Sunday mornings, my parents would pack us in the minivan and travel down the road at 8:30 to church. I’ve served in church since I was 14.
But now that the time had come to take our sweet daughter to church, I worried: What would people think?
They had seen pictures of our new daughter on social media, but this wasn’t like bringing a new baby to the nursery. She was 2. Although she was a “toddler,” she could barely crawl and still drank from a bottle due to her delays.
We first brought her to a Sunday night service and they loved her. Right away our church loved her because they loved us. Our congregation is small. We don’t have very many children with special needs in our church, and there are no other children with needs like our daughter.
Why was I surprised when the church loved our little girl? Isn’t the church made to love others, especially the weak?
THE CHURCH WAS MADE TO LOVE
God loved us and sent his Son to die for us, even when we were different: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
It should not have surprised me when we were given grace by our church family. People are human and fallen, but followers of Jesus are different.
When I go out with my daughter, strangers in the store, though sympathetic and kind, look on her with pity. When I go to church with my daughter, members look at her with smiles and greet her with joy. Here she always has several people who run up to say “hi” and hug her. Her teachers love her, and when she smiles at them, they radiate joy. There is no pity for her at church, only love.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize this is not the norm.
SPECIAL NEEDS FAMILIES’ DIFFICULTIES WITH CHURCH
I’ve known many adoptive parents with special needs kids to switch churches because God’s people didn’t know how to “handle” the children. It breaks my heart to think we, as a church, are sometimes failing these families with special needs children.
As I walked into the adoption world, I also unknowingly walked into a world with a wide range of special needs. I came to realize that parents with children who struggle with fitting in, social cues, physical limitations, and overall developmental delays are having difficult times in church. Time and time again, my heart has broken as I’ve seen parents stop coming to church, avoiding church activities, and staying home because it’s easier.
This shouldn’t be the case. The church should be rooting for families with special needs. The church should exude love, kindness, and compassion. The church should have a servant-hearted attitude to care for others.
By the grace of God, many churches get this and are working hard to make sure those with special needs like my daughter are well cared for. My church is one of them.
THE BLESSING OF CHURCHES THAT SERVE SPECIAL NEEDS FAMILIES
While I too feel the pull to stay home at times, I strive to make going to church a priority in our family. Because of my husband’s job, I attend church with our five children by myself every other week.
I praise God that church is a place of rest for our whole family. All children are welcome there, and even my daughter who walks a little different and doesn’t talk is welcome to learn about Jesus. When I finally sit by myself in the pew, I let out a sigh. I don’t have to worry about her or whether I’ll be called to get her in the middle of the service.
When I was drowning in sorrow over her special needs, the church wrapped their arms around her and loved her unconditionally from the start. They accepted her with her special needs. It wasn’t a burden to them. She was treated like the blessing she is from the very beginning. She has worth to the heavenly Father, so she has worth at church.
This year our family has had the opportunity to visit other churches as part of our ministry. We have yet to enter a church where we didn’t feel welcome. Praise God the church people we’ve met have been so incredibly kind and accommodating for us and our sweet girl!
DON’T STAY HOME
If you are a family with someone who is “hard to handle” or different, please don’t stay away from the body of Christ. Keep going to church.
It’s hard. I get it. I really do.
Take a step of faith and know the church is for you. You might have to try a few church bodies, but you will find one that welcomes your family. Your family is worth the effort, and your child with special needs is worth it as well.
Every child, even those with disabilities, will live forever. And they matter. My daughter matters, and she gives me hope as a special-needs mom. Hope in the eternal. Hope in a God who looks at the heart.
If my daughter’s ability to run determines her worth, she is sadly lacking. If my daughter’s ability to talk is what gives her life merit, she is incomplete. If my daughter’s physical abilities are a reflection of her worth, she is not enough.
But if value is placed on her ability to feel and give love, she measures up. If worthiness is based on her soul, she is eternally cherished. Even if she never gets a job or speaks a word, she is still worthy.
EVERY CHURCH A SPECIAL NEEDS CHURCH
May our churches see these children as blessings instead of burdens. May every church be a special needs church.
The sacrifice of comfort for a few hours a week is worth it because these children have souls and God loves them.
Are they more difficult to handle? To teach? To manage? Yes.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Sarah Frazer is a writer and Bible study mentor at sarahefrazer.com. She is the wife of Jason and mother of five. She serves in her local church and holds in-home Bible studies. She and her husband are on deputation to become full-time missionaries to Honduras. Sarah is also an author of three self-published Bible studies for women. She shares tools for deep-rooted Bible study at sarahefrazer.com.