What Gift Can I Bring?
Posted on December 9, 2015
by Vangie Rodenbeck, Executive Director of PURE Ministries
For as long as I can remember now, awkwardness has been the hallmark of our holiday season. As relatives search for gift ideas, they soon realize that we haven’t developed new interests in years. This means that many things we are still interested in just aren’t available in stores any longer. It also seems to embarrass and sadden them to purchase a gift for 15-year-old boy that is really developmentally appropriate for a 10 year old.
We haven’t been invited to many parties in recent years, but when we were it was pretty much a disaster. If there was food available that our child with a disability could eat, then it was finding a place he could feed himself without attracting too much attention to the fact that his table manners were atrocious – as my family of origin loved to remark on during holiday dinners.
Church services can be complicated – especially if there is a concert or musical performance where we are doing something “new” or “innovative” this year. We’ve actually found that the liturgical Christmas Eve service is our best bet because it varies so little from year to year. That seems to be a great comfort to the soul affected by autism.
These challenges make us awkward. I don’t have any hard feelings toward anyone this reality, but I have come to realize that there are a few really simple gifts that anyone can give and extend to families like ours that will speak into their lives in ways more meaningful that a party invitation or well executed dinner could ever accomplish.
The Gift of Presence
Our life is very lonely. We may not be able to attend a party or dinner for very practical reasons, but could you bring a small party to us. By small I mean maybe just 2 or 3 of you stopping by with my favorite candy or wearing the ugly Christmas sweaters you all wore to that party I couldn’t go to. Your presence would mean more to me that the invitation ever would.
The Gift of Welcome
Knowing that the world is slowly changing into a place where people like my son can be acknowledged for their gifts, talents and abilities is a comfort. However, the world is not changing fast enough for us to reap much of the benefits. It will change faster if you begin intentionally creating a culture of welcome for us. I say intentionally because without that purposeful intent of thinking through what people with a disability might need to get through an event, we won’t be able to come. Just saying, “Of course they are welcome here” isn’t enough to help us.
The truth is, we really have a lot to offer. We can bring a lot to your community. When you welcome us, frame your thinking like Christine Pohl when she writes
If, when we open the door, we are oriented toward seeing Jesus in the guest, then we welcome that person with some sense that God is already at work in his or her life. This can fundamentally change our perspective and our sense of the dimensions of the relationship. We are more sensitive to what the guest is bringing to us, to what God might be saying or doing through her or him. Christine Pohl, Making Room
The Gift of Understanding
Of course, if we do happen to make it to a special event, we will probably have some kind of episode or meltdown and have to leave early. Help us by providing us with a quick exit if we need it. Pack us some food if we didn’t get to eat at the event and PLEASE call us the next day. We are embarrassed and feel more isolated than ever. Let us know that you understand what it is like to feel like you have failed because you can understand that – even if you can’t understand what it is like to have a child or loved one with a disability.
The Gift of Joy
Remind us that our child or loved one with a disability brings joy to our community. Tell us that we are valuable. Repeat for us the story of one born so long ago in a manger that also did not look so wonderful or powerful or beautiful or productive. Proclaim that the hope of Advent is a hope for us too, that Jesus came to provide restoration for us in a world that sees only our limitations and not our abilities.
These gifts will cost you very little but, for us, will be worth everything.