Monday, June 7, 2010

Brothers Keepers

You may think me a busy body, a pushy mother or a special educator who can't give it a rest but I have given my two sons assignments this year. The first assignment was Jonathan's. I noticed that each Sunday a kind and even sheepish father followed his son up to the front of the church for the children's message. I wondered why. I noticed that his son was a little lost in the crowd and was rather unpredictable in his response to the other children, the candles, the instruments, the speakers and the microphone. So, Dad (all six feet of him) faithfully sat with him on the floor to help him attend. I leaned over to Jonathan one Sunday and said "Do you see that little boy. He is having a hard time knowing what to do and his Dad is trying to teach him. You know, it would be a lot easier for him if he had a friend to show him, someone who is slightly older and gentle. And you both have red hair. I think it should be you." "Me?" said Jon,"Oh no. I'm too old to go up there. Everyone will wonder what I'm doing." "How do you think his dad feels?" said the persistant educator. "I'd really like you to serve this family by being a friend to that little boy. His name is Josh."

So, we asked the family if they would like Jonathan to sit with their son as a peer tutor, so to speak. They were happy to have the help. Their son was diagnosed with autistic tendencies so the struggle in church is only part of the total struggle for this family. Week after week, Jon would meet Josh up front, sit with him on the floor, and try to help him notice the important things to do. It was a challenge at first. In fact, one week, Jon was too embarassed to go so I asked Daniel to go (nice mom, right?). But, two weeks ago was the last time that Jon would be Josh's helper. Josh's dad is in the Marines. Every few years, they move. This is true for a number of families in our church. I marvel at their patience and their sacrifice for their country. But imagine the stress on young Joshua. For people with autism, life is stressful and unpredictable regardless of frequent relocations. I'd like to think that maybe Jon helped Joshua get a little more comfortable with church. I'd like to think that our family blessed Joshua's. But it doesn't really matter...Joshua blessed Jonathan. He taught him how to step outside of himself in love by being his brother's keeper.

Next assignment: Daniel. I leaned over to him one Sunday, too. "Daniel, do you see Josh sitting there by himself (a 14-year old boy with Down's Syndrome)? Do you notice that he's only interacting with babies and with their parents? I'll bet he doesn't feel safe with others and doesn't know how to risk interacting with them. Do you see how he's oblivious to the worship service, just staying quiet and out of trouble? He's not really worshipping at all. He's not singing with us, or standing with us. I'll bet if he had a friend who cared about him, someone his exact age, it would do wonders for him. And you are the same age, I think it should be you." "No. No. Not happening. He won't listen to me. " Conversation dropped, for the moment.

We talked again in the van. And again in the house. "Okay, okay. I'll do it. But what should I do?" "Well," said the special educator, "I know that he can copy and I know that he can read a little. Why don't you teach him how to take notes during the sermon like you do?" "Okay," said the obedient son. So, I talked to the other Josh's mom. She was thrilled to have some help, too. Off we went to Ross' (Bargain priced finds on the island) to find two matching journals. Leather bound. Gold edges. Good deal.

Next Sunday morning Josh's mom told him that she wanted him to sit with Daniel. "No, gestured Josh. " Daniel showed Josh the journals. Josh shook his head "no" and went to sit near the twin babies and the nice parents who talked with him every week. We shuffled and maneuvered so that Daniel could be near Josh and start writing in the journal. I leaned over and told Josh to copy what Daniel was writing in his own book using that irresistable educator voice. And every Sunday since, Daniel and Josh sit together while Daniel writes notes in his book for Josh to copy in his. Josh has written the Doxology and the Gloria Patri and is now able to point to each word as it is sung while he stands with the rest of the congregation. No longer just staying quiet and out of trouble, he's part of the Body of Christ : the part that teaches others to be their brother's keepers.

I am thankful that both of my boys accepted their assignments. By walking a mile with these boys, they learned a great deal about themselves and about loving others. I am thankful too, for the Body of Christ here, who lovingly accepted both Joshuas. Many, many families of children with disabilities struggle to find a church that will accept them. I know of one family who was asked to leave the church because their children were so disruptive. Like Cain, that church was not their brother's keepers.

"The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. " 1 Corinthians 12:22-27


  1. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. You inspire me! *;)

  2. Oh my goodness! I just love to read your posts!!! You sure are missed... xoxo