Whose Lead Will You Follow in 2015?

What will be your resolution for this new year?  2015 is here and many of us will be setting fresh goals.

Is it reasonable to set resolutions for our loved ones with special needs?

As our now 28 year old son was growing up, I looked upon the New Year as just the start of another 12 months of setting goals and trying to help him to accomplish at least one thing that he could do well.  It wasn’t until I allowed the Lord to work that the accomplishments came.  Praying for that first sentence or making it to the bathroom without an accident. Seemingly typical milestones of development, but so much more rewarding for us who had worked so hard and waited so long for them to be achieved.

You see, I was the one trying to make the goals instead of my son.
I could help him learn.  After all I am his mother and no one knows him better.
Really?!  I know him better than the One who created him?!

Giving up my son totally to the Lord has been the greatest goal that I have achieved, and it is a continual goal that I need to work on in order for him to reach his full potential. Though I am his biggest advocate and supporter, I can be an unintentional barrier for him for I may not always be able to perceive all that he is capable of.

God has always protected my special child and has taught me that I need only trust his path and to lean not unto my understanding.

Allowing God to lead their path should be the goal of everyone.  Whether or not you are the parent of a child with a disability or a typically developing child, a single adult, or someone going through a rough patch with the struggles of life, remember God has a plan for you.  My prayer for you in 2015 is that you walk the path with God beside you.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
~Proverbs 3: 5-6

Carmen Shank lives with her husband, Murray and son, Andrew,
in Temple Terrace, Florida.



Great Expectations

Belief. Trust. Confidence. Anticipation. These are words that come to my mind when I think of how the Lord will work through The One Roof Initiative in 2015. How can I not be excited and expectant of a blessed, productive year when His hand has already been so evident in this young ministry?!

2014 closes with many examples of God’s providential hand at work within The One Roof… a fully funded, first rate website designed and launched with enough capacity to be a rich resource hub for the disability community. Our first training and equipping of churches in adaptive ministry this past November made evident to us that we have the elements of an exciting, effective and novel model that will help houses of worship confidently and creatively welcome those living with disability and their families.

The One Roof has been financially blessed in abundance this year by people from all over the Tampa Bay region who recognize the need for such a ministry and it’s potential. Our mission is broad and to have the practical resources ensuring a foundation of excellence to execute this mission is essential.

Our 2015 initiatives include continuing to deliver workshops that are committed to excellence in equipping churches in the varied aspects of disability ministry. We endeavor to develop a “compassion hotline” to address the emotional impact of parents and caregivers receiving an initial diagnosis of a disability a child or loved one. The continuing development of a relevant and rich resource database to help provide practical information to the community is integral in this coming year’s plans. Research and networking within the faith and secular communities will be vital next year as we lay the foundation for larger anticipated projects to be realized beyond 2015 which include establishing camping opportunities for adults with disabilities on Florida’s west coast and a residential living experience.

 “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” Ephesians 3: 20. The One Roof’s initiatives are ambitious, but we have a God whose provisions and power are limitless. We can move confidently into 2015 with the tasks that have been placed on our hearts and we are free to imagine more for we have a Savior whose capabilities are not defined or confined by earthly standards of measure.

The power of Jesus noted in the Ephesians passage is not intended only for ministries with expansive plans, but is available to you and I, individually. Jesus strengthens and sustains. He guards and guides. He is boundless in His compassion.

As we move into a new year, resolve to strengthen or forge a relationship with the Lord. When you do, you can be confident in the expectation that the blessing from that decision will be great.

Happy New Year!

Be blessed,

Sally DePalma


Journey of Changing Attitudes

If you have opened this Facebook page, you are traveler among people impacted by disability. The One Roof Initiative welcomes fellow travelers on the journey!

A new GPS for that journey is “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes,” developed by Dan Vander Plaats of Elim Christian Services. I’d like to introduce you to some people who have helped my attitude change. If you and your congregation are on this journey I hope you’ll find this new GPS helpful. And you may find the Holy Spirit “recalculating” your route.

Stage 1 – Lack of Knowledge about people impacted by disabilities

I began the journey 13 years ago when God led two families with teens with disabilities to North Lakeland Presbyterian Church. One of the parents, Cindy, opened my eyes when she said, “No one before has asked what my child needs to worship and learn. There are so many people who have given up on the church because there is no place for their children.”

Stage 2 – Pity

During volunteer training “Walter” asked, “Can’t doctors do anything to fix ‘Bobby’?” Walter began helping out of pity. He learned that Bobby had been created in God’s image and didn’t need “fixing.” I learned that Bobby had transformed Walter’s attitude toward people with disabilities.

Stage 3- Care

We began reaching out to the disabilities community by offering Friendship Class for adults with intellectual disabilities and then a monthly respite for families, Buddy Break.* The congregation happily supported showing God’s love to both groups. “Sharon” volunteered as a Buddy because her grandchild in another state has a disability and she wanted to help these families.

Stage 4 – Friendship

The unexpected blessing from Buddy Break is that the children, families, and volunteer Buddies have become a community. We see what “Julia” has in common with many children: Julia loves to play dress-up and draw pictures. When Julia hears the songs from “Frozen” she lights up. We see her individuality rather than disability.

Stage 5 – Co-Laborers serving alongside each other

The group of adults who began as the Friendship Class are now the Friendship Community. Adults who began as teachers and students are now friends. “William” helps with yard work for senior citizens. The Friendship Community is preparing ornaments for the church bazaar. They will use the money to buy food and Christmas gifts for a family in need. As “Leslie” leaves worship, people greet her by name. They know her as an individual rather than “the woman in the wheelchair.” Leslie’s love of music enriches the worship of all around her.

I’m grateful for the way my friends have helped my attitude move through the 5 Stages to develop Bright Threads Ministries.

“Each person is a bright thread created in God’s image. Bright Threads Ministries supports families and churches by drawing people from the margins into the beautiful, surprising pattern that God is weaving with all of us!”

Discover more about The 5 Stages through Friendship Ministries’ new series of blogposts to help churches move along the journey of changing attitudes: http://friendship.org/blog . Dan Quist reminds us:

Try not to make assumptions.

Try to get to know people.

Try to see them as children of God.

Because they are, and as such, they have a purpose in His kingdom.

Dr. Evelyn Worth McMullen is Director of Bright Threads Ministries in Lakeland, FL. You can contact her at evelyn@brightthreadsministries.org

*Buddy Break is a respite ministry offered by churches nationwide through Nathaniel’s Hope of Orlando, FL.   http://www.nathanielshope.org/

Thankful for My Normal

This is the season to reflect on the things we are thankful for. As a parent of a teen on the autism spectrum, more specifically Asperger’s, I can look back to her younger years and thank God that we have made it 17 years working together to manage autism. Things are not perfect. Teenage years and beyond is a whole other set of ups and downs. However I am extremely thankful for my family, my church family, teachers and volunteers who have worked with our daughter, who have stuck by us all these years and continue to bless our lives.

We haven’t always seen the light in the dark times or how God was moving. It is truly hard beyond measure to see the positive in some situations. I am sure that many of you reading this will understand.

“The holidays are here, are you ready?” This question used to bring out the cranky “Mama Bear” within me. I would say to myself, “If only people knew how long and what we had to go through to prepare ourselves and our child to attend holiday dinners and gatherings!” I will be honest; when our child was younger there was a mixed bag of emotions about the holidays. At times, I hated the holidays.

Gearing up for Thanksgiving was like getting ready for boot camp. Getting clothes ready and on, which had to be washed several times in order to make them soft enough to wear, was part of the routine. All tags had to be removed. Lord help us if something was itchy! As a mom you want to have your child in a festive outfit, looking cute. Sometimes sweats, shorts, and leggings, or even pajamas, are all we could get her to wear. We had to pick our battles in order to be part of the great life that was going on around us. Lesson learned. We knew there were more lessons in store.

My daughter’s anxiety and need to ask and process the upcoming event was a constant every day, sometimes every minute, discussion. We also knew that after a large gathering, with the activity of clip/clopping holiday shoes, dishes clattering or blaring TV’s and the treachery of the touch of hugs, which had to be avoided at all costs, she would withdraw from everything for a couple days. We learned later that this was her brain and body’s way of processing everything.

As parents of a child who was more sensitive than most, I dreaded the questions from friends and relatives we hadn’t seen in a while, such as, “Oh, hasn’t she gotten over this yet?”, “Have you tried cod liver oil” or “I heard there was a cure”.

My skin would crawl and I would talk to God in my mind about each person saying something well intentioned, yet unwittingly hurtful to me. I would feel shameful for wanting to leave the table, watching my child fidget, make weird food selections, and paying no attention to the people wanting to interact or play with her. Many times I wanted to make a hasty exit … too many to count! I would escape to the bathroom while a relative would entertain our child with a book (books were and still are her comfort item).

I would pray daily, sometimes every minute, to God for strength to help us handle this beautiful child, to help me teach her how to live with autism and for everyone in our lives to understand it the best they can.

God was moving back then as he always is. As hard and scary as some days and nights had become, prayer, faith and reaching out to family and friends to let them into our world and to explain, teach and let others see what autism was and is, is vital to our survival and coping as a family.

By embracing our faith and understanding that God never gives up on his children, including my husband and I, we knew we could never give up on our child. Our daughter is now a successful 17 year old junior in high school with her sights set on college.

God knows what he is doing. God continues to keep a village of people throughout our lives to not walk in front of us as parents and take over, but beside us like angels on earth holding us and helping us through life as a community.

He has also taught us to stop comparing our child with others expectations and to embrace our family the way it is. We are thankful for our normal.

Becca Townsend lives with her husband and daughter in

St. Petersburg, Florida

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Enough for Today

Friends of One Roof,
A few years back, a former church member, who had become a good friend found herself in a difficult place. Her situation was that she was half of a loving and supportive couple, who were blessed with two children; one with autism and the other without. Her struggle was that she had come to the place where she no longer wanted to hear how “special” she was as a parent. She was having a hard time believing what she had been told so many times, “special parents are the ones given special needs children.” In short, the ongoing issues of dealing daily with her daughter’s condition, had left her feeling less than special.

In the midst of her struggle we had a conversation.
Afterwards, I was prompted (I believe by the Holy Spirit) to share some thoughts in a letter. I hope some of them will be a help to you too.

Not to demean the comments of a friend seeking to bring comfort, but God tells us over and over again “that His ways are not our ways.” To me, that means even if I knew what the answer was I perhaps won’t understand why it is the way it is. He also tells us that His ways will at times be baffling to us. A belief that you are exactly equipped and therefore “given” a special needs child, for her benefit and God’s glory leads us to a tough spot when we encounter parents that are wholly unequipped to deal with or bless the challenging child that they’ve been given. Are there people especially equipped for cancer and God is dropping that on them? It pushes out the frame on that “loving God” identity for me…

Are there parents out there especially and uniquely equipped to deal with their teen meth addict child. That’s not a line that I hear too often.I believe that God enables us as much as we are willing to be equipped for the overwhelming daily situations that come our way.I don’t believe that God always equips us for what’s coming on the front end. I believe there are people who are always seeking God and His will in their lives and they become equipped for moments both great and small, long-term and short-term because they desire to be, long to be…

As for the issue of “failing” always remember that the bar for parents, spouses, pharmacists, pastors, etc. isn’t set in a vacuum. The bar for us is set by the God that loves us. God didn’t come up with the true statement, “my grace is sufficient”
in case we might need it. God’s grace is sufficient because I will need it.
I will need it today. I will need it on lots of fronts…

Don’t doubt for a moment that you are uniquely designed to be (her) parent – but it is in some ways because you choose to be. The blueprint of what it takes to be (her) mom is one that is changing. That’s why architects and contractors are always submitting change orders when a structure is being built. The change order isn’t, “We’re going to use marshmallows over here instead of cinder blocks.”  People seeking God use His Word as their unchanging foundation but how it is applied shifts. There are lots of people out there who are chosen by God to be something and then go and choose to be something else. My admonition to you is to choose to engage being (her) Mom.
It’s the best thing that you can be and when we seek to be the best thing we can be
for God “His grace is sufficient.”

I share these thoughts from that letter to my friend, with the knowledge that all of us have been there. Whether it is parenting, marriage, or vocation, we all find ourselves inadequate to the task and unwilling to hear other people’s uplifting attempts as the answer to our questions. I do believe, “God’s grace is sufficient.” That’s the promise for every day. I hope it is what you need to hear today.
Keep going and never quit!

~Brian James, Senior Pastor
Port Charlotte United Methodist Church
Port Charlotte, Florida

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The Complete Church

Merriam-Webster defines complete as having all necessary parts; not lacking anything. 
There are “complete” guides for almost any topic imaginable. Medical care can be referred to as complete. Even our auto care is advertised as complete.

It would be unexpected to see “complete” on a church’s street sign… First Complete Baptist Church 
is not likely to be down the street from the Complete Zion Lutheran Church.

What is a “complete” church? Would it have every element of worship that you prefer, 
such as your favorite music in a traditional or contemporary format offered at multiple times? 
Host great potluck dinners each week? Has an energizing, empathetic and engaging pastor 
with dynamic youth programming?

Scripture defines the complete Church as one where all belong and are accepted, “Just as a body, 
though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (I Cor. 12:12). 
This verse, extracted from the longer passage in I Corinthians, extols the value and need of each 
and every person in the Kingdom of Christ. The Church cannot function to its fullest if all of its parts, 
people, are not part of it.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2010, nearly 20% of Americans are recognized as living with some type of disability. Greater than one half of these people are reporting the disability as severe. How many of our Sunday morning congregations closely reflect this statistic? Do our children and youth ministries come anywhere near mirroring the 14% of kids living with a developmental delay as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?

Fortunately, the Church is beginning to recognize this “unseen” population. Often, this awareness 
has come about more from the fact that families impacted by disability are coming to the front door 
of any church versus the Church taking a proactive stance and laying the foundation of welcome. 
The precipitous rise over the past decade in the diagnosis of autism alone is challenging our churches 
as families with children on “the spectrum” are trying to maintain their connection with their local 
house of worship.

Recognizing that there is a need and being properly equipped to meet that need is separated by a wide chasm, though. Well intentioned hearts within our churches are still apologizing to families that their churches are not equipped to accommodate their family member with a disability, be it child or adult. Families have been told that it is OK to go home and worship on the Internet or television. This is the antithesis of what Christ and His community is about.

To help close this gap between recognizing the need and meeting the need is The One Roof Initiative. 
The One Roof is a ministry that will come alongside churches of any denomination to educate and 
equip to help welcome those impacted by disability into the church body.

Moving into the special needs realm can be intimidating for any church. The One Roof recognizes this and with its team of experienced ministry leaders with over 75 years combined disability ministry leadership with both children and adults, we can help churches develop a strategy and implementation plan on how to best accommodate the needs of those that the Lord is bringing to them.

The One Roof Initiative will always be a “Sunday ministry” first, educating and equipping churches on how to welcome families within their worship and social offerings to offer the hope of Christ. Our vision includes developing opportunities for churches, or The One Roof itself, to strengthen the marriages of parents of children with special needs, reaching out to siblings, connecting with dads and more.

The Lord is guiding us to be a “Monday through Saturday ministry”, as well. The practical needs within this community are deep and we envision mobilizing the Church, as well as engaging local communities, to help fill gaps in child respite, adult day programming, paid and volunteer job options, social opportunities and beyond. We believe that we will be moving into the residential realm, establishing a valued and enriching living experience for which there is a great need.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (I Cor. 12:27). The amalgamation of humanity that Paul refers to as “the body of Christ” is not exclusive. All are to be part of this organic body and each plays an integral role in the proper functioning of the Church.

The Church of Christ…your church, my church, is the ultimate definition of community and should be the ultimate “yes”. There is a place for everyone in the Church and The One Roof Initiative is honored and blessed to be able to help play a part in helping to make this Scriptural vision of completeness a reality.

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