Backyard Mission: Empathy

Last summer I wrote this:

I don’t really expect people to open doors anywhere…even with a wheelchair.

The other day, amidst a crowd of people, I opened a door for myself and my son, in wheelchair.  Before I could roll him through, several people then charged through the door I was holding from the opposite direction.  There was no end in sight.

Minutes passed.

I gave up.

I then opened another door for myself and forged through.

As my heart rate accelerated, I averted my eyes from the many looking at me.  I licked my wounds and pushed on…this is really no biggie in our world.  There are far bigger battles to fight.

And, of course there was a parking incident that made my blood boil…you know the kind where people abuse handicapped parking…making the wheelchair margins unusable?  Maddening!  Especially when it means having to back your car into traffic and then take AGONIZINGLY LONG MINUTES to load your child+wheelchair into the van…IN TRAFFIC…with people waiting…and WATCHING.

AND…there was the hotel that had the NARROW walkways.  Blue’s arms kept getting caught in the railing, as we rolled him along!

AND the other hotel that required rolling up and down 2 flights of a parking garage to access the elevator,

AND I won’t even talk about how complicated it was to get to the pool.

Needless to say…stress, crushing-oppressive-blood-boiling-stress, has come into my life unbidden.  And last summer, there was stress aplenty!


On the flip side, M (4-years-old) laughed at her sister when she got in trouble this week.  Empathy ain’t easy, for any of us.

You are your own suggestion box.

I am my own suggestion box.  I must be.

I am more firmly convinced of this every year I remain on this planet:  No matter how tired or overspent you are, if you want to see something happen, you MUST be the force driving this home.

The suggestion box that is burning a whole in my heart is…

…a mission field. It’s not thousands of miles away. It’s in my backyard and it’s in yours too.  It is vast.   It’s full of minefields and high crumbly intimidating walls.  It’s also full of wells of deep spiritual beauty…of God’s terrifying goodness. It’s a growing mission field.  Numbers are added to the wounded every single day…larger numbers than you or I can imagine.

This is the mission to the people underneath the broken…the disabled…the disfigured…the awkward…the blind…the deaf…and the weary.  This is a mission to THE BEAUTIFUL, wrapped in the brokenness of this world.  This is the mission for their families.  Special needs are growing and with them is the need for real true empathy and charity…not the kind that is a handout.  These wounded millions need the kind that 1 Corinthians speaks of…the kind where giving ALL you have to the poor doesn’t cut it…that is saturated with love or it falls to nothingness.

Our faith must have the fruit of empathy or it is sour rottenness that is inedible.

We must care about others, really care, and train our children to…or what kind of education will they have.  Shall we teach them to go through the motions and “have not love?”

My children are little.  I am a child in this game.  I am even more the fool in the game if I think that I can go through life making the occasional grand-stand, teaching them true empathy with words.  No, I have to lead this mission…I have to forge through my own discomfort, push over walls of awkward and learn to really serve.

“First self teach, then child preach.” -Anne Voskamp

I must lead. If I want others to care more about my boy, if I want my girls to be kind to other children with different special needs, if I want my boy in the wheelchair to care about people other than himself – I must model it.

And this caring…it’s no easy game, our own discomfort, our own timing, or own will will stand in the way time and time again…it will stand smack in front of the golden adventure that God puts in our path – the adventure of serving others – every. single. time.

If you live in a world like me…where every search for a parking space is a chance for an anxiety attack (with your wheelchair accessible van).  Where a  motorcycle parking in handicap margin leads you to do some serious brainstorming.  (How to pull your van out into the middle of the parking lot, all while your poor child in a chair is exposed to traffic.)  Or where every doorway you roll through you have to lean over and restrain your child so that he doesn’t fling his arms out and break or hyper-extend something as you pass.  Or where children have to learn to have a one-way conversation with your child and rarely care to try.  Where empathy doesn’t come cheap.  Kids and adults alike stare and ask awkward questions.  A world where you barely get to give your children the attention they need for the battles that never cease with people in offices far away…dealing with health insurance and schools.  Somehow in the miles and stacks of paperwork the humanity of your child is lost…and you have to fight tooth and nail for there most basic needs…things that help them to eat, hear, see and sit and talk.   If you belong to my kind of world… I’m talking to you too.

Who better to help the world understand our Specialneedy world than us!  Who better to recruit people to help in this field? I know we don’t have the energy…I know we barely have any fight left in us to get that next therapy straightened out…but God isn’t just talking to everyone else…he calls you and I to be fruitful too…to serve…to serve right where we are planted.

If special needs aren’t a part of your life:

There is barren woman crying in a corner…longing more than anything for a child, while another mother has  children begging for dinner while her 10 year old sits in a wheelchair crying out in pain that she can’t identify.

There is a teen, sitting bored while an elderly woman pays for pizza delivery just to see another human face.

Dishes and laundry heap high while young single women shop to pass the time.

Just last week I squared away the kids and sat down for “some me time” and the phone rang.  It wasn’t anyone I expected.  It was someone I’d never met.  This grandmother of a child with KI sat in an ICU with her precious grandson trying to figure out what to do next.  I cringe to think of my internal response.  I didn’t want to serve.  I wanted to serve on my own terms….in the window of time that worked for me. God had other plans, as he always does.  AND THEY ARE ALWAYS BETTER…once you get over yourself.

I’m so glad we spoke and glad I got the privilege to pray for her and perspective in the midst of our newest battle…perspective of thanksgiving.  I felt desperate because I didn’t know anything about the particular issue her grandson was having…but while I prayed I thought to post it on our facebook group…and the other Mom’s that knew of treatment options were able to reach out and help her.  It was a huge blessing to see the KI community helping one another out!

I know more special needs families that have turned away from church than special needs families in church.

It’s hard.

Really, really hard.

I’ve thought of running for the hills more times than I can count and I think I always will…but I don’t want to leave.  As much as I will bear pain in every almost every doorway that I roll that wheelchair through, I must.  I cannot forsake God’s word and the fellowship of his people and I must be a part of the solution…and maybe…just maybe God put me in this gut-wrenching position so that I’d be close enough to reach out to someone else…to open our eyes to deeper truths than those that scratch surfaces and prance around picket fences…maybe there is a lot to learn in this battle and it’s better for my soul that would be much too satisfied with complacency.  So as to the others out there…the 10’s or 100’s or thousands of people within our reach who stepped out a NICU with a very different future…who is going to wrap their arms around them?  Who is going to answer the phone when they call?  Who is going to offer to watch their kids when they see the doctor for the 5,000th time?  If not me…If not you, then who?  (thank you, Dr. Seuss!)

Could it be that our (my) own pain is intended to help enable us to have empathy toward the sister he puts in our path? Yes.  Absolutely yes.  Don’t forget.  There is purpose in all things.  Whether you see it or not – There is purpose.

So this week will I:

Be willing to be interrupted?

When someone doesn’t get the door for us – find a way out of our pity party and serve?

Pray that He would open my eyes to serve others and receive the gifts in that service?

Let’s let Him teach real true deep empathy…the kind of love that comes straight from Him?

Will I let Jesus use our pain to care about someone else?  – To move beyond the selfish grief that will eat me alive (this is a continual battle)? -To care for someone else?

I want to be full.  I want to overflow.

For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.  –1 Kings 17:16


Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. –Romans 5:1-5


One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:35-41

6 thoughts on “Backyard Mission: Empathy

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  3. Love this Miriam! I’m impressed that you don’t get mad at people not opening doors for you! I used to work with an adult with disabilities who was in a wheelchair. It made me SOOO irked when people would see me struggling and not open the door. Awesome post and awesome heart! – Amber

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