Let All the Children Come to Me

We read in Matthew 19:14 where Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I love this verse.

I am continually looking for ways for our family to connect over shared interests. Our camping trip last year was a blast. The trip to the beach this past summer was extremely special. We enjoy going to the pool, playing at the park, going for bike rides.

Our faith in Christ is our foundation. We love God and desire to raise our children to know and love Him. We moved to a new city three days before Camden was born. Since he was a fussy baby, our criteria for a church included: Bible teaching, close to home (since he hated the car), and had to have a room for nursing mothers. That was really easy for the first 8 months. When he got a little older, we’d leave him in the church nursery, and get a call after 10-15 minutes to come and get him due to his prolonged crying. When Camden was around 12-15 months, Brian and I decided to take turns with him each week. One of us would go to the service while the other stayed with him in the nursery. On one particular Sunday, I had been in the sanctuary listening to the teaching while Brian had been hanging out with Camden. I met up with them a few minutes before the service let out. Brian looked really discouraged. His forehead was damp from sweat and he was obviously sad. He told me that from now on when it was his week to stay with Camden, that they would stay home.

My heart ached. Brian was raised in church. For him to say this, I knew things were bad. We loved God and knew the importance of gathering together with others for fellowship. This is not what we had envisioned. Not what we wanted for our family. But that verse in Hebrews 10 about how we should not give up meeting together, which is often quoted to remind Christians about the importance of fellowship and corporate worship, is not what we were doing. We were checking the box, but our hearts and minds were far from it. So we left the church for about 6 months. We didn’t even go on Easter. It was a sad and lonely time. I guess it was a moment that stands out that shows how hard things were during that season (and beyond).

My dear friend, Danielle, had recommended a church to me in the area. We knew several families there, it wasn’t too huge, and there was a husband and wife team that worked in the baby/toddler department who had a son on the spectrum. We visited about 2 weeks after my little guy was born. It was a good fit for us. The people were kind and understanding. The children’s minister went above and beyond to care for our family and befriend me. I was able to sit in the back and care for Carson. Camden did great in the nursery. I would peek in on him to make sure he was okay. During the 2 years there, they never once came and got us out of the service. When Carson was old enough to crawl and go to the nursery, he and Camden stayed together in class. They both seemed comforted by this. They moved together from the infant class to the “walkers.” They stayed there until it was past time for Camden to move classes. We got to the point where we needed to find a church that was equipped to take care of various special needs, so we began the search for a new church home. But that first church we attended as a family will always hold a special place in our hearts. Forever grateful to that sweet congregation. They cared for us during an extremely tough season. Here’s a collage from the church’s playground, where we spent a good chunk of time:

CCC Playgroun
Brian, Camden and Carson on the CCC playground. June 2012

I had checked out churches in our area that had a special needs ministry, and then visited the various campuses and spoke with the children’s directors. We ended up at our current church. It’s five minutes from our house, which is a huge bonus. Both of my boys are happy and willing to attend. They do have a special needs ministry and monthly respite program. Our children’s minister is a beautiful person with a heart for special needs kiddos. And the volunteers that faithfully show up week after week are the glue that holds the program together. Camden’s class is not an afterthought. Each week our children’s minister organizes a memory verse, a Bible lesson, craft, games and activities. Camden takes his praise and worship dvds, jams out to his tunes, jumps on the trampoline, plays with the train table, and whatever else he can get in to. Brian and I plugged in to a Bible Fellowship Group (I’m old and call it Sunday School). It’s nice to finally feel like we are truly fellowshipping and not just checking a box. We meet/talk/pray/study/hang out with people who we have grown to love and who care about us. And we encourage one another in this faith journey.

Camden reading with our precious Children's Minister.
Camden reading with our precious Children’s Minister.

For many families like ours it can be a challenge to find meaningful ways to include your child with autism into various aspects of life: faith, hobbies, holidays, traditions, etc.. I am going to share a few ideas that have worked for us to this point. And oh, how I would love to hear your ideas!

The idea to involve Camden more actively in our faith came from a news story about a local autism mama and her son, Jack. Check out Carla and Jack’s story from November 12: http://www.wfaa.com/story/entertainment/television/programs/daybreak/2014/08/19/14127246//

During the interview, Carla shared that hearing Jack sing Katy Perry’s “Roar” song was the first time for him to spontaneously string words together. She mentioned that he could make one-word requests for his preferred items, and that he did sing the dinner-time prayer with them. Hmmm. What she said got me thinking. At this point, Brian would pray before we ate. I thought about Carla’s son, Jack, singing the prayer with them and thought it would be great to try with Camden. He responds very well to music. So we started a very simple music prayer that goes like this:

God our Father
God our Father
We thank You
We thank You
For our many blessings
For our many blessings

This first video was taken last night before dinner. Sometimes Carson likes to pray on his own for us. Tonight he was praying for his cousin, Grace, who was at the hospital with severe stomach pain.

FamilyPrayerB from Candace R on Vimeo.

Then I had Camden sing on his own so that you could hear him, and just because I think he’s so precious.

CamdenPrayerB from Candace R on Vimeo.

Here’s a video I posted on Facebook of Camden singing that same prayer, but it was taken a little over a year ago (Dec 2013).

Brian and I sit on either side of Camden, so the first week he just looked at us and listened. The following week, he was singing right along. It felt so good to include him and to share this prayer as a family. Soon after, we started having each family member say a blessing. I simply ask, “What was one of your blessings today?” 70% of the time, Camden’s blessing is “golf cart” which is essentially his association with our church. We park far away from the building and take the golf cart up to the entrance. Both of my boys love it! The other 30% of the time, he’ll respond with: Ms. Brandi (his teacher), Carson, swimming pool, or movies. It was sweet one evening at dinner when I asked, “Camden, would you pray please?” I was expecting him to sing our normal meal time song. His response was so him…”Dear God, thank You for golf carts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Can you see why the Swing Fore Camden fundraiser is such a perfect fit for him? =)

Golf cart
Camden and Carson with our beloved, Papa Z

Shortly after the interview I saw with Jack and Carla Robbins, we started our Jesse Tree to prepare for Christmas. For thirty days leading up to Christmas, we’d read an Old Testament passage foretelling the coming of Christ. The boys would take turns hanging the ornament each night, and we’d close by singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Camden liked that song and was able to sing along. Once Christmas was over, Carson asked if we were still going to do the Jesse Tree. I needed another idea. I remembered that I had a kids’ praise and worship dvd that I snatched from my friend, Michelle’s, garage sale. That night, I put in the dvd and the boys enjoyed it. It combined Camden’s love of music with his interest in text since the lyrics would flash across the bottom of the screen.

Sing & Praise dvd

Once we realized they liked the dvd and they were both singing along, we invested in others. There are quite a few praise and worship dvds for kids, but our guys like these from Group Publishing, and they work for our family.  I give them the thumbs up for the Scripture memory set to music plus the on-screen lyrics plus the opportunity for imitation that comes from seeing the kids do the song motions plus the 20 minute length. It seems like they don’t stay in production long. There are some dvds that come with Sunday school curriculum. I have found them from third party sellers on Amazon by searching for “Faithweaver dvd” or “Group Publishing dvd.” Each year, Group puts out 2-3 music dvds that go with their VBS curriculum. These can be purchased individually until they are all sold. Here are a few examples:

Here’s a recent Facebook post with Camden singing one of the songs from our dvds, “Do to Others.”

After the music time, we read a passage for a children’s Bible (we are in need of a new options), and then pray for our immediate family members. We pick one family member to specifically pray for each night. Everyone takes a turn, and Camden’s typically goes like this, “Dear God, thank You for ______. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” He really struggles with peoples’ names. He knows me, Brian, Carson, my brother (his uncle), and Brian’s mom (his grandmother). Since it is a struggle, I made a little flip book with one of those plastic photo books from Dollar Tree. On each page, there is a picture of a family member with their name printed at the bottom. Hopefully, this will help with name recognition.

Family Prayer

Kai and Mike
So why do I do this? Like I shared, our faith is foundational. It’s important to our family, and I long to find meaningful ways to include Camden. I know he connects with music and text, so I try to utilize that to help him. I knew if he could pick up nursery rhymes and songs from Nick Jr, that he could pick up songs with Scripture. He’s learned a lot of Bible verses from these music dvds and I hope he keeps them on his heart and mind. And maybe one day when he’s stressing out, he’ll think back to that song…”Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Yea Yea. Yea Yea. Yea.” I want Camden to know that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, that Jesus loves him, that Jesus can be trusted even if we don’t understand. These things may eem incredibly elementary, but every time I hear these truths, they are more and more solidified in my heart. I am not the fastest learner when it comes to my faith.

Whatever it is that your family loves, I hope you are able to enjoy them together. Who woulda thought that a “Roar” interview would’ve been just the kick start I needed?! A big “THANK YOU” to Jack and Carla!