ministry resources I've written elsewhere

Over the years, I've written pieces here and there for other entities. Here are a few I've dug up from 2012-2013...

special needs ministry quick references guide

This handout is always included in my speaking handouts. I lent it to the Treasuring Christ Curriculum as a resource to be shared on their site. Here is where you can find it.

Becoming A Missional Family

I partnered with Steve Wright and George Tissiere, two pastors at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, to write this resource for families. It's a short booklet, and it's available here

Some of the Most Unreached People in the United States

D6 asked me to write a piece about people with disabilities as a group largely unreached by the church. It can be found here.

Special Needs Volunteer Orientation Guide

In this resource offered by Building Church Leaders, I join the voices of Amy Julia Becker, Tony Welty, Jackie Mills-Fernald, and contributors from Key Ministry, the United Methodist Church of North Texas, and the editors of Christianity Today. Together we provide guidance on training volunteers to include children with disabilities. Find out more here

Maintaining the Message, Modifying the Message

I wrote this article for The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry to equip churches to welcome families affected by a diverse range of disabilities. 

An Interview with Shannon Dingle about the Treasuring Christ Curriculum and Ministry to Those with Disabilities

In this piece on the Family Ministry Today, I was interviewed about inclusive ministry and the benefits of scaffolded curricula like Treasuring Christ Curriculum or the more visually rich The Gospel Project by Lifeway (which I would highly recommend over TCC, as The Gospel Project does a far superior job of sensory integration to benefit all learners, especially those with disabilities). Read the full interview here. 

What if we all agreed that different parenting choices don't have to be wrong?

Two of my children entered full time preschool last week. Yes, that's the same 6.5 hour schedule my older four have in elementary school, while most preschoolers in our area go a few days a week for half days.

For one, she needs the long days to fit in therapies and a nap and the building of endurance she'll need to (most likely) be mainstreamed in a typical kindergarten class with peers whose bodies aren't fighting against them with spasticity from cerebral palsy.

For the other, she is ready ready READY to go to school like her siblings. Knowing she didn't have the best start in life, we had her evaluated for the Title 1 preschool program in our district, which serves four year olds who are at risk for academic difficulties in kindergarten with the aim that the high quality, full day preschool program will set them up for success instead. She qualified. We didn't know until a few days before school started that she'd have a spot, though, because she had been waitlisted. Thankfully, a spot opened up in the program operating at the big kids' elementary school, so she goes there with them now, starting and ending 30 minutes earlier than they do so the little ones aren't overrun by the big kids.

Like I said in my last post, these are big changes for all of us!

As far as preschool goes, we didn't do it for any of our other children. One wasn't with us in preschool, so that's easy to explain. One was having too much fun being the only girl and the big sister whose little bro adored her, and I equally didn't want to send her anywhere and didn't want to have an external schedule of pick up and drop off and all that jazz. Her learning style worked just fine for working on early learning skills at home, and that suited us all best. Then the boys didn't do preschool because one was joining our family and adjusting to all that meant and the other, with us from the womb, was helping with that. Oh, and he was also having seizures that we didn't get controlled until just before kindergarten started, so there's that.

All that to say, preschool decisions are different for every child.

So are most parenting choices.

My children are not your children, and your children aren't mine, so that means our child-centered choices about what's best might not be the same.

And?

That's okay.

Our world operates on affirmation, though. In school, it's grades and rubrics and standardized tests and other measures of one singular norm. In the workplace, goals and performance reviews and raises, in which the specific job is considered but comparisons against other workers are also common. In parenting? I think the only real universal bar is "they're still alive at the end of the day." Of course, feeding and love and learning and so on are all part of that too, but examples of terrible parenting are clear while the range of good parenting is harder to define. 

Going back to the preschool example, I know friends who have felt judged for doing preschool or not doing preschool or doing too many days of preschool or doing not enough days of preschool or doing a too churchy preschool or doing a too secular preschool or spending too much on preschool or choosing a preschool with long days or being relieved when it's time for school to start again or crying too much when school resumes. And that's not even including the parents who work full time and so have their preschool aged children in some sort of program or childcare environment during business hours year round and the judgment they feel for that.

(Side note: Rock on, working parents. You're doing great, and you'll get no judgment from this stay at home mama.) 

What if we all agreed that different parenting choices aren't wrong?

Can we decide what's best for our kids and then not trouble ourselves with those who disagree or trouble others by trying to force our family's best onto their different dynamics?

And can we also recognize that sometimes we're not really being judged, even when we think we are?

(I could go on a tangent here about how you're actually judging someone when you judge that you think that they're judging you, but I haven't had enough coffee today to make that make sense.)

I could have made this about breastfeeding and bottlefeeding and tube feeding or private vs public vs home school or therapy intensives vs surgeries vs assistive devices or Botox vs Baclofen vs SDR (yes, we do it in special needs parenting circles too) or something else altogether. But? We've started two in daily preschool programs that are longer than the norm for our area, especially for families with a stay-at-home parent like me. 

I'm sure this is the right decision for our crew, and this post is my way of saying that. This post is also my way of letting friends know that I am 100% okay with whatever preschool choice they're making too. Parenting is hard enough even when it's a judgment-free zone, am I right? 

So enjoy this new school year, no matter what it brings and no matter what it looks like for your family. And? Be forewarned that at any moment in the coming weeks I might be celebrating that my days are child-free or mourning that I miss my babies.

Being sure of our decision doesn't mean being in control of my emotions, after all. 

warning: huge changes ahead!

Let's get this out of the way at the get go: no, we're not adopting again. I know when I usually post about big changes, that's the news, so let's clear that up from the start.

Y'all.

This week the oldest four started in 1st and 3rd grades. So that's four of the six in school all day.

Back in June, Zoe's IEP team - including us - all agreed she should be there for a full day to fit in all her therapies and educational interventions and to build stamina, as we're all thinking she'll probably be able to be mainstreamed in a typical kindergarten class two years from now. (Thankfully, her full day at preschool does include her much-needed nap!) She'll be at the same preschool as last year, where she is loved and loves going, starting Monday. So that makes five of the six in school all day.

Around the same time as Zoe's IEP meeting, Patu was screened for our district's Title 1 preschool program, which serves four year olds who are at risk for academic difficulties in kindergarten with the aim that a high quality, full day preschool environment will set them up for success instead. I won't get into all the reasons why we felt like that would be a good fit for her here, but most of them have to do with her rough start in life. The folks in the Office of Early Learning determined that she qualified for the program, but since they always have more kids who qualify than spots available, she was waitlisted since her needs and risk factors weren't as pressing as other children's. I wasn't surprised by her qualifying for the program or by her not qualifying quite enough to be served. I know how the system works. Well, today we got the call that a spot opened up for her in the Title 1 preschool class at the same elementary school where our big kids go. Yep, that makes six of the six in school all day. She has a staggered entry day on Thursday, and then she starts Monday.

So? Not only do we feel like each child is in exactly the right educational program for their needs and in amazing schools we love and trust (even though having our little girls in school all day will be hard for me!), I will be child free for six hours a day. Y'all, I can't even.

Want me to volunteer? Take on a project? Commit to something else? My answer is NO. I'm so excited to reclaim the house from mess and actually go to the gym and volunteer at the school without having to line up childcare to do so and tackle some writing projects I usually do after the kids are in bed and actually go to that doctor's appointment I keep canceling and get a haircut and possibly blog more consistently and maybe even put away the clean laundry instead of leaving it in baskets, so I'm not adding a dadgum thing until I get my bearings.

Also, I might nap. Just being honest here.

Please forgive me in advance for the slew of posts and pics and such as I try to figure out this new existence, because since becoming a mother, I have never had a time with all the kids in school. The last time I had no children during the day was 2006, because I had no children yet then. So please pray for all of us through this adjustment, because this is huge!

#LoveforEli, forever

I was planning to write a post today about our friend Eli. I was going to ask you to pray for him. I was going to tell you all of his bone marrow transplant on April 17, of the rare immune condition that required it, and of the complications with his kidneys and lungs since then. I was going to tell you he turned four around the same time our Patu did.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be telling you that he won't be turning 5 next year along with her.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be telling you our prayers for healing weren't answered with a yes on earth but rather a yes in heaven.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be sharing that Eli's fight and pain and complications ended shortly before midnight last night.

As we've grieved the loss of our referral of Zoe's brother and rejoiced for the sweet couple who will be bringing him home, I've coped by praying for others. That's how I process my own struggles, by asking God to help others in theirs. I'm not sure why, but it works for me. I think it's something about getting my mind off myself, focusing back on God, and loving others through prayer. That combination soothes my heart.

In the past week, I've mostly prayed for Eli and his parents and his big brother.

Eli's mom Lisa and I have met up for dinner and coffee a couple times in the past week or so, as she's been up here from Florida with Eli hospitalized at Duke. We met in our teens, and we've been friends for longer than I've known Lee. I believe she was the one who coined the nickname Shannon Anna Dingle Heimer Schmidt when I started dating the guy I told her might be "the one." (He was, of course.) We've kept up our friendship via email and then social media and even occasional visits. During one of Eli's first visits to Duke, he and Lisa and Lisa's mom joined our family for pizza and soda and chaos... you know, typical Friday night fare around here.

I was dreaming and hoping and longing for the day when his transplanted immune system was strong enough for him to sit with us at our table once again. But that pizza dinner isn't going to happen, not this side of heaven.

My heart aches for them. For us. For a world that isn't going to know the amazing 5 year old and 6 year old and 13 year old and 21 year old and 90 year old that Eli would have been if he had lived past 4.

Please pray for everyone who loved Eli, especially his dad, mom, and brother. They'll be heading back to Florida soon, without their fighter boy. I texted Lisa this C.S. Lewis quote earlier because it seemed fitting: "The death of a beloved is an amputation." Pray for them, for the loss and absence that will never go away, even as they give thanks that Eli is wholly healed and that they'll join him in heaven one day.

I usually end posts with some conclusion or hope or challenge. But today, I have nothing but eyes that are cried out and a heart that hurts from all the hurting... so I'll leave you with Lisa's words, sharing the news of Eli's passing. Let this be the challenge I offer and accept today:

Eli finished his battle just before midnight last night. He went peacefully and felt no pain. We are relieved for him that he doesn’t have to be tortured anymore. We are so glad to know he’s whole again in heaven, doing all of the things that have always made his soul happy. We are absolutely broken that we don’t get to experience him healed here.

Thank you for praying and bELIving. One of Eli’s great gifts was that he pulled back the corners of people’s hearts to the possibility of Love. If Eli swept out any cobwebs or cracked open a part of you that you had shut a long time ago, please leave it open. For Eli.

‪#‎LoveforEli‬
Eli's Journey FB page

seeing a miracle
{an update on Zoe's vision}

You know I like to write about the beauty we find in the midst of brokenness. But sometimes

it just feels like brokenness.

Not beauty.

Not yet.

Let's try that last phrase in Zoe's words:

We decided to switch ophthalmologists a couple months ago. Our first was a competent clinician and a solid diagnostician, but communication? Not her strong suit. For us, that's a deal breaker, because Zoe's medical and educational teams need information to care for her well, so lone ranger practitioners just don't work for us.

Last week we saw the new doc for the first time.

And last week we felt the beauty, not just the brokenness.

Yes, Zoe's vision is still impaired. But? Wait for it...

The beauty:

  • In March, glasses weren't expected to do much for her, improving her vision some but still leaving her - even with glasses on - in the range of legal blindness defined as 20/200 or worse.
  • Now, her vision with glasses is 20/70. Perfect? No. But 20/70 is considered partially sighted or low vision, not legal blindness. And it means she can see from 20 feet away what I can see at 70 feet, which is a lot better than only seeing at 20 feet what I can see at 200 feet away.
  • And? Her astigmatism is worse than we thought (okay, a smidge of not great news there) but that means she needs one of the lenses replaced with a higher prescription in her current pair of glasses. So her vision next time around could be better than 20/70. 

But that's not even the most beautiful news, y'all. In March her previous eye doctor saw and documented severe retinal malformations, leading to the poor prognosis. This time?

"I don't see anything concerning here," the doctor said. "Her retinas look great. I suppose she could have some retinal damage on the extreme edges that I can't see right now, but that wouldn't affect her vision."

Y'all.

So did the first doc mess up? Was she incompetent? Did she make a mistake?

I'm sure the answer is no to all of those. I sat there with Zoe in my lap during the exam. She was meticulous. She examined my girl's retinas closely. She saw something.

So did the second doc mess up? Was she incompetent? Did she make a mistake?

Once again, no. I sat there with Zoe in my lap once again. She spent even more time checking for retinal issues because of the previous doctor's findings. She saw nothing.

Seriously, this is nothing if not miraculous.

In my struggles with hard news last week, I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to process all that I've shared in this post. Please don't take my silence to imply that we're not in awe of another amazing act God has worked in our little girl's life. We have been on our knees all week, in both praise and prayer. We have been celebrating this, even as we grieve otherwise.

A few friends have said they're impressed by our faith in the shadow of an adoption that might be failing. Please know this: in the midst of deep sorrow in the change of our plans to adopt Zoe's biological brother, God gifted us great joy in this news about Zoe's eyes. He didn't have to do that, but he chose to.

He asked us to trust and hold Sam's future loosely.

Meanwhile, he placed the gift of healing for Zoe in our hands, reminding us of his trustworthiness in a tangible way.

That's beauty in the midst of brokenness, my friends. And we are thankful.