Better Together

Today is the first day of the new school year here in the town where Rising Above has our national ministry offices. We are on a year-round school calendar system so we start back a little earlier than most places do. For the past few days we, like so many other parents, have been preparing for the start of school. Jon Alex is in a special CDC (special education) classroom. We have been buying and gathering supplies and making sure we have everything he needs. We've also spent a lot of time praying over his teachers, classroom assistants, and therapists.

I was struck by the thought last week that just as we have been getting prepared and ready for Jon Alex, and just as we have been praying over him, there are people in the special education department who are doing the exact same thing.

Have you ever thought of that? I mean they too in many cases are also praying over your children, putting together the best plan they can, and really thinking about how they can best serve our kids.

I have written in this space before about various heroes in the special needs community. I have celebrated and paid tribute to the single moms who are raising children with special needs. I have extolled the virtues of the dads of children with special needs who have stuck around and not left the family. We host a Hero's Ball where we recognize and honor those with special needs and their family members every year.

But there is one group of heroes whom I have neglected to recognize and honor over the years. One group in our special needs community who needs to now they too are valued, respected, and appreciated.

And those would be the dedicated teachers, classroom assistants, therapists, and all the support workers in our school's special education departments.

Now some of you may have been taken aback by that. Just the initials IEP make every hair on your head stand up and send a cold shiver down your back. Based on your past experiences, you may not realize how blessed we really are.

I get asked a lot about IEP meetings and such. Let me say for the record as the leader of Rising Above that I believe these special education professionals truly want what's best for our kids, and desire to be our teammates in determining how to best serve our kids. In fact, I refer to the group who works with my son as members of TEAM J.A.

Can I ask you a question? Can you imagine spending an entire day working with our children with special needs. Then dealing with the volumes of paperwork involved. And then finally going home and, in the few remaining hours left in the day, tending to the needs of your own children and families?

Can you imagine how tired and exhausting that must be? Can you imagine the stress it creates? Can you understand how easy it would be to get burned out?

And yet for many of them they have dedicated their lives, their passion, and their purpose in life to serving our kids with special needs.

You and I didn't necessarily in most cases, choose to be parents of children with special needs. You and I didn't choose that path or journey. In most cases, (except for adoption cases I realize), that life was chosen for us by God. We didn't have a choice. It was thrust upon us.

They chose this path in life. They chose to devote their lives to our kids. They chose to make a difference in the world one life at a time. They chose to make their life's purpose serving special needs children. And they still manage to have their own families and children to handle as well.

And that my friends, makes them heroes. That gets you into my hall of fame every day.

These professionals have a limited amount of time, a limited amount of resources, and a limited amount of services they can provide to all our kids. So they have to figure out how to maximize what they have to work with all our kids proportionally.

They do the best they can within an imperfect system for our kids. The system isn't perfect. And as tempted as we can be to complain, we have to realize, we aren't perfect people either.

I'm not a perfect dad. I have a limited amount of time, resources, and money myself. So I try to figure out how to be the best dad and husband I can be, given the limitations of what I have been given to work with in that endeavor.

And that's exactly what they are trying to do. Within the limitations they have upon them, how can they best meet the needs of our kids in special education?

They are not our enemies. They are our teammates and friends.

Our children are gifts from God, and they serve as gift-keepers.

They are heroes and they are part of our special needs community.

In our town our local Chamber of Commerce has a program where local businesses "adopt" a school. Over the years as adopters, these businesses offer support, encouragement and recognition, and help with resources for the public school they have adopted. Adopters let them know they are valued, appreciated, and offer encouragement to the workers at those particular schools.

We have decided at Rising Above to participate in that program. But we are going one step further. As an organization, we are adopting the entire Special Education Department of Putnam County Schools. They are part of the special needs community in their own way. We want to help recognize them, show them encouragement, and help them realize how valuable they are to those of us who have children with special needs.

So we're going to adopt all 250 of these heroes.

And for those of us who have children in special education, the next time you greet your child's teachers, therapists, or other special education workers, will you look them in the eye and just thank them for doing what they do? Just thank them for their sacrifice.

You may make someone's day by just letting them know you care.

And to our adopted friends, "welcome to the family!"