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Jason’s Different

This post is different from others in that it isn’t specifically about my grandchildren–but it could be. I’ve been thinking about parents’ responsibility to protect their children from adults who might harm them, and also to teach them how to cope with unpleasant people and situations. But do we also have a wider responsibility? What about adults and older children who make others uncomfortable because they themselves have some sort of disability? Years ago I was friends with a young man who had a mild mental disability, and sometimes got himself into trouble because he didn’t pick up on nuances.

In this story I explore how a church or community might deal with a young man whose mental disability and resulting poor social skills get him into hot water with parents. I then approached Dove’s Nest, an organization that seeks to “empower and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe in their homes, churches, and communities.” They liked the story, and agreed to provide a link to it in their newsletter.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of the story, and encourage you to explore the Dove’s Nest website for more information on protecting children.

Jason’s Different

“I don’t like Jason,” fumed Marcy on the way home from church. “He wants to hug me all the time.”

“Did you ask him to stop?” asked Mom.

“Yes, but he just laughs!” Marcy’s face clouded. “I wish he didn’t come to our church.”

Mom looked sad. “I understand, sweetheart. Let’s talk about it when we get home.”

Both Mom and Marcy’s big brother, Darren, enjoyed their tuna sandwiches and mushroom soup. But Marcy didn’t feel like eating. Darren talked about the youth retreat, but Marcy didn’t feel much like talking, either.

“We need to talk about Jason,” said Mom.

“I don’t like him! He always wants to play with us, and then he catches us and hugs us!”

“Darren, can you watch Marcy after church from now on?” asked Mom. “Of course you can talk with your friends, but just keep an eye on Marcy. If you see Jason coming over for a hug, take Marcy’s hand and walk away with her.”

“I’ll do more than that!” Darren growled.

“No, no,” said Mom. “Jason doesn’t mean any harm. He just has trouble understanding some things. He can’t read the way you can, Darren, and he can’t remember things the way you can remember them, Marcy. Some of the parents have talked to Jason about hugging the little kids. He says he’s sorry, but then he does it again. So I’m going to talk to Pastor Ben.”

Later that week Pastor Ben met with the parents of the little kids.

“I know Jason would never hurt a child on purpose,” Marcy and Darren’s mom said, “but he’s making Marcy uncomfortable. It’s getting so that she doesn’t want to come to church.”

“And he keeps giving Emma candy,” added Mrs. Fair. “I’ve told him not to, and I’ve said it spoils her dinner, but he just does it anyway.”

“I don’t like him around Robbie,” said Mr. Jones. “He keeps wanting to hold him, and Robbie wants to run and play. And he thinks it’s funny when Robbie cries and tries to get away.”

Pastor Ben listened carefully and made notes. Then he said, “Now that we’re clear on the problem, how can we keep the children comfortable and still help Jason?”

“Maybe he should go to the church down the street,” suggested Mrs. Jones. “There are mostly older people there.”

“I don’t think we should suggest that,” said Marcy and Darren’s mom. “That would really hurt Jason. There must be something we can do to help him fit in better here. What are his strengths?”

“Well, he’s friendly. He does love people and he loves to help,” said Mrs. Jones.

Then the grown-ups had a lot of good ideas.

“We pick Jason up every Sunday morning,” said Mr. Fair. “Maybe I’ll see if he wants to come early and help me shovel the sidewalk. It’s supposed to snow. Emma can come later with her mom.”

“And he can help me clean up the coffee cups after the service,” volunteered Marcy and Darren’s dad. “That’s when Jason seems to have most of his problems.”

“He’s been coming out to shinny hockey for the past couple of months,” said Mr. Schultz, “and we usually go out for coffee after. I’ll try to talk to him then about not playing with the little kids.”

“I’ll talk to him, too,” said Pastor Ben. “He’s coming with me to the seniors’ lodge on Thursday.”

That night, Mom and Dad told Marcy and Darren about the meeting. “I want to help too,” said Marcy. “God wants us to love everybody, right?”

“Yes, He does,” smiled Mom.

“I can help, too,” offered Darren.

The family prayed and talked. How could they all help Jason?

“I’ll make him some cookies and put sprinkles on,” said Marcy happily.

“And we can both give them to Jason on Sunday,” added Darren.

“You know,” said Mom, “part of Jason’s problem is that he’s lonely. Let’s invite him to Marcy’s school concert.”

“Sure,” said Darren. “And I’ll sit with him in the back of the van.”

Now, if you went to the Good Shepherd Community Church after that, you might see Jason pouring Pastor Ben’s coffee after the service. Or talking with the men about hockey.

Problem solved?

Maybe.

Or maybe not.

One Sunday morning Mr. Jones heard a loud scream from Robbie, and he looked over to see Jason holding the howling little boy.

Mr. Jones snatched his son away from Jason and held the little boy close, glaring at Jason—until Pastor Ben came running.

“I saw what happened,” Pastor Ben said. “Robbie fell down the stairs and Jason picked him up. Thank you, Jason.”

Then Jason started to cry. “I know I’m not supposed to play with the little kids any more,” he sobbed, “but I didn’t think this was playing.”

“And you’re right, it wasn’t,” said Mr. Jones kindly. “You weren’t playing with Robbie, you were helping him. I was wrong. I’m sorry, Jason.”

Jason never did learn what the word “boundaries” meant, but he did learn what he should and shouldn’t do.

And he knew he belonged at Pastor Ben’s church.

“…you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28b, New International Version)

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Little Laundry Lady

It’s been said that most children have the spirit of inquiry spanked out of them before they enter school. Not so with Tina. The spirit of inquiry lives on, and so does her initiative.

At a year and a half, she’s Mommy’s little helper. When Mommy washes the floor, she gets her baby wipes and washes the floor too.

But what if Mommy’s not doing her job? Surely the clean socks on the shelf need re-washing. Hmm . . . what does Mommy use? Oh yes—dry cat food.  Mix with water, add socks and scrub till clean.

I love how Tina’s mom, Maria, doesn’t get after her for things done in innocence.

Perhaps God has taught Maria to look on the heart, as He does.

“ . . . man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

"I'm Scared"

At two and a half, Tina’s going through a scary time.

We look at her big Bible story book, the one Auntie gave her for Christmas, and talk about the pictures of the people in the dark. There’s Abraham looking up at the stars. “It’s dark,” I say, “but he’s not scared because God is there.” Page after page, we find the nighttime pictures and I tell her, “It’s dark, but __________ isn’t scared because God is there.” I sing, “Jesus loves me in the dark, and He loves me when it’s light. In the dark and in the light, Jesus loves me all the time.”

After awhile she says, “I’m not scared.”

Sometimes she’s not scared, but her toys and balls are. One day the cans of baby food in the cupboard are scared. I hold them in my arms and sing Jesus Loves Me.

“I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

Treasure from a Tiny Girl

Young children, at least most of them, are inherently kind. Tina gave me a simple yet beautiful example of this well before she turned two.

We were chatting with Marsha, a friend from church, after the service. Marsha was suffering from a nasty cold. “It hurts!” she groaned after a particularly brutal cough.

What did Tina do? She held out her pretty toy for Marsha, a colorful pencil case filled with tiny treasures.

“. . . such as I have give I thee . . . .” Acts 3:6

Outside the Box

Tommy’s mom, Lisa, and a friend are drinking coffee—from MUGS. Tommy’s still a baby, not talking much, but he knows what he wants and he’s making it very clear. He wants a mug, too.

Mom is also clear. The answer is no. Grown-ups get mugs, babies get bottles.

What to do now? Throw a tantrum, perhaps? Give up? How about think outside the bottle, er box?

Tommy gets a mug for himself, puts his bottle in it, and settles down for a drink.

Creative solution, no?

Perhaps Tommy has a role to play in labor negotiations. Can you see him at the table now, where bitter, angry workers stare down intractable owners? Teeth gnash, tempers flare. Take your bottle out of your diaper bag, Tommy, and get that union boss to pass you his mug. Show these big boys how it’s done!

Engineer

I hand the blocks to the three-year-old architect/engineer/builder and she piles them up. “This is the roof,” Tina explains, laying a large red block on the floor. Blue blocks, then green, then blue again as the square structure takes shape.

Oh no!  There are two blue blocks left over! She can’t put them on top—that will spoil the symmetry.

What to do?

At this point, my extensive experience in applied mathematics and building design come to the fore. I have a pretty good idea that if there were two blue blocks left over the first time, there will be two blue blocks left over the second time. Just my opinion, of course.

We demolish the house.

Aha! Tina has the answer!

She lays the large red block on the floor again.

She’s working feverishly now. Adrenalin, fueled by inspiration, courses through her veins.

“Each, each, each, each,” she announces, laying the blue blocks CROSSWISE rather than LENGTHWISE on the red one. Surely this will do it.

Again, she builds her square house . . . but what’s this I see? Two errant blue blocks with nowhere to go!

Tina demolishes the offending structure and prepares to rebuild.

“Let’s build it funny,” I suggest, standing a block on its edge. Will the originality of design distract Tina from the house’s glaring lack of mathematical proportions?

It does. We build and then demolish a “funny” house, and all is once again well in Toddlerdom.

Strong Man

Two-year-old Tommy’s cold, really cold. He’s shivering violently and his lips and nails are blue. Does he want to get out of the water? Of course not!

But it’s time. We take the life jacket off him and put it on his three-year-old cousin, Tina. Then Tommy’s mom takes Tina across the pool. Poor Tommy! His heart breaks as he watches HIS mom take his cousin across the pool with HIS life jacket. He weeps.

In the sauna, I wrap the shaking child in a towel and rock him. I pray for him, with him. “Dear Jesus, thank You that the sauna is warm. Thank You that I’m getting warm now. Please help me to stop crying now. Please help me to be a strong boy.”

Tommy stops crying and I dress him. “You’re so strong,” I tell him. “You stopped crying.”

I take him back out to the pool and we again watch his cousin swimming with his mom, this time without tears.

In the days and weeks that follow, this incident becomes a part of Tommy’s psyche. “I share Tina,” he announces out of the blue. “I share jacket. I stop crying.”

It’s become a part of who he is.

“Train up a child in the way he should go” Proverbs 22:6