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How HPUMC Gave Me and My Son Our Second Family

07.10.18 | Belong: disABILITY Ministry | by Erika Warren

How HPUMC Gave Me and My Son Our Second Family

    Cole was diagnosed with autism at the age of six. Living with someone who has autism is a journey, and it can be an extremely exhausting to journey to walk through alone. For Cole’s mom, Erika, the church provided a community that would surround their family along this journey.

    The Feast Celebrates Their Third Birthday

    Thanks to God's goodness, grace, and provision, The Feast turned three years old on Sunday, June 24. They celebrated by giving thanks to God and rejoicing in God's love. The Feast is a worship service in which everyone belongs, based on the heavenly feast to which all are invited and included. The service is a welcoming place for those with special needs, their families and friends, and all who have a heart for special needs.

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    “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

    My son, Cole, wasn’t diagnosed with autism, or as he calls it, “Coleism” until he was six years old. I have never seen Cole’s autism as a disability because he is full of love, kindness, and has the biggest heart. But over the years I’ve gotten used to the looks, stares, and sometimes, ugly comments from those who don’t know us. All I can do is pray for those who don’t understand autism and lack empathy.

    During Cole’s toddler years, I would drop him off at his Sunday school class at HPUMC, always feeling a little nervous. Cole was non-verbal until he was 9 years old, so this made it difficult for others who didn’t know how to communicate with him.

    But over time, thanks to his teacher, Candace, and HPUMC’s wonderful children’s ministry, I became more and more comfortable. Eventually, I got to the point where I trusted leaving Cole in class for both services, allowing me to sing in the chancel choir and join a Sunday School Class of my own.

    Even then I had no idea just how much the special needs community at HPUMC, and those who are a part of it, would mold our lives over the next few years, into one full of hope, joy, happiness, optimism, and unconditional love.  

    For those who have never lived with someone who has autism, it is a journey. One of our ongoing challenges, as with many people who have autism, is that they need to know down to the last minute what is their schedule for the day. That being said, if the daily schedule changes in any way without Cole changing it himself, it can cause a meltdown. Mind you, my son is very big for his age, so if he has a meltdown in public, it is very visible. We pray each and every day that Cole will thrive as an adult and will be able to function at a high level and even get married because he wants these things. And then there’s the worry that every parent of a child with special needs faces, about what will happen to our child when we die. Cole is an only child. He doesn’t have a sibling who will be able to look after him. The reality of living with autism is that so many people don’t understand how it controls our lives.

    But, through all of this, God knew what we were going through and created a place for us.

    The cool thing about our church is that they don’t see Cole or his friends as a liability, but as children of God who contribute to make this world a better place. I am forever grateful for this ministry because it made us stronger as a family unit. The love we received from other families, and the amazing staff of HPUMC during this time, was invaluable. It was so comforting to know we weren’t the only ones out there who had a child with special needs. Never in a million years did I think a Sunday school, or a church, would have so many amazing opportunities for my son, Cole, and because of them, I made lifelong friends who have become our second family.  

    These days, Cole is involved in both The Feast, a worship service for those with special needs and their families, and the Kingdom Singers, a choir for teens and adults with special needs. As a mother, my biggest reward is getting to see my son shine as he reads Scripture at The Feast and sings every week with the Kingdom Singers. We’ve created this amazing bond because of our shared love for music! I was given the tools to connect with my son and his friends because of the music and the love that was shown to us through this incredible special needs family.  

    It has been 10 years since Cole and I have been on this journey we call “Coleism.” And it’s been pretty incredible. The last thing I was expecting from our church was a lifeline on how to help our son, a library full of books on parenting a child with a special need, and the most amazing support from those at our church.

     


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