What does it look like to love someone with special needs? I have had the honor and the blessing of interviewing a few folks to find out what challenges and blessings come with caring for someone with special needs.

I went into each interview thinking that I already knew pretty much what each of them would say. I do know everything, after all.

I was ready to hear well-developed theological arguments about theodicy and the nature of suffering. I was ready to hear some minor struggles they might have to deal with every once in a while: derogatory language in the grocery store, or bullying. You know, little stuff like that.

What I got instead blew me away. The enormity of the challenges folks face when caring for someone with special needs is monumental. These folks deserve a medal for their mettle. They are tough!

I hope to share the conversations we have in another post later this week. We found some awesome ways that we can better support folks with special needs in our communities, both religious and otherwise.

But today, I want to share how these conversations have changed me.

You might have heard the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Christena Cleveland, in Disunity in Christ, actually gives strong evidence to the contrary. Familiarity leads to trust, which leads to relationships. Let’s say we encounter the same bearded barista each day at our local coffee shop. Each time we visit and he doesn’t try to kill us, we trust him a little bit more. After a couple of weeks of regularly interacting, we form a kind of trust that, if kindled, could lead to friendship. (I will totally be your friend! Come see us for coffee!)

So you might conclude that we like folks that we run into most frequently. If we are meeting someone for the first time, especially in an unfamiliar setting, like a big dude in a dark, secluded ally, we are naturally more guarded and cautious around this new person. This caution might even become fear as the individual is more and more dissimilar from ourselves and our familiar settings.

So we fear what we don’t know and we love what we know well. If we take that logic and apply it to the opportunity we have to be more inclusive of folks with special needs, what should we do?

Get to know more folks with special needs! It isn’t that hard, but it will be uncomfortable at first. Remember, as our knowledge of and familiarity with folks who are different from us grows, so too will our ability to love and care for everyone.

I am by no means saying that I’m there, or I have it figured out. But I have discovered a way forward for myself. If I want to be more inclusive I need to learn more, listen more, and hang out more with folks who aren’t me (it’s hard not to want to hang out with me, though.) Even in the short time I spent interviewing these families, I gained a small bit of understanding and empathy for their situations and for the challenges that they face caring for someone with special needs.

I am looking forward to sharing that understanding and empathy with you all. I hope you will find it as valuable as I have.

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