Thursday, May 29, 2014

One of the things that our family loves the most about our church, Willowdale Chapel, is it's focus on community.  This is rooted in the idea that we were all designed by God to live in community with others.  That the craving for connection and to be known is something that God planted within all of us.  So our church helps it's members find the community and connection with others in a similar place or life stage as them.

We have been a part of a small group for families with young children for five years now.  It has been not only life changing for our family but life giving.  The other families are our friends.  We walk along side each other as we face illness, death, happiness, birth, job changes, raising young children and all the other pieces of our lives.  We stand in the gap for each other.  We make meals to lighten the load.  We cry and laugh and pray and celebrate with each other.  Our lives and the lives of our kids are better off because of our small group.

However, no matter how close we are and no matter how much they empathize with me, my small group has no idea of the day to day challenges of raising a child with special needs.  They all love Grace and want to understand but it is one of those things that you can truly only understand by walking it.  This desire for connection with other moms of special needs children started after our family first went to Joni and Friends Family Retreat back in 2010.  It was truly the first time I sat with other mothers and talked about our shared but very dissimilar experience of raising a child with a disability.

Since there were no groups for moms in my area that met at a time and place that was convenient and weren't diagnosis based.  After much prayer and discussion I decided that the best way for me to find community was to start it myself.  So in September of last year, we launched First Fridays for Moms at our church.  Our vision and dream is that First Friday for Moms (FFFM) is a community of moms with special needs children, seeking support and community.  Our special kids may all have different labels, but we are all the same.  We are moms seeking to thrive while facing the challenges of raising our children. 

It is a monthly support group that meets (you guessed it) on the first Friday of every month.  The format of our meetings was loosely based on my experience in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers, a Christian mothering organization), which I attended for five years.  And based on feedback from discussion groups with other mothers of special needs children.

We meet from 9:30 - 11:00 and typically have a speaker who talks for 20 minutes on a topic relevant to being the mother of a special needs child.  We then have general or round table discussion time for the rest of our meeting.  We 'end with a win' by going around the table and having each woman share something positive that has happened either with their child or in their family.

Some of the topics we discussed this year include; the importance of community, marriage (did you know that 82% of marriages that have a special needs child end in divorce), siblings, grief and expectations, surviving the holidays, keeping your joy and our last meeting next week will be on traveling with a special needs child.  The discussion is robust.  We share our hearts, our challenges, our fears, our successes and our lives.  We laugh because sometimes our kids do really funny stuff without intending for it to be funny.  And of course, we cry.  Which is okay because we know.  We get it.

Our group has consistently had about 8 women attend.  Which is great since our only 'marketing' has been in our church bulletin and by word of mouth.  I mean I obviously stink at promoting the group since I'm just now posting about it on my blog and we started 9 months ago. 

First Fridays for Moms is open to any mother with a special needs child.  You do not need to attend our church, or any church for that matter.  You just need to have a child with a special need and want to connect with other mothers who do too.  Does that describe you?  Click on this link to sign up.  Do you know a mom like this?  Would you send her to this link so she can sign up?  If you don't live locally but want to connect, please contact me through the comments section.  I'd love to talk with you!  Life really is better when we live it together...

How do you find community and connection?  How has it made a difference in your life?


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