In the middle of the woods, a group of boys excitedly ran around in the dirt chasing after each other. Caleb was off to the side noticeably by himself in a camp chair with a book. I was a few feet away from him toasting some bread for dinner when all of a sudden, I noticed one of the older kids, Timothy, pulling away from the other kids and making his way over to Caleb.
“Hi Caleb! What are you reading? Do you want me to read it to you?” Timothy asked while snuggling up close to him. All of a sudden, the other kids made their way over and one of them announced, “Hey, it’s storytime!” They stood there quietly while listening to Timothy read the book. It was the sweetest display of inclusion. It doesn’t take much more than that to include “different.”
But an even greater story of inclusion can be found in the Bible. Jesus models this for us in Mark 10:13-16:
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
Why were the disciples rebuking children being brought to Jesus? Were they a nuisance? Not worthy of Jesus’ attention or company?
Let’s imagine a group of children with disabilities being brought to Jesus. I could imagine an even stronger rebuke IF typical kids in this story were discouraged. But just as the Lord replied “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” because 2 Corinthians 5:15 declares that “He died for ALL, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
And that my friends, is the perfect example of inclusion, God’s love poured out to all. We are all sinners in need of a Savior.
Even though Caleb probably would have been content sitting there reading by himself, it doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the love and attention from others. He’s human just like you and me. It’s so easy to dismiss children with special needs and disabilities (especially those that are less engaging or interactive) but know that they have feelings too. Caleb always engages when engaged with.
The other day I placed Caleb on a couch with his books next to a father who was on his phone. I walked across the way to be closer to a fan to keep cool but could still keep my eyes on Caleb. We were just outside of my younger son’s jiu jitsu class watching from behind glass doors. This father sitting next to him got off of his phone and just naturally started engaging with Caleb in a soft and inviting voice.
He asked him questions like “what’s your favorite animal” and made comments about the pictures in his book. Caleb gleefully exchanged laughs and interacted with him. I was so thankful to this man who took the time to get to know Caleb and engage with him. He gets it. He sees Caleb and his worth.
Here are some easy and fun ways to educate and engage your kids:
- Borrow books about special needs or disabilities and read them to your kids. We just borrowed one about the paralympics and we now know what football 5-a-side and sitting volleyball is!
- When you see a child or an adult that is “different” or in a wheelchair, please don’t stare. Instead, approach them and introduce yourself. You can start off by saying, “Hi! My name is —-. What’s your name?”
- Celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October or any other disability that’s assigned a month. Look it up online and see what you can do to help. In the Ds community, we like to wear mismatched socks. It’s a fun and easy way to support Ds and share what it is with your community.
- If you have a classmate or someone in your school with a disability, have them over for a playdate or invite them to your next birthday! Trust me, it will bring a BIG smile to that child’s face!
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Clara Lee is a full-time mommy to Caleb (4) and Jesse (3). She advocates and educates others on Ds through Instagram (@calovelee) and has written a book called The Maker. She partnered with a brilliant artist/illustrator, Brandon Lack, who happens to have Down syndrome. She also works part-time with Interserve USA because her other passion in this world is global missions.
If you want to hear more about Clara’s journey with Caleb and Ds, you can listen to her interview on the Diversity and Down podcast, episode 13.