David and Heather know firsthand what it’s like to try to develop lasting relationships with others as a family living with disability.
Their three children, Sullivan (15), Abigail (13), and León (12) each have disabilities and face unique challenges: Sullivan has visual impairment, a sensory processing disorder, and an irreparable congenital heart defect.
“My heart problems mean I don’t play sports and do the physical things many of my peers do. Sometimes I just feel left out.”
Abigail faces the challenges of ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, and executive function disorder.
“I have friends, but they don’t always understand me. I can’t always remember things and I get distracted. It makes it hard to keep friends.”
León lives with a gastro-intestinal disorder and autism spectrum disorder. David says,
“León’s autism means he doesn’t always relate well to others. Socially, he’s behind most of his peers. Most people, even other children, treat him like he’s 8 or 9, not like a typical 12-year-old. It’s heartbreaking.”
As parents, David and Heather feel left out, too.
As David says, “It’s hard to make friends with other couples and families when their children are doing things yours can’t. Even at church, people just don’t understand. It’s hard when your children aren’t accepted for who they are. Most of the time, we feel like we’re all alone.”
God created human beings to live in community. It’s vital to our health and wellbeing to develop genuine and lasting relationships with other people.
The impact disability has on families and individuals can create barriers to building the healthy relationships God intends for us to enjoy.
Joni and Friends Missouri understands the challenges of families like David and Heather’s. Through our programs like Virtual Family Fun Night, Virtual Care Group for Couples, Virtual Care Group for Caregivers, Family Retreat, and Marriage Getaway, families like David and Heather’s can connect with people who understand them and accept them for who they are.
Each member of the family shared their favorite thing about Joni and Friends Missouri:
Sullivan said, “I’ve been able to make some great friends at Joni and Friends. I love seeing everyone on Family Fun Night. I stay in touch with my buddy and friends from Family Retreat.”
Abigail loves her Family Retreat buddy! “She’s my friend and helped me make friends with others,” she said.
León really enjoys Family Fun Night every month. He said, “Family Fun Night helps me love Jesus more and lets me see my friends.”
Heather loves, “the positive, personal connection to other families that live with similar challenges to ours. Joni and Friends has helped us build true friendships with other Christians who understand us and relate to us.”
David shared, “Our Joni and Friends family often feels closer to us than any other group. We only ever feel loving friendship and true acceptance.”
The depth of relationship David and Heather’s family has found through Joni and Friends has been transformational, not just relationally but spiritually.
The Joni and Friends community understands disability-related prayer requests that might seem silly to others. At Joni and Friends, the family can celebrate every achievement, great or small, and find encouragement, prayer support, and acceptance.
The solid relationships built through Joni and Friends encourage families like David and Heather’s to reach out to other families with the Gospel of Christ.
“The way we’ve been treated by Joni and Friends has driven us to extend that same love and ministry to others. Any time we see a special needs family trying to do it on their own, we encourage them to be part of our family.”
David shared that the love the family has received through Joni and Friends has changed their view of others. When they see other families struggling with disability, David’s family members immediately want to share the hope and love of Christ with them.
“We love it when we see God use our family to minister to and change the lives of others.”
Joni and Friends Missouri works to transform life for families living with disabilities, providing continuous, meaningful, heartfelt relationships—true belonging and acceptance in Christ.