Someone stopped me recently to ask about what the hype was about ‘mainstreaming’, ‘inclusion’, integration’. I got caught in the mire of terms and definitions and while I was attempting to capture the differences in the nuances, I got thinking about the mothers I have had the privilege to meet with. They will probably never hear these terms but they practice these every day.
Whether I choose to feed my child with a disability the same food as my other children – is that even a choice? Whether I choose to dress her the same way as I dress my other girls – is that a choice? Whether I hold my baby, bring her out, share the story of Jesus as I would do with my other children – is there a choice there? Like I said earlier, these mothers may never know the terms ‘mainstreaming’ and ‘inclusion’ but in caring for their child every day, do they not practice it? Isn’t inclusion and mainstreaming only fancy terms for welcoming, loving acceptance? If that is true, then do we have a choice about inclusion?
I don’t claim it to be easy…I don’t want to sugar-coat the everyday struggle of caring for the children but these mothers all assure me that they would not exchange the experience for anything else. Giving up on the child, giving the child away is not an option. If then we are the family of God, how can we ‘discard’ those in our family who are ‘different’? Oh! I know that none of us Christians actually reject those with disabilities. In fact weren’t we the first to care for them? But are we also not the happiest when we care for them with special programs? Would we welcome them to our family room, our churches, Sunday schools and talk, preach and share with their different abilities in mind? Would we want to share the same spiritual food with them as with the others even if it meant that we would have to go slower than usual or is that too much work? Would that stop me if it was my child we were talking about? Is inclusion, then, a choice?
We forget that what all these terms mean is that we may have different abilities, different viewpoints, different stories but we come together not to make me more like you or the other way round. Rather, we come together for an enriched, new perspective. You change me as much as I change you. You minister to me as I minister to you and we are both transformed in the process. Most parents refer to how having the child with different needs has changed them, made their life slower, yes, but richer! Will we choose to welcome those with different abilities, backgrounds in our midst knowing that we will be richer in the process? Or are we more comfortable referring to them as ‘special groups’, good to be seen with but not worthy of being heard, of being in communion with? Is inclusion a choice?
I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 12 as I write this…about how we are all part of the same body…all the different parts, the presentable and the not-so-honored, the weaker parts. ‘But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another’ (12: 24, 25). I am reminded of a song called “If we are the body’ by Casting Crowns:
“But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?”