One of the pleasures of this sabbatical time is my ability to connect with different disability ministry leaders across the country. Last Thursday, Stephen and I had a delightful dinner with Tim and Marie Kuck of Nathaniel’s Hope in Orlando, Florida. Their daughter, Ashley, is a freshman at Wheaton College and they were in the area for an extended period of time to get her settled. Marie and I first met at an Accessibility Summit at McLean Bible Church about six years ago and have kept in touch. But on Thursday we had the time to hear more of their story and it is a story worth sharing.
Their son, Nathaniel, was born prematurely in 1997 with multiple birth anomalies and joined two older sisters, who were five and three at the time. Surgeries, hospital stays and therapies became a normal part of their life. Tim said, “We had the Five F’s—faith, family, friends, finances and flexibility—and we still had trouble keeping our heads above water. So many times we felt like we just needed a break.” Then in 2001, Nathaniel died or as Marie puts it, “He was relocated to 777 Heavenly Lane.” Tim and Marie say, “Nathaniel taught us that to each life there is value and purpose. What may appear to be imperfect in the eyes of humans, really is perfect in the sight of God. He taught us about the meaning of “unconditional love,” perseverance, and he was a great showcase of God’s faithfulness. His captivating smile and the simple joy he brought to all who entered his world were God’s special gift and that is greatly missed.”
Amy Carmichael wrote in His Thoughts Said….His Father Said, “Can someone who has never walked the deep valleys of the spirit help a friend who is fainting—or lead this friend to the well-springs that will save the life of the soul?”
Tim and Marie walked the deep valleys of the spirit and came to know “ the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” (2 Corinthians 1:4) They felt God leading them to bring this same encouragement and hope to other families who have children with Special Needs or VIP’s as they call them. They founded Nathaniel’s Hope (www.nathanielshope.org) and started a program called “Buddy Break” which partners with local churches to provide free respite care. Buddy Break provides a safe place for VIPs and their siblings to have fun and establish meaningful friendships with other kids and adults while their caregivers get a break. Buddy Break is now in 12 states, and the Kuck’s are hoping to bring Buddy Break to more states. In November, I will be visiting Buddy Break in Orlando, Florida and I expect to learn much from this fine organization about how to do respite care for families with VIP’s or STARS as we call them.
Nathaniel’s Hope also sponsors a community event in Orlando, Florida, called “Make ‘m Smile.” This festival celebrates kids with special needs and provides buddies for families who attend the event. There is free food, entertainment, prizes and exhibits designed for special needs families. In 2012 there were over 15,000 people at this event, including 1,800 kids with special needs. The STARS have been invited to be part of the entertainment at Make ‘m Smile on June 1, 2013 and we look forward to being part of this wonderful event. Now doesn’t that make you smile?