In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to run this guest post by Ann O’Keeffe Rodgers, founder of Hope Springs Florida, a respite home for families touched by autism, located in Jacksonville, Florida. Thanks so much, Ann!
As Christians, we learn about the early Christian martyrs who gave their lives for Jesus and His kingdom. Those who chose death rather than deny their Lord and Savior are known as the “red martyrs.”
And yet, there are also those who give up their lives every day, imitating Jesus by giving themselves wholeheartedly in loving service. Theirs is a “white martyrdom,” a slow and painful way of taking up their cross. One example is Pope St. John Paul II, whose quiet endurance of Parkinson’s at the end of his life showed the world what it means to lay down one’s life each day out of love for God.
Through work for Hope Springs Florida and those with special needs, I have been so blessed to meet many other “white martyrs.” They give of themselves joyfully and willingly, out of love for their children. I have been blessed to meet, know, and be friends with them. Through their example and their friendship, they inspire me constantly to return to the Beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the fifth chapter of Matthew.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Blessed, too, are the men and women who get up every morning before their child wakes, and sacrifice for their child’s peace of mind.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And blessed as well are parents who work two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet for critical therapy services for their child.
Parents who sleep on the floor of the pediatric hospital because there is no other place for them to sleep that night, while they wait for treatment for their child, remind me: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”
Blessed are parents who are misunderstood by members of their own church community, and who often feel marginalized by others, who do not see their integrity, character, and strength. God sees the truth, and has promised: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.”
Blessed are parents who struggle to meet the needs of their neurotypical children as well as those with special needs, mourning the fact that these siblings’ lives will not be the same as those of their peers. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Blessed are the staff of doctor’s offices, behavioral therapists, speech and occupational therapists, special education teachers, and guidance counselors who recognize what a privilege it is to work with these exceptional children, who are absolutely without guile or deceit – simply unconditional love.
Blessed are the staff at organizations like Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services and other faith based organizations that are committed to serving this population, when they could be working in another business sector making a much heftier salary. God says to you, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
And finally, blessed are the behind-the-scenes supporters of these children who do not want recognition for their acts of service, gifts of talent or treasure, or their supportive presence alongside families who are struggling with the burdens of caring for these children. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Years ago, standing in Saint Peter’s Square at Easter, on the very same ground once soaked by the blood of the martyrs who had given their lives for Someone they had only heard about, it was clear to me that the Church is bigger than any one human being.
Today, thirty years later as a parent of four children – including one who has autism – I am an advocate for children with special needs. Just as I saw in Rome, I see in the Church today signs of grace and mercy – and also reminders that, as a Church, we must continue to find new ways to receive as Jesus did the “least of these,” embracing the culture of Life to its very fullest, so that no one is left behind.
Ann O’Keeffe Rodgers is the founder of Hope Springs Florida and program administrator at Huntington Learning Centers in Jacksonville, Florida. Hope Springs Florida serves families touched by autism, strengthening bonds through respite services in a vacation environment. You can find more information about Hope Springs Florida on Facebook (their website is currently under construction.)