Special Needs: How One Chicagoland Megachurch Is Getting It Right

Special Needs: How One Chicagoland Megachurch Is Getting It Right

Willow Creek Community Church gives pride of place to a group that most of society fails to value.
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As a relatively well-known and well-resourced megachurch in South Barrington, Illinois, Willow Creek Community Church often has the opportunity to do things that other churches and organizations could only dream of.

Take their Care Center, for example:

Three years ago, the church opened a brand new, 60,000 square foot facility on campus to provide hope and dignity to those in need with food, car repair, clothing, dental and even legal services, becoming "one of the nation's largest all-encompassing church outreach operations under one roof." This relatively new facility now serves tens of thousands of unique families every year.

If the Care Center is any indication, Willow Creek has a pattern of raising the value of those that society most often devalues, and their special needs ministry, Special Friends, is no exception.

Just recently, Teaching Pastor Steve Carter shared an exciting development at weekend services in early June, saying that the church had “called in the foremost leaders in creating spaces for kids with disabilities, and they began to dream.” What these experts in the fields of behavioral and cognitive therapy came up with, Carter said, was “a space that is unlike any other special needs space on the planet.”

Carter's announcement was the public unveiling of the brand new, recently-completed Special Friends space at the church; a long-awaited and much-needed project for their growing ministry to families with special needs.

For the past several years, leaders of Willow Creek have been doing everything in their power to raise up the value of those affected by special needs in the church, whether through the regular events of a weekly ministry or yearly Special Friends fishing derbies and theatrical productions.

According to Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, even as all of those great things have been going on, leaders at Willow have become increasingly aware of the difficulty that families of children with special needs face in simply being able to attend church, let alone being welcomed with open arms when they do.

As part of their long-term response to such obvious need, the church raised a large sum of money to create a space designed specifically for those with disabilities and special needs. The new space includes sensory nooks to help calm and sooth special friends who are having trouble controlling their emotions, areas designed to foster connection between special friends and even a space for teaching and worship.

At Willow Creek, the people who are most often overlooked or written off by other churches have now been given the best space in the church—a space specially designed to fit their unique needs and something entirely unheard of until now.

Kudos to you, Willow Creek, and may other churches follow your example in valuing and caring for the least of these.

To read more about this new space for people with special needs, you can view the church's official announcement here.

Cover Image Credit: Willow Creek Community Church

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black-and-white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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In Real Life, 'Plus Size' Means A Size 16 And Up, Not Just Women Who Are Size 8's With Big Breasts

The media needs to understand this, and give recognition to actual plus-size women.

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Recently, a British reality dating TV show called "Love Island" introduced that a plus-sized model would be in the season five lineup of contestants. This decision was made after the show was called out for not having enough diversity in its contestants. However, the internet was quick to point out that this "plus-size model" is not an accurate representation of the plus-size community.


@abidickson01 on twitter.com


Anna Vakili, plus-size model and "Love Island "Season 5 Contestant Yahoo UK News

It is so frustrating that the media picks and chooses women that are the "ideal" version of plus sized. In the fashion world, plus-size starts at size 8. EIGHT. In real life, plus-size women are women who are size 16 and up. Plunkett Research, a marketing research company, estimated in 2018 that 68% of women in America wear a size 16 to 18. This is a vast difference to what we are being told by the media. Just because a woman is curvy and has big breasts, does NOT mean that they are plus size. Marketing teams for television shows, magazines, and other forms of media need to realize that the industry's idea of plus size is not proportionate to reality.

I am all for inclusion, but I also recognize that in order for inclusion to actually happen, it needs to be accurate.

"Love Island" is not the only culprit of being unrealistic in woman's sizes, and I don't fully blame them for this choice. I think this is a perfect example of the unrealistic expectations that our society puts on women. When the media tells the world that expectations are vastly different from reality, it causes women to internalize that message and compare themselves to these unrealistic standards.

By bringing the truth to the public, it allows women to know that they should not compare themselves and feel bad about themselves. Everyone is beautiful. Picking and choosing the "ideal" woman or the "ideal" plus-size woman is completely deceitful. We as a society need to do better.

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