I’m Linda Guy and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
When my grandson Hudson was found to be on the autism spectrum, I remember thinking, ‘God, you are not surprised. You have said you’re our protector and provider, so please protect, provide, and help Hudson to be special.’ That was many years ago- Hudson is now 17, and God has answered that prayer. Hudson’s the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life- ‘How was your day? Wonderful.’, ‘How did things go? Just great.’ To face the challenges he does and to have that attitude, that’s what we pray for. It was actually my experience with Hudson that led me to one of the neatest relationships of my life over the past couple years. I’m a caregiver with the Stephen Ministry at CSPC, so when Jeannette George (the church’s care coordinator) sent the word out- ‘Does anyone have any experience with someone on the autism spectrum?’- I thought, ‘That’s me.’ Niki Walden has a young daughter, Annabelle, who’s on the spectrum, and Niki had expressed interest in receiving care from a Stephen Minister. Once we were paired up, it was an instant bond, even though I’m her mother’s age. Typically what’s shared between a Stephen Minister and a care receiver is confidential, but Niki and I have agreed to give you a window into our time together so you can have a better idea of the powerful work God does through the Stephen Ministry. Right now at CSPC, there’s actually a need for Stephen Ministry care receivers, not caregivers. There’s no need to train more Stephen Ministers if we don’t have people asking for help. I think people either don’t know, or forget, this ministry is here, because I’m sure there are struggling people at CSPC who need encouragement. It can be something like ‘I just moved here and I don’t have any new friends.’ You can get very down about something like that. It doesn’t have to be the death of your spouse or a divorce, though those people do seem to reach out more often. I guess we just want to make people more aware, because we do have Stephen Ministers who are trained for their good. If you need a listening ear, don’t be shy to reach out. https://cspc.net/ministries/caring/
The first time Niki and I met, I just listened to her story. I think it was comforting to her to know of an older child who’d been through this, and to talk with somebody like me- older than her- who understood. Niki and I would meet once a week at different places, and we would talk and then we’d pray together. She never missed a weekly meeting. She was very faithful- a dedicated, Energizer bunny of a mom. Niki’s just going to keep working until she gets this child all the help she can, and that makes Annabelle a very lucky young lady. It was good that I could affirm Niki in that, especially on days when she didn’t feel she was doing a good job. I remember in one of our early meetings, her first concern was ‘Would Annabelle be able to have a relationship with the Lord?’ What a wonderful thing to wish for a 3- or 4-year-old who doesn’t speak! And I said, ‘You know, Niki, God’s going to honor that. You may not know it, but He’s going to honor that and we’re going to watch it happen.’ For her to have that desire -not that the difficulties would go away, or that Annabelle would have this or that, but that she desired for her to be able to know the Lord- that was more important to her than Annabelle speaking. It was just beautiful to me. Eventually Niki didn’t need weekly care anymore, and we progressed out of Stephen Ministry and into more of a mentoring relationship. She wanted me to meet Annabelle, but warned me, ‘I don’t know how it’ll go because she’s uncomfortable with new people.’ So I went to the home, and that child opened the door and let me right in, like ‘Come on in. I don’t know who you are but I like you, and come on in.’ Niki and I both went, ‘Wow!’ Before I left, she even climbed up in my lap. That was a real blessing for me. Over and over in my relationship with Niki, I’ve seen how God’s love, grace, and mercy are sufficient. It’s so neat to watch expectantly. And the verse I pray for Hudson, Jeremiah 29:11 (‘For I know the plans I have for you… to give you a future and a hope’), I also pray regularly for Annabelle. Being a Stephen Minister opened the door to this relationship, which Niki and I both treasure.
I first heard about CSPC’s Stephen Ministry six years ago, and I just thought it was someplace I could fit, so I signed up. I’d been through quite a bit in my life and thought I could walk alongside somebody and be helpful. Sometimes if you’re in a hard place, it’s nice to talk with someone else who’s been there. Stephen Ministers just walk alongside- we’re not the cure-givers, we’re the caregivers. We’re trained to be active listeners and encouragers. Struggling people want somebody to listen, to care- they don’t necessarily want you to fix them. Years ago, with my very first care receiver, I just sat there and watched her cry for weeks. She poured her heart out and I was just there to be in the room, care, and give her a Kleenex. The way God’s grown me the most through Stephen Ministry? Watching Him do the work when my natural inclination is to think, ‘I want to do the work.’ A lot of us have ‘fixer’ personalities and it’s very hard for us not to be fixers. But God is showing me He’s in charge of any situation that comes up. For instance, Niki’s Annabelle is having seizures now. We’ve prayed about that and watched, not the seizures go away, but Niki be able to handle the seizures in a new way. She was scared about them at first, as was I. And we just prayed about that. Later I was able to say, ‘Niki, look. You weren’t so scared this time.’ Watching care receivers like Niki grow helps me grow- because I know it’s not me, it’s the Lord. I’ve watched Him enable gradual steps of growth -knowing it’s not Niki, it’s not me, but Him taking our prayers together- and watched Him not necessarily change the situation, but help her adjust to and accept the situation. Another neat thing about being a caregiver: twice a month, I lead supervision groups where we as Stephen Ministers get together to pray for each other and our care receivers. It’s all confidential, which is such an important part of our program. So we don’t just give- we also receive refreshment from our fellow caregivers.
Interested in help from a Stephen Minister? Women may email Jeanette George (firstname.lastname@example.org) and men may email Brad Richardson (email@example.com).