‘Accepting the Gift’ in Review

What great weight is lifted off one’s shoulders when a major project finally comes to completion. I spent all of last Sunday walking around and smiling and remarking to Tony, “I’m no longer planning a conference!” Of course on Monday I dove into video editing, and by Wednesday I was making notes for another event, but none the less, there was a beautiful period of about 24 hours when I allowed myself to enjoy the freedom of no pressing deadlines or responsibilities.

And even though this year’s inaugural event was small in scale, it was a huge success in terms of the quality of the talks presented and the camaraderie shared by attendees. The day had it’s glitches: Mary Lenaburg got a stomach bug and had to leave shortly after speaking, the power went out during David Rizzo’s talk, and the homemade cookies decorated like gifts were late in arriving- but except for the absence of Mary, nothing seemed to ruin everyone’s good spirits and we worked through each hiccup with a laugh.

Fulton’s hospitalization earlier in the week meant I was rushing around at the last minute with details, and couldn’t spent as much time as I would’ve liked with Mary (which perhaps was for the best as she was harboring a nasty bug). She is always so much fun to talk with in person, and I enjoyed finally getting to meet her husband the ‘Grouchy Historian’ in person (a.k.a. Jerry). After her powerful talk, she happily signed copies of her new book ‘Be Brave in the Scared’ and the small crowd size allowed everyone the opportunity to chat and get pictures with her.

My talk went well, though it’s always hard for me to watch afterwards. Tony sat at home, monitoring the live stream and informed me afterwards a couple of the kids sat in for parts of my talk too. It made me cringe, as I imagined them making fun of my hand gestures or something, but also a good reminder that I need to make sure the stories I tell about our family are not an embarrassment to them. Thankfully, there were no complaints from my kids about my talk, and in retrospect I think I did a good job giving practical advise for parents struggling with burnout, while opening up a bit about my own struggles, without oversharing.

David Rizzo spoke on ways to teach a child with Autism, or other delays, about the Mass and Sacraments. He and his wife Mercedes have created numerous resources through trial and error as they worked to bring their autistic daughter Danielle up in the faith. Their hard work led to the creation of the Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit which they displayed for attendees and then donated to Rev. Matthew Schneider, who was in attendance. Father recently started a YouTube channel and Twitter handle AutisticPriest, since announcing last month that he has Autism. He live tweeted through the event, and I think he’s a real ray of hope to parents of Autistic kids who are wondering what the future may hold. He advocates for those with Autism, but also speaks from the perspective of a priest and offers a unique insight on how to make parishes more open to disabled people.

My fourth talk, which was supposed to be a Q&A panel, became two separate talks, which worked out fine and did a great job of answering some tough questions that had been presented to me in advance by other special needs parents. Father James Bartoloma explained the rights of special needs children in regards to the reception of the Sacraments and religious education. It’s hard for me to understand, as our parish has done a great job accommodating our boys in every way, that some priests are refusing to give the Sacraments of First Holy Communion or Confirmation to special needs children in their parishes. Usually when I hear about these instances, it seems to be more an issue of ignorance (priests don’t know how to adapt procedures and policies to meet the needs of some of their parishioners) rather than malice. Father Bartoloma offered advice and guidance for parents who are facing resistance, and provided proper citation of what the Church actually teaches in such matters.

The final talk was from National Catholic Bioethics Center member DiAnn Ecret. Father Bartoloma had acutally suggested I reach out to them early in my planning and I was amazed at all the information and advice they offer for free! Anyone, special needs parent or not, can reach out to them via email, or phone call, for ethical matters. Their team of ethicists hash over the particulars of each case and then offer advice based on Church teachings. Having seen the number of complex questions that often arise in special need parenting groups online, I knew they would be the perfect organization to tackle the difficult medical questions many of us face. DiAnn touched on several questions while a second guest from the NCBC, offered some additional commentary as well. I feel blessed to be part of a Church that offers answers and a consistent ethic of respecting life; it was reassuring to know that, even when the answers were hard, they are there with 2,000 years of scholarly tradition behind them.

It seems early to think about next year, but as the day wound down, volunteers and speakers promised to return, and I made several verbal commitments. A conference like ‘Accepting the Gift’ is so needed, but I realize it needs to be part of a larger year round network of support, so I’m making plans for something bigger so the message of this year’s conference can spread and lead more people to finding the community and resources they need. (In addition to planning another conference.)

If you couldn’t join us (or just want to hear Mary Lenaburg’s fantastic keynote talk), you can purchase all the talks from the day in a video bundle for $20. Your purchase price also includes access to six additional recorded talks. Seems like the perfect opportunity for a giveaway! Leave a comment below for a chance to win access to the complete 11 video series! Winner will be chose by random number drawing. If you can’t wait, click over to the product page and order now! All the money raised will go towards conference expenses and growth.

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7 Comments

  1. I’m so glad it went well, Kelly! 🙂
    I LOATHE watching myself talk or perform. I really hate even listening to my own voice. So I completely feel ya there.

  2. I have to start thinking about how religious education will go for my daughter with DS. (When she was in pre-school is easy to put off, but now with kindergarten upon us, I can’t avoid it anymore). Congratulations for making the conference a success!

  3. Just received an autism diagnosis for my 11yo last week- I’m ready to look into new resources. Thank you for your work.

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