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Why Employment of People with Disabilities

There is something special about the intersection of typically-abled people and people with disabilities. For some reason, God’s spirit is more palpable in that environment.

Hello Friend,

Although every piece of the Farming with Friends mission is important to me, perhaps the single most important piece of the Farming with Friends mission, the piece most deeply embedded in my heart, is the employment-of-people-with-disabilities piece.

Here’s why…

Our first child, Scout Eleanor Griffin, was born on March 8, 2018. I remember her birth like it was yesterday. Immediately after delivery (during which I nearly passed out… ), the doctor held Scout in the air and Scout began to scream. In that moment, my eyes connected with Scout’s, and tears began streaming down my face. The beauty of that moment was supernatural and overwhelming.

As Scout grew, we noticed that she was a bit different from her peers. She was behind developmentally, and she interacted in ways that were atypical.

At 9 months of age, Scout wasn’t rolling over, and she wasn’t even close to crawling. She hadn’t cried much either (a parent’s blessing, right? ). She didn’t seem very interested in those things. Her interests seemed to lie in one-on-one human connection. She loved interacting with people.

At 18 months of age, during a routine check-up, Scout’s doctor found a heart murmur. Thereafter, he recommended two paths for Scout: 1) He wanted to test Scout’s heart to investigate the murmur, and 2) He wanted Scout to engage in genetic testing to see if she had a genetic disorder.

We were in and out of Akron Children’s Hospital for the next three months. Scout was poked and prodded over and over as we tried to determine her unique set of circumstances.

As I reflect on those three months, two days stand out to me because they were the two most challenging days I’ve faced as a father.

Challenging Day #1 - In October of 2019, when Scout was 19 months old, we went in for a CT scan on Scout’s heart. The hospital would only allow 1 parent to join Scout in this process, and I somehow drew the short straw . Scout and I went down into a cold, lifeless room in the basement of Akron Children’s Hospital for this procedure. It was the kind of room with silver metal cabinets and bland walls everywhere. Perfect for a sterile hospital. Terrible for comforting a scared baby and father.

When we arrived in the room, I sat Scout down on the cold, metal table. The doctor informed me that he would be injecting a slow-working sedative into Scout and that the sedative would produce a burning sensation underneath Scout’s skin for a period of time before she went into a light sleep. He explained that she would likely be scared during this time, and he indicated that I should be prepared for this. I nodded in agreement, and he went to work.

When the doctor injected the sedative into Scout, Scout began to panic. She was crying hysterically and trying to climb up my shirt and into my arms. I immediately burst into tears. All I could say was, “It’s okay. I love you.” I said this over and over again until Scout went to sleep.

This was such a painful process.

After the CT scan, the doctors told us that Scout would need heart surgery to fix a double aortic arch. We were informed that, as far as heart surgery goes, this procedure is easy-peasy, but Melanie and I still couldn’t help but be nervous.

Challenging Day #2 – Scout’s heart surgery was on December 19, 2019. This was a challenging day not only because of Scout’s surgery, but also because while Scout was in surgery, the geneticist called us to let us know that Scout had been diagnosed with Smith Magenis Syndrome. It was a double whammy. Our 21-month-old daughter was under the knife when we received the news of her diagnosis…it seemed like such unfortunate timing.

Melanie and I hugged, cried, and did our best to keep it together in the waiting room.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally informed that Scout’s surgery went well and that we could go visit her in her recovery room. I remember walking into that room and seeing my baby girl connected to wires coming and going in every direction, her face swollen, and her hair disheveled. It broke my heart to see her like that.

After a couple of hours in the recovery room, I walked down to the gift shop and bought a book for Scout that was full of Fred Rogers quotes, and then I sat in front of the big ball wall in Akron Children’s Hospital and cried once more.

It was so much to process.

We had a certain vision for our child, and it didn’t include her having a disability. That vision was shattered, and we were left to figure out what it looked like to move forward with this new situation. It felt like we no longer knew our little girl. It felt like she was forever changed because of her new label. It felt foreign, scary, and weird.

We became part of a club. A club of people who were forced to look at the world a little differently.

Because of Scout’s diagnosis, we were forced to rethink our views on so many topics - education, theology, entertainment, language, food systems, etc. We began to look at these things through the lens of Scout’s disability, and that radically transformed many of our views.

For example, here I was…a highly educated, highly successful human being from a worldly standpoint, but when compared to Scout at a very young age, I was severely deficient in my ability to love people. At the age of 3, that little girl could love people better than I could ever hope to in this life. Scout had, and still has, a natural knack for loving people. Her heart shows more clearly than mine. She’s more present, real, authentic, bold, and honest than I’ll ever hope to be. She’s incredible at making people’s day.

Heck, when we walk through a restaurant, she waives, smiles, and screams hello at every person she sees (or tells them Merry Christmas…in the middle of April)! That’s wild, radical love! And I don’t have the guts to interact with people that way.

Observing Scout’s ability to love made me question my values. How important is education in the typical sense? How important is worldly success? My daughter will likely never graduate from Harvard or Yale or lead a Fortune 500 company, but I’d put her up against any graduate or CEO in a competition of love and human connection.

Our world attaches so much value to a narrowly defined style of performance. Scout was encouraging me to stop performing and just be. Simply by existing, Scout was encouraging me to see the inherent value in every human being regardless of their ability to perform in a particular way. She was forcing me to confront that piece of myself that says, “I must perform. I am not valuable if I do not perform.”

And here’s the beauty in it all…

Over time, Melanie and I realized that the transformation of our views was for the better. We realized that the plan we had for our daughter that didn’t include her having a disability was far worse than the plan that God had for our daughter that included her having a disability. We realized that because of her disability, Scout brought a particular value to our world that she wouldn’t have otherwise brought without her disability.

1 Corinthians 1:27 took on a whole new depth of meaning for us. It reads, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” This little girl was putting us to shame. Through the lens of her disability, we couldn’t help but see some of our views, worries, and pursuits as extremely silly and foolish.

We were radically transformed simply because Scout existed.

And we found such wonderful freedom in our transformation.

Once Melanie and I realized this, we knew that our ministry was twofold.

First, we wanted to minister to people with disabilities. We knew that this population was often on the outside looking in. They were often forgotten about and/or left behind. We wanted to help solve that problem, but we also wanted to help others grasp the tremendous message beyond inclusion. We not only wanted to include people with disabilities in everyday activities, but we also wanted to celebrate them for the unique personality, skill set, and value they brought to the world. We wanted to show them the love, respect, honor, and dignity of which we knew they were worthy, and we wanted to provide the rest of the world with opportunities to witness and grasp the inherent value of people with disabilities, which brings me to our second ministry…

Next, we wanted to minister to typically-abled people. We knew that, in general, typically-abled people held some of the same goofy beliefs and views that we previously held, and we knew that evaluating life through the lens of disability was such a freeing process for us. Because of this, we wanted to give typically-abled people opportunities to dive deep into relationship with people with disabilities. We believed that this would give typically-abled people an opportunity for transformation on a deep, lasting level. We believed that when confronted with the genuine love, peace, joy, and lack of pride and ego that often flows naturally out of so many people with disabilities, most people couldn’t help but, through genuine self-evaluation, see that many of their views, worries, and pursuits are silly and foolish.

We envisioned this beautiful two-way street where typically-abled people served people with disabilities and people with disabilities served typically-abled people.

So, in 2021, we launched Fellowship of Christian Athletes’s first sports camp for people with disabilities…and that took off with great momentum!

Now, in 2023, here we are launching Farming with Friends…and we’re watching that take off with great momentum!

There is something special about the intersection of typically-abled people and people with disabilities. For some reason, God’s spirit is more palpable in that environment.

Farming with Friends is our attempt to create this environment on a consistent basis. It’s our attempt to bless people with disabilities, and it’s our attempt to bless typically-abled people.

If you're thinking...this guy is off his rocker. First, I'll go ahead and confirm that I am! Second, I want to invite you to experience it for yourself. Join us on the farm. Throw yourself into this environment and watch what happens. You won’t regret it, friend.

For more information on the possible spiritual impact of people with disabilities, I'd recommend "Adam: God's Beloved" by Henri Nouwen.

Tristan Griffin

Executive Director

Farming with Friends


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