Is the Word “Buddy” Helpful in Programs for Kids with Disabilities?

Once a week I compile the short reflections I’ve offered on my Facebook Author Page into one blogpost. Last week I didn’t do this because I couldn’t figure out how to embed videos. So this week, you get two weeks of material, including two video posts. If you benefit from these thoughts, please pass them along to your friends:

Monday, April 30, 2018

I decided to try something new–here’s a video clip with some of my thoughts about how Jesus welcomes people who are new and might be feeling uncomfortable and pushes people who have been around for a while into a less comfortable space:


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I think I am currently reading this book for the third time, and I think I will read it again someday. Yes, I got to read some early drafts because I was at a writer’s workshop with the author. And yes, she’s my friend. But that’s not why I’m reading it again. I’m reading it again because the prose is lyrical and compelling and surprising and beautiful, because the stories span generations and the globe and yet remain clear and relevant, and because the insistence that in a world of darkness and despair, we have reason to hold onto hope, to celebrate the light, and to lean in to the goodness and beauty and joy of it all.

Rachel uses her own experiences as a mother and as a doula–especially as a doula in Malawi–to think through risk and anxiety, life and death, beauty and hope.

If you like literary memoirs, if you have ever struggled with anxiety, if you like family stories, if you like birth stories, if you like really good writing, buy this book and read it. And then read it again. And then tell everyone you know who loves books like this that they too must read it.

It’s available today:

Here’s what I wrote when I endorsed it (after the second time I read it): “Birthing Hope drew me in from the first page to the last. Rachel Marie Stone’s masterful interweaving of family story, theological truth, and personal reflection on birth, life, and loss puts her in the company of writers such as Rebecca Solnit and Eula Biss. I will return to this book for wisdom, beautiful writing, and encouragement that, even in the face of loss and sorrow, it is good to give ourselves to the light.”


Friday, May 4, 2018

A friend of mine asked me to help her put together a summer reading list for friends who are interested in God/Christianity but aren’t sure what they believe. She mentioned Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. I’m planning to recommend Tatoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle and possibly one of Marilynne Robinson’s novels. What about you? What books helped you understand the God of the Bible in a new or different way? What books would you recommend to someone who is exploring faith as an adult for the first time?


Monday, May 8, 2018

Here’s another video post about Luke 15 (link included below in the comments). This passage is perhaps Jesus’ most famous story–about the son who was lost and who returns home. As familiar as it may seem, I was talking with some students about it this week and I was struck again by the surprises in this story. I’d love to hear what you think!


May 11, 2018

I went to the post office with all three kids yesterday. Penny asked if she could open the mailbox. Marilee took the mail out. William claimed the responsibility of sorting it. Amidst the bills and catalogues we also found this month’s issue of Christianity Today, with the story I had the privilege of writing, “Willing and Able,” on the cover.

After the post office, we went to the library. I asked Penny to come over, and we sat together. I had her read the three parts (beginning, middle, and end) of the article that were about her. Penny read the conclusion out loud: “Yes, Penny has taught me patience and kindness. But she has given me so much more than a positive life lesson. In her perseverance, in her love for others, in her readiness to forgive–Penny is a role model to me… Penny teaches me by who she is, not just by who she calls me to be…” And as she read, she reached over and squeezed my hand.

She finished and said, “Where’s the part about William and Marilee?”

I said, “They don’t get to be in this one because they don’t have an intellectual disability.”

“Oh,” she nodded. “True.”


May 11, 2018

The word “buddy” comes up a lot in programs for people with disabilities.

When Penny was a toddler, our church said they’d like to get a “buddy” in the classroom with her (by which they meant an adult to help her navigate the room or kids if she needed extra help).

There are “Buddy Walks” to raise money for causes related to Down syndrome. We’ve participated and supported many of those over the years.

There’s the “Best Buddies” program, in which typically-developing college students pair up with adults with intellectual disabilities in their communities. My sister Kate had a “best buddy” in college, and her relationship with S, who had Down syndrome, was one of the most meaningful friendships of her time there. My sister Elly also had a buddy who our whole family came to know and love. My favorite story about a best buddy experience came from the man who–alongside his “best buddy” of twelve years–completed the NYC Marathon (link to the TODAY show interview in the comments below). They clearly had a mutually encouraging relationship that led to personal transformation for them both.

In other words, buddies are awesome.

And yet I cringe a little bit when I hear the word, or when I think about someone being Penny’s buddy. It sounds pejorative to me. It sounds one-sided. It sounds immature. The dictionary definition of buddy doesn’t support me here. It says a buddy is a chum, a friend, a comrade. And certainly I want Penny to have friends, and I utterly support programs that provide social support to make those friendships possible.

Penny and I often talk about finding “mentors”–people who know more than she does about something where she wants to learn and grow. And I wonder whether one of the reasons I don’t like the word buddy is that buddies are often not just friends but actually more like a mentor? Or maybe I’m just making too much of it all.

The picture above is of Penny and Marilee with their former babysitter Maddie. Maddie started to babysit Penny in the summer when Pen was 1. 11 years later, they are friends, and Maddie is of course more than a friend. She’s a role model (and someone who went on to get a degree in special education and teach kids with special needs) and a mentor and a beloved friend of our family. I could not be more grateful for people like Maddie in Penny’s (and my!) life.

I’m curious to know what you think. What comes to mind when you hear the word buddy? If you have a typically developing kid, would you like it if someone assigned your kid a “buddy”? If you have a child with an intellectual disability, do you like the word buddy? Why or why not?