I remember meeting Kati Mcarty for the first time. A group of us had officially just launched Forge Tyler, and we were more than a little excited to kick off our first residency. We were gathered in a room in the upstairs of a building downtown... our go-to meeting place when Kati came in and sat down with us.
Kati was the first person who jumped on the opportunity to participate in the residency and so we decided to meet with her to give her more of an idea of what the residency would entail. We told her about the curriculum, the incredible resources and books that would be provided, the cohort gatherings for learning and equipping, the one-on-one coaching, and the intensive week-ends we had planned with some of the greatest missional minds of our day.
And then we asked her to share a little of what drew her to want to participate in the Forge Residency.
She talked about how she so passionately desired to engage special needs children and adults and their families. This was her context. Her heartbeat. And I remember tears welling up in her eyes as she talked about her desire to love and be a healing part of the special needs community.
Her story impacted me. Passion and love spilled from her eyes, and I knew right then that she'd be like a duck to water, because she possessed something that can't be taught: she knew where she was called.
Kati jumped right into the residency along with six others (as well as five of us leading/coaching) and we began to walk together.
In her words,
As I jumped into the Residency, I experienced a serious paradigm shift. Forge uses that word a lot but it was really true for me. Especially when it comes to how I see the church. All of it just changed my way of thinking. It's almost hard to sum up.
When I went to the first intensive all I could say was, "Wow." My mind was spinning. And everything began to shift in my thinking. The one statement that has stuck with me was this: "The church has gotten the plot wrong." And I realized that we've made the church into something it's not suppose to be. I think if Jesus walked into one of our churches today, He'd just say, "What are y'all doing??" He might not say y'all since He wasn't a Texan... But you get the idea.
Forge has made me completely rethink the church.
Growing up in a baptist church, working on staff at a church, and being someone who loves the church, I realized that it's okay to disagree with things that the church does and still love it. For me it was important to realize that though the church has failed, and will fail, God will never fail. He calls us to live out His kingdom and live out things on earth as they are in heaven. I see the church very differently than I used to; I see a lot of brokenness within the church, but I still love it.
As I watched Kati grow through her journey, I continued to feel truly blessed to get to do all of her one-on-one coaching, because many times I think I received more from her than she did from me.
I remember sitting across from her at dinner one night as she told me about how she was learning to engage her context. And her passion and love was palpable. It challenged me to see if I was willing to throw myself so deeply and fully into my context… to laugh and cry and feel the pain of those to whom I had been sent like she did.
In Kati's words,
I've asked myself, "What does it look like to see the Kingdom of God come on earth in the special needs community?" That is a beautiful question to ask. And I think it looks like loving, accepting, and including people who may be different than you. Our society needs to realize that, even if we are different, it doesn't mean we can't relate to each other and embrace each other.
I want people to stop looking at a family with special needs kids and just defining them as "a family with special needs," but instead just see them as normal family. Because no matter how you were born or created, I want people to see that they are made in the image of God... We should never segregate or push away people just because they are different from us.
I have a special needs girl who is in choir. Her name is Lyric. And I've realized that it's not about her singing being perfect by our standards. It's about her being who she is. It's about realizing that, yes, she has special needs, but inside she's just a girl… a girl with joy, a sense of humor, a kindness, and a love for life. And that's what I want people to see in her and not define her by one aspect of who she is.
The world needs to hear this.
And that's what I love about Forge. I think it's showed me that it doesn't matter where or what your context is… any context is valid if you're called. My context and calling is primarily to special needs yet I've realized that I can live out this calling wherever, it doesn't have to be in a church building or in a limited location or people group.
And God has broadened my calling as well. I'm learning to be intentional wherever I go… people at the gym, at Target, and out in public. I've learned to just be intentional no matter where I go, and I'm finding that though I feel specifically called to families with special needs, anywhere I am is a context and place to live missionally.
And that's what Forge has helped me understand… that we have built this culture where mission is only done with these programs inside a church, not realizing that mission is done in every day life. It's not just about programs within the four walls of a church building… it's something that is done in every day public places.
We just have to learn how to be intentional and see that all of it can be sacred.
As we have walked together with Kati and the other six members of Tyler's first Forge Residency, we have grown close through the journey. We got to walk through open doors and new opportunities, frustrations, victories, and paradigm shifting.
I remember picking up the phone one day and all I heard on the other end was, "Holy Crap!"
It was Kati. I kept asking what was going on and she just kept saying, "Holy Crap!!!" over and over again. When she could finally gather her thoughts, she excitedly shared how God had opened a huge door and had connected her to the right people to engage her context in a way she could have never dreamed.
It was an incredible moment to witness and be a part of.
As Kati explains,
I grew up in a church, and I've had ministry people and mentors who have allowed me to be fairly transparent, but this is a group setting where we're all allowed to be completely transparent, and there is not this feeling like there's a script I'm suppose to follow. I felt this freedom in the atmosphere the residents and coaches provided.
When I sat down for my one-one-coaching, I didn't feel like I had to have a script or know all the answers. I just knew that I could be myself and be honest and raw and authentic, and that makes an environment for growth.
The other residents came from so many backgrounds and are going through so many things, but I love that we are able to relate to each other, embrace each other, encourage each other to engage our contexts, and celebrate together. The fact that we can be a unique, diverse group and come together and have community and share wisdom and stories from all of our lives and let it all braid together is incredible.
Though the residency is drawing to a close, I know that Kati's journey is only beginning. And that's what it's all about… discovering what it means to live missionally in the place where we're already doing life and then putting it into practice.
About the Author
Lauren Mickler is a word artist and Jesus lover who serves on the Forge Tyler team and has a heart for seeing true discipleship and restoration brought to her city. She also doubles as a mom, wife, coffee lover, and CrossFitter… Sometimes at the same time.