Feathers from Heaven
Feathers from Heaven
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The first time Denise Briley took her two youngest children to one of the churches in their new town, they were greeted warmly. When the family arrived the next week, this time with eleven-year-old Clayton in his wheelchair, no one even made eye contact with them. Fortunately, the family found another church where all of them felt welcome. Although the church community didn’t have experience working with people with disabilities, volunteers came forth to support the Brileys and help Clayton attend Sunday school and church.


Born with severe cerebral palsy, Clayton inspired a special-needs ministry that grew to 80–100 participants, including volunteers. Children and their families who had never been able to attend church before found a welcoming community where they no longer felt isolated.


This is the story of Denise and her beloved son Clayton, who passed away in 2009 at the age of twenty-five. It is the story of a mother’s devotion and of her journey to places she never expected to be, doing God’s work in a way she never could have foreseen. Honest and courageous, Denise shares not only her love and grief, but her struggle to find direction after Clayton’s death. But whenever she needed a sign of God’s presence, he sent her a feather. Feathers from Heaven challenges us to think about how we include people with disabilities in our churches, and to look for signs of God’s grace in our own lives.

JOY .. Jesus’ Opportunity for You is born

As the conversation progressed she said something to me that still resonates in my mind and my heart. Her question to me that Saturday was “Denise, how can we help you?” I must admit I was a bit taken back by her question. In the months of searching, of moving from another state, actually in most of my years as Clayton’s mom, no one had truly taken the time to ask me that very intimate question, yet it was so simple. “How can we help you?” I told her I really didn’t know, no one had ever asked me that before.

She said they didn’t have any children with special needs, and they really didn’t know what to do, but they would learn and if I thought it was alright they would place Clayton in a class where he was comfortable and happy. I had truly never even thought of that before. His needs were so great, I truly never thought of allowing someone at church to take him far from my sight much less offer to bring him to class.

Denise Briley began her journey of caring for people with disabilities when her son Clayton was born with severe cerebral palsy. As founder of the JOY Ministry in 1995 she has taught and trained people in hundreds of churches in how to welcome families with disabilities into the church family. She lives in Tomball, Texas.

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