Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guarding Closely Who Defines Our Children

 All day long my enemies insult me.
    Those who ridicule me use my name as a curse.
~ Psalm 102:8, NOG ~

In the book THE HELP, set in early 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, a housekeeper named Aibileen carries out a subtext in the story line by supplying her homely charge, Mae Mobley, with the love she is so sadly lacking from her own mother.  Each day, Aibileen rocks the young girl, counteracting her mother's harsh discipline and dismissiveness, affirming her with the words, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."  Heartbreak mounts at the end of the story as Aibileen is fired, with Mae Mobley clinging to her leg, the reader anguished over who might now build up this poor child without such steady, loving affirmation in her life.

As the school year approaches, I feel the call to pour Aibileen-type affirmation into my children, especially our youngest.  Having experienced bullying by peers, and harsh treatment by adults, she needs to know who she is in Christ.  I feel a bit as if I am heading her into the lion's den, as she heads back into an environment that tries with all its might to define her in a negative light.  While certain classmates ostracize and call her names, God looks on this little imp He uniquely crafted and smiles.  Though the school administration often has her in tears, viewing her as a problem, her Maker calls her a gift.

In biblical times, a name meant everything.  Jacob, which means "holder of the heel" or "supplanter", was named such in the Old Testament because he was born grasping his twin brother's heel.  Simon's name was changed by Jesus in the New Testament to "Peter" meaning "the rock".  Even the many names of God have great significance behind them.  "El Roi" means "the God who sees".  Haggar gave this name to the Lord when He saw her and her son nearly dying of dehydration, yet rescued them.  "Jehovah Jireh" means "God the provider".  This name was given to Him by Abraham when He provided a ram to sacrifice on the mountain, rather than his son, Isaac.

While we may name our children in different ways today, there is still great significance in the names and labels our children carry.  They can come to define our kids.

"Naughty", "Bad", "Stupid", "Irritating" are not labels I want defining my child.  Yet, even without speaking the words, so many adults almost indelibly inscribe these names on our children.  "Liar", "Cheater", "Loser" are not names that describe my daughter.  Yet, her peers have been known to brand her with such hatefulness.  Many of these staff and kids alike have known her for such a short period of her life.  Enduring friendships haven't been afforded to such a unique child.  Who are they to try to tell her who she is?  Do they know what their demeanor does to her?  Do they even care?

This school year, I pour God's grace over my child, which acts as a non-stick coating, preventing those labels from adhering.  And with the determination and love of Aibileen, I whisper her true value into her precious ear, lest she buy into the lies of those who would seek to define her.  She is God's masterpiece, fearfully and wonderfully made, for His good purposes.  She is the sweet melody of a song sung, or a harmonica hummed, or a ukulele strummed carrying simple joy through each room of our home.  She is the goofy laughter of a joke told, a facial expression worn, a silly outfit adorned, lightening the heaviness of each day.  She is the tender caregiver of animals of every kind, the curious seeker, committing intricate details to memory because she learned from something she explored on the internet.  She is athletic, and woodsy, and though she tries to hide her vulnerability, she is as delicate as the petals of a flower.  She is a symphony of complexities, and I, I am the blessed one as I escort her through her early learning years to a fascinating future.

PRAY:  Father, You know each of our names.  You have numbered every hair on our heads.  And even when the world seems so turned against us, trying to mock and diminish us, You tenderly remind us that we bear Your image.  Remind us to pour that into our children today and every day that they are in our precious care.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Delayed Blessings

“But Jacob wouldn’t let Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin, go with them, for fear some harm might come to him.”  Gen. 42:4 (NLT)

“But the famine continued to ravage the land of Canaan.”  Gen. 43:1 (NLT)

After much agony Jacob finally let Benjamin go on the second trip.  When they returned he got the news.

“’Joseph is still alive!’ they told him.  ‘And he is governor of all the land of Egypt!’  Jacob was stunned at the news—he couldn’t believe it.”  Gen. 45:26 (NLT)

Remember the day when you didn’t want your child to go to that party.  It’s not like you didn’t want them to have fun.  It’s not like you thought something bad was going to happen there.  It’s not like it was the wrong crowd. 

It was because you were afraid.  You were afraid of what might happen.  You just don’t know if you can go through “that” again, whatever “that” may be.

What if there was an accident on the way to the party?  What if the kids ignored your child?  What if your child didn’t have fun?  You knew the odds of things going wrong were slim to none, but you were still afraid.  And even if things went wrong, does it mean that they shouldn’t go?

Fear was gripping you because of the past.  You couldn’t let it go.  That other child that had things go terribly wrong was imposing these fears on you without them even knowing it.  Or it might even be the child that wants to go to the party has had so many of those nail biting type of experiences that you just don’t want to let them go.  You would love it if you could bubble wrap them and then send them on their merry way to have fun and be safe at the same time.  You know it’s normal to be afraid and you also know that it’s normal for your child to go to the party.  Sometimes God is extra patient with us as we work through this fear. 

I remember when we had a stillbirth over 20 years ago and for several months or more I didn’t want to let my kids go anywhere or do anything.  Of course this was impractical.  Most were in school and life was still going on regardless if I was ready or not.  Within a week or two of Marie’s passing our son, David, was invited to a party.  I didn’t want him to go.  My husband, Mike, so gently helped me see that not only were my feelings normal, but that I still needed to let him go.  It was tough, but worth the blessing he received by being able to go to the party. 

Another time, years later, when I had different fears, I didn’t want my girls to drive at night.  I didn’t want them driving anywhere after dark because I was afraid of the “bad guys” out there.  Not that there aren’t bad guys out there.  But we all know they aren’t all “bad guys”.  This was beyond normal.  It was something I just had to let go of.  

Just like in the passage above, we all hold on to feelings and even sometimes delay the blessing.  As our kids go back to school, whether they are special needs or not, let’s pray that we know when we are delaying the blessing and when our fears are warranted.

PRAY:  Lord, give me discernment as to when my fear is holding back your blessing on my kids.  Help me to rest in your peace and contentment as I release the hold of fear in my life.  Lastly, help me to discern when I truly should not let them go to that party, a friend’s house, or whatever it may be. 

Ann Gapinski

To see my other blogs click on my name under the "labels" section.

Photo Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net  by supakitmod ID:10013751

Sunday, August 17, 2014

PRAY for Persecuted Christians Everywhere! ~ #SacredSunday

Whether it be in your doctor's office, the school, your neighborhood or in the Middle East; when the world is marginalizing, discriminating, or even imprisoning, torturing, beheading and crucifying Christians across the globe; remember Jesus' words and PRAY.  Persevere, friends!  Persevere!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XXX: The Making Sense of the Senseless Edition

What a week it has been! 

I was wearily heading into the coffeebar with my husband on Monday night  for our Bible study, when my phone alert went off announcing the news of Robin Williams' death at the tender age of 63.  As we shared the news with our small group members, we found ourselves stunned, one couple having just seen one of Williams' movies over the weekend.  We all suspected suicide, noting the bipolar nature of his personality.

Lamenting, we tried to make sense of the senseless.

Yet, none of us foresaw the firestorm of controversy that unfurled its ugliness throughout the remainder of the week.  Everyone had an opinion.  Ire flared as Matt Walsh wrote, "Robin Williams Didn't Die From a Disease, He Died From His Choice".  Rush Limbaugh also attracted disdain by mentioning that people used to consider suicide as "the coward's way out", while now Hollywood seems to glamorize it.

 Are you SERIOUS?!

People responded to these words with predictable venom, proclaiming things to the effect that Matt Walsh is always arrogant and insensitive.  Of course, reactive social media posts intended to school these monsters spilled out aplenty.

I would like to suggest that the "winners" of this week's award are all of us.  Whether Matt Walsh or those who respond, none of us is without sin.  And we are oh-so-clumsy, foolish, almost irrational when trying to make sense of something as awful as the tragedy of suicide.  We are trying to make sense of the senseless, and there is no beautiful way to do that.  Suicide is the ultimate act of pain from every level. 

We are people in pain, bumping into others in pain, causing one another even more pain.

Throughout this week I have seen fans hurt, loved ones of those battling mental health issues saddened, doctors, professionals, and advocates discouraged, and families where this tragedy has occurred struggling from reliving the deepest pain of their own loss.   All rational discretion has flown out the window as neither law enforcement nor media have restrained themselves from describing the horrifying details.

Williams' own family has had hurt piled on top of hurt through abusive comments on social media.  And late in the week, the actor's widow revealed the secret struggle her husband fought in his early stages of Parkinson's Disease.

Of course, we would expect the issue of mental health to foment within the national conversation at a time like this.  But are we moving ourselves forward in our exchanges of dialog or hurling insults at a time like this?   Do we ever get to the fact that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America?  Do we get to the fact that depression can show up before any other symptoms of Parkinson's Disease appear, because it affects the dopamine in the brain?  Do we ever circle back to the fact that we have become way too accustomed in today's culture to making shoot-from-the-hip value judgments rather than really taking the time to understand people, their train of thought, or what they hold dearest any more?

I grew up on Robin Williams' acting.  I always enjoyed him.  I find it heartbreaking that such a remarkable life was cut short in this way.  My heart hurts for his closest family and friends who will live with this forever.

However, I'm not sure that his death has moved the conversation on mental health forward in any positive way yet.  Given what is known about his generosity, this hardly seems the outcome he would hope from his departure.

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bigger Than "The Man"

Photo image courtesy of Anatoly Tiplyashin via 123rf.com
  What can we say about all these things? Since God is for us, who can be against us? God did not keep His own Son for Himself but gave Him for us all. Then with His Son, will He not give us all things? 
~ Romans 8:31-32, NLV ~ 
We’ve made it to August, friends. For parents, a month will pass and the kids will finally be dumped back into the world of education. For some, however, I’m sure this cannot be the easiest of times, and not all of your woes are to blame on the stresses of back-to-school shopping. For some, returning us kids to the education system is like a cesspool of anxiety with enough force to tear you apart:
"What if my child has a hard time focusing again this year?"
"What if their new teacher is just as misunderstanding as the last?"
"What if the bullying starts again?"
"What if the doctor visits stunt their learning?"
The list can go on and on, but the bottom line is that the school system isn’t always the most supportive environment for our special community to rely on, and the parents sure do know it. Around this time of year, it seems like the only one who's got your back is Murphy's Law, but that doesn’t have to be the case. In these times, what is really needed most doesn’t come from the “what-if’s” or your kid’s favorite character printed on a new backpack: What we really need is comfort, such that can only come from God.
If I may digress, in my own independent writing, I’ve recently been privileged to discover an example of God’s peace and comfort in a manor that I would have never expected.
As a fictional piece, I’ve been working on a novel for quite some time now, regarding the lives of two college students with life-threatening chronic diseases. The main character, Drew, lives with a bleeding disorder which he hardly has the will to handle on his own. Not that the disease is as difficult to handle as he makes it out to be, but rather he is able to magnify the disorder’s control over his life with how bitterly he regards it and all that it has held him back from throughout his life.
The secondary protagonist, Julie, lives a life with Lupus, a disorder which physically keeps her bed-ridden for days, prevents her from exploring her passion for the great outdoors, and makes it difficult to attend her classes and focus on her studies. Unlike Drew, however, Julie has a way of appearing joyful and content with her existence each day. To Drew, this type of behavior seems alien, if not almost psychopathic. He cannot fathom how somebody suffering just as badly, most days worse than he, can be so full of an absolutely inhuman amount of bliss and glee.
I had absently written a conversation between these two characters, about dead center of the book, and hardly realized what had been set to my paper,sa until after it was written. Between these two characters, both sick and frail, Drew had questioned Julie on how she could possibly be so positive on a regular basis, when the fact is that her body is literally eating itself alive. He was baffled, confounded, furious, and even more so after she provided an explanation:
“It’s God, Drew… it’s all God and nothing else. I mean, just think about it for a sec’: He’s the reason why there are doctors on this earth who can treat me--doctors who make the medicines that keep me alive. He’s the reason why I can get up in the morning and get to sleep at night. He’s the reason why I got into this school, why I got in with enough scholarships to almost get a full ride, why I get to take the classes I like even though all the teachers should have turned me away… every breath I breathe, every step I take--it’s all because He says I can have it. How can I not be happy, knowing that He does so much for a little speck like me? How can I feel sorry for myself when I know the God of everything’s got my back?”
And how can we not feel the same way? How good is it that our God gives us the means to keep on living, despite all the hardships of this life. How good is it that, no matter how rough the oceans rage, God will always be there, waiting for us to call out to Him that he may settle our storms. We may believe that there is much to worry about, much to do, and much to dwell on to keep ourselves safe.  But what is there truly to worry about, unless we somehow claim to know more than God?
Now just think of this: with all of our trust, all of our troubles and worries placed before God and God alone, what reason do any of us have to fear what the school system, or any other establishment, has to throw at us? Why should our hope in Christ stand in the shadow of our pains and anxiety? Why should the educators, principals, and thoughtless classmates stand in the way of a faith as magnificent as ours? 

Our God is the God who formed the heavens and the earth, pieced together each and every cell of our being by hand, sprinkled every glistening speckle into each eye, placed every disk of every vertebrate in our spines, breathed to life each star and planet, commands the inhale and exhale of every breath: If the “what-if’s” can’t shake Him, then why let them take hold of you?

Pray:  God lay Your mighty hands on each of our woes.  Allow our eyes to see and  our hearts to feel that every day has been made new by Your incredible grace and love. 

~ Alexandra Dittrich

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Source of Our Joy

Image Courtesy of Evgeni Dinev/freedigitalphotos.net
 You always show me the path that leads to life.
 You will fill me with joy when I am with you. 
Acts 2:28 NIRV

New school year...new pencils, new markers, new crayons.  New teachers, new schedules, and maybe new shoes. 
Sounds great, doesn't it?
But then there's also:  new worries, new challenges, new fears of new unknowns.
New locker combinations.
A new flu strain so we have to get a new shot.

A fresh start, like the one my family and I have experienced in moving to Nevada, can be exciting and invigorating.  But I look at my daughter and realize that the newness of it all isn't quite as pleasant for her.  The start of a new school year for any child can be overwhelming and stressful with all the changes and new things to which one must become accustomed.  So, tack on to that stress the fact that my daughter has nothing old and familiar (except maybe us), and I think, "Oh my goodness...how does one process it all?"
To put it simply, I have to teach her that God has not changed.  Despite her anxious chatter, and her busy body I have to remind her that there will come a day in a few weeks when this seems like our "normal."  I have to teach her that the source of our joy is not found in other people.  Being "new" in town does not mean we have no joy.  We find our joy in God, and he is just as present with us here in our new home as he was in our old. 
Even as I stood outside of school with a dozen other parents and grandparents today I thought about how, had I been standing outside in our old hometown, I would have been talking to about four people at once.  Today, however, I stood and looked at the mountains, felt the sun on my face, and listened to the clanking chain on the flagpole.  I enjoyed the silence of that solitude...that place of feeling that I didn't have to talk or wave or smile.  It was me, my thoughts, and God.

That takes years of learning, though.  I know she won't get it right away.  I know that making friends and having sleep-overs and playing with someone at recess is where her mind feels happiness at 10 years of age.  But, hopefully with prayer and love and devotional times together, I'll be able to pass on to her the appreciation of solitude, and the true understanding of the source of all our joy.  

Pray:  Heavenly Father, so many of us long for a fresh start; a chance to shed off the old skin and begin again.  Grant peace to those who find fear in the new-beginnings, and give wisdom to those who are seeking earthly happiness when what they really need is the holy joy found only in you.  

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Anti-Discouragement Serum

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus,
on whom our faith depends from start to finish.
- Hebrews 12:2a NLT -

In an effort to smoothly re-acclimate our son to the routine of the school year, I started doing Mother-Son Bible Reading time every morning at 8:00.  We have an amazing resource called The Child Training Bible that breaks the Bible down into topics that are common to kids.  It teaches kids to use the Bible in a way that makes sense for them. 

I let my son choose the topic that he wanted to learn more about, and then he highlighted the verses about it.  I explained to him that we were going to use the verses as a First Aid Kit for life.  The first day, he chose "Discouraged."  Honestly, I was pretty surprised - I expected him to pick something more obvious like "Fear" or "Fighting."  But by the end of the process, I realized it was a God-led choice that was meant to speak to BOTH of us. 

"Discouraged" had eight different passages - or medicines - that we read together.  As I listened to my son read Bible truth to me and discussed with him how these words might help heal discouragement, I felt like God was sitting in our kitchen with us.  Every one of those verses built me up and gave me courage that I haven't felt in years!  Together, they relayed a message of hope and strength that I am sure is more potent than anything the pharmaceutical world can offer.  Here is our translation of God's Anti-Discouragement Serum.

My help comes from THE LORD,
(Psalm 121:1-2)

His very own Son stands up for us. 
(John 14:1)

We should not be sad about our weaknesses,
because God is what make us strong. 
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

And don't give up doing good.
God promises we will be rewarded - in HIS time.
(Galatians 6:9)

Forget the failures of yesterday by focusing on God's promises.
We live like we are running a race to win - the prize is an eternity without any struggles. 
(Philippians 3:13b-14)

Stand FIRM and; hold TIGHT
not to the failures but to the TRUTH.
He will hold our hearts and give us strength! 
(2 Thessalonians 2:15-17)

Take strength and courage in being a soldier of Christ. 
(2 Timothy 2:3)

Throw away everything except for
Let every one of my discouraging moments become
moments to thank Him for His discouraging moments. 
(Hebrews 12:1-4)

I have never been more moved by time with my son than I was after studying God's medicine for discouragement.  Those words changed me and gave me strength I never knew before - and I saw a difference in him, as well.  His eyes and voice carried a confidence that was new and strong.  The entire experience melted me and gave me hope that the struggles in this life will NOT overcome us.  Today, my son and I thanked God together for discouragement and God's medicine for it.
Pray: Dear Lord, Thank you for giving me a way to rejoice with my son for all the frustrations of this life, the fears of the upcoming school year, and the battles lost.  Thank you for being the strength in our weakness and the hope that keeps us pressing on.  Amen.