Tuesday, September 16, 2014

So Many Emotions, So Little Time

Recently I was talking with a friend who is a special needs parent.  She was maxed out on every level and needed to vent.  After discussing insurance, therapy, extended family, children, spouse and everything else that was driving her crazy (I’m pretty sure laundry and sock count was on the list), she paused.  I just waited.  Finally she took a deep breath, spent from her tirade of the many things she had been shouldering.  I asked one question.

“How are you doing with self-care?”

“Terrible!”  Then the tears.  They came and came, a cathartic release long overdue.

Emotional health is just as important as physical health.  I was asked recently, “What is emotional health?” Folks understand taking care of their bodies, or taking care of their spiritual life, but taking care of emotional well-being is the more mysterious part of this self-care trinity.

Emotional health is being mindful of your emotional state. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling it? All emotions are valid, but are you stuck too long in the more “negative” emotions such as anger, depression, or guilt? Taking time for self-care of your emotional health builds emotional reserves for times when life is extra challenging.  Barb Dittirch of SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES refers to it as “Comfort in the midst of chaos.”

Jesus, being fully human and fully divine, experienced emotions. He was angry when he saw the way the temple was being desecrated by money-changers.  When he returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus he was deeply troubled. Jesus was indignant when the disciples kept the children from coming to him.  Jesus was anxious on the night of his arrest, taking his disciples with him to pray, asking the Father to take the cup from him. 
In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luk 22:44 NRS)
Jesus models for us good emotional health by being in relationship with friends, taking time for himself in solitude to relieve stress, expressing emotions in a healthy way, and turning to God in prayer for strength.

So how can we nurture good emotional health? Here are a few tips:

  •       Be mindful of your emotions. Especially notice emotions that dominate in ways that have a negative impact on you or your family: anger, depression, anxiety. Look for underlying causes when stuck in particular emotions.
  •         All emotions are valid. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and acknowledge those feelings.
  •         Nurture friendships. Set aside time to nurture the friendships that matter most to you. Having close friends who are worthy of trust can help process experiences that are challenging and celebrate joys.
  •         Spend time in prayer. Talking with God is like talking with your closest friend who knows you better than you know yourself. Emotional healing and emotional health are helped through prayer.
  •         Enjoy time with your child. Spend time just having fun with your child without a goal for development or therapy. Simply have fun together.
  •         Pay attention to self-talk. Is your self-talk positive (Yes I can! I tried my best, etc.), or negative (Why do I bother? I’m the worst parent ever). Reshaping self- talk positively is a powerful tool in emotional health. Refute negative talk with, “That’s not true.” If it helps, say it out loud.
  •         Set aside time for yourself. Take a break and relax when you can. Regularly do something you enjoy whether it’s going outside, reading or meeting a friend. Make it a priority to do what makes you happy at least for a little while each day.
  •         Find ways to reduce stress. Do not take on more than you can handle. It is okay to say, “No.” It is also okay to say, “Yes.” (Do you need a break? Would you like some help? How about a night out?) If someone is offering help it is not a sign of weakness to accept it.
  •         Engage in your favorite hobbies. Take time to enjoy the things that most inspire you, help you relax, or create contentment.
  •         Practice gratitude. Every day say out loud something you are grateful for.  Make it part of the family meal, with everyone sharing their thankfulness. Write them on a list and add to it every day.
  •         Keep a journal.  Journaling can highly effective in processing emotions.
  •         Join a support group. It is helpful to talk with others who share your experiences, allowing you to talk openly and be heard.
  •         Talk to a counselor. A trained professional is a valuable asset for emotional health.   

Look over the list and find the ones that resonate with you.  Do you need more time with friends? Intentionally nurture those relationships.  Are you over-committed?  Take a thing or two off of your plate and feel the stress go down. Need a creative outlet?  Dig out that favorite hobby you haven’t done in ages and set aside an hour or two for yourself to unplug and enjoy.  Whatever appeals to you most, make it a priority and part of your daily routine to recharge your emotional batteries.

Check back next Tuesday for the final part of this blog series, spiritual self-care.

Healing God, We come to you with praise, sorrow, joy, worry, fear, with so many emotions. All of our emotions we lay at your feet knowing that you love us at all times and offer a healing balm for the broken places. Amen.

Lorna Bradley

"Cry Laugh Buttons Shows Crying or Laughing" by Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ignorance is not BLISS.

"...I persecuted his people.  But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief."  1 Tim. 1:13b

Have you heard any of these words?

I don’t believe in mental illness. – translation – There’s nothing wrong with your child.

It must be spiritual warfare. – translation – Their mental health is only tied to their sin.

Have you tried a parenting class? – translation – You’re not doing such a great job at parenting.

You just need to discipline them more. – translation – Again, you need major help with your parenting skills.

Just make them get out of bed.. – translation – They can easily get up in the morning just like anyone else that doesn’t deal with depression even though your child has chronic depression.

Why don’t you talk to a counselor again? – translation – You really need some help and are clueless.

Can you believe they won’t let their son live with them? – translation – You are an uncaring parent that won’t help your child out when they “really” need you.

Let’s see if we can “help” you by taking your child for a little while. – translation- We need to get your child away from you because all of their issues with life are because of you and we can “fix” them.

When your child has a mental health diagnosis you indeed do hear many of these statements and so much more.  I know I have heard all of them and many others when it came to our son, David.  What got me the most though is that many of them came from my fellow Christians.  That can make it especially painful.  

The verse above talks about showing mercy to those that say these things or worse yet, do things because of their ignorance.  Paul is shown mercy even though he actually killed Christians before his conversion.  Shouldn’t I do the same? 

Some say ignorance is bliss.  Well I don’t think the early Christians would say that or anyone that has to continually justify their decisions when it comes to their special needs child.  Whether it be a mental health diagnosis, hemophilia, or anything else, there are many hurtful things that we special needs parents hear in any given day. 

What are we going to do with the ignorant remarks that come our way?  Self-examination may even show us areas that we are speaking out of ignorance as well.  Will we show mercy?  I would like to think I do, but that is not always true.  I may not directly bash the other person, but what about gossiping with my friends that understand my struggle? 

I know I’ve got a ways to go.  How about you?

Prayer:  Lord, Help me to show mercy when others show their ignorance about my child’s condition through their words or actions.  Also, show me where I am acting out of ignorance in ways that don’t honor you.  Lastly, help me to know when to not share my situation with some people.

To read my other posts simply click on my name under the labels section.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net  fotographic1980, published on 25 July 2012
Stock Image - image ID: 10094137

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Are You Serious" Awards - Volume XXXIII: The Blame Game Edition

So, I know this guy, who knows this guy, who knows this guy, who knows this guy, who went to a seminar recently where a speaker unwittingly insulted people with special needs by implying that their diagnoses could be changed through diet, exercise, and positive mental attitude.  No harm was intended.  Still, the speaker, who was singing the praises of a new methodology, didn't see that he was subtly blaming these participants for their own disabilities.  At least that's how these dear attendees heard his comments.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens ALL.THE.TIME.

Haven't most of us with energetic children been subjected to the old, "Have you tried cutting sugar out of her diet?" or "You should try going gluten-free," or "I heard that food with dye can make kids like that."  Fellow church-goers have been known to utter, "Maybe you need to consider that you're dealing with a sin problem here."  (Hmmm.  Maybe those types should consider whose sin is REALLY the problem.)

Then there are are the curious questions where people don't realize what they are implying.  "Did you know he could have that before you had him?"  "What does your doctor say?"  "Have you gone to that therapist I recommended to you?" "Have you tried having your child anointed?"

Not to be outdone by those living the typical life, there is the great vaccine debate in the autism community.  It's not bad enough that we have people outside the special needs community hurling hurt at us.  No, no.  Instead, we need to start in at each other.  People who are anti-vaccine will scold me and get angry if I share any resource, no matter how good, from Autism Speaks, because Autism Speaks refutes immunizations as the cause of autism.  Then there are the people who shake their heads in disgust at those who are anti-vacs people, never quite being able to offer them the comfort of explaining why their child completely changed after receiving shots.

 Are you SERIOUS?!
Photo Image courtesy of Natasa Mandic via 123rf.com
 "There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
(Romans 8:1, Emphasis mine)

BLAME is spelled B-LAME.  Instead of fixing the blame, how about fixing the problem?  It's always easier to point a finger than to give a hand.  How many of those who shoot their mouths off, make subtle judgments about others, or offer their idea of a quick fix ever make any attempt at SERVING those who suffer like Jesus did?  I would dare say, the proportion is very small.

Furthermore, people seem to forget, EVERYONE IS 1 EMERGENCY ROOM VISIT AWAY FROM BEING US.

If only these people knew how many hours a mother like me has spent in a rocking chair with an infant, beating herself up with self-blame, maybe they would soften.  If only the careless and ignorant knew who how inadequate parents like me feel, despite the fact that we have literally become medical, psychological, and educational experts in our own home, maybe they would pipe down.  If only they walked a mile in my shoes...

I don't begrudge any parent... ANY PARENT... a methodology of treatment that works best for their child.  Neither am I so arrogant to believe that my way is the only way to do things.  When it comes to caring for a child with special needs or chronic illness, probably the biggest lesson I have learned is that ONE SIZE NEVER FITS ALL.  This means that I have no right to look down my nose at those who have chosen an approach different from mine.  If gluten-free improves your child's life, more power to you.  But don't sneer at me because I don't do it.  You haven't been in my home, watching my child starve because they refuse to eat that sort of thing.  You haven't undergone the stress of having a husband between jobs 6 times in 16 years, thereby rendering organic foods out of our price range.  You likely haven't had the success that I have had using other methods of therapy or treatment.

Parents, let's resolve NOW to stop doing the work of "the accuser", and refuse to let others dump that toxicity on us as well.  Rather, grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and pour it out on everyone around you, including the ignorant.  Since He ascended to heaven, there's not been a perfect human on this earth.  Every heart out there needs the mercy and tenderness of His grace shared through our mutual kindness.

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, September 12, 2014

5 Ordinary Things That Are Not-So-Ordinary For Families With Special Needs

Photo image courtesy of Ambro via freedigitalphotos.net
 Why is everyone hungry for more?
“More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.
~ Psalm 4:6-8, MSG ~
Once your life goes down the divergent path of special needs, it can be challenging to keep bitterness and disdain at bay.  While others with typical families whine or complain about little irritants, the ordinary becomes such a gift to us.  With the perspective that raising a child with special needs gives us, things that used to ruffle our feathers in the past fade to the level of a mere nuisance in the present.  And the little mercies of every day become great blessings.

In fact, some of the ordinary things that parents raising a child with special needs or chronic illness may find delightfully extraordinary (at least at times) include:
  1. Personal pampering -- While friends cannot fathom not being able to get to the salon for their cut and color or this week's manicure, we parents often subjugate our own comfort to manage that of our children.  My beautician is a saint for all of the times over the years that I have had to reschedule or cancel appointments out of necessity.  Those luxuries of flawless nails, massaged muscles, and perfectly coiffed hair are enjoyed far less frequently than they once were, but far more treasured. 
  2. A neighborhood babysitter -- It is hard enough trying to find a good sitter when you have typical children.  Add special needs or disabilities to the mix, and your options become significantly diminished.  In our family's history, we had a number of would-be sitters who could never get past their fear of our son's bleeding disorder.  Then there were the sitters who, after getting over the hemophilia hurdle, would never return because our daughter, who had yet to be diagnosed with Asperger's, was such a handful.  Now imagine families we serve who have children that are tube fed or need diapering beyond their toddler years.
  3. Dinner out -- Of course, if you can't find a babysitter, it becomes difficult to get out to dinner together as a couple.  Think taking the family out for dinner might be a good second option?  Well, if your child with sensory processing issues can't handle the noise, the smells, the crowds in a restaurant, dinner out might actually be more like torture.  If your child is wheelchair bound, lugging everything and everyone out of the house after a long day might seem like too much work.  Something so ordinary to others can become a real luxury for families like us.
  4. Church -- I could write on this topic alone.  Churches can be filled with loud sounds, strange smells, and unusual lighting.  A well-attended church definitely has crowds.  All of these things can be triggers that put our kids over the edge.  Add to that the fact that some stringent expectations are often heaped on the faithful.  Silent, compliant behavior is typically implied.  More than anywhere else in society, a poorly behaved child is assumed by fellow church-goers to be a poorly parented child.  Sunday school is rarely, if ever, equipped to handle a medically fragile child.  With difficulties like these, is it any wonder that the participation rate in worship is exponentially lower for families like ours?
  5. Disposable income -- Medical bills add up, plain and simple.  Even if a child has a diagnosis that is covered in part by Medicaid, the ancillary expenses mount.  All of the money spent on gas to and from clinics, therapists, and hospitals eat away at the family finances.  And if a family wants to explore alternative therapies for a child, those costs are not likely to be covered by any sort of insurance.  While there are families who enjoy affluence in spite of special needs, the vast majority feel the incredible pressures of extra financial demands from special needs.  That nicer car or splurge vacation that many other families enjoy tends to more frequently elude families like ours. 
The good news in all of this is that our families become more inclined to develop a humble gratitude for life's common blessings that others tend to take for granted.  We find that the greatest riches in this world are really small moments, small mercies, and treasured time with those we love.  We are more frequently availed the opportunity to spot God in everyday gifts.  And we live in the grace of having the ordinary transformed into the extraordinary.

PRAY:  Father, thank You for making the ordinary extraordinary when we allow You to refocus our priorities.

~ Barb Dittrich

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hallelujah! I'm Healed!

Photo Courtesy of vongvanvi/freedigitalphotos.net
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV

As a parent of a child with special medical needs, I have seen medicine work and I have seen medicine NOT work.  As a human being, I have felt medicine work in me, and I have felt medicine NOT work.  But, have you ever been in the situation where you stop taking the medicine, or you stop giving the medicine, because you think the illness is gone?  I know that I have.

I worked in dental offices for nearly a decade.  I can't tell you how many times I heard the doctor say, "Even if you start feeling better, keep taking the antibiotic until it's all gone."  Another notorious quote I would hear was, "Stay ahead of the pain.  If it says to take the pain killer (whatever the brand) every 4-6 hours, take it every four to six hours...don't wait for the pain to start; it only makes it more difficult to stop it."  Of course, most patients listened, but there were a handful who didn't and were they ever sorry!

I've seen myself do the same thing in our home life.  Our daughter has sensory processing issues and we have worked for years to develop a good sensory diet for her in order to quell the vicious meltdowns that can occur if the "sensory issues" get out of hand.  But, sometimes, I would think, "She's been doing so well, and I'm just not in the mood to do joint compressions with her..."  or, "Is it really necessary to take the picture schedule along with us?"  Low and behold, when I would get lazy and think that I could slack off because she was "better", a violent meltdown would sneak in and rob a day of joy. 

Unfortunately, I often do the same thing with God.  I may set a goal to study the Bible more or to pray more, and things really start clicking as I daily get into the Word and spend more time with my Creator.  But, then, winter comes around and it's harder to get up in the morning...surely my rest is much more important...right?  Or I will think, "Hey, I've really harnessed my anxieties, (or anger, or envious spirit) and I don't need to spend THIS much time in prayer...".  

What am I thinking?  Am I CURED because of my remedy or was the REMEDY the reason that my SYMPTOMS were under control?  

Do NOT grow weary of doing GOOD!

Do NOT let the Devil persuade you into believing that YOU are CURED.  

The medicine is what is keeping you well...the blood that was shed through lashings and whippings; hammered nails and gashed side, the soul that descended to and resided in Hell on our behalf...that is the only medicine to CURE us...and it was done ONCE and for ALL...but continues to be required until the end of the Earth.  

Do NOT grow weary of doing GOOD!

Stick with the prescription, no matter what the cost...

Pray:  Heavenly Father, keep the passion in my heart to live for You.  Help me remember that I am weak, but YOU are strong.  Help me to see that, only though Your strength and mercy do I get out of bed each day...help me to never be fooled into believing that I am healed and can let down my guard. Amen.

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Beautiful the Twisted Feet

 "And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15, NLT)

I hate doors that require pulling instead of pushing to open them.

They probably aren’t a big deal for most of you, but I have come to loathe them.

What’s my beef with doors that require you to pull them open?

Because 5 years ago I spent the greater part of a year in a wheelchair. Then two years later, I spent several months on a knee scooter.

The incidents have now left me with two permanently deformed feet.

I don’t talk about it very much publicly. But I spent a year having to learn to walk again while wheelchair-bound.

To this day, I have to wear custom orthopedic shoes with custom-designed inserts. I have to be very careful in a lot of activities, and I have to pay extreme attention to the care of my feet.

By definition, I have a physical disability that greatly affects my life. Activities I used to enjoy and participate in are now prohibited.

So what’s the big deal with doors that pull open?

During the year that I spent in the wheelchair, I furiously wanted my independence. The challenge, I discovered, was that when the door required pulling to open, I was incapable of doing so, on my own, while wheelchair-bound.

If the door opened by pushing, I could simply push it open and roll through in one simultaneous motion. But opening a door that required a pull while independently rolling through was extremely difficult.

At the time, the church I was on staff with had a handicapped lift.  Inexplicably, the ramp to the lift was on an incline. If you rolled yourself up the incline to the lift, the door then pulled toward you to open, forcing you to back down the ramp.

It was a ridiculous and ineffective handicapped lift for all intensive purposes. The design defeated its very purposes.

I still get frustrated, angry, and depressed sometimes with my physical limitations and the things I can no longer do. Every once in a while, I stare at my crippled feet at night and I have a little pity party.
Why did this have to happen?

But, in the mornings, I watch my own son gingerly walking on his own twisted feet ravaged by cerebral palsy, clinging to his mother who is holding onto him for assistance. He, too, wears braces and special shoes.

I look at his twisted, mangled feet. Then I look down on my own deformed feet. And in that moment, my mind flashes to the cross, and I’m fixated on the image of Christ’s feet, twisted with gaping bloody holes from the nails that were driven in his feet. I’m reminded that he took my beating, bore my curse, and died my death for me.

All of a sudden, my disabled feet issues seem so trivial.  

I watch Jon Alex every step as Becky guides him, helping him.  He cannot walk unless she stands him up, holds him, and guides him. Then I look up from his twisted feet to his face and realize he is grinning from ear to ear. He always seems to be grinning. He squeals his happy sounds as she maneuvers him to his breakfast chair.

Then I am humbled and I have to repent.

Why can’t I rise above my own disability like my son? Why is he so happy despite his condition? Once again, I am the pupil and he is the teacher.

My year in the wheelchair, and resulting feet deformities, have now made me become even more determined, more passionate, and more understanding of the special needs community.

Coupled with my soon-to-be 17 years as a dad of a son with profound needs, my own experiences have given me such a broader perspective, and made me more effective as a minister to the special needs community.

I find myself often referring to our special-needs community as “my family.”

And now the cross, and the mangled feet of Jesus, all of a sudden takes on even more significance and impact in my life.

Christ became one of us, so that he could refer to all of us, as his “family.”

And my twisted feet, and my son’s twisted feet, fade in comparison to the image of his twisted feet.

How beautiful the twisted feet!

Photo by lifeeverlasting.blogspot.com

PRAY: "Father, thank you for the reminder that the most beautiful feet can be twisted and scarred. Thank you for demonstrating that on the cross when you displayed your glory and brought forth your Good News."