Monday, December 11, 2017

Santa Claus Forever!

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” 
Luke 2:10b-11,NIV
It’s the most wonderful time of the year (and all the special needs parents cringe)! Hear me out. I know that the holidays seem loaded with landmines for special kids. They bring questions, uncertainties, health or emotional crises, party/travel/gift anxieties, or even uncomfortable interactions with well-intentioned family members. I’ve been there, friend. My special guy is about to experience all the highs and lows of his eighteenth Christmas — we've already experienced several crises over here at the Gomez household.  

All the above exceptions accounted for, I still love holiday time more than any other for one reason: SANTA CLAUS FOREVER! I think one of my top three favorite things about being a special mom is that Santa Claus comes to my house every Christmas morning. Nicolas is seventeen years old, and this year when he again sits with/towers over Santa, and nervously discusses toys he wants, his eyes will reflect awe, his heart a-flutter, and his whole being will confidently know that Santa is real, and is coming to our house this year on Christmas Eve!

So here’s my Christmas advice to all the special parents reading this: enjoy the innocence of your child this holiday season. However much they understand or experience, soak that in and hold it tight. Put all the challenges in their appropriate place. Honestly, holidays or not, we’re still gonna have meltdowns, difficulties, and unexpected bumps in the road, right? So since that’s just normal life, roll with it this holiday season.  That way you’ll have time to breathe in the special moments, whatever they are for your child. Please don’t overlook the wonder of it all. Special families may not have a lot that seems to be in the column of “better than” a typical family, but Christmas is definitely a win for us. My special child always reminds me of the pure joy of Christmas. He reminds me that believing as a small child is the way we are all expected to believe, always. Not in Santa, but in the reason Santa spreads gifts all over the world! I see that played out each year and am so wonderfully reminded of the special gift within. I get teary-eyed every year when I get to re-explain that because it is Jesus’ birthday, a sweet old man in the North Pole gives a gift to every child in the world. And that it is why we give gifts to each other, and to strangers. It’s why we sing songs and have parties. Nicolas definitely “gets” the magic of this season, he feels it and enjoys it deeply. I can’t help but be aware  that I should be experiencing Christmas a lot more like Nick does.

Santa Claus is such a fleeting moment in most kids lives, it seems shorter and shorter these days. But we get Santa every year and it’s truthfully the best morning of all the other 364. Yeah, by then end of that same day there have usually been one or two “issues” but the other 364 have those anyways. No other day has the Santa moment. Winner. Every time.  
A Prayer: Father, thank you for giving the greatest gift ever, your Son, and for the privilege of celebrating His birth. Over these next few weeks I ask you to remind me, as chaos surely will happen, that the reason for all the extra effort is to celebrate Him. Cause me to slow down and see, to breathe and sit with my child(ren) and see what they see, and feel what they feel. Show me the special-ness that they experience. Help me let go of whatever doesn't matter, doesn't celebrate you. Flood my heart and mind with the purity of love and peace that was born on that night.

- Melanie Gomez

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Advent Week 2 — A Prayer for Peace


In a world of chaos, peace seems elusive, Lord. You see our household struggling with the multiple demands of school, work, treatments, and therapies. Stress nags at us as "normal" seems out of reach. Beyond our daily challenges, trying to function with toxic political issues, a culture that demeans life, and nation warring against nation all cause our anxiety to rise.

Prince of Peace, during this second week of Advent, calm us with your never-ending serenity. Remind us that we are carrying burdens that were meant for us. We underestimate how very much You care for us. Cleanse us of our faithless worry. Don't let us miss the miracles and marvel of this season. Redirect our focus to delight in each moment. Thank You for creating so many little things that leave us in awe and wonder. 

Only in You can we truly find peace, Jesus. 

 Follow us on

and  on

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Tyranny of the Unseen

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 
~ 2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV ~

Chronic illness is hard. Disability is hard. Combine either of those 2 with the holiday season and you have an oppressive month-and-a-half of stressful chaos.

People not privy to the type of lives that our families live have a hard time understanding. To them, it's all about what they can see — the hassle of transporting that child in a wheelchair through the snow; the impossibility of getting that child with autism or ADHD to cooperate with the school pageant; the heartbreak of the hospitalization during the holidays. 

Yet, it's the tyranny of the UNSEEN that is so, so stressful to parents like us. YES, the difficulties you can see are very tough, but they don't affect all of us all of the time. However, the ones you can't see nag at us like an uptight old 1950's housewife, and there's no one going out of their way to help you with what they don't see. I'm talking about the infusions and other treatments that have to be squeezed in amidst the extra demands and that can often be missed. The behaviors rise with the sensory challenges of scratchy clothes, endless blinking lights, and funky pseudo-pine smells. Emotional and cognitive well-being are set on their heads with dysregulated sleep and constantly fluctuating schedules. All of that touching by relative strangers doesn't go over too well either.

In fact, I know a number of parents raising exceptional kids who would just rather have this Christmas season be over with. Are you one of them? 

Photo image courtesy of GuentherDillingen via Pixabay.com
Take heart, my friend! Although our struggles are unseen in this world, they matter to that Babe of Bethlehem. That's why He came — to set things right. And though we consider these challenges invisible, they are still a part of this earthly life. They are temporary and passing. It may feel like we are enduring this forever, but we are not. 

Paul's words quoted in today's Scripture passage were to an early, suffering church. Strife and confusion reigned as false teachers sought to undermine what new believers were first taught. Unkind words and distortions about Paul were spread throughout this blossoming community. Relationships were fractured. Sound like anything we parents endure with our kids around the holidays? 

Thankfully, Paul was able to visit these eager, young believers and set things right. His letter, now known as 2 Corinthians, turned their focus to the rock-solid eternal perspective of an unwavering faith that relied fully on the salvation of Jesus, not their own circumstances or attempts to do good. He detailed his suffering, but repeatedly reminded the Church of Corinth that it was passing and meant to grow others as they all march heavenward.

As we wrestle with the difficulties and demands of this time of year, may we also have a change of perspective. Our hearts will be lightened as we remove our focus from the TYRANNICAL unseen to the ETERNAL, HOPEFUL unseen. That is an encouragement that lasts through every age.

Pray with me...

Lord, it is so easy to get discouraged by the pressures of the Christmas season piled on top of the high demands of caring for my child. Remind me that I don't have to live that way! You have already given me the victory over these circumstances through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Your Only Son. Keep my eyes fixed on You and the glorious eternity that is now mine rather than the frustrations and burdens of this temporary life. Increase our family's joy this season as we redirect our every thought towards You.

~ Barb Dittrich

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Boost for When Times Look Bleak

Copyright: dobledphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
~ Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV ~ 

If the world around you isn't somewhat unsettling right now, then you're not paying attention. In fact, being oblivious to current events and escaping to some remote getaway sounds pretty attractive these days. It makes a parent concerned to think what sort of future will be left to their child.

The darkness around us seems to increase daily. Scandal abounds. Barely 24 hours pass now without hearing of some sort of loathsome sexual misdeed involving an esteemed politician or entertainer. Lying and dishonesty come as naturally as breathing to a large portion of the population. People can barely have an intelligent conversation without it ending in polarization and anger. The humble and decent suffer as their basic rights are trampled. Looking out for self over any sort of wider compassion sadly appears to be the order of the day. Biblical beliefs are scoffed at with disdain. And things like trust, integrity, and community almost seem like a thing of the past.

It can be frightening bringing up kids who are more vulnerable than their average peers in a toxic environment like this. As my children draw ever-nearer to adulthood, I get concerned that there lacks any public will to offer them a helping hand when they are down, to respect their biblical values, or to help them reach their full potential. As things like euthanasia for chronically ill or disabled children gain ground in other nations, I worry that my kids' lives will be valued and preserved. Will the Church ever stand in the gap for others just like my children? 

Still, as my fears rise, God whispers, 
"Let not your heart be troubled..." (John 14:1, NKJV)

As depraved as our culture is at present, this is nothing new to God. Believe it or not, this isn't the first time the world has seemed to be crumbling into complete hopelessness.


In fact, it was into this very type of world that Jesus, HOPE of all generations, was born. Mary and Joseph had to be every bit as beset with the constant, low-laying stress that haunts my husband and I. Corruption and societal filth also surrounded them. Leaders caused great fear in their time. Poverty seemed their lot no matter how hard they worked — a dread that never stops weighing on us too as a couple. Their safety was at constant risk. They were oppressed commoners, and even their church leaders could not be trusted to act with integrity. So much of this sounds like how we struggle today.

Even so, "LET NOT YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED..." None of this catches God by surprise. He has seen it all before and made a way out of it. That tiny miracle born in the ugliest of locations, entered our earthly hell so we could enter His glorious heaven! Are you having trouble with medical care and insurance? Jesus didn't even have these blessings in His time, and He won't leave you or forsake you now. Corrupt government? The Baby of Bethlehem is the King of Kings! Every one of those leaders will ultimately answer to Him. Deception and dishonesty threatening to steal your joy? The Celebrated Savior promised, "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." (Luke 8:17, NIV)

No matter what heaviness, darkness, injustice, or oppression weighs us down  — Regardless of every difficult circumstance — Jesus promises, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33, NIV) Now THAT is a reason to have hope indeed!

Pray with me...

Infant so helpless, thank You for being our help! No problem, societal rot, or misery is bigger than Your power and majesty. How blessed we are that You love us so infinitely, despite our sinful participation in some of that darkness. We don't deserve Your goodness, but You lavish it upon us anyway. Because You are our Hope beyond hope, we celebrate You now and always!

~ Barb Dittrich 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Gifts on Repeat

Oh give thanks onto the Lord, for He is good!
Psalm 107:1 (KJV)

Traditions?

This time of year is always interesting in our family. First, after 22 years living in the USA, I still don't have a proper Thanksgiving tradition. I didn't grow up celebrating Thanksgiving and I'm always surprised when it comes around and the flurry of activity around me begins. That's complicated by J's birthday, which is always in the week of Thanksgiving. How do you celebrate the birthday of a child that doesn't interact traditionally with kids his age, who can't eat the birthday cake and will go ballistic if you ask him to blow out the candles?? I confess that after 19 years, I still don't think I've answered this question well. Then, in my Utopian fantasy, I want to really observe the Advent season, with advent devotions and advent candles and stories every day. Alas... One year we actually did most of a Jesse tree devotional and we even set up the Christmas tree at our version of the Thanksgiving/Birthday celebration. I continue to hope that I will get these traditions right, but as the children get older, I wonder...what's the point?


Thanksgiving/Birthday Gifts

This year, I planned to crash a friend's Thanksgiving dinner with a representation from my family. I thought this was a good plan because she always had Thanksgiving dinner. But not this year. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to do something. My turkey skills are quite... immature, and so I gave the turkey a pardon, cooked lamb, oxtail stew and took out some Escovitched fish (a Caribbean favorite) that my husband had brought home the previous day. We celebrated our gratitudes by adding to J's previous day's OT activity, a holiday wreath, by writing our gratitudes on leaves for the wreath, and we ate together (mostly). 

I started J's birthday celebration by shopping for him and thinking about the gift that he has been to me. I have had the courage to show up and live out loud in ways that I don't think I'd have done without him. He has been part of my salvation and continued transformation. Maybe God knew I needed him. So I celebrated his birthday eve in the sacred moments provided by replacing his sweats and underwear. It's weird how full my heart was, walking the aisles in Walmart at 11 pm.

This year, I was able to ask J what he wanted to do for his birthday. This is the first time ever, and I'm so grateful for that. He said he wanted to walk by the water way. Walking by the pond at the end of our road might have been his desire, but we chose the walkway along the Hudson, by the translation. Our family walk lasted 5 minutes, until the Amtrak came by and J covered his ears and headed to the car. But we did it! And I'm grateful.

That night, Isaiah decided to take J to the mall to get him a new winter jacket. Our walk had inspired us all with a lot of courage, because a mall visit had previously been a no-no. But it was late and Isaiah felt courageous and off they went. Now, going to the mall is a boring thing to some families, but for us, with J? That was priceless. And it was a moment with Dad while I curled up with a book, alone at home!


So I'm grateful for the journey and the many priceless gifts that seem wrapped in mundane moments. I can't help think about Joseph embracing his brothers saying 'God meant it for GOOD and for the saving of many lives!' (Gen. 50:20). J, I pray that your life continues to be a blessing to all those who get you and that I will steward your lessons and help share them with others.

Lord, I thank you for your gifts that keep giving, especially the sacred moments wrapped in mundane packages.
Amen

-Faith

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Christmas Pageant That Never Was

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
(Luke 2:8-12, NIV)


 As you busily plan your Holiday celebrations this and every year, what do you consider to be the most critical? How to plan for the many relatives that you’ll visit with and the gifts that all of them will require? The food to make, to buy, and to consume? Maybe that special vacation or trip you might get to finally take now that you have a little extra free time? I’ll bet going to your church’s Christmas service may fall a little further down on that list, but for families like ours, it’s not as easy as saying we’ll just “show up to whatever;” Since for many of us church services are not easy on any given week, larger holiday celebrations like Easter and Christmas can present some unique circumstances. If you’re like our family, then you have the benefit of support from your church for your special needs child, which usually comes in the form of an extra helper or helpers in the Sunday School Program, but holidays are always a little different. For one, Christmas services are always on top of the regular Sunday ones, at least on Christmas Eve. That of course means no classroom or student room to take them to, so it’s every family for themselves. For most this is fine, but families like ours are not like most. Now we do seem to manage alright. Our experience the last five years at our now former church was essentially sitting at the back of the church, close enough to the doors in case we had to take a quick walk to get re-centered, make our share of joyful noises to the Lord, and then step right back in, doing our best to make it to the candle lighting at the end around the church. My wife and I helped each other out and so we could always say we made it through another year.

There is another part to this experience though, and this is something that was always tough to swallow in the weeks up to Christmas. It had to do with how our son was included in the student performances, specifically with the kids’ choir, which always did performances during Advent on one or more Sundays. When he was younger, Preschool and Kindergarten aged, it wasn’t as much of a deal, since most of the kids at that age are usually distracted or have short attention spans on stage, and in many cases need to have hands on one way or another. Our son also needed hands on, but as he got older, and the kids got bigger and could handle longer and more complex songs and sometimes dances, my child stuck out more and more. The church, however, was wonderful in how they handled it, always having a helper or two to guide him on stage, stand with him and in many cases have a tight grip on him so he wouldn’t run off, or worse, run right into the band since he loves live music so much. I never had an issue with my son being up there. I was always proud of him, glad he was included, yet in the back of my head always telling myself maybe next year he won’t need as much help, maybe he can do more, maybe he’ll just stand there, even if he doesn’t interact, maybe he’ll just stand. This last year was probably the toughest, as I watched all of the kids his age, do a whole routine to a song they had been doing each week during Advent, complete with a little dance routine. I watched the smiling, joyful faces as they did their little steps in time with the kids’ leaders, the cell phones snapping pictures and recording the whole event, but mine didn’t come out for it.

When I think about how to resolve these feelings within, I go back to a Christmas past...the first one in fact, and who got the “Royal” invitation to the birth of the Christ child, namely the lowly shepherds out in their fields. See, shepherds were perhaps the lowest rung of society’s ladder in those days. They would have probably been considered dirty, smelly and gross, certainly not people worthy of being present at the birth of a king. Yet, the King of Kings specifically called these folks to the event of his birth, because they were exactly the ones that He came into this world to save, to bring home, to call to his table. If the Christ Child can welcome these souls to the celebration, then why wouldn’t my child be welcomed to the party on stage at his own church?

This Christmas, we will be celebrating at our new church home, where there is no kids’ choir, no children performances, we’ll just show up at one of the services, allow the worship arts team to take us through everything, and if our son needs a break, we can just walk him out anytime. I can’t help but share though, something that occurred just as I was finishing this. I think it illustrates more than anything the power of God in circumstances like these. My wife called me into the kitchen where she was busily working on our son’s communication program for his iPad, and showed me what she was able to come up with for, the Holiday performance at his school. With the help of his music teacher, we’re able to record the chorus to the song his class is performing, and place a tab on the screen which will allow him to play that part of the song when it comes up. 

He may not ever be able to do what all of his classmates or friends and church can do. He may never recite a poem or master a dance step. And he may only ever be able to press a button on a screen to be included, but there is no doubt for me, that God’s will IS to include him. If I ever forget that, I’ll simply remember the shepherds and the star, and know that our King became human so that he could know us in all of our pain. Even as I write this now, He is watching and listening. He even gave me the perfect ending to this story.

Pray: Heavenly Father, you are the best daddy of all. You know us in our hurt, pain, fear, and frustration. You invite us to your table regardless of abilities and allow us to be fully present with you now, at this most special time of the year. I pray that all of your children would remember the immense love you have for them that you would give your own Son to us to mend and heal and to make us whole once again, as is your perfect plan. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Sounds of the Season

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, 
and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten
 from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:14 (NASB)

Jingle bells.

Singing.

Children’s laughter.

Hushed quiet of snow.

Sounds of carols, sounds of hand bells, wrapping paper crinkling. 

Sound of the Salvation Army bell ringing.

All the amazing and beautiful sounds of the Christmas season.

But for some, those sounds exaggerate already raw and intense feelings.

For this mom of a severely disabled girlie, the season is emotionally intense.

The sounds of the season bring the things that are already there to the forefront of my eyes, the forefront of my heart.

The emotions become exaggerated. The joys of the journey and the really sad parts of it as well.

The sounds of seizures become memorable – Christmas morning seizures that stop girlie’s time with family.
 
Ableism becomes more exaggerated, as events pack to the gills with no room for the disabled, for the handicapped, for the lame, for those who have no abilities in social situations. The neglect and disregard more obvious for those who might be differently created than others. No room.

Sounds of joyfulness and cheerfulness exacerbate the grief, in the deep places. Increasing the feelings of being alone. Increasing the sadness, not alleviating it.

But it all leads me to the same place, my deep and profound need of Jesus. The sounds of the season exaggerate my lack of Him in my heart and in my mind.

Hallelujah, the King is here
Given for all men
For today the holy son of God
Is born in Bethlehem.”
(Born in Bethlehem, Third Day)

The baby, Jesus, come to die for me, for us, for all.

THE Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, so I could see and hear and feel him.

So I could know truth, so I could have inexplicable, irreplaceable, beautiful joy, IN THE MIDDLE of the season, that exaggerates the hurt.

The truth of my desperate need of Jesus becomes a stark reality. 

I need the Hope that His birth brings.

I need the healing of heart that His death affords.

I need the transformation that His life provides.


Dear God, please come and live in my heart, abiding in the deep and saddest places. Please come and heal my hurts with your love, and my mind with your holiness. Please carry your daughter through the season of sounds. Thank you for bringing Jesus to this world to fill it with hope. In Jesus name, Amen.