Monday, October 24, 2016

Say Yes! to the Season

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…
Ecc. 3:1 (NIV)

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.
Gen. 8:22 (NIV)

You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.
Ps. 47:17 (NIV)

A few years ago, I had a life changing moment when friend offered me a helpful question. In our conversation, I commented, 'I feel like I have 6 children.' She said ‘How come you act like you have 2?’ (I have 3 children). She went on to explain that women who had 6 children probably had different boundaries and lives than their counterparts who had 2. They honored the natural constraints provided by the number of children. What were the natural constraints provided by the season I’m in?

The scriptures about seasons speak to me when I think about this question. Different things happen in each season and trying to make stuff happen in the wrong season can have exhausting and possibly, disastrous effects. The journey of life with autism has had many unexpected gifts and one of them is the ability to acknowledge the natural boundaries. So taking my son to places that will overstimulate him and increase the risk of difficult behaviors is a no-no. For good or ill, that’s a boundary for us. So, I don’t go to those places much. And guess what? It’s been a relief! I don’t realize the amount of opportunities to say ‘no’ that I had been overlooking. J is offering me the gift of a backbone. Acknowledging the natural boundaries in life means I have to be really deliberate about my ‘No’s’ and my ‘Yeses’.

And there is no better season to pay attention the that than the one we are staring into. The beautiful fall colors remind me that Thanksgiving and Christmas are on the way. I have choices to make. What do I allow? What do I refuse? Each year I get better at this, so here’s the list of guidelines I’m using this year.

Say ‘No!’ to things that:

  • create the bad kind of exhaustion (you know the type, It’s when you end up being mean to husbands and children while working on the thing)
  • increase my stress level (as identified by tight, painful shoulders and risk of item 1)
  • the thought of saying ‘no’ fills me with delight and relief (that’s a dead giveaway for me)
  • create exhausted, crabby, overstimulated children (which increases the risk of items 1 and 2)

Say ‘Yes!’ to things that:

  • bring delight and wonder
  • help us to practice gratitude
  • help us create time to appreciate the beauty of the season in the ways that are most meaningful to us
  • allow us to invite others to share the beauty we are experiencing
  • empower different ones of us to express our wonder and gratitude in a range of ways, even if we aren’t all together.

This year, I’m hoping to honor God and His calling to me and my family by not resisting the specific boundaries and limitations that are just a part of our normal life. Actually, not only will I not resit, I’ll embrace the boundaries. And the relief they bring. They too, are gifts from God.

Lord, You commented to Martha that Mary had chosen the better path, and that only one thing is necessary. As we look at the approaching season, with the special boundaries and constraints that we have, please help us to hear you say ‘Only one thing is necessary’.  Help us to sit with you and hear what that one thing is, that will be nourishing and encouraging and empowering in our lives, these special lives that you have called us to live.


Friday, October 21, 2016

When You Are Told You Have A Rare Disorder

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day."
 ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16, ESV ~

Over the past 40 years I have been wasting away on the outside; but so have you. Some of us will waste away bodily quicker than others. There is no real reason for this except the number of days we are allowed on this earth. That is God's business. He is the one who numbers our days (Job 14:5). It's what we do with them that counts. It's how we live them and use them that matters.

We can spend our time in worry or we can not lose heart. We can choose to look to Christ and believe that, "through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:10, NLT).

The point of this life is to become more like Him. An amazing glory will be revealed in us after; for all of eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). I can use my difficulties and weakness to let Him shine bright or rebel and complain. I hope to be a light.

A diagnosis is a tool. And I am thankful for it. I am not sure if it is even exactly right. And it is scary to think about what it means. However, after 18 years of this often invisible suffering, I am the same person, I have the same medical issues that keep repeating themselves so with a diagnosis or not, I am the same person. A new understanding of the diagnosis brings in new tools through medicines that may help prevent further problems. Or it may not because they just don't know a lot about it or they could be wrong. Yet, I will not lose heart, instead hoping to shine His light.

With this wasting-away body of mine, I will try the best I can to care for it with what knowledge I have of eating right (yet research on this changes often)! I will go to the doctors and try the things they say. Do the tests they want to do but it won't change me. As I go, I can be a light. It will bring me in contact with a new group of people. And I will not lose heart by His grace.

It is also truly renewing me inside because I am losing the idol of approval. This disorder is an invisible disorder. Much of the time I am well but that can turn at any moment and we are still trying to figure out that trigger. I feel so strange going through the motions of some potentially dangerous disorder when I feel fine. Our bodies are so complex! I cannot even understand it yet, so how do I expect others to? Yet, I will not lose heart. God is in control of even this. He knows the number of my days and He knows yours too. No matter the trouble or diagnosis, He is renewing you on the inside day by day. In this we can rejoice! That is what matters most -- to be more like Him.

Father, help us to trust you with the unknown and the hard. Help us to not lose heart as we are outwardly wasting away. Thank you that you are indeed renewing us inwardly day by day. What a blessing it is to know this and be reminded by your word. Help us to hold fast to it when we are tempted to doubt. In Jesus Name. Amen.

~ Angela Parsley

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'" 
(Job 1:20-21 ESV)

I don't know about you, but I often struggle with the sovereignty of God. I wrestle with understanding suffering and pain and loss. Tragedy and grief seem so far outside the realm of what God could ever want for me.  What happened to the idea that following Christ would automatically make life better?

Earlier this month, I attended the memorial service for the son of my friend who died at age twenty-eight after a battle with brain cancer. As painful as this was, the service was filled with hope at the idea of a young man who lived with such passion and zeal, not only for the things of God but for every aspect of life itself.

I walked through a bitter and painful divorce, brought on by a long time of going through the motions and finished off by multiple instances of adultery. As I became aware of what was happening, I began to grieve not only for the destruction of a marriage but for what life would look like moving forward for myself and my two small children.

Our country is in a constant state of grief it seems between shootings and natural disasters and uncertain leadership. The basic morality that previously existed has morphed into more of an "every man for himself" mentality that leaves confusion and destruction in its wake.

So, what do we do with the grief? Where can my sadness be placed? How do I escape the pain that life so often throws my way? John 11:35 is one of the most profound Bible verses in my opinion. "Jesus wept." It's so simple and concise, yet it is filled with such great hope as I am able to realize that Jesus truly is the Man of sorrows who understands pain and loss and grief. I am not alone in my wrestling but rather have the ultimate Advocate on my side.

He never promises to remove grief or to insulate me from all loss. Rather, He knows and understands and sees me. He is with me in my grief, when confusion is swirling, and feelings of anger are overwhelming. He is in the midst of the storm, walking on the water and providing whatever I need in that moment.

Oh that the world would be without grief!!

How sweet would life be if I could live a little more like Job and be able to declare my worship of God in the midst of great grief! I don't think I need nearly as many answers if I can just remember that God is in charge and I am not - this must drive me to worship, not frustration.

I have no idea what the source or sources of your grief might be, but I have a hunch that you have experienced and maybe are currently experiencing this grief. At times, it is hard to get out of bed, to function, to even consider living life again. Yet, that is exactly what God calls us to. He whispers our names, sits in the mess and cries with us, and then picks us up and provides the strength needed to move forward.

May you never lose sight of Jesus, regardless of the depth of grief. May you always remember that God is for you and that even when you don't understand, you are able to declare with a loud voice that the name of the Lord is to be blessed!!

Dear Jesus, grief hurts. It wounds the soul and so often paralyzes. We live in a broken world filled with loss and confusion. Yet, You are in the midst and Your presence is never far from us. I pray that You would be the God of comfort and hope in every situation and that together we would worship you in and through the grief that we experience. Amen!

~ Mike

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Are You Hiding Behind?

Photo Credit: Josh Mckenzie
Two are better than one because they have a more satisfying return for their labor; for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and does not have another to lift him up. 
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (AMP)

I checked in for my hair appointment and was told my hairstylist was running late. I sat down in the waiting area, my mind filling with thoughts of how the day had gone so far. It had been a hard emotional day and I had no desire to be around anyone. I was in no mood to make polite small talk but knew if I canceled my appointment it would take at least a month to get back in. So I waited. I was determined once I sat in that chair, I would close my eyes and tune out the world. That was my plan anyway.

My hairstylist finished up her client and quickly cleaned up her station. She hurried over to me apologizing for being late. I muttered, "That’s okay," and followed her to her station. I sat in the chair, and she briskly flipped the cape around my shoulders asking me how I wanted my hair cut.  I started to answer but her reflection in the mirror caught my attention. I stopped mid-sentence and said, "You look beautiful today."

As I spoke she stopped her flurry of activity. Her eyes meet mine and started to well up with tears. She said, "Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me. It has been an extremely difficult week. I just wanted to feel better, so I got up extra early to make myself look presentable. I figured if I looked okay maybe I would feel better."

I have known her for a few years and knew she had three small boys all with some challenging issues.  I asked her a few questions about her boys, then did a lot of listening. She finished my hair, I stood up to leave and gave her a big hug! I told her I understood the feeling of being overwhelmed and reassured her, she was doing a great job with her boys! 

When I think about it, I have no idea why those words came out of my mouth. After all, I was planning on tuning out the world. But God had other plans. He knew she needed some encouragement, someone who would listen. 

In a way, my plan did work out. I wasn’t going to talk, right? Well, I didn't do much talking, just a lot of listening. In that moment all she needed was an understanding ear. 

I wonder how often we do that. We put on a "happy face", when we are miserable on the inside. We go to the extreme to make everything look good like we have it all together while all the time hiding our true feelings. 

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with caring about your appearance. There are those days, even though we may not feel like it, making that extra effort does help us to feel somewhat better.  Especially when we may be in the depth of depression. 

However,  it goes beyond physical appearances.  I'm thinking about when we are constantly using extra energy hiding behind the mask of "everything is great".  The mask of perfection. The  perfect family,  job, house, clothes, hairstyle, marriage, etc. If we look and act like we have it all together then maybe no one will ask questions. We try to fool others and even ourselves into thinking if everything on the outside looks good, then everything must really be okay. 

We are afraid of what people might think if they really knew what was going on. But keeping up this pretense is exhausting! We are using energy that we really can’t afford to keep others from truly seeing behind the mask.  

I know it is hard to let that guard down, and not everyone can be trusted to protect your heart. Yet sometimes we need to take that chance. Do you have a friend or two that you will allow to see what you are hiding? 

Likewise, I think we are all able to be that friend to someone else. It does take time, time for them to see you really do care and can be trusted. You can start but just being available, asking a few simple questions and really listening. 

Taking the time to see what others are going through and to offer them encouragement may be just what we need as well.  By helping others, we might find the courage to drop our mask and let them in. 

Be the kind of friend that goes to the hard places behind the mask. Offering encouragement, hope and a new perspective. Life is hard. We aren't meant to do it alone! 

By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. 
Ecclesiastes 4:12 (MSG) 

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for always being with us. Bring those trusted friends into our lives that we will feel safe in sharing with. Help us to offer up that same safe place for them to be open. Enable us to offer encouragement and strength for each other. 
In Jesus name 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 3 Best Places for a Special Needs Family to Live

Image courtesy of fantasista at
Have you ever found yourself concerned, wondering if you are offering your child the best care, top services, or greatest opportunities? You are not alone.

On September 27, 2016, WalletHub came out with their analysis, "2016’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities." This study examined 25 metrics, categorized into 3 areas: Economy, Quality of Life, and Health Care. The results were enlightening to be sure. And based on the outcome of what this data reveals, parents like us can be left feeling stressed about our locality.

In my leadership journey, I have found myself surprised more than once by meeting families who have relocated from a beachy, tropical climate to our frigid northern woods. Why would you leave a seeming paradise to suffer the long, dark winters of the frozen tundra? Typically, if relocation isn't due to a job change, it is more than likely because of our area's renown for certain therapies or health care. My heart always hurts for these families. It must be awful to have such frustrating care (or lack thereof) that you feel compelled to pull up stakes and completely relocate. Yet, sometimes this is absolutely necessary for those who bravely make the move.

At the same time, while the information provided in the aforementioned type of analysis can be helpful, our hearts need to be guarded. Whether we are able to move to the best possible location for our child's needs or not, there is an ultimate location that transcends anywhere we could be on earth.

Here are the 3 BEST places GOD intends for a special needs family to live:

  1. In the palm of His hand - “Could a mother forget a child who nurses at her breast? Could she fail to love an infant who came from her own body? Even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you. A picture of your city is drawn on my hand. You are always in my thoughts!" (Isaiah 49:15-16, CEV) No matter where we call "home," knowing how intimately we are loved by our Maker ought to give us great comfort. Since we are in the palm of His hand, anything that touches us has to touch Him first. He is with us through it all. We are not abandoned. Every detail of our lives and situations are of concern to Him. What a blessing to realize that He is holding us close regardless of location! That tender relationship we are invited into with Jesus gives new meaning to the phrase, "Home is wherever you are."
  2. On the move for His kingdom - "So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. And remember that I am always with you until the end of time." (Matthew 28:19-20, GW) Having challenges with our children doesn't exempt us from the Great Commission. In fact, our trials are an incredible platform that God can and does use to help spread the Good News. When people see us trusting God through tears, praising Him in life's storms, and grateful for our Savior despite having every reason to be bitter, it makes them stand up and take notice. The world is HUNGRY for something positive that transcends circumstances. We are living in the best place possible when we are on the move, spreading the gospel, no matter where that may be.
  3. With an expectant heavenward focus - "My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” (John 14:2-4, CEB) In this messy, broken, dysfunctional world, what a relief to know that this is not our final destination! Everything we do, everywhere we go, should be guided by an eternal perspective. We don't always have to win arguments with the school staff or medical professionals. God sees. Regardless of our circumstances here, we are the ultimate winners in heaven. Sweating the small stuff should increasingly become a thing of the past. Heavenly-minded people don't allow themselves to be overcome by the worries of this world because it is a temporary location. And our permanent address is better than anything we could ever imagine. Our humble abode here will be exchanged for the mansion Jesus is building for us in eternity.
Meditating on God's best for us suddenly brings a sigh of relief. While we still want to make wise choices for our family, it becomes clear that those choices are only a small part of a much bigger picture. The All-Sufficient, El Shaddai God will hold us close no matter where we reside. The most important decision is to reside in HIM.

PRAY: Lord, sometimes we are overwhelmed by trying to access the best care and services for our children. Holy Spirit, bring us wisdom in our decisions. Give us rest in knowing that regardless of where we are, You have us in the palm of Your hand.