Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Naked Prayer

"Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you.
Take this cup from me.
Yet not what I will, but what you will."
- Mark 14:36 NIV -
I struggle with being completely transparent in my prayer life. 
There are so many times where I catch myself trying to structure a prayer as cleanly as I would a business proposal.  I try to make it lawyer-style-airtight so that I won't get caught by a loophole when He answers me.  What would my prayers sound like if I approached the throne of God in full humility and transparency, baring it all? 

"Dear LORD,"
Stutters and awkward silences. 
I accidentally start to daydream in the middle of it and then snap out of it and apologize.
I admit that I am a mess.  I wake up a mess and go to bed a mess. 
The cleaner I try to be, the bigger mess I seem to become.
I sob - complete with loud air sucking and snot.
I confess that I have HUGE doubts about my abilities as a Mother, wife and human.
I apologize for the doubts... and the mess.  Then I share more doubts... and mess 
Then I apologize again.
Then I daydream for 30 seconds about what I would look like if I didn't doubt. 
"Sorry, God!!!" 
Amen.

Even reading that in my head makes me cringe a little.  I don't want to be that person.  I want to be strong and resilient, brave and unbreakable.  It's extremely challenging to be that bare, that transparent, even in prayer.  I have tried to talk with close friends like this and the response usually indicates to me that I should insert a loud "HA!  Just kidding!  I never ACTUALLY think these things" and then change the subject.

But God actually calls to the weak and weary in me.  He says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."  (Matthew 11:28)  He promises, in Hebrews 2:18, "Because he himself suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."  And if those weren't enough, he modeled the perfect version of this transparency just moments before he was betrayed, captured, and led to be beaten, tried and killed.       
Abba, Father,
everything is possible for you.
Take this cup from me.
Yet not what I will, but what you will. 
(Mark 14:36 niv) 
How much more bare can you get than to ask, in your last moments before death, that God would change the plan?  Jesus couldn't sarcastically laugh his way out of that one, nor did he try.  He asked his Father what was on his broken heart, but with the loyalty of a perfect son, surrendered his will to God's. 

As a parent of a blended family, 2 step-sons with special needs, and two sons under the age of 4, there are so many days that I spend feeling like I'm fighting an impossible battle.  There are so many moments where I honestly don't think I can continue. 

But Jesus has walked through my struggles.  He has been in a place so low that he didn't want to continue and asked for a way out.  Even in that moment, Jesus prayed "Yet not what I will, but what you will." 

PRAY:  LORD, all my inmost being praises your holy name.  Please teach me to pray with a bare and transparent soul like you did in the garden.  Let me live my life in honor of your will, not mine.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Am I Asking of God?

Image Courtesy of Luigi Diamanti/freedigitalphoto.net
You may have heard it on the radio or sung it in church...it has a haunting melody and grows in intensity.  The words are powerful, and beautiful, and melodious...hypnotic.  But, have you really thought about what you are asking God to do as you sing it?

Oceans is a song that quickly rose to popularity on the Christian music charts, and has captured a place in the hearts of many.  Hillsong United has brought us many such songs, and I love when a set of lyrics resonates with me like the ones this song.

This last Sunday when we sang Oceans at church, I was struck by the lyrics in the bridge of the song:
"Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior."
So, when we sing this, we are singing about an ocean and asking God to take us in to a point where our feet COULD NEVER go...not WOULD never go-but COULD never go.  We are asking God to take us to a point of impossibility so that OUR faith will be strengthened by ONLY having him as our strength, only having HIM on which to rely.

Can you grasp that?  Do you see what this means?

This means:
Not lamenting, "Lord, why me?"
Not questioning, "How strong do you think I am?"
Not insisting, "I have been given enough burdens, one person cannot handle all of this."
Not comparing, "Why can't my life be like his or hers?" 

Take me...take me through cancer, through the accident, through the fire, through the job loss, through the death...take me to a place I never imagined being-a place where my faith will be strengthened.
Strengthened...you can't build more muscle without breaking down the muscle that is already there...you have to tear down in order to build bigger. 
So, take me deeper, push me farther, run me faster, fly me higher...and I will have nothing to cling to but you, God.

Pray:  Lord, it scares me to call upon you and ask you to take me where I dare not go on my own...it scares me to recognize that this life is not pain free...and it scares me to know that you are a good, loving, and jealous God who will pursue me even though my sinful nature tries to run.  Cover me with grace, and peace, and comfort.  Amen.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Where do you sit?

Photo Credit 1ms.net

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take." (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT)


Front seat or back seat?

Every morning we have to make that decision about our son Jon Alex. His mom drives him across the town to our local high school and drops him off. Then in the afternoon she chauffer’s him back home from school.

Jon Alex loves riding in the car. Unfortunately, his motives for wanting to ride are sometimes not the best.

With his combination of autism and cerebral palsy, being strapped in the seat gives him his own playground for movement. He leans up as far as the safety belt allows, and then hurls him back into the seat.

Over and over and over he does this, and he does it repetitively as fast as it allows and he can.

Somehow his movement-starved body has turned our car into his own personal amusement park.

The stares you receive at traffic lights are priceless. Strangers peer into the car with their jaws open; sometimes other kids point.

When we are parked and he starts rocking, the entire vehicle just shakes. People pass by and I slump over in the seat wishing I owned a pair of Groucho-Mark glasses and nose.

He cannot help the stimming, it just comes as part of his autism.  Because he is so mobility impaired, I understand his craving and I take delight that he can rock like that in the car. It satisfies that craving to be able to control his own movement, and he has figured out it is safe as long as he is buckled in the seat.

He rocks so much he actually broke the seat in our minivan last year.

Ask any parent of a child with autism, we can usually tell by the morning routines, what the day may hold based upon the events that morning. In our house we call it having a “special needs moment.”

As a result, some mornings Jon Alex is far more hyper and wound up than others. He is vocally and physically stimming away constantly. We stand him up and he begins stomping his feet making it terribly difficult to walk him to the car.

That’s when we have to make the decision.

Front seat or back seat?

He is 16 and loves riding in the front seat with mom. But in the front seat there’s a greater chance of him hitting his head on the dashboard or window and even flailing so wildly it distracts my wife who is driving. He might even reach over towards the controls.

The back seat doesn’t have those issues and gives him more freedom of movement. So we have to choose each day where he rides.

Every morning you and I have to make a similar decision as it relates to God.

Will we be content to let God drive us where we are going that day and ride along quietly in the back seat? Will we let him choose the course and direction while allowing him to steer without our attempting to take the wheel? Will we trust that he knows how to drive the car without our help, and allow ourselves to sit back and enjoy the trip?

Or will we try to get God to let us sit in the front seat where we are tempted to try to take over the controls, determine the course, or suggest what path we would like Him to take?

What kind of passenger will you be today?

Trust is letting God plot the course, choose the path, and take the wheel. Trust is sitting in the back seat enjoying the fact that God is driving your life and you will ultimately reach your destination.

Being anxious, stressed, and fretting with worry about the day makes us want to sit up front where we can obsess over the view, criticize the driver, and question if he knows what he is doing.

Start your day in the back seat my friends, and enjoy the trip.

You have a chauffer. Let him drive.


PRAY:  "Father we trust in you to guide our lives. You have a plan and a purpose for everything, forgive us when we we trust in the things of this word more than we trust in You."


Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XIII: Some Things You Can't Just Pray Away Edition


"Pull yourself up by your bootstraps."

"Well, if you would just trust God more."

"Jesus is better than any pill you could pop."

"This is a spiritual battle."

"You need to 'take every thought captive and make it obedient unto Christ.'"

  Are you SERIOUS?!

Yes, it's true.  People in the church really DO say these things to others who are battling mental illness themselves or within their household.

Christians seem to have an uncanny way of  adding to the hurt and confusion when it comes to issues of mental health.  For too long, the church has avoided the elephant in the room, trying to shame it into submission by misusing Scripture. 

It's not that people don't care.  It's more that this is a leviathan that they have no idea how to attack.

Barely over a year ago, the youngest son of renowned pastor, Rick Warren, took his own life.  The entire Christian community grieved along with Rick, his wife, Kay, their other children, and their church family.  Who could make sense of this?  If even the son of such an esteemed leader could fall victim to such a thing, are we not ALL incredibly vulnerable?

Thankfully, the Warrens, true to style, allowed God to prove the truth of what He promises us in Romans 8:28.  Something good gestated over the past year, and was recently birthed out of such sorrow.  On March 28, 2014, Saddleback Church hosted the first ever Gathering on Mental Health and the Church.  Billed as " a one-day event designed to encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness," this event proved to be a breakthrough for a grossly neglected issue within the church.  Eight highly regarded experts, including Rick and Kay Warren themselves, spoke at the gathering.

I asked one attendee, whom I hold in very high esteem, what their thoughts were on this much-needed conference.  Their response was as follows:
"What I liked:  The brokenness of all people was emphasized in an effort to reduce the shame and stigma associated with mental illness. The church was charged to share the compassion of Christ with people who have mental illness in the same way and spirit extended to those with physical illness. I also appreciated the collaboration between Saddleback and the Catholic Diocese of Orange County. More of this is needed.
 What needs more work:  The conference dealt exclusively with adult mental illness, to the disappointment of parents of younger children who attended.  Also, very little mention was made of PTSD, a huge oversight since trauma is the base of many, many mental illnesses and is highly treatable."
While this gathering was hardly comprehensive or definitive, it was a far cry from the condemnation most Christians battling mental health issues feel when they dare to be candid with anyone within the church.  In other words, it was a great start, and the Body of Christ needs to continue down this path with diligence and sincerity.

Given that the majority of Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, and also given the fact that we see no waning of incidents like the mass stabbing this week at Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, PA, the church needs to majorly step up its game in the world of mental health.  The fact is that when the church body alienates those with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and other myriad psychological diagnoses, we turn our backs on an enormous mission field right under our feet.  The hope of Christ coupled together with traditional medical treatments and psychotherapy can make a remarkable difference in the lives of these families.  And if we are willing to run to foreign lands to meet needs and make converts, yet step over, push out, and ignore those suffering so tremendously in our midst, we prove ourselves only be clanging gongs of hypocrisy.

~ Barb Dittrich

*Do YOU have a nominee for a future "Are You SERIOUS?" Award?  E-mail us a link to the story with any of your own personal insights to barb@snappin.org  

Friday, April 11, 2014

14 Years: The Death of Self, The Birth of Ministry

 
“Father, if it is your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, your will must be done, not mine.”
~ Luke 22:42, GW ~

The most horrifying part of the 15 hours of labor came in the final 90 minutes.  My epidural suddenly felt as if it was not working at all, and I could barely come down from one contraction before another one hit.

"I am going to die!"  

If only I knew how true and relevant my words were that fateful evening as I brought forth our second born, a beautiful son.

The day our son was born, I began a 14 year process of dying to myself.

Forever I will remember the tingling numbness flooding my face when the pediatrician announced the day after he was born, "There's no easy way to say it.  He has hemophilia."  Shock began the crushing of our dreams and reality.

Even so, in complete surrender, we found rebirth begin as we proclaimed, "God, we thank You for hemophilia.  We don't know why we are thanking You, but we thank You."

Fast forward 2 years later when the daily reality of a toddler with a bleeding disorder was weighing heavily on us.  There was another family at church who had a son in a wheelchair with visible challenges.  We approached them because we were "a big ol' bundle of need" and hoped to connect with another family facing the crisis of faith that accompanies special needs.  Little did we know that this couple was deeply involved in youth ministry.  God wasn't calling them to serve us in our brokenness.  He was calling us.  Like getting whacked with a 2x4 upside the head, the Lord clearly reminded us...

 "Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to be a servant—to offer His life as a ransom for others." 
(Mark 10:45, VOICE)

We were clueless and obedient as we answered God's call to start Snappin' Ministries.  But as I tell everyone, that's exactly who God wanted, so we wouldn't get in His way.  This organization offering compassion and hope for parents raising kids with special needs is all done by and through Him.  We just feel privileged to have a front row seat to watch our loving Maker redeem all of the hard parts of this journey that beset parents just like us.

There have been so many times since our son's birth where we have cursed hemophilia.  It is wicked.  It is painful.  And it has broken our hearts on so many occasions.  I have watched our son's will to play football or to one day join the armed forces die to God's permitting will.  I have watched our will to just have a nice, typical, financially stable life also die to God's permitting will as job loss and mountains of medical bills have beset our family.

There have also been countless times where I have wanted to throw in the towel with ministry.  Lack of funds, lack of volunteers, meeting with resistance from people still marginalizing kids with special needs all wear down a leader like me.  Even so, this young man who celebrates his fourteenth year of life today wouldn't let me quit.  Understanding that families need support for this journey while also viewing Snappin' as something redemptive to his suffering, his words, "You CAN'T quit, Mom!", were always enough to help me hang in there.

So today we celebrate 14 years, not only of a remarkable young man's life, but also the beginning of a transformative journey.  Without him, there would be too much of my own will and not enough of God's; there would be too much worry and the false belief that I have control.

Thank you, son, not only for being an incredible person, but also for helping me let go of my small dreams for God's much grander plans.

PRAY:  Lord, while saying "yes" to Your will and "no" to mine is so difficult, remind me that the reward is something much greater than I could ever ask, think or imagine.

~ Barb Dittrich

Thursday, April 10, 2014

All Power Has Been Removed From You

Photo Courtesy of podpad /freedigitalphotos.net
"Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"  Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar:  Your royal authority has been taken from you."  Daniel 4:30-31 NIV
"You are an amazing mom."

Those words DO encourage me; they lift me up on weeks like this one, when my daughter's had her Atrial Septal Defect repaired and we got to spend the night in the hospital. Reading the virtual cheers and supportive comments on Facebook gave me energy, and helped me get the boost I needed to power through the long night.

But, thankfully, I'm also reading and studying the book of Daniel.  This book challenges me to remember who is in control of "it" all...and to say that I'm amazing would be a mistake...I am just living the life that God has already planned out for me.  I can't mess up his plans; he ALWAYS gets his way.

When it comes to humbling experiences, I have a hard time thinking of one worse than King Nebuchadnezzar's.  Enough time had past since his startling dream which Daniel interpreted for him; it foreshadowed Nebuchadnezzar's demise, and a what a shocking demise it was:  to become mentally ill and begin living like an animal?    I'm SURE I would stay on the "straight and narrow path" if I'd had such a harrowing dream. (Ha!  Yeah, right, Tammie.)

Still, Nebuchadnezzar is found, literally, on the top of his kingdom, looking out over it all and marveling at his own majesty and ability to create it such a marvelous place.

Have you ever done that?  Have I ever done that?  Sat around, looking at Facebook, or reading an e-mail, or reviewing a comment on my blog that glorifies ME rather than the God who has given me EVERYTHING?

I do NOTHING on my own, and I have NOTHING on my own.  God will not allow for leaders who are not humble, so every person in leadership who might actually attribute his power or success to himself and his own abilities is in for a rude awakening.
As Nebuchadnezzar stood in awe of his own kingdom, as the very thoughts of arrogance and words of self-glorification were on his lips, God snatched it all away and Nebuchadnezzar lived as a wild animal for the next seven periods.
Any "amazing-ness" that you see in me, is merely what I am capable of when I have the power of God within me.  Any super-powers that you think I have; you are mistaken.  Without my God, the God who created me, and everything in the universe; without that God, I would be nothing...powerless.

God reminded me several times as I was in the hospital with Evie that I am nobody special.  I kept going to wrong floor on the elevator and had to foolishly step off and back on as I realized me error.  I spilled half and half all down the front of me from a leaky carafe.  I had NO power to stop the monitors from beeping throughout the night and I had to sleepily call for help over and over again.  I kept forgetting that I didn't have cash because I hadn't planned ahead for my own meals, and I had to ask my mom to buy things for me over and over again.  (Thank you, Mom!)
I am NOT an amazing mom.  I am NOT an amazing woman.  I just serve an AMAZING God.
Pray:  Heavenly Father and Sovereign God...apart from you, we are nothing.  Apart from you we can do nothing.  Help us to glorify you as we journey through our lives.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty