Monday, October 12, 2015

Employing Adults with Special Needs: ReAwarding Work

Trophy Master 1

Commit your work to the LORD and your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3 NRSV

Two years before their son Mark graduated from high school, Pete and Sharon Meaden had a conversation about his future.  Mark has a great aptitude for computers, but has deficits in other abilities due to cerebral palsy that made it hard to find a job.
"Bagging groceries and stocking shelves are fine jobs, but many of the kids coming through modified educational training have other interests and abilities. Some of the positions that are traditionally thought of for kids like Mark, he just can't do physically.  At times there are behavioral challenges that require supervision. He worked so hard to acquire technical skills in school. We didn't want him to lose those by graduating to the couch and playing video games all day."
Pete and Sharon set about finding alternatives suiting their son's gifts which led them to start their own business. Revived Glory Awards refurbishes old trophies and creates new ones for a variety of sports events and more.
"I knew so many friends with shelves full of old soccer trophies, basketball, baseball, you name it.  Kids work hard for those treasures and no one wants to throw them away, but eventually they end up just taking up space and collecting dust.  I got to wondering if I could start a business recycling old trophies and creating new ones."
A bit of market research and emails to a network of friends yielded a basci business plan and plenty of stock to get started. Mark became the first trophy master employed by Revived Glory Awards, disassembling, sorting, and creating an inventory list.  Sharon set about getting orders for new trophies, which Mark assembled, and a new business was born.
Housed in the home garage, Revived Glory Awards now employs six trophy masters, ages 20-50, and a variety of volunteers to assist. "Each trophy master has particular gifts to share. Some are good at assembly, others at engraving. The real gift comes in the sense of community. They care about each other and have a true team spirit. For some, their time at Revived Glory is their main social outlet of the week." Some trophy masters need one on one supervision and others are more independent. Finding volunteers has never been a problem. “Our volunteers love their time with our trophy masters, even saying it is the highlight of their week and a time when they know they are doing something that truly makes a difference.”
Trophy Master 3
Trophy Masters Celebrate "Bring-your-Sibling-to-Work" Day

Business is booming! In addition to trophies, they create beautiful engraved cutting boards and other products as well. To learn more about Revived Glory Awards click here. The Meadens are looking to expand from their garage into retail space, but that isn't the end of their vision. "It would be great to become a non-profit and be able to create a residential program so there could be ongoing community. Some trophy masters would still be part of a day program, but others could live on site and have care and companionship, a place to belong."
I asked Sharon what is one piece of advice she has to offer to parents of adult children who are at risk of falling through the employment crack after graduation. “Our young adults have so much potential. Those who know them best know their gifts. Find what they do best and think outside the box for how they can use their skills. Help them find what suits them or create it yourself. It really wasn't that hard to do."
Glorious God, Thank you for blessing Pete and Sharon with the gift of inspiration and vision for creating a place of community and employment for trophy masters.  Bless them in thier growing opportunity to reach out to yet more young adults who are lookng for a job and place to belong. For parents feeling anxious about the future beyond high school, calm their fears and create a fresh vision for possibilities. Open pathways of connections so that the gifts of all of your children are shared in meaningful ways. Amen

Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume LXVIII: The Guns and ASD Edition

The hoped-for hunting knife was going to be under the Christmas tree.  There would be strict rules and supervised usage to accompany it.  Still, I knew my eldest would still shake her head in disdain, thinking her parents foolish in allowing her younger sister with Asperger's to have such a dangerous tool.

Our youngest daughter enjoys all the involved details of "bush-crafting," where one learns to built huts from scrap in the wild and live off the land.  She became interested in this sort of thing through another Aspie friend of hers.  For her age and challenges, she is full of so much wisdom, mindfulness of danger, and practical finesse.  Maybe you will see her become the female incarnation of "MacGyver" some day!

I share this story with you right out of the starting gate because I want to fully disclose my bias when it comes to this sort of issue.

I was deeply disturbed and disappointed when I hopped on my computer this week to see the latest outrage in the horrific Umpqua, Oregon college shooting.  The mother of the murderer had her writing on the internet exposed, detailing that she had stated both she and her son had Asperger's Syndrome.  It seemed to be implied in these stories that the mother showed a great lack of judgment in allowing her son to know how to use as well as own firearms because of his diagnosis.  My heart sank.

It seems that we are headed for another step backwards for the worldwide autism community.  While even one of these articles concedes, "But studies have shown there is no direct link between Asperger's and violence,"* the myths and fallacies are now certain to swirl.  It surely doesn't help that Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Sandyhook Elementary School massacre was also diagnosed with Asperger's.

My point is this:  Use of weapons is a highly nuanced issue.  Those who live in major cities and/or who do not hunt can fail to understand why a person would ever even own a gun (or knife, for that matter).  Without wading into the weeds of our 2nd Amendment rights, I would tell you that this is an area that needs great discernment, not to be painted with a broad brush.

Of much GREATER importance is the condition of each and every individual's soul.  The soul is ruled by our "heart" or "the seat of our affections."  If an individual is not brought up in love and fear of the LORD (which, by the way, seemed to be majorly lacking in these mass shooters), it does not matter whether they are typical or have Asperger's Syndrome.  If I have an ax to grind with the parents of these criminals it is that they did not bring their sons up to know and love Jesus.  That is every bit as critical as parental supervision and discernment in these situations.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
~ Proverbs 4:23, NIV ~

In my humble estimation, the perpetrator at Umpqua Community College did not have a gun problem.  He did not have an Asperger's problem.  Yes, he did have a mental health problem.  But what caused his behavior that fateful day was an overriding SIN problem.  It was the fact that SIN was allowed free reign in his heart and that home that brought about such a horrific situation.

I beg people to consider this fact, and share this story to beat back all of the marginalization that is sure to increase when people make the mistake of linking our kids with Asperger's to dangerous, large-scale violence.  And take heed of this cautionary tale; Spend as much time pointing your children to Jesus as you do pointing them away from the inappropriate use of weapons.

What do YOU think?  We would love to hear!  Leave us a comment in the section below.

~ Barb Dittrich

      *Online writings about guns, Asperger's linked to Oregon shooter's mom

Friday, October 9, 2015

IT'S AN ADHD WORLD: Part 2 - Chasing After Cures

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Mark 5:24-34, NIV

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," so they say.  When things are not-quite-right with our children, we can set out on a desperate quest to make it right.  We want treatments.  We want cures.

We are not much different from the woman mentioned in Mark's gospel, who suffered from a prolonged problem with bleeding.  In her time, this would have rendered her "unclean," leaving her marginalized socially, physically, and spiritually in her culture.  How awful that would feel!  No wonder she searched every corner and spent every dime looking for a cure.

What differs from those of us who live with chronic illness or disability in today's culture versus those in Jesus' time is that the flow of information moves at lightening speed.  Medical knowledge and research evolves at a much more rapid pace.  Add to traditional, government-funded research all of the emerging, holistic, and alternative therapies for affected individuals, and parents are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.  There is the anti-vax crowd, the parents decrying food dyes and chemicals, those who are hanging their hope on acupuncture, chiropractic, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, vitamins, oils, and auditory integration therapy, not to mention the GFCF and dairy-free true believers.

HEAR ME when I say that there is nothing wrong with dedicated parents seeking the best treatment for their child.

Even so, we are like our frenetic child with ADHD when we swing wildly chasing from one possible cure to another.  We can literally run ourselves into the ground running from here to there, searching for resolutions and answers to the difficulties with our children.  Sadly, I have seen too many parents lose disproportionate amounts of time and money running from one possible cure to the next.

This type of scenario brings these Bible verses to mind:
  • Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.  I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.  (Ecclesiastes 1:10,11,14, NLT)
  •  “Then if somebody says to you, ‘Look, here’s the Christ,’ or ‘He’s over here,’ don’t believe it. False christs and false prophets will appear, and they will offer great signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, even those whom God has chosen.  Look, I’ve told you ahead of time.  So if they say to you, ‘Look, he’s in the desert,’ don’t go out. And if they say, ‘Look, he’s in the rooms deep inside the house,’ don’t believe it. (Matthew 24:23-26, CEB)
  • Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed.  Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21, CEB)
Each of these passages reveals mankind futily chasing after something bigger, better, BRIGHTER, BOLDER.  Yet, God decries each situation as meaningless, false, or short-sighted.

Instead of flitting from one treatment to the next like a hyper-active squirrel hiding nuts, perhaps we need to learn from the woman beset with prolonged bleeding mentioned in Mark, Chapter 5.  She knew where her real hope should be directed.  The same is no less true for us.  Reach out for Jesus!  Be relentlessly focused on connecting to Him above all else!

Our hope cannot lay in a treatment, remedy, or cure.  Those will always fall short and our focus will be distracted.  Instead, our full anticipation and reliance should be on Christ alone.  Though we may have our doubts, he remains immovable, unchanging, and ever-faithful.

If you find you are one who is consumed by this disquieted, frenzied quest for treatments and cures, maybe God wants you to sit in His presence and really listen to Him for a bit.  Cling to Him today.

PRAY:  Jehovah Rapha, You are the divine healer of our souls.  Help us to never stop reaching out to You in faith and trust.  May we chase after You harder than we chase after any remedy, treatment, or cure.

~ Barb Dittrich

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Audacity of Grace

Image Courtesy of sakhorn38/

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.  Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV

We are just closing in on the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, and I think this topic is very near and dear to the hearts of those who struggle with mental illness or who are the parent or relative or even close friend of someone who does.  
Can you be saved at one point...having received the Holy Spirit through accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior, but then, (perhaps while suffering from a mental illness), you commit some act which would be judged as a reason to LOSE your salvation? 
Let's face it...we all sin...repeatedly...even after being born again.

Let's face it...we CANNOT, while in these earthly bodies, do ENOUGH good to get into Heaven on our own.

But, let's face it...we have formulated our own hierarchy of "acceptable" and "forgivable" sins in our own minds which we then use to judge ourselves and others. 

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, however, he tells us that once we have the Holy Spirit, he (the Holy Spirit) is a deposit GUARANTEEING our inheritance into God's Kingdom. 


How about Romans 8:34?  
Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Picture Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God; minute by minute, and hour by hour, offering up arguments in favor of our salvation...acting as our lawyer to pardon us for the sins that we commit day in and day out.  He is our defense attorney from the moment that we invite him into our hearts.  
He is our only hope.

We answer to the law of Man on earth, but we answer to God's law in Heaven, and Jesus is the only one that God will listen to when it comes to our salvation. 

So, let's go back to the original're born again, but have committed a terrible sin...are you still saved?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  Ephesians 2: 8-9 NIV

We can't "good work" our way into Heaven, and we can't "bad work" our way out...if we have accepted Jesus through faith and experienced the Holy Spirit dwelling within us...we.are.saved.

This is DEVASTATING to consider though, if one is having trouble forgiving a heinous crime or considering a treacherous individual found guilty under man's law as "guilt free," and able to pass into Heaven. 

Ah...there's the rub...

I heard singer/songwriter David Crowder say it best in the "Inside the Music" talk about the song "Come as You Are."  He said:

Grace is vast...Grace is offensive...
Doesn't that say it all?  
If we are putting limits on God's grace...grace that is powerful enough to be poured out ONCE AND FOR ALL...then we are putting limits on God.  Then WE are playing GOD. 
If we are saying that a particular sin is "unforgivable" then we are saying that we have the right to judge what God has said that ONLY HE CAN JUDGE.  
If we are saying that "guilty on earth" is "guilty in Heaven", then we are saying that the same rules apply in both places...but Revelations tells us that the same rules DON'T Heaven there is no death, there is no sickness, there is no darkness, there is no the rules are NOT the same.  Plus, we are saying that our legal system can judge who is SAVED...and we certainly know that our God is much bigger than our legal system.
But, that IS offensive...when we are having a hard time forgiving, or understanding, or wrapping our brains around the pain and brokenness in this world, GRACE CAN BE VERY OFFENSIVE. 

Grace redeems sinners.
Grace restores relationships.
Grace reconciles our debts.
Grace reawakens our souls.
Grace revives our faith.
Grace renews our salvation.  
Grace reminds us that we are sons and daughters of the One True God.

That is the audacity of grace.  

PRAY:  Heavenly Father, I'm so thankful that you are so much bigger than me.  I'm so thankful that MY SINS...past, present and future...are covered by Jesus's blood.  I'm so thankful that I don't have the burden of judging the righteousness of others or the goodness of their hearts.  Forgive me for my un-forgiveness, God.  Help me to see others the way Jesus sees them.  Amen.

~ Tammie Hefty

Watch David Crowder sing "Come As You Are" in the K-LOVE studios:


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pediatric PTSD - The Persistent Battle

Be anxious for nothing...
Philippians 4:6, NKJV

It's an infusion day.  I have to get my act together quickly before my husband leaves the house.  While other mothers with a child this age may be able to administer intravenous clotting factor to their boys with hemophilia, I cannot.  Then again, most other mothers don't have a little boy with hemophilia who has experienced as much trauma as ours has at this point in the journey.

I prepare the infusion the same way I have a thousand times before and take a deep breath.  A clean cloth surface is covered with syringes, alcohol swabs, gauze pads, a bandage, a 25 gauge butterfly needle, and his "favorite" tourniquet.  I pray that I don't miss that vein on the first attempt or our whole day will be turned on its head.

"Okay, guys!  I'm ready," I shout to my husband and son, signalling that it's time to commence this 5 minute procedure.

My husband sits down with our son in his lap.  He's ready to administer "the death grip," as we've jokingly come to call it.  Our son's emotions already beginning to rise, my husband puts his arms over our son's shoulders, holding the wrist of the arm we will attempt to access while he also puts the other hand under the elbow to keep our son from flexing it.  He wraps each of his legs around a corresponding leg on our son to keep him from kicking and broncing like a wild horse at a rodeo.  I count down... 3... 2... 1.  "Mom, wait!  I'm not ready yet."  This is the first of several times our boy will cry out like this hoping to delay the inevitable.  "Be anxious for nothing, buddy," I soothingly lilt in hopes of calming him.  

We try again, but I miss the vein.  He moved!  Oh, God help us!

The crying begins and he pleads to take a break.  I acquiesce, looking for my phone to call the school.  He won't be coming in today.  My husband looks frustrated.  He has to get to work.  We have to give this another try.  Our son needs the clotting factor to keep him safe.  Besides, if we just scrap the infusion and throw the factor away, we will be putting over $1,000 in the trash.  The clock is ticking.  We only have 3 hours after reconstituting it before the efficacy of this medication is shot.

We give it another try.  My husband holds on for dear life as my son writhes, yelling and making himself stiff as a board.  By God's grace I have managed to get the butterfly needle in our son's arm.  The worst part is over.  Now to calm him down and let him know it will all be okay.  My husband strokes his hair and assures him, "It's okay, buddy.  We're in.  The worst is over.  Now sit still because you don't want Mom to have to do this again."

After the extremely brief procedure is finished, a small bandage is on our son's arm, and my husband is finally out the door to work, I hold our son close for a bit.  There are tears and questioning of this whole nightmare.  He'll head to bed soon to recover from the emotional exhaustion inflicted by this whole situation.  My day is shot.  Nevertheless, I have to get my thoughts together because this isn't the only thing required of me today.  I just want to take a nap like our boy.

This whole process will begin again in 48 hours.  I hope it goes better next time.

This is what my life was like when I became friends with Jolene Philo 6 years ago.  I went against all the rules I give my children for making "friends" on social media.  We were both professionals using Twitter to promote our work when we connected.  Eventually, we spoke by phone, met in person, networked, and have even presented together at a conference.  As our friendship grew over these years, we exchanged the stories of our sons and dreamed of a day when a book about pediatric PTSD would finally be available.  Now it is.

On October 1, publisher Familius, Inc released the first edition of Jolene's book, Does My Child Have PTSD?: What to Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out.  I am admittedly biased because Jolene is not only my friend, on Snappin' Ministries' board of directors, and a respected colleague, but she also shares some of our family's story in the pages of this book.  Regardless, this book is far beyond what even I imagined it might be over the years we talked about it.

Within the pages of this long-awaited volume Jolene shares an amazing aerial view of this diagnosis in traumatized and medically-fragile kids.  In fact, parents will find themselves nodding their heads over and over throughout its reading as they sense the validation they have been lacking until the release of this book.  PTSD is examined from a historical perspective, looking at how diagnosis first began in soldiers.  Ample reference is given to studies on childhood trauma and their causality.  Symptoms through ages and stages are detailed.  And reasons for misdiagnosis are also insightfully revealed. 

There are several things that really impressed me about what Jolene has put to paper here.  First off, the way she explains the chemistry of the brain and how all the various parts function, in a way that the average person can grasp, is no small feat!  I think there are some high school psychology and biology teachers that could learn from her pages on this topic.

Secondly, there is no lopsided bias shown in discussing treatment.  It is critical that people realize that there is no "one size fits all" solution to treatment of PTSD and childhood trauma.  While some methods are empirically more successful in their outcomes than others, there are a variety of treatments that are available for this stubborn diagnosis.  Jolene's son found great success with one method, while my son has made incredible progress with another.  She puts all of the information out there, so readers can explore options on their own.

Finally, Jolene is vigilant to emphasize that PTSD is not something from which a child is ever "cured."  I think of how my husband used to tell the story of Johnny Carson explaining that he always had butterflies in front of a crowd, despite years of doing The Tonight Show; He just learned how to teach them to fly in formation over time.  It is much the same with PTSD, and this book is mindful of making certain the reader knows that.

Since we first came to be friends 6 years ago, my son has made great progress with his trauma.  He now administers his own intravenous medication, but has times where he takes a few steps backwards.  That is a far cry from where we were when his PTSD was at its worst.  One thing that I shared with Jolene when she interviewed me for this book was that I hated how stubborn and persistent this difficult diagnosis can be.  Nevertheless, a parent has to be more persistent than that rascal, trauma.  (See p. 112 of the book.)  I am grateful that my friend, Jolene, has brought this topic to the fore through this book.  It validates the experience that so many of us parents have painfully army-crawled through with our kids and gives hope.  In my humble opinion, Does My Child Have PTSD?: What to Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out should be required reading for nearly every parent raising a complex or traumatized child.

PRAY:  LORD, You told us to "be anxious for nothing."  So often that is easier said than done.  Thank You for giving us tools like Jolene's book to calm our fears and help us to stop being anxious about anxiety.  We praise You that You are helping doctors get at the root of these traumas and find help for our kids.  You love them more than we ever could.

~ Barb Dittrich

October 4 - 10, 2015 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and World Mental Health Day is on October 10, 2015.  "Dignity in mental health" is this year's theme.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"God is Real No Matter How I Feel"

Image courtesy of Kolesnik Svetlana via
Why am I so overwrought,
    Why am I so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God?
    Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One
    who saves me, my God.
Psalm 42:11, VOICE

Another week begins.  I groan in despair as the alarm goes off at 5:30 AM.  I wish there was some relief, some help, so I wasn't such a required part of everyone's morning.  But there is an IV infusion to administer before school for one child, and the other needs a ride to meet her teacher for help before classes start.  I glance at my schedule for the day in hopes that I can just crawl back into bed after drop off.  I hurt everywhere.

The pain I experience comes courtesy of the liar, depression.  It makes me feel physically weak, demeaning me with thoughts questioning whether I am loved, whether I am unlovable, whether I have any personal worth, and whether God even cares.  Depression tells me things will never get better.  I will always live in poverty; my marriage will never get better; no one will ever catch on and support the vision of our ministry.  It tells me garbage like everyone is better than me, smarter than me, more qualified than I am, viewed by others more favorably than I am.  It tells me that I am toxic in everything I do and say.

Nonsense like these thoughts are not just an attention-getting pity party.  They are a debilitating chemical reaction that occurs in my brain, largely because of my genetics and biology.  While there are things I can do to make myself and my depression better, it is a battle I will fight the remainder of my days, just like those living with high blood pressure or diabetes.   This is why I have come out of the shadows over the years -- because I realize that depression is an illness just like any other.  I certainly would never wish this for myself or anyone else.  And few things are more frustrating than willing yourself to feel better, but being unable to make it so.

The good news is that I have found ways to cope with this sometimes paralyzing mood disorder.  The number one means of doing so has been to cling to the truth that, "God is real no matter how I feel."  Even when my depression has me feeling so low that I want to hurl my Bible across the room, I never stop reading God's word.  Because I pour God's truth into me, I can know at my core, beyond a place where my depression can touch, that His promises are infallible.  His Word will stand no matter what.  

Combined with medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), I learned that I can ride out my depressive episodes much like I ride out the misery of a head cold.  It feels awful, "But tomorrow will be better," I tell myself in the midst of the storm.  I could not do that without the anchor for my soul that God provides through His word.  He pushes back all of the lies that depression spews at me with words like:

  • You are fearfully and wonderfully made, Barb! (Psalm 139:14)
  • I have numbered every hair on your head. (Matthew 10:30)
  • I delight in you, Barb! (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • I have big plans for you. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • I guide your every step. (Isaiah 30:21)
  • I am your protector. (Psalm 12:5-7)
  • Nothing is too hard for me, Barb. (Jeremiah 32:27)
  • I cannot lie and I never change. You can be secure in me. (Hebrews 6: 16-20)
  • I will wipe away every tear and give you an amazing new future. (Revelation 21:3-7)
These are powerful words!  They are a solid refuge for my soul that keeps me hanging on when my physiology does not want to cooperate.

I am so very grateful for God's boundless grace on which I can fully rely.  This is true not only for myself, but also for one of my children who battles both anxiety and depression.  I am able to speak from a position of authority to my child because that child knows what I go through in my mental health battle.  All of my children see me clinging to Christ in spite of this adversity.  That is a meaningful testimony to each of them!  Having spoke God's words of encouragement into each of their lives, I am privileged to have at least one of them speaking the same back to me when I am at a low point.

What a great God we serve that we can not only be stigma-free, but even have challenges in our mental health put to use for the purpose of blessing others!

PRAY:  Thank You, Father, that Your truth, Your complete dependability doesn't depend on how I think or feel.  Your goodness to us is absolute.  We can stake our lives on You.  Thank You for being so faithful when we are battered about by a world that is broken.

October 4 - 10, 2015 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and World Mental Health Day is on October 10, 2015.  "Dignity in mental health" is this year's theme.