Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Give Thanks

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. 
(Psalm 9:1 NRS)

It will be Thanksgiving on Thursday and I can’t wait! It’s my favorite holiday. It’s not as glitzy as New Years, nor as huge as Christmas, nor as romantic as Valentine’s Day, nor as sugar-overloaded as Halloween. It’s the simple holiday about sharing a meal and taking time to be thankful. 

As a child we had the family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. There were 13 of us at my grandparent’s home and I slowly moved up the ranks from the kiddy card table to the big table. Now my husband and I share duties from the ends of the table, the living bookends to all of the friends and family who gather in between with us. Some years it is a big gathering with a massive turkey. Other years the group and bird are much smaller. One notable year it was just me with a game hen! Regardless of the number of faces at the table, the tradition remains. What am I thankful for?

I am thankful for the many parents of special needs children who have invited me into their lives and share their children and stories with me. I am thankful for the healing that happens in community. I am thankful for God’s call for me in ministry and my encouragers who help me fulfill it. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for so many things in my life. In taking the time to be thankful, my challenges feel so much smaller and more manageable.

I'd love to know what you are thankful for.  Please share in comments below. 
Gracious God, thank you. Thank you for the blessings we see and feel and touch, as well as the hidden ones that you orchestrate in the backgrounds of our lives. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for all that you give. Help us reflect and share those blessings to others. Amen

Photo "Season of Thanks" by Vikki Yost

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thank You, GOD, For Hemophilia

And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
~ Romans 5:3-5, AMP ~

"Thank You, God, For Hemophilia"???  You must be nuts!

While I embrace the label of "nut," with a confident smile, there is faith-filled reasoning behind my proclamation of praise.  These are literally words of worship that I have uttered since the day our boy was diagnosed, less than 24 hours after his birth.

The day after our son was born, my husband and I were sharing anything but smiles and laughter.  Even so, through tears we whispered a prayer of praise, "Thank You, God, for hemophilia.  We don't know why we're thanking You, but we know You will bring something good out of this."

In Corrie Ten Boom's classic, The Hiding Place, she shares horrible, harrowing stories of surviving Nazi concentration camps after being caught hiding Jews during World War II.  At one point in the book, she tells the story of her sister Betsy standing alongside her as they witness barracks of bunk beds filled with straw that is literally moving with flees.  This is where they are expected to sleep.  As Corrie recoils in disgust, her sister Betsy proclaims, "Thank You, God, for fleas." In the end, it turns out that these 2 sisters are given the freedom to preach the gospel to other women in the camp because the guards keep their distance for fear of these fleas.  They are also given enough privacy to consume contraband liquid vitamins that help their health and the health of others around them, because the guards are avoiding the fleas.

I read this book while I was pregnant with our son.  It's message of trusting God was so powerful that it changed my life.  I couldn't help but tell my husband as I was reading it.  That was what empowered us to whisper that prayer of trust despite the tearful, frightening diagnosis we had received for our infant that day.

It's easy to thank God for the positive blessings in our lives.  When I sit in the quiet of my home in the early morning, candles lit, sipping freshly brewed coffee, consuming the rich insights of Scripture, it's effortless to be in awe of a safe, nice place to live that shouldn't be ours to enjoy with all of the job battles my husband has faced over the years.  When the world is all as I perceive it should be, it seems only natural to utter words of gratitude.  Any of us can feel the glow when we enjoy life's celebrations or detect those things that have been poured over us in spite of life's circumstances.

But how do we "give thanks in ALL things"?   Is there any greater sacrifice of praise to offer God than thanking Him when our situation seems the most bleak?

I have learned over the years, first comes the action, then come the feelings.  In other words, I must first obey God, even though I don't feel it, then eventually my emotions will follow.  And if God's sees fit, He may even make my faith sight.

This has been our story since the time of my son's birth.  We praised God for hemophilia, even though it made no worldly sense to do it.  Over the past 15-and-a-half years we have faced the darkest valleys -- hospitalizations, life-threatening bleeding episodes, thousands of IV needle pokes, shocking financial mountains, and wickedly relentless PTSD.  Even so, we have clung to the belief that our Maker can create beauty from ashes.

Where would we ever be...  Who would we ever be if we had not walked down this painful, often-heartbreaking trail with our son?  While there have been many, many days where I have felt like I would die from the crushing weight of a broken heart, I still stand in the strength of the LORD.  He tells me in His word, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18, NIV)  This means, my sorrow... OUR sorrow... has afforded us the opportunity to draw closer to the Sovereign Creator and Savior of the Universe.  True, we still have to make the choice of whether or not we will take that opportunity to step towards our loving Father, but the point is that our sadness can create a unique opening to grow in intimacy with our Creator that we would not have had without it.

The simple fact is, we would not be the people we are had we not been granted this difficult, often unwelcome, gift.  Here are some of the gifts that hemophilia has given us:
  • Opportunities to meet some incredible, unique people -- Whether it be medical staff or fellow sojourners, we have met some amazing individuals over the years, all marked with the beautiful fingerprints of God.  We have met some of the most inspiring, funny, and talented people through this journey.  I shudder to think of what we would be without many of them.
  • Increased compassion -- As 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, we are comforted to be a comfort to others.  I can confidently say that the Lord has softened our hearts towards others who suffer in this life because of the challenges we have endured.  Service has become a habit for my children, because they have seen us do it since Day 1.
  • Perspective -- It is way too easy in this world to become self-absorbed, self-centered, and self-pitying.  Nothing will cure you of that like having a medically fragile child or one who has special needs.  Things I used to think were a big crisis have suddenly shrunk in size.  And when I think I have it bad, I always see someone around me who has things much worse than I.
  • Intimacy with Christ -- Paul assures us in his letter to the Church in Rome, "If we are God’s children, that means we are His heirs along with the Anointed, set to inherit everything that is His. If we share His sufferings, we know that we will ultimately share in His glory." (Romans 8:17, VOICE)  I can never celebrate enough that my troubles drew me away from my sinful life and closer to Jesus!
  • Having a front-row seat to see miracles -- Our God is the God of the impossible situation.  NOTHING gives you the opportunity to fully see that than struggling through medical mayhem or cognitive chaos with your child.  From the Lord's financial provision at times where it seemed all hope was gone, to inexplicably stopping persistent bleeding episodes, I have had the privilege of witnessing things that transcend any earthly explanationWhat grace to see God's hand at work in the midst of our son's sorrows!
The average Thanksgiving leaves us feeling grateful for home, family, and God's favor in our day-to-day lives.  I am definitely appreciative of all those things.  Even so, I also thank God for hemophilia, because without this difficult, scary, serious bleeding disorder, we would not be the triumphant, humbled, persevering, grateful people we are in this family.  While this may seem like nothing compare to the affluence of this world, we have unanticipated blessings that we will take with use into eternity.

PRAY:  Father, we know that everything that comes to us touches You first.  Thank You for being the only One who can transform our trials into triumphs and our burdens into blessings.

~ Barb Dittrich 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Faith With a Dash of Cynicism

Ha!  Yeah, Right!  Reading scriptures like this one fills me with uncertainty on good days, and cynicism on the rest.  Maybe God's definition of the enemies is different from mine.  I saw mine yesterday, and today, and will likely see them tomorrow.  Perhaps I'm taking the scriptures out of context... but then, the Hebrews likely saw their Egyptian enemies daily for hundreds of years.  Anyone looking for a Red Sea moment?

I remember early in my journey with autism, a mature Christian with a 17 year old with autism said to me that her one regret is that she let go of her belief that God could heal her son.  She encouraged me to never let go. I remember tucking that one away, after thinking on it for a while.  Never let go... Now fast forward t my son being 17. I've let go of a lot!  After a while, you have to become practical. How many kids get healing anyway?  Maybe the miracle of God is that I'm not insane.

Yet, the scriptures challenge me to more than survival.  The dichotomy is clear.  The same God who seems not to be acting in so many tragic situations is the one who told Ezekiel to speak to the dry bones, who spoke to winds and waves, who healed a boy from debilitating seizure activity.  Thus God says that without faith, it's impossible to please Him.  But how do I have faith in the face of the day to day stuff? Some of the stuff is pretty awful!

You. just. do!  Faith is a gift from God.  It often doesn't make sense.  We just have to use it and continue feeling like fools.  Hebrews 11:6  says "without faith it is impossible to please God.."  (Hold on!  What???  My resignation based on data isn't pleasing to God?? Sigh.)  Yes, God encourages us to lean into his Infinite Ability and accept His gift of faith and trust.  Even when it makes no sense.  When you have solid proof to the contrary.  Especially when you have solid proof: TRUST.

So, I'm dusting my faith and trust off, and am challenging my assumptions about many things to do with my son, including what he enjoys and how much of it.  And lately, not based on any prayers I prayed recently, my son, who is not potty trained, had a bowel movement in the toilet.  There is a God!  You just don't ever know when you will have your Red Sea moment.

Dear Lord, thank you for this great opportunity to hear from you and enjoy your words.  Truly like honey from the honey-comb.  Teach me to remember what I need, and forget what I don't.  Give me your perspective, new vision, new insight.  Help me see what you see.  Help me to guide my parenting by what you have shown me, not by the random fads of the media.  More than anything else, God, help me to believe your word.  Lord, all honor and glory belongs to you. Receive glory from my life, I pray.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cold Turkey Sandwiches

"Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens...Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" 
Psalm 150:1, 6 (ESV)

One of my best memories of Thanksgiving is actually the day after. While the day of is amazing and filled with family and food and lots of laughter, there is something special that happens on Friday. And no, I definitely do not mean participating in the craziness of Black Friday. (Can somebody please say Amazon!!)

The day after is quiet and peaceful - often still has football and family and card games. But when lunch rolls around, it gets even better! Cold turkey sandwiches with all the Thanksgiving fixings extends the holiday a little big longer; bring out the leftover Martinelli's and cranberry sauce and stuffing, but I absolutely love leftover turkey sandwiches on sourdough with all the fixings.

As I began to reflect upon this memory, I saw a correlation between Paul's exhortation to "rejoice in the Lord always..." and my love of cold turkey sandwiches. Stay with me on this as it might be a bit of a stretch. It is really easy to be thankful on Thanksgiving when the table is full and the conversation is lively and the food is hot and fresh! Hugs and smiles and laughter and memories flow without fail. However, the next day is cold and quiet and at times lonely and isolated. Am I able to be just as thankful on Friday as I was on Thursday?

How often in life do we praise God in the triumphs and successes but forget to praise Him in the valleys and struggles? God is God - He never changes regardless of circumstance and He is always worthy of my praise and gratitude. The minute my thankfulness becomes situational, then I am making myself (and my problems) bigger than God. Unfortunately, I have gone down that road far too many times in the past, and it just never works out well.

As this holiday season approaches, may I encourage you to praise God simply because He is God. Be grateful for Him whether you are celebrating or mourning. Express gratitude because of who God is in your life, not because of what life might have done for you. God provides warm turkey with stuffing and cold turkey sandwiches - what an amazing God we serve!

Happy Thanksgiving!

~ Mike