Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Magnolia Leaves and Good Neighbors

Magnolia grandiflora by Andrew Butko via Wikimedia commons

For your name’s sake O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11 NRSV)

If I knew magnolias were so messy I probably would not have planted them.  We moved to Texas twenty years ago into a new construction neighborhood.  The front yard was put in by the builder, the barren back yard became a mud pit with the pounding thunderstorms virtually every afternoon.  Add a four year-old who saw no issue with red Texas clay and new carpet… we needed some landscaping, stat! 

Living in the south for the first time I made a snap decision that we needed magnolias. I loved the movie Steel Magnolias, the strength of the women, the way they kept going in the worst of times, the way they could rely on each other. Magnolias are the trees of the south. Magnolias on the fence line would be perfect!  Right after we got the yard put in a neighbor down the street commented that her husband wouldn’t let her have magnolias, “They are so messy.”


Thus began the guilt.

The leaves fall year round.  Really?  When they get stressed in the heat they REALLY fall.  Drought? They throw a pouty, hissy-fit of leaves all over the place paying no attention to which side of the fence whatsoever. On our lawn or in the neighbor’s pool, those trees don’t care. 

But I sure did. 

I could clean up after messy trees in my own back yard, but it’s not like I could hop the fence and toss our leaves back over to our side.  Well, not unless it was the dead of night with a waning moon. Don’t ask me how I know this.

After twenty years those trees are really big now, dropping trashcans full of leaves at a time. Guilt by the bagful. I sometimes contemplate baking cookies for the neighbors as a sign of repentance. Then I get busy and the cookies never quite make it to the oven. I have even felt guilty about that!

New neighbors moved in two years ago.  We met over the back fence one afternoon. I apologized profusely about our trees.  “Let me know if they are a problem or if you need branches trimmed back. I’m so sorry they’re so messy…”

A gracious smile stopped by tumble of word. “We love your trees.  They are beautiful. We wouldn’t have a bit of shade in the evening without them. Just look at all the blooms about to come.”

Blooms? What blooms?  The guilt for messing up their yard took away the beauty of the blooms.

Funny how guilt is so insidious, yet serves no purpose. We beat ourselves up for things that matter little to others. We withhold forgiveness for ourselves when others offer it freely.

Special needs parenting can come with a heaping plate of guilt for so many things. Guilt for birth differences, lack of access to therapy and medications, lack of time for family and friends, short-changing siblings who get a smaller share of everything, to name a few. Does any of that guilt serve a purpose? Does it help in anyway?  Or does it just make the load heavier?  Do you work through it to a place of forgiveness just to find a few days later that you’ve picked it back up again?

Our lives are messy, like those trees.  So what? We grow stronger through the years, blessing others in ways we do not even see. We too have beautiful blooms. Do we take the time to recognize them for ourselves?

Whatever guilt it is that you carry, God is bigger. God forgives, wiping clean the slate for a fresh start. Allow yourself to live into that gift by giving over to God your guilt and taking back a life free of self-condemnation.

My prayer for you today, enjoy the blooms!

Monday, September 29, 2014

More Than Meets The Eye

He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
~ Daniel 2:22, NLT ~ 

Take a good long look at this picture above from our church Fall Festival yesterday.  Can you tell which one of these beautiful little girls has a disability? 

How about this picture?  Can you tell which child has special needs?

What about this one?  Can you tell which of these teenagers has a chronic illness or special need?

The fact is that the vast majority of parents our ministry serves are raising children whose diagnoses simply cannot be seen with the naked eye, even if only part of the time.  Some of the children in these pictures are dealing with diagnoses like anxiety disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, RAD, PTSD, spina bifida, and hemophilia.  Behaviors can sometimes reveal that something is not quite right, while other times medical emergencies might expose the situation.  Still, most of the time these kids are just like any other.

Which is pretty cool...  Except when we parents come up against difficulties because of it.

One of the more challenging parts is one we talk about frequently -- having our parenting skills judged by others.  Humans are SUCH visual creatures.  Unless we have walked a mile in someone else's shoes, we often can't see that the behavioral outburst a child may be having is due to a sensory processing issue or medically induced PTSD.  What some perceive as poor discipline on a parent's part is really just an autism spectrum meltdown that is a regular part of life for a weary family.  Our families need TLC, compassion, and support, not judgment.

Another challenging part is that people fail to lend a helping hand because everything looks so "normal".  They don't see how exhausting it can be living with someone who has ADHD, needing constant redirection.  They don't see the medical battles fought with chronic illness behind closed doors.  They don't feel our angst at the never-ending parade of medical bills.  And because they don't see, they forget to help, they forget to volunteer for organizations like ours, they are under the false assumption that our problems are suddenly resolved.

It can all be so frustrating.  Why can't we get the help we need and eliminate the false accusations we don't need?

But then there is the One who sees all.  Even those things hidden in complete darkness do not escape His view.  His heart is filled with the love and compassion we so desperately seek.  We can flee to Him with our frustrations, and He hears us.  He knows the truth about our struggles with our kids because He IS the Truth.

What I find comforting about today's verse is the fact that "He reveals deep and mysterious things..".  This tells me that I need not obsess about the injustice of being unfairly judged or ignored in times of need.  He will vindicate me.  It will all eventually be exposed.  The foolish will be shown their foolishness.

There's so much we encounter that doesn't meet the naked eye.  If only people in a crowd of kids knew that as many as 16% of those standing there likely have some sort of "developmental disability", perhaps they would more positively treat and serve everyone around them.

And yet, we can delight in God's great grace.  Our kids can find their place in life to fit in, while we are still blessed by a Maker who cares about our every need.  That turns the frustrating into glorious. 

PRAY:  Maker of heaven and earth, nothing escapes Your view.  Thank You that You are the Truth, Jesus.  We can rest in the assurance that You know everything going on with our children, regardless of outward appearances.  Help us to remember that there's always more than meets the eye, and to treat others as we wish to be treated.

~ Barb Dittrich

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Are You Serious" Awards - Volume XXXIV: The Fool Me Twice Edition

Let this be a cautionary tale to you...

Many of our kids, no matter what the label, have a multitude of diagnoses.  This means that our kids have more than one medical or social challenge that they need to give attention.  It's hard enough for adults to juggle a variety of treatments.  Harder still for our children!

As I always tell my kids, "It's my job to train myself out of a job."  In other words, our lives as parents include day after day of instructing of our children in self-care.  

What our instructions look like completely depends upon our child's ability to translate what we are showing them into activity.  For some kids learning to brush teeth comes as early as age 2, and others beyond the age of 18.  Growing to manage their own diagnoses is an important journey for our children with chronic illnesses or special needs.  It may be as simple as developing the wisdom to use noise-cancelling head phones when a sensory overload situation occurs.  It may be as complex as learning when their own blood sugar is too low.

That being said, I have to say that you must be prepared for some setbacks.

My youngest child has a multitude of allergies, some of which could end her life in the blink of an eye.  Since she first began encountering the worst of these allergies at the age of 18 months, this is an awareness that we have developed in her from little on.  Her eyes will nearly bulge out of her head at the mere mention of penicillin, as her rare erythema multiforme reaction was caused by that drug.  She can tell you that she can't eat pineapple or that other triggers make her miserable.

Still, she forgets.

Yesterday, was one of those days.  As I saw the dreaded school district phone number on the Caller ID, my heart sank.  It was my daughter, announcing to me that her grass allergy had slipped her mind, and she had broken out in a reactive rash after playing in the grass with her friends at recess.  I promptly zipped over to the school with Benadryl to treat her.  Thankfully, when I arrived, the rash was not as bad as I had anticipated.  Last year, when she had forgotten the same allergy, she rolled down a giant hill behind the school while she was out with her photography club.  That had resulted in a horrible, angry rash from head to toe.  This time, however, only required a dose of medicine, and she was back to class.

Problem solved, right?

Oh, no!  Life can never be that simple.  Once again, last night, she forgot about her earlier misery and took refuge in the grass while playing "ghosts in the graveyard" with the neighbor kids.  She came inside more covered in rash and experiencing greater discomfort.

  Are you SERIOUS?!

I promptly dosed her once again with Benadryl, but this time threw her in a bath with baking soda and lavender essential oil.  I obviously have more training to do.

While we don't want to scare our children unnecessarily, may I mention that there are terrific FREE resources on YouTube from authorities that are great teaching tools like this...

From experts like Mayo Clinic and Web MD to diagnosis specific groups like The Juvenile Arthritis Foundation and The National Autism Association, parents can find useful videos on everything from social skills to how to handle a seizure via YouTube.

Remember that our kids live in the era of technology.  Video tools like this can convey serious lessons that our kids simply do not absorb by listening to their parents or the doctor.  Appealing to both their visual and auditory senses at the same time, this type of tool is more likely to help children retain important instructions.

Sometimes, in learning to manage their own diagnoses, our children let things get worse before they get better.  When our son was first learning to administer his own IV's of clotting factor, it would sometimes take a painful bleed for him to understand the importance of not missing a scheduled infusion.  These times can be extremely stressful for us as parents because we realize that critical situations don't always afford us a do-over.  The best we can do is to pray for God's protection over our precious kids and continue to use every tool available to teach them the serious nature of their own personal medical care. 

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, September 26, 2014

When Anxiety Conflicts with Routine - An Asperger's Journey

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
Living in a home with a child who has Asperger's disorder makes us very aware of how important routine can be. Due to this fact, we try very hard to maintain a pretty predictable routine. However, certain anxieties get in the way of those schedules sometimes. 

One of the hardest things at this point in our journey is dealing with the obsessions. The obsessions of Asperger's are positive and negative ones. The positive obsessions revolve around a like or desire of some kind like Lego's or Lord of the Ring's. The negative obsessions revolve around anxieties. Both ends of this spectrum of obsession seem to consume my sweet child's thoughts daily. It must be 
exhausting for her.

Back to our family routine; We decided that Friday nights would be pizza and movie or game night together. This could be a fun thing for kids who thrive on schedules but in our house it causes yet another problem. You see, my sweet aspie child currently has a strong fear of throw up. Any sound, smell, reference to, or act of throw up or gagging causes her great discomfort. 

What does this have to do with a movie night? Well, because of this phobia, we have paid attention to many movies and shows and a large number of them include some sort of gagging or throw up. Isn't that crazy?! Because of this, my sweet girl has much anxiety during family movie night. 

The above picture is a contract that my girl wrote out in order for us to get her to watch the family chosen movie. She holds the controller so she can pause it if she thinks this may happen and watches along according to the contract. It is a strange part of our family but it gets her watching with us and is helping her conquer her fear. 

I know anxiety is often just a part of Asperger's disorder for many people, yet I also believe this Scripture posted at the beginning. When we are with Christ there will be no more fear, no sin, no shame. Until that day when all things are complete I plead this verse in prayer for her very life. I pray her mind will be sound as to not fear anything because Christ's perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I pray that she will cast all her anxiety on Him because He cares for her (1 Peter 5:7). One day when we are with HIM, all this anxiety will cease.

This is a good verse to continually pray because fears always come, prior to this present fear obsession it was the fear of storms. Fears come and go but the Lord remains with us forever and there is nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35). I don't understand why she has to go through these hard things here and now but I do know I can trust the One who loves her more than anyone else. He will never leave or forsake her (Hebrews 13:5).

No matter what you are going through on your special needs journey we must remind ourselves of these truths that God is for us and our child (Romans 8:31), and he is good, He is in control, and He will never leave us or forsake us because of His great love.

Prayer:  Father help us rest in your love. Help us to know and see you as enough. Help us to cast our anxiety on You. Help us to best help our children in their times of need. Help us to stay focused on your unstoppable, unshakable love for us. IN Jesus Name. Amen.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why Was I Even BORN???

Photo Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net
Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man
    who brought the news to my father, saying,
“A child is born to you, a son,”
    making him very glad. 
 Let that man be like the cities
    that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
    and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
    so my mother would have been my grave,
    and her womb forever great.
Why did I come forth from the womb
    to see toil and sorrow,
    and spend my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:14-18 NRSV

Have you ever had days like Jeremiah and felt that way?  Have you ever wished you could just crawl right back into bed and cease to exist because you were weary and heavily burdened with all you had going on in your life?  Have you ever had someone say to you, "Come on, cheer up and be thankful for all that God has given you?"  

I know I have~and this past Sunday, when I was at church and listening to Chris Brown speak on prayer, and how God wants us to pray, the Holy Spirit put this message that I'm about to write on my heart.

God wants to hear from you...

God wants to hear about your fear like how Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion.  He prayed against God's will...Jesus, the Savior of the World asked God to "take this cup from me" Luke 22:42.  Have you ever prayed the same?  

God, I can't do this...I'm not strong enough!  I can't have a child with cancer, don't you know me?   I can't deal with a rare disease, I can hardly handle the ones that are well-known!  WHY WAS I EVEN BORN?

The great prophet Elijah, convinced that he was a failure, wanted God to kill him:
He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  1 Kings 19:4 NRSV
Jeremiah, Elijah,...and others like Moses and Jonah...and JESUS...they all prayed against God's design at one point or another.  And, if God is the author of the Bible, if his breath inspired all of this to be written as a love letter to us; then God sees greatness, or at least great inspiration in the weakness of others here on earth.

God wanted THAT printed.  God wanted to show us how he takes flawed men and builds them up.  God wanted to show us how he "qualifies the called" and doesn't "call the qualified."  God wanted to show us what PRAYER looks like, sounds like, and CAN do...

So, when you need to, cry out...lament, implore, prostrate, weep...and then listen.  Listen for his direction, listen for his peace, and listen for his blessings.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for loving all of us as imperfect as we are.  Thank you for being our confidant in whom we can entrust our greatest defeats and our biggest fears.  Thank you for printing the prayers of distress as well as the prayers of praise.  Your love letter to us is perfect.  Amen

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Ghost in Our Church Basement

You will keep in perfect peace

    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Isaiah 26:3 NLT

Rumor has it there's a ghost in our church basement. Her name is Mrs. Bottoms, and the story goes that she haunts the sacred halls under the sanctuary (in the area where the Senior Adults now hold Sunday school classes) because the church didn't use the money she left to it for the purpose she designated. 

Corny, right? I agree. But there are a few dozen children who, despite how ridiculous the story is and how many times they've been told differently, scare themselves and each other out of their wits when they are given the opportunity to run around down there to play hide-and-seek. 

It starts upstairs. The kids will get excited about getting to play downstairs while most of the adults are in a meeting (they're always supervised by someone in our children's ministry), and someone will bring up Mrs. Bottoms. The ones who haven't heard the story before listen intently, others share spooky experiences they've had, and even the children who know the truth, who have been told by parents and church leaders alike that there's nothing down there, who know the story is silly, will find themselves caught up in the tale. Nervous giggles abound, and then, thoughts full of ghosts, they go to the basement to play hide-and-seek. Some children make spooky noises, trying to frighten the others. And it works. Why?

They can't stop thinking about the ghost.

Because their thoughts are full of the wrong things, they are tricked into believing things that aren't true when they're down in that basement. It's so silly, and I find myself getting exasperated sometimes when my daughter comes to me, finding it difficult to sleep because she keeps thinking of Mrs. Bottoms, and we go through the whole story again. She laughs and admits she knows it's not true, but she's still scared because she's still thinking about ghosts. Only when she chooses to focus on the truth can she calm down enough to sleep.

Then I realize that I do the same thing. When I get anxious and fearful about the future, about finances, about my child failing to make progress in a certain area, about job situations, about stories in the news, that's the adult equivalent of thinking about ghosts. When I'm consumed with fear and anxiety, it's because my thinking isn't fixed on God and the truth in His Word. I can only have peace when I'm focused on Him, trusting Him to be with me each step of the way.

PRAY:  Father, please help us to stay focused on You. Despite how hard things are and how hard they may get, please help us to know that our help, our safety, our provision, our joy, our peace, and every good thing in our lives comes always and only from You. Amen.