Thursday, April 27, 2017

When God Seems to be Hiding

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

Have you ever had times in your life where you are convinced that God is hiding? Where circumstances seem to be swirling out of control and you can’t sense His presence anywhere? I am currently walking through one of these moments where what I thought was stable and trustworthy has suddenly been torn apart. Chaos seems to reign right now and I am telling people that things are foggy, but I know that God is here somehow.

God is sovereign regardless of whether or not I feel His presence or hear His voice!

The circumstances of life never take God by surprise. Not once in my life (or in yours) has He been sitting on His throne wondering what happened! He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He sees all, knows all and feels all that is happening to us. I don’t know about you, but it is all too easy to let my emotions dictate my actions. This is dangerous because my emotions are highly influenced by the storms around me.

I need to remember that God is for me and that He is with me at all times!

When the phone call comes with devastating news, God is there!

When friends turn their backs on you, God is there!

When selfishness and self-promotion seem to rule the day, God is there!

When I am lost and feel forsaken and can’t find my way, God is there!

Often, I feel like I am looking into a cloud-filled expanse of life that is filled with chaos and uncertainty and, admittedly, fear and anxiety. I struggle to see God when things aren’t going my way. I wrestle with His love and mercy when people around me make choices that have such negative consequences.

However, it’s not all about me. It’s about the truth of God’s Word and the certainty that He promises to never leave me nor forsake me. I need to spend less time trying to find God and more time resting in the assurance that He already found me. I need to spend less energy running after His presence and more time remembering that His Holy Spirit lives within me. I need to spend less time stressing and striving for answers to all of the circumstances around me and more time asking God how I can become more like Him through the circumstances around me.

God is never hiding! He is nearby at all times. Regardless of what current circumstances might be telling you, be encouraged that the truth of the Psalmist still stands. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, we have nothing to fear because our God, the Almighty Creator of the universe, is with us!

Dear Lord, thank You that I can lean on Your truth in spite of my feelings. Thank You that You are always with me and that the storms of life can never change our relationship. Thank You for Your peace, Your presence, Your hope and Your grace during times when everything else seems chaotic. Help me to always remember that You are not hiding, but are walking beside me and often carrying me through the craziness of life. Amen! 

~ Mike

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Beautifully Imperfect Devotional Life

Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth
Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

I remember praying this prayer for as long as I can remember: Lord, help me to have a disciplined devotional life.  And for a few years there, in my late teens, I did! But after that...

Recently, after walking my son out to the school bus, I felt the tug from my back yard, to watch the spring continue in its beautiful power. As I hurried out, captured by the sight of the tiny buds on the trees and the raucous chorus of sounds from birds and insects, I made the choice to slip into self-judgment. Why can't I just spend more time with God? More prayer would definitely help me cope with the barrage of issues flying around. The birds chirped, the spring called, and I struggled to attend, listening instead to my inner chatter. Eventually, God won, and His voice in nature penetrated. I am God. I win. Life wins. The sounds echoed everywhere and His voice eventually became the loudest voice.

Returning inside to the reality that unfolds, I was tempted to quarrel, despair and be mean. I probably yielded to the temptation a few times. Then, in the face of a child's less-than-positive attitude, I remember to ask Jesus What do we do about this? And I feel the impulse to hug the child and pray. Or, at 3:30 am, when autism and difficulty sleeping collide, I leave the familiar God, how will I cope?? for God, help us sleep. My daughter, observing me being 'stressed' (her words) says, "Let's pray," and thanks God for the beautiful day, asking Him to help us choose gratitude. And I say, "Amen."

A wise friend and spiritual director told me once that I should pray the way I can, not the way I can't. I can berate myself for the ways that I could be communing with God, that I'm not, or I could see the invitations from God to commune with Him, the effort He takes to pursue and persuade, that I can't help but accept, and be grateful.

The invitation of our generous God to communion is relentless. His pursuit is consistent and He does not, and never will, stop chasing you, showing Himself faithful time and time again. I pray, today, you let go and ALLOW Him to be God, to hold you while you are still in His arms.

Dear God, Thank you for your relentless pursuit. Help us to see all the invitations to communion that you offer us each day. Help us to say yes in all the simple ways and to hear your voice bringing life and strength into our daily moments.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Eternal Hope and Expectation

...He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I Peter 1:3, NIV ~

This week we celebrated Easter. We were reminded with beautiful songs and rejoicing that our Jesus is a risen Savior! As believers, we can live in hope and expectation of our own resurrection day.

Our family's Easter celebration was followed by a week off of school. Spring break!!! There is nothing that squelches alleluias and dashes the hope and expectation of a family with special needs like an entire week of “relaxing.” Right?! Trying to keep an eternal perspective is definitely easier for me when class is in session!

On one of our spring break evenings, we went out to a restaurant and left Liam at home with his caregiver. The restaurant was a loud one with an arcade that causes sensory overload for Liam. It is a place that our girls love, but Liam hates. As we sat eating our dinner and talking I thought, “This is what our lives might be like if all of our children were typically developing.” Sitting there felt strange. After nearly a decade of being Liam’s mom, eating and drinking my own food without needing to feed Liam, give him a drink, pick up books that he has thrown on the floor, and change his iPad video (repeatedly) always leaves me feeling antsy. I have a difficult time sitting still and conversing with my family because I am so used to the nonstop rhythm of trying to meet Liam’s needs.

That restaurant dinner clarified for me why I have been feeling so weary lately.

  • NEEDS - Liam’s constant needs are overwhelming. He depends on us for everything. He needs us to feed him, tip the cup to his mouth for each sip of each drink, dress him, diaper him, and more. The minute that Liam gets an illness our whole family goes into a mode where everything and everyone is focused on keeping Liam comfortable and helping him heal. All of these care needs get harder as he grows. A tall almost-10-year-old with extremely low tone is so much harder to help than a toddler.
  • ADVOCACY - The management of Liam’s medical team and insurance, his school team, and his other access needs is time-consuming. When these things are going well, they require time and organization. Difficulties arise regularly with them and sorting them out can be so consuming and emotionally draining. This week I have a court date to dispute a Medicaid issue and a meeting with our school district officials. Advocating for Liam feels so difficult at times. 

I’m weary. My weariness isn’t quenched by sleep or a massage or a weekend away or a mom's night out (and let’s face it…those become about special needs and advocacy too because I have to get advice from my tribe of experts!). Things like these definitely help me to plug on, but the needs and the advocacy just keep needing me and wearying me. My bones ache and my brain screams with weariness. I become resentful of my weariness and my perception that the rest of the moms out there don’t live with this level of need feeds my resentment. I have no peace.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)

I am extremely prone to this resentful thought process but have found that when I pour my heart out to God and spend time in his Word my heart is filled with his peace. I can do the daily cares and advocacy with a more content heart. I may leave a moms group or a retreat weekend feeling as burdened as I did when I arrived. I will never leave the foot of the cross that way. When we bring our cares to God he will listen and help. He has the power to change our hearts. 

…But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31, NIV)

That doesn’t mean that we don’t fall back into our negative patterns and sins. The difficult things keep coming and I constantly feel this weariness and resentment creeping back in. God knows that our human nature is weak and he loves us so much despite our weakness. His Word and time spent praying to Him will refocus us each time that we do it.

Dear Heavenly Father,  Give me a desire for you.  Help me to look to your Word for the strength and focus to live my life with a heavenly hope and expectation.  In your name, Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Chocolate Easter Bunny Hangover

At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus.

They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.
~ Luke 24:1-8, MSG ~

As a pastor, I anticipate Easter with joy and excitement – after all, it’s the most important holiday in the Christian year. It’s the time when we get to celebrate the miracle that changed everything – when Jesus defeated sin and death and came to life again. It’s the time when we get to sing the most exciting worship songs, preach from the most powerful and mysterious texts, meet new friends that may be approaching church for the first time, and cement again our belief in the God who loves us more than life itself. It is an exciting and powerful day.

The mom in me, on the other hand, approaches Easter with a bit of fear and trembling. Facing each day without the routine of school, finding creative ways to entertain children while studying Scripture and prepping for worship services, and then dealing with the sugar rushes, meltdowns, and iPad over-use seem to sap my strength and energy, leaving me with more dread than drive. So I tightly ration the Easter candy in order to quell the resulting behavioral crises that are sure to come, not to mention the circumference that it adds to my hips. Locked up tight behind a complex system of tot locks and pantry doors, the last of the candy is still hanging around, mostly some jelly beans and stale M & M’s, perhaps a few toffees or forlorn taffy. The Peeps are always the first to go, and the chocolate Easter bunnies never make it past Easter day. And after the little people have had their fill of Easter spoils, and the big people have stolen nibbles and bites from the kids' sacred stash, we are left with the chocolate Easter bunny hangover.

It's that slightly icky feeling in the pit of your stomach from eating too much chocolate. The dull headache that’s left over from the backend of the sugar rush, and the swollen fingers and toes from the salty Easter ham that was devoured at brunch. Chocolate Easter bunny hangover, indeed. It’s that moment when you realize the fun and the hype are over, and the worst is yet to come – the meltdowns are coming on strong, the laundry (which is consequently streaked with jelly beans and chocolate) is piled up in the hallways, and the chores and the messy kitchen are just plain overwhelming. Life after the fun is just plain overwhelming. Life, perhaps, is even a little bit hopeless.

We see a picture of hopelessness in the women who went to look for Jesus in the tomb, expecting Him to still be dead, hoping to somehow anoint His body with burial spices. How could they possibly have hope when their hopes and dreams for a powerful Savior died on the cross on Friday? How could they possibly have hope when they were suffering such grief, such loss? How could they have hope when the man that they had seen do miracle after miracle gave up His right to life in order to show His resurrection power that would be the saving grace for every one of us? How could they even begin to hope?

But God. The God who overcame death, who brought Jesus out of that tomb, met those women right where they were, in the middle of their fear and their hopelessness. Those hopeless women who showed up anyway were the first to hear the news that Jesus was alive. They were the first to peer into the shadowy darkness of the tomb to find nothing left but a few linens because Jesus was gone from that place of death. God took those hopeless women and turned them into joyful preachers of the Good News – the news that Jesus was and is alive! God’s resurrection power gave those hopeless women a brand new hope.

And that’s kind of how God works. When we show up in our brokenness, our helplessness, our hopelessness, God transforms us through His resurrection power. He gives us grace to handle the chocolate Easter bunny hangover, the piles of laundry, the mess and the meltdowns. Because the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that lives in each of us who believes. That resurrection power isn’t just for a powerful Easter sermon, it’s for meltdown Monday, for chocolate Easter bunny hangovers; it’s for the best day of your life and the worst day of your life and it is for every single day in between. And I hope that you can live in the constant awareness that Jesus Christ is alive and He is ready and willing to turn your hopelessness into joy through that very same resurrection power.

Dear God,
Sometimes our lives are overwhelming. Sometimes, our lives feel hopeless. Please meet me in my hopelessness, and transform me through Your resurrection power. Please grant me fulfillment when the mundane chores are piling up. Please grant me strength and patience when the meltdowns and the stress begin to overwhelm me. Please carry me each day in Your resurrection power and turn my hopelessness into joy.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

That Easter Feeling! ~ #SacredSunday

Easter isn't just one Sunday of the year. It's a joy that lives inside of our hearts every day when we embrace Jesus. Celebrate that Easter feeling today!
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Friday, April 21, 2017

Striving for the Best Possible Version

Photo image courtesy of skeeze at
I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed.
~ Philippians 3:14, VOICE ~

It's IEP season. This means that I end up chatting with a disproportionate number of parents who are frustrated with their child's progress or lack thereof in school. Irritation mounts as parents prepare to once again go to battle for their child, contending with educators that all too often want to take the easiest, most minimal steps possible to comply with the law.

All we parents want for our kids is to have the opportunity to become the best possible version of themselves they can be. 

Why is that so hard to understand? Why is that too much to ask?

The sad part is that just tiny, consistent adjustments and small accommodations can make such a huge difference for our kids. Working with our children instead of working against them can make all the difference in helping them to reach their full potential. It may be inconvenient or require some effort on the part of the team, but the outcome is definitely worth it.

Examining the inherent truths of this situation, I have to ask, Why don't we parents expect the same for ourselves? Yes, we have all heard thousands of times the airline passenger analogy of putting our own oxygen masks on before we assist our kids. Unfortunately, we nod our heads and continue our self-neglect, especially when it comes to our spiritual lives.

"I don't have time!"

"I'm so tired!"

"God understands."

We rationalize as our spirits continue to dwindle. Our stress is through the roof. We are constantly exhausted. Emotionally we are discouraged, depressed, anxious, and angry. Exercise is absent. Overeating is habitual. Marriages are strained. An intimate relationship with Jesus? What is that?

If this were our child's IEP team, we would be furious!

We need to strive to become the best possible version of ourselves every bit as much as we push for it in the lives of our children. How we spend our time reveals what is important to us. Straining towards that relationship with Jesus FIRST helps all the rest fall into place. (See Matthew 6:31-33) He alone can transform us into the best possible version of ourselves. The power of His Holy Spirit in us increases our perseverance and gives us the self-control to push through the small adjustments and effort needed to create positive personal change. 

Is that too much to ask? God doesn't think so. There is nothing He has withheld from you to help you reach your full eternal potential.

PRAY: Lord, in the crazy busy-ness of our days, remind us to put first things first. Help us to remember that we are a poor example to our children when we don't maintain and improve ourselves first. Make us good stewards of every one of Your good gifts.

~ Barb Dittrich