Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A child's prayer

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Revelation 21:4, NIV

Some weekends ago, we went up to my aunt's house. In our nighttime prayer, just before tucking her into bed, my daughter Namine prayed: "Dear Jesus, help my aunt not be so old. Amen."

To understand where that came from, let me give you a little context. Earlier that day, my aunt's leg was bothering her, and she had said as much. Namine gets around pretty fast in her wheelchair, so she needed her to slow down. Namine responded, as five year olds are wont to do, with "Why?"

"Well, because I'm old."

Namine said okay, and that seemed to be the end of it. I would have thought she'd forgotten all about it, but she didn't. That night she prayed that her great-aunt wouldn't be so old, equating age with pain. She's had her share of pain as well, with the countless surgeries that she's endured, but her thoughts are ever focused on others.

Pray: Heavenly Father, remind us daily of Your promises. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son, so that we may one day join you in heaven. In Jesus' name, Amen.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Search and Rescue

Photo credit traveladventure.org

"So now they live in frightening ravines, in caves and among the rocks." (Job 30:6, NLT)

He is standing at the foot of the cave peering into the darkness. He can’t see what lies ahead of him in the cave. All he knows is that it's beckoning him, taunting him, and seductively luring him to enter.

I’ve been to that same cave where he now lingers. I’ve felt its cold walls and I’ve wandered through its stalagmites of fear, despair, and loneliness.

He didn’t even know that this cave existed until four months ago. Now, he’s thinking of taking up residence inside its isolated, depressing caverns.

He’s standing at the gaping mouth of the cave called Autism.

The flight instincts inside of him whisper in his ear.  The allure of the cave is almost irresistible.

Just four months ago his child was diagnosed with autism. Long conversations at night with “Dr. Google” resulted. The toll on his family is inescapable.

And it’s draining them- body, soul, and mind.

They are crushed, overwhelmed, and weary. Relationally, spiritually, and emotionally -- they are dying. They have no friends or family in the area who understand, or even have a glimpse of what their lives is like.

That’s why the cave is so appealing.

We met for the first time just a couple of weeks ago in my office. I showed him the scars I personally had collected form my own time in the cave. I shared my own wounds, my own experiences, my own memories, and my own warnings about going to the cave.

The following night I invited him to join me and several other special-needs dads at our favorite hangout. (Chicken wings and onion rings soothe the soul.)

In time, we will begin to show him the map to get out of the cave. More importantly, we will introduce him to the Guide we found in the cave who led each of us out of the pit, and put a new song in our mouth.

But right now, he just needs to know a couple of things in order to survive. He just needs to see that he is not alone. He needs to see that there is an entire band of brothers who have each other’s back, and who wage war against autism together. 

He needs to see that there is community. He needs to see that there is a place for him. He needs to see that life goes on and you survive to fight again the next day.

Imagine his surprise in a few years when he realizes God has, in fact, given him a rare masterpiece. His child with special needs will become his greatest gift and a most remarkable and valued treasure. He doesn’t see it now because he is still focusing on the packaging instead of the gift inside.

Search and rescue.

That’s what he needs, and that’s what we are doing for him right now.

Once you, as a parent of a child with special needs, leave the cave, you have an obligation to keep returning to the cave with the Guide, and helping others find their way out of the cave as well.

Search and rescue.

In John 5 there is a beautiful account of a man who had been lame for 38 years at the Pool of Bethesda. He has a personal encounter with Jesus, and as a result, finds his healing.

A beautiful, moving story indeed.  But I’m haunted by one question every time I read that story in scripture.

Did the man ever go back to the pool? Did he ever go back to the pool and tell all the others there seeking healing where they could find the man who had healed them?

My son still has autism.  That hasn't changed.  But God has used him and his life to rescue me.  God hasn't healed my son.

Instead, he has used my son to heal me.

Christ stepped out of heaven, transcended space and time, and came looking for me.  I didn't find Jesus.  He found me.

He wasn't the one lost in the cave. I was the lost one.

Search and rescue. 

Go back to pool my friends. Go back to the cave and search for survivors. Go back and tell them of the One who can bring healing to their souls.  

PRAY- "Father thank you for searching for us in each of our own personal caves. Thank you for sending Jesus to do search and rescue. We were lost, and he left heaven to come look for us. Thank you for everlasting love!" 

--Jeff Davidson

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XXVII: The Trying to Make Sense of Nonsense Edition

In case you haven't already noticed, I am proud to call myself an ambassador of Christ.  I love Jesus.  Being a Christian infiltrates every fiber of my being.

Still, there are times where I am so deeply embarrassed by my family of faith.  I hate to be counted among the fools thinking they are wise by trying to make sense out of the complex with their “biblical” nonsense.

This is one of those times.

It was brought to my attention by my valued colleague, Dr Steve Grcevich, who wrote a blog post in response to this faith-oriented bit of foolishness.  He was far more diplomatic and clinical than I.

This week's winner, Mental illness and spiritual evil by Shane Raynor, definitely made my blood pressure rise.  Perhaps, my ire was in large part stoked by Raynor's pure conjecture, which serves only to alienate those facing mental health issues. 

 Are you SERIOUS?!

“The Exorcism” — Limbourg Brothers, ca 1412-16
In his article, Raynor proposes the notion that the rocketing rate of mental illness could be more due to spiritual evil than actual neurochemistry.  He quotes and lauds the Catholic church for becoming more proactive in performing exorcisms, which in my mind, would be a GREAT way to give a suffering individual PTSD and further alienate them from the family of faith.  Overall, he poses no great insights or solutions, but only further pokes the box in damaging ways.

I think Dr Grcevich states his point aptly when he says, "We know that far too many people have been wounded by the church from accusation during episodes of mental illness, and we have a difficult time encouraging those who have been wounded to give church another try."

Several leaders in the Church, such as Rick and Kay Warren, Ed Stetzer, and The Mental Health Grace Alliance are starting to pave the way in the area of mental health.  Even so, we are only just beginning to break open this area in need of deep compassion.  We still have a LONG way to go.

I wonder if the increase might instead be due to the Church's failure to show compassion and remember verses like this: 
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”   
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3, NIV)

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.  (Colossians 3:12-13, MSG)

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. (Matthew 7:1-5, TLB)

As the Church grows in its understanding and inclusion of those with mental health issues, let Bible verses like these be your guide rather than foolish conjecture based on limited understanding.

~ Barb Ditttrich

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Was On the Way to Help Toby Mac, Then I Wasn't

                                          ©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 "What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”
James 4:15, NLT

When you live in the world of special needs you must keep your life open to unexpected changes; at all times. My daughter adores Toby Mac. She would most likely do whatever it takes to get there to see him perform! Music is a soul soother to her and her autism and Toby Mac is on her top five.

Of course, because of this great love for Toby Mac, I thought I would be safe in signing up to help him out by selling merchandise and other various things when he came to our city. Well, I was wrong. The only thing that would keep my daughter away from Toby Mac was a greater fear. In this instance her fear surpassed her love.

Because of autism, my daughter has some extreme and at times random (to me) sensory issues. Yet at times her greater love for things can surpass her greater fear or pain of the sensory overload. It is not an exact science so it feeds the unpredictability of our life. An example of this is the loudness of a concert, it is a bit painful but she endures for the greater love of the music or the show.

On this particular day we had a major storm system come through our town. It included very loud rain and booming thunder. It was very disturbing to her. It was something she was not equipped to handle. Though she loves Toby Mac and always wanted to attend a concert, she could not go through with it because of the current tormenting storm.

I then had to cancel and disappoint people yet again. Another commitment broken adding to my lack of reliability. I really hate that because I only commit when I believe I am absolutely sure I can finish the task well, however, my life will not even allow things like this if other unknown factors, like a bad storm, enter in.

All our lives come with a certain amount of unpredictability but the parents with special needs children come with more. I am learning to live open handedly with my plans. I try to give this up front speech about it now when I try to commit as well because more of us would do well to live more open-handedly.

James tells us to say, "Lord willing we will do this or that." Therefore as a parent of a special needs child I just have to be okay with this because I believe God would have us put those He gave us charge over, first priority. We are not to neglect our children but serve them first. Cancelling the concert was serving my daughter.

Prayer: Lord help us live with our hands open not clinching too tightly to things we cannot control. Let us keep our hope and trust in You alone.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

May God Bless You and Keep You

Peer pressure, bullying, and simply trying to fit in can lead any child to make wrong choices.  When you add to the mix our kids who can struggle socially due to their differences, the desire to be part of the crowd (or just have one friend – PLEASE!) can pull our kids in directions we certainly would not choose. How do we raise kids who are grounded? At a recent lunch and learn event, Rabbi Ranon Teller of Brith Shalom Congregation talked about Jewish traditions and how they are effective in raising young people who are grounded.  He had my undivided attention. He pointed to three pillars that are part of Shabbat (Sabbath): ritual, Sabbath rest and blessing.

On Shabbat, the family gathers for a meal Friday night beginning at sun down.  In this tradition, all family members are present and seated at the table together enjoying a meal without interruptions. No excuses accepted for other things that need attention. A key piece is simply the ritual, the intention and practice of making it a priority to be together. In this, the family disconnects from the outside world and reconnects with each other.  Studies show that over time American families eat together less and less. Conversely, families that do eat together are more resilient and have improved communication between members.  A healthy body happens with intentional regular action. We can say we want to have a healthy body and that it is important to us, but for that ideal to become a reality we need to develop regular practices of healthy eating and exercise.  A healthy body comes through regularly repeated activities. And so it goes for the health of the family. Building family closeness and connection requires regular practices as well, such as the ritual of a gathered meal and time that is set aside just for the family. (Family game night, anyone? Pizza and a movie? Build the best ice cream sundae contest?)

Sabbath is the practice is disconnecting from the business and work of everyday life and setting aside a time of rest.  In the Jewish tradition, part of that rest includes disconnection from technology.  (I hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Yes, some of the noise is coming from me!) Engaging with technology draws focus and energy away from those gathered together.  Rabbi Teller told of families placing technological devices in a basket and intentionally setting them aside. Disconnecting from iPads, gaming devices, and cell phones encourages deeper connection within the family. On a recent date night my husband and I did something we'd not done in years.  We left our cell phones at home.  On purpose!

In the Jewish tradition of Shabbat, parents bless their children in prayer, often with the priestly benediction:
May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine light and be gracious to you.
May God show you kindness and grant you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 NRSV)

Showering your child with the gift of regular prayer and blessing teaches them of God’s love, as well as your love, for them. Also, the power of prayer is an amazing thing in the life of a child.  Never under-estimate what God does through prayer.  Prayer itself can become a ritual.  I used to pray with my son every day before he got on the bus to go to school. It was just a brief prayer about asking God to protect him, bless him and give him the ability to handle the day.  Several years into this tradition I started attending seminary.  As I was leaving that first night for class my son came bounding down the stairs and said I could not leave yet because we had not prayed.  He offered a blessing to me, a simple prayer that left me blessed in more ways than one.

What are your family rituals?  Are there ones you would like to start?  How do you take a Sabbath rest and disconnect from the demands of the world?  When and how do you bless your child and family?

PRAY:  Lord, help us to keep in focus what really matters.  Take us back to Your Sabbath rest.  Remind us to spend time together, creating our own family rituals, lifting our souls to You in prayer.  Guide us to be intentional as we care for the precious family with which You have blessed us.

~ Lorna Bradley

“Time for Family”
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Beauty of Letting Go

Do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 HCSB

I admit it. As the parent of a child with special needs, I tend to hover. It's often necessary, though. Someone has to help her figure out what foods are safe to eat, to administer her medications on time, and to give her the weekly infusions until she's old enough to handle these tasks herself. But as she gets older, I'm realizing that I've got to start letting go. This is difficult, since I've been with her since birth, at every specialist appointment, therapy session, and surgery. I've stayed overnight at the hospital, researched every procedure, and logged more miles on our old van than I care to count. But the letting go is critical if I want her to reach her full potential and live as independently as possible. 

My resolve to work myself out of a job as a parent was recently tested when it came time for my daughter to go to church camp for the first time. She refused to go if I didn't attend too, so I made arrangements to be one of the female adult leaders on the trip. The children's minister assigned me as her "camp mom" so I could monitor her medications, food, and general physical and emotional state closely. At first, she said she wanted to be my roommate too, but as our departure date got closer, she changed her mind and said she wanted a "real" roommate. She was assigned to a room with two other girls, in a room that was more than halfway down the hall from mine.

I wanted to protest this change because it would make it inconvenient for me if she got scared or needed something in the middle of the night. Then I realized that my comfort and convenience were not the primary issue. She was expressing her desire to be independent, and I owed it to her to give her the opportunity to try. It wasn't easy, but it worked out better than I dared hope. I helped with medications and food selections, and she asked for help when she needed it. The other adult leaders and I were always nearby if she needed us, but I tried to stay in the background as much as possible so she could have the full camp experience without mom being at her elbow all the time.

There were some scary moments when some neurological issues we hadn't seen in a while reappeared, but we dealt with those as best we could, and the "normal camp experience" resumed.

Isaiah 41:10 became real to me in a whole new way this summer. God isn't just strengthening, helping, and holding me by the hand. He has my baby girl too, and I can count on Him to take good care of her. Part of the beauty of letting go is that I get to watch Him do just that.

Father, thank You for helping me to step back to let my child take steps toward independence. Thank You for loving her more than I do and for being right there with her to watch over and protect her when I'm not there. Thank You for allowing me to see Your work in her life and for the opportunity to see her faith grow as she learns to trust You for herself. Amen.