Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When did you last pick up a pine cone?

The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. 
(Psalm 19: 1-3)

When was the last time you or I went on a scavenger hunt? You know, make a list, grab a bag or box to put treasures in, and head out to explore the garden.

Autumn is so very beautiful! Here in England the trees are just beginning to show us their colours. Reds, yellows, orange and browns. Today was a windy day, and colourful leaves were landing like confetti on us as I walked with my little one on the way to school. We looked up and watched them twirl down gently, dancing with the wind beneath them and wondered at the God who made them.

It is as if creation is calling out to us to stop and wonder, to pause in our day and consider the Maker. To pick up the pine cones and conkers, to kick the leaves and watch them dance; to gaze up at the tall trees and see the one they live to lift high.

Everything God made speaks of the Creator, pointing to his attention to detail and his care. Reminding us of his passion and extravagance. Showing us his delight and joy at the vast and the tiny. Giving us glimpses of his reckless love and eternal faithfulness.


So, when was that last scavenger hunt?? Maybe the next one could be today? What treasures will we find if we pause and look?
  • What can we see?
  • What can we hear?
  • What can we smell?
  • What can we feel as we explore, expectantly?
And when we bring those treasures back into our homes, as we lay them out to look at and admire I wonder, what we will see of the Creator? What detail will make us stop and wonder at his craftsmanship, his love, his patience, his exuberance?

Every single one will reveal his love and care for creation and for us. Every single one will tell of his delight in each unique creation, and remind us of his delight in us; each uniquely made in his image. God looked at the world he had made and he saw that it was good!!

Father lead me today to find treasures that will speak to me of your greatness, your tenderness and your care. Remind me of your delight as creator for all you have made. Amen

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fear and Faith

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, 
and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.
 Proverbs 1:5 NASB

I like to say I am not afraid, and for the most part I think that is true. However, there are these little pockets of fear that keep popping up, places that need light, that need to be exposed. God keeps exposing them, and I learn to work through the fear and my faith grows. It may not always seem like it at the time, but God is good.

I also like to say, "I know my child better than anyone else."

As you are pausing on that one to ponder a moment, you probably feel the same way.

I'll give you a minute, but we both know where this is going.

Before this does go much farther let me clarify; there are many times as parents who frequently find themselves in positions where we are advocating for our child, that it is wholly appropriate to stress the fact that in those circumstance, we DO "know our child better than anyone."

You know what's coming now don't you?

The big BUT!

But, we don't know our child better than God.

I could never...

I will never...

know my child better than God. 

God thought of him! He created his entire existence and planned out every single day, before He "knit him together" inside me. Yet, there are times when I am fully walking in the words of my own mouth, "I know my child better than anyone."

Often when things are said over and over again they become so ingrained and familiar that they are accepted for truth. That thought that "I know my child better than anyone" can become so second nature to us that we forget that we actually DO NOT.

Why is this a problem?

It's a problem because when we think we know everything, and when we think we have all of the answers and know best...

We don't listen to others and we don't learn.

We become arrogant and a little self righteousness is probably going to creep in there too. However, the thing that most quietly invades into our existence, because it a close companion of those two characteristics I just mentioned, is fear. As parents of children who walk a path of challenges and vulnerabilities, we are no strangers to fear.  

Fear can often be disguised as protection. 

Protecting our children is woven into our DNA, it's born in love. Occasionally though, we find ourselves comfortably ensconced in "protection" and realize it's born in fear. I discovered myself in just such a place recently.

We have lived in our current state for a few years now. When we relocated here our son Cooper, who is Autistic, had a challenging transition period adjusting to his new school. This was hard on everyone, myself included. It has taken a great deal of time and hard work but Cooper is settled into a good routine and doing well. I know my son. I know what he has been through. I know what he likes and doesn't like. I have for years said, "No" to him participating in Special Olympics, because "I know my child better than anyone." No one has ever really fought me or questioned my reluctance to let him participate. In fact, on more than one occasion I have heard, "You know him best." 

"Of course I do!" played confidently in my head. I felt pretty good about "protecting" my child through this.

I was arrogant.

AND...

I was afraid.

I was protecting him from something he probably wouldn't like, because I was afraid of what could happen if he went. I was afraid it would be a disaster, that he may become overwhelmed, and agitated, that he may bolt. I was afraid all of the hard work would be undone and that would be all people thought of when they thought of him...the hard parts.

I was so sure that I knew what I was doing that I saw no point in even entertaining the idea anymore, he just wasn't going to do it. No need to subject him to something he didn't like. 

This year I received a phone call from my son's teacher about Special Olympics, but he didn't ask me if I wanted to sign Cooper up. He was calling to tell me that he had already signed him up. He thought he could do it, he thought it would be good for him. He thought they should at least try. 

Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed." (NKJV)

You can do a lot with this verse, but for now we are just going to focus on the "walking with wise men" part. Often as parents of children with disabilities we struggle for community, for surrounding ourselves with people who truly understand what we go through and what our lives can be like.

God knows that we struggle and God is good. He is so good that sometimes he will place the wise to walk with us, where we are so accustomed to walking alone that we think we need the counsel of none.

When I heard my son's teacher say they were going to Special Olympics I was immediately filled with excitement.  God knew I was never going to say yes. He also knew that my son could do it. He knew that he was perfectly capable of going, of making it through events and even participating, and He also knew the right person to place in the position to say yes. 

God is a great orchestrator of people and events.  

So I pray for us today...

God our Heavenly Father, You are not only The Beginning and The End but Father you are the orchestrator of every step in between. What an overwhelming and humbling realization to know that You are in the details of our lives. God help us to be willing to grow in wisdom, to recognize those willing to come along side of us and do Your will. To speak Your truth and say "yes", where we so often only say "no". God You know where we are weak and that the only way for there to be a "yes" is for you to take that question away from us. We are grateful for Your patience and Your faithfulness in walking every step with us, Amen.

~Beth

Monday, October 16, 2017

God knows the 'way he should go'

photo credit: pixabay.com
That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.
Matt. 6:25-30 (NLT)

Have you every been in an icebreaker sessions when they ask you to choose a period of time in the past or future that you would like to visit? I hate those questions. I definitely don’t want to go back to the past, and I’m confused about the future. On the one hand, I want to know what happens, to see if what I’m doing will work out… yet if I see an outcome that I don’t like, what should I do? Can I change it? The options are confusing…Clearly, knowing and acting on the future is beyond my pay-grade!

This doesn’t stop me from worrying about my son’s future. I do believe that proactive planning is important. Worrying has a different flavor, though, and it seems to be accompanied by lack of both peace and sleep. The scripture’s injunction to ‘train up a child’ (Prov. 22:6) may prompt an erroneous belief that the full sum of my son’s beneficial experiences depend on me knowing the ‘way he should go’. This is very troubling with our typical children, who themselves can seem elusive and mysterious. Our kiddies with medical, developmental and other needs seem even more ‘unknowable’. Everyday there is more to learn, and the permutations of what to try, in which order, for which symptom seems endless. Sometimes I’m not sure that I’m doing the ‘right’ thing, and that I know ‘the way he should go’.

So I was grateful for the intervention of my Generous, Loving God, which came in the form of a beautiful conversation with my friend, a mom of a young man with autism. This young man, though verbal, has not had functional language that leads to effective communication all his life. Like many parents, his family has tried everything they knew to try, within the limits of their abilities and resources. Recently, they started to teach him to communicate through typing and found out that his spoken words did not represent his thoughts. The ability to type unveiled a witty personality with clear, critical thoughts on everything that was going on. He even shared with his mom about his faith in God and his experiences with God, speaking to him, comforting him when he wasn’t able to effectively communicate. With tears in her eyes, she expressed her wonder in God’s attention and intervention with her son, in ways she could not have orchestrated. His relationship with God developed without the typical direct instruction that kids get through children’s ministries and she marveled that God would teach her son Himself. 

I confess that tears prickled in my own eyes. We can never tell what God is doing. He is the ultimate Mystery. But we do know that He loves us and loves our children. We know that His is not limited by our ability to know ‘the way they should go’ and by our children’s ability to speak, understand or anything else. He is not limited by the limitations of our bodies, regardless of diagnosis or challenge. What a wonderful God! So, I remind myself again, to trust Him in the growing of my children, and will have faith for the miraculous interventions that are in process, even when I can’t see them.

Lord, Thank You that our children are Your children and that You watch over Your word, spoken by You, concerning them, to perform it. We trust You with our children’s lives and leave all the outcomes up to You.

Amen.

- Faith

Friday, October 13, 2017

When I'm preparing 5 different meals for tea... again!

For it was I, Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Only test me! Open your mouth wide and see if I won’t fill it. You will receive every blessing you can use! 
(Psalm 81:10, TLB)

Oh how I love the moments when I am able to provide food for my children that they need – and they actually eat! Some weeks it can feel like a rare moment. With so many factors affecting mealtimes from the social aspects of eating; the plate it’s on; the type of cutlery; the textures and colors; the places people sit in; the smells; the levels of anxiety that day; food intolerances; portion sizes; the family dynamics right through to the baggage we each bring to the table about how we feel about eating it’s no wonder it’s a rare moment – it’s a miracle, every time! But wow, what a feeling!

It’s a built in desire as a parent to provide, to meet our kids’ needs, perhaps most especially meeting their vital need of good food that will help them grow and be healthy and resilient in life. It’s the first thing we look to offer as we hold them close when they are born. Perhaps that’s why our feelings around food are so intense. It can be a source of heartache, acute anxiety when it is difficult for whatever reason. We feel we are failing as parents. Equally it’s such a source of celebration when suddenly against the odds it begins to work, we offer food and it’s accepted and eaten, and our child’s body can use it. We have nourished them and we have taken another step towards understanding better how to do it again!

It’s occurring to me that deep in the heart of our Father God is an intense desire to nourish us, to feed us. Many verses in the Bible show us that God provides (and not in a hands off, at a distance way) for all he has made. He knows each one of our unique dietary needs both physically, emotionally and spiritually. He knows just what we need, when we need it, how big a portion, where we need to sit and what plate we can stomach eating off! He knows the type of cutlery that will make it easiest for us. He understands how to support and encourage us through the difficult patches, and has the patience to be in it for the long haul.

This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. (Matthew 6:7-13, MSG)

When my first girl was little she struggled to accept that food was a good thing, there were many days when I would follow her around quietly holding a pot of yoghurt as she played. Over time I learnt to judge carefully the right moments to offer a spoonful, and some days she managed to eat a small pot during the course of the day. Gradually as she got more used to it she began to actually like the taste and texture – if she could eat on her terms – and these little pots became a staple, reliable food I could turn to. It took time and patience, and she needed to take small steps of trust each day.

                • In my busy days, in my worry and weariness have I noticed Father God following me around quietly with the nourishment I need? 
                • Have I accepted his offer?
                • I wonder what the small step of faith and trust is that I need to take today?



Father thank you for your loving care, thank you for your intimate knowledge of my needs, and the way you provide for me to thrive and grow. Open my eyes and heart to all you have to give me today. Amen

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Overwhelmed by Deep Waters? Take Courage



photo credit: Joni and Friends

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
Isaiah 43:2 NLT

As Bethany approaches adulthood, there’s a crescendo of questions concerning her future. Uncertainty feeds my fears. From finding a job that suits her, the conundrums of how much support she’ll need, to her dreams of marriage; the future looks overwhelming to me and oh, so exciting to her.

Having a child with needs that never go away, can feel like I’m walking through deep waters. Most of the time I cope, but there are seasons of overwhelming tiredness from the many challenges of special needs.

And yet, God’s promise is that when I go through rivers of difficulties, I will not drown.

To be honest, I wish the verse above said, “I will guide you around deep waters and make sure you don’t have to cross rivers of difficulty.”

But the promise is not to lift us out of difficulties but take us through. I don’t walk the path alone. He doesn’t watch me drag through. He walks with me and guides, supports, holds me through it.
Today, I was reading in John. Jesus said, “In this world we will have trouble and distress, suffering and trials…But the second part of that truth is: Take courage, I have overcome the world."
Take courage? I want to pull the covers over my head and sleep. I want to go back in time when Bethany was little and her needs were easily defined and practically met. 

Take courage. 

That requires action and I'm tired. He promises to be with me, taking me through the difficulties. But my part is to walk on with courage.

The Amplified Bible says it this way: "but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]’"

I don’t think God is expecting me to muster up the courage, confidence or joy on my own. I know I don’t have it in me. He says, "TAKE courage." Jesus is offering me the way to courage, confidence and joy. When He is with me and I am with Him, His victory is my victory, His courage my courage, His joy my joy. He has done it — I need to take it.


So when I feel like I’m drowning in life’s problems, I’m trying to visualize Him walking with me instead of the raging waters. I’m reminding myself that He is with me — will take me through — to the other side. I reach for His courage and joy and set my eyes on the promise of His victory over life’s difficulties.

Precious Father, Thank you for being with us through every situation in life. Help us walk with you and take up your courage so we can overcome. Thank you for keeping the waters from overwhelming us and sweeping us away. You are our Savior and Friend — our ever present Help in times of trouble. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Cindy Barclay

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What My Daughter Taught Me About Forgiveness

"...and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins."
~ from Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 6:12-15, NET ~

So there's this bully...

How many of us have a story about our child that begins this way?

For some reason unknown to us, there is a girl who has had my daughter in her crosshairs since the second half of last school year. 

She has known my daughter since they first attended our local grade school together years ago. Despite having reached out to her for play dates when they were in an after school activity together in second grade, both she and her mother acted uncomfortably awkward towards us. We got used to that over time, with many people. My daughter's behaviors and oddities left her pushed further to the margin each school year until she had few, if any friends. Ultimately, she found that some boys were willing to include her, but even that waned over time.

That's why the start of high school was such a blessing. My daughter found herself making new friendships with girls who shared her energetic personality. We welcomed them into our home and suddenly, "mom's taxi" was running full tilt as these girls met outside of school to have fun together.

There was only one problem — The bully was close friends with at least two of these girls, and she was not going to have my daughter moving in on her friendships. The abusive behavior began with nasty remarks, then continued with excluding my daughter from activities. It then escalated to purposely spilling beverages on my daughter and mocking her at sleepovers. 

The heartbreak of waiting all of these years for just a few friends came to head at homecoming a couple of weekends ago. Since none of them had dates, my daughter suggested that they all go together as friends. As her excitement built, she wanted to get the girls together to go dress shopping. I was more than willing to drive them all with my oversized SUV. The day they were all supposed to go, the bully got her mother to take them all instead, exactly one hour before my daughter was finished with her shift at work. The night of homecoming, my daughter was excluded from the dinner with her friends, and had to find some girls who pitied her enough to let her tag along for the night. 


As a mother, these times when our children's differences stick out like a sore thumb are bonecrushing. I wept with her for hours over the weekend once she had returned home.

But despite all of this, I have learned and continue to learn from this dynamic little beauty of mine so very much about the heart of forgiveness. You see, in all of this she has forgiven and continues to forgive. As I clench my teeth and fists wanting to march over and have a few words with the bully and her parents, my daughter insists I stand back. The friends who went along with the bully and ditched her for shopping and homecoming, she has forgiven... COMPLETELY.

At first I was concerned that she was so very vulnerable and was perhaps just trying too hard to find a friend. With her social processing, it would be easy to have her taken advantage of. That brought me to ask her, "What made you forgive these girls? I want to learn from you." She proceeded to talk to me about teens being pressured and swayed, peers making foolish decisions because they were filled with hormones, and none of us knowing what these other kids were really living with at home. WOW! That is some kind of insight and wisdom from a person who has always had difficulty with sensory processing and reading social queues! 

Ultimately, my daughter made the decisions that something as fleeting as homecoming is not worth ending a friendship over. Relationship is more important than a mistake.

I have attended weekend-long retreats on forgiveness. I have prayed and studied over that release of offenses. I know that harboring bitterness towards others is like drinking the poison and hoping the other person dies. Yet, getting that to move the inches from my brain to my heart has been difficult. I get tripped up forgetting that I have an enemy, and that enemy is NOT other people or circumstances.

My daughter inspires me. Yes, she has born heavy trials throughout her young fifteen years of life. But she never lets those struggles become her identity. God is growing her into a lovely young woman inside and out, while still maintaining her characteristic energy and spark.

Between watching my daughter's treatment of this bully; catching a snippet of a Todd White sermon captioned, "When Christians Are Being All About Themselves" on Facebook; and attending my annual women's retreat reminding me of my identity in Christ, I have found myself confessing and resolving anew. Rather than walking in my woundedness, I am surrendering to the knowledge who I am in Christ. I am calling on the help of the Holy Spirit to stop comparing myself to others and to assist me in releasing others from how they have hurt me. 

If God can create such miraculous forgiveness in a fifteen year old girl immersed in drama, I know that He can surely do the same in a weary mama like me.

Please pray with me...

Lord, make us more resilient to life's wounds. In Christ, we refuse to let our struggles become our identity. Holy Spirit, shield us so that more slides off of us and less gets under our skin. Keep working Your good in our children so that they reflect Your glory in this dark world, and help each of us parents to do the same.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Accessible Jesus: Encounters With People With Additional Needs

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
— John 13:15, NIV —

One in five children and young people have an additional need or disability of some kind, and for many their additional needs or disabilities are lifelong and so continue into their adult life. It is easy for children’s, youth and families workers, as well as church leaders, to be uncertain about how to appropriately support people with additional needs and disabilities, with it being common to see churches either totally ignoring this part of our community or overwhelming them.

In exploring this a little in this devotional, and looking at how to support and encourage everyone in our community to belong and participate, it is helpful to see what Jesus modelled for us, what he did that we could follow… As Jesus himself said in John 13:15 “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” This in itself could fill several devotionals, but perhaps the three points below give us a useful starting point…

1. Jesus was accessible
There are many stories of encounters with Jesus throughout the Gospels, including people with a wide range of additional needs and disabilities meeting him; indeed 25 of the 34 miracles recorded in the Gospels involve Jesus interacting with people with disabilities*. In many cases, culturally at the time, this was extraordinary; take for example the man with leprosy in Luke 5:12-14, someone who would have been seen as unclean and to be avoided by people at the time.
Jesus met with people where they were, in the street, in the market, by the lake, wherever people gathered. He didn’t expect people to come and find him in the temple, he went out to them. And when he met with them, he connected with them physically… he touched them, reached out to them, he was fully accessible to them.
And Jesus gave time to people, he respected their dignity, he didn’t rush their encounter with him. Take for example the story in Mark 7:31-35 of the man described as deaf and mute. He was brought to Jesus by some people, but Jesus took him to one side away from the crowd and then spent time with him, healing him.
So, Jesus was accessible, interacted with people, went to where they were, connected with them physically, gave time to people and respected them…  Some lessons already for us all…

2. Jesus listened and didn’t assume
Just because someone came to Jesus, or was brought to him, who had additional needs or disabilities, he didn’t automatically assume that what they wanted was healing. He often would spend time asking them what they wanted from him. In Mark 10:46-52 we see Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus, a man who was blind. Once again Jesus is on the road, and he heard a man crying out to him “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” There was a crowd going along with Jesus, but he heard the man and stopped, and very importantly, he asked the man a question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The man was blind, the crowd must have wondered why Jesus asked this question, but Jesus didn’t assume that he knew what the man wanted. The man himself then answered, “Lord, I want to see.” and Jesus gave him sight. It was Bartimaeus’ choice.
In Matthew 8:5-13, a Roman Centurion came up to Jesus. The Romans were the invading force in Israel, hated by most, but Jesus took the time to listen to the Centurion, to hear what the man wanted from him. He wanted Jesus to heal his servant, who was not with him but at home. Jesus listened, and then responded.
So, Jesus took time, and listed to people. He didn’t assume that because they had additional needs or disabilities that they wanted healing; Jesus asked.  Maybe we should ask more too…

3. Jesus thought first about a person’s salvation
In the story we’ve just looked at regarding the Roman Centurion and his servant, Jesus comments about the faith of the Centurion, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus was often primarily interested in the faith of the person, this was most important to him, rather than their additional needs or disabilities.
A little later in Matthew’s Gospel (9:27-31) Jesus encounters two men who were blind. Again, Jesus treats them with respect and dignity, allowing them to follow him indoors where he could spend time with them, listening to them. Jesus asked about their faith, and only when they had answered that they did indeed believe in him did he then heal them.
In Luke 5:17-26 Jesus is speaking to a room full of people when some friends bring a man who couldn’t walk to see him. As they couldn’t get in through the door they lowered the man through the roof in front of Jesus. Jesus first action was to forgive the man for his sins, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’”. Only after the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenged him about his actions did Jesus then heal the man, to demonstrate his authority. (See also my blog post, ‘Faith More Important Than Healing’ https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/faith-more-important-than-healing/
All who believe in Jesus are full members of his kingdom. This is true for anyone, regardless of their additional needs or disabilities, who believe in him.  John 3:16 doesn’t use the word “whoever” accidentally!
So, Jesus thought first about the eternal salvation of people before their physical or mental healing. Maybe there is a lesson there for us too in how we view people, all people, and what we see as the primary purpose of ministry; whether it is with children, young people, families or adults (or everyone together!) and whether there are additional needs or disabilities, or not…

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations…”  of all peoples;  the message is clear, this includes everybody, and Jesus in his ministry showed us how!


Join me in praying...

Father, your son Jesus Christ taught us through his life's example that we, like him, should reach out to and include everyone. Help us to be accessible so that we can live out the Gospel through how we interact with others, help us to listen to the needs of others and to never assume that we know better, and help us to point everyone to you, making disciples of all peoples in your name. Amen

Blessings,

Mark Arnold

* Barrier-Free Friendships by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Jensen, "Imitating Christ in Friendship", Zondervan Publishing House, 1997. p. 41.