Saturday, November 22, 2014

Birhan ("Light" in Amharic)


“… to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79 ESV)

We made our way through the old corrugated metal gate, and down a dirt corridor lined by adjoining tenement rooms. A woman, pleasant and talkative, met us at one of the entranceways. I scanned the teal green room behind her, windowless and spare, until my eyes fell on the small figure of a young woman sitting on a chair in the corner. My first reaction was a bit of fear—not of her, but for her. Immediately, I felt the weight of the significance of our team’s visit. How would we effectively communicate God’s love, joy, and hope, and her value in him, in our short visit?

Mary didn’t receive many visitors, I was sure. Left mute and largely paralyzed following a brain injury eight years ago, there was little remaining of the chic and confident teenager in the pictures to which her mother repeatedly directed our attention. This neighborhood in Mojo was one of the poorest our team from Joni and Friends Chicago we would encounter on our mission to Ethiopia. The people are diligent and industrious, and eek out subsistence through the steady work of their hands. One’s worth is closely tied to one’s ability to produce and support the family. Without resources to support even the simplest of impairments, to become disabled is to lose one’s value, to become a burden, to be deemed cursed and a curse.

There was a small stool next to her chair, and I positioned myself as closely to her as I could, holding her hand, rubbing her shoulder. She melted into the hugs and smiled widely. Kebede, our translator on staff with a partnering ministry, shared the gospel in the Oromo language with the wordless Bible. I prayed for her, and attached a bracelet with corresponding colors to her wrist to remind her of what was truer than the reality of that dark room, or her mother’s constant words of regret. Staunchly loyal to the Coptic Church, Mary’s mother had little use for our evangelism. But I watched Mary’s face—the sincere joy—and I wondered what the Lord might be doing in her heart and mind through our visit and the sharing of gospel truth. I love one translation of Psalm 119:30, which says, “Your word is a doorway that lets in light.”

A couple days later, as I read Luke 1:79, I immediately thought of Mary and other dear souls we had met on our home visits.  Mary’s life has been reduced to one task—to wait. She is suffering, having retained full mental faculties, but contending with a body over which she no longer has control. Quite literally, she has tarried aimlessly for years in darkness.  But the gospel has the power to transform her waiting. Titus 2:13 says the grace of God trains us to wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The truth of “the tender mercy of our God” breaks into our sorrow with the good news that the misery of our separation is now broken, and that we are now reconciled to the Father. The Son himself has visited us from on high—God with us—to rescue us in our darkness. Regardless of our station or situation in life, salvation through Christ snatches us from the shadow of death, and redirects us into his peace. What life-transformative news this is, and especially for one like Mary. How, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this can change one’s entire perspective, even in suffering.  

Mary’s needs are great. No doubt, she cries out to be freed from her disability. But the gospel is a help to her in her waiting by revealing her greatest need and directing her to her greatest Hope. Randy Alcorn, in his book, The Goodness of God, says this: “God uses suffering to break us of self-dependence and bring us to rely on him. He helps us learn that he alone can bear the full weight of our pain, and give us strength and life when we feel only weakness and death. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

I don’t know if Mary accepted Christ, but I believe quite sincerely that the Lord brought us to her home to show us his heart. The Lord has looked upon her affliction. I’m praying that he sends others to nurture what was planted in our brief visit; and that as she comes to wait in hope, he would use her as a light to draw others to himself.


Pray: Lord, thank you that there is coming a day when you will open blind eyes, the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute shall sing for joy (Isaiah 35). But as we wait for our complete healing, continuously direct our hearts to our greatest Hope: your son, Jesus Christ. 


Michele Bovell

Friday, November 21, 2014

Are You Clothing Yourself In Holiday Attire?

Photo image courtesy of Nataly Lukhanina via 123rf.com
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
~ Ephesians 6:10-18, ESV ~

It's beginning already.  I'm starting to hear from other parents raising children with special needs who are stressed about the holidays.  Overwhelmingly, their concerns hinge upon strained personal relationships that they are facing this time of year.  It may be the grandparent who has never accepted the adopted child.  It may be the in-laws who blame a child's behavior on poor parenting skills rather than autism.  It may be the aunt or uncle who makes snide comments like clockwork at every holiday dinner.

While we may feel pressed for time as we prepare, we really need to spend an increased amount of time alone with God and fellow supportive believers.  Our Father has some special attire for us to adorn ourselves with ahead of these contentious family gatherings -- the full armor of God.

As you are intentional about quiet time with God, soaking in His word remember how He prepares you in Ephesians 6:10-18:
  • God reminds us that we are not merely dealing with human enemies at a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  Satan uses those who can hurt us the most to do his dirty work.  Remember, then, that you are dealing with the evil one when family strife rears its ugly head.  You don't want the devil to win, so be intentional about how you prepare for these battles.
  • Clothe yourself each day, visualizing the protective gear with which God equips you for these situations.  Imagine putting that helmet of salvation on your head, filling your mind with God's word to protect your thought life.  The belt of truth holds everything together, so never be swayed from what you know is fact.  Protect your heart by doing what is good in the Lord's sight with that breastplate of righteousness.  When you think of shielding yourself with faith, remember that back in the day, warriors would literally soak these shields in water before battle, so that they would instantly extinguish the arrows hurled at them.  Though you may want to exchange hurt for hurt during the holidays, envision yourself wearing those shoes of the gospel of peace.  If you need a weapon, remember again, God's word is your sword.
  • Prayer is critical at a time like this to strengthen you, give you perspective, and keep you on God's path.  Find a like-minded friend who will pray with you regularly and on demand during this season.  Make certain that you both spur one another on to do what is right in the sight of the LORD.  Commiserating is fine, but don't remain there or deteriorate into ways to get even.  God sees your relationships.  Vengeance is His alone.  Encourage one another in prayer to do the next right thing.   
If you don't have a friend to pray with, we at Snappin' LOVE to  pray for people.  I often boast of having one of the most activated, caring prayer teams in special needs ministry.  These warriors secretly and confidentially pray for every need and request of our parents and their precious families.  Just shoot us an e-mail at barb@snappin.org, and we'll be happy to unite with you in praying.

So here's your holiday fashion checklist for dealing with tough relatives or difficult people this time of year:
  1. Am I being intentional about spending time in God's Word?  Am I reading passages like Psalm 73 or Jesus' words from each Gospel to fortify myself, remembering Who wins?
  2. Am I staying aware of my thought life?  Rather than obsessing with if-then scenarios or fantasizing about how I will have a good comeback for snarky comments, am I taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ as 2 Corinthians 10:5 urges?  
  3. Am I praying with a like-minded friend on a regular basis?  Are we spurring one another on to do the next right thing, encouraging and strengthening one another?  Are we praying for those who offend us?  Am I sharing my concerns with dedicated prayer warriors like Snappin's team?
If your answer is "Yes" to everything on this checklist, then you can be assured that you will be the best dressed at any holiday party, dinner or visit.  Take heart, friend!  God's got you covered!

PRAY:  Father, thank You for reminding me who and what I am fighting during this most holy time of year.  Thank You for giving me everything I need to stand firm in Your goodness in grace when I face these battles.  Holy Spirit, when I get caught up in comments or circumstances, gently remind me to use the tools You have so graciously given me. 

~ Barb Dittrich 

*You may also find helpful "'TIS THE SEASON FOR DYSFUNCTION: Family and Friends Edition"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Freed from Greed

Photo Courtesy of Patrisyu/freedigitalphotos.net
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  Luke 12:15 ESV
Ah, the holidays are here.  Radio waves broadcast Christmas music and we start to see the trees, lights and other variety of decorations adorning our surroundings.  This is a dangerous time of year for a girl like me.  It's a constant struggle for me to be in stores shopping for others while not giving in to my own desire for another new black sweater, or a cute infinity scarf. 

I'm a serious shop-a-holic.  Really, I am...my heart starts to race, my blood pressure raises, and at times I have to actually walk away from the whole thing because I start to WANT everything.  

I have to constantly remind myself that I have ENOUGH.  

Nothing was better for my shopping issue than moving out west.  Each item that I had required evaluation:  is it worth moving, when was the last time I used it, will it get used in Nevada, and what importance has it served in my life?   After throwing out several garbage cans worth of worn out things, donating several bags of clothes each week to Goodwill, holding a garage sale, and even having a dumpster in our driveway for 3 days, I STILL have PLENTY of things.

Ultimately, if our goal is to live in Heaven with Jesus, we need to realize that none of the "things" that we possess will get us there.  As a matter of fact, Jesus tells us to LOSE our life so we may win it.  

Here are some of my "best practices" for beating my covetousness:
  • When I'm tempted to buy several things in a store, I will simply not buy anything. I tell myself that if I can't decide which of those things is MOST important, then none of them is really important.
  • If I start to rationalize buying something because "it's a good deal" then I think about a non-profit organization who would really appreciate even the smallest donation.  I don't necessarily always MAKE the donation, but it helps me remember that $5 can be a lot if it's multiplied over time.
  • Sometimes I will play "if it's meant to be." For example, I'll say, "If that scarf goes on sale in the next week, then it's meant to be."  The scarf MIGHT be on sale, but often times I forget about it, or, when I do remember to check on it, it's gone.  So, it wasn't meant to be, and I still have $10.
But, the best thing we can do when we start to want, want, want, is to remember Jesus and the words he spoke telling us that an abundance of things will not get us into Heaven.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for the reminder that all the toys, clothes, appliances and electronics will not win us a spot in Heaven.  You have GIVEN freely to us the greatest gift we could ever wish for.  Salvation through your son, who came to earth in the form of a baby, lived and died as a man, and rose to Heaven as God.  Help me to destroy my covetous heart so I may have a heart that reflects you.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Arrows

Photo Image Courtesy of Andreas Ă˜verland with Creative Commons via Flickr
Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior's hands.
- Psalm 127:4 NLT - 

About three years ago, a friend of mine told me about a book that talks about children as arrows. I didn't remember that scripture reference, so I decided that I needed a God-conference about this because I'm not exactly sure how this "arrow" thing applies to my uniquely-abled situation. I have no idea how other people hold God-conferences, but I'm going to do my best to share what mine look like. The cool thing is, because I was blessed with parents who taught me to store up treasures of scripture in my heart, God talks to me through them still to this day. It went something like this...
Me: God, we should talk about this. A friend told me yesterday that you see our children as arrows. We are to consider ourselves blessed by our children like a warrior is blessed by a quiver full of arrows. Is that true? 
Him: Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates. (Psalm 127:3-5 NLT) 
Me: That's so cool! My children are blessings from you; arrows in my quiver. I can totally picture that. I have four. I'm a little confused by their state as arrows, though, if I'm being completely honest. One is brittle, jaded and unwilling to be held. Another is wiggly - more like a noodle than an arrow. The other two are young, green and untrained. I'm scared and unsure of how to straighten, shape and shoot these "arrows." I don't even know if it's POSSIBLE to shoot a noodle-arrow.    
Him: Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NLT) 
Me: I feel like patient endurance is the answer to literally every question I have yet that is one of my biggest weaknesses. Patient endurance is what I need so that I will continue to do God's will... Hmm... actually, that sounds quite a bit like resiliency. So, that's a little bit less daunting. You are simply saying that I should continue doing your will for the long-haul, right? And then I will receive all you have promised. What have you promised? 
Him: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)  
Me: Your unchanging identity is a promise of strength where I am weak. You don't need me to be a master archer or a perfect arrow-shaper. So, what's the plan? What are we doing with these little guys?  
Him: Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6) How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9 NIV)  
Me: I think I understand. With your perfect grace, I will TODAY teach my arrows to be your weapons of mass encouragement. I will TODAY help them hide your word in their hearts. I will NOW love them as you love me and teach them to forgive others as you have forgiven us. I will NOW give them many opportunities to serve widows and orphans. And, with your guidance, someday they will fly fast and sure to the targets you designed them to impact when and if you should choose that honor for them.
My beautiful blessings are arrows; perfectly crafted for the exact target they are meant to hit. The arrow that seems the meekest may actually be divinely shaped for an immeasurably HUGE impact that no other shape could make.

One week after this God-conference, a friend of mine told me that my noodle-arrow was the reason her co-worker's Mother was invited to church recently. He boldly and lovingly welcomed her to come worship with him the next Sunday she was available. I remember feeling chills all over my body and it was almost as if the Holy Spirit within me was whispering "See... I told you so!"
___

Pray: Lord, you amaze me with your perfect design for us. You bless me with a quiver full of your perfect blessings, whose targets you are fully aware of. I humbly beg you to fill me with patient endurance so I may flood their hearts with YOU. Amen. 

- Emily Krill, grown-up arrow

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Blessing of Looking Backward

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?"
~ 2 Samuel 7:18, NIV ~

Last week I had contact with a new mother whose baby boy was born with the same genetic bleeding disorder as our 14-year-old son -- Hemophilia A - Severe.  As I sought to share encouragement and wisdom with her, I found myself admiring this new mom who had the fortitude to jump right into the fray and search for guidance.

After I hung up from speaking to her, I was swallowing tears, as all the emotions of those early days came flooding back to me.  It's amazing to think that we didn't have the pervasive use of the internet back in 2000 as we have now.  I poured over books and articles shared by others, and found myself overwhelmed by information when we attended our first conference when our baby was less than a month old.  I can still feel the terry-cloth covered changing pad squishing underneath him as I lifted his onesie to find an angry, breathtaking hematoma on his soft baby arm shortly after that time.  A hard, raised, dark bruise of that kind should never appear on a newborn baby.

There were so many frightening moments.  At only a few months old, I was trimming his little baby nails, and nicked his teeny finger.  The bleeding wouldn't stop.  I had to run him to the hospital for an infusion of clotting factor that time.  By 16 months old, we were administering our son's IV's at home.  The thought of putting an IV needle in my own baby was something I never thought I could do, until I became frustrated with 3 hour excursions to the emergency room with him at least twice a week when there was a bleeding episode.  Unfortunately for us, he began walking at 9 months old, which meant he was frequently falling and bumping his head.  That only increased the hospital runs.  Once, I even fell with him in my arms, tripping on some stairs, hitting his little noggin on a door frame.  I remember how terrified I was running him to the ER for a CT scan of his head, praying I didn't cause bleeding on his brain.  Then there were the unrelenting nosebleeds that kept us home from church, school, grocery shopping, everywhere for a period of time.  We later discovered that his brand of clotting factor was not working for many patients.  At 5 years old, he was hospitalized with a life-threatening gastrointestinal bleed, which left permanent traumatic marks on the brains of our entire family.  Three years ago, it was the dreaded ileopsoas bleed in one of his hips that kept him off his feet for a month with a PICC line in his arm.

If you had told me at his birth that we would face all of these things and still be standing, I would have said you were crazy.  In fact, the things I read seemed so horrifying, I couldn't imagine my baby boy enduring such challenges.  Even as we were going through each difficulty, I would hold it together, then completely fall apart once he was stabilized.  I could not believe this was our life, his life.

And yet, there is an INCREDIBLE blessing in being able to look backward and recount these stories, because God has gotten us through EVERY SINGLE ONE.  We made it through, not by our power, but by the strength of the One who is bigger than any trial we may face.  He sent us help, just in time.  People provided child care or rides to school for our daughters.  Meals were lovingly prepared for us over the years.  School staff were beyond helpful.  And other parents who had gone before us on this journey were there for us with wisdom and comfort.

For the most part, we can declare that his life is good.  The vast majority of his days, you cannot tell that he fights this serious battle.  He has a terrific group of friends and hobbies he calls his own.  He is even administering his own IV infusions with parental supervision.  God has blessed him, blessed all of us so far beyond what we could ever imagine.  And his trials have made us appreciate life's little gifts that much more.

Last night, I listened to an incredible sermon online by Pastor Ryan Rasmussen of Canton, Ohio's First Christian Church.  He shared that one of the biggest lies the devil tries to sell us is the notion of "I'll never beat this," when it comes to our trials.  He was frank with the audience stating, "You may not ever be able to beat it, but Jesus CAN!"

If I have only one thing to be grateful for, it is the fact that God can put such incredible glory on display through a life as broken as mine.  I may be a mess.  I may be unhappy sometimes.  Still, I have a HOPE that is bigger than any circumstances I may face.  And when I look backward, I may think here and now is hard, but at least I can say, Wow!  I'm not who I was!  Look at ALL that God has brought me through!

My friend, God is faithful.  He promises He will be there with us and for us, and He never breaks that pledge.  We may have to walk through the darkest valleys, but He is right there beside us, leading us through.  Our job is to step forward in faith, knowing that when we get to the other side of the situation, we will have the sweet gift of being amazed by how far we've come with His deliverance.

PRAY:  "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought us this far?"  It may be hard where I am, but at least I am not who I was.  Thank You, LORD, for Your faithful love and support through every difficulty of this life.

~ Barb Dittrich

Monday, November 17, 2014

Your Heart's Desire


"Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have.  Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind." (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT)

Enjoy: to experience with joy; take pleasure in:  2. to have and use with satisfaction; have the benefit of:

 

If you are a special needs family you likely don’t have the “things” that you desire, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life, myself included.  Just dreaming about those things can really change my mood and make me envious of others.  On top of that many special needs parent’s dreams go beyond things.

Many special needs parents dream of NORMAL.

They’d love to just have a normal meal together or a week without a call from the school.

They desire a normal family vacation or even a vacation at all.

They wish for a time where they could just hang out with normal people and feel normal themselves.

They want their child to at least feel normal once in a while. 

They just want some normal in their life.  They aren't even picky.  Any NORMAL will do just fine. 

I’ve said it before that NORMAL is overrated and possibly even boring.  Even the word itself sounds boring.  Secondly, there are norms, but is there really normal when if comes to people?  Lastly, I think the so called normal is unattainable and actually can hurt our walk with our creator.  When we focus on our desires, even if that desire is for normal, then our focus is not on God.  We really can enjoy life even without all of those things.

Think of the joy you experienced when your child with Autism learned to ride a bike at the age of 10 or speak her first sentence at the age of 7 depending on where she was on the spectrum.

Think of the joy when your son with bipolar took ownership of his illness and agreed to stay on his medicine.

Think of the joy you felt when your downs syndrome daughter was able to sleep through the night.

Think of the joy when your child with cancer didn’t get so sick from his last round of chemo.

Think of the joy you got because your son that had a personality disorder was able to keep a job for more than a month. 

Think of the joy when your daughter with a sensory processing disorder, (SPD), and Autism disorder is able to transition from one difficult thing to another without stimming or having a meltdown. 

If your child was considered normal would these things have brought you such joy?  I think not.  None of these instances changed a diagnosis, but all gave you great joy.  Often our special needs children teach us so much about life, God, and what’s important without them even knowing it. 

This Thanksgiving and every day to follow let’s seek to enjoy the life and surroundings we’ve been given.

Pray:  Lord, Help me to enjoy all of life no matter my circumstance.  Teach me about you when I have little, when I have much, and everything in between.

Ann Gapinski

To read Ann’s other blogs, just click on her name under the labels section.