Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why This Emptying?

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake... (Philippians 1:29 ESV)

Jillian stares at the ceiling and sobs quietly as we read to her.  A year ago, she had been an active and self-sufficient professional woman living on the coast. Now, she passes the gray Midwest winter days recumbent in a small room in her aging parents’ home.  One who has spent many years in a career dedicated to supporting the health and mobility of others, she finds herself unable to heal her own physical challenges. She’s a strong Christian, but she wrestles with understanding God’s purposes in allowing her body to betray her as it has.  And it is that search for answers that summons my husband and me to her bedside.

It is an uncomfortable position to be in—sitting able-bodied next to someone suffering and trying to convince her that her pain is God ordained and for her own good. I open Octavius Winslow’s Morning Thoughts entry for the day, and almost with embarrassment I read to her, “The Lord has been leading you along a path of painful humiliation. You have been emptied; He has brought you down and laid you low, step by step, and yet, oh, how wisely and how gently, He has been leading you deeper and yet deeper into the valley.” He anticipates her questions and asks and answers, “Why this emptying? Why this descending? To bring you into a union and communion with Jesus in His life of humiliation.” But why she and not I, and why so disproportionately among the souls I met in Ethiopia last fall? I don’t have an answer. The next lines lift my own spirits: “Is there a step in your abasement that Jesus has not trodden with you, and trodden before you? Is there … a cross he has not borne, a sorrow that has not affected him?” These words I can recite with conviction.

In the book of Philippians, Paul echoes Winslow’s words.  In chains himself, he sends a letter of encouragement and instruction to the young congregation of believers facing persecution. He frames the Philippians adversity as a privilege “granted” to them not only to believe in Christ, but to “also suffer for his sake (1:29)." Of his own suffering he writes, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Christ this will turn out for my deliverance (1:20)," acknowledging that in addition to advancing the gospel, it is serving as a sanctifying work. Of the work the Lord is doing in his life and among the Philippians, he expresses his confidence that God, “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (1:6)."  

Jesus himself models the way of the believer—emptying himself, laying himself low, “becoming obedient to the point of death,” then being exalted by the Father. And so, recognizing the great reward—gaining Christ, Paul embraces suffering and writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:14).” William Gurnall says of that climb, God is at the bottom of the ladder, and at the top also, the Author and Finisher, yea, helping and lifting the soul at every round, in his ascent….” Along the path, the Lord ordains trials and even suffering meant to form us in Christ. But he is also our source of strength and consolation. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice,” Paul encourages the Philippians, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:4-7).”  Her pain and anguish are real, palpable, as we sit with her, and I worry the prescription to rejoice seems trite. But as we read the Psalms and sing a hymn, and she is reminded of his goodness, the sorrow lifts, and her heart is encouraged.

Father, whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sov'reign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace,
Let this petition rise.

Give me a calm, a thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessing of Thy grace impart,
And let me live to Thee.

Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My life and death attend;
Thy presence thro' my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.

(Anne Steele, 1760)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Words Matter

“Sometimes it (the tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” (James 3:9-11)

Three hours and thirty-nine minutes.

That’s how long it lasted.

At the beginning of every year, our home church engages in a twenty-one day period of spiritual engagement with prayer and fasting.

Everyone chooses a food item, a hobby, an interest, - something personal and relevant to that person, and then abstains from it during the twenty-one days.

Some people abstain from solid foods; others choose a particular item or food group. For example, my wife gave up all bread and products with bread for twenty-one days.

I personally offered to fast from broccoli, but apparently that idea lacked muster with the wife. If she was giving up bread I wasn't going to skate by with giving up broccoli.

Can I be honest? I hate fasting. I really hate it. If you have seen my profile picture, then I’m sure you understand.

Other folks chose to fast from television, entertainment, caffeine, alcohol, coffee, the Internet, or Facebook and social media.

I decided that I would attempt something that I knew would be incredibly difficult and challenging, but not prevent me from eating chicken wings with the fellas on Thursday night. After all, that Thursday night was a ministry event. I had to take one (or twenty) for the team, didn't I?

I determined that for my twenty-one days, I would fast from saying anything negative, cutting, biting, or complaining.

Not a negative thought or word over my lips for three weeks.

You see if sarcasm and cynicism were spiritual gifts, then people would be exclaiming, “Surely that man is anointed!”

If I had lived in ancient times, people would be touring Grecian ruins today listening to a tour guide say, “That’s a statue to Jeffrey, the mythological god of sarcasm.”

I started my attempt on a Sunday morning. After all, what better place to be than in church when you are abstaining form negative thoughts?

Three hours and thirty-nine minutes. It was over.

We were home from church and I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.

I know, right? Huge mistake!

I had passed through the usual 35 pictures of cats, my usual biggest source of sarcastic wit, without making any comments.

I blew pasts three posts telling me to “Like” Jesus and “Share” him with 10 friends to receive my miracle in the next 24 hours, and I still held my tongue.

Then I saw it.

A fellow supposed follower of Christ had posted something, attacking someone else who had an opposing view. It wasn’t so much his argument, it was the venom and bile he spewed in his response.

He eviscerated the other party, and in doing so, furthered the stereotype people have of Christ-followers.

There was no love, no attempt at grace, and certainly no attempt to even understand or consider the background of the other party.

Just outright condemnation and cruelty. A verbal attack with an onslaught of words.

“What a jerk! What a legalistic, holier-than-thou, self-righteous jerk,” I exclaimed.

Uh-Oh....my own fast was over.

Now who was the jerk? I sounded like the person who prompted me to make the comment in the first place.

I should have stuck with broccoli.

Words matter. Words have the power of life and death, especially with our children and spouses.

Parents your words contain the power of life and death. Parents, you have got to be speaking words of life over your kids every day. Your kids will believe whatever you say about them. Your child will become whatever he or she believes. And what they believe about themselves will be determined by what you speak over them.

They will become whatever the voices they hear say about them. So make a point, every day, to speak positively and affirm your child.

I am constantly, with every opportunity I have, speaking positive words of affirmation and life over my son. I am always telling him how proud I am to be his dad and how honored I am that God chose him to be my son.

We have a rule to never speak negatively about him to others, or in front of him either. I constantly tell him how much I love him the way he is and I wouldn’t wish for any other boy but him.

This journey as a parent of a child with special needs is so grueling, and gives us ample opportunity, at every turn, to be negative, joyless, and careless with our words.

Choose to give life with your words.

Or you may end up having to give up chicken wings next time.

Pray: "Father give us eyes to see as you see, and hearts to offer grace as you offer grace to us. And in all things, help guard our minds and words."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XLI: The Somebody's Watching Me Edition

It will only be a matter of time.  As we read of student abuse and inappropriate class conduct, we edge ever closer to the distinct possibility of cameras in the classroom.  It has also been suggested that police officers wear video monitoring devices in an attempt to appease those crying out for criminal justice.  This increases the likelihood of others working with the public also using such devices to monitor the behavior of on both sides of an interaction.

Nevertheless, as this week's winner demonstrates, many in the teaching professions are fighting video surveillance with every fiber of their being.

Recently, a school district in New Jersey notified a mother that they would no longer tutor her 2 children who have a chromosomal disorder unless she removed the "nanny camera" she had recently installed in her home.

Are you SERIOUS?!

Photo Image Courtesy of 123rf.com
The mother has stated that she installed the video camera, not to monitor the therapists tutoring her children, but to keep an eye on her kids' behavior, because they are prone to act up.  She wanted to assure that everyone was safe.  In addition, the mother was completely up front about the presence of the nanny cam, notifying the instructor that it was there before a session even took place.

Even so, the mother now lives in fear of her children losing services and falling behind.  She was sent a message from the school district telling her that therapists and tutoring would no longer be provided if she continues to record sessions by video.

This brings up an interesting, multifaceted conundrum.  To be completely frank, parents these days tend towards the side of being "helicopter parents."  What instructor or therapist would want to subject themselves to being micro-managed or continually critiqued by an overly protective parent?  I can certainly appreciate that point of view as I watch some of my peers "majoring in the minors" when it comes to their kids.

On the other hand, these tutors work for this mother in her home.  A good parent would naturally want to do their very best in assuring their children are behaving appropriately in these sessions and receiving appropriate treatment by the tutors.  Furthermore, what if this parent wished to review these tutoring lessons, working together with the team, reinforcing what the children are learning?  With the adversarial treatment of the school district, all possibility of working together has now been removed.

What do YOU think?  Are you a fan of cameras in the classroom?  Why or why not?  Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section below!

~ Barb Dittrich

*Read more at  New Jersey School District Threatens to Stop Sending Special Needs Therapist After Mother Installs Nanny Cam.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Dreaded Call

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
 Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." ~Psalm 139:14

"Mrs. Parsley, do you have a minute to talk about your son?"

It was the call that I dreaded. I tried to live in denial of this truth but it was lurking quietly around the corner waiting to confront me. I watched this six-year-old boy for three years now struggle to sit still; even for a second. Then there was the constant dis-tractability that we battled daily. I wondered if this would ever end thinking, "maybe he will grow out of it?"

I wondered if he truly understood what I was requesting or was blatantly disobedient. This is something we as parents battle when our kids have special needs like SPD, Autism, or ADHD. We wonder if they are disobedient or having difficulty comprehending or something else all together.

Most children want to please adults so most children generally want to be obedient. This boy had such a tender heart and desire to please us but there was a disconnect. There were things it seemed he did not understand or maybe it was that he forgot too quickly.

But then the call came that crushed my heart. I knew I was dealing with another child in the special needs realm. I already knew it deep in my heart but I was hoping my denial would keep it covered; at least for a while. Now that others are seeing it as well it is time that I deal with it and not feel ashamed.

Psalm 139:13 says, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb." I must believe these truths. You see when my first child ended up with special needs, which were not discovered truly until she was around his age, I felt much shame. I felt like it was my fault.

 I tortured myself with thoughts like:

  • Maybe I did something wrong during pregnancy?
  • Maybe I ate the wrong things?
  • Maybe I should not have gotten the vaccinations?
  • Maybe she has this because my body was ill when she was birthed?
But this son of mine was adopted. And these verses reminded me that just like it was not my fault, it also was not his birth mother's fault because God is sovereign. God knits us together in our mother's wombs. God makes us fearfully and wonderfully. When we have a special need, that makes us different, it does not make us less because the God of the universe who created all things knit us together. We did not have to live but He chose to give us life. He is the one who gives us breathe so if we are here breathing we have a purpose for His glory.

My prayer today is that we remember this through the many difficulties we face in this present age. May we also remember that this present age is temporary. Sooner than we can imagine it will all be gone and we will have eternity in Heaven where there is no sin and all wrong things will be made right. While we wait for that we can trust He has things under control.

Where have you struggled on your journey with special needs? How can we pray for you?

Pray:  Father, thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Thank you that you are in control! Help us to trust you in all things. Remind us of what truly matters. Keep our eyes fixed on you.

~ Angela Parsley ~

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Ultimate Ambulance Chaser

Photo image courtesy of 123rf.com
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.  2 Peter 3:9 MSG

Lawyers are often irreverently referred to as "ambulance chasers;" as though they go chasing down people who may have a reason to hire a lawyer and seek some sort of justice for whatever put them in the ambulance to begin with.  

But I think the true Ambulance Chaser; the Ultimate Ambulance, Chaser is God. 

In 2 Peter we read that, while in our minds things often don't happen quickly enough; to God, the timing is perfect.  We learn that God may even delay certain things "coming to us" because it will be better for us in the end, and hopefully will spare our souls.  He wants to see everyone saved, and for some people, it is only in their most desperate hour that they will turn to God, repent, and cry out to him. 

Isn't that amazing?  God loves us so much, and wants us to have a relationship with him so badly that he will design our lives to TRY to save us.

Are you thinking to yourself, "But we aren't all sick, we aren't all in an ambulance because of a critical health issue..."?

Maybe we aren't all sick according to health standards, but we ARE all DYING.  We are all guaranteed that some day we will die.  And, spiritually, we ARE all sick...we ALL fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23). 
Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness. 2 Peter 3:11-13 MSG
Everything here today may well be gone tomorrow...

No wonder God is chasing us in our critical condition...He is patient beyond comprehension, but he can't hold back the second coming forever.  Our world is getting worse, and FAST.  God wants us to turn to him as soon as possible.

Last fall, our daughter was stung by a bee at school.  She'd been stung before and nothing major had ever happened, but this time she swelled, and by "swelled" I mean her face was even turning purple.  The school nurse quickly assessed the situation and realized she needed to deliver epinephrine to avoid having our daughter go into full blown anaphylactic shock.  I was working, so when I got the call, I knew that I was closer to the hospital than to her school.  Since she was being transported by ambulance, I determined I would meet them there.  

As it turned out, I almost beat the ambulance to the hospital.  I walked into the ER just shortly after my daughter and husband had arrived with the paramedics.  I was there, just when she needed me most.

Maybe that's a better description of God.  Yes, I was chasing the ambulance; but at a distance which made it impossible for my daughter to see me there.  However, I knew what was going on, I knew where she was heading, and I made it there along side of her to comfort and love her.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, I know that I'm incapable of being holy enough to live in Heaven with you.  I need your son, Jesus to be my Savior and Redeemer.  Please help me to remember that your timing is perfect and that you are working out the details of my life so I will be yours.  When I get out of line, Father, forgive me and pursue me...Chase me down.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Overcoming Fear for the Future for my Child with Special Needs

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day....
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. 
Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. 
I John 4:17 The Message
Fears, Prayers, and Hope for the Future

I've read that fear and faith can't co-exist.  I don't believe that's true.  Until we've been made perfect in love, we will battle fear and worry. I know God says "Fear Not"!   I do have faith in God's goodness and grace.  But what my head knows and what my heart feels are two opposite things right now.

As a mom of a child with special needs - I have a confession. Fear of the Future can threaten to overwhelm me.

This fear  is is a bigger monster than the one I had to overcome when Bethany was born and I was "afraid" of Down Syndrome and what it would mean to our lives.

This fear is amplified by unknowns - It's a two part question:

1)  What does Bethany's adult future look like?

 and the bigger question -

2) What is going to happen to Bethany when I'm not around?

  The Future is Coming Faster than I Can Comprehend

I don't know if  this battle against fear started when Jeff and I  began creating a special needs trust, guardianship, and the process of updating our will, this summer. All necessary planning - but I've been living in the moment - not 20 or 30 years down the road. I don't want to think about the Bethany's future without us in it!

The fear multiplies as we look ahead and try to plan. Jeff and I are dismayed to find so few fulfilling, productive work opportunities available for adults with disabilities.   We want so much for Bethany.  What will she be able to achieve? How can we help her learn the skills, overcome social stigmas, and find her niche in this life?

Stressful and Confusing 

These two words describe trying to understand the special needs 3 ring circus of IEP's, laws, and long range planning we're supposed to be doing - all things we need to figure out before Bethany becomes 18 to help her thrive in adulthood and independence.

But one thought is the strongest foe. And, it's the one thing I can't control or change.

It's the realization that my other children are grown, fulfilled, happy, and all married with families of their own.  If I died today - I know they would be sad but they would be OK - able to handle life.

But what about Bethany?

This is the crux of my fear.  In my heart and mind, I can't contemplate dying and leaving Bethany alone.

Fear tries to strips me of reason and faith as I ask "who will love her as completely, or understand her essence, see past her disability or advocate for her- as her mother does? Who will pour their life out for her?"

Even as I write this, I know her siblings adore her and she has many friends and advocates.  But I know how much vision, passion, time and energy this journey takes and I "feel" like she's my responsibility - "my" Bethany.

BUT - 
 here's the turning point -

I  know I need to begin to see her as belonging to God - 
She's really "God's" Bethany. 
She is in His loving care.
And so is your child.
And so are we all!

We can have hope in God's love for our children.  
They will never be alone, for they are perfectly loved by our Father in heaven.
Pray with me today: Oh Perfect Love - our Father who is over all - free us from the tyranny of fear! May you baptize us with your love and let it permeate every cell of our being.  Thank you for Your promise that You are with us always - even to the end of the world.  Hallelujah.  Amen.