Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Little Things Add Up

“Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 
Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Luke 12:7 ESV

I have been privileged to become immersed in disability ministry over the past five years. I do not have a family member affected by disability but am blessed to say that I have gained many friends who are affected by disability. Admittedly, I came into disability ministry focused on the big picture as that is my natural inclination. Can I design an event that serves families well? Can I oversee a huge training conference so that more churches hear and become aware? Can I grow my department at Joni and Friends at a breakneck pace?

While these might not be bad goals to have and I know that my heart was sincere, my new friends have taught me a different way to go about ministry.

There is often more power in a whisper than a shout!

There is often more lasting influence through a conversation than a presentation.

There is often a greater chance for relationship over coffee than through an email.

Jesus spent the majority of His time on earth with his small group, the disciples. And even then, His inner circle received even more relational time. While the preaching and teaching and healing of the crowds was a major mark of His ministry, Jesus understood that it’s the little things that add up.

I wonder if the disciples would have truly stood for what they did throughout the book of Acts if not for the personal touch of Jesus on their lives. Would mighty proclamations from the top of the mountain have been enough? Having attended countless conferences and rallies in my life, my hunch is that it would not have been.

However, lasting relationship happens through a cup of coffee, a well-timed smile or just the willingness to lend a listening ear. I am so grateful for new friends who compel me to slow down so that I can hear not just their words, but more importantly their heart. If God cares enough to number the hairs on my head, that is reason enough for me to care about the little things in the lives of those around me. This is not easy for me as I naturally focus on the big picture, the vision and the goals of life.

Part of the challenge for me is that the little things are rarely noticed and don’t typically seem to bear immediate fruit. I’m highly competitive and love to win. Big events, programs, and activities provide instant feedback and a sense of accomplishment. But after the lights fade and the chairs are put away, God desires all of us to be engaged in healthy and sustainable relationships. And these come about from doing the little things, over and over and over, and then suddenly realizing that God has created a beautiful friendship based on hearing, listening and being in the moment.

I know that some of you do this naturally and I am so grateful because you compel the people like me to slow down and smell the roses. Please don’t compromise the little things and don’t ever allow the big picture people like myself to get so wrapped up in our events and projects that we pass up opportunities to sit down and hear a story. And if you are like me, while we might not admit it, we need the little things just as much as everybody else does!

Dear God, thank You for caring enough about me to number the hairs on my head. Slow me down today. Help me realize that it is often the little things that carry great weight in Your economy. The faith of a mustard seed, the lunch of a young boy, the courage of Gideon. Remind me that life truly happens in the hearing, the listening and the being of life much more than the hustle and busyness of life. Amen.
~ Mike

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Can I PLEASE use the bathroom in peace?

"Remain in me as I also remain in you."
John 15:4 (NIV)

One of my most difficult (or should it be triumphant looking back?) moments was when our eldest was small. I was giving the talk at a wedding of a couple in our church, and Andrew was conducting the service. We had a hand over plan in place for that moment when we needed to swap who was at the front of church, but at the last second things had to change, our second was clearly unwell and wouldn’t go to the person on standby, which meant our eldest couldn’t have Daddy’s full attention. Now, of course, she wouldn’t sit with anyone else at all so she came with me to the lectern – not a new thing, we’d done this many times. However the setup was a little different from Sundays, she got anxious, crawled in under my skirt and made her home there for the rest of the talk, very much enjoying exploring her new tent with its zip and buttons! The groom was in stitches, I battled on!  

I don’t know about you but I find the separation anxieties hard, sometimes I just want 30 seconds to catch my breath, a trip to the toilet without an audience, a shower where I don’t find a fully dressed little helper climbing in half way, school drop off that doesn’t leave us in tears and exhausted, bedtimes where sleep came calmly, and maybe in my reckless wild moments I even dream of evenings out that don’t begin and end in tired anxious tears. I tire quickly, my own resources of patience and compassion run dry as we go over the same reassurances again and again, and again; my own anxieties mount as I feel more and more inadequate in my parenting.

 And I am reminded that we have a Father who asks us to come like a child. Who invites us to come on in and make our home under his wing feathers, to call out at his door through the night when we need things, to pray incessantly, to hold tightly to his hand, to keep up and stay close.
Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. John 15:4 (CEV)
And suddenly I see these invitations in a whole new light. He is asking the opposite of what I find myself asking my little ones; ‘give me some space.’

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. John 15:4 (MSG)

Our Father doesn’t want us to have him at arm’s length, not even for a minute; he does not want us to ‘gain independence’ from him; there is no need to grow out of needing him close. He understands us completely in all our own anxieties, struggles, fears, and worries yet he does not tire, he is overflowing with compassion and love and patience for us. I love the Matt Redman song that speaks of our need of God, and his never failing love for us: ‘Abide with me’.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. Isaiah 40:28 (NIV)
Father, I cry out ‘abide with me’ yet you remind me you are already so close, whispering to me ‘abide with me’ – draw me closer today, show me how to come like a child who finds their security and well-being solely in you. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sick But Not Hospital-Sick

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. 
Psalm 34:8, NLT

Last week Liam had the worst cold that he has had this winter. Although we haven’t needed supplemental oxygen or hospitalization for his colds for the past 6 winters, illnesses for Liam stop our entire family life. When he is unwell, our every effort revolves around his care. Last week my husband and I took turns all night on the couch with Liam sleep-sitting on our laps so that he could breathe and sleep. Parents of typically developing kids complain about this with a toddler and doing it with a tall 9-year-old is even more difficult! (I can't help but wonder how we will do this when he is 16!)

Our girls know that any expectations that they have of us - driving places, appointments, dinner - go out the window if Liam is sick. Our family goes into a survival mode and only the most necessary things get done. These girls who can often be loud, demanding, and lack a helpful attitude begin whispering, taking care of each other, and doing chores without being asked. They know that it takes every ounce of our energy to tend to a sick Liam. 

I realized the extreme difference between an illness for Liam and one for the girls when I was on the phone with our nurse. We were talking about his oxygen saturations and heart rate and trying to parse out what symptoms are allergy related and which are cold related.  She asked if the rest of us have a cold and what our symptoms are. I was stumped.  I had no idea if the girls had colds or not. When I asked them, I found that they did have colds, but since they are generally healthy kids, they just blew their noses a bit and went on with life.  As their mom, I didn’t even know that my 12 and 5-year-old had the same cold as Liam!  Even when my girls have illnesses that knock them flat, it is typically a few days in bed with lots of TV and fluids. Mothering them through sickness is a completely different thing than the overwhelming feeling of even minor illness for Liam. The combinations of low muscle tone, poor swallow timing, protective airway behaviors, and being non-verbal make every illness so difficult.

Sometimes I find myself missing the days when Liam was hospitalized for every cold. I don’t miss the home oxygen or the deep suctioning or the fear that he wouldn’t make it through each cold. What I miss is that our friends and relatives recognized how hard it was for our family. Knowing that we were in the hospital, they recognized the emergent nature of the illness and all of the management that went into being at the hospital and keeping our home running. I guess a part of me liked that others recognized our stressful situation. After winter upon winter of Liam managing without hospitalizations, it feels like no realizes how quickly he can become very ill and how intensely difficult his care can become.

I'm not sure why I want others to recognize the consuming nature of Liam's daily care in my life. I care for every need of Liam's. I manage his care and school teams. I make sure he is fed, hydrated, clean, and appropriately engaged in activities. The harsh reality is that without me, he would die. He is almost 10 years old and cannot even hydrate himself. He depends on me for every single need. Each day he gets bigger and heavier and I must continue to care for him. It feels isolating to do something hard every day for many years and feel like no one even realizes how hard it is. Sometimes the desire to have others understand or empathize with the overwhelming feelings of parenting a medically complex, non-verbal child and the heartache of the isolation that I feel burns so fiercely within me. I want others to spend one day fiercely loving someone whose needs are so great. Just one day.

The reality is that the recognition and empathy of others aren't as important as I sometimes let myself think they are. God knows the hard work that we do each day. He sees our loving care for our children, our exhaustion, and our isolation. He knows the things that overwhelm us. He cried with Mary when her brother Lazarus was dead and he is with us when we are up to our eyeballs in caring for our loved ones. Psalm 34:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” So as I am feeling like there is no one who understands, there is. Our God whose own beloved son died for sinners understand. He cares. He knows my every sorrow. He cares so much that he has collected my every tear in his bottle. He has recorded my sorrows in his book. I am not alone in this hard job of parenting. You aren’t either. May we rest in the God who values us so much that he collects our tears in his bottle.

Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, collector of my tears,
Thank you for loving me so much and for caring about my earthly sorrows and difficulties.  Please give me strength to face each day and confidence, knowing that you are a God who treasures me and holds me through every sorrow. Help me to feel your presence. Amen.

Wendy Heyn

Monday, May 22, 2017

When Church Makes You Sick - Literally

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful" (Colossians 3:15, ESV)

I struggle with complicated migraine. These headaches hit at weird times, can be unpredictable, and when just the wrong combination of light, sound, and smell hit me; it triggers a migraine. I have lived with these most of my life. I know how to work through the issues when I am in public, but it is awkward. It is an invisible complication which is probably much like sensory disorders, except they don't get a migraine, but it messes with your brain nevertheless.

How do you survive in this type of struggle? Especially if the location you find yourself in is making you sick?

For us, we just adjust. Sensory sensitivities can be unpredictable. Some people will not understand but we can educate them. However, the sufferer has to have a plan to cope. On each trip we make, I am processing a potential plan. I have two kids with sensory disorders so the plan is good for their sake as well.

This particular day at church I knew I was neurologically sensitive, then the band started to play and I knew I could not stay in the room. Thankfully, there is an open room with a television where you can sit and watch the service on location. This is where we find ourselves retreating when something in the bigger gathering is starting to trigger brain issues with any of us.

In this struggle, it can be embarrassing but we must trust God and His provision of a safe spot to avoid the stimulus that will bring along further complications. For me, if I remain in the situation that is triggering a migraine, it can put me out of commission for a long time.  The fact that I can move to prevent that I am thankful for. Even if no one else understands. My Savior does because of His intimate crafting of me. He made each of us fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139) and will provide the things we need at the proper time (Philippians 4:19).

When the church building is making me sick, I can run to my Savior who is Peace (John 14:27). His perfect peace is what can help calm my overactive brain down (Psalm 23). He can do this with our children as well. We must look to Him and run to Him and trust His perfect plan, though stimulus overload is not fun. I am certain I will never understand the reasons why we deal with this here and now except that it helps us to rely and depend on Jesus.

It also helps us focus on the fact that this home is not our permanent home. This body, is not my renewed body yet. It helps us keep eternity in mind. I hope when a place like church makes you sick, you will be encouraged to have a plan as well and run to Jesus.

Lord, help me to see eternity and trust your promises as I struggle. Help me to keep my eyes stuck on the bigger picture. Thank you for crafting the unique challenges in my life to make me more like you. Thank you for sensory friendly places and friends who understand. In Jesus Name. Amen. 

~ Angela Parsley

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Holy Remembering ~ #SacredSunday

God gave us the Sabbath to rest in order that we might remember what He has just brought us through, thereby empowering us to face the week ahead.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Remember Me

Then he said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into power!”
~ Luke 23:42, CEV ~

"But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison."

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
~ Genesis 40:14, 23, NIV ~

The majority of our celebrations are centered around remembering. Memorial Day is about recalling those who gave their lives in service of their country. Birthdays celebrate the day of our birth. Thanksgiving we pause to remember all of our copious blessings.

Yet, being remembered seems to be something we desperately struggle with as parents raising exceptional kids. People develop "compassion fatigue" listening to our stories that don't produce the happy ending they desire. While others join Bunko leagues or run their kids to soccer practice, we're at the children's hospital with ours again. Life marches on for others as we are pushed to the margins. 

It cracks a parent's heart into a thousand isolated, painful pieces.

I don't know about you, but that's NOT how I want to be remembered – as a desperate, lonely, marginalized, unloved woman.

I am more like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus, "I stink, I know. But, Your Highness, I humbly ask that I would even momentarily cross your mind when You reign in glory." 

I want to be like Joseph, known by what God can do in and through me. Even if I am blown off and forgotten, knowing that in due time, the Lord will bless me abundantly. I may be frustrated, sitting in darkness, but my Rescuer shows up.

How do YOU want to be remembered?

I know how I want you to remember me...

  1. Above all else, I want to be remembered as a FIERCE lover of Jesus. Without this fulcrum of my life, nothing else matters. I am just another face in the crowd. I look just like the world. But in Him, ALL things are possible. Wrapped around Jesus, there is a joy that transcends any, ANY circumstance I may face.
  2. I want people to recall that I laughed no matter what life threw at me. Trusting in Jesus, I want my crazy, sassy humor to reflect blessed reassurance. I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." (Proverbs 31:25, NIV)
  3. And speaking of strength, I want to be remembered, not as a strong person in and of herself, but as one who found ALL of her strength in the Lord. I am a wimp. I fall down every day. But I want people to see that I kept getting back up because I grasped God's mighty hand and was lifted beyond anything I faced.
  4. Really, after Jesus, my immediate family's opinion of me matters most. I want my kids to always remember me as their relentless advocate and their tireless trainer. I want to release them into the world loved, equipped, and pointed to Christ. "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. " (Proverbs 22:6, NKJV) I want to be faithful to that mandate and be remembered in that way by my precious kiddos.
Even when we feel invisible, each of us leaves a mark on this temporal world. We have each been entrusted with the days we walk the Earth. How will we use them? Free will allows us to decide what we will do with those days. We may not get to decide what is thrown at us or those we love, but we can decide how we respond. That response will greatly influence the image we leave on people's memory. 

How do YOU want to be remembered?

PRAY: Jesus, I don't only want to be remembered by You but remembered as being for You. Guide me to live in such a way so that when people see me, they see You in me.

~ Barb Dittrich