Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Value of Santa Claus


"...All created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11, MSG)

At this time every year along with the holiday comes the passionately opinionated debate over the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus. The haters of this Christmas icon usually shake their heads in disgust at the embodiment of materialism he represents. Staunchly committing to make Christ the center of their holiday, those who despise Kris Kringle tend to think that most who allow him into their traditions have completely lost the true meaning of Christmas. This year, in our strange politically-correct society, his weight has even come under fire.

For over a decade I have been longing to share a different perspective. Both a lover of Jesus and a fan of Santa, I have thoughts to share that may not have been considered before.

Let me begin by giving historical background that helps us understand the origins of Santa Claus. His name comes from the Dutch translation (Sinterklaas) of the name Saint Nicholas. This dedicated Jesus-lover served as the 3rd or 4th century Bishop of Myra, Turkey. Since most of what is known of him comes from 8th or 9th century writings, a great deal is left to speculation and legend. Of course, one of the most common stories relating to Bishop Nicholas is that of his generous, secret gift of gold coins to provide dowries for 3 impoverished sisters. His nighttime presents surely saved the girls from the bondage of prostitution as this was the unfortunate outcome for girls unable to provide a dowry or marry in those days.

As with many pagan holidays (study Halloween and Easter), Christians sought to redeem the celebrations surrounding the winter solstice. (Read God's mandate in Ephesians 5:15-17.) Most agree that certain clues indicate that Christ was not born in December. Nevertheless, celebrating God-come-down-to-Earth in human form is an occasion most worthy of a holiday! How natural that a fervent follower of the Lord whose feast day falls near the solstice (December 6th) should be made part of the festivities. Over time, some of the old cultural legends became attached to the Christian saint and morphed into the Western character children celebrate today.

So in a world of materialism, selfishness and greed, why would we want to include Santa Claus as part of our observance of Jesus' birthday? I would contend that when children are appropriately guided by faith-filled parents, they witness a concrete caricature who teaches them much about God.

Santa teaches children about love and generosity. (1 John 3:1) We love him because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19) He gives without any hope of reciprocity.

Santa teaches about God's expectation of good behavior. (John 15:9-14) He also reminds children that there is One who is always aware of how they are conducting themselves. (Psalm 53:2-3)

Santa makes us aware that we don't always get what we ask for. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Not always delivering what is on our list or whispered in his ear, he initiates the exercise of learning that life can be quite good even if we don't always get our own way.

Through the emphasis on St. Nick's personal traits, we can help children to see that all are called to be kind even to the least of God's people, and that even "The Big Guy" bows to Jesus and honors him.

While I certainly do not advocate putting Santa Claus at the center of our Christmas, I hope I've opened your eyes to how his inclusion might enhance your children's worship and understanding of their Savior. That has been the case in our home. And we gratefully stand in awe of a God so amazing that He would not only come to save us, but would let us have the presents on His birthday. How can we not be humbled and joyous about a God like that!

We further recommend the following reading materials regarding this topic: The Adventure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Whelchel and Jeannie Mooney (Hardcover - Sep 9, 2004); The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas by William J. Bennett (Oct 27, 2009)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent, Week 4: CRAZY LOVE!


But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8, NLT)

Here we are celebrating the 4th week of Advent whose theme is traditionally Love. Let me share a little story with you that relates to this theme. A number of years ago, scandal hit our Christian community. A prominent member revealed he was having an affair. Despite having children of various ages and a supportive wife at home, he was deeply in love with this other woman and decided to divorce. To add further disappointment, the woman he was carrying on with was also a member of our faith community who ministered to children, and was a wife and mother herself.

What's your initial response to this story? Is it outrage? Disgust? Pity? What if the unfaithful came to their sense and wanted to return to their spouses? Would you take them back? Forgive them? Love them?

What would you say if I told you that we are those unfaithful spouses? You see our God has held nothing back and poured His life into a committed relationship with us. Yet, we are daily chasing after temptations that seem more attractive. The lures of financial success at all costs, selfish pleasures and disregard for those we feel are beneath us have a way of seeping into our behavior without us recognizing it. We yield to the ease of gossip, lying, holding grudges, losing our temper, and inflicting our opinions on others which all equal a straying from our One True Love. And when we allow ourselves to become consumed with worry, pride or control, we put another before the Person who should come first in our lives.

Now what's so remarkable isn't the fact that we're a bunch of self-centered, scum-puppies. What's truly remarkable is that while we were still "running around on" Him, God humbled Himself to the point of becoming a human being and being birthed in a most undesirable place. He launched a rescue mission, "laid across the train tracks" to get mutilated for our indiscretions. (After all, only a fool would allow there to be no consequences for our unfaithfulness. And God's no fool!) In taking our punishment and rising from the dead, He bought our ticket to an eternal, beautiful honeymoon with Him.

What kind of crazy love is this? It's certainly not anything that we as humans can produce! And when I spend time thinking about it, I'm blown away, left in awe.

You see, I often joke with those closest to me, especially my spouse and kids, that I'm well acquainted with my own flaws. If we're honest with ourselves, even if we would never admit it to another soul, we know that we all miss the mark. But let me encourage you by sharing another thing I confess -- The uglier I'm willing to admit I am, the more beautiful Jesus looks! It's only in my realization that I'm a hopeless, wandering sinner that I can begin to sense the magnitude of what He did for me. When that magnitude begins to awaken my dull mind, things like Christmas, Easter and every little part of the life of Christ on earth become so much more meaningful. He loves me -- He really loves me!

My Christmas wish for you couldn't be worded any better than this: "I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love. And I pray that you and all God's holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ's love—how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is. Christ's love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19, NCV) God bless you this Christmas and always!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent, Week 3: A One-of-a-Kind JOY!


You have shown me the path to life, and you make me glad by being near to me. Sitting at your right side, I will always be joyful. (Psalm 16:11, CEV)

On Week 3 of Advent, the traditional theme is Joy. Lighting the pink candle of the wreath reminds us that Christmas is just around the corner. With gladness we anticipate celebration of our Savior's birth.

But is it just the gorging and gifts that make us giddy? If so, then we are missing the entire point! In this season we become reacquainted with that one-of-a-kind joy that only Jesus brings. This is a joy that stands apart from the world's definition. Look back to Week 1 -- We are filled with the pleasant knowledge that relief is near.

It never ceases to leave me in awe when I ponder the notion that the Creator of the Universe loves me so much that He was willing to take on human form just to save me! He left the comfort and glory of His heavenly home just to launch our rescue. And not only did He become one of us, but He became the most lowly of us, being born in a stinky animal pen just to stay out of the cold. Never taking on a life of luxury or prestige, He poured out His life teaching by word and deed. And He took the humiliating, excruciating punishment for all my rottenness. Wow! What a God!

Reread our passage from Psalm 16:11 today. It sums this unique experience all up. "You have shown me the path to life..." After thousands of years of waiting for the Messiah, those who would be willing were clearly shown the guarantee of a full, never-ending life by Jesus. "...and you make me glad by being near to me." The deep joy of realizing that we aren't subject to some obscure, unknowable God, but One who is intimately present to us should fill our hearts to their bursting point! "Sitting at your right side, I will always be joyful." In the ancient world, the person who was most honored, who had the most authority sat at the king's right hand. (Thus, the term "right-hand man".) Realizing that our Maker keeps us close in such high esteem ought to only add to our perpetual inner contentment and peace.

Let me point out to you that joy does not always equal happiness, as we often falsely believe. Psalm 4:7, NLT says "You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine." This means our joy in Christ is a joy that transcends the circumstances of this world. Jesus gives a joy that surpasses the happiness of the wealthy, famous or successful. What He offers is deeper than the fun of the latest party or possession.

"...The joy of the LORD is your strength," says Nehemiah 8:10, NIV. This means that this solid connection to Jesus, this inner knowledge that God has you close, cares deeply for you and has everything under control can strengthen you and bring you joy despite any trial you may face. The Christmas season can be difficult on so many levels for different people. Grasp that unique joy that Jesus came to Earth to bring! It will make this holiday celebration so much more meaningful, no matter what you face!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent, Week 2: Peace on Earth... At Least in December!


You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3, NIV)

As we continue on in our Advent Season, the theme of the second week is peace. What’s got you most stressed this holiday season? I don’t know about you, but I sure could use more of this perfect peace around the holiday season! But how do we get it? Yeah, we can talk about it all we want and it sounds nice, but how do we really get our hands on that peace? After all, there are so many demands on us... deadlines to meet, small kids to manage, must-attend events, difficult people we have to be around, baking and shopping and card-sending and wrapping. It seems, quite frankly, an impossible dream. But it’s not impossible.

Let’s revisit today's verse: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Who will be kept in perfect peace? Him (or her) whose mind is steadfast. What does that mean? Steadfast? Well, American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "Firmly loyal or constant; unswerving." There are ways we can keep ourselves constant and unswerving.

First, get your priorities straight. Start with prayer. Continue with prayer. End with prayer. Sometimes I have to cry out in the middle of my chaos, "Lord, give me your grace!", because I want to reach out and touch someone, and it isn’t to make a phone call!

Second, a good little acrostic to remember: H.A.L.T. Never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. I don’t know about you, but going to bed early and eating something other than a steady diet of Christmas cookies and fudge would go a long way for me!
Third, keep things in proper perspective. What will happen if we don’t get those cookies baked or cards sent out on time? Will the world end? You know, Jesus told us when he walked the earth, "In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) There we go with that steadfast focus again. He’s bigger than presents, bigger than cookies, bigger than any hard time someone can give you for not making it to their party.

Fourth, remember how Jesus would want you celebrating his birthday. In John 14:1 he tells us, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." Do you think he wants you all stressed out and miserable? Author Max Lucado tells us in his book, Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, "Are you aware that the most repeated command from the lips of Jesus was ‘Fear not’? Are you aware that the command from heaven appears in every book of the Bible?" Wow! What are we doing to ourselves and to those around us? Chill!

Fifth, don’t expect perfection from yourself or others. Find someone who hasn’t made a mistake. I make them daily and I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit you do too. If we were all so perfect, that little baby wouldn’t have had to been born in a barn.

Sixth, enjoy the season with more humor. Laugh at yourself and other crazy situations. My dear husband Steve has blessed me over the years by reminding me, "Don’t take life too seriously... None of us are getting out alive!"

Lastly, practice peace. We never get good at something unless we practice and make mistakes along the way. Exercise that "No, thank you" muscle. It gets stronger each time we use it.

I’d like to give each one of you that gift, that peace. But you see this gift requires no middle man. All you have to do is reach out and take it from the one who offers it to you. The giver is the one who cared enough about you to set aside everything glorious and wonderful to humble himself and come to earth enduring birth in a barn, scorn from friends, family and community members. He even endured the torture of the cross for you, yes, you. Will you receive that peace? It’s yours for the taking! Will you continue to rush around cramming too many parties, baking, cleaning, shopping so that we can’t even see the gift held out to us? Will you live up to everyone else’s expectations this holiday season or nestle into the chest of the one who can shelter us from the storm?

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) Let’s leave with that peace by closing in prayer. Heavenly Jesus, God of order and peace, come into my heart this Christmas season and grant me your peace during this holiday season and forevermore. Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent, Week 1: HELP IS ON THE WAY!


The Lord says, "The time is coming when I will do the good thing I promised to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will make a good branch sprout from David's family. He will do what is fair and right in the land. At that time Judah will be saved, and the people of Jerusalem will live in safety. The branch will be named: "The Lord Does What Is Right." (Jeremiah 33:14-16, NCV)

Raised in the Catholic tradition, one of my favorite parts of the Christmas Season is the observance of Advent. Meaning "the coming" in Latin, the four weeks before Christmas are a time of forced reflection on who this babe in the manger is and what His life on Earth means. Over the years, I have grown to the point where I arrive at Christmas Day feeling disappointed and like I've let time slip through my hands when I have neglected Advent's deliberate practice. I feel like I missed the entire significance and meaning of why we celebrate this time of year.

Traditionally, the theme of the first week of Advent is hope. How very appropriate! This one word describes the unique gift that salvation through Jesus of Nazareth has to offer. God's Word (and Jesus is named as "The Word" in John 1:1) oozes with hope throughout.

In this point in history, we have the great privilege of seeing many things in the Scriptures from the perspective of fulfillment. We see promises made and kept by God. We see prophecies made and come-true about God. We, in developed nations, have the gift of reading those words in numerous translations and languages, giving us the opportunity to better understand the Message. This all should bolster our faith, filling us with great hope. God's word is true! The probability of one man fulfilling just eight of the hundreds of prophecies made about Jesus the Messiah would be 10 to the 17th power!

The hope engendered by God's truth is more than just "I hope that everybody's happy with the gifts I bought them this year," or "I hope that this Christmas party is fun." It's the joyful anticipation of knowing that everything will work out in this life and will be problem-free in the next life. It's the blessed assurance that belief in Jesus' saving grace guarantees our citizenship in Heaven. It's the comfort of knowing we are deeply loved, never forsaken or forgotten. It's the deep gratitude of realizing each and every life, including ours and our children's, have infinite worth and purpose.

The Creator of the Universe didn't just solve our problems from arm's length. He came into our world and got dirty, becoming one of us. He shouted, "Help is on the way," and then delivered. Pondering these profound facts ought to foster in us hope beyond all measure!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Always Grateful


"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18

How many times have we heard this verse? It's so easy to read and so hard to live! The challenges and demands of parenting a child with a special need seem to perpetually weigh us down. Add the holidays to that, and it's enough to do us in!

This Thanksgiving, pause to look at that precious gift that God trusted YOU with. Imagine parenting that child without some of the awesome blessings you enjoy daily. Here are a few from other parents to spur you on, when you're feeling so weary that you have a hard time coming up with some for yourself:
  • "I am thankful to know we are not alone and others will lift us up and surround us in our time of need."

  • "God's un-ending mercy is an awesome gift!"

  • "Thankful for the odd compliment: 'You have the craziest life of anyone I know, but you're the most sane person I know.' I'm walking there by grace alone."

  • "Thank God I have a husband who helps!"

  • "I really appreciate compassionate teachers!"

  • "I'm grateful for the ability to have compassion and love for others."

  • "People who give of their time & hearts are the best!"

  • "I'm grateful for the medical care my son gets in this country... In another part of the world, he might be dead by now."

  • "Thankful that all kids eventually fall asleep...even if they don't want to!"

  • "I am grateful for having the best friends."

  • "Thankful to cozy-up with my kids."

  • "Wow, God uses us even when we are not expecting it!"

  • "I still have trouble, but trouble does not have me."

  • "I’m thankful for my dear son’s behavioral therapist who comes to my HOUSE to manage my kiddo’s challenging behavior. She’s got “the touch,” I tell you!"

  • "What a blessing to connect with other parents and resources!"

Cling to God with a heart that recognizes even the simple things He gives us. Even each breath is a gift! As we focus on the awesomeness of the Lord, our troubles suddenly shrink. My prayer is that your challenges will pale in comparison to all you find to be grateful for this Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

WARNING: Holidays Just Ahead!


The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!"
The Lord answered, "Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her."
(Luke 10:38-42, CEV)


Most of us are familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving celebration in America. The early settlers, besieged by starvation and cold had much to be grateful for when Native Americans assisted them in their survival. Recognizing such, President Abraham Lincoln instituted the national holiday in 1863.


Today, we find ourselves consumed by stress as the holidays come upon us. There's the housecleaning, the grocery shopping, the food preparation. If you have a child with a special need, add to that the dietary, behavioral, and medical treatment concerns that are inevitable this time of year. And then there's that pervasive prospect of spending time with relatives who stretch our patience and love. The day after we've consumed mass quantities of turkey and all its accompaniments, we launch into the frenzy of the Christmas season. Surely this isn't how the holidays were meant to be observed!


Look back to Deuteronomy 16:13-17 to see the first formal Thanksgiving celebration established by God himself. The focus is completely on joy birthed by a recognition of the blessings granted by the Lord each year. There is a sharing of gifts that occurs in proportion to the blessings received.


How far we are from the heart of God in our celebrating! If we are truthful with ourselves, we are more like Martha, consumed and irritated by the preparations, than we are like Mary, keeping the main thing the main thing.


What if this holiday season we let all the noise and chaos fall by the wayside and instead, focused our eyes on the Author & Perfecter of our faith? In doing my homework for this entry, I found the word "blessed" 222 times and "blessings" 89 times in the Bible translation I examined. There is enough to make any person feel fortunate! Even in our darkest times, we have so much to be thankful for. The Bible lists things like children, perseverance, fear of the Lord (or as I call it, awe), forgiveness, obedience and discipline as blessings that we may not ordinarily consider. God tells us in His word that He has poured out "one blessing after another" (John 1:16) and "every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). How our joy would increase during the holidays if we would only slow down and turn our hearts and eyes towards those lavish gifts!


This Thanksgiving and Christmas, pray with me that Jesus would calm us, focus our eyes on the good graces all around us, and foster a deep sense of recognition that our very lives have been spared! Before we throw ourselves into yet another time of obsessing with the preparations rather than THE Reason for the celebrating, may our Savior pour into us more humility, appreciation and joy that comes from having our priorities straight!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Something's Not Quite Right!


For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22, NLT)

The other day, I was rushing around the house in my usual morning frenzy to get my kids off to school on time. As I set up the 5 medications my youngest daughter needs just to get through each day, a thought hit me like a ton of bricks: This is not quite right. How much additional stress there is having to go through administering these drugs, each in a specific way, in order for her to function. What would it be like to not have to concern ourselves with such things?

Yesterday, it was my son's turn. Mondays are hard enough for the average person, but ours always includes an IV infusion of clotting factor. Tears ran down our boy's face as he met the routine with reluctance. "Can you imagine what it's like to be me?", he proclaimed. My heart broke once again thinking, This is not quite right.

Times like these can be incredibly isolating. We can feel like the world marches on in beautiful normalcy as we struggle through our dysfunctional days. Bitter feelings of jealousy and injustice can even rear their ugly heads if we allow them to.

It's times like these that I need a revelation of "the big picture". Today's Scripture reminds us that even nature, ALL of creation, groans expectantly for things to be the way God intended them to be. Since the first 2 human beings made the choice to disobey God and allow sin into this world, NOTHING has been quite right! We're on Satan's turf now, and it's pretty ugly.

While it's easy to delude ourselves or to be deluded by the pretensions of others, NO life is without its share of struggles. I once had a woman ask me, "Why don't you hang around more normal people like us?" I laughed to myself as I pondered what she considered "normal". She had fooled herself into thinking that her struggling marriage, infertility troubles, and raging battle with her brother were "normal". One family may be facing cancer, another joblessness, another drug addiction. What fools are we to think there's any such thing as normal in this life!

What gives us hope is the fact that Jesus gave His life in order to restore our lives back to their intended state. All we have to do is accept His free gift of salvation and restoration is ours. Not only do we have the excitement of knowing that creation will be returned to its intended grandeur in the future, we receive the joy of strength for the living today! Only our amazing God can take the imperfections of now and use them to reveal His wondrous, beautiful glory to us. And that awe is enough to eclipse ANYTHING in our lives that is not quite right!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things


"I promise you that you cannot get into God's kingdom, unless you accept it the way a child does." (Mark 10:15, CEV)

This school year, Charlie has taken to riding his bike to school whenever he can. In order to do so, he must cross a very busy road where drivers are often speeding and inattentive. Now you can imagine what that does to the nerves of a mother like me, who envisions her son with hemophilia having a close encounter of the traumatic kind with one of those cars!

One day as he was leaving, I patted him on the head and said, "Don't forget your helmet! And for heaven's sake, watch out for those crazy drivers!" In turn, he shocked me with his reply, "You know, Mom, sometimes I think you just need to chill-out and remember Who's riding with me!"

A few weeks later, we were driving in the car with the radio on. Never thinking that he was listening to the news I had on, he again surprised me with his input regarding the recent panic of finding enough Swine Flu vaccine. "Why are all these people so worried?", he said. "Don't they know that Jesus is going to take care of them?"

We work so hard as parents trying to instill sound values in our young children. And it's rewarding when we see that they've grasped what we're trying to teach them. But I often wonder if WE actually believe what we're attempting to ingrain in them!

Jesus told us that unless we have faith like a child, we won't enter the kingdom of heaven, so we'd better get it right! What are the characteristics that identify that child-like faith? To start, there is just this unspoken assumption by the student that the Teacher knows more than they! There is also just this intuition that the Teacher has the student's best interest at heart. A comfortable trust exists between the two, eliminating debate, doubt and questioning over whether the Teacher really knows what they're talking about. In addition, once the student learns the concept, they go on with it incorporated into their life. There's no obsessive worry, no forgetting what was learned, no "what ifs". The child has faith that things are the way they were taught they are, and they don't give it a second thought. Finally, there's this joyful confidence that shrinks anything that might challenge that faith. The student knows that what the Teacher taught is true despite initial appearances, and that the truth will prevail in the end.

Oh, what a model for we adults who have become polluted by the world around us! Imagine the better life both here and in eternity Jesus holds out for us, if we would just have that faith like our children! We would not walk through our days imprisoned by fear and worry. We would not find ourselves tortured by doubt. We would not waste so much of our time on "what if" or "maybe not". We could shrink the volume of our lives that our troubles take up, and go on enjoying the blessings of each day. We could walk in confidence instead of perpetual defeat.

We have the power to make that choice in each of our lives! Don't give the devil a foothold by giving into the silly thoughts of "Did God really say..."! Determine, God said it! I believe it! That settles it! And walk with the freedom and hope of a child!

*SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES wants YOUR stories! Do you have a story of faith from one of your children like Charlie's? Share it with us by e-mailing barb@snappin.org!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Running On Empty


"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Psalm 42:1-2, NIV)


Forgive me for my bias, but I see few people get as depleted with the demands of daily living as I do parents of children with a special need. Between working full-time (as many do these days), managing the usual responsibilities of life, and caring for that special child, parents find themselves at the end of their rope far more often than they'd care to admit. True, we each need to adjust to a new definition of "normal" in our households. Still, sometimes those physical strainings of lifting or caring for the disabled child, or those mental endurance trials of staying consistent with the cognitively or emotionally challenged child are just too much for us to handle. We're left dry, thirsty, wrung-out, even resentful.


These can become one of those "But God" moments of life. What are those moments? Take a look at one of the 61 times that phrase "but God" is used in the Bible! They usually represent God's intervention in a moment of hopelessness or helplessness. Psalm 73:26 says, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Wow! I fail daily! What hope that Scripture holds for a weary soul like me! Acts 3:15 says, "You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead." It doesn't get more hopeless than death, still God overcame that obstacle! And it doesn't get worse than being done in by the very person trying to help you, yet God can redeem the situation! Romans 5:8 affirms it, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."


The point is this, my friends, when we are weigh down, depressed, feeling defeated by the daily living, there's God. He is our hope in the midst of even the worst of situations.


At times like this, satisfy that thirst for God by connecting to Him. First, saturate yourself with His word. Others throughout the history of time have endured trials much like yours. Reading about those situation in the Bible and what God promises in their midst, can give us great encouragement and wisdom. Second, spend a few quiet moments recalling how He has brought you through in the past. How many times have you thought, I'll never make it, but did? Those are times of God's provision that need to be reflected upon to strengthen you. Third, share stories with other Jesus-followers. When we tell others how God is working in our lives and hear how God is working in theirs, it can't help but refresh and energize us. Proverbs 25:25 puts it aptly, "Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land." When two or more of us are gathered, exchanging our tales of encounters with the living God, He is right there with us building us up.


These are the ways to fill the tank when we're running on empty. We all need to pull over for a fill-up sometimes. Make sure you're putting in the right kind of fuel when you get there!

Friday, November 6, 2009

When THE CHURCH Works Against You


Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NLT)

My prayer is that you realize that when I put something in writing, I am merely the pencil. God directs the writing. Before a word ever gets put to paper, I submit, "Lord, lead me to what YOU want to tell people today. Show me what YOU would have me write." Oftentimes, God recycles my personal experiences or those of people around me for illustration in these devotional writings. And that is surely the case with today's passage.

Serving in the capacity I do, I often hear parents from every part of the country sharing their frustrations and desires regarding issues at the intersection of faith and disability. It grieves me deeply to admit that I would be a very rich woman if I had a dollar for each parent that has told me that they were asked to leave a church or service because of their child with special needs. Even churches that think they are doing something for the disabled and their families have a long way to go. I am quite familiar with scenarios that include volunteers wanting to pray for this family but not that one, who will be a "buddy or shadow" for this child at Sunday School but not that one. Some churches are open to offering financial support, which is terrific, but stop short of full integration of programming or inclusion in their congregation.

So what is a hurt and frustrated Christian to do when they encounter situations like this that foster righteous indignation? I believe a good part of our prescription is found in this passage from 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

First, don't get caught in petty squabbles. I know. It is way too easy in our humanity and emotions to get sucked into these arguments. While our premise of drawing families with a special needs individual into the church community is biblical, argumentative response to rejection of that premise is not. While I don't want to sound glib, we do catch more bees with honey than we do with vinegar.

Second, while it may get tiresome, we are all called to lovingly teach and gently instruct. Paul calls us to be prepared in season and out of season. (2 Timothy 4:2) A useful tool may be simply asking those in the church how they might feel if something within the church was actually preventing them from attending services and becoming a member of the church community. Often, helping others to empathize through questions like these brings something to their attention they otherwise would have never thought of. Other useful tools may be found via credible organizations like *The National Organization on Disability: Religion & Disability Program. Based in Washington, DC, this network provides sound publications that are denomination-neutral such as "That All May Worship", "Loving Justice", and "From Barriers to Bridges". Also, remember that pastors receive virtually NO training in seminary on these issues. Extend them the grace to patiently educate them over time.

Third, I must ask, are we not mandated as Jesus-followers, to pray for those who persecute us, even if they're within the four walls of a church? (Matthew 5:44) Jesus assured us that "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, NIV) He didn't tell us in what form that trouble would come. If we remember to keep our gaze fixed on Him, The Overcomer, rather than on the problem, we will find ourselves rising above the problem and able to pray for those who work against us. Only the Holy Spirit can soften hearts and change minds. Acknowledging that in prayer and crying out to Him will yield good fruit in due season.

Fourth, remember that we all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Is there an area where you're less-than-compassionate in your Christian walk? Can you imagine what it would be like to be a core leader of a church, whether a pastor or administrator, trying to meet the wide variety of needs and demands of congregants, each thinking that their concern should receive top-billing? We all face enough ugliness from an unbelieving world. Shouldn't we respectfully express our disappointments and then continue on in love?

When all other avenues have been biblically exhausted, there are still creative ways to connect to the Body of Christ. The Barna Group has researched the growing emergence of house churches in America. Perhaps organizing one is an option. Connecting to inclusive worship through summer camps like Camp Daniel's Mega4Kids and Able Church, located in Athelstane, WI can be an excellent avenue. While not a substitute for church, connecting to or modeling an organization like The YMCA at Pabst Farms in Oconomowoc, WI, who has an integrated inclusion program may prove rewarding. Additionally, discussion forums through groups like LIFT Disability Network can lessen the isolation and offer us fellowship with other Christ-seekers. Of course, SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES is always ready and willing to help you connect and pray along the way.

While we may be trying to work out the challenges at the intersection of faith and disability for the remainder of our lives on earth, approaching these difficulties in a biblical way can only help. May our daily living and our passionate pursuit of The Savior reflect God's glory to all we come into contact with and transform hearts!

*To order publications helpful to dialog with your church administration, visit the National Organization on Disability at http://www.nod.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&FeatureID=99.

**Other publications and resources are available through SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES at www.snappin.org.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Glorious Servanthood of Motherhood!

"Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant. Whoever wants to become first among you must serve the rest of you like a slave. In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."

When Jesus and his followers were leaving Jericho, a great many people followed him. Two blind men sitting by the road heard that Jesus was going by, so they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" The people warned the blind men to be quiet, but they shouted even more, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" Jesus stopped and said to the blind men, "What do you want me to do for you?" They answered, "Lord, we want to see." Jesus felt sorry for the blind men and touched their eyes, and at once they could see. Then they followed Jesus. (Matthew 20:26-34, NCV)


If you're anything like me, you often feel inadequate as a Christian mother. You rise to the occasion every day, but you sure don't think your children's behavior reflects it. You feel like your life demonstrates anything but Jesus' self-sacrificial servant leadership. Nevertheless, that's what you're doing in the mundane things you lovingly engage in each day.

Read today's scripture passage again. What makes you great in Jesus' kingdom? Which comes first in the household, your desires or your kids' needs? How many sacrifices have you made on their behalf? Like Jesus stopping in his tracks to heal the blind men, how often do you drop everything to attend to the concerns of your children? Done in a humble God-honoring way, motherhood can be one of the greatest, yet simplest ways to glorify the Savior.

In her book GOD'S WHISPER IN A MOTHER'S CHAOS: Bringing Peace Home*, Keri Wyatt Kent sums it up so perfectly. She writes, "We tend to think that only deep quiet contemplation or perhaps serving on a mission trip or volunteering in the church office 'counts' in God's eyes. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be more defeating to a mother who finds that taking care of her children feels like almost all she can do... And God is not deducting points on some giant tally sheet in heaven because you missed your 'quiet time'. He's watching the way you trim the crust off the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cut it in triangles because that's how your toddler likes it, and he's saying 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"

What an encouragement to once again know that the Lord's ways are not the world's ways! Life becomes increasingly manageable when we stop making life more complicated than it has to be. Washing feet, or in many of our cases wiping behinds, is partaking in the very unglamorous servanthood of Jesus. And a little done with great Christ-like love is pretty huge in God's economy.


PRAY: God thank You for the encouragement that my service to my children is service to You. 

~ Barb Dittrich


(*Keri Wyatt Kent's book is available on Amazon Smile at  https://smile.amazon.com/Gods-Whisper-Mothers-Chaos-Bringing/dp/0830822704/. Please be sure to designate Snappin' Ministries as your charity of choice!)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Before and AFTER


"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:2-4, NIV)

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who had it all. She was married to a prominent member of her community, worked as an investment broker, lived on a lake and hung out with all the beautiful people in town. Although she seemed to have it all, she was insecure, never content, and a terrible control freak.

As she chased after things she thought would make her happy, she found her dreams shattered through tragedies. Her troubles began with two miscarriages. After the second, some friends introduced her to a radically different life in Christ. She felt touched by God and made a choice that would assure her salvation.

Despite her faith decision, her suffering only got worse. A husband who found himself jobless 5 times over a 7 year period, repeated infertility treatment, three successful pregnancies resulting in two children with expensive special needs, physical problems of her own, and endless financial woes were just a few of her more remarkable struggles. Nevertheless, as she proceeded through each trial, she found herself increasingly filled with joy, hope and peace.

In a nutshell, that woman is me. The promise of my faith life in Jesus is what compels me to share it with others. You see, it's not that the challenges in my life have decreased or that I enjoy them. In fact, I hate them! But it's Who is walking through these things with me. That's what makes all the difference -- for every human being.

The difference also comes in what we can see develop in ourselves. I used to be a major complainer with misplaced values. I had an attitude of entitlement that I filtered everything in my life through. My focus was all about me. And there were days where I would be so depressed that I could barely get out of bed. Frankly, I don't know how anyone could stand to be around me!

Now my hope and humor rule the days, only by the grace of God. I'm stronger in the face of trouble. I can laugh even during the hardest times. My problems shrink as I comfort others in their difficulties. I don't major in minor things. And my focus is on pleasing the One who I'll spend my forever with.

Lest I sound overly simplistic, the transformation of mind and spirit doesn't happen overnight. As laid out in Romans 5, it is incremental, building upon itself. Testing with failure often points us towards improvement the next time around.

We also have the choice of cooperating with God in the process. If we choose to be bitter, self-righteous, and unyielding, God will eventually say, "Fine, have it your own way!" But we have to get honest with ourselves, asking, "How's that working out for me when I have my own way?" When we turn over control to God willingly, we can find ourselves pleasantly surprised with purpose. Instead of being restricted, we can find freedom that helps us live beyond our circumstances.

When I reflect back on who I once was, I can't help but thank God for saving me from myself! Not that I am anywhere near perfect, but I'm becoming more of what He likes to see, and perhaps, more tolerable to those around me. Although it had to come through great difficulties, I am glad for the eternal makeover program my Wise Creator has drawn me into.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaching Them To Ride Without Training Wheels


"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ... For each one should carry his own load." (Galatians 6:2, 5)

Picture if you will a newborn fawn or lamb. Its mother cleans it to stimulate breathing when it first arrives. Shortly after, the babe makes that precarious attempt to stand for the first time, legs splayed and wobbly. Only then can it get its bearings and go about the business of taking nourishment, carrying on with life.

Raising our children goes along in much the same fashion. We give them what they need and prepare them to live their lives on their own.

Unfortunately, many of us parents who have a child with a special need make the human error of overcompensating. Heartbroken by the unfairness of what our child continues to endure, we often throw the rules out the window. Giving them extra attention beyond the necessary, buying them more toys and treats, making excuses for them, and not disciplining their behavior are all common modes of trying to make up for the injustice of our child's diagnosis.

However, nowhere in the Bible does it promise that life is fair. That notion went out the window when Adam and Eve defied the one rule God set before them. As a result, we live in a broken, imperfect world. Nevertheless, God does promise to create something good out of this world's negatives. (Romans 8:28)

Proverbs 22:6 tells us, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (NIV) When we as parents heed this command and lift our special kids to the Lord in prayer, He joins us in the parenting process, no matter what the circumstances. Only Jesus is big enough to take the ugliness of our child's diagnosis and turn it into something amazing for His glory.

The necessary ingredient in all of this is discernment. Christian psychologists and authors Dr. Henry Cloud an Dr. John Townsend point out God's clear guidelines in their popular BOUNDARIES series. When we go back and read Galatians 6:2, 5, we see that we're to bear one another's burdens, but each is to carry their own load. The challenge can come in distinguishing between the burden versus the load. A burden would be a crisis or trauma. A load would be the daily living, no matter how difficult it might be. Our mandate as parents is to train our children to carry that load while we help with the burdens.

It is NOT our job to take away every point of concern or discomfort for our children. Going back to the original scenario of the newborn fawn or lamb, the mother helps get the babe going, but she doesn't do the walking and nursing for them. We have succeeded as parents when we have taught our children to adapt and to find the good in life. We do our children no service when we make the rest of the world bend over backwards for them or unwittingly teach them to operate as a perpetual victim. They've got to take the training wheels off the bike eventually and learn to ride on their own.

To encourage you, let me share a recent victory with my son. I try to heed every word I share with you, but I'm a mom nonetheless. I get concerned at times. Recently, Charlie has taken to riding his bike to school by himself. In order to get there, he needs to cross a busy road where drivers are not always very careful. Needless to say, I find it a bit unnerving, and find myself having to swallow hard, praying him to school lest I should interfere. The other day as he left, I gave voice to my nervousness, "Be sure to wear your helmet. And watch out for those crazy drivers! You know how bad that road is!"

To my surprise, admonishment and delight, he replied, "Geez, Mom! Sometimes I think you just need to chill-out! Remember Who's riding along with me!"

In stopping myself from being overprotective, insisting that I be with him or give him a ride to school, I received the delight of hearing where our instructions of faith have stuck with him. I thank God for showing me an area where I've succeeded in Charlie's training. And I ask that He would continue to show me where I am falling short. Overcompensating is something I, like every special needs parent, will be fighting to overcome for the rest of my life!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Supper With Sophie


"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV)

Dinner is ready. I call everyone to the table for a hot meal together. Husband and kids come running, except for one. Where is Sophie? Lost in the object of her current focus, the first call is never enough for her. She's called again, but either her father or I have to go physically get her. Finally, we're all at the table, ready to say "grace" when Sophie either interrupts, begins eating or takes off to bring one of her toy friends to supper. After we get her redirected to make it through the prayer, it's on to the challenge of the meal. Some banter inevitably ensues as we share the events of the day with one another. With barely a bite consumed, Sophie is already climbing around to get a drink or chase a cat. Once corrected and re-seated, the battle to get her to eat is on in earnest. The rest of the family has finished their dinner and taken their dirty dishes to the sink, but Sophie is still stalling. Consequences are laid out, and to avoid losing our cool with our daughter, either her father or I need to sit with her alone at the table and coach her to focus until she's finished.

Welcome to every evening with our child with ADHD. I get tired just reading what I wrote! Still, countless other parents who have children with a wide variety of "invisible disabilities" go through the very same thing. So how do parents like us follow through with the instructions of 2 Timothy 4:2 in the way the Lord instructs us to? How do we remain long-suffering and mindful of our child rearing when their behavior is, frankly, irritating?

First of all, we need to be convinced in our hearts that God will use our child's character traits for His good purposes. (Romans 8:28) Sophie may have ADHD, but she's extremely clever and smart as a whip. Our job as parents is to shape our kids' character without squashing their spirits. When we realize that we have the mission of bringing out the best in these little people to glorify God, it draws our focus to the bigger picture instead of the frustrating behaviors.

Second, being "prepared in season and out of season" includes taking care of ourselves as parents. When we are depleted or stressed-out, our fuse is naturally shorter. We need to be equipped in order to meet the responsibilities involved with our children. That means we need to be intentional about taking time away, doing something we like, getting enough rest, exercising and eating properly. That may mean that we have to tag-team with a spouse, relative or friend, but that's the only way to make certain our tank is refilled.

Third, we need to persist in correcting, rebuking and encouraging even if it's inconvenient. Consistency is definitely our friend, although the path of least resistance so often looks more attractive. If we want a positive outcome, we have to remain focused on steering our children through thick and through thin.

Fourth, but most important, we must operate with the constant understanding that we cannot make it for even one minute on this journey apart from God. He alone fills us and strengthens us for all that is involved in parenting a child with such a diagnosis. And Jesus' death and resurrection assure that our mistakes are covered when we fall short in our efforts. His unique comfort and hope bring us encouragement when we become concerned about what the future holds for such a child.

Yes, when God calls, He equips. By His power, supper with Sophie can become manageable, if not humorous!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Strapped In the Runaway Vehicle!


"Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him." (Job 13:5)

The book of Job is one notorious for its in-depth examination of suffering. Any who have faced serious trials, including parents whose child had a special need, should become well-acquainted with this book of the Bible.

When we face trials of this nature, so often it feels like we're passengers in a car that's careening out of control. We can see the disaster rushing towards us, and we are powerless to stop it. It may be our child's health, that despite best efforts, will never be "normal". It may be that job at a place which has become the latest victim of a bad economy. A pay cut or lay-off is imminent in spite of all our hard work. It could even be that relationship that has deteriorated to the point where nothing we could do would ever get it turned around.

We're left feeling utterly crushed, demeaned and angry. How awful to feel so utterly inadequate at times like these! Is there anything worse than being able to see trouble headed our way and being completely unable to do one thing about it? We're strapped in! We can't even get out of trouble's way!

While trials in life are inevitable for every human, peace can be available to us depending upon who is driving the car. Are circumstances driving the car? Well, then you're in trouble because we have little control over many, if not most of life's circumstances. Are the opinions of others driving the car? Well, then you're in trouble because the opinions of others are fickle, and you can often find two people who will have very different opinions to inflict upon you. Is the prevailing wisdom of the culture driving the car? Well, then you're in trouble because, so often the culture is just flat out wrong. Are your inner strength, intuition and emotions driving the car? Well, then you're in trouble because each human has the tendency to be irrational at times. There are just some situations that are too huge for ANY human to handle.

The only lasting hope and assurance of peace we have is when we agree to let our Maker take control of our tail-spin. Time and again God proves Himself faithful in the stomach-churning moments of life. He alone can see the blind spots that are outside of our line of vision. And no one like God has the sovereign power to fully control a situation.

Now, this is not to say that the Lord is going to take away every horrible trial that we see as pointless. Just as we as parents realize that the icky medicine will benefit our child in the long run, so our loving Father can see the big picture of the good fruit that only suffering can yield. Should we think we know better, He reminds us Who is in control: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much." (Job 38:4, NLT)

Our loving Lord never falls asleep at the wheel, though it may seem He does. Rest in the assurance that when you place Him in full control of the driver's seat, you may not have a perfect trip, but you will arrive safely, having been transformed through the journey.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What to Wear When Awarded $5,000


But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:25, ESV)

When my girlfriend, Jody, called me to verify my contact information in the spring of 2009, I laughed at her. "Where should I have them contact you when you win the prize?", she probed matter-of-factly. You see, little did I know that Jody was responding to God's repeated prompting to nominate SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES for the WORLD MAGAZINE/American Bible Society's Hope Award for Effective Compassion. Because of her faithful response, SNAPPIN' was one of nine organizations, chosen out of hundreds nationwide, to be interviewed for a special article series run in in conjunction with the award. Subsequently, the ministry received the humbling honor of becoming one of the three finalists who were flown to Arlington, Texas to be recognized at a banquet, receiving a $5,000 check towards furthering the work of the ministry.

While the trip to Texas was exciting, it all felt so surreal to me. While I appreciated Jody's willingness to nominate us, there was no way I thought we would receive such recognition. After all, there are countless worthy ministries across the nation doing the hard work of loving people in Jesus' name. Organizations, I thought, far worthier than SNAPPIN' to be applauded. After all, we're small and officed in a virtually unheard of suburban community. Once again, God proved that His thoughts are not my thoughts!

In Texas, prior to the 5:30 PM reception and dinner, three concurrent workshops were held, each with one speaker from WORLD and one speaker from ABS. While all three had appealing topics, I felt that the one entitled "Bringing Hope to the Poor through Righteous Justice" was most fitting with the ministry work we are doing. I wanted to learn more, and the speakers did not disappoint. Founder of Winning Our World (WOW JAMS), Stephen Tavani, shared the broader vision of loving people to Christ by sharing what his ministry is doing throughout the country. Going to the most shattered neighborhoods in America, WOW imparts hope by meeting people's practical needs (food, rocking neglected children, haircuts, family portraits, and much more). While they are meeting these needs, they also share the Good News through fun activities (music, pie launching, allowing kids to dress up as what they want to be when they grow up & taking home a photo of themselves in those dress-ups, etc). Lives experience real and lasting transformation through these loving acts of kindness. This gives more impact to Tavani's admonition to move from being mere hearers of the Word to actual doers of the Word. (James 1:22) "The time for talk is over. It's time to move into action."

Equally riveting was Marvin Olasky, Editor-In-Chief of WORLD and provost at The King's College in NYC. He clearly contrasted the difference between what the world currently terms "social justice" with what the Lord defines as true justice. He unmasked the pervasive cultural lie that all truths are equal by sharing how implausible that belief really is. He revealed how insufficient government is at dispensing this type of justice through a generic framework. Olasky shared what God commands His church to demonstrate in the wider world around us.

As if listening to the wisdom of these two men weren't enough, a lasting impression was left by the reception and dinner to follow. Attendees were able to view table displays from the three finalists chosen for the Hope Award and personally speak to the ministry leaders. What a fabulous exchange took place during the reception as people shared their own stories, satisfied their curiosities and reported to one another the variety of ways God is working! The post-dinner program further included wise insights from gentlemen like Simon Barnes, Executive Vice President of the American Bible Society, and Nickolas Eicher, Publisher of WORLD discussing their efforts not only to share the Good News, but to leave a lasting legacy of hope to a hurting and confused world.

A panel discussion featuring all of the workshop presenters had high impact as well. David Kinnaman, President & Strategic Leader of The Barna Group truly set the tone for the forum when he shared that statistically, divorce rates, alcoholism and abuse amongst Christians is no different than in the rest of the world. The subsequent questions and answers wrestled with how to impact those around us for the good and create positive change, especially within the believing community. Powerful comments like, "share stories like Jesus did, " "start with examining yourself, " "both sons in the story of the prodigal were sinful," and "share the good report," all spurred the audience on to a transformed life that demonstrates the difference that being a disciple of Christ makes. The entire event left the willing soul ready to leap into action.

I began preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime event by wondering what to wear. I left it, motivated, knowing resolutely what to wear! What do you wear when you are awarded $5,000? Put on a teachable spirit, accompanied by listening ears, a heart that loves, eyes that see, and a willingness to serve. If you do, your apparel will help you depart as a person who will never quite be the same again.

*Podcasts of the workshops from the Hope Awards will be made available via podcast the first week of November at www.worldmag.com.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sleeping With The Enemy?


If you are a wife, you must put your husband first. Even if he opposes our message, you will win him over by what you do. No one else will have to say anything to him, because he will see how you honor God and live a pure life... If you are a husband, you should be thoughtful of your wife. Treat her with honor, because she isn't as strong as you are, and she shares with you in the gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 7, CEV)

Read Romans 12:9-16

Did you realize that the divorce rate between couples whose child has a special need is 30% higher than the average couple? Each partner has their own personal reaction to the diagnosis, their own expectations, their own primary concerns and their own additional responsibilities. He's worried about money. She's exhausted from all the doctors' appointments. With the odds stacked against us and the unrelenting stresses, it's no wonder we find ourselves in need of extra care for our marriages.

When we're pressed hard and don't quite meet each others expectations, it's easy to last out at the one closest to us. I was told by one mom that the stress of their son's every-6-month, 5 hour clinic appointment would result in a fight the entire 81 mile ride home. Who do we take it out on when there's not cooperation from the school, the doctor isn't listening to us in the way we'd like or the insurance company denies yet another claim? And how do we have a successful marriage when we continue to take out these frustrations on each other?

It all comes back to unconditional love. Treating each other the way we'd like to be treated is key. Giving our partner what they need results in mutuality. In his book, LOVE & RESPECT, Emerson Eggeriches maintains that what women need most is to feel loved, and what men need most is respect. I felt very convicted when the author noted that women often state that they will respect their husband when he's earned that respect. (I've said that before.) He then asks how women would feel if men stated that they will love their wife when they've earned it. (OUCH!)

Sometimes, keeping my marriage healthy and obeying God means having an almost-out-of-body-experience. I need to set myself and my expectations aside and do the right thing. It means I need to speak kind words that build him up, be giving even when I don't want to, be a good-finder and love my husband the way Jesus does. He's no less deserving of God's mercy than I. What makes me so arrogant to think I'm a better spouse or parent than my husband? And even if I were, doesn't Jesus call me to love my "enemies"?

Our issues as parents of a child with special needs are complex to say the least. Bringing in reinforcements through Christian counselors, pastors and mentors can be extremely helpful. Going to marriage seminars, sharing books on the topic and planning getaways are also worthwhile. Whatever it takes, invest your energy in making your commitment to each other work. The alternative is a much more difficult, heartbreaking life as a single special needs parent!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Life Worth Living!


Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6, 7, NIV)

At church, I sat behind a father who was tenderly kissing the hand of his 20 year old son throughout the service. You see, his son is wheelchair-bound, non-verbal, but obviously, very loved. Though I often see his parents helping him as he coughs or wiping his mouth as he drools, I've never had the opportunity to witness his father fawning over him in such a way. It was quite moving to see this big, tough guy gently showing such concern for another person.

There's a lesson to be shared from this little vignette -- Our children with special needs have profound value in this world. Not only did this 20 year old boy impact his father in amazing ways, he also deeply affected any who would take even a second to notice their interaction. I would contend that there is a story just like this for each of our special children. Every time I go to the YMCA, Bill, who has Down Syndrome, cracks me up with his Elvis impersonations. David, who has multiple disabilities and is non-verbal, flirts with his favorite ladies by covering his face and blowing kisses. It always brings a smile! Edmund made every one's night when he came out of the shell of his autism and sang at the youth group event. The stories could go on and on.

Yet, there are individuals who are esteemed, popular, modern philosophers and bioethicists who would like to snuff out the very lives of every individual with a special need. In their twisted practice of the "new eugenics", they would maintain that the healthy family dog has more "rights" to exist than my newborn with hemophilia did. Despite the shocking dehumanization of people, these academics hold prestige, are highly sought as speakers and are widely read as authors. This ought to scare every person as much as those who witnessed the abhorrent acts of the Nazis! After all, we are each just 1 emergency room visit away from being disabled!

Equipped with God's Spirit and His promises, we are uniquely qualified to share the message that each person, even these misguided thinkers, has infinite value in God's economy. Children with special needs have immense purpose in life, although it may not be the traditional purpose the average person thinks of. My friend, special needs mom, Sarah, calls her son diff-abled because she realizes that his abilities lay in a different area than many others, and it shows! James is a joy to everyone he meets!

I tell these stories not to upset you, but to empower you. We need to have our eyes wide open to the pitfalls that may lay ahead for ourselves and our children. Our stories have the ability to transform hardened hearts. We also need to be motivated to share the stories of our "fearfully and wonderfully made" children to inspire our world. Some see the special need. God has given us parents the eyes to see the person. Some see only the sorrows & difficulties. We see the triumphs & joys! What powerful messages we have to share with a dark and hopeless world!

*For more information on bioethics, visit The Center for Bioethics & Culture at www.thecbc.org.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

THE STAND-IN


"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV)

READ Isaiah 53

Parenting a child with a special need offers a unique opportunity to identify with our amazing God! What parent wouldn't gladly suffer in the place of their child? Heart-wrenching barely begins to describe the experience of watching ones offspring endure pain, poor health, endless poking with needles, prodding and testing. Rejection by other children and personal emotional struggles are anguishing as well.

I recall a time when I was pregnant with our third child and had to undergo a fasting test for gestational diabetes. As I drank the concentrated orange syrup and subsequently endured at least 4 timed, periodic blood draws, my eyes welled with tears. So this is how my poor boy must feel, I grieved. My numerous sticks with a needle caused me to deeply identify with the 3 sticks per week my then 2-year-old son was undergoing for treatment of his severe hemophilia. Oh, how I would have given anything to take his place!

While each of us as adults is far from the blameless innocence of a child with a special need, we are lavishly loved by One who would much rather take our place than watch us suffer eternally. When I contemplate all that Jesus relinquished to become my stand-in, I am left in awe! In Isaiah 53 read all of the things that Jesus became so that we might live in Heaven forever. He became: small, vulnerable, unattractive, resented, hated, rejected, suffering, sorrowful, one who people turn away from, sick, not held in high regard, someone we thought brought the trouble on himself, tortured, punished, crushed, wounded, carrier of our shortcomings and injustice, oppressed, quietly obedient, submissive, judged, childless, stricken, anguished, discarded, poured out, a human sacrifice, killed.

But in becoming our stand-in, Jesus did something that you and I could never do for our children. He became The Victor over death! In doing so, He now serves as our personal Advocate before the throne of His Father in Heaven. How blest we are!

The next time you find yourself in a place of angst for your loved one, remember the One who was able to take your place and did so willingly. Give glory to God for all you were spared because of the tender love of your Stand-In!

Friday, September 25, 2009

HOWDY, NEIGHBOR!!!


"And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29, NIV)

Of all the stories we maintain from childhood, the story of the Good Samaritan has to rank in the top 10. This parable results from an ongoing effort by the religious elite to trip Jesus up. When the authority is lauded by Christ for stating one of the greatest commands as "Love your neighbor as yourself," (Lev. 19:18) he tries further engagement by asking, "And who is my neighbor?" Subsequently, Jesus proceeds to tell the tale of a robbed and injured Jewish man who is ignored by his kinsmen, but tenderly aided by his enemy.

The vast majority of us can recollect that story and smile in agreement that the Samaritan was the true neighbor because he showed the injured man love and mercy. But it becomes a little less clear when we see its application in our own lives. Who is OUR neighbor?

Perhaps those from older cultures located in Europe or the Middle East can better identify with the contrast of the story. The long-standing hostilities between Serbians and Bosnians in Yugoslavia, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the people of Pakistan and India all provide clear distinctions of those involved as to who the enemy is. Each situation bitterly duplicates the same type of relationship as that of Jesus' parable.

However, if we take one of those painfully honest looks at ourselves, those we harbor resentment towards become more clear in spite of obvious boundary lines. Who is that Samaritan in your life? The one you have deep philosophical differences with? The one whose lifestyle or decisions are the antithesis of yours? It could be the doctor taking your child's medical care in a direction you don't agree with. It could be the educator or administrator you don't see eye to eye with. It could be acquaintances, friends or family who lack understanding or support when it comes to your child's diagnosis. Whoever it is, do you meet them with avoidance and disdain as the Jewish kinsmen did or do you show them mercy?

Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That is one of the remarkable behaviors that set us apart from an unbelieving world. He realized that we have no ability to do this on our own. His Spirit alone supplies us with what we need, the power to carry out His commands.

When we do, it not only changes those directly involved, making us more joy-filled and gentle, but it also changes the individuals around us as well. It makes us more attractive to others. Read John, Chapter 4 and discover how a whole village was changed by the love and mercy Jesus showed to just one Samaritan woman. Read Acts 16:22-34 to view how the love and mercy of Paul and Silas toward their jailer led to not only his conversion, but the conversion of his entire family.

Jesus reminded us that if we only love those who love us, then we're no different from the rest of the world. Being a neighbor to those who are not on our top-10-favorite-people list is one of the ways that we can actually be salt and light to a deteriorating, dark world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

MUTUAL... I'M SURE!


"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NLT)

This past week, I had the great honor of meeting with other leaders in disability ministry form around the country. We empathized with one another's challenges and exchanged a variety of ideas. The common ground we all shared with was edifying. And while we all agreed that we were breaking ground in a relatively new area of ministry, those who were more experienced willingly shared their wisdom with those who were newer. Some leaders even had the foresight to bring co-laborers or apprentices with them, investing this experience in the perpetuating of the next generation of leaders.

While this was a terrific experience professionally, I recognized that it can be duplicated by each of us personally. In a culture where everyone seems too busy to slow down and offer a second glance to anyone, what an awesome gift we offer others when we share such an exchange with them. Time is the most valuable treasure we can offer another person, (mentoring, encouraging or educating ) because it is the one thing we can't get back or get more of. At the same time, the rewards and gratification of pouring our time into people are immense.

I also spent time this week with 2 mothers over breakfast. One had a school-aged daughter with a special health care issue. The other was adopting a child with that same issue. What a privilege to watch God recycle all of the difficulty of the first mother, to bless the second mother. A new relationship was formed. And though the adoptive mother still faces many unknowns, she left that day realizing that she would not be parenting that child alone. Others would bear the burden with her and lift her up.

The blessings of community can be great, but they have an eternal impact when God, the third strand, is part of the equation. Praying together, pointing one another to God's Word and sharing godly advice each help us to rise above the weight and craziness of this world. The input and friendship I get from one I'm tied together with in Christ is far different than that which I get from one rooted in the prevailing, current culture. Today's culture may tell me to leave my husband, but when God's in the trio, a friend in Christ might help me to work it out. Today's culture might encourage me to soothe my conscience by making a token gesture towards the needy, but when God's in the trio, my friend will roll up their sleeves with me, get dirty and live out love that makes a difference.

I recently read this quote by Peter Druker in some leadership information, "There is no success without a successor". What a yardstick this is to measure our interaction with! We please God and grow in intimacy with Him when we invest our time and wisdom in edifying others around us. We walk away feeling content, lighter, hopeful. And those feelings are mutual... I'm sure!