Saturday, March 28, 2009

This Ain't Heaven!

Photo image property of Barbara K Dittrich, 2009
"The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul."
~ Deuteronomy 26:16, NIV ~

Read Deuteronomy 26:16-28:68

The joke goes like this:
A guy dies. As he reaches the afterlife, into the room walks Jimi Hendrix. "Wow!", he says. "This must be heaven!" Hendrix says, "Trust me, man, this ain't heaven." Next, Keith Moon walks into the room. "Wow!" the deceased says, "This must be heaven!" Moon replies, "No way, man. This ain't heaven." Things get even wilder as Kurt Cobain strolls in. The dead man can hardly contain himself. "Wow! This has to be heaven!" Cobain assures him, "Dude, this sure ain't heaven!" Finally, Karen Carpenter comes into the room and announces, "Okay, band, on the the count of 3, 'Close to You..'"

If you get that joke, you're as much of a washed-up rocker as I am. And you also get the sick sense of things being not-quite-right that characterizes our world.

It is no secret that all of humanity struggles with the questions of why suffering exists. We see situations like 911 and world starvation, and we wonder how it's fair that agony like this should occur. Certainly we feel that stinging sense of injustice when we look at our child living with special needs.

I don't want to be overly simplistic, but God warned us it would be like this. In the lengthy Bible passage I cite today, Our Maker sets forth blessings if He is obeyed and every sort of tragedy imaginable if He's not. True to form, those being addressed by Moses didn't take long to break every single one of God's rules. Arrogantly thinking they could comply with God's guidelines, they are famous for their disobedience.

The point is this: We live in a fallen world. We cannot expect the perfection of heaven in our imperfect world. Even if we would believe that we are obeying God flawlessly, our culture provides daily evidence that the world around us isn't. One can hardly stomach a newscast with its announcements of every sort of deranged behavior, beyond anything we could think of. Unfortunately, as long as we exist in this world, we will be subjected to the short-comings of all around us. That includes disease, poverty, injustice and suffering of every kind.

Knowing this should make each of us more passionately seek after the hope of heaven. By the salvation of Jesus, we can look forward to a place where every wrong is made right. And certainly, it won't be a place where we run into Karen Carpenter's pick-up band!

~ Barb Dittrich

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Come Away With Me


Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." (Mark 6:31)

"Everyone wants a piece of me, man!" I proclaimed with one child wrapped around my leg demanding while the caller on the other end of the phone laughed hysterically. While I was being playful, it was really true. I joke that my husband has life so much better because he actually gets to use a bathroom by himself multiple times throughout the course of any given day. Some days I feel like I'm going to hit the ceiling if one more person touches me or calls out "Mom"!

This basic condition of parenthood is enough to wear on all of us. The weariness is further compounded when your child has any number of diagnoses. It is truly exhausting, always having to be "on" to process information, make decisions and act in the well-being of this special child. The constant running to appointments with doctors, therapists and schools makes any human heart beat a little faster.

We live a "poured out" life. But we are in deep, deep trouble if we are not refilled so that we actually have a reserve to draw from. Jesus provided us with a remedy for that. Daily He invites, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29) I've mentioned before, my wise Pastor, Don Gephart puts it this way, "Come apart before you come apart!"

When I'm losing my temper with the kids, when I'm making absent-minded mistakes, when I'm not handling the situations around me as the Lord would have it, 9 times out of 10, I haven't been taking my quiet time with Jesus. God doesn't have a quota or a formula He insists that we follow. Just taking a few minutes each morning with His Word and a brief but insightful devotional can equip me for the day ahead. Taking a brisk walk, listening to some inspirational music and praying as I go can help me to relinquish my burdens and carry on. Journaling can dump my emotions at the foot of the cross and clear my head for all that He's allowed in my day.

And there are practical ways to refill my cup as well. Right after my second child was born and diagnosed with hemophilia, I had a friend who did me the favor of giving me a little verbal spanking. "You need to take care of yourself because no one else is going to do it! Reserve one night a week just for yourself and get away to do something that you really like. Get some prepared meals too, because nobody is going to cook for you!" That was some of the best advice I've ever gotten. For a season, every Thursday you'd find me at the local coffee bar enjoying a mocha and reading a book. These days, I can be found with girlfriends catching up on my scrapbooking. Whatever it is, I fill myseslf up for that pouring out that is my calling in life. I urge you to do the same.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grace Amidst the Gloom of Guilt


“For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” (Revelation 12:10)

“Why is it that women always feel so guilty? We’re so good at beating ourselves up!”, my friend and I had wondered together during a Bible study. I was lamenting over how guilty I felt for not being able to adequately care for my family because of ongoing knee troubles. She was feeling bad about some people conflicts she found herself in the middle of.

It’s true, we are incredibly hard on ourselves, especially as special needs parents. So this is really a topic worth examining with all of you.
I can remember when Lexi, my eldest, was first born. I was always afraid that I wasn’t doing right by her. I had a friend who did the most amazing things with her toddler. One day, I’m walking into her house and she’s cleaning up from a lesson she had done that day on what sinks and what floats. I was convinced that I had ruined Lexi’s future because I hadn’t done anything like that with her. My husband, Steve, said to me, “Yes you have. It’s called A BATH!” I used to drive him nuts by informing him that “They say this” and “They say that” when it came to the “shoulds” of child-rearing. So he’d just shake his head at me and say, “Who are THEY anyway?!”

Now add to that guilt the stinging pain of a special needs child... You know that feeling. I know that feeling. And countless others like us struggle with it every day. This isn’t the kind of guilt you can just laugh off. These are questions that haunt us: What if I had just done something different in my pregnancy? Is God punishing me? And for those of us whose children have a genetic disorder: It’s all my fault.

Well, let me give you some insights.  Did you know that the meaning of the name “Satan” is actually “accuser”? Where is that guilt coming from? Challenge that enemy of your soul! Read Revelation 12:10 up above! That’s what we have to look forward to in heaven. Satan knows his demise is imminent, so he tries to derail God’s work in our lives while he still has the opportunity.

In Romans 8:28 we learn “...that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” You know what that means? It means that something good can come out of the sorrow of our children’s disabilities. That’s what God wants us to focus on and rejoice in.

The next time you are feeling weighed down by that parental guilt, re-examine it. Take it to the Lord and see if it is really true. If the guilt is well-founded, ask for your Savior's help with the issue and move on. If God proves it untrue, then blow it off like a feather on your hand. God wants to set you free, enable you to parent that child and strengthen you along the way. Spend more time in His words of encouragement and less time on the self-destruction of guilt!

(For Barb's full presentation entitled "Grace Amidst the Gloom of Guilt", contact SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES at www.snappin.org)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just Keep Swimming

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

I called my sister in California one day, dumping on her the litany of rough things going on in our household at that time. Exhausted, I just didn't know how I was going to carry on. We were both sorrowfully wishing that we lived much closer.

Nevertheless, she shared a bit of wisdom that I love to share with other mothers when I'm giving a talk. She told me, "When things get rough around the office here, we just start singing Dorie's song from FINDING NEMO. You know how it goes, 'Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!'"

Aside from getting me to laugh hysterically at a very difficult time, she unwittingly planted a new default for my brain that could bring lightness when endurance is called for.

How often are we parents of kids with special needs up for emergencies in the midddle of the night? How exhausting are the endless parades of doctors, therapists, school staff and insurance battles? What do you do? How do you carry on when you just don't have an ounce of strength left for these demands? Just keep swimming!

Some days, just showing up is all we can do. And our compassionate Savior knows that. He doesn't fault us for being disheveled, downcast or irritable. In fact, He died to cover us on days like that! He's your stand-in!

So next time you feel like you don't know which way is up, persevere! And "Just keep swimming!"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lessons from St. Patrick

 
Being a true Irish lass, I've been hearing about St. Patrick since my birth. But it wasn't until recent years that I became interested in finding out more about this icon's faith background. Beyond the legend and the holiday, there's a man of tremendous faith and passion.

Somewhere during the 5th century, it is believed that Patrick lived on the west coast of England and was kidnapped in his teens by Irish sailors. Living in Ireland as a slave, he eventually escaped and returned to England. Chosing to answer the call to religious life, he later became a bishop and returned to minister to the Irish people. He was passionate about God and about winning more souls for His kingdom.

Each of us would do well to imitate the life of Patrick. Look at how we might measure up to this Christian who has gone before us:
  • Has the terror of unexpected trial increased your faith or decreased your faith? It made Patrick's rock solid. In his years of slavery, he learned to turn to God with ALL his heart.
  • Has trauma increased your intimacy and prayer life with God? Patrick left writings that suggested he went into captivity with a more-than-lukewarm faith, but grew to a life of prayer-without-ceasing because of what he endured.
  • What do you do once you've been delivered from a dark situation? Do you return to those still in that darkness and act as a guide to lead them out of it? Patrick did. He answered the voices he heard in a dream, calling to him for help.
  • Are you obedient no matter what the cost? Patrick fully expected to be "killed, betrayed, or brought back into slavery, or something of the kind." Nevertheless, his passion for Jesus made him a willing slave for the Lord.
I could continue on with inspiring lessons to be learned from this famous Jesus-lover, but I'll challenge you to further explore this life-worth-examining. And the next time you feel pressed by life's stresses, join me in praying these words from "St Patrick's Breastplate":


"Christ protect me today against every poison, against burning, against drowning, against death-wound, [That You might be glorified.]
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left..."

~ Barb Dittrich 

*References from THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. PATRICK, by Lesley Whiteside, The Columbia Press, 1996

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SHARE


"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ... Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:2, 9)

Try to go 24 hours without complaining. You'll be embarrassed to see what a whiner you are. I was! Our church at one time handed out purple bracelets from http://www.acomplaintfreeworld.org/. You were supposed to switch it from one wrist to the other each time you complained. Some people got rid of that bracelet pretty quick!

I am always humbled to realize that no matter how much I complain, I have a pretty good life. We can reach an alarmingly high level of frustration with feelings that our medical care, our insurance, our personal finances are not what they should be. And yet, we do have it better than most of the rest of the world.

That sobering fact should be enough to motivate us to share with those less fortunate than ourselves. Can you imagine caring for your child's special needs living in China, India or in an African nation? Children like ours are frequently abandoned for lack of finances or resources in these countries. It burdens my heart and makes me boundlessly grateful all at the same time!

I challenge you to share from your bounty with those who have far less! Places like SAVE ONE LIFE (http://www.saveonelife.net/) or Samaritan's Purse (http://www.samaritanspurse.org/) have outstanding ways to provide for kids with the special care they need. You can write to and pray for a child through Compassion International ( http://www.compassion.com/) or World Vision (http://www.worldvision.org/)

Not feeling like you have anything left to share? Think again! Places like the International Medical Equipment Collaborative (http://www.imecamerica.org/waystohelp.cfm?sctn=se) or Katy's Kloset (http://www.teamupwithfamilies.org/) welcome our unused or outgrown medical equipment and supplies. And of course, prayer support is always needed for any of these organizations and their beneficiaries.

No matter how you choose to share, you will realize an amazing side benefit to your bearing of another's burden. Our daily challenges naturally shrink as we pull alongside one whose trials are far greater and whose resources are far fewer than our own.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Surprised By Joy


"Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV)

Each of these BLOGS I type are prayed over and God-directed. I don't put a word to paper without His direction, inspiration and guidance. And I have to admit, this entry caught me by surprise.

I was pleading with God over what was to be written next, and was asking for His direction. What serious, relevant topic did He want me to share with you? He directed me to get alone with Him, put on some Christian music in the background, look through some recent photo albums and meditate on what I see in those pictures of my family.

It's no secret that our family goes through seemingly endless trials. In fact, sometimes it becomes embarrassing for me to share our status with people because it's so unbelievable. I often get comments like, "C'mon!" or "Will it NEVER end?!"

Nevertheless, what I saw in those photo albums of ours was utter and complete joy. Whether it be one of the kids overflowing the tub with a mountain of bubbles, poses of the 5 of us at momentous occasions or a ridiculous snap of me recovering after knee surgery, I can't help but be filled with the thought of how immensely blessed our lives are.

In Nehemiah 8, he, the governor had just overseen the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls. At an assembly of the people, Ezra, the priest, revealed afresh the Law of God, and those in attendance were moved to tears. Yet, a day of celebration was declared as a way of making this a sacred occasion.

You, like I, struggle with plenty. But can you hear your God calling you to be surprised by joy? Obeying the Law seemed an insurmountable task to those listening to Ezra. Raising a child with special needs often seems insurmountable to you and I. Even so, God invites you to celebrate. He wants that Maker-given joy to strengthen you. He never calls us to anything that He will not equip us for. And those moments of joy, treasuring the sweet things in our lives, no matter how small, are effective equipment indeed!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why? Why? Why?

Over the years, "Why?" has become the world's most useless question to me. And yet, I, like everyone else out there, still ponder it. This inquiry often seems to me like a crazed pooch chasing its tail never to catch it. We agonize over things that we will, more than likely, never know this side of Heaven.

Why did this happen to my child? Is it my fault? Why won't God protect us? Why won't God heal? Why won't the trials stop coming? Why does God treat faithful believers like this? Why don't the really godless have to suffer like this? Why don't people care? Why won't anyone listen? Why? Why? Why?

I don't know about you, but not knowing "why" can inflict outrageous insecurity on me. I need stability that transcends the unknown and fearful. That can only be found in The One who is worthy of our trust. While I know that His ways are beyond my comprehension, I also know that His love for me is unquestionable. If He loves me enough to have given His life for me while I was living as His enemy, then I can trust Him with life's unknowns. I may not have the answers, but He does. I trust that He knows what's best in any situation. If I seek His face, He will guide me through all of life's uncertainties. He always has. He will never leave me not forsake me. And He will recycle or redeem any challenge for my good or His glory.

With that kind of certitude, I can find comfort in the uneasy place of wondering "why". Jesus puts a floor under me in the free-fall of frustration. That assures me joy and peace in the midst of chaos rather than trying to depend on the elimination of chaos. What a huge blessing to lay hold of right here and now! It's yours for the taking! Why don't you join me in the comfort of this blessed assurance?

My life is but a weaving Between my Lord and me, I cannot choose the colors He worketh steadily. Ofttimes He weaveth sorrow, And I in foolish pride Forget He sees the upper And I, the underside. Not till the loom is silent And the shuttles cease to fly Shall God unroll the canvas And explain the reason why. The dark threads are as needful In the Weaver’s skillful hand As the threads of gold and silver In the pattern He has planned. — Grant Colfax Tuller

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Don't Major in the Minors


Okay, I'm risking ticking-off some of you in our community, but see my heart and the core of this message. Whether you're in the disability community or not, we need to increase our credibility by choosing our battles. We need to stop majoring in the minor.

One word that makes the hair stand up on the back of my husband's and my neck is when people call our son a "hemophiliac". But why does that bother us? Because we were taught early on in his diagnosis that this is no longer an acceptable term in the community. If we hadn't been taught that, we probably wouldn't think twice about the word because he IS a hemophiliac. One of our friends in the bleeding disorders community is riotously funny with her comments: "I'm a bleeder. My kids our bleeders. My brothers and sisters are a bunch of bleeders. My whole family are bleeders!" She says this laughing, through a big smile. And it's completely and totally "un-PC", as my nephew would say. But she's someone worth listening to because she has gone before many of us on the things that concern our community.

My point is this, if we are constantly on the attack about the words that come out of the mouths of well-meaning individuals, then we will never be taken seriously. In 2006, the city of Madison, WI had decided that the word "wheelchair" had a negative connotation to it. They decided that using the term "impairment related mobility device" was more people friendly. (See Wacky Madison banning supposedly offensive wordsI, for one, couldn't believe that a local government had the time and money to waste on such nonsense. But the press also had a field day with it. Instead of giving individuals with disabilities the attention they need, this nonsense about terminology made people shake their heads in disgust. I don't care what you call my wheelchair! Give me wider aisles in stores so I can get through. Give me pharmaceuticals that I don't have to take out a second mortgage to pay for. Your words are meaningless unless you try to empathize with my situation and provide me the loving care that I need to function a daily basis.

On committees I've chaired, you can't even find two people who agree on the same terminology. One individual uses the word "handicapped" and the other committee member meets me after the meeting fuming that the word was used. The content of the meeting is completely lost because of one word, uttered by a well-meaning individual.

Don't get me wrong, I will always do my best to honor the sensitivities of those who are comforted by "people first language". The God of all Comfort and the Father of Compassion wants me (and you) to do our best to extend that courtesy to those in need. However, Jesus scolded the Pharisees for "straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel" (Matthew 23:24). Let's not make the same mistake. The Pharisees knew the letter of the law, but completely missed the heart of the law. Let's see people's hearts and forgive their clumsy words. Only in that way will we be heard and offered the compassion that God is providing to us through those who are doing their best to come alongside us.