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!