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.
(*Keri Wyatt Kent's book is available through the lending library of SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES. Contact us at www.snappin.org to check it out for your own use.)