Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Avoidant New Year

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?  Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way?  Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?  (Psalm 44:23-25, NLT)

While it's traditional to begin the New Year with resolve and anticipation of a fresh start, I've determined to stick my head in the sand.  After a completely overwhelming past four months, I've committed to giving myself a break.
I am already weary.  Ten years of parenting a boy with a severe bleeding disorder, five of which have included  post-traumatic stress disorder and related anxiety are enough to do me in alone.  But I also have wrestled with raising a very energetic little girl with a smorgasbord of what I commonly call "alphabet soup" for the past eight years as well. 

The past four months have been a time where we have really been put to the test.  After sending our son to hemophilia camp with his older sister this summer, we thought he had finally conquered some of his giants.  Not only was he gaining some self-assurance with being away from home for a week, but he also gained calm and confidence learning to infuse in every aspect except for putting the needle in his own vein.  I had the delight of seeing my old boy back again -- the one who was joyful and not owned by traumatized emotions.  However, less than a month later, as sometimes will happen, we blew a vein while infusing.  Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.  Since September, we've been dealing with a renewed round of psychotherapy and psychiatrist appointments with new medications.  Despite sedation, infusions have become so terrible that we have ended up in the local emergency room, unable to subdue him for the infusion between the two of us.  We're making the slow climb out, but we measure progress in centimeters rather than in strides.

Meanwhile, an alternative therapy in August for our multi-allergic youngest daughter resulted in her behaviors becoming more pronounced.  We made the attempt with this therapy because in addition to being allergic to every antibiotic class but one, she has also reacted to the three ADHD medications we've attempted to use.  Prior to the August therapy, I had seen many signs of sensory issues in my youngest, but figuring it was the least of my problems, I made some minor adjustments at home and ignored the rest.  (Are you seeing a pattern of avoidance here?)

However, once school began in September, it became obvious that things were taking a sharp turn for the worst.  Ostracized and teased by her classmates, our daughter's quality of life was quickly deteriorating.  She became the one who was annoying to other children and wasn't invited to parties.  Her sensitivities increased as I became unable to even touch a hairbrush to her head.  I knew from my work with our families that I needed to get moving on diagnosis and treatment for our girl.  In other words, the sensory issues got shuffled to the top of the pile.

With the help of an excellent school district and terrific connections around the country, our daughter had multiple, multiple tests with the speech therapist, school psychologist and occupational therapist.  Additionally, she went through testing with a neuropsychologist who coordinated everything with the school.  The final conclusion?  We discovered that our child's ADHD is vastly complicated by her inability to take any medications for her high level of impulsivity.  While she can focus and attend to things, her exuberance overrides her ability to reason.  Furthermore, the occupational therapist resoundingly confirmed her diagnosis of sensory processing disorder.  You know it's not good news when a specialist says, "Most children don't fall so conclusively in the 'definitely unlike peers' area, but your daughter did in every area but one".

So I have some work to do.  I have wonderful books to read and websites to explore.  There will be more pouring of myself into these children and their emergent needs.  New habits will have to be formed on my part.  And creative problem-solving will have to become my "new normal". 

But not now.  Not when it was everything just to get this family to the holidays.  Every inch of me was required to keep the kids relatively calm and happy as they encountered all that rocks their world in December.  It was all I could do to not start crying every time my son wept over his life with hemophilia.  I had to muster all that was positive to usher my own worn-down children into the sunnier side of life that they were blessed with during the Christmas season.

Don't ask me to be a grown-up now!  Stop pushing me to become the resident expert on yet another diagnosis.  Let me read novels rather than all of the information that will equip me to take my kids through this next phase.  I'm plugging my ears to what I hear going on!  I want a blissful, ignorant bubble bath where reality doesn't bite so hard!

I'd better get this avoidance over with quickly.  The IEP meeting to put interventions in place is in five days!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And So THIS Is Christmas?

Copyright Sebastian Gauert via
"Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict."
(Proverbs 17:1, NLT)

"Peace will not come to our world unless it first comes to our hearts." ~ Stan Toler in ADVENT MOMENTS:  Preparing your Heart for the Coming King

Round about this time of year, I'm ready to turn off my cell phone, pull the land line out of the wall, delete all my e-mail messages and fly away to a remote island.  Why?  One word:  CONFLICT.  Sad to say, but it seems that the holidays bring out the wacky in everyone.  If it's not one person sharing their stress of getting everything done and majoring in the minor, then it's another close to me bringing up old grudges.  Besides the dysfunction that radiates from my own family of origin, I get friends and parents from across the country sharing their toxic stories as well.  This one is critical of what's being served for the Christmas meal.  That one's hurt about where you're going to spend the day.  This one is obsessed with something that took place years ago and can't let the holidays pass without mentioning it yet again.  That one makes snide remarks at every family gathering they attend.  Is it any wonder that police get more calls for domestic disputes during this time?

It saddens my spirit and makes it heavy, contemplating the notion that God surely wouldn't want us to celebrate the earthly arrival of His only son in such a fashion.  Humility, self-sacrifice and relentless love were the hallmarks of Jesus life, so how does this insane para-holiday behavior reflect such characteristics?  And how do we get through this ugliness when we have little control over others?

The answer lays in part in the December 12, 2010 post on joyFirst and foremost, boundaries have to be set.  What's your tipping point for putting up with the bad behavior of others?  Set clear lines on what you will and will not tolerate as far as comments or actions with your spouse or immediate family well before you get together with them.  Be willing to be firm but gentle in enforcing those parameters with people during your gatherings.  If it's important for you to spend Christmas morning or Christmas Eve with just your immediate family, then state such and don't yield to any pressures to do otherwise.  In fact, it may be calmer to plan with your spouse or kids how you intend to spend the holidays in October or early November.

Second, realize that Christmas is NOT about you!  There are many people other than yourself involved in the celebration.  It doesn't always have to be your way.  Resign yourself to a gathering that is going to be nothing like what you'd like it to be, but put a time limit on it.  Once you've made your appearance and graciously acquiesced to another person's wishes, carve out what you'd like to have as your own special time.  It always cracks me up to see how we get fixated on needing to have certain things done on certain days.  There's definitely more than one day to celebrate!  And did you realize that more than likely, Jesus wasn't even born around Christmas Day anyway?

Third, learn not to engage when tempers flare.  The Book of Proverbs has at least 7 entries describing the foolishness of a hot-tempered person and the wisdom an even-tempered person.  If another person tries to draw you into a tussle, explain, "You know, I think it would be better for all of us if we talked about this after the holidays."  When you find another getting under your skin with offensive remarks or actions, let it slide off of you and just shake your head.  Don't let the emotions control you or undermine your observation of the Savior's birth!

Finally, accept the fact that you're not always the easiest to live with either.  Each person has their own foibles and shortcomings.  If they didn't, Jesus would have had no need to launch His rescue mission to save humanity.  I often joke with my husband, "We're lucky we have each other because no one would put up with either of us!"  Viewing ourselves in a more humorous, self-deprecating way makes it a bit more manageable to "Love one another as I have loved you."  (John 13:34)

As Christmas comes to a crescendo, it is more important than ever that we fix our eyes and our temperaments on what really matters lest we miss the whole purpose of the celebration.  Learning to cope with the inevitable conflict in gracious ways that imitate the Babe in a manger may be the best gift we could give all year!

PRAY: Jesus, help me to give others the grace You gave me when You came down to earth as a babe on Christmas. Help me to put out the fires of any conflict that may arise during the holidays by doing my part, staying calm and acting wisely.

~ Barb Dittrich

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Week 4: LOVE

This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God's love for us. He sent his Son to die in our place to take away our sins. (1 John 4:10, NCV)

Here we are at the final week of Advent.  And if you're anything like the typical person, you're feeling your stress rising as you see Christmas closing in.  There may still be presents to be purchased and wrapped, baking to be done, cards to be sent or programs to attend. 

Interestingly, the focus of this week is love.  How appropriate that this theme draws all the other previous three together.  It is in meditating on the enormous love of God that we find hope, peace and joy.  And what a love it is!

I think that no other group of individuals can come close to relating to the Father's love for us quite like parents of children with special needs.  Our job is so often a thankless one.  We hear our children cry out for
help just as Jesus did from the cross, and in a much more heart-piercing way than in the average family.  We parent someone who society so often rejects, just like they did God's only Son.  We not only parent a child, but are often a nurse or technician, going through strict procedures or routines that others could never fathom having to do.  That can even venture into the arena of the disgusting, like having to deal with the toileting issues of older children or other wonderful bodily functions.  And then there can be the behaviors that stand in great defiance of our love.  I know that I have been hit, spit upon and told by my child that they hated me, and yet I still love.  We go through these things which are a strong reflection of God's love for us.

And yet, He loves us even more.  I so often tell parents who are worried about their children to remember that God tells us that He's numbered every hair on their heads. (Luke 12:7)  Even we as concerned parents haven't done that!  God also tells us that He keeps track of our every tear.  (Psalm 56:8)  I don't know about you, but there are times when I have to tune the crying out!

God's love for us and for our children is beyond our fathoming!  Even the most loving person I know would never have their child take the punishment for some ungrateful law-breaker.  And I think Paul sums it up perfectly in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (NIV)  This love is so lavish, so abundant, so extravagant that we are truly missing out on something if we don't take the time to bask in it this time of year.

If you are parenting a child with special needs, you have many demands and stressors on your live.  Make time, even if it's only 15 minutes before or after the kids are in bed to relish the love your Father has for you!  Sit in the quiet glow of your home and think on what you've read here.  Nestle in to the comfort of knowing that nothing here on earth could touch the immense love of your Creator.  He's with you in every step you take and will see you through to a glorious finish!

I leave you with a tiny Christmas gift -- A link to help prime the pump of meditating on God's love:

What Wondrous Love is This
Lyrics by Alexander Means, Music by William Walker
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Week 3: JOY

"I tell you the truth, you will cry and be sad, but the world will be happy. You will be sad, but your sadness will become joy. When a woman gives birth to a baby, she has pain, because her time has come. But when her baby is born, she forgets the pain, because she is so happy that a child has been born into the world. It is the same with you. Now you are sad, but I will see you again and you will be happy, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will not ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy."  (John 16:20-24, NCV)

"Merry Christmas", "Joy to the World", "Tidings of Comfort & Joy".  These are all phrases we hear with great frequency this time of year.  But do we really feel that joy or does the season squeeze us to the point where our worst oozes out?

I find that studying the biblical meaning of the word "joy" is really useful at a time like this.  What's expected of us or promised to us when Jesus talks about this joy in His final hours on earth?  Does He promise us that everything will be peachy keen all the time?  Does He expect us to have a smile on our face continually?  Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words offers some interesting insights into the word "joy".  One note Vine makes that is rather worth our attention is this, "Joy is associated with life...  Experiences of sorrow prepare for, and enlarge, the capacity for joy, e.g., John 16:20..."  He goes on to say in his description of it as a verb that, "It is contrasted with weeping and sorrow, e.g., in John 16:20,22..."
In The New Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words a more accurate definition of "joy" is given.  Originally the word "chara" in Greek, joy is described as a "calm delight; gladness".  To me that sounds awfully similar to the word "content" or "assured" in our modern-day language.

With these descriptions in our tool chest, let me comment on today's Scripture passage in the context of Advent.  My first thought is that as parents of kids with special needs, we may bear a disproportionate amount of sorrow.  More than a few times in recent weeks I've talked to parents whose children are undergoing surgeries and treatments during this season of preparation.  We ourselves have just completed an extensive neuropsych evaluation on our daughter followed by an initial IEP meeting.  Stress abounds as school staff, medical personnel and our children are distracted by the anticipation of Christmas.  Sadly, what should be a time of joy often becomes a time where we suffer under the burden of our hearts racing to get things done.  The kids are whining and thinking of nothing else, while their bodies are filled with a disproportionate amount of garbage food and their nervous systems overly stimulated by sights, sounds and people aplenty!  What a toxic combination this can be with juggling medical or psychological needs at the same time!

But here's another thought I have.  While Jesus promised His disciples that they would grieve and have pain, He also assured them that they would be left with a joy that no one could snatch away.  In other words, if you are walking with the Lord, His Holy Spirit fills you with that chara or calm delight that can only be lost by you surrendering it. 

That leaves one to ask, How am I surrendering my joy this holiday season?  There are a number of ways we do it.  One way is by biting off more than we can chew.  There are so many delightful things available to us this time of year.  My daughter with ADHD and SPD was invited to both a play and an opportunity to decorate cookies with the elderly this month for her Brownie troop.  This was in addition to her regular meeting and gift exchange party.  While it sounded like so much fun, I had to process in my mind, What will this look like once the event is finished?  Frankly, it would be very difficult for her to sit through any play unless she is right down front to see well.  That easily scratched the play off the list.  Her behaviors are also very difficult for people of my parents' generation to understand.  It can be exhausting just watching or listening to her.  So there was another event scratched off the list.  Further, on both of those days we were expected to do some other things like pull the junior high float in the local Christmas parade, so the rest of the family would have been cranky from all the running and tight schedules.

How are you keeping yourself from biting off more than you can chew?  Are you buying fewer presents or maybe shopping online?  Are you only going to bake 3 kinds of cookies this year than the usual 6 or even buy already made cookies this year?  Are you putting off some of those doctor's appointments or school meetings until January rather than trying to deal with all of it at this time of high stress?

Another way we give away our joy is by trying to live up to the expectations of others this time of year.  Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows that I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend who together wrote the Boundaries series.  If you haven't read any of the books, you must!  People with children who have special needs must be especially careful of guarding their time and priorities lest they collapse from the weight of all they deal with!  This series of books gives the visual image of creating a fence or boundary around your life with a gate.  You open the gate to let in the good and close it to keep out the bad.  An example of what this may look like in your family is, "Sorry, Mom.  We can't come for Christmas dinner because Johnny is on a gluten-free diet and can't be around it.  But we'll be happy to come open gifts at a specific time you'd like."  Another example might be, "Sorry, cousin Susie.  We can't make it to your party because there's too much snow to handle with little Morgan's wheelchair.  But we'll be looking forward to your get together around Easter!"  Relatives are notorious for wielding guilt at times like this, so rehearse what you will say.  Mustering up the strength to do such a thing will feel invigorating versus the anger and exhaustion you feel by giving in to the unreasonable demands of others.  And lest you allow the guilt to get the best of you, remember the words of my friend, psychologist, Dr. David L. Smith, PhD, "You can either be like Velcro and let everything stick to you, or you can be like Teflon and let it slide off of you."  Make the choice for your sanity and for the sake of the true meaning of Christmas, to be like Teflon when dealing with the expectations of others.

The final way I'd like to discuss the manner in which we surrender our joy is by holding on to our own unreasonable expectations.  I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, and it takes some continual work to improve upon.  It is hard to let go of that dream of a life where your child has no special needs.  We can often carry on throughout the rest of the year with great acceptance, but find that heartache and denial creep in at certain times.  Christmas is one of those times where we may be holding on to fantasies of our perfectly dressed children singing like a choir of angels at church.  With a daughter who has serious sensory issues, I was never able to get a dress on her until I found a wonderful place with special dress clothing she could tolerate. (We LOVE Soft Clothing!)  I've also had the unrealistic expectation of inviting everyone to dinner at a time too close to the time when we're supposed to be doing an IV infusion on our son.  Nothing will make a child resist cooperting like the stress eminating from parents in a hurry to get things done on time!  You may have the fantasy of still being able to participate at the same level in every event that you're invited to.  Perhaps we need to just have the hubby watch the kids while we make a brief appearance somewhere.  We may have the expectation of still getting out dozens of Christmas cards before the holiday hits, complete with letter and photos.  How important is that to us if we are rushed to get them done and can barely afford the postage?

What can you be letting go of in the way of expectations?  What could you adapt to make things a bit easier for your family?  Do you love to have the Advent wreath on your kitchen table, but find your impulsive child just can't handle it?  Are their precious ornaments that may need to be put away for just a few years?  How important is it that your child be dressed like a catalog model if it makes both of you miserable?

Picture this:  You and your children, snuggling together, being yourselves, reading stories that help them understand that the God of the Universe took on human form to assure that they will be in a beautiful place some day where they will be free of their disability(s) and free of any shortcomings we all have.  Now that's a calm delight none of us can be robbed of!  Please be certain you spend the remainder of this season making sure you don't surrender that kind of joy at any cost!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Week 2: PEACE

"I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid." (John 14:27, CEV)

Here we are already at week two of Advent.  And the theme of the second week is peace.  To parents, especially those who have children with special needs, the notion of peace at this time of year may seem nothing short of ridiculous.  It appears to elude us with the added demands of the season and the frenzy it creates in our children.  When we'd love nothing more than to be sipping hot cocoa, listening to carols and watching the new snow fluttering down as we snuggle in front of a roaring fire, we instead find chaos at its worst.

But that little babe who dared to be born in the most humble of circumstances promised us peace unlike any we have ever known.  The world seduces us into thinking a healthy child or financial stability will produce that inner calm we so desperately seek.  If only the kids would be okay for a while.  If only the relatives or friends would be more understanding.  If only the school would cooperate with us.  Foolishly, we run ourselves ragged, fixated on things like this that will never bring us lasting peace because, well, life happens.

Instead, God guides us to the recipe for that lasting contentment and blessed assurance that all will ultimately be okay.  Those instructions can be found in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord  is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV) 

Let's pull those verses apart to discover the new habits we can develop to give us that amazing serenity:
  • Find your joy in the Lord.  While the world offers things that bring temporary delight, God offers you an everlasting awe that can't be obtained anywhere else.  If you take some time to think on it, that alone can bring you some happiness in the midst of your storms.  Every snowy mountain, every colorful sunrise bears testimony to His beautiful glory.  It's a gift to merely bask in that.
  • Don't take out your frustrations on others.  Your composed behavior will show them that there's something pleasantly different about you -- that you're walking closely with the One who is right at hand to care for you through every challenge you face.  Only by clinging to the power of the Holy Spirit can you go easy on others when you're in a tempest yourself!
  • Don't tie yourself up in knots with worry.  Live like a person who actually believes what they profess to on Sunday!  Lift your concerns to God in prayer and thank Him that He even allows you to approach Him with such things!  Praise Him that He cares about your every tear!  And know that He has your best in mind and will either deliver you from or through your troubles.  Rest in the confidence that solid trust in the Maker of the Universe provides.
When we do each of these things, finding the Lord as THE source of our joy, being remarkable in our soft approach with others, and falling into God's arms with full trust, then will our Creator faithfully set a guard over our hearts and minds creating an indescribable inner calm.  It's when our focus is on knowing a God who makes everything manageable by His power that we find what is anxiously missing in our lives.  There's a solid peace in our hearts in spite of the madness of the world swirling around us.

In the words of St. Augustine, "Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Week 1: HOPE

"In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly."  (Psalm 5:3, NIV)

It's Advent -- The four weeks leading up to Christmas.  It's a season of great expectation and frequently a review of what is truly important in life.  We often draw closer to family and friends as the events of these weeks demand.  But this can be a particularly hairy period for those of us who have children with special needs.

For way too many of us the season screams stress rather than delight.  There's the overstimulation of our challenged children with lights, noise, food and clothing.  There's the total disruption of schedules for kids whom structure holds tremendous importance.  And then there are the unreasonable expectations of family and friends who are more concerned about their party than about the well-being of a not-so-typical child.

It's hard to feel hope rather than dread at a time like this.  Yet, that is what this first week of Advent beckons us to.  It calls us to reflect on the Nativity story and enter in to the promise it provides us.  Two thoughts arise that make this theme especially relevant for parents like us.

The first thought is, if this God of the Universe came to earth and was born in such lowly circumstances, there is hope for us.  The Lord showed His tremendous humility and love by how He chose to dwell among us.  Because He shared in our common, unattractive circumstances, we get to share in His great glory.  (see Phil 2:5-11 & Romans 8:17)  This should encourage us all, knowing that we can joyfully anticipate something better ahead.  We have the divine privilege of  eagerly awaiting something beyond our wildest imagination.  And each of us individually matter.  We have tremendous value to the One who created us.  He drew close to us personally, physically and at great cost to Himself.  Wow!

The second thought is that our challenges today will not keep us in a pit that we can never climb out of.  Advent not only holds out promise for eternity, but strength for today.  If Jesus could remain obedient to death on a cross, surely we can get through the next doctor's appointment with his help!  He didn't remain in that smelly cave where he was born forever, and we won't remain in this stressful phase forever either.  This keeps me going, and I hope it does you too.  If I didn't have this perspective, I don't think I could last most days.

While many might share much more profound thoughts on this first week of Advent, I'd encourage you to meet the God who is willing to meet you right where you are.  Know that there is hope that lays far beyond a government plan, a medical cure or the impulses of a child.  This is a hope you can stake your life on in the present and for eternity.  It's there whether your days are good or are especially trying.  Because Jesus came, we can lay our requests before God and wait with joyful expectation and know with certainty that He hears us and cares.  And focusing your thoughts on that makes Advent a remarkably significant time for parents like us!

Friday, November 26, 2010


"Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children." (Proverbs 17:6, NLT)

This is a rough Thanksgiving weekend for me.  It's not the holiday itself or any immediate circumstances surrounding it.  It's that this weekend marks a memorial.  A year ago this weekend is the last time my children and I saw my husband, Steve's father alive.

My father-in-law, Burt, had endured the difficulties of emphysema in recent years.  A former chain smoker, this feisty German entrepreneur was slowed down by the challenges of his breathing.  After enjoying a full retirement and enduring the loss of my mother-in-law, he resigned himself to the reality that he needed additional help.  Moving north to the Minneapolis area where he could be supported by my two sisters-in-law, he lived in a nice senior apartment complex where he could have access to sound medical care while still enjoying his hobbies.

Pneumonia was an enemy he repeatedly had to defeat.  And with each new episode, his lung function decreased.  By 2009, it was apparent that his prospects were grim. 

With that knowledge, I urged my husband to make a family visit to him during the Thanksgiving weekend.  As there was a nice hotel right across the street from his apartment building, we could spend time together without overstaying our welcome or overwhelming his health.  My husband agreed and we arranged to leave the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The weekend was a treasure!  We had ample time to enjoy with Steve's sisters and their kids.  We had the opportunity to stroll through the Mall of America, window shopping and fantasizing about what Christmas wishes might be fulfilled.  Lego Land was delightful with its larger-than-life creations and children's dreams come true. 

But the best parts were visiting with my father-in-law.  Burt was a World War II veteran.  And as our son had come to learn about the war in school, this became a special part of their relationship.  On our visit, my father-in-law shared stories that he hadn't previously revealed to anyone else.  He looked through a historic itinerary of his tour of duty with our boy, describing how he was just a kid as he managed the rough ship ride to Europe on his first tour.  He described to our children what it was like serving in the artillery, showing pictures to illustrate his stories.

During our visit, though he was hooked up to oxygen, he shared laughs, including a silly mask he owned, with the kids.  We cooked him a chili supper and helped clean his place up a bit.  And when it looked as though he was fading, we knew to make a quick exit.

Our concerns became reality as he made the choice to spend Christmas down in Florida with his special friend.  My sisters-in-law made the loving act of granting him one of his last wishes by flying down with him to enjoy the holiday as he longed to.  His lady friend thanked them for bringing her "Christmas gift" as they delivered him to her door.  In the weeks after Christmas, he was hospitalized, sent to hospice and made his glorious departure.  Thankfully, my husband was able to spend time with him and deliver love notes from the kids while he was still lucid.

Burt was the kind of grandparent any special needs parent could ever wish for.  He didn't always understand, but he always supported.  In secret, he generously gave to our local hemophilia foundation without fanfare.  He loved the children "as is" and without expectation for model behavior.  He saw their precious qualities in ways that others couldn't.  If they were naughty, one look, one quiet, stern remark from him would stop them in their tracks.  And he was notorious for finding Tootsie Rolls behind their ears and singing them some silly song he had learned from a fellow soldier in the war.

As is true for so many spouses, my relationship with my in-laws had not always been the best.  But I pressed forward responding as Jesus mandated me to.  When friends urged me to alienate them and be nasty, I kept my eyes on my Maker and persisted in doing the next right thing.

And if you learn nothing else from this post, please know that honoring even your biggest critics can be well worth it.  Every bit of effort I put into my contact with my mother and father-in-law was never a regret.  I ended up genuinely loving them rather than remaining in anxious, tense strife.  And I believe they loved me as well.  Had I not personally gone out of my way to get along with them, I believe that not only my children's but my husband's interaction with them would have suffered deeply. 

While this year leaves us all with sadness because Burt is not with us, I would much rather experience that hurt than the hurt of a damaged relationship.  Our memories with him will remain a treasure each of the five of us can carry through every holiday season.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Enjoying The Abundance Indoors: THE WINTER SENSORY GARDEN

"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is.  Blessed are you who run to him."  (Psalm 34:8, MSG)

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."  (Psalm 37:4, ESV)

This week in America we place much of our children's attention on being thankful.  As Thursday approaches, we share stories of the first settlers and how the Native Americans helped them survive their first bitter winter in this harsh new land.  We remember how grateful they were for their very survival at the time of harvest the following year, and how that culminated into a celebration that we still observe with our families today. 

I think one of the most powerful ways to feel that thankfulness to the Lord is by experiencing His delight through the senses that He has blessed us with.  Yet, this can be so challenging as this hectic, overstimulating time of year takes over.

Even so, for kids with sensory issues, anxiety issues and even those without, this season can become a real treasure through creating your own indoor winter sensory garden.  I have only become acquainted with the idea of a sensory garden in the past year.  Through the wonderful posting of my friend, Lorna, I was able to create an enjoyable sensory garden this summer for my children.  Filled with textures, scents and sounds that are appealing, soothing and engaging, this garden is a simple and worthy pursuit. 

While the sensory experience is wonderful for parents as well as their children, growing tomatoes and roses or offering rough tree bark and gazing balls in the cold weather months is not a possibility for most of us. 

Thus, the birth of my winter sensory garden idea.  It began with my purchase of a rosemary topiary, typically offered for sale in my area during the holidays.  Such a plant offers a wonderful scent in the kitchen and makes a special Christmas tree substitute in your cooking area.  If rosemary can be enjoyed indoors during the colder months, why not other herbs?  For generations cooks have grown windowsill herb gardens.  Fragrant thyme, basil and the like can be made available for your child to touch, crush, smell and eat all year round.

Sharing my excitement as the ideas began to unfold, I revealed the winter sensory garden to Lorna and others, like Leslie, then we fed off of one another in our creativity.  Lorna recommended substituting amaryllis for the outdoor roses.  I was thrilled at the lovely variety of choices they are available in.  I thought perhaps sun catchers in the window would be a good addition.  Leslie had wonderful recommendations like prisms, wind chimes or a water pen to write in frost on the window.  Another friend, Pierette, echoed the idea of multiple herbs.

Here are some other ideas from my winter sensory garden:  Pine cones to smell and touch (roll them in peanut butter and seeds to hang out doors for a fun winter bird feeder); snow globes and music boxes of various sizes and sorts; jingle bells and cow bells in assorted sizes; super-soft stuffed animals in seasonal characters (Build-A-Bear Workshop has an incredible variety that are surprisingly affordable); fragrant fruits in a bowl like apples, oranges and cranberries; Advent calendars that allow opening and closing of doors to look behind; cookie dough; flameless candles for a warm glow without harm.

Of course, as our children have the opportunity to "Taste and see that the Lord is good," on a level that they are able to process and enjoy, delight and gratitude can't help but begin to grow.  And what a fabulous way to manage the stress of the holidays, relaxing with your child each day to enjoy a bit of sensory time together!

These are just some of the things our family will share together this winter.  What are some of yours?

*Caution:  Check on the toxicity of plants for kids who mouth things, and do not leave your child unattended with anything potentially breakable or harmful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Just As I Am

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. ~ John 13:34, NLT

The other day, my son had a friend whose parting shot from our house was, "Gee, Mrs. Dittrich, if our house was as messy as yours, my mom would kill herself!"  And he didn't buy it when I retorted that his mother was not at the hospital as often as I was.  Laughing to myself, I thought it was too good of a comment not to share.  I posted it on Facebook, and had friends respond with all sorts of silly thoughts including shock at how rude this little boy was.

Sadly, while friends may think this little boy was inappropriate, many of us put up with similar comments, thinly veiled as helpfulness, by adults.  In fact, a number of years ago, I had a "friend" send me a 3 page written critique of my parenting skills, housekeeping skills and the like.  In her letter, she offered to give me some tips on child-rearing and stated that my life was just too chaotic for her to hang out with me until I got it together.  It hurt me deeply, beyond words.  But what I was grateful for at the time, and still am today, is that confidence that the Lord loves me just the way I am.

In one of my favorite books, EVERYBODY'S NORMAL TILL YOU GET TO KNOW THEM, John Ortberg emphasizes that we all come with an "as is" tag on us, much like you'd see on a clearance rack or resale item.  The trick is to love one another like Jesus does, accepting people the way they are without harsh judgement.

This is particularly something we crave as parents of kids with special needs.  Our lives are messy, complicated and nothing at all like we had dreamed of.  Yet, so many of us face criticism on a regular basis.  "If you would only lay the law down with that kid!"  "You're just spoiling him."  "Oh, did the cleaning lady forget to come this week?"  "You know, laying down unconfessed sin brings healing."  When we're under such pressure, this added tension is enough to put us over the top and add to our isolation.

But there is One who will never look at us that way.  St. Peter will never be found at the Pearly Gates asking you how tidy your living room was or if your bills were all paid without late fees before he lets you in.  In fact, there's no one who could ever be found to be good enough to deserve Heaven!  We're all, to put it in current terms, a hot mess in our own little way.  Our challenges may be more evident to others, but none of us are flawless.  Jesus came to give His life as the perfect sacrifice for our imperfection.

The old hymn "Just As I Am" is so heartening when we are feeling discouraged with our failure to measure up to the expectations of others.   When I actually capture a quiet moment and have the opportunity to ponder that the God of the Universe beckons me to just come and be loved on by Him, it overwhelms me.  Though it often may be tearfully, and is always imperfectly, I come to my One place of solace.  How about you?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shaping the Character of Our Little Hedonists

You received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live as Christ’s people. Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving.

Be careful not to let anyone rob you of this faith through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world’s way of doing things rather than following Christ. (Colossians 2:6-8, GWT)
With the holiday season just around the corner, I'm sure I'm not the only parent who is beset by a revised Christmas list from her children each day.  Surrounded by other young kids in school, they're able to compare notes as to who has what and who has more.  Their focus is too easily on what they don't have that either the television tells them they need or their own envy ruminates over what their peers possess.  It's enough to make a Christian mom feel like she's been completely unsuccessful at teaching her kids what is important in the eyes of God.

From birth we immerse our children in stories of Jesus and the selfless life He lead.  We enroll them in Sunday School, AWANA and Christian schools.  We emphasize from toddler age on the importance of sharing and giving to others.  And we make every attempt to surround our children with those who share our common values.  We even involve our families in acts of charitable giving.  Yet, the world and its shallow priorities has a way of creeping in.

Despite our best efforts, the carnal character of our kids rears its ugly head this time of year.  And it just adds to the stress as the holidays loom! 

When our kids have special needs, how we deal with this can also become clouded.  We may buy into the lie that because our child lacks social awareness due to a disability, they aren't capable of being thankful or selfless.  Many children suffer through painful disorders or uncomfortable procedures.  This can make us vulnerable to giving in to their every whim or desire just to overcompensate for the perceived injustice of what they endure.  Sheer exhaustion from dealing with our child's special needs can also cause us to cave in or fail to fight their case of "the gimme's".

Take heart!  There are some key ways to combat this entire situation:
  1. First and foremost, be deliberate!  Focus your attention and actions on dealing with this dilemma.
  2. Realize that your children are little humans "in training".  They are learners and you are the teacher.  You are fitting them with life skills that will travel with them when they leave your care.
  3. Share God's word with your child on every level.  As today's scripture passage states, "Sink your roots in him and build on him."  Reading a children's Bible with them each night before bed is a great way to end each day.  Coloring pages and videos are effective tools as well.  If we keep saturating that child with what God has to say, good will come of it because He promises that His word will not return to him void.  (See Isaiah 55:11)
  4. If your child is lacking in the social skills area due to autism or other such disorders, realize that successful adults with such diagnoses will tell you that they learned these skills by observing others.  In other words, break things down piece by piece to help that child connect the dots that come naturally to the rest of us.  Use tools like those by Model Me Kids to learn some basics.
  5. If you find yourself overcompensating, stop now!  Nothing you ever buy will replace your child's disabled parts!  Further, you foster an ugly attitude of entitlement in that child when you succumb to such behavior.  Instead, help that child to see what they do have versus what they don't have.  What an amazing person you will grow if they move through their adult years showing others that the glass is half-full rather than half-empty!
  6. Engage in some fun, meaningful activities that make the message stick!  This time of year, it's fun to make a tree out of old grocery bags & tape it to a closet or pantry door.  Have the kids write something they are grateful for on a leaf each day & attach it to the tree.  As they focus on what they're thankful for, "the gimme's" become smaller in their lives.  For more fun, meaningful family activities visit Focus on the Family's retail store
  7. Last but not least, persist!  Weary as you may be, stick with it and know that repetition is the mastery of all skills.  Your home is a testing ground for your child's behavior and character.  While you may not feel like you're making progress under your own roof, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised when you receive reports from others about your child's attitudes and actions when they're away from home.
Hanging with these character-shaping steps will help as you work with other parents just like you to conform your little hedonists into becoming more like Christ as they reflect His light to the world around them!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Who are YOUR Aaron & Hur?

When the Israelites were at Rephidim, they were attacked by the Amalekites. So Moses told Joshua, "Have some men ready to attack the Amalekites tomorrow. I will stand on a hilltop, holding this walking stick that has the power of God."

Joshua led the attack as Moses had commanded, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur stood on the hilltop. The Israelites out-fought the Amalekites as long as Moses held up his arms, but they started losing whenever he had to lower them. Finally, Moses was so tired that Aaron and Hur got a rock for him to sit on. Then they stood beside him and supported his arms in the same position until sunset. That's how Joshua defeated the Amalekites. (Exodus 17:8-13, CEV)

Parenting a child with special needs can be an ebb and flow of trials.  After we start out with the initial diagnosis, we typically get a treatment plan in place and move forward for a time.  Eventually, we meet new battles like dealing with relatives who don't understand or making adjustments in treatment or working through things with the school.  And so it goes up and down, back and forth over the years of raising these remarkable children.
With such trauma revisiting us time and again, it seems impossible to get through these fights without the help and encouragement of others.  After all, it's not the short term, but the long, difficult haul that can be so utterly overwhelming.  I've experienced this time and again, actually finding myself in multiple struggles recently. 
When the teacher is sending me multiple e-mails per week about my daughter's inappropriate behaviors while I'm still waiting for the special ed team to schedule an IEP meeting, I can't endure alone.  When my son's anxiety is through the roof to the point where he has to be restrained for infusions again after having made so much progress a few months back, I need encouragement and support.  When the same daughter who's lacking social skills is so impulsive that her behaviors are putting that same boy with anxiety over the top but I have no room in my house to separate their sleeping quarters, I need others in the trenches with me.  When there's not a week where I'm not running to doctors or therapists or hospitals while still trying to give these kids some semblance of a routine, I can't get through without the understanding of another.
Praise God, through the very public living out of our challenging lives, He has connected me with some Aarons & Hurs to help hold up my hands to win the ongoing firefight.  Another mother I have connected with by phone lives half way across the country, but offers me the great comfort of knowing just what I'm going through.  Her son has the same bleeding disorder as mine as well as some other challenges that run in our family.  Just speaking the same language and having a compassionate ear on the other end of the line lifts me up.  I told her how much my chats with her validate our lives merely by being allowed to vent without judgement or degradation.
Another group of women I know have no personal connection to special needs in their families, but their concern and prayers never cease to flow when I need them.  They are a group of women who have been beset by some of life's hardest issues -- family addictions, financial ruin, terminal cancer, and caring for elderly parents.  Their seasoned suffering have made them perfect partners in combat.  They are laughing in life's skirmishes, and buttressing one another when tackling the inevitable tough issues.  Being with them can't help but focus my vision exactly where it belongs.
So who are YOUR Aaron and Hur?  Some of the qualities you should look for in such people:
  • They should be lovers of God.  Only one who is walking with the Lord can support your walk as a team player. 
  • They should be friends who listen, encourage and support without giving a judgemental, shoot-from-the-hip approach to dealing with your battles.
  • They should support your marriage, not engaging in husband-bashing or other destructive habits.
  • They should honor your privacy, never sharing the privacy of your battles with others outside your inner circle.
  • They should have a willingness to help get you over the "humps" of life.  Whether it be delivering a meal, watching the kids to give you a break or even making a phone call to help you out, small acts of selflessness are God's lifeline to you in crisis.
  • They should be merciful, realizing that your schedule is always subject to change and that your days are sometimes filled with stress-induced forgetfulness.
  • They should be forgiving, understanding that your life's circumstances sometimes create situations where you unintentionally hurt others by not reciprocating invitations, penning "thank you" notes or the like.
For your part, learn from Moses in his time of warfare.  The staff he held up did not possess his own power, but the very power of God.  Value that power your Creator is willing to put in your hands!  Start first with relying on His strength and His wisdom to support your troops as you face a difficult challenge.  Trust that as He sees you becoming weary, He will send you exactly who you need to support you.  Keep a watchful eye on your battalions (aka your family) and lift them up to the Lord.  He will never cease to give you what you need to conquer that which threatens to do you in!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My "No", His "Yes"

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."  (Mark 8:33-35, NIV)

Although I absolutely despise it, I have come to realize that suffering is helpful.  It's hard to put into words, but years of unrelenting challenges have taught me precious lessons.  Ultimately, hardship helps me to say "no" to self and "yes" to God:

Trials teach me to say "no" to who I expect involved in things in life.  For instance, I have strong expectations from my husband, my parents, my siblings, my friends.  However, those expectations may be totally unreasonable or impossible for those individuals to fulfill.  When I go through the trials of being hurt or disappointed by someone close to me, God shows me that He can meet my needs through people that I never would have expected to rise to the occasion.  I've had the opportunity to see this in situations where unexpected saints have risen to the occasion providing friendship, compassion, meals, child care and support of various kinds.  As a result, I've made some absolutely cherished friends and seen the hand of God in a very real way.

Trials teach me to say "no" to what I expect in life.  My expectation would be to have healthy, well adjusted children.  While things aren't as we expected them, we still enjoy a wonderful life.  Our kids are amazing in ways that I never could've foreseen!  First, they make me laugh every day just by being themselves.  But also, the challenges that make them wise beyond their years have made them intelligent students, poised community advocates and compassionate companions.

Trials teach me to say "no" to when I expect things to happen in my life.  Perhaps this is the area that proves me the greatest fool in my expectations.  I thought I would get married, earn good money, live life large for 3 years and then start a family.  I did all of those things, but the family building resulted in miscarriage and infertility.  God decided, wisely, to make me a parent after He had grown me up more and separated me from the deepest roots of my selfishness.  And so it goes with the timing of other things in life.  I expect my disabled kids to get better...  soon!  But God decides when things will improve, and that improvement may remain only for a brief season.  Regardless, some of the stories of Lord's timing in our lives are almost unbelievable, and would take more space than I have here today to tell.  We've seen in our family the impeccable timing of one who writes a symphony when God does things on His schedule!

Trials teach me to say "no" to where I expect to go in my life.  If you would have told me 20 years ago that I would've ended up where I am today, I would've told you that you were nuts!  I had a vision of where I was going and what I was doing, but God had other plans.  And in all honesty, I like where I am today much better than where I had planned.  I've also, quite literally, ended up in places I never anticipated.  I couldn't have imagined I'd find myself in Washington, DC talking to lawmakers or becoming friends with people of great influence within my own state.  I never would've thought I'd end up giving talks in various locations or ended up in operating rooms either.  God amazes me!

Trials teach me to say "no" to how I expect things.  I expected God to provide for my family through the typical route of employment.  Yet, it was through joblessness and mountains of medical bills, that provision came.  I could never explain to you how our needs were always met but by Him.  I expected to be a servant of God, but never in the way or magnitude He has done so.  I wouldn't have anticipated that my greatest use would come from living out loud for him in the midst of my suffering.

Had I never learned to say "no" to myself in these situations, how could I ever learn to say "yes" to God?  In a culture where we are so obsessed with avoiding pain at all costs, this whole idea seems radical, even insane.  Nevertheless, there are no shortcuts to shaping our character in such ways.  And this is the difference Jesus makes:  Only He can recycle our bad for something outstandingly good!  Lest we become complete hedonists, we had better improve at the idea of saying "no" to ourselves and realizing that our "yes" to God results in an outcome that is better beyond our wildest imaginations!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Religion & Politics - Part 2

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)

Whether your happy about the election outcome or disappointed with the election outcome, the mandate remains the same --  God calls us to pray for our leaders!  While either we or our friends can be filled with "Post-Election Stress Syndrome" (yes, doctors say that it really does exist), what our heavenly Father calls us to do is turn our worries into prayers.  And if we're filled with joy, prayer is called for as well.  Let's examine the ways we need to pray for our leaders once they have been elected to office.

First and foremost, can you imagine the amount of responsibility on the shoulders of a person chosen to represent thousands if not millions of citizens?  Only a mighty God has enough power to carry that level of weight!  Therefore, we need to be praying that our leaders would be yoked to the Lord as a weaker cow was yoked to a lead cow when paired for plowing in days of old.  Praying that our Father would strengthen leaders for their mission is a necessary prayer indeed.  Praying that they see the size and scope of that job, realizing that they can only do it with God's help is also worthwhile.

Second, huge, detailed decisions come before our leaders at a rapid pace.  Many of these pieces of legislation contain intricacies that average citizens may never see.  Add to that the pressure of fellow lawmakers and lobbyists, and you can have a confusing mess in our state and national capitols!  Praying for our leaders to solidly possess the wisdom of God is essential to our citizens being lead in right directions.  It's helpful that we also pray that they would gain discernment to see clearly what the implications of their decisions in one direction or another might be.

Third, the sin and deception of this world can easily lure our leaders from righteousness, especially if they have served more than one term in government.  Praying that God would soften our leaders hearts and keep them honest, faithful and pure is important to the common welfare of a society.  We must persist in praying that our authorities would care more about what Yahweh says and more about the constituents they represent than they do about their own personal gain.

In addition to these core areas, we can be praying for our leaders' safety, their families, their health, their rest, and their unity.  Whether we agree with them or not, our well being depends upon many of their decisions.  Thus, never hesitating to lift them up in prayer will bless them and us.  If our feelings are bitter, Jesus will provide His love as we continue in prayer.  If we feel anxious, persistent prayer reminds us that God is bigger than any lawmaker, country or situation we may encounter.  Even if a lawmaker is engaged in doing evil or harmful things, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  (see Matthew 5:44) Ultimately, praying for our leaders is an extremely wise mix of religion and politics!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Religion & Politics - Part 1

"Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.

"People who do what is right don’t have to be afraid of the government. But people who do what is wrong should be afraid of it. Would you like to live without being afraid of the government? Do what is right, and it will praise you. The government is God’s servant working for your good.

"But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid. The government has the right to carry out the death sentence. It is God’s servant, an avenger to execute God’s anger on anyone who does what is wrong. Therefore, it is necessary for you to obey, not only because you’re afraid of God’s anger but also because of your own conscience."  (Romans 13:1-5, GWT)

Election day is the perfect time to take a good long look at the role of government in our lives.  While many will contend that nothing is more taboo than discussing religion and politics, God thinks otherwise.  His word has something to say about the intersection of the two.

Today's Bible passage shows us that government was established by God for our good.  This framework, while so often misused and rallied against, was originally intended for the well-being of society as a whole.  Although we can become annoyed and frustrated with government, it is amazing to think that God cares so much for us that He established boundaries that would keep us safe from crime, provide for the corporate building of roads and the like, and keep mankind moving in some sense of general order.  Left to ourselves, we might experience total chaos and anarchy!

The intriguing and challenging points are encountered when we adamantly disagree with our government.  It appeals to our most base emotions of anger and revenge when we bad mouth those in authority.  In our frustrations with corruption or godless decisions by politicians, it's so very easy to spout toxic comments, even in the presence of our children.  But here's where our Christianity has to rise up.

I often remind my kids and others that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  If we cannot submit to those in charge who we can see, how can we ever submit to the Lord who we cannot see?  Our children are not allowed to say that they wish certain politicians were dead or to wish anyone harm.  That sort of behavior is completely contrary to what Jesus modelled.  While we may be greatly troubled by what we see going on in government, we must respect the position of president, governor and other roles of authority.

Further, because of God's mandate, it is essential that we become engaged and measure those running for political office with the yardstick of God's word.  We have the blessing of being able to look back at what happened when the Israelites made good and bad decisions selecting leaders by reading the books of first and second Kings. When godly leaders are not properly vetted by the citizens, a culture suffers.  History shows this time and again.  We should be ever mindful of this at election time.

Finally, keep in mind that Yahweh is the ultimate sovereign ruler.  While we must be vigilant voters and law-abiding citizens, losing sleep over who is in power is outright foolishness.  Yes, unwise or corrupt positions held by our leaders or those seeking to be leaders can be unnerving, but here again is where our faith needs to rise up.  Remembering that nothing happens apart from God's watchful eye, permissive will or ability to recycle for the good should be of great comfort to us.  We should additionally be mindful that we cannot expect a human government to provide that which only a sovereign God is capable of.  In other words, don't hang all your hopes on a specific piece of legislation or lawmaker.  Our hope comes from our Father who rules over all.

Equipped with all these Divine reminders where government and faith intersect, go forth boldly to vote.  And once the elections are concluded, yield to the authority of those who have won and get on with life.  Let your relationship to government be directed by our Eternal Authority.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What I Deserve

But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness[a] that saved you.) God has brought us back to life together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him. He did this through Christ Jesus out of his generosity to us in order to show his extremely rich kindness in the world to come. God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. It’s not the result of anything you’ve done, so no one can brag about it.   Footnotes:  a. Ephesians 2:5 Or “grace.”  (Ephesians 2:4-9, GWT)

Okay, show of hands -- How many of you have said more than once in your times of trial, "I don't deserve this!"  If you raised your hand (and I hardly think you're in touch with your human frailty if you didn't), you're certainly not alone.  There is no way that we, in our right human minds, would think we deserve anything but life's best. 

Here's how the thinking goes, at least for me.  I've worked hard all my life.  I haven't killed anyone.  I'm a good person.  I've been through a lot.  I'm entitled to better than this.  A good God wouldn't allow me to suffer like this.  I deserve a break.

But when I exchange my "right human mind" for God's way of thinking, I see different.  I realize that I am in no position to be thinking I deserve anything but shame and punishment.

Before you roll your eyes and bug out, track with me on this one.  You see, I was a person who lived fast and loose in life.  I was a party girl.  College was one big blur filled with things you would never want your child doing.  I married a drummer in a local band.  After miscarrying a baby, our marriage fell apart, both of us straying and choosing divorce.  I found the man of my dreams and ended up marrying again, living the good life.  We had it all -- a lake house, tropical vacations and wild parties with our friends.  But then, three years into our marriage, I miscarried another baby.  This ended up being a turning point in my life as stunned, I thought, What did I ever do to deserve this?  It resulted in me softening enough to attend a Bible study one night.  I felt like the veil had lifted from my eyes at that study, and I became a Jesus follower from that point on.

Now, you'd think that would be the happy ending to my story, but it's not.  I thought, as so many of us foolishly do, that my life would get easier once I became a committed Christian.  It was quite the opposite.  From that point forward, the trials flooded rather than trickled in.  We discovered that we had an infertility issue and had great difficulty conceiving children.  "Stupid human tricks", as I call them, were needed to grant us both our eldest and our middle children.  My husband experienced 5 episodes of joblessness over a stretch of only 7 years through no fault of his own.  Hemophilia entered our lives along with the birth of our second child.  And severe allergies, ADHD, SPD and, who knows what else, continue to parade in with our third child.  Ironically, that third child came from a high risk pregnancy where I had to be off my feet for the last 4 months before delivery.  We've grieved the death of both of my in-laws, and said goodbye to a number of good friends who have left this world too early.  Each of these things leaving us traumatized and feeling that this was far less than what we deserve.

But the truth of the matter is that we deserve hell.  You see, even our worst suffering has been better than that, filled with laughter even in the midst of tears.  And we were people who marched through life, gossiping, having sex outside of marriage, cheating on our taxes, lying when it benefited us and being utterly self-centered.  God tells us in His word that this is sin, and He is so good that He can't be anywhere near that.  As I have grown in my faith walk, I have seen how undeserving I am of all the blessings He has lavished upon me (see 1 John 3:1).  As I often tell my hubby, the uglier I am willing to admit I am, the more beautiful God looks!  When I come to the realization of how awful my sin is, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for me becomes even more amazing!

A side benefit to this is that, in light of what I truly deserve, I realize my problems are smaller.  You might laugh to hear that I talk to God in the shower each morning.  (Hey, where else can a busy mom find complete solitude?)  As I was getting cleaned up before yet another hospital run recently, the thought crossed my mind, I don't deserve this.  But this time, the thought came from a position of being undeserving instead of entitled.  I thought, I don't deserve this wonderful hot water running over my head when there are so many in the world who don't even have a safe home.  I don't deserve this refreshing soap and shampoo when there are people who are getting cholera from bathing in a filthy river.  I don't deserve this warm towel, these warm clothes when there are people only 30 miles away from me living under bridges, freezing at night.  Suddenly, God's goodness to me was far more overwhelming than any  hospital visit could be.

What do I deserve?  I deserve to have been the one on that cross.  I deserve hell.  But what do I get?  I get a loving, merciful God who allowed me to be born in a country where my kids get the medical care they need, food on the table, clothes on their back and a roof over their heads.  I deserve that crucifixion, but Jesus took it in my place and gave me eternal joy!  I deserve a crown of thorns, but God has made me His princess.  Wow!  How blessed am I!  How about you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Small Encouragements With Great Love

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)

Sometimes we think we need to do something huge to make a difference for God's kingdom.  But the Lord instructs us to do something simple that has become increasingly rare in today's hurried world. 

Last week, I was delighted by the phone call of a friend 3 states away who knew I had been at the hospital with my son.  She also knew that there were some heavy burdens related to my job.  In her loving kindness, she made a simple phone call and just listened.  We spoke the same language as we shared our angst as parents and ministry leaders.  It was such comfort.  She validated me, which was an enormous encouragement.  And despite her own burdens, she asked me what she could do to help without hesitation.  Where else could I find compassion like that?

In a nation filled with people who call themselves "Christian", this shouldn't be so hard to find. Unfortunately, it seems to be.  I know that I repeatedly make this point, but I see it all around me --  We move at such a frantic pace these days that we are failing to minister to one another in ways that God calls us to.  We run from one good thing to another, without slowing to be that Good Samaritan in someone's life in the simplest of ways.  Rather than listening and offering "poor babies", as one acquaintance of mine used to call them, we attempt to shoot magic bullets consisting of platitudes and false judgments.  Instead of coming into agreement with someone whom we allow to bend our ear, we often tend to do more harm than good as we whiz by.

Mother Teresa, one of my favorite heroines, earned great respect over time by living out what she preached, "Do small things with great love."  And therein lays the whole mission Jesus calls us to daily.  What Mother Teresa doesn't say is that those little things done in great love can make such an enormous difference in the life of another human being.  Every simple act of kindness affirms the value of the receiver, and echoes back in blessing to the giver.

Here are some ideas for how you might exercise this mandate in your daily life:
  • Take a walk with a friend, just letting them vent as you stroll along the way.
  • Send a silly card via snail mail.  It's always a treasure when we get something in our mailbox that isn't a bill!
  • Bring someone who you know is having a tough time some inexpensive flowers.  How often do we get to enjoy that simple joy besides birthdays or anniversaries?
  • Get together with people in similar circumstances and pray for one another.  No one understands the needs to be lifted up to the Lord like one who is walking a mile in the same shoes!
  • Drop off a loaf of really good bread (even if you didn't bake it) just because.  It warms the heart in more ways than one.
The simple ways to encourage another are limited only by your imagination.  Doing such powerful small things can become our daily act of worship. And once again God can prove through our actions that He is the ultimate recycler of our pains.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You've Got Mail!

Happy are those who listen to me, watching at my door every day, waiting at my open doorway. (Proverbs 8:34, NCV)

The other day I was scanning through some information on a rare disorder, and I read a comment by a mother that set me to thinking.  The parent stated that as part of her daily routine, she now habitually checks a search engine for any new information released on her child's disease first thing in the morning.  Looking for hope and others living with this unique challenge drove her to rush to this expectantly before she did anything else.

I suspect her story wasn't all that unusual.  So many of us parents are looking for that certain something to keep us hanging on with just enough strength to get through the day.  We're looking for that intimacy and that encouragement to lift the darkness of our circumstances.

But even those of us who aren't craving such things have a way of letting our computer take front-and-center in our daily schedule, whether by way of e-mail, Facebook or other venues.  We get knee deep in work challenges, the latest gossip or a corny forwarded joke.

Still, there's a love letter waiting for us each new morning that can make every moment more joyful, purposeful and hopeful.  It's God's will that we would have a personal, intimate relationship with Him, and we can most easily attain that by putting Him first when we arise.  History is His-story, describing how people just like you and I, born in a different place and time, faced the same trials, daily demands, triumphs and joys with His help.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us that there's nothing new that can happen to us that hasn't already taken place before.  Since He is the only one who's been here through it all, we should be eager to hear what God has to say to us about anything we face.  Rather than fleeing to the internet, we should be fleeing to the arms of our loving Father.  And He can offer something that our computer can't -- inexplicable peace in the midst of our storms.

In His classic My Heart - Christ's Home, Robert Boyd Munger describes Jesus waiting each day patiently in the parlor, warm fire glowing, for us to come and sit with Him.  Whether we race down the stairs and out the door, He never fails to still wait for us.  His love is welcoming regardless of our hurriedness or disregard of Him.  How many people do we get e-mails from that give us that level of kindness, forgiveness or consideration?

That's not to say that we shouldn't ever connect with others or use this valuable tool that's the gift of our era.  But if we don't start our day with hearing first from God, we aren't equipped with the filter we need to discern whether there is value to the comments or advice of others.  And that wisdom is definitely something we special needs parents need an extra measure of!

Go ahead, use the restroom and then make that pot of coffee.  But then light a candle and nestle in with the Lover of your soul to start each day.  Only He is big enough to handle and prepare you for everything you will face in the upcoming day.  And He's so very worthy of your time!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Of Fog & Faith

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights..."  (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV)  

We've been enjoying a lovely Autumn in Wisconsin this year.  Cool, crisp mornings give way to warm, crystal blue skies dappled with scarlet and golden leaves ready to make their descent.  Because of the temperature swing within each 24 hour period, we've awoken to frost-covered lawns and roofs which give way to a hovering fog once the sun crests the horizon.  The kids marvel as I push through each low-laying cloud while delivering them to school.  We praise God for the beauty of these unique days, knowing that while mysterious and sometimes scary, the fog won't last long.

How bland life would be without the wonder of this natural occurrence.  And yet, isn't it this very type of thing we try to vanquish from our spiritual lives?  When we find ourselves in the mist of unexpected diagnoses or difficulties, we shake our fists at the sky.  We buy into the lie that we should never feel discomfort or inequity in anything, even with our kids' competitive sports.  When trouble appears, as it too often does, we utter, "How could a loving God allow this?"  But we reveal our endurance to be waning and our memories to be short when we entertain such thoughts.

Today's passage imparts truth we can cling to.  Faith tested is, in fact, no faith at all!  It is by having pressed on through the fog that we begin to trust that pleasant hills or impending warmth lays on the other side.  It's knowing that God has seen us through before that we come to realize that He will never leave us or forsake us.  When we witness the eeriness of that lingering gauze in contrast to the crispness of brilliant color, we have the overflowing joy of seeing how big our God really is.  It's times like these where our faith is stretched and grown, and suddenly becomes beneficial to both ourselves and those around us.

Do you find yourself in a troubling place today?  Is it difficult to see ahead and even know what direction you're going in?  Trust your Creator in those times you can clearly see evidence of His presence.  He remains faithful still.

Friday, September 24, 2010

WAITING ON GOD - Part 2 - Waiting to Make the Next Move

"You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." (1Samuel 13:13-14, NIV)

Waiting on the Lord is challenging.  In the last entry, we discussed how waiting for crises to resolve can be agonizing.  The pain of looking for that job to arrive or a cure to appear can be overwhelming.  But the valuable lessons we can learn during that time grow our faith exponentially if we cooperate with God.  These are not the only times we find ourselves in uncomfortable holding periods.

When our eyes see a situation where we think we need to act, waiting on the Lord can be equally stressful.  It is never a good idea to move forward before we get our Creator's input on a given situation.  In fact, that can be one of the surest ways to get ourselves into trouble.  But biding our time, wondering why an answer hasn't come quickly can be downright maddening.  Why wouldn't our Father want us to know how to proceed right away when we earnestly seek Him?

There's more than one answer to that question.  We know that unless we are tested, our ability to wait never grows.  It's like exercising a muscle.  Each test of endurance increases our level of competence.  And we know that strengthening our ability to hang in there for God's direction deepens our character.  (see Romans 5:3-5)  It conforms us into the likeness of Christ and actually makes us the type of person others turn to for wisdom.

Then there is also the matter of trust.  There too, it is easy to say we trust God until that trust is tested.  We wonder in our waiting time, does God really care?  Is He punishing me?  Is the answer "no"?  What do I do next?  Is God really true to His promises? 

If we stand by for answers before acting, we come out the winner in the end AND please our heavenly Father.  We discover that He does keep His promises.  He does have our best in mind.  His timing is perfect in every way.  We realize that if we had done things when and how we wanted, they wouldn't have turned out as well as the way our compassionate Lord intended.

There are plenty of examples from the Bible of those who created major troubles by rushing ahead of God.  In the Scripture above, Saul literally dethroned himself by not waiting for Samuel to conduct the burnt offering.  And culture still groans over the warring factions created by Sarah, trying to force God's hand through having her slave, Hagar, sleep with Abraham in hopes of building a family for herself. 

I myself have found myself in the middle of a tempest because I suddenly realized that I had rushed ahead into doing something neither seeking the Lord's approval nor waiting on Him.  It was a serious mess that created terrific conflict between people and threatened my own health.

As I tell my children, the bottom line is that the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.  "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him..." (Psalm 37:7, NIV)  You will find yourself rewarded in every way for your long-suffering and endurance.