Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blessed Are The Resilient!

"So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech." (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, MSG)

On a recent Friday, my husband forgot my birthday. I knew first thing in the morning because our family custom is to bring each family member breakfast in bed with gifts and much fanfare on their special day. I asked my eldest daughter, "Is Dad doing anything in the kitchen?", when she entered my room to kiss me goodbye before school. When I began crying after she replied, "No", she instantly remembered what was going on. She felt terrible. I would like to say my behavior improved and reflected godly reaction to the hurt I felt, but alas, it did not. I had unkind words for my husband as the adrenaline of anger rushed. I rebuffed him for the remainder of the day, rejecting the weak attempts he made at recognizing the occasion.

Saturday, I felt awful for the deplorable way I behaved, not only because it hurt Steve, but because it was less than what pleases God. I had to remind myself that our Creator loves my husband just as much as he loves me, sinful mistakes and all. That man I demeaned has immense value to our Lord. I am commanded to forgive as I have been forgiven. And of course we know, two wrongs don't make a right. Thus, I softened on Saturday, being more decent and granting him the luxury of acting as if nothing had ever happened.

By Sunday morning, I made sure that my children heard me apologize to him for my unkind words and behavior on Friday. He admitted his wrong to me, and we moved on with life. Did the hurt remain? Absolutely. But I was more at peace with the way life squared in light of THE One I love most. I was able to experience joy on Saturday and Sunday. Life moved forward with recreation and laughter.

The point of sharing this anecdote with you is not to shame my husband. And it's certainly not to brag on myself in any way!

Day after the incident, I said to one of my dearest friends, "You know, so often as Christians in this world, we get frustrated with life in the Church. We wonder, what really IS the difference between being a Christian and being a non-believer in this world. And I think this situation showed me what the difference really is. This is what I think I need to share with people..."

The difference in the Christian life isn't that we never face troubles any more. It certainly isn't that we never sin again. It's that we get up faster when we've fallen. There's a resiliency in being a true follower of Jesus that can't be acquired any other way. We distinguish right from wrong more readily. As a result, we are able to recognize our shortcomings and respond in kind. We bounce back faster from the wounds of human life, if we are willing.

This resiliency certainly isn't of our own doing. It's the indwelling of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus left us as our "Helper" when he died and rose again. (see John 14:16, 26) That power that lives inside of us is ours for the taking. If we believe that Jesus is who He claimed He is, and we surrender our lives fully to Him, the power that resides inside our own hearts is the same power that raised a 33 year old dead carpenter from a stone-sealed grave. All we need to do is use that amazing gift we are given.

Let me give it to you straight. On my own, I can't forgive my husband or humble myself to apologize to him. I can't handle parenting 2 children with various special needs. I can't exert even an ounce of self-control or self-denial. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit and my cooperation with Him that my life is transformed. I spent too many years spinning my wheels, feeling sorry for myself, searching for joy that eluded me. Christ fills me with the joy and peace I could never possibly attain on my own.
It would be utterly foolish to become a Jesus-follower just for what He can give me. God isn't some genie in a bottle, there to grant my every wish. But as I follow hard after Him, this ability to bounce back and experience contentment in the midst of life's storms is an extra benefit. I am able to affirm the words of the psalmist proclaiming, "...Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5, NIV)

Taking Time To Delight

"Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them..." (Psalm 127:3-5, NIV)

Summer is upon us. The weather is warm and the excitement is high. Our children shift from the structured and demanding schedule of the school year to the footloose fun of the vacation months.

While this is the time of year every child lives for, it is often stressful for parents. Our routines are derailed. This is often the season where we've scheduled copious numbers of doctor's appointments, dentist's appointments and surgeries. There are the scheduled camps, weddings and family obligations. Anxiety can escalate for parents as we attempt to juggle the topsy-turvy days of kids being home 24/7.

It's exactly at a time like this when we need to lift our noses from the grindstone and look up to behold the beauty around us. We have a wise, old pastor at our church who likes to say, "Come apart before you come apart!" What if our personal routine can wait? What if our homes aren't as clean as we think they should be? I often remind my husband, The dirt isn't gonna grow legs and walk away -- Cleaning can wait for a little bit. Summertime provides us with a gift right under our noses that we can often be too agitated to take note of!

God tells us in His word that our children are a gift from the Lord. Why not make summer our season to delight fully in that gift? We can exchange our plans for merely enjoying these kids before it's too late. They don't stay little or remain at home forever, in most circumstances. We need to relish these days while we still can. If not, we may look back when the house is quiet and the demands of parenting have waned with regret for the time lost.

Children are notorious for bringing attention to the small things in life, those things that adults are often too busy to notice. Here are some ways that you might take advantage of that natural curiosity to make the most of the season together:
  • Go on a nature hike together. Whether it be in a city park, your own backyard or out on an official trail, the time together can be precious. Equipped with a notebook and a cheap magnifying glass you can share discoveries with your growing explorer.
  • Plant a "sensory garden" together. (Check out the posts from our friends Lorna & Pierette at and Not only can it be a real treasure to see your child thrill in the simple act of digging dirt or planting tiny seeds, the after-effect is incredibly rewarding. It is a true learning experience for your child. And there is a sense of soothing as you listen to the gentle gong of wind chimes, witness the whirring of a pinwheel, feel the different textures of plant leafs, and smell the scent of herbs, vegetables and flowers together.
  • Get down on their level with water, sand or coloring. De-stress yourself as you remember the simple gifts of childhood that come from enjoying building a sand castle, splashing in water or drawing from imagination.
  • Cuddle your child, really taking in their soft skin and big eyes while you read to them. I had an educator tell me that children need to hear us read to them even into high school. And if your child is not neuro-typical, how much more do they need to hear the lilt of your voice as you share a book with them. As you do, you can also be blessed by holding them close while you are still able to. Let their warmth, the outline of their precious face be burned into your memory to treasure forever.
  • Take the time to do things in the morning or evening that you wouldn't otherwise do during the school year. Dawdling over breakfast together or catching fireflies in a jar are pleasures that elude us during the rush of the school schedule.
  • Take time to write down for yourself the favorite memories of the summer months. Even if you're not one who keeps a journal, writing down a brief sentence, collecting a favorite snapshot or clipping a relevant article from an event you attended can leave you with lasting fondness when reflecting on these days.

These are the ways that we fill our cups and build endurance for the tough demands of our lives. I think we can all safely say that on the last day of our lives, we'd rather count up more good days than bad. If we truly desire that, then we must work at it. The effort we put into enjoying and building happy memories with our children are surely a worthwhile pursuit!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Kid's Better Than Your Kid!

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. (Galatians 6:2-5, NIV)

An acquaintance of mine shared a hilarious encounter she recently had that sounded like something out of a sitcom episode! She was helping her elderly father with some yard work, and her aunt and uncle suddenly appear on the scene. The acquaintance shared that there has been a long-standing rivalry between her father and these visitors. The aunt and uncle have persistently bragged about their eldest daughter since nearly the day she was born. Anything this friend does can NEVER match the super-human accomplishments of this couple's daughter of the same age! She sews her own clothing, starts all of her garden plants from seed, and dances better than Ginger Rogers! The part that really got us laughing is that the parents are in their 80's and the daughters of notoriety are nearly 60! Needless to say, the competition continued in full view of my friend during their surprise visit.

While this little anecdote was laughable in light of the confidence of adulthood, all too many of us experience that same sense of competition with our own children. The fact that our offspring have special needs often brings an extra layer of hurt to the prideful behavior of others. This can be beyond one's ability to handle, especially when a child has an "invisible disability" such as learning disabilities, autism or mental illness. Those haughty types look even more condescendingly as they lack the understanding to realize that there is an unseen component to your child's level of progress. Parents are often judged as incompetent by neighbors, church members and those at the school when behaviors or lack of self-control have an underlying causality that others fail to recognize.

So, how do we get through these tough times of being belittled when already carrying a heavy burden? Here are some thoughts:
  • Realize that your child is "fearfully & wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) While it's hard to avoid, don't compare your child to others. Trust in the fact that your child is uniquely equipped with their own abilities and talents.
  • Since your child IS equipped with those abilities and talents, spend some quiet time apart from the chaos of life, and reflect on the unique things about your child. Relish those qualities that make your heart full. Whether it be their precious smile or their ability to notice the little things in life, each child is a gift to be treasured. Let your own heart swell with the love you have for your child.
  • Walk through life fully aware that each parent is only one emergency room visit away from having a child with a special need. God warns us that pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), and what a precipitous drop it can be for those who are walking around with their nose in the air! These parents don't know what they don't know, and are ultimately making fools of themselves!
  • Be confident that you are gaining new skills and making sound decisions because of the trials you face. You are a walking encyclopedia on issues that affect your child. This makes you inordinately useful to the lives you touch every day! Don't allow someone who is arrogant and ignorant to shake your confidence!
  • Support others who are struggling! God surely made us for community. We all need help when we are feeling frustrated or isolated. Because of your journey, the understanding nod or a listening ear you provide can be such a blessing to others. Make it your mission in life to grow in compassion to ALL because of what you've witnessed over the years.
  • DO NOT belittle others! Too often parents who have a child with special needs think that what worked for their child should work for every other child out there. And the perception can be that others are fools if they don't use the same approach. Be wise enough to know that one size does not fit all in any given situation. Instead, use a "take it or leave it" approach when sharing with others what worked for you. Be tender when sharing your child's progress knowing that others who have not come as far may feel a bit deflated when hearing your story.

Face it, without the grace of God, none of us would have a thing to be proud of! Walking with that humble and grateful attitude takes us through life much more happily than those who need to use their children's progress in order to build up their own ego!

Friday, May 21, 2010

When The Well Runs Dry

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering..." (2 Timothy 4:6, NIV)

I am having a very rough day. I have recently undergone yet another surgery. I daily live a poured-out life, sacrificing for others as my spiritual act of worship. But now I'm the one in need, and the silence is deafening. What do I do? I'm the one who holds things together, makes and keeps the doctors appointments, cooks and cleans, does the home therapies. Who's there for me when I can't manage?

You've been there. I KNOW you have! Mom is the one who is the anchor of the home, especially the special needs home! If there is an IEP to prepare for, mom is on top of it. If there's a treatment to explore or a situation to advocate for her child in, mom's all over it! But what happens when Mom is the one who is in need?

Here are my few weak attempts at pointing you in the right direction as I limp down the same path with you:
  1. Fill your cup regularly, so that you have reserves to draw from when the going gets tough. Taking one evening a week to leave your spouse or a child care worker in charge of your children is key. Do anything you like from hobbies to exercise. I used to grab a favorite book, a small mocha and hide at the neighborhood coffee house for 90 minutes.
  2. Set up a good web of care to fall back on. God may not fill the void the way you think He should, but take the help where you can get it. Got girlfriends you need to call in favors from? Make sure they're at the ready. Have a group of church ladies that regularly prepare meals for "shut ins"? Get on their list.
  3. When life is at it's darkest, walk by faith and not by sight. Remember, that even when life doesn't make sense and you're not "feelin' the love", He's right there with you in that hopeless valley (Psalm 23:4). Sometimes, just doing the next thing, putting one foot in front of the other and going through the motions has to be good enough. We're all in survival mode sometimes.
  4. Be gentle with yourself. It's alright to be in a place of need. Realize that none of us are perfect, and yet, we're awesomely loved by our Maker. You may be really angry at not getting the help that you need. And it's okay to be angry. Know that this too shall pass, even it it's miserable for now.

To those who don't contend with such things, roll up your sleeves and be the Christian that you profess to be when you see a mom with a special needs child in such a position. Their daily living is difficult enough without struggling through their own personal times of need. Take the lead in helping them and make your faith real with how you act (James 1:22). God may just be providing YOU with the opportunity to BE Jesus to a family in need!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Truth of Relative-ity

"...There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24, NIV)

Want to get a group of parents who have kids with special needs going? Engage them in a conversation about relatives! There are the blaming in-laws; the judgmental, unsupportive siblings; the avoidant, ignorant family members who fear being around your child. Each thinks they hold the magic bullet as to why something as tragic as a child with special needs would come into your lives. They're going to tell you like it is, set you straight, because somebody has to say something. You know it's time to take cover when they start a sentence with, "You may not want to hear this, but..."!

I've had a situation like this recently. If I had to listen to a relative of mine tell my child with ADHD one more time to "go play out in traffic," I'm not sure I could've held my tongue. This particular relative is well aware that our child has this and other diagnoses, others, yet never ceases to join with their spouse in making snide remarks about our ill-behaved child and our poor parenting skills. Thankfully, I've learned to roll with this nonsense in God-honoring ways.

In my years of leading this ministry, I've seen countless tears shed over situations just like the one I describe. The wounds of family cut deeper than any others, especially because we anticipate relatives to rally around us when we're in life's toughest situations. The truth is that family members often respond to special needs in much the same way the rest of culture does. So how do we respond to their painful behavior in a way that pleases God?
  1. Realize that when family leaves a void, God loves you enough to stand in that gap and send someone to bless your life with the tenderness that you need.
  2. Remember that you once may have been ignorant too about special needs and said insensitive things. Give others mercy, knowing that someone probably granted you the same when you were speaking foolishness.
  3. Be confident in your own knowledge and capabilities. "He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it to completion." (Philippians 1:6) God gave that child to you, not the one making the hurtful statements. They don't know what they don't know. And you have the primary responsibility of deciding what is best when caring for your own child. You make those decisions based on your best filtering of available information.
  4. Be willing to educate. Responding to comments with something like, "I used to think that too, but..." may build common ground between you and the offender. They obviously have something to learn from you.
  5. Take seriously Romans 12:17's warning, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." Even if it means taking a "grown-up time-out", walking out to take a deep breath, do everything in your power not to hurt back those who hurt you. This is one of the most difficult calls of Christianity, yet it is one that most powerfully exhibits the difference a life of faith makes.

Please know that you're not alone in dealing with family frustrations. While there are those who have wonderful, kind, supportive relatives, many, many of us deal with quite the opposite. Fall in to the One who is "closer than a brother" and know that He will walk you through any family challenges you may face.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Angry at God

"Come near to God and he will come near to you..." (James 4:8, NIV)

Over the years, who of us hasn't run into someone who is really angry with God? That "someone" might even be ourselves. The scenario usually includes something awful happening in the person's life, something tragic that leaves us wondering "why". When life doesn't make sense, we turn to God, and sometimes it still doesn't make sense. There is a wrestling with the question, "How could a supposedly loving God allow this?" When the answer doesn't come to the seeker's satisfaction, there is a resolute withdrawal from God. The person disengages from prayer, Scripture reading and any faith community. That individual is left out on their own to fester in their anger.

Does this perhaps describe you or someone close to you? If so, have you discovered how to get beyond this point? The answer lays in the exact opposite of what our human nature prompts us to do.

In Genesis 32:22-30, Jacob wrestles with God himself until God will bless him. Though it costs him his physical health, he won't relent until he gains what he seeks. In the end, Jacob not only gets the blessing, he also receives a new name which is passed on to an entire nation, Israel (meaning "struggler with God").

What should this translate into in our lives? Don't stop wrestling with God because He doesn't make sense! There is tremendous blessing in hanging in there until you receive the answers you seek. Surely, the God who spoke the universe into existence is big enough to handle your problems. The God who put up with sinful man torturing His own Son is loving and kind enough to put up with your anger. He promises that you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart! (Jeremiah 29:13)

I myself have continued to struggle with countless trials, BIG ones, over the years. But as I draw close to God, I get to know His character, and He comforts me. Just as I have to subject my children to some difficult, painful things for their ultimate benefit, so I am reassured that God has to do the same with me. As we are wiser than our young children, so He is much wiser than me. I have come to a point where I don't need to have all the answers to my heartaches because I have grown in a trusting relationship with God through relentless prayer and daily reading of His love letter to me, the Bible.

I leave you with a poem that I have shared in the past, encouraging you to never give up. Continue to fight out those feelings with the One who loves you so passionately!

~The Weaver~

My life is but a weaving between the Lord and me;
I may not choose the colors, He worketh steadily;
For He can view the pattern upon the upper side,
While I can see it only on this, the under side.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow, which seemeth strange to me;
But I will trust His judgment, and work on faithfully.
'Tis He who fills the shuttle; He know just what is best,
So I shall weave in earnest and leave with Him the rest.

Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why -
the dark threads are as needful in the Weaver's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

~Author Unknown~

Monday, May 10, 2010


"Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, but answer in a gentle way and with respect." (1 Peter 3:15-16, NCV)

In this politically correct age, there is a pervasive struggle going on in Christian communities across this nation. People who believe in Jesus as the saving Son of God are feeling inhibited when it comes to sharing their faith. They wonder how they can tell others about what they hold as true without being brash or offensive. Christians walk in such fear of telling others about the Gospel, that complete series and volumes have been written on the topic, attempting to break through such barriers.

Yet, this is the one area where life is far simpler for those of us who have children with special needs than it is for the typical world. If our faith in Jesus has been our strength, our encouragement, our hope, then we have a unique opportunity to share it with other people because of our children's special needs. In fact, when our son was smaller, we used to tell him that his diagnosis was his "secret super power to tell others about Jesus"!

How is this so? Well, when bystanders see us going through incredible heartache, physical demands, and financial woes in living with a serious diagnosis, we stick out. And when they see us in what would be considered by most to be one of the darkest situations of life, but still shining with the hope of Jesus, they really take note. It is hard for others to ignore a person who is filled with an unspoken peace, joy, love and hope, despite their grave circumstances. Witnesses to such grace when there should be bitterness are left wondering. They can't help but be attracted and desire the same goodness in their own lives. This is the personification of St. Francis of Assisi's admonition to, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

When we do need to use words, our situation gives us amazing credibility. You see, our suffering turns the guidance of the Bible from mere cheap talk into tested faith. People, seeing our persistence in the midst of our circumstances will often comment, "I don't know how you do it!" That presents the gentle opportunity for us to exclaim, "But by God," and to share our own story of hope. And no one can argue with your personal experience. Belonging to you alone, no words can negate what you've lived.

Does this mean that we never fall apart, do everything perfectly or have no concerns? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that we keep putting one foot in front of the other and by faith, continue to believe in that which we do not always see or feel. We live out that wordless hope, pressing on, knowing that we have One who gets us through the worst of times on this earth and who has prepared a perfect place for us in eternity. Our experiences increase our mercy, compassion and understanding towards the world around us, and makes us a source of wisdom to those who lack such knowledge.

Our suffering should sand off the rough edges of sharing our faith and open doors that are closed to others. My son never fails to ask me to pray with him right in front of medical personnel before he will ever let them near him with a needle. We parents are all imbued with those same secret super powers. What an awesome chance we miss when we fail to exercise those powers uniquely granted to us! May we always be prepared to gently and respectfully use that tool that God has so graciously equipped us with.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


"I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." 
(2 Timothy 1:5, NIV)

It may sound crazy (and those who know me would expect nothing less), but from little on, I have had a mindset with my kids of, "What would I want to have left them with if I get hit by a Mack Truck and die tomorrow?" With every day they are entrusted to my care, I am ever mindful that their time here with me is temporary and a sacred responsibility. So when they have left my care, what fingerprint will I have left on each of their lives that can be evidenced without them even thinking twice about it? Good or bad, those things will rise to the surface.

Two examples of my own mother's influence on my life quickly jump out for me to share. First, my mother deeply valued her faith life. Though expressed differently from my own, there was no doubting where her heart lay because that is where she spent her time. 

Second, my mom wanted to make each of her children feel like they were special and valued on their birthdays. Each family member would get their favorite meal made with their favorite cake to follow with much fanfare. Those both are things I carry with me in my own family today.

Mother Teresa's own mother brought comfort to the poor and dying of the streets when she was young. One doesn't have to look far to see the amazing influence that was in her life. Kindness and mercy had been a habit her mother imparted.

Ruth Bell Graham was recognized as the cohesive force that held her family together. Her love of God's word, humor, and heart for the less fortunate were passed on to her five children who continue in ministry on varying levels today.

I'm sure you realize that the list could go on and on. The point is, that it should be the fervent desire of every mother to leave behind children who want to be "just like mom" in every positive way. It is so often said that "Faith is more caught than taught." When my time raising my children is through, whether today or years from now, I want them to remember a mother who:
  • Loved the Lord and followed Him with all her heart.
  • Spend daily time in God's word and prayer, depending upon that to guide her life.
  • Extended love, kindness, and mercy to everyone around her.
The rest is just rubbish. Anyone can teach my kids basic life skills, hobbies or help them develop their talents. But I am given the unique opportunity, with them under my roof, to impart that lived out faith in precious ways. I pray that in the end, I might be found faithful to that calling!

PRAY: Holy Spirit, guide me in making the most of every minute I have with my children. I want nothing more than to point them to You.

~ Barb Dittrich

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


"I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord." (1 Samuel 1:27-28, NIV)

Nothing will make a mother's heart relocate to her throat like having her child cross a busy street by them self in the early years. Add to that mix the fact that the child has severe hemophilia (a genetic bleeding disorder), the intersection is unmarked and there are countless inattentive, hurried drivers, and you're looking at a mother near cardiac arrest!

Yet, every school day of the warm weather months in Wisconsin, this is what I endure with our tween-aged son. I lovingly kiss him, pat his bike helmeted head and warn him, "Now watch out for those crazy drivers!" I used to watch him ride off out the front windows of the house praying him all the way to school. Joy mixed with concerned pleas filled my soul as I saw him near that busiest of streets he'd have to cross to make it to the school.

I have friends who still ask me, "How can you do that? I'd be a wreck!" But I learned early on that there's Someone who cares about that boy even more than my husband and I do! You see, like Hannah, praying in the passage cited today, our two eldest children did not come to us easily. I think that made us ever-aware that these little people are a precious gift granted to us, on loan from God. Our infertility treatment also made us painfully aware of how much in this life we are not in control of. So when our son was diagnosed with hemophilia, we knew that this was such an overwhelming diagnosis, the God who allowed it to happen would have to be the one who was in control of it. He would have to keep His eye on our boy because despite our best efforts, we could not keep him completely safe or trauma-free.

One thing that has allowed us the sweet release of giving our child back to the Lord as Hannah does in her prayer was that loving assurance that "even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." (Matthew 10:30) Heck, even WE haven't numbered every hair on each of our children's heads! If God loves our kids that much, then He loves them even more than we, their parents could ever ask or imagine! That has given us great comfort in allowing those opportunities for not only our son, but all our children to spread their wings in increasing measure as appropriate for their maturity level. We entrust them to God's care every day confident that He has their best in mind.

Does that mean we take unnecessary, foolish risks? Of course not! Our son is still prohibited from using trampolines and from playing football. And all of our kids still have to carry cell phones when traveling alone, being required to check in with us for a status report.

But we are set free, though sometimes anxiously so, allowing our kids to grow to the next level without controlling parents hovering. We grow ourselves in the process, learning to trust God anew as we release the tight reigns our fears dominate. And the full circle of what our Father has accomplished through the lives of these kids overwhelms our hearts with joy.