Monday, July 26, 2010

This Isn't What I Expected!

"Today I have given you a choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!" (Deuteronomy 30:19, CEV)

This weekend our family had plans to spend four days at a private campground which we had never visited before. It's always difficult to get my hard-working husband to take some time away, so I made sure I scheduled a Thursday through Sunday trip versus the usual Friday evening arrival with Sunday departure. We were all excited as we planned and packed, anxious to get on our way as soon as possible.

Of course, life being what it is, we were subject to any inclement weather that came upon us, and to our great misfortune, the unusually wet season continued. Our hearts longed to get on our way vacationing together, but our logic knew that it would be total foolishness to pitch a tent with severe rain storms on their way. Disappointment set in as the family was at a crossroads. There were circumstances beyond our control, and we could either let it ruin our vacation or find the joy in where we were at.

We delayed our departure and made our way to a local cinema to enjoy the matinee showing of a terrific new release. We shared laughter, popcorn and a delightful movie in our altered time together. The kids were anxious to head to the campground after the film, but saw our wisdom in delaying when tornado warnings and torrential downpours ensued.

The following morning was a much better time to head to our little vacation spot. However, once we got there, we were once again faced with a choice. There was ponding at both the back and front of the site. Being tent campers traveling with a puppy, this would never do! We talked with the campground management, who were kind enough to allow us to sprawl out of the site to dryer ground and a more tolerable setting. As the sun set on our fun-filled day, my husband uttered the fatal words, "See! It won't rain any more! There's not a cloud in the sky!"

That night, it poured without ceasing. As the water dripped on my head through the top of the tent, I was questioning the sanity of ever camping again. Our new $90 dining canopy had been water-logged and twisted by the wind and the rain. We found ourselves at yet another crossroads. Should we stay or should we pack up the wet remains of our attempted vacation and go home? More rain was predicted for the day.

As the weather cleared, betraying the report of the weather man, our decision was to take the chance of staying at the campground. While keeping everyone mud-free and securing our crumpled canopy with rope proved challenging, the risk ended up being well worth it. Our family found joy in everything from simple swimming and peddle cart riding to glow sticks and marshmallow roasting. The kids all quickly made new friends among the wet and weary campers.

Why do I share the lengthy travails of our weekend outing? It occurred to me that our lives as parents of kids with special needs is much like this camping trip. How many of us have received that poem Welcome to Holland shortly after our child was diagnosed? What ends up being so appealing about the poem is the prevailing emotion of "This isn't what I expected!" We can all relate to having our plans be thrown off course. There is heartbreak to the disappointment of not having things turn out as they should be. Something so simple becomes something more complicated.

I do find myself scoffing at the poem's inference that "Holland" (or parenting a child with special needs) isn't "horrible, filthy... disgusting, full of pestilence... and disease... just different." I'm sorry, but the GI bleeds and hemorrhaging nosebleeds and angry hematomas I've dealt with are far more than "just different"! The behavior of those we come in contact with are also often horrible and disgusting. Let's face it, some days, it's just absolutely the pits!

However, as today's Scripture passage points out, God always has the ability to redeem. And Emily Perl Kingsley's poem points that out well. If we continually focus on the broken dreams, we'll never see the joys that the Lord has set before us as a choice! We can choose to pack up the wet tent and go home or jump in the lake for a swim and enjoy an evening hayride. The choice is ours. We can spend time in perpetual agitation with doctors, educators, family and neighbors or we can find humor in the insanity, offering us a huge belly laugh.

Like our children at the campground, we can also meet some pretty terrific fellow travelers as well! Through our heartache, I have formed lasting friendships with other parents who are interesting, practical, fun-loving and compassionate. Had I not endured our trials, I would have never met them.
I must admit that while life has been much harder as the parent of a child with special needs, it has been far more joyful as well. I came to a fork in the road where I could believe that God wanted me to remain miserable for the rest of my earthly days or choose to believe that He wanted me to find beauty in the ashes. I have chosen the path of life, of joy, of hidden delight. I invite you to do the same!

PRAY:  Jesus, lift my chin to see the blessings you shower on me, rather than the rain.  Help me to make the best of every circumstance You allow.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Being Kept On The Short Leash

"So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem (literally, "thorn in the flesh") was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to beat me and keep me from being too proud. I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you." So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ's power can live in me. For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NCV)

We're attending "Puppy Kindergarten" with our new dog for the next 6 weeks. This adorable canine needs to be monitored at all times to make certain he's not getting into any trouble, and to assure he is growing into the well-behaved companion we've been looking forward to having in our family. In fact, this week, our "homework" is to keep him hooked up to us as we go about our living activities in the house and see what his weak spots are as far as behavior goes. Is he tempted by socks? Does he like getting into the bathroom garbage? When we keep him on the short leash, we can learn what behaviors we need to break or shape.

Laughably, I'm not unlike that precious pooch! I need to be kept on the short leash too, to keep me out of trouble.

It seems that in our family life we barely get our heads above water and another wave washes over us. We have gone from multiple miscarriages and infertility treatment to five incidents of joblessness in less than a decade. We've endured severe hemophilia and anxiety in one child as well as ADHD, severe allergies and sensory issues in another child, all while mom is having five surgeries within a two year time span. Loss of family members, school troubles and car troubles have all peppered our experience. Sounds depressing, doesn't it?

Yet, I would tell you that we generally live joy-filled lives! When God keeps you on the short leash, you can either growl and bite at him or you can enjoy the amazing places He's taking you. Through our trials, we are ever aware of His presence. We see His fingerprints all over our lives. It takes our maladies to see His miracles! It's as if we have a front row seat to watching Him work.

God has allowed us the great privilege of seeing Him operate in situations that are utterly hopeless, but by God they have been turned around. There should be no reason we should still own our home, but here we are. We should be bitter about life, but our humor is stronger than ever. We find ourselves grateful for much that's taken for granted by others. And the simple things in life bring us great pleasure.

Now does this mean that we enjoy or desire all of these challenges? Are you kidding me? I wouldn't wish most of this on my worst enemy! But as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. In retrospect, we can see that God has allowed everything He has for our good and His glory.

He also knows that if I weren't on the short leash, I might become overly self-sufficient, thinking I can dictate how every little aspect of my life goes and just disregard my need for God. I might become more enamoured with this life than with my eternal life. I might put things before people or think I'm better than someone else. If this is what I can potentially see in myself, I can only imagine what else He can see in me!

Yes, while not always easy, being held close to God's side is a good place to be indeed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't Rain on My Parade!

"When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad." (Romans 12:15, CEV)

"Wake up, don't tell me it's just a dream, 'cause when I've had enough you'll hear me say, Now don't you try to rain on my Perfect Day - Nothings standing in my way. On this perfect day, nothing can go wrong..."* We've heard this song play again and again as it's used for resort commercials recently. The appeal of it comes not only from its catchy tempo and melody, but from its rejoicing in the day that goes right. After all, who doesn't LOVE the day when everything goes as it should and even beats our expectations!

Still, there always seems to be those who are the "fly in the ointment". When something good happens to us, they are the ones who lament that nothing good ever happens to them. When we finally overcome a hurdle, they're filled with jealousy and anger as if we've abandoned them. When we are blessed, these people treat us as if we undeservedly stole that blessing. Individuals like this can really rain on our parade or at least take a little wind out of our sails!

Too often this can happen in the special needs community. While I tend to focus mainly on getting others outside of the community to show us compassion and comfort us in our grief, I find that we can fall short with one another when it comes to the rejoicing part. When a child progresses in their therapy, others whose children aren't to that point yet can be stuck in bitter envy. When parents find a way to get a break from the demands on their lives, some can find themselves jealous and gossiping about it. When a financial floor appears under a family who has endured utter hardship, there can be disgust by those who still struggle.

This creates factions and new wounds in a group of parents that already endure enough hurt. How sad it is when we can't be happy for one another! After all, celebrating another's success holds out immense hope for us. If other families just like us can overcome difficulties, that means there's a good chance that we can too!

Jesus tells us, "He (God) makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong." (Matthew 5:45, CEV) Put another way, every life, without exception, experiences both the good and the bad. While this sure ain't heaven, it's not hell either! We need to have our eyes wide open to be "good finders" in the world around us. That means celebrating when there's reason to celebrate, even if the victory isn't presently our own!

I've been stuck in that position of being agitated and frustrated with the forward motion of others while I'm still spinning my wheels. It has made me an unpleasant person for both myself and others to be around! Instead, entering into that joy of another makes it more gratifying for them to be happy with me when my turn comes. And trust me, we will all have our turn at being both happy and sad!

*"Perfect Day" - Written by Jason Evigan, performed by Hoku, from the Legally Blonde Soundtrack

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No Wonder I'm Always Tired!

"He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31, NLT)

A thought suddenly occurred to me the other day while my extremely active 8 year old with raging, un-medicated ADHD and sensory issues was off on a play date. The thought was that this was only the 2nd day she had been away from me all summer!

You see, I have been edgy, cranky, frustrated. And I feel a certain sense of guilt that I'm not being a very engaged, very good mother to my children over their summer break. Other moms are taking their kids to the beach and the zoo, running them to baseball and gymnastics practices. Even so, I still feel like I never get a break. I can barely keep a toilet cleaned!

But as I wear my "hair shirt" and engage in self-deprecation, it occurs to me that Satan himself is whispering lies in my ears. I'm not the failure that I fear I am. Having 3 kids at home full-time is a demanding job in and of itself. Add to that mix the fact that 2 of them have special needs that require added care and attention, coupled with copious doctor's appointments over the summer months, and life gets difficult. Now add to that a new puppy whom you're trying to train to not only be house-broken, but also to behave in a calm manner in the hopes he might one day serve as your therapy dog. A mother can barely use the bathroom by herself lest the children engage in some risky activity with the pup. Whew!

If I have a morning where I actually have obtained enough sleep and am able to wake before the kids, I can reflect on all that's being required of me, all that I am doing, and Who is getting me through. Why are we mothers always so hard on ourselves? Why do we compare and feel like we're less-than if we're not exactly like others? It is God alone that is holding me up and helping me meet the demands of the summer. As Isaiah's passage refers to, even youths would grow weary in my situation. If I had children who were invited on play-dates as other kids are, perhaps my days would look different too. If I had been able to schedule summer sports or classes, the dynamic might change. But my Almighty Father is able to accomplish His good purposes in our summer just as it is. I need to remember that this is just a season of life, and I'm not a bad person if I crave the structure of having the kids back at school. I'm also a typical special needs parent if I still crave the desire to have the fun family outings that other families have.
For this summer, the library reading program, puppy training classes and a couple of camping trips will have to suffice. I'm giving it all I've got, with God's grace, and good enough is good enough.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What is YOUR god's track record?

"...If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV)

Yesterday, I ran across a comment in a social media venue that I thought had to be included in this post: "If the bible proves the existence of God, then action comics prove the existence of Superman." It was obvious to me that the person who posted this remark had never actually studied the Bible or he wouldn't have made such an ignorant remark.

God's word, to our benefit, is a chronicling of promises made and kept by our Creator. While faith is required, God doesn't expect us to have a blind, foolish faith, but leaves amazing clues to prove the truth of His word. Over and over again we see evidence of God coming through with what He said He would do, even when it seems all hope is lost.

Bible apologetics has fascinated me, so I've studied the topic almost since day one of becoming a believer. There are volumes written on this subject which can be endlessly explored. Archaeology and science connect the dots wiping away the doubts of those who would make uninformed challenges. This gives a tangible hope to those who claim to believe and only edifies their faith.

While there are thousands of examples in the Bible, but let's just cite a few here today:
  • In Genesis, Chapter 15, God promises to make Abraham's descendants as numerous as the stars. Despite the fact that he and his wife Sarah had remained childless for decades, and they had tried to "help" God along the way (see the story of Hagar & Ishmael), God did fulfill His promise to them in Genesis, Chapter 21, producing Isaac from their union. As a result, God did bless Abraham with millions of descendants through both sons.
  • In Genesis, Chapter 37, Joseph, the smart-aleck favorite son of Israel has a dream from God that his family will end up bowing down to him. As the story unfolds in the subsequent chapters, we see God's promise being fulfilled through a number of tragedies and injustices. Eventually, in Chapter 50 of Genesis we see Joseph proclaiming that what was intended for evil, God used for good. His family, and in fact all of Egypt, end up bowing to him as ruler who is second in command only to Pharaoh.
  • Jeremiah, Chapter 1 chronicles how God speaks through this young man to predict the invasion and enslavement of Israel due to their rebellion. Despised by his contemporaries, Jeremiah's prophesies end up coming true with a 70 year captivity in Babylon. (see 2 Kings 24 and 2 Chronicles 36)
  • Over 300 prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, many of them beyond his control. Things like being born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) or being born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) are predictions that could not be manipulated. The statistical probability of one person fulfilling just 8 of the 300 prophecies is 1 in 100 trillion, yet Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled them all!

Now does this mean that we will see everything we ask for granted in a way and time frame we desire? Certainly not! Often, the Lord lets situations get so grim that when His deliverance comes we realize that it couldn't have happened "but by God"! In reading God's word we can see that Abraham and Sarah had given up all hope of God keeping his promise, and tried to force His hand. We see that Joseph suffered many years in slavery, being done in by others, but was eventually rewarded for his faithfulness in ways he never expected. The children of Israel scoffed at a prophet like Jeremiah and kept on in their corruption until God made good on His promise to discipline them through subjugation. And God's chosen people waited hundreds of years, hearing promises from multiple prophets until Jesus arrived to save all humanity in a completely unexpected fashion.

These are only a few examples of Yahweh's track record. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has proven Himself faithful throughout the past and present. That gives us great hope that He can be trusted currently and in the future.

How is YOUR god's track record measuring up? Do you know why you believe what you believe? Take a long, critical look at the God of the Bible and you will see Him coming up faithful. I don't know about you, but that's the God I want to hang all of my hope on!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Does God Look Like?

"Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2, NIV)

So often, I think we look for God is these outrageous sorts of ways. We expect our interaction with our heavenly Father to be like something out of a Charleton Heston movie with enormous natural events and a booming voice to answer our pleas for help.

We seem to forget that God is the Creator of reality and works through people and situations, not just miraculous events. It might be helpful to remember in life's trials and triumphs what God looks like, though we often forget it's Him:

  1. When times are tough, there's a hospitalization or crisis in the family, El Roi, the God who sees you, shows up through the kind soul who's at our door with a meal or a kind word.
  2. When we're overwhelmed, we can see the love of Yahweh Shalom, Christ our Peace, in that friendly, willing person who takes our kids on an adventure just so we can get a break.
  3. When we feel empty, frustrated or abandoned, our tender Immanuel, the Lord with us, puts His arms around us through the listening ear of one who cares or who has walked a mile in our shoes.
  4. When we don't know how we'll pay the bills or make ends meet, Jehovah Jireh, God the provider comes to the rescue through an anonymous gift or surprise refund, leaving us bewildered as to how we ever kept afloat.
  5. When we get that little opportunity to see a beautiful sunset, smell a gorgeous bouquet, pet a soft puppy, hear a symphony of birds in the morning or taste the fresh produce of the season, Elohim, our Mighty Creator is filling our hearts to the brim.

While we may think that God no longer speaks or we hunger for His presence, we need to be mindful that He IS here whether we recognize it or not. As the Body of Christ, WE are His hands and feet to a hurting world. (Romans 12:4-5) He promises that He's always there when we seek Him out. (Jeremiah 29:13) He loves us deeply and cares about our every trouble. (Jeremiah 31:3, Psalm 56:8) THIS is what our awesome God looks like.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Havoc of Holidays

 "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance."
(Psalm 16:6)

While holidays of all kinds are much anticipated, there can be a certain amount of dread at the thought of facing the inevitable chaos that accompanies them. This is when I remind parents of my great love of the BOUNDARIES books by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. These Christian psychologists do a fabulous job of making readers aware of biblical mandates regarding these issues, and offer practical insights on how to let in the good and keep out the bad, gaining control of life.

Here are some holiday challenges to keep in mind:

  • Maintain boundaries with diet. While some fun foods or sweets are permissible, only you know your child's limits. Offer alternatives for your child when you know there will be other temptations around at picnics and social gatherings. Weigh in your mind what price you're willing to pay for your child deviating from their usual eating patterns.
  • Maintain boundaries with sleep. No one likes to miss the fireworks, big band concerts or other late night events. But again, count the cost. Perhaps being mindful of these challenges, a nap or quiet rest time in the afternoon can be built around this schedule. And if you have to skip events that run later in the evening, remember that it's not forever.
  • Maintain boundaries with risky behaviors. Does your child lack the mental capacity to discern danger? Then being near sparklers or other pyrotechnics is not advisable! Might using the trampoline be considered too dangerous for a child with a given diagnosis? Then don't be afraid to be firm on denying that activity, and offer another fun physical outlet. Is your child prone to wandering? Make certain that a medical alert tag is worn and that you make those you're celebrating with aware of this concern.
  • Maintain boundaries with hurtful comments. It is well known that police get the largest flood of domestic disturbance calls when there are holiday gatherings. Bringing people together often means unwanted remarks regarding your child or your parenting skills. Before subjecting yourself to this, make certain that you and/or your spouse are on the same page with what can/will be tolerated. Some parents are at a place where they can offer a firm, but appropriate retort. Others feel that one more comment will make them dissolve. Decide if it will mean leaving early or not going at all before you attend a gathering.
Getting ahead of these issues before you encounter them will help assure that your boundary lines will fall in pleasant places too! Have a wonderful holiday!

PRAY:  Holy Spirit, help me control the havoc of my holidays.  Remind me of these ideas.  Make order out of our chaos, so we can enjoy this time together.

~ Barb Dittrich