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.