Friday, January 29, 2010

Play to Finish Well!


Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. (Romans 12:11-12, CEV)

This morning I felt a heavy conviction as I read the story of a biblical king, Asa, who started out his reign well, but finished poorly. This was a man who had a grasp on what was important and dedicated himself to it. He trusted God in the most impossible of situations. Later, he even rallied the people he led, to commit themselves with zeal to doing the right things. However, he blew his whole legacy by becoming lax, taking his eyes off the goal and doing horrible things to people.

My conviction comes in seeing how easy it would be for me, for any of us, to be an Asa. We start out with our hearts and heads in the right place. We have passion at the "buy-in", but droop when it comes to consistency. We begin with resolve and often trade it in for apathy.

I even find that this can be true of my parenting. I see a behavior in my child that is unacceptable. Identifying the need to reshape that child's character, I seek out all the necessary tools to accomplish my goal. Still, the weariness of the daily battles makes me chose comfort over character. My children can too easily dissolve into a path of unstructured apathy.

Medical struggles can put me off track too. Following through with therapies, treatments and medications can appear to be the "magic bullet" when I begin them, but when no easy outcomes appear, routine vanishes. I can resolve to stand up to medical professionals and therapy providers knowing that I have a good strategy that I'm comfortable with. One extremely weak moment can then find me rolling over to what I'm being pushed to do by those who are certain that they know better than I!

I don't want to be an Asa. There's no joy, no accomplishment, no glory in being flaccid. And when friends call my attention to my shortcomings, I want to have a teachable spirit. So I need to find ways to finish the race well.

There are some ways that we can end up at our intended destination when completing the rat race of life. First, decide! You know that every worthy goal starts with a decision to end up in a certain place and a commitment to get there. Measure the cost of your resolution at the outset. Don't start something you have no intention of finishing. It not only ruins your credibility with others, but also with yourself.

Second, do everything within your power to keep your eyes on the prize. Whether it is resolving that you will treat your child's diagnosis without the use of prescription drugs or determining that you will make certain your child is included in a Sunday school program at a local church, don't get sidetracked from what you are attempting to accomplish. It's probably not news that writing down the goal and steps you'd like to use to implement it results in a more favorable outcome.

Third, surround yourself with encouragers. One has to wonder what sort of people Asa was surrounding himself with that made him fall off the wagon after so many years of faithfully pursuing God's plan for his life. I, for one, could not make it through most days without the storehouse of individuals who believe in me and admonish me to do what is right. When "the committee" of doubt convenes in my head, there is nothing like a person walking side-by-side with me to snap me out of the self-accusations.

Fourth, refill your cup! No human being can keep focused when they are worn-out, stressed-out, poorly nourished and isolated. God made our bodies and minds in a certain fashion. We deceive ourselves and implode when we think we can circumvent those God-given needs. Whether it be taking time to read a book, going out with a friend or enjoying a hobby, renewal will energize you to get back in the game.

Wrap all of these things in God's word and prayer and you have an unbeatable combination for standing your ground. In the end, it's not the one-hit-wonder, the flash-in-the-pan who leaves their mark on the world. It is the one who persists, who continues putting one foot in front of the other, heading in the right direction even if they fall down once in awhile, who makes it to the winner's circle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WORDS FROM THE WISE


"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts." (Colossians 3:16, NLT)

I was recently speaking at a disability conference where I had an opportunity to meet a number of new leaders in the community. The discussion arose as to what a toll raising a child with special needs takes on a marriage. "I've been to therapists. I don't need another therapist! I need a mentor!," exclaimed a mom when offered free psychological resources by a fellow-leader.

Days later, I was in a chat room discussing similar issues with other parents of special kids when a mom mused, "I get more out of this group than I do from hours at a therapist!" I mentioned the mentoring comment by the mom at the conference. To my surprise, one of the other participants hadn't heard of the mentoring concept in the framework of parenting.

There's no doubt that the Lord loves that model of mentoring. Time and time again, we see characters in both the Old and New Testaments taking others under their wings. From Joshua and Ruth, to Timothy and Titus, God favors the passing on of wisdom from one individual to another. It's that person who has walked a mile in our shoes, but who is just a few steps ahead of us that can be an invaluable resource.

So what should a mentor look like? Here's a little acrostic to help:
  • M odel - A mentor should model behavior and techniques that the mentee would aspire to. For example, if a parent is having difficulty with having a reasonable family life with a child who has ADHD, they would want to connect with a parent who is modelling the type of family life they'd like to have. So often, valuable tools are more caught than taught. Modelling shows an effective method in action.
  • E ncourager - The mentor can relate to the mentee's feelings of defeat or inadequacy. Cheering another to the finish line can often be the only thing that helps us to hang in there on difficult days. In the Christian context, pointing the mentee to God's promises and stories from the Word that mirror our own experience can be a great lift.
  • N ot Out To Impress - The mentor is willing to be transparent, to share their own struggles, to discuss how they got through a similar challenge. A mentoring situation cannot work if there is going to be "window dressing" or acting as if life is under control at all times. A mentor is most useful by being vulnerable themselves.
  • T eacher - Explanation, referral to resources or introduction to other friends can render the mentor a wonderful instructor. How often do we joke that we need classes & a license to drive a car, but there is no school & license to become a parent? When a mentor comes alongside another person, the student becomes the teacher and learning gets passed down the line.
  • O vercomer - Mentors are individuals who refuse to throw in the towel and walk away from a trial in defeat. They know God has a plan for their lives and that their struggles can be recycled for good. They hold tight to promises like Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." The mentor is on the other side of a situation or has learned to thrive in the midst of it.
  • R elying On God - The mentor knows their own limitations. In their humility, they realize that it's the Good Lord who got them through trials that were too big for them to manage on their own. They point the mentee to a wisdom that is beyond the human. And they pray for God to direct them as they mentor that fragile student.

Oh, how rich is the value of that mentoring experience! It may be another couple that helps you and your spouse to adapt to the unique struggles you face. It may be an individual who has a listening ear and a heart for what you're going through that points you in the right direction. I personally grew from parents who went before me in the overwhelming world of raising a child with a bleeding disorder. I also feel I could not have made it through without a woman who was my "big sister" all during my youngest child's high-risk pregnancy. Those people are still dear to my heart as friends today.

If you are in need of the lift of another person's valuable life experience, I encourage you to seek out a mentor today! If you have made it down some rough roads in life, why not use that to bless another by mentoring them? Either way, it can be one of life's greatest gifts.

*For more information on connecting with a mentor, contact us through our website at www.snappin.org

Friday, January 22, 2010

We All Need A Good Threshing?


"His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks. He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never goes out. " (Matthew 3:12, CEV)

In the midst of our modern society, I have to ask you, are you familiar with the process of threshing? Nowadays, we have high-tech farming implements that complete the task, but it's been a part of agriculture since antiquity. Threshing is the painstaking process of crushing wheat or another crop to separate the grain from the inedible part of the harvested plant.

In biblical times, and even now in less mechanical cultures, the threshing was followed by winnowing. This was accomplished by tossing the crushed product up in the air where the waste was blown away and the edible portion fell to the ground for gathering up. It was a method of keeping the good and eliminating the undesirable.

So why do I think it's worth your time to read about the process of threshing and winnowing? This is worthwhile because it is a great analogy for the work God is doing in each and every one of our lives, if we let him.

Although I've read it numerous times, God awakened me to a fascinating fact in His word. In 1 Chronicles 21:20-28 King David bought the threshing floor of Araunah to offer a sacrifice to God. This sacrifice was costly to David, and was made in repentance for disobeying the Lord. When David's son, Solomon, became the king, the temple was built on the exact spot of that threshing floor (2 Chronicles 3:1). The very Holy of Holies, the very place considered to be the dwelling place of Yahweh on earth, embellished with elaborate gold was built over the place where the good grain was separated from the undesirable chaff.

Is all this coincidence? There is no such thing in God's economy. Look in the Bible and you see countless references to farming and nature. The Lord uses practical examples to reveal spiritual truths.

How awesome is it that when man comes into God's presence, the process of separating the desirable from that which must be eliminated begins to take place! The pieces of our lives that are not like Christ -- selfishness, pride, addiction, gossip, all sin -- are removed one by one, painstakingly like the grain from the chaff. The good is gathered in. Growth in wisdom, fostering of godly friendships, charity, kindness, generosity all expand as we draw close to God.

Still, this is a crushing process. For parents of kids with special needs, the heartache, the finances, the physical weariness, the medical procedures, the battle with schools and the seeking of justice in society are all part of this painful sifting. And it costs us dearly. Like David, we come to the Lord paying a high price.

Nevertheless, just like the Temple, our Father is uniquely equipped to turn something agonizing into something of immense value, covered in pure gold. Only Jesus can use our hurts to create something beautiful (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). How many times have our children's difficulties been used to touch another life? Watching our faith-filled struggles can bring others to an encounter with God. Respectfully fighting for changes in society can make the road smoother for other families. Even medical staff can be touched by watching our lives and how we move through them with the help of our Savior.

Persevere, my dear friend! It may not be fun to endure, but threshing is creating something beautiful in you. As we move through each trial with reliance on the Holy Spirit to help us keep the good and throw out the bad, we look more like Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18) And He's MUCH better looking than any of us!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SHAKEN TO THE CORE


God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3, NIV)

I urge you to read Psalm 46 in its entirety before going any further.

Not believing in coincidence, I find it a powerful meditation that I read this psalm when a horrific 7.0 earthquake flattened the nation of Haiti. Suffering, shock, desperation and hopelessness leave these poor victims of circumstance wondering how life will go on. Life has changed abruptly and forever. The anguished look in the eyes of survivors cry out for help.

On a smaller scale, each parent of a child with special needs has experienced their own "earthquake". With their world turned upside down at diagnosis, families are shaken to their core, left with many of the same emotions as victims of natural disasters. Glad to be alive, yet wondering which end is up, parents are often initially "paralyzed" in shock. Mourning over a life that will never be as they had hoped, parents are in need of comfort and help. A crisis of faith occurs, and adjustments need to be made. A new course of action needs to be taken.

How does a human soul ever turn such stress, such tragedy into an occasion for God to be glorified? Simply put, that soul trusts and obeys.

God graciously builds our trust by providing us with His Word. In that Word, we see over and over again promises made and kept. He proves Himself trustworthy.

When we trust, we acknowledge all that we are not and all that God is. We are not in control. He is. We are weak and vulnerable. He is strong and sovereign. We may be unaware. Yet, He is ever present, never sleeping on the job. And when we admit He is worthy of our trust in the midst of crises, we calm ourselves a bit and strengthen all who see us.

God's grace comes into play with obedience as well. It can be much easier to obey someone who proves themselves trustworthy. (Of course, some of us are so stubborn, we'll rarely obey.) And when we fail in the obedience department, He gives us countless "do-overs".

When we obey, God promises His blessings. I often think obedience is really a manifestation of the trust we have in our Savior. And to obey, we do need to quiet ourselves and let God be God. (Psalm 46:10) We need to neither be spiteful about our circumstances nor manipulative about outcomes. We need to walk with the comfort of knowing that He has our best at heart.

All this taken into consideration, a quiet inner peace is possible in the midst of the storm. A joy can be present in the midst of heartache, whether by earthquake or illness. And I am greatly encouraged by the knowledge that Jesus is the unique recycler of tragedy. Only He can turn something as ugly as our deepest sorrows into something unimaginably beautiful! If we allow Him, He can turn us into walking, talking, living examples of that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

SHARING THE LOAD


Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)


A couple of weeks ago we had our son in for hematology clinic. Because my husband works for the local blood bank, he sees some of the hematologists frequently. One of these doctors, whom my spouse frequently chats with about cross-country skiing, noticed that he was at our clinic appointment. The doctor told us that he was surprised to find out that my husband also helps with infusing and treating our son. He told us that it is usually the mothers that do the 3-times-weekly IV push on their children.


After the visit, my husband and I discussed how it's just second nature for us to share the responsibility of managing our son's hemophilia. We trade-off each time our son needs an infusion, so we each keep our venipuncture skills up. I expressed, "I need to know that you can take care of this boy if I get hit by a Mack Truck!"


As we chatted further, we came to the recognition that this is a topic of major concern to most parents of kids with special needs. The difficulties of sharing the load with a child who needs extra care has a number of different scenarios that can make one spouse feeling resentful of the other.


One common difficulty can be a disengaged father. Often times, the husband sees himself as the breadwinner and feels his wife is responsible for all things child-related. He comes home tired and can't be bothered with the information that needs to be digested in order to care for that special child. It can also be an obstacle if the father is squeamish, which makes him avoid anything biological.


Another common challenge can be a controlling mother. Fearing any further harm may come to her already fragile child, the wife can often exclude her spouse from getting involved in any way. There can be an intolerance for having things done any other way than the way she does them, which makes it impossible for her husband to please her.


Other factors that play into load-dumping between couples who have a child with a special need can include job travel making one spouse unavailable, lack of acceptance of the diagnosis by one spouse or even a broken marriage. Whatever the cause, this is not the way God intended it to be.


Marriage is an earthly model of the Trinity. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit are One, so the husband, wife and God create a successful unity. If you crack God's word open, throughout it, you will find that God created us to be social beings. In the first book of the Bible, He states "It is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) The Lord created "a helper" for Adam.


Although it may not feel like it, you are privileged to be chosen by God to be the parents of that special child -- BOTH of you. And since God chose both of you as the parents of that precious one, it is essential that you each engage in the care of that child.


Now that involvement does not need to look exactly the same for both of you. Complementarity is also a hallmark of a good marriage. Maybe he does the bathing & you do the feeding. Maybe he deals with the doctor's bills and you address the challenges with the school. Dialogue between the two of you is essential to coming up with a plan that is satisfactory to both.


How we get to the point of that dialogue can be a challenge in and of itself as well. You might start with some of these strategies:


  • Stop holding grudges and be willing to courteously express to your partner the difficulties from your viewpoint.

  • Don't have these conversations in the middle of a heated argument or at a stressful time.

  • Set a time where all is calm where you can sit down with paper, pen and hash out the details.

  • Be willing to hear what you spouse has to say even if it's not what you want to hear.

  • Controllers, be willing to adopt the "Good enough is good enough" attitude towards the other spouse handling care of your child. (As long as it isn't gross negligence!)

  • Those who are checked out, it's time to be a responsible adult and get involved.

  • Squeamish types, plug your nose, swallow hard and help out once in awhile. We all have grotesque parts of life that we need to handle.

  • Make it a regular habit of reviewing what you're doing. You don't need to formally schedule a meeting, but touch base with your spouse to make sure they're satisfied with how things are going. If things aren't working out, speak up in a polite manner.

Above all else, pray! Spending time together in prayer will definitely build intimacy in your relationship. It's also valuable time away from the kids.


If you are finding these things impossible, save your sanity and your marriage by getting a mediator involved. There is an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of stress on a couple with a special needs child. God gave us fabulous resources to use including psychotherapists, support groups, and marriage counselors. Take hold of any of these helpful tools to make you into that strong, three-stranded cord that God intended you to be!

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Can't, But God Can!


Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26, NIV)

Home infusion isn't always the easiest of undertakings. While there is definite convenience & benefit to having this therapy available, hearing your child cry out "I can't" when it's time for you to insert the IV needle in their arm has to be one of the most heartbreaking things a parent can endure. Even so, I always tie our experience back to God.

This morning, Charlie had another rough infusion, tears rolling down his face, having to be physically restrained to place the IV. Nevertheless, we did end up having a discussion about what we can handle. When he expressed his inability to undergo yet another stick of the needle (he's had well over 1,000 in his short life), I told him, "You're right, Charlie. You can't, but God can." I then proceeded to share with him amazing stories of people who trusted in the Lord, were obedient to Him and who accomplished surprising things.

And isn't it just the same with us parents? Most parents of a child with special needs can't even count the number of times we've been told things like, "You're so strong", "I couldn't handle what you do". Another of my all time favorites is "God never gives us more than we can handle. He just must have known that you would be able to handle this." To all these comments I say "poppycock"! I believe God does allow more than we can handle, so we will reach out to Him in our journey. There is no possible way any of us could handle some of the things we survive daily out of our own character or power! In fact, many of us take our turn feeling shell-shocked due to the valleys of our child's continuum of health. If we focus on those valleys, our lives will be hopeless indeed.

But our hope lays in a BIG God! This is the One who parted the Red Sea. He made promises and never failed to keep them. He rained mana in the desert. He gave the little Israelites victory over much stronger & well-equipped adversaries. He healed the blind, the disabled, the sick. Yes, this One even conquered death itself! God has proved Himself over and over again to us throughout history, so why should we ever look to ourselves for our meager strength when He offers us an everlasting hope that is beyond our wildest dreams?

Yes, days will come where we can barely put one foot in front of the other. Our strength and faith may dim, but call out to your Savior. He cares so deeply for both you and your child. He is more than willing to put His glory on display by helping us through the big and the little when we rely on Him!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Fresh Start!


"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)


It seems that as the calendar turns over each year, people resolve to take on new challenges, to reach new goals. This year was very hard for me to do that. Overwhelmed by a slew of friends and ministry participants with grave diagnoses, serious personal trials, and even death, I had difficulty looking into the days ahead and figuring out what I was exactly aiming for. I had no resolutions because there was no resolve left in me. The same old problems seem to continue to win out against decent people.


But as He always does, God lifted my chin and fixed my view on what He sees as important. What if this year were different? What if we approached these same old problems in a new way?


You've probably heard it said before that the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result each time. Yet, isn't that how most of us live? It is way too easy as we trudge through life with a child who has a special need to do things the same old way in hopes of gaining some "normalcy" or "predictability" in our lives. I would contend, however, that the only way our lives and the lives of our children can leave a positive impact is if we fight that urge and have a willingness to continually adapt.


For example, what would it be like if this year we actually:


  • became a pro-active advocate for our child, trusting those God-given instincts we've been blessed with rather than relinquishing control to medical, educational or social providers?

  • took care of ourselves without guilt, connecting with others like us who need support, watching our nutrition, exercising, getting proper rest and enjoying a hobby?

  • got off of ourselves and volunteered, not making excuses, but giving back because we know how blessed we've been by receiving?

  • educated ourselves on laws, programs or innovations so we can be an informed consumer ourselves and in turn, educate those around us?

  • loved our families and friends while we have them, cherishing each moment instead of focusing mainly on the burdens in our lives?

What is the "new thing" God is doing in your life in 2010? You can only discover that by carving out time to be quiet in His presence. Daily, or at least attempted-daily, time in His word will guide your steps, clear your mind and help you to learn from others who have gone before us since time began.


My prayer for each of us in this new year is that we would have a fresh start, approach things with a renewed joy and know that we don't have to stay stuck in the same old rut!