Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to SUNDAY School!

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~ Matthew 19:14, NIV

No doubt about it, these transition times of the year are challenging for all of us.  Besides getting kids into a different sleep schedule, there's the school supply mega-acquisition and getting our kids accustomed to new teachers.  And if you're anything like our family, you're also dealing with 504 Plans and IEPs.

But the adjustments of this time of year don't end at the door of the school house.  They also continue into our halls of worship as well.  This can be especially trying if your church is not properly equipped to minister to children with special needs.  Back-to-SUNDAY-School can be even more trying than weekday education!

Here are a few ideas to help you in that direction.  First, pray before doing anything.  Nehemiah did such before he went to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and God prospered that approach greatly.  Praying before acting helps align our will with God's will for His people.  

Next, realize that the leaders in your church more than likely have no formal training on dealing with kids who have special needs.  Instead of coming at elders, pastors or staff with guns a-blazing, soften with the knowledge that this is a segment of society that has not been required to be trained in the arena of inclusivity up to this point.  Approach gently and helpfully in building awareness that a church needs to establish or develop programming for those with special needs.

In addition, make sure to build an awareness of the tools and resources now available to churches in disability programming.  We LOVE Key Ministry's ability to train churches and get them excited about reaching out to children with unique abilities.  Also, for a good, quick-start, easy curriculum for those with intellectual challenges, Friendship Ministries is a place we like to direct people.  Interested in seeing what other churches are doing with excellence in the area of special needs?  Amy Fenton Lee's The Inclusive Church is a great go-to resource.  Shannon Dingle's The Works of God Displayed is a terrific blog to follow as well!  And CMConnect is a wonderful social networking website that integrates every facet of Children's Ministry including ministering to challenged kids.

The sites mentioned are not only good for starting to accommodate every child in a Sunday School, but they're also extremely helpful with improving existing programs.  These leaders help churches of every size address concerns or discover new ideas that never would have otherwise occurred to them.  Best-practices in this area of service can be determined by referencing these tools.

As the school-year begins, don't forget that your school-year at the feet of Jesus and hopefully, your child's new year at Sunday School are equally, if not more, important.  Being mindful of these few things will help in removing hindrances that would keep you all from the church family that God intended for you!

*Please join us for more tips, insights & opinions on Special Needs Sunday School, Thursday, 9/1/11 #SpnMin TweetChat, 7:30 PM CST at http://tweetchat.com/room/spnmin

Friday, August 26, 2011

Humor Only the Parent of a Child with Special Needs Can Fully Appreciate!

A cheerful heart is good medicine... (Proverbs 17:22, NIV)

Anyone who knows me realizes that laughter is my favorite coping mechanism!  I even have a talk I've repeatedly given on "The Healing Power of Humor" to those in the nation's special needs community.  A good chuckle puts my problems in perspective and helps me deal with so much of the absurdity that faces me daily in raising these kids with special needs.

This past weekend, it suddenly occurred to me that I should probably have the tattoo of a drug company somewhere on my personhood.  As I looked around me, I found countless tchotchkes (pronounced choch-kees) with drug company logos on them.  Holy cow, I realized, half my camper is stocked with stuff I got from specialty pharmacies and drug manufacturers!  I thought we could share a couple of chuckles together today by sharing the items we have been given by our friendly drug companies.

Here are just some of the wonderful items I have received over the past 11 years from drug companies that would love my $160,000 per year in business:
  • Key lanyards & chains
  • Umbrellas
  • Digital alarm clocks
  • Toy cars
  • Baseball caps
  • T-shirts
  • Beach towels
  • Mouse pads
  • Pens, pens and more pens
  • Stress balls
  • Coffee mugs...  And they're usually very ugly
  • Cloth totes, bags and backpacks
  • Frisbees
  • Ice packs
  • Band-aid dispensers...  Typically with plastic band-aids lacking adequate adhesive in them.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Post-it notes
  • Picture frames...  YES, it's true!  Don't you want a drug company logo on a frame containing your favorite photo?
  • Travel packs of tissues
  • Water bottles
  • Laundry bags...  Great.  That means I have to do laundry. 
  • Breath strips
  • Sunglasses...  Mmm.  Attractive.
  • Coloring books, crayons & markers
  • Flashlights...  Destined to be thrown in the garbage can within 30 days or sooner because they quickly die.
  • Carabiner clips... What ARE we supposed to use those for anyway?
  • Golf balls...  Because, of course, we have so much time to golf in between child-rearing and hospital visits!
I'm sure there are items I have missed.  But for $160,000 per year in drugs alone, these cheap tokens are barely a symbolic gesture of kindness!  Nevertheless, I'm grateful what I have and can laugh at that I have the ugly mugs to use in my camper.

What's on your list?  I pray that this brings a smile to the challenges of your day!

Pray:  Lord, so much of how we operate as humans seems ridiculous.  Rather than getting angry, help me to look at these things and laugh!  I know you give me the gift of laughter to carry me through all of life's difficulties.  Thank You, Father!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


"God's love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him,
  Making everything right for them and their children..." Psalm 103:17, MSG 

Well, it's back-to-school time, and if you're anything like the average parent, you're nervous.  With the new school year comes the inevitable anxiety of the unknowns.  Will this teacher be a good fit for my child?  Will the academics be at an appropriate level?  What battles will we face this school year?  Can we avoid bullying or build friendships?  Is having a good school year too much to ask?

I'm like anyone else who has a child with special needs.  My two with special needs both have new teachers AND new principals!  I wonder if the team will be as cooperative as the ones I had last school year.  And my eldest, who has no special needs now enters high school.  I'm concerned about my adequacy with managing three children in three different schools this year.  The uncertainty that feels like standing on Jell-o always rears its ugly head this time of year.

But it's times like these that we can praise God for His precious promises!  I know that although I'm uncertain, He's not.  He is in full control and able to manage anything that comes at us this year.  He goes before, beside and behind my kids as each of them enter school.  He's there on the job with them even when I'm not.  And He assures me that everything will work out alright when I seek after Him and obey Him.

This may sound like platitudes to those who don't have an intimate relationship with their creator.  After all, there are still problematic instructors and schools lacking programming.  What then?  Where is a loving God at times like this?  We've been there, and I'm here to tell you that we could not have survived those years without the hand of the Lord.  We've had times where, in our humanness, we wanted to just give the teacher an earful, because she was uncooperative and lacked compassion.  But then we were surprised by other staff coming to our aid, pleading our case for us.  We've had times where an unfamiliar diagnosis made the staff more compassionate to a bullying child who had a more familiar challenge they were dealing with.  To our surprise, an outside counselor firmly asserted our rights and helped us survive a rough school year.

My point is this, as the new school year faces each of us, let's keep our eyes fixed on the One who is able to make this a year with much growth and many happy memories.  Let's commit this year to the Lord and trust that it will be one we will be pleasantly surprised by.  Let's remember that worrying will not add one more day to our lives (Matthew 6:27), and instead give praise that He's numbered every hair on our children's heads (Matthew 10:30).  Let's speak with wisdom and kindness to those who serve our offspring in a school setting in order that we might reflect the goodness of our God.  Equipped with these thoughts, our school year can't help but be positive.

Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, I'm nervous about this school year.  I'm uncertain of what lays ahead of us, but You're not.  Go before me and my child(ren) into the school days.  Manage any obstacles we may face.  Help us to handle these with the grace and truth that reflect Your glory to all.  And in Your goodness, make everything work out alright.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recycled for God's Use

"See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (Isaiah 42:9, NIV)

Those who have followed me with any regularity of this past decade know that I am a big fan of Corrie Ten Boom and her incredible book THE HIDING PLACE.  I have found this chronicle of her life hiding Jews during World War II to be a game-changer for me because it so clearly revealed how God ordains and permits things for His good purposes. 

Long since after I first finished that book, I have been able to reflect on my own life and see how the Lord fit me for His good purposes in life just as he did Corrie.  Through multiple miscarriages, I learned to be my own best medical advocate which has been a much needed skill in parenting children with special needs.  Having once been an investment broker, budgeting and management of funds comes much more naturally to me as I run a non-profit organization.  With many memories of forensics competitions and high school plays in my life experience, my Creator has fashioned me to be an uninhibited public speaker and legislative advocate for those with a serious diagnosis.  And "Advanced Placement English" along with writing for the local village newspaper decades ago certainly benefits those I serve today.

I'm not alone either!  Just today I came across an article about a Christian Michigan high school basketball coach who was willing to lay aside her career to parent her son with Down Syndrome and move in new directions that God is leading her.  From the way she is quoted, it would appear that she is fully aware that her life experience and skills can be used in unique and unexpected ways.

What about you?  Have you explored the notion that you have been fit with a specific combination of skills for the purpose you were made for?  Might some of those experiences intersect with your parenting of a child with special needs?  I certainly never would have actively sought out establishing a non-profit organization to lead!  Don't limit what God can do with you!  Be open to the new things the Lord can do with a willing and receptive heart.

Pray:  Father, I thought my life was going in a direction very different from the one I have found myself in since a child with special needs came into our lives.  Help me to keep my eyes focused on You, since through You, anything is possible.  Don't let me miss the new purposes You have positioned me for in bringing glory to Your kingdom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Approaching the Inevitable Storms

But now, this is what the LORD says—
   he who created you, Jacob,
   he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
   I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
   they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
   you will not be burned;
   the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
   Cush and Seba in your stead.
~ Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV~

This weekend on a flight home, this scripture came to mind.  Heading from East to West on my return, we were destined to encounter some stormy weather that had just been moving through the state we were to land in.  The way the pilot handled the entire situation brought to mind many similarities with the storms of life we find ourselves flying towards.

As we flew way above the clouds, it was a beautiful view with few bumps along the way.  But in order to reach our destination, we were going to have to descend down through that storm.  With wisdom, the pilot decided to fly around to the back side of it, thus lessening the intensity of what we would have to get through.  Despite his best efforts, there came a point where he just had to plunge into the stormy clouds without seeing where he was going, trusting only his air traffic controller and instruments.  Eventually, the airport became visible.  And even with lightning flashing all around us, we were able to safely arrive home.

How often we, in our roles as parents of children with unique challenges, see those unavoidable storms in life!  We can only hover above the turmoil for so long before we are immersed in it.  Yet if we take our time, attempting to approach the situation with prudence, we may find that we are better able to manage the situation.  Putting off dealing with these storms will only result in a crash or a far rougher landing than if we had sought some discernment in what lays ahead.

Eventually we, like the pilot find ourselves thrust into a blinding set of circumstances.  We can panic or we can trust the judgment God has given us and trust that He will safely guide us home.  We can look at the weather or we can keep our focus on the Instrument that is leading us right to where we belong.

Sometimes it's just inevitable.  We can't get to where we need to be without going through life's storms.  If we handle them appropriately, we come out more skilled and capable than when we first approached them.

Pray:  Lord, I know that nothing touches me without touching You first.  When I have no choice but to walk through life's storms, give me wisdom and help me to remember you are there guiding me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Eat what you want that night, and the next morning burn whatever is left. When you eat the meal, be dressed and ready to travel. Have your sandals on, carry your walking stick in your hand, and eat quickly. This is the Passover Festival in honor of me, your LORD. (Exodus 12:10-11, CEV)

This week our ministry has the distinct honor of once again collaborating with Christian Disciple Farm to lead a group of mothers who parent children and grandchildren with special needs during a family day camp.  Today's curriculum referenced the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), and the day's theme was "Be Ready for God".  Remarkably, we explored themes on readiness, especially as it applies to our role in raising a child with unique abilities.

When we discussed the topic, the new pastor who joined us asked "What do you think God is getting you ready for?"  The conversation quickly focused on what mothers thought their individual purpose or mission is.  One mom felt the Lord was calling her to fight for her children.  Another mom sensed she was called to look beyond her child with special needs to the other typical children she is raising.  But one mom wisely asked, "How can we know for certain what God is getting us ready for?"

What a wise question indeed!  While we all agreed that hindsight is 20/20, I assured the women that our relational Father does definitely lay out for us His will in His word.  I likened it to an intimate conversation.  When we pray, God is listening to us.  When we read His word, we are listening to Him.  With that in mind, I explained to the women that no matter what the smaller battles at hand, the big picture is that God is daily preparing us to look more and more like His son, Jesus.  "And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit," 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) assures us.  That means with every situation, we are stretched and made more useful to others around us.  We carry the hope that only the gospel can give to those around us.

This caused another mother to share with the group Hebrew 11:1 (NIV), "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen."  This mom, who is going through multiple challenges right now talked about how this life in Christ is what allows her to keep her sense of humor in adversity.  And I confirmed to the ladies that it is this very thing that will make us stand out to others, causing them to wonder what allows you to have such a joy-filled demeanor in spite of your circumstances.  It doesn't even have to be in the special needs arena that God uses us.  Anywhere there is a hurting heart, a difficult battle, we should be ready to be sent by our King as an ambassador of hope.

What about you?  Do you find yourself ready, willing and able, like the Israelites before they were lead out of Egypt?  When God says "Go!" will you do so obediently with a sense of the greater purpose?  My hope is that the life experience you have been prepared with will not go to waste, but will be a beacon creating joyful anticipation in all who witness it.

Pray:  Lord, I don't even know what you may want me to be ready for, but I am yours.  You know what to prepare me for.  Help me to keep my eyes and ears open to all the things you are trying to teach me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Decisions, Decisions!

The Lord has given you sorrow and hurt like the bread and water you ate every day. He is your teacher; he will not continue to hide from you, but you will see your teacher with your own eyes. If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the right way. You should go this way." (Isaiah 30:20-21, NCV)

One of the more stressful parts of parenting a child with special needs is the countless number of decisions you are required to make on an ongoing basis.  And these decisions aren't merely like choosing a hairstyle that can grow out once cut.  These are pivotal choices that seem to determine our child's health, well-being and future at every turn.

Amidst this life of determinations, often comes confusion.  Because of the weight we feel in making these decisions on our children's behalf, it is not unusual to find ourselves stuck, uncertain which direction we should move in a given circumstance.  Do we push for an IEP over a 504 plan at school?  Do I move forward with the doctor's protocol even though I don't feel good about the direction they are taking?  Do I open up about my child's difficulties or maintain their dignity by guarding privacy?  Which battles do I fight, and which do I let go of?  Questions like these are a mere drop in a bucket flooded with choices.

Add to that list questions of faith.  Is this the most godly way for me to handle this conflict?  Am I still being Christian if I assert myself?  Do I complain to the church about the insensitive way my child and I have been treated?  These types of questions will REALLY turn our brains to Jell-O!

But to our great fortune, we have a God who cares about every detail of our complicated lives.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have amazing assistance with all of these involved decisions.  Wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We merely need to take hold of that gift. 

How do we gain access to this unique tool that the Lord has bestowed upon those who trust in Him?  It is a matter of spiritual intimacy.  By that I mean we must quiet ourselves and sit at God's feet each day.  Immersing ourselves in the Word of God helps us get to know Him better.  We more readily see how His best for us is carried out.  We get a picture of how He operates.  And amazingly, the Bible is the only book in the world that reads us as we read it!  Our hearts are examined and our conscience awakened as we spend time in the Scriptures.  We learn to ask better questions of God as we spend time listening to what He has to say.

Prayer must also accompany our daily Bible reading.  Asking God for discernment is a prayer that pleases Him because we are seeking to do His will.  Years ago, I learned from a friend the prayer that I pray too often these days, "Lord, I'm a fool, so make Your will abundantly clear to me.  Spell it out for me!"  This has served me well, as I'm sure it would you.  Bringing your angst to Him and sharing your frustrations with God is part of the intimacy too.  Jesus suffered all the earthly things you do, so He has understanding to share with your troubled heart.

Look at this time as having a personal conversation with God.  You listen to what He has to say by reading His word.  And He listens to you as you pray.  This intimate gift will provide you the assistance you need in making these numerous, intense decisions for your child.

Even so, there are times where every Christian still does not have a clear sense of which direction to take in a situation.  One of two things can be done at times like these.  A person can wait on the Lord until they feel a confident path laid before them.  After all, that clarity is promised by God.  It will also stretch your character as you are forced to wait in patience.  The other option is to move forward with confidence that your Heavenly Father will cover any mistakes you make along the way and use all things to their good.  Your Savior already paid the price for the mistakes you will unintentionally make and God is the ultimate recycler using each decision for the good as promised in Romans 8:28.

Either way, know that you have a loving Father who cares deeply about every detail of your life as well as your child's life.  He's numbered every hair on your heads.  How will He not then guide you in making important decisions for yourself and the child He has entrusted to your care?

Pray:  Lord, you are my teacher and lover of my soul.  I anxiously wait to hear your voice on which direction I should go with my decisions.  Guide me!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Would I Do Without YOU?

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
(1 John 3:1, NIV)

Allow me, if you will, to have an honest moment with you.  This has been one of the toughest summers of my life.  Not that I haven't been through tough things before.  I have had summers where I have been on crutches with knee troubles from osteoarthritis.  I have had summers where my husband was working for cash to make ends meet because he was between jobs.  I have had a couple of summers where I was in the first few years of figuring out life with hemophilia and still in crisis mode because we weren't yet approved for home therapy. 

But this summer is different.  We unexpectedly lost my father just over a month ago.  Just the heartache of not being able to hug him and joke with this sassy Irishman is enough.  Yet, there are so many other pieces to this loss.  Helping a son with anxiety disorder process such a thing brought me plenty of concern.  So did helping a little girl diagnosed with ADHD, SPD, and social deficits.  Overall, it's just been adjusting to a new life without him.

What has been especially challenging is caring for my mom.  They still lived in their own home on a third of an acre lot about 40 minutes away from my home.  Mom is disabled, without one hip due to the misfortune of osteoporosis and several failed hip replacement surgeries.  Despite having 5 other siblings, I am the one locally who she has the most trust in.  Flattering as that may be, this results in many demands on my time and the added stress of more responsibility.

In addition, my son is also having oral surgery this summer.  Having hemophilia, this becomes much more involved because the mouth is so vascular.  Making countless calls to the insurance company to get this approved to be done in a hospital versus a dentist's office took over 3 months, but the calls didn't end there.  Talking to his hematologist to develop a care plan, running to the dentist to pay half down on the astronomical bill, getting a last minute pre-surgical physical exam and unexpected immunizations has all been more involved than the typical kid would go through.

My point in this transparency is not to invite you to my personal pity party, but to share with you the value in times like these.  For it is in times like these where we are "hard pressed on every side" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) that give us pause to think, "How would I do this without Jesus?".  You see, despite our trials, we all still have jobs to do, homes to keep, bills to pay, laundry to wash.  We have the seasonal demands of holidays, and back-to-school, and yard work, and travel.  Frankly, it's humanly impossible to meet all these challenges on our own.  These are the times that it is such a great relief to have a solid faith in the redeeming power of Jesus.  I know that it is only by His power that I survive these things and survive them well!

My question to God of "What would I do without You?" then quickly becomes, "What are people who DON'T know You doing to survive this sort of stuff?".  Sadly, we know many of the answers to that.  Drinking, drugs, verbal or physical abuse, marital dysfunction, severe depression and bitter apathy are common in the overwhelming situations of too many people's lives.  People are so desperately in need of that eternal hope in these hopeless times.

One of the greatest gifts I have received in this heavy, difficult summer is the tender message from God, "Life is so hard, but My blessings and love are greater still."  That hope fills me with joy at the same time I am enduring great sorrow.  I feel my Father's lavish love just by watching light glisten off of a gently lapping lake or by seeing the sun glisten off each individual needle of a whooshing pine tree.  I feel so immensely grateful for the gift of chatting with a friend who shares common experiences, for the opportunity to see a kitten snuggling with a dog 20 times her size, for the chance my kids have to go to summer camp through generous scholarships.  The goodness God lavishes on me is far greater than the anguish that life throws at me in this sinful, imperfect world.  And even on days when I can see that goodness, I know I have the blessed assurance of heaven.

Those same blessings are available to all, but sadly, too many don't know it.  Shouldn't that compel us to share the hope of the gospel with others who suffer around us without knowing Jesus?  God has allowed a set of circumstances in our lives that uniquely position us to share with others the eternal hope that is available to all who are willing to receive it.  Peter tells us in his first letter, "...Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV)  

Not feeling all so hopeful in your overwhelming circumstances?  Maybe it's time to begin with yourself.  If you are a believer in Jesus, do you have an unopened gift right there in your possession?  Do you not recognize that your God is bigger and more gracious than any trouble you could face?  Wow!  Stop to think about the magnitude of that for a minute!  That same amazing glory that raised Jesus from the grave is available to YOU, and to anyone you would be willing to share that hope with!

Let me leave you with a little cliche of unknown origin, "We have nothing without Him, but with Him we have everything!" And a song of hope to inspire you as well:

My prayer for you today is that you would find many sweet moments before our Maker thinking, "What would I do without YOU?".

~ Barb Dittrich