Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Receiving the Best in Rest

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  ~ Matthew 11:28, NIV

It's a given - Raising a child with any sort of special need requires extra energy.  As parent of such a child, we are required to be an insurance expert, triage nurse, occupational therapist, education rights expert and overall advocate.  When you combine these necessities with the regular demands of parenting, we can become far more weary more quickly than the average mom or dad.  We need our cup refilled.

But how?  Each individual gets that rest so differently.  Any assortment of hobbies or interaction with other adults may bring some rest.  While actual sleep, a massage or quiet time reading might be just what it takes to get refreshed.  Just having some "normal" experiences with your child where you don't have to explain can be a blessing as well.

It's even likely that a parent doesn't know what will rejuvenate them because so many parents buy into the lie that they should be able to do it all without help from anyone else.  That doesn't do anyone any favors.  Even Jesus pulled away for awhile to be able to fill his tank and minister to the demanding crowds once again.

We are excited to be collaborating with Zachariah's Acres on the building of a new, innovative Christian respite campus.  This facility will not just be a respite center, but an entire campus.  Built on 50 rolling acres in Northern Waukesha County, Wisconsin, there's a bigger dream for you and your children than just a place to drop off your child.  The developers of this land are hoping to offer the opportunity for both you and your children to enjoy being refreshed in God's nature at such a place.  The campus approach will afford for an ADA accessible nature path through woods and prairies.  With 3 lovely ponds, various birds including great blue herons and wood ducks can be watched while dipping a fishing line.  Families will be welcomed to outdoor events with the building of a park pavilion, a bonfire pit and perhaps even an accessible playground.  A subsequent phase of the campus may include a bed and breakfast where mom and dad can have an evening alone without being so far away from their child that there is great angst.  And these are only a few of the ideas involved in this exciting development.

The remarkable part is that this campus is being built by parents just like you for parents just like you.  We know best what we want for ourselves and our precious children.  So we invite your reflection on such a respite opportunity.  What might the perfect refreshment look like for you and your special child?  We can't wait to hear! 

Pray:  Oh, God, you are the giver of dreams and of every perfect gift.  Help me in daring to dream what a respite facility for me and my child might look like.  Bless the land donor of this project, and give wisdom to those who are developing this project.  May it all be for Your glory!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Merit of Mentors

Imitate me as I imitate Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 11:1, GWT

Parenthood is NOT for sissies!  Although I always knew I wanted to be a parent some day, I could never tell you specifically why or what I expected it to be.  In retrospect, I can see how God allowed me to go through certain trials in order to make me a better mother to the little people He entrusted to me.  But there are still many times I feel completely inadequate, begging the Lord to cover over my shortcomings in the eyes of my children.

It has been said before, "You need a license to drive a car, but any idiot can be a parent."  That leaves one wondering where we can look for training or growth if we truly take this role seriously.  Add to that role the huge responsibility of raising a well-adjusted child in spite of chronic illness or unique challenges, and a parent really needs a lifeline!

This is where Jesus left us a tremendous gift.  Not only did He faithfully, redeem us, but He mentored twelve clumsy guys and modeled how to do the same.  This wonderful method of of imparting wisdom and truth to others was a hallmark of Jesus' public life.

Here are some notable focal points of Jesus' mentoring:
  • Jesus always shared the wisdom that is beyond human wisdom.  There are so many things we come up against in life that are beyond our understanding.  We especially wrestle with deep philosophical and theological questions in times of crisis.  Jesus used those practical opportunities to draw people closer to the Father and gave them the opportunity to enter into intimate knowledge of Him.  That equipped those who followed Him to live through things like abuse, imprisonment and persecution with something that transcends the tragedies of this world.  His knowledge was meant to be shared.
  • Jesus met people where they were at and hung out in their midst.  I first heard from Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."  Jesus understood that people can't gain an eternal vision without first having their immediate crises addressed.  He validated them and their concerns, then pointed to the awesome hope that lay beyond their oppressing problems.  His approachability was refreshing.
  • Jesus let his actions speak for themselves.  All the lecturing in the world wouldn't mean a thing in our understanding of God had Jesus not walked a mile in our shoes.  He knew what it was like to be human, with all of its difficulties, and yet had his eye solidly fixed on the Father.  He unjustly suffered, so we can rely on his words and his example when we undergo the same.  His genuineness was admirable.
  • Jesus had an incredible ability to discern when a person needed tenderness and when a person needed a kick in the behind.  Despite meeting oppressed people who found themselves in a variety of tough circumstances, Jesus knew that candy-coating things wasn't always the right tool to use.  There were times when people were appropriately overwrought and convicted in their own situation where Jesus offered great tenderness and comfort.  But there were also many times where Jesus called people out on their unwillingness to face the truth or change.  His honesty was a solid  model.
  • Jesus spent more time at His Father's feet than He ever did mentoring.  Aside from the 30 year training period God put His only Son through, there was still an immense amount of time that Jesus spent alone with God when he was active in his mission.  Oh, how rich Jesus' mentoring was because he had spent forty days in the desert fasting and praying.  He made a habit of getting up before sunrise to spend time with the Father.  And he separated himself from the crowds and disciples with regularity.  His priorities were a goal worthy of replicating.
So, how does that all translate into our daily living now?  God surely wouldn't have wasted the last three years of His Son's life on earth mentoring disciples unless it was an important model.  If this awkward mix of fishermen, tax collectors and average guys needed to be guided to grow into the fullest potential God had in mind for them, why shouldn't this process be one we both go through and eventually help others through over time?

Parents of children with varying diagnoses desperately need this mentoring.  Beginning by spending time with someone more mature and experienced, a mother or father continues to grow, not only in the daily care of that child, but also in personal spiritual growth.  That personal enrichment that the parent gains is then naturally poured into that child as well as others around the parent.  Eventually, if the mentoree is willing to personally mature, they will also become a valuable mentor.

Pray:  God, thank You that You made us for relationship with both yourself and each other!  Help me to grow by this example of mentoring that Jesus left me!

* Look for future posts on mentoring as SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES continues to develop a formal mentor program across the nation for parents of children with special needs.

**Join us this Thursday evening, 7:30 PM, CST as we enjoy a live chat with one another about PARENT MENTORS at http://tweetchat.com/room/spnmin

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Equal But Different

Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. Galatians 3:28

Parenting a child with special needs is multi-layered.  Any parent of kids with challenges will solidly affirm this.  Life never happens in a vacuum.  So the entire family experiences a different kind of life together on this journey.

One of the difficulties that repeatedly seems to rear its ugly head in these families is the adjustment of "typical" siblings.  While rivalry is a regular occurrence between any two siblings, there is definitely a whole new issue when one of them has a particular diagnosis.

The added time and attention required by the child with a disability can cause a definite wedge between siblings.  Family relationships can become downright strained as the sibling with no diagnosis is asked to be responsible beyond their years.  We can end up asking this child to forego their needs being met and to offer understanding that they don't have the cognitive maturity to comply with.  It is not unusual for anger and resentment to fester.  Questioning self-value can occur.  At the same time guilt for being healthy or for having negative feelings in the first place can further confuse the healthy sibling.

So, how do we help our children through one of the most difficult parts of living in a family with a child who has special needs?  Several things can help result in a much better outcome.
  1. Start by dealing with your own strong emotions as a parent.  If you're experiencing guilt, get help dealing with it.  Be willing to admit that you may be expecting too much of your typical child while favoring your child with unique needs.  Until you get yourself healthy, it's unreasonable to expect your family to have healthy relationships.
  2. Make time to calmly explain to your other child the difficult position you are in as well as the needs that challenge their brother or sister.  Affirm your love for them and acknowledge how difficult this can be for a healthy sibling.  Be willing to answer questions or just listen without condemnation.
  3. Carve out some special time just for your child who does not have a specific diagnosis.  Do some things that your child has expressed interest in.  One big sore spot in our house was that our son got to go to McDonald's after his long clinic days at the hospital while the others did not.  In my special time with each of the other kids, we went out to eat wherever they wanted.  It doesn't even have to be that big.  Just reading a book together or going to the park offers the time that is so desperately craved.
  4. Never wield the weapon of guilt!  Nothing can be more divisive than clobbering your healthy child over the head with the fact that they don't have any diagnosis to overcome.  When they have a complaint, hardship or injury, take it seriously.  Every human-being needs validation, and life is not a pain contest.
  5. Don't forget to teach what God has to say about siblings.  While we don't want to use God's word to make our children feel bad about their relationship with a brother or sister, it is an important place to find examples of good and bad that has happened in families since the dawn of time.  And stories like that of Joseph and his brothers or of Jacob and Esau can demonstrate to our kids that even in the worst situations, healing between those we're related to is always possible.
  6. Help them form their own good memories together.  In spite of the issues we deal with, we make sure to develop traditions that are ours alone.  Hobbies, trips or family stories are memories that your children can share amongst themselves even when you're not in the picture.  We even sent all three of our kids to a diagnosis-specific camp together for a week this summer.  There, they developed fun memories together that my husband and I will never be privy to.  The ride home was definitely more pleasant than it was on the way there!
  7. Recognize that much of this is typical sibling rivalry.  It gets difficult to tease out what's "normal" and what's not.  Yes, there are differences in your family, but if they weren't there, there may be another reason for the bickering.  Monitor the situation, but don't lay it all at the feet of the special need.
With these few steps, raising a family that loves both typical and not-so-average kids can become much more delightful.  These precious gifts from God are not the same, but they should know that they are equal in the eyes of both their heavenly Father and their earthly parents.

PRAY:  Lord, some days I feel like I'm raising Cain and Abel!  Help me to make these children understand that you have given them one another as a gift.  Lead me to raise well-adjusted kids who thrive in spite of any adversities they may face.

*Join us every Thursday night at 7:30 PM, CST to discuss faith and special needs at http://tweetchat.com/room/spnmin  For more information how TweetChat works, visit our Facebook event announcement at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=276508309043484 This Thursday's topic will be on "Helping Siblings Work Through Negative Emotions".

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lessons From 911

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe...  
(Hebrews 12:28, NIV)

Like so many of us, I remember that day like it was yesterday.  I had just dropped off my daughter for kindergarten at her private Christian school.  I returned home to my chores.  I heard the news on the radio as I was making my bed and tidying the room.  Originally, they thought it was a CESNA that had hit Tower 1.

"It really is a sight to see," the radio announcer out of Madison proclaimed.  "If you're near a TV you should turn it on."

I did.  And my life was forever changed.  Weren't all of ours?  I remember shouting out my bedroom window to my next door neighbor who was in her backyard, telling her what was happening.  Shortly after, I watched in disbelief as I witnessed the second plane hit on live television.  There were rumors of dozens more planes missing from radars, leading citizens to believe that the hijackings were massive.  The Pentagon was hit.  The plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania crashed.  All flights were grounded, including that of a dear friend who was home visiting from out of state.  She was stranded indefinitely at my house.  It felt like the world was going to end that day.

All I wanted was to get my girl home from school and hold her close.  I worried about access to life-saving medication for my son who was not quite a year-and-a-half old at the time.  I couldn't hear my husband's voice often enough over the phone.  Love of family reigned supreme on that day.

Now, a decade later, though the horror is as fresh to me as that of watching the first spire sink in implosion, I realize there are many powerful and positive lessons born from the tragedy.  Of course, without thought, priorities are quickly straightened out when the focus is turned towards survival.  The treasure of each person you know and love surfaces in humble gratitude.

Then there are inspirational stories like that of Michael Benfante who, along with a co-worker carried Tina Fansen down 68 stories in her wheelchair to safety right before the building collapsed.  Through his selfless act of kindness, he affirmed the value of every life, proving each worthy saving.

Additionally, there is the unity of the people at this time.  I remember peacefully coming together with an adversarial neighbor as we listened to Billy Graham's sermon on the radio during the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance a mere 3 days after the attack.  Church attendance around the nation increased.  And people returned to our only Sure Foundation.

As our troops eventually deployed, I even recall meeting at the entry to our subdivision where neighbors gathered to hold hands and pray.  We were truly "One nation, under God."

So what is the take-away from these memories a decade later?  I believe it is still, "...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land," (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV)  And, "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity," (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)  We need these Christian attitudes and behaviors every bit as much as we did the day this nation was attacked.  Let us not fail to live this way and boldly share this message with others every day that we are granted on this earth.

PRAY:  Father, the shock and horror of September 11, 2001 left us with such transformed attitudes and behaviors.  Sadly, so many of those have faded over the past decade.  Help us to return to those values and live them out in humble, obedient gratitude without having to ever go through a national tragedy like this again.

~ Barb Dittrich

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fostering Our Kids' Faith At Home

"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." ~ Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NIV

In an age where the modern world offers so many programs to meet our needs, it becomes almost too easy for us to get lax in our God-given responsibilities.  Take for instance, the role of instilling and growing faith in a child.  That job was intended to be taught and reinforced continually in the home and supported in the church.  But when a parent is dealing with the exhausting demands of dealing with special needs, Christian formation can easily fall to the back burner or be relegated to one hour on a Sunday.

Read the words of Moses from Deuteronomy.  He emphasizes that the commands of God be incorporated in an ongoing way.  While that can sound exhausting, the good news is that there are SO many ways for parents of children with unique challenges to just make faith a matter of course in things that they do at home.  Here are a few fresh ideas to stimulate your personal creativity.

Do you have a child with sensory issues?  How about having your child use some scented pencils to find the hidden objects in a faith-based activity book or color in a character-building coloring book at the kitchen table while you're making dinner?

Is manual dexterity an issue?  How about using some magnets or stickers to help build your child's faith during play time at home!   Simple puzzles can be great to reinforce the message at home too.

Engaging with our children in a variety of ways can be the key to getting God's message of hope across while still keeping our sanity.  I'm referring to things such as reading wonderful books together from Max Lucado's Hermie & Friends Series or Wemmicks Series.  These can open up conversations with your precious ones about fitting in or dealing with differences in daily life.  Lucado does a superb job of conveying the love of Christ to children through these books.  Another example might be singing songs together from any number of Bible songs collections that are available.  Music can offer a much better opportunity for our kids to retain the words we are trying to impress upon them.  Doing simple craft activities together at home can present a fun, relaxing way to discuss faith with our children.  In the photo in this post, my daughter and I are making tie dyed t-shirts.  When doing something simple like this, a parent can talk about the rainbow being God's promise to Noah or the color can be an opportunity to present "The Wordless Book" to your child. 

While any of these traditional ideas are wonderful, there are amazing new technological tools now available as well.  With many parents beginning to look at the miraculous use of the iPad to aid their special child, Bible apps can be a huge blessing for faith-building at home.  The list of these tools is bound to grow over time.

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your own imagination.  And if you click on the links I've provided here, you'll also see that most of these ideas are also extremely affordable.  Let's rise to the occasion and answer the call to raise our children to be faithful lovers of the Lord by keeping them engaged at home.

PRAY:  God, help me to obey Your call to raise my children to love and know You.  Prime the pump of creativity when I don't know how to convey Your message to them.  And help me to always remind them how very much You love them!

*Join us every Thursday night at 7:30 PM, CST to discuss faith and special needs at http://tweetchat.com/room/spnmin  For more information how TweetChat works, visit our Facebook event announcement at