Thursday, December 29, 2011

Finishing Well

I have fought the good fight. I have completed the race. I have kept the faith. The prize that shows I have God’s approval is now waiting for me. The Lord, who is a fair judge, will give me that prize on that day. He will give it not only to me but also to everyone who is eagerly waiting for him to come again. (2 Timothy 4:7-8, GW)

As yet another year draws to a close, I find myself glad to put this year behind me.  So many times it is far easier to look forward to improvement in the days ahead than it is to reflect on what we've just come through.  For my own family, too many years have been riddled by trauma.  We've had multiple years where there was an employment crisis.  There have been years where we endured hospitalizations and numerous medical crises.  Wrestling with schools, therapies or new diagnoses have often found us exhausted as a year draws to a close.  And this year we slog through the grief of losing yet another grandparent while we situate their spouse in nursing home care.

Even if the difficulties of the past year cause us to want to put it behind us, there are rewards for just having shown up.  God blesses faithful perseverance.  Too often we feel like we need to get things right or have perfect outcomes in order for this to have been a good year.  But the Lord merely calls us to hang in there and trust Him with the rest.  Jesus has already covered over our imperfections.  And God is the ultimate recycler, using all situations for our good and His glory! 

In these last few days of the year, take some time to reflect on all that you have been brought through.  How amazing that God has seen you through these things, the good, the bad, and the ugly!  What a loving Father that He would care about our lives!  While we may be glad to put the year behind us, we can also know that we finished well in faith because we survived the storms and are still here to tell about it.  Just doing the next right thing, no matter what the circumstance, is what is pleasing to God.

Pray:  Lord, thank You for all you have seen me through this year!  I couldn't have made it without You.

Friday, December 23, 2011


"No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame..."
(Psalm 25:3, NIV)

Part of the wonder of  the Christmas season is watching the eyes of children glow with excitement and anticipation of all involved in the celebration.  Squealing with delight over culinary creations and intricately wrapped gifts becomes music to the ears of all who hear.  And the joy can't help but spill over to everyone who dares to abandon themselves to the mirth.

But what happens when life doesn't turn out quite the way we expect?  Oh, how our hearts are crushed!  I would venture to say that we would be shocked if we truly knew how much time we spend grieving over what never turned out quite as we thought it might or as it will never be.  Fathers weep privately over wheelchair-bound sons that will never run at a track meet or over fragile sons that will never play football.  Mothers long to hear their names called out from the lips of their non-verbal youngsters.  Grandparents tie themselves up with worry over the future productivity of their challenged grandchildren.  And so it goes on.  These are real hurts and disappointments that we would all hope to move beyond.

Add to these broken dreams of life the largely unrealistic outlook we have towards the holiday season, and you have a toxic mix!  Family members are often completely insensitive to the plight of our children's challenges.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends expect all children to be completely polite, well-behaved, fancily dressed angels this time of year.  We expect everyone to be compassionate and have an understanding of what we live with on a daily basis.  Both are entirely unreasonable.  And waiting for situations to have the desired outcome only makes a time of great holiness completely stressful and misdirected.

One of the many great blessings yielded by my BSL (Bible Study Ladies) studies this year has been learning to pray "serious prayers."  And one of those prayers with the greatest impact in my life has been learning to, "Pray that all your expectations will be in Christ alone!"  As many of us do, I come from a family background riddled with the failings of being a control freak.  It has taken me countless years to cease trying to bridle the uncontrollable in my life.  Nevertheless, disappointment still has its insidious way of creeping into many parts of our psyche that we never even knew existed.

The beautifully liberating piece of the puzzle has come to me as I literally get face-down on my living room floor each morning, dissecting the parts of my life where I suddenly see I do have my own agenda of expectations.  I surrender those pieces to Him.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to crowd out the selfish parts of me.  More of Him and less of my self-absorbed nature!  And then I fall fully into the request to let all my expectations be in Christ alone.

Something truly amazing happens when we pray this way!  When we make a deliberate effort through prayer to align our will with His, God is faithful to answer affirmatively.  He will shape us in ever-increasing measure into the image of His beautiful Son when we willingly agree to it.  And we find peace and freedom from the godless circumstances of this world because all of our joy rests fully in the Unchanging One.

My prayer for every reader during this Christmastide is that all of your expectations would rest fully in the Babe who humbled Himself, leaving His glorious heaven to live amongst us for 33 years.  May the joy of the salvation He provided through that pain and humility give you peace and restoration no matter what you may face this year!

Pray:  "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." ~ Augustine of Hippo

~ Barb Dittrich

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Don't Forget the Batteries!

"...And how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world."  (Ephesians 19-20, GNT)

We've turned the corner on Christmas!  It's the last week of Advent, and the stretch to the holiday is here.

How often in these days prior to our celebration do we hear in stores and on television, "Don't forget the batteries"?  These compact cells of electrochemical energy are the power source for toys, cameras, electronic entertainment and so many other things we depend on to fully enjoy our Christmas.  One doubt of how much we rely on these essential items is wiped away when we make the fatal mistake of forgetting them.  Nothing can dampen the event like not having the needed power to bring things to life.

Funny how this becomes a no-brainer when it comes to getting an electronic device to work, but is so easily forgotten in our spiritual life!  Life is demanding, especially this time of year.  Yet, how often do we, as followers of Jesus forget "the batteries"?  We try to tackle every need, every dilemma and every temptation on our own.  Yet, there is a power source we were given when we invited Jesus into our lives as Savior, Lord and Leader that we fail to plug in.

What I am speaking of is that gift of the Holy Spirit within us.  In theory, there is a new Person in control in our lives when we accept Jesus' free gift of salvation.  Yet, we often "forget the batteries".  We try to continue handling life in our own power, which by comparison to God's is no power at all.  Consumed by a frantic schedule, we jump into the day without even plugging in to our very source.

This fall I had the blessed opportunity to learn about and spend time with that Source at the BSL Retreat "Captivated:  Led by the Spirit".  There, my sweet friend Margo, led us through an awesome weekend where we got to know the Holy Spirit as a Person, who wants an intimate, personal relationship with each individual.  He dwells within us and guides us with His supreme wisdom and strength.  In Him, we have all we will ever need for any situation.  But we must open our ears to hear His voice through both His Bible and our conscience.

Do you feel like you are hanging by a thread this Christmas?  The Holy Spirit is your Comforter.  He will keep you in His strength and peace through all of the demands and frenzy of celebration.  Are you anxious about dealing with family or children?  Give the Spirit full control over the situation, and breathe in that sigh of relief.  Rest and trust in His goodness.  Do you find yourself unsure of how to manage the holiday with few financial resources and many concerns about your child's behavior at church, school or home?  Share the concerns of your heart with that Person who indwells you.  Listen for His wisdom as He shares a fresh word with you from God's word or reminds you of scripture you have already written on your heart.  He will grant you the discernment and perspective that is so very needed at times like this.

Praise God that you have everything you need to make this a special, meaningful Christmas with those you love!  All you need to remember is "Don't forget the Batteries"!

Pray:  Holy Spirit, you give new meaning when I read that You will supply all my needs.  Your provision goes far beyond what is material to what is divine.  Help me to remember now that I don't have to tackle everything on my own.  I can rely on the fullness of Your power and wisdom to care for me in every way.  That is truly awesome!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Measuring In Inches Instead of Miles

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)

There are too many days when I feel like I'm getting nowhere fast.  I spin my wheels, feeling like I'm working on the same problems over and over again.  I see my children, and too often I feel like there is no progress.  Rooms are still dirty.  Sibling quarrels still flare up.  Bad behaviors still persist.

In these frustrating, defeated moments of motherhood, parents like me need to measure our children's progress in inches rather than miles.  A readjustment of how we assess things is called for.  While the annoying triggers of sensory processing disorder are something we would all like to see disappear with the snap of our fingers, it's unrealistic.  And great progress has been made when we discover one new tool to a sensory diet or a child has become desensitized enough to sit through hair-brushing just one minute longer.  While it may seem like bathroom issues will never resolve, it is a step forward when we have a few less soiled pairs of underwear to wash in a week.   While we may wish would could tell a child suffering from anxiety, "Snap out of it!" and have the child calmed, we can consider ourselves moving in the right direction if our child can remember to do some deep breathing one more time this week.  While we would love for our child to be in perfect health, we're blessed when we've had one less hospital visit this year than in the previous year.

The fact is that our lives may never be what others would consider "normal", but in working on certain issues, we can feel like we've made progress using a different "yardstick".  For example, the professionals working with us on my youngest child's IEP recently broke down for us each piece of her previous years goals.  When we examined where she was just one short year ago, the difference was remarkable to us.  Last year, she was disruptive in class, blurting out frequently, socially disconnected from others, a sloppy printer and apathetic learner.  Already her special education plan has helped her monitor herself in class, cut way down on disruptions, develop some new friendships, begin some lovely cursive writing, and begin to develop systematic learning habits.  It's easy to lose sight of this progress in the every-day demands of life, but it is huge!  We simply need to assess accomplishments in a markedly different way.

Furthermore, we must not succumb to the distaste others have for our children.  How many parents are marginalized by relatives, friends or neighbors who whisper insults about their child?  At heart-wrenching times like these, we must keep in mind that God is doing a perfect work in our children.  Those outside of the immediate situation are utterly clueless as to what is involved with parenting our sons or daughters.  Every child is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), and only their Creator knows the perfect timing to bring that child's character and abilities into their full completion.  God doesn't make mistakes.  He loves our children immeasurably more than we ever could.  Knowing this, we must be patient and cooperate with the time it takes to shape their progress.

Pray:  Abba Father, sometimes I feel stuck and defeated as a parent.  Open my eyes to the improvements being made.  Help me to remember that children don't grow in a day!  Grant me endurance and perspective.  And comfort me as I learn to cooperate with Your timing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Joy Moves In

“Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since mankind was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment." (Job 20:4-5, NIV)

I flicked on the TV in the kitchen to catch the days news as I prepared dinner last night.  Immediately, I was bombarded with commercials that did an excellent job of making a 30 second case for why their product was the ultimate way to obtain joy.  The first was from a cable company.  Really?  If I subscribe to this cable company and add on extra services I'll have a good-looking spouse who embraces me and delights in surprising me?  The next was for a car company.  You mean the ultimate Christmas joy looks like giving my spouse a new vehicle with a giant bow on top of it?  Wow!  I'm not going to have a good holiday if I can't afford that.

It occurred to me that the joy the world tries to seduce us with is utterly hopeless.  Cable TV goes out or the price goes up, leaving us frustrated or dissatisfied over time.  Cars need maintenance and repair.  Ultimately every vehicle needs to be replace.  Name your desire in this world -- relationships, health, vacations, material possessions, power, money.  Every single bit of it is fleeting!

So in this fourth week of Advent where the theme is joy, how can we obtain this seemingly elusive quality, and what does it exactly meant?  Let me answer the second question first by describing what joy is not.  Joy is not necessarily happiness.  It is not having everything go our way.  It is not security or possessions or healthy relationships.

Joy transcends our circumstances.  If you look at the Bible's many references to joy, you will see that the Greek word "chara", which means delight, is tied directly to God.  In fact, my impression in reading through all 242 verses where the word is used, most commonly involves a remembrance of what the Lord has just done for a person or a group.  In other words, joy is that delight, that contentment in knowing that no matter what the circumstances are now, God has been faithful before and He will be faithful again.

During the remaining days before Christmas, spend some quiet time in God's word.  Even if you have to get up a few minutes earlier or stay up a few minutes later, time alone with Him is well worth the sacrifice.  Look at the eye-witness accounts of seemingly impossible situations that the Lord brought people through.  Is anything too tough for Him? (see Jeremiah 32:27)  Now look at your own life and delight in the fact that your Creator has numbered every hair on your head. (see Luke 12:7)  If He cares that deeply for you, can you not trust that He is big enough to see you through any of life's difficulties?

Contemplating such things should bring you great joy during a season where things can be chaotic and misguided.  Such joy is a lasting, deep contentment in knowing Who the sure foundation of your life is.  And He cared enough to humble Himself and live amongst us for 33 years all for our benefit.  Certainly nothing the world has to offer can match that!

Pray:  Lord, it is so easy to focus on what I do not have as the world bombards me with advertising and the kids whine for possessions this time of year.  Help me to abide in Your deep joy that is not brief, but everlasting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From the Inside Out

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)


How are you doing with your holiday stress level?  It's only the second week of the Advent Season, and I'm sure you are struggling with balance just as I am.  There are all the demands that, while perennial, seem to catch us by surprise every year.  There never seems to be enough time to do the cleaning, the baking, the card writing, the shopping, the entertaining and the wrapping.  Christmas programs at school and church juggle the schedule along with any related parties.  And as the children grow, the dynamics of the phase they are in brings something new to adjust to.  Will their sensory issues be able to handle this years food, noise and clothing?  Is Santa real, and how are we dealing with that?  Are they self-regulating enough this year to get adequate sleep and control their excitement?  Add a couple of appointments for doctors and therapy, and a parent of a child with special needs is beyond the tipping point!

How ironic that the second week of Advent is supposed to be focused on the theme of peace!  Or is it?  What if this really is the perfect time to confront that issue in our lives?  What if that One who was born in the most chaotic of circumstances is the cure for our stress?  What if our peace has little to do with what is happening outside of us and everything to do with what is in our core?

That's the Good News that the humble Christ child came to bring us, if only we will quiet ourselves enough to listen.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit He sent to dwell within us, there is that "peace that surpasses all understanding." (Philippians 4:7)  When we give God ourselves fully, when we obey Him in increasing measure, when we devour His word like a box of chocolate truffles, He can and will change us from the inside out.  We will be like that house built on rock where life buffets against us, but doesn't destroy us.  And we can still reflect the joy of Christmas in the midst of our challenges without having to pretend.  When we know and trust that our faithful Father has it all handled, we can take a deep breath and know goodness in the storm.

Don't you want people to look at you and think, "I want what they have!"?  You have the perfect platform to proclaim the peace and goodness of God.  But you cannot give what you do not have to begin with.  This Christmas season, realize that salvation isn't your Creator's only gift to you.  Consume that heavenly peace He reserves for those who belong to Him.  And watch your world change!

Prayer:  My God, I know that it is humanly impossible to force myself to have peace in the midst of life's swirling storms.  This Christmas, help me to actually open up and use the gift of peace which you left me by the power of the Holy Spirit when I invited you into my life.  Do Your work in me as only You can do!