Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sandpaper

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4, MSG)

If you follow this blog, you may remember that we had some construction done on our home this past winter. We had heard about the insane mudding and sanding process and the mess it leaves, but seeing it was another thing.  The workers, meticulously go over every seam in the drywall that they plastered in to make it completely smooth and invisible once painted over.  In fact, being the perfectionist that he is, our remodeler, Darren, obsessed over a seam he saw reveal itself after painting and almost returned on the weekend to repair it.  When they emerge from this job, the wall looks good, but the poor workers look miserable, covered in drywall dust.  So what a gift that these guys were willing to go back at it to get that rough edge to cooperate!

God has taught me that he uses many of the people in our lives just like that sandpaper the workers used on the wall.  We just have to open our eyes to see it for what it is.

How many of us with children who have special needs deal with abrasive people?  First there's the doctor who thinks they know better than us and won't listen to our concerns.  Then there's the teacher that makes our child's school days unbearable and the administration that won't help us improve it.  Add to that the neighbor kid who refuses to play with our child.  And after that the critical family member who thinks that if we were just a better parent our child wouldn't have these troubles.  Even our child themselves, with all of their ailments, needs and behaviors can absolutely wear our nerves raw.

But that is exactly who and what God uses to perfect us and smooth out our rough edges.  You see faith untested is no faith at all.  When everything seems to be going wrong, holding onto our hope in the Lord is true faith indeed.  And that kind of faith is only grown and expanded through the repeated testing of trials.

The same is true of our Christian behavior.  Not losing our cool or acting nasty is an unnatural response for us hedonistic humans.  The world tells us it's our right to tell people what we really think of them and how they're treating us.  But God tells us that a fool gives full vent to his anger (Prov 29:11), and we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  Do we really believe what we profess on Sunday?  Only a testing of those beliefs will truly reveal if we do.  And if we seek after that pleasant peculiarity that only Christianity provides, we are grown and stretched by the difficult people in life.

The next time that certain someone is dancing on your last raw nerve, take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and remember that you have some seams that are popping out, some rough edges that need to be taken off.  And the God who loves you is willing to get messy just like the construction workers in order to yield a product that will make you both much happier in the end.

Pray:  "God, help me to cooperate with your work, realizing that I'm not perfect.  Let difficult people do Your work in building the type of character that will bless others around me."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poorly Equipped

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:4, NIV)

A number of weeks ago, my youngest was thrilled to announce to us all that a robin had made her nest in a crabapple tree right outside of my bedroom window.  If she got up on a stool with 2 steps she could peer into the nest and see the beautiful blue eggs the robin had laid.  Given her social deficits and ADHD which provide challenging in her comprehending consequences, I had to be very clear with her and stay on top of her to keep her from constantly being in that nest.  Frankly, I thought this was a lost cause.  Nevertheless, a week or two ago she joyfully announced that the robin had hatched her chicks out.  I shared her joy, telling her I could hear them peeping outside my window and see them lifting their little beaks in need of food as I moved around the yard watering flowers.  Needless to say, mama robin was irritable with our movement near that area as she attempted to protect her young from our perceived threat.

Two nights ago, my eldest had her friend over to do some silly teenage filming.  As these girls are reasonably good and responsible young ladies, it never occurred to me to ask them to stay away from the crabapple tree.  Before I knew it, they had walked in that direction and not only stirred up mama robin, but also her young in flight.  I shooed the girls away thinking that the birds would be fine after that.  Unfortunately, it wasn't long before one of the babies was stuck by our front door, disoriented and unable to engage in full flight.  Once again, I directed the girls away from the baby robin and relied on nature to do what it does best in resolving its own dilemmas.

Relieved the next morning when the baby bird was gone, I thought this was the end of the saga.  I was wrong.  My youngest came bolting into the house announcing that one of the baby birds was stuck in our garage.  Armed with a broom and dustpan to help coax the baby bird in the right direction, I came to her aid.  It took me by complete surprise when I saw how high this chick could get off the ground, which made helping it pretty difficult.  It kept getting stuck in corners or under things in the garage in complete disorientation before I finally managed to get it outside.  Finally free, it cried for its mother, which I pray produced the results we all hoped for.

So why I am I droning on about the drama of the baby robin?  Because there I saw God.  I saw myself in that baby robin.  As I watched it, I couldn't help but think that I must look just like it every time trouble scares me up and I fail to stay under the safe shadow of my Father's wings.  I flit here and there looking for answers, solutions to that by which I feel threatened, but only find myself trapped.  I am poorly equipped for handling the things that only God is mighty enough to handle.  And while I can catch some air, accomplishing a remarkable amount on my own, I am truly unable to engage in full flight.  That privilege is reserved for He who watches over me and meets my every need.  I would be best off right where I belong in the first place -- close to Him in full reliance.

How about you?  Feeling trapped or ill-equipped for the challenge at hand?  Take your shelter in the shadow of His wings!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Compassion Fatigue

Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The LORD is the eternal God, Creator of the earth. He never gets weary or tired; his wisdom cannot be measured.~ Isaiah 40:28, CEV

A recent conversation with a friend of mine who had been raked over the coals brought forth the discussion of a common problem.  The friend I was listening to was stunned that she had been mistreated by someone who knew her divorce had recently be finalized.  How, she wondered, could this person be so unrelenting, so nasty when they knew she had suffered this loss not too long ago?  Couldn't this individual see that she was putting unreasonable demands on my friend when grief was still fresh?  How could an individual be so inhumane, especially one who was a supposed ally? 

I comforted my friend, assuring her that what she was experiencing was not uncommon, but was instead a first-hand case of "compassion fatigue".  This term came to me from our social worker when our son was a newborn, recently diagnosed with hemophilia.  While people were shocked and concerned at such grave news when they expected to rejoice with us about his birth, there was definitely a limit to that concern.  It was as if their compassion lasted only a brief, set period of time, and then we were expected to move on with life not mentioning it again.  This, I told my friend, was not unlike what she was experiencing in her situation.

I seem to remember from one of my college courses (longer ago than I care to admit) a study being done on the average time people expected others to spend grieving significant loss.  The brevity in the numbers was shocking!  Because it was so long ago, I can't specifically cite the study, but I remember it being something as outrageous as expecting a person to be over the death of a spouse in something like 6 weeks.  The college professor continued to teach us that it takes far longer to processes any significant change, good or bad, even to the extent of needing a full year to grieve for each year you knew the one you lost.  This is rather inconsistent with the amount of time people are actually willing to listen and help you in dealing with said grief.

And unfortunately, there is plenty to grieve over when your child is diagnosed with a special need.  A parent often grieves over the lost dreams for that child, the sports that may never be played, the words that may never be spoken.  It is common to grieve over the life a parent once had prior to the special need being discovered.  And there is always the grief of losing the predictability one perceives to have had in life.

Still, people come to a point where they ask you, "How's it going?", but they really don't want the answer.  That's compassion fatigue.  They may show up with meals or help initially, but they quickly forget about you.  That is also compassion fatigue.  There's also disgust that you're not functioning like a "typical" family nor quickly adapting to another major change in your child's diagnosis or treatment.  Sadly, that too is compassion fatigue.

Lest you completely lose heart, know that there is One who never grows tired of listening to your heartaches or frustrations.  He is available 24/7/365 to address your worries and tears.  And He is well-known as the "Father of compassion and the God of all comfort".  (2 Corinthians 1:3)  Thankfully, that makes Him immune to "compassion fatigue". 

When we cry out to Him and patiently wait, trusting that He will send us what we need when we truly need it, we are comforted in amazing ways.  We often find TLC from others walking the same road as we are.  It never ceases to amaze me who God has put into my life to fill that painful void left by a trauma.  Curiously, strangers can cross our path offering that little bit of kindness when we least expect it to brighten our day.  A person can let you skip ahead in the grocery line or give you their seat in the waiting room.  And with complete irony, we find comfort often when we reach out to care for others.  Going beyond our own troubles can offer perspective and mutual tenderness like nothing else.

These are just a few ways we can recover from compassion fatigue suffered at the hands of the well-intentioned, imperfect people in our lives.  There is no limit to the resources the Creator of the Universe has to bring you comfort and aid in the unexpected places of life.  Instead of being angry with humans who are just being humans, remember to reach out first to Him in your time of need.  Then patiently wait trusting that He who never grows weary will be there to send you just the kind of tenderness you need.

*For further information on being helpful to those who grieve, visit http://www.helpguide.org/mental/helping_grieving.htm 

Friday, July 8, 2011

FREAKING OUT!

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand...   For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid... do not fear,for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.  (Isaiah 41:10, 13-14, NIV)

I read this passage in my devotional time the other morning.  I must have come across these verses dozens of time in the past, and found them inspiring as well as encouraging.  I have viewed them as gentle comfort at a time when I may be freaking out.  But this time of reading these verses was completely different.

When I immersed myself in these words from the Lord this time, He helped me to see them with fresh eyes.  And this time was more like a smack of admonition than a cuddle of compassion.  I saw that while God's words here are soothing, they are also firm.

Let's pull it apart.  First off, when you read these words from the book of Isaiah, they are not a timid suggestion.  They are a solid command.  In fact, did you know that the most often repeated commandment in the Bible is to "fear not"?  And when the Creator of the Universe repeats Himself, he's really trying to get a point through our thick skulls! 

He reminds us in this passage of who He is as well.  "I am your God... your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel."  If He was powerful enough to purchase us back from the fate that our sin subjected us to, is He not capable enough to handle our troubles?  If He is great enough to be called the Holy One of Israel, God of an entire chosen nation, is He not greater than our biggest problem?  He is God.  We are not!

Additionally, He makes awesome promises to us in this passage.  We are promised strength, repeated help and that we are being held onto and upheld.  And a promise from God is no small thing!  Even when we are faithless, He is faithful, so says 2 Timothy 2:13.  When I actually get a minute to watch the clouds rolling by or see the stars twinkling at night, I am blown away by the notion that the Maker of the Universe would even give a hoot about a dust speck like me!  How much more astonishing that He would be concerned enough about my well-being to make and keep these promises!

Of final note, He mentions His position with us and our position with Him in these verses.  In Biblical times, the right hand of a king was a position of high honor.  (Thus the term "right hand man".)  Twice in this passage, God mentions the right hand.  He first tells us he will "uphold... with my righteous right hand."  Also, that He will take "hold of your right hand."  This means that we are in a place of high honor with Him and that He desires have that same position in our lives.

So, put all these points together and what do you have?  As I sat and let these words from the Lord penetrate my heart, I took it as a holy, "Knock it off!  Stop freaking out!  Don't you see how much I value you?!  I've got everything handled!"  What richness, honesty and depth this adds to these verses!  I pray it does the same for you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Legacy of a Special Needs Grandparent


Children's children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children are their fathers. ~ Proverbs 17:6, KJ21

Heartache came to set up residency in my soul again a couple of weeks ago.  We had just concluded a much-needed one week vacation in the woods of Wisconsin, spending the last part of it fishing and relaxing with my parents and sister over Father's Day weekend.  The next day, my sister called me very early in the morning to announce that my father had fallen over in his kitchen.  She was following the ambulance to the hospital and asked if I might go stay with my mother who is disabled.  Having been through many medical emergencies, we thought this might just be another long hospital stay with more involved care.  But to our shock, a previously undiagnosed aneurism gave us only a few hours to say goodbye. And while I am working through the heartbreak of suddenly losing a parent and a dear friend, I find myself more grateful for the many blessings that surround his life and death.

One of the things I'm most thankful for in regards to my dad was the steadfast grandparent he was, not only to his typical, but also his special needs grandchildren.  Of his 7 grandchildren, 4 of them have special needs.  While this is never easy, especially to men of his generation, my father went above and beyond in humble ways that few would ever outwardly notice.

He was a man of dutiful service.  "What can I do for ya?", was one of the phrases he was most known to utter.  To that end, he became a faithful volunteer for the Great Lakes Hemophilia Foundation when he learned that this was one way he could support his grandsons and the daughters who raised them.  He did thankless work like delivering fundraiser poinsettias and labeling newsletters to be mailed out.  Additionally, he opened his wallet to support programming like patient advocacy or sending kids to camp.  And his service went beyond formal organizations to reach out where he saw a need.  Even in his old age, he was willing to shoot hoops or play catch with a little girl who had an endless need to move.

He also attempted to understand things that were completely foreign to him.  Things like hemophilia, sensory processing disorder and ADHD were not something that were common to people of his generation.  Discovering his grandchildren had things like this took him awhile to process, but once he had a general sense of what was happening, he was behind his family all the way.

In addition, he used humor and insights to edify his family.  When he saw his daughters or his grandkids getting discouraged in the daily living, he was quick with a joke or an admonition to hang in there.  He also had a great ability to see the assets each of these kids had rather than their deficits, recognizing talents whether they be academic achievement, athletic ability or just a nice personality.

And although he kept it to himself, he felt deeply the pain each of his children and grandchildren had to suffer.  I remember him once saying to me, "Boy, kid, if it weren't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all!"  I also remember my son once being hospitalized and my dad having to get up to look out the window when my son screamed out in pain, fighting the staff over yet another needle jab.  It ripped his heart out.  When his family hurt, he hurt.

Service, understanding, humor and compassion.  What more could you ask from a grandfather?  Fortunately, that is the type of grandparent my dad blessed his grandchildren with.  I pray no less for any other family who faces the challenges of raising a child with special needs!