Friday, April 27, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

Open my eyes to see the miracles in your teachings.
~ Psalm 119:18, NCV~

Some days with special needs, the journey becomes long.  We bow with the weight of our challenges.  This makes our tendency to cast our focus downward so much more easy.  We look down at our problems, and the more we do, the larger they become.  Chronic disorders and unique diagnoses often consume too much of our time, require too much intense discernment and suck up too much emotional energy.  They crowd up too big of a piece of our lives.  We don't want to be defined by them, and yet, it's so hard when medical crises demand serious attention.

I can remember almost 10 years ago when my friend's husband had a relapse of his prostate cancer.  A group of us made the commitment to get together at the friend's house, lay hands on her husband, and pray for him.  As I hurriedly made the 30 minute drive to my friend's house, I found myself praying and fretting in the car.  Suddenly, God clearly said to me, "Barb, look up at Me, not down at the problems!"  That was a powerful moment in my faith life!  I rode the rest of the way feeling like the Lord had reached down and lifted a weight right off of my shoulders.  My concern for my friend, her husband and their children was exchanged for tremendous peace.  And I can still see the lovely country drive, the beautiful evening sky as I drove the rest of the way.

How many similar circumstances do we parents of children with special diagnoses find ourselves in?  Do you fail to see blessings in the storm because you have allowed it to obscure your view of the Almighty?  I know I have been guilty of that more times than I care to admit.  Grumbling and discouraged, I too often give more power to the circumstance than I do to the Maker of the Universe.  How foolish!

Even so, we are a work in progress.  As 2 Peter 1:8 puts it, we are slowly opening our eyes, learning the upward focus "in increasing measure".  Our worldly worry and downcast eyes are not retrained overnight!  But as we learn to look out the hospital window to see a beautiful sunrise or laugh at the quirky statement of a child with autism, our eyes open wide.  And we reflect God's glory in the midst of our trials.  This makes the world stand up and take notice.  If they see us and our circumstances redeemed, then maybe they'll believe there is a Redeemer!

Pray:  Lord, open up my eyes to Your glory all around me!  Help me to keep my eyes fixed on You, not my desperate circumstances.

May your eyes be opened, and may you be inspired by the following video...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. ~ Genesis 6:5-7, NIV

While the word magnitude may be technically defined in a variety ways, my own description would be to say that it is the force with which power is exerted.  That power can be physical, emotional, and even spiritual.  We often hear magnitude used in the context of earthquakes and volcanoes.  It implies a might that is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to contain or harness.

Think of the word magnitude in the context of our children's diagnoses.  The greater the magnitude of illness, the more intense the treatment or therapy.  Multiple surgeries, outrageously expensive medications, and seemingly endless therapies seem to be in store for those with the most serious of diagnoses.  We tire.  We wonder if we will ever overcome.  Yet, the force of the situation demands that we press on.

There is One whose power is greater than the magnitude of any crisis we could face.  It is an explosive power that burst Him forth from the grave, proving that He is Lord of all.

The force with which He made the definitive position of His majesty known to us was in direct proportion to the magnitude of our sin.  What a sobering thought!  We were so lost, so evil, so self-absorbed, and so helpless to climb out of the pit we had created that it took His earth-quaking, boulder-rolling, death defeating power to save us.

And what He suffered on the way to that redemption was of no less magnitude.  His anguish was in direct proportion to our wickedness and filth.  It wasn't enough that He suffered rejection from His family, friends and neighbors.  It wasn't enough that He was demeaned by those in authority.  It wasn't enough that He wandered homeless, still giving of Himself without reservation.  It took being spit on, slapped, punched, mocked, restrained, His skin being ripped open through scourging, the awful pain of a heavy wooden beam being carried on top of that scourged body, piercing thorns being driven into His skull, torturing nails being driven through His flesh, and hanging hopelessly for 6 hours in a public display of humiliation to address the depth of our depravity.

If Jesus could suffer things of this magnitude and render them powerless through His resurrection, how can we not run to Him in every distress we face?  How can we ever think of being bitter or ungrateful during any adversity we face?  Fall into His awesome majesty today!

Pray:  Dear Lord, my mind is so small.  Too often I forget how incomprehensible Your great power is!  I also carry an attitude of entitlement because I forget the magnitude of my own sin.  Heal my heart and mind today, so that I never forget that Your greatness is within my reach.

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Value of Suffering

"Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." ~ 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NIV

If you pay attention to events around you, even in a cursory way, then you have seen the deterioration of life in our culture.   Lines seem endlessly blurred as we ask insurance companies to pay for experimental, life-saving procedures or drugs, and then also advocate for assisted suicide.  Organizations protest government cuts and demand rights for the disabled while also promoting the option of aborting a child with that very same disability.  And health care costs will now suffer the expense of added liability insurance for doctors who have to protect themselves from "wrongful birth" lawsuits. It's hard to make sense of the incongruity, until you bring it all down to it's lowest common denominator -- avoidance of suffering.  Humanity will seemingly do anything at this point, no matter how insane, to take a path that presents the least perceived amount of suffering.

Earlier this week, I listened to a fabulous podcast from Chuck Colson's "Breakpoint This Week" featuring Joni Eareckson Tada.  In it, Joni makes the compelling case that our culture is wired to avoid suffering at all costs.  She also states that only Christianity is equipped to redeem suffering.  I agree wholeheartedly with both remarks.

I have often made the comment in past entries that we try to make earth into heaven.  We attempt to remove anything remotely uncomfortable in our lives and carry a pathetic attitude of entitlement.  Some days it seems we humans have never moved out of the hedonistic toddler phase of life.  Self-denial, self-discipline, self-control and self-sacrifice have become great rarities in this day and age.  We speak out about bullying, but then act as bullies in our adult lives when someone makes us uncomfortable with an opinion that isn't identical to ours.  What a sad affair that we have come to the point in history where mere discomfort is even equated with pain.  We see no value to suffering of any kind, and even demean those who would suggest that there is any value to it at all.

And yet, Jesus gave suffering immense value because of how He used it.  Hebrews 5:8-9 tells us, "Jesus is God’s own Son, but still he had to suffer before he could learn what it really means to obey God. Suffering made Jesus perfect, and now he can save forever all who obey him." (CEV)  The awesome miracles culminating in Easter should be a stark reminder of how powerful suffering is!  We never stop to think what discomfort came upon the God of the Universe by merely leaving His high heaven to be with us here on Earth for 33 years.  The humble, demeaning birth He experienced was only the beginning of a life of pain.  To highlight a few of the many trials He suffered, let us remember the emotional distress of living as a member of an oppressed nationality, losing His earthly father at a young age, and being disbelieved by His own family when He began His ministry.  Add to those things the severe physical and spiritual trial of 40 days alone in the desert, thirsting, starving and mentally exhausted.  The Pharisees hounded Him and argued with Him relentlessly for 3 years.  And He never did have "a place to rest His head".  Those sufferings and the sufferings of His followers all offered the opportunity for God's glorious revelation through miraculous healings, bountiful feedings of thousands, walking on water, and even the resurrection of a dear family friend.  None of those amazing, breath-taking things ever could have occurred had there not first been tremendous anguish preceding them.  And likewise, our eternal hope of life in God's beautiful presence would never be possible had we not been convinced of Jesus' tortured death brought on by the agony of scourging, crucifixion and stabbing.  That evil, awful distress could not win out over a loving Savior who burst forth in glory from the tomb!

If Christ's redemptive power gives such value to His suffering, does He provide no less to those of us who are called His own?  We can be sure that "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV)  Even the inconveniences of many doctor's visits or therapy appointments possess a redemptive quality in a world that lacks hope.  We have been given a unique opportunity to offer gladness to those around us who see nothing but despair.  What we have come to know and trust by witnessing the empty tomb of Easter requires that we stand against a culture of death and self-indulgence.

Now lest you should think my admonition makes no sense today, think on our key scripture verse at the beginning of this devotional.  Paul often used both athletic training terms and military terms to describe how he endured self-sacrifice, submission and suffering of his own.  That is no less admirable than the athletes we idolize today.  How common place have the phrases they use become, like "feel the burn"?  Do you think there is no suffering in that?  Yet, again, how many of us fail at dieting and exercise because we refuse the discomfort and self-denial?

Begin to take notice today at what you see and hear that are deeply incongruent in our culture.  Pray for the courage to both embrace the suffering God has allowed in your life, and to speak out against the godless things that men do to avoid pain.  Realize that the beauty which only suffering can yield is so awesome, that its delight cannot be enjoyed or appreciated any other way.

Pray:  Lord, help me keep my eye on the prize, so that I may endure any suffering You allow in my life.  Let me reflect Your glory in a dark world that sees no benefit in surviving and thriving the trials of this life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Moving Beyond the Cross

"Go and make followers of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to do all the things I have told you. And I am with you always, even to the end of the world." ~ Matthew 28:19-20, NLV

It's Easter season.  We have journeyed through the depth of Lent.  We became richer as we grew in intimate knowledge of Jesus, who He was and what He did on our behalf.  He washed our feet.  We ate with Him, watched Him agonize in prayer after dinner and saw Him hauled away by the unjust.  We saw our own behavior in light of His immeasurable grace and goodness, and we felt convicted.  We cringed as we realized every painful stripe on His back, every thorn that poked into His skull, each spike driven through His loving limbs had our name on it.  After witnessing all of this, it's easy to remain standing at the cross, hearts broken, but totally overwhelmed in awe by the passionate affection poured out to win us over for eternity.

Yet, God wants us to move beyond the cross.  That inward meditation or processing of what took place at Golgotha is to compel us to take outward action.  We are to take the tragedy of the crucifixion and share its story in light of the resurrection.  We are called to live transformed lives, ones that have seen the worst miraculously transformed into the best.  And what we have witnessed should naturally spill out of us as bearers of His good news.  Satan thought he had crushed mankind forever, but Heaven won out with a surprise ending!

How often do we, as parents of children with special needs remain at the cross rather than moving beyond to the hope of the empty tomb?  How often do we caress our concerns, grieve our child's diagnosis or wallow in our troubles?  How often do we refuse to believe that any good can come out of our child's suffering?  God is dead!  Evil won!  Jesus is nailed to the cross!

Oh, but how shortsighted that is!  We must not forget that the tomb is empty!  The Savior who could not be held captive to the dark, despairing loneliness of the grave forever cannot be held captive to disease, disability or any other road block.  And because of our child's diagnosis and our obvious challenges, we are uniquely positioned to share that Gospel of hope.  While things may seem grim in our lives at times, we are living proof of Jesus' redemptive work.  Yes, there can be much to grieve, but there is so much more in which to rejoice!  That is the message of Easter that we have the privilege of sharing.

Friend, while it's easy to cling to past wounds, God has a mission for us.  Jesus realized that.  (see John 20:17)  It's time for us to go and share the Good News.  Let this Easter season strengthen anew your excitement for passing on some hope to a hopeless, sad world!  Don't stand at the cross or the grave, nursing the pain that has already been redeemed.  "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."  (Matthew 28:6, NIV)

Pray:  Lord, sometimes I just can't get over my hurt.  Open my eyes and my heart to all of the glorious good You have already provided for me.  And once it has sunk in, empower me to go share that good news with all who will hear.

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, April 6, 2012

Trading Places - A Good Friday Reflection

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 
~ 2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB ~

Few things will break a mother's heart like watching her child suffer.  Seeing our child in pain, tearful, and wishing they could be free of a chronic condition is truly awful.  We would gladly take their place any day of the week.

This past month, my son has been through one difficulty after another.  It all began with a painful, spontaneous bleed in his hip.  It was a frightening experience for him.  He was hospitalized, undergoing tests and procedures he was unfamiliar with, and receiving more than his fair share of needle pokes.  He continued a rough journey after his discharge as he was restricted in his mobility and acquiesced to using his wheelchair.  And multiple subsequent troubles have landed him back in the ER.  He's missed many fun events at school.  The tears have flowed as I've held him, crying for the pain to stop, his diagnosis to vanish and even his life to end.

The anguish this lays upon a mother's heart is heavy.  My mind rushes to the only place I know we can receive help -- Jesus.  As our knees buckle under the human weight of these trials, I point my son to the One who knows our suffering.  I reassure him that we can overcome each crisis through Him who gives us strength. (Phil 4:13)  And I remind him that we have a loving Savior who has suffered what we have and more.  (Hebrews 4:15)

As I try to comfort my son with eternal hope, wishing I could trade places with him, I am humbled by the One who trade places with me.  I know the byproducts of my sin bring on far more pain and suffering than the byproducts of my son's diagnosis.  What my depravity warrants is death and eternal separation from God. (Romans 6:23)  It's ugly in every way, leading to never-ending agony.  Still, Jesus stepped in to remove it from me and protect me forever.

In fact, as we reflect on the sorrow of Good Friday, it's important to focus on the fact that Jesus traded places with all of us.  We are the ones that torture and painful death were meant for.  We were the ones who should have suffered that hopeless separation from the Father.  But because Jesus lovingly and humbly took that upon Himself, we have promise that goes far beyond any hospitalization, chronic disease or unrelenting pain we or our loved ones may face.

As I hear the haunting words of Jesus on Good Friday, crying out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46), I identify with the heartache of the Father.  How He must have wished he could remove the crushing weight from His Son, just as I want to relieve my son as he cries out to me!  Even so, there are some things I cannot lift from my child.  And for this sin debt to be paid, reuniting mankind with their estranged Creator, the Father could not take from His child either.  I share in the passion of Christ in significant ways because of the deep identifying with suffering and substitution.

When I reflect on such things, the somber gratitude for what was done to save us completely overwhelms me.  Such unspeakable, precious love was poured out upon us because Jesus was willing to take our place.  How uniquely positioned we are as parents of children with special needs to enter into the profound awe of what happened through Christ's persecution, death, and resurrection!

Pray:  Oh, sweet Jesus!  You know just what kind of love I have in my heart when I wish to trade places with my child.  Yet, You love us far more.  On this Good Friday, let me quiet myself with reverent awe as I contemplate the enormous price You paid for me.

~ Barb Dittrich

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Facing Trouble Head-On ~ A Lenten Reflection

"Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced.   Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame."  ~ Isaiah 50:7, NIV

Here we are at Holy Week.  If you haven't drawn close to the One who lived and died for you, don't miss the opportunity in these last days before Easter!  You won't regret it!

As I personally meditate on this week, one of the things that leaves me almost unspeakably in awe, is the fact that Jesus knew the trouble He would be facing as He rode into Jerusalem, and He moved forward into it anyway.  You may already be aware of it, but when a leader came into a town in biblical times riding a horse, it meant war.  If he came on a donkey, it meant peace.  Here rode our humble Savior right into the face of trouble, being praised and cheered by those who would curse Him only days later.  I don't know about you, but I certainly would have trouble coming in peace.  I would want to be harsh, angry and vindictive with a crowd like that!  Yet, Jesus showed us His unmatchable supremacy by restraining His power, setting aside His broken heart, and doing what was necessary to save us.  What a God!

Jesus' example begs the question of me, How do YOU face your troubles?  Do you walk into them and through them, head-on, with dignity, gentleness and love?  When you face unspeakable trials, do you focus on the eternal purpose or do you succumb to your emotions?  Do you reflect the true glory of God by behaving contrary to the way the world would?  Or do you lash out at all of those around you who have responded to your trial in disappointing ways?

Parents of children with special needs seem to endlessly be walking into trouble.  Whether it's the crisis of a hospital stay, troubles with treatments or challenges with school, the stress never seems to end.  Even daily life can be a trial that most others will never understand.  We are sleep deprived, financially stretched, socially outcast, verbally assaulted, harassed by doctors and insurance companies.  Most days, merely by getting out of bed, we're heading into some sort of unique situation that requires creative problem-solving or teamwork.  As we reflect this week on the One who gives us hope, will we set our face like flint and walk holding His hand through our troubles?  He has more than proven Himself more than worthy of our full trust!

With every trial we face, we can ask ourselves, Will I let it be wasted or will I let this heartache serve an eternal purpose?  Granted, we are imperfect, sinful humans.  But will we, in the final analysis, be able to look back at our challenges and say, I let the One who calmed the wind and the waves get me through them!  What a blessing it is when we can know for certain that our suffering was not in vain!  And each difficulty we come through with God's help allows us to set our face like flint for the next one.  If He's seen us through before, He will again.

It's a lighthearted stress-release to roll our eyes and wish ourselves to be on a beach eating bonbons while enjoying tropical breezes.  As long as it's a humorous coping mechanism and not a permanent detour to an attitude of bitter entitlement, it's okay.  Venting to a trusted friend or being comforted by loved ones is a healthy way to deal with things.  But our goal should be to become like Jesus in ever-increasing measure, knowing that we can do everything through Him because He gives us the strength.  (See 2 Corinthians 3:18 & Philippians 4:13)

As you go through these final days before Easter, quiet yourself and notice how Jesus faced His certain death head-on.  Sit in admiration of His unmatched courage.  Soak in the overwhelming gratitude that rolls over you as you consider what He did for you.  And renew your commitment to follow the Savior who was undaunted by even the most horrendous adversity.  With what He faced, is there anything that He cannot help you to face?

Pray:  Jesus, I stand in awe as I take notice of how you faced trouble head-on.  I trust You to get me through anything I face.  Help me, by the power of Your Holy Spirit to have inner peace and fortitude with every challenge I must walk into.

~ Barb Dittrich