Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taking a Vacation from God

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
 if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
~ Psalm 139:7-10, NIV~


Oh, how I needed to get away!  I still hadn't recovered from my son's spring hospitalization.  In fact, I still hadn't recovered from my father's sudden death last year.  The pressures of life, coming at me from every side, were more than I could continue carrying.  Only setting down my heavy pack for awhile, pulling apart from the current ongoing demands that included care of an elderly mother's affairs, would restore me.  With tremendous gratitude, I packed the family for our long weekend at our tiny trailer retreat two miles north of home.

The girls each wanted to bring a friend.  I can't recall the last time my eldest daughter brought a friend home who was anything other than delightful.  I always treasure time with her and the teenage peers she values.  And my youngest pleasantly surprised us by asking that a female classmate be her guest.  With her assorted diagnoses and high energy level, she tends to avoid the girls at school who relentlessly demean her.  She seems to find more acceptance hanging out with the boys, enjoying sports.  Still, as she nears puberty, that separation between boys and girls makes these social conundrums a bit more concerning.  I would be a complete fool not to allow her to bring a little girl with her in the face of such challenges.

With plans made and great mirth abounding from the kids, I pictured in my mind that much needed getaway beckoning me.  Last minute food preparation and packing were compressed into a few hours before we hit the road.  The kids were content with their companions.  The car ride was simple.  The weather was delightful.  The joy reached a crescendo when we arrived and our guests saw with their own eyes the place that their friends spoke so highly of.

But scenes like this are the stuff of our dreams and not reality.  It didn't take long for the social deficits our youngest struggles with to be challenged.  The guest quickly became bossy and demanding.  I watched my daughter shrink in sad disappointment, not possessing the ability to deal with such interactions in an appropriate way.  And my heart sank as I watched my weekend of renewal slip away from me like sand through the fingers of a child on the beach.  The remainder of my time away from home would be spent serving as a buffer for my young daughter while also walking her through the nuances of social skills necessary for dealing with difficult people and situations.

It was easy for me to turn inward.  I had been ripped off!  My weekend was no longer my own.  Surely God couldn't expect me to spend time at His feet when I had everything else unexpectedly pushing and pulling at me.  My husband got to relax.  But I remained on duty, cooking meals, never being able to let my guard down with the children.  My mother's demanding phone call followed me north to my wooded escape.  I was so exhausted, I just couldn't edge out that early time, sitting alone on the deck, hearing the whooshed worship of the Creator flowing through the pines.  There was no alone time, so I took a vacation from God.  I was barely awake in the morning before the noisy voices of children were echoing through our campsite.  With that distraction, how could I be expected to absorb His word?  I descended into my own selfishness, indulging in food and drink, letting my crankiness have free reign.

But arriving home after the discouraging trip, I quickly discovered that a vacation from God was no vacation at all.  My problems were bigger than I had left them.  Two pieces of mail bearing bad news that would have otherwise rolled off of me suddenly brought me to tears.  The overwhelm of not knowing where or how to begin again overtook me.  And my mother's nagging message still awaited me.

What a fool I had been, turning disappointment into disaster by pulling away from the very One who is my Burden Bearer!  I could have spoken to Him in the problems.  I could have received His refreshment in spite of my circumstances.  A small amount of extra effort on my part would have yielded the restoration I sought.

My Holy Spirit prayer is that I not make that same ignorant error again.  I pray that you are offered a lesson from my foolishness.  He is everywhere you are, and cares deeply about your every concern.  Don't leave home without Him!

Pray:  Oh, God of all, pulling apart from You only makes me come apart.  When life gets to be too much, no matter where I am, remind me to fall into Your arms.


Monday, May 28, 2012

HERO


"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay his life down for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV)

We're just coming off an American holiday where we remember service men and women who served and gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy in this country. Our family has had the great honor of having a grandfather who faithfully served in World War II. What a treasure he shared before he died, telling stories of his service and experience with our son at his knee. We've also had the humbling experience of supporting a friend and neighbor through two tours of duty in Iraq. Currently serving as a Captain in the Army National Guard, his sacrifice has been so grueling that he has earned two purple hearts, two bronze stars and various other citations and awards. How can we not feel respect and utter gratitude from listening to men like these and knowing what they've endured on our behalf?

While this sacrifice is tremendous, no less is that which we lay down in love for our children with special needs. While we don't risk being wounded by a hostile enemy, we do share many similar experiences. We endure terror, stress, fatigue and a relentless sense of duty in our role as special needs parents. We carry in our hearts a deep pain that is most often kept to ourselves or only shared with those who have a common experience. We live with a constant sense of self-denial, putting our mission of caring for that child first. We put our own health and well-being last. We lay down our lives to see our posterity succeed.

Although we share these things in common, there's a notable way we differ from those in the military. Those in service to our country have a certain pride, a sound sense of satisfaction in the job that they do. We, on the other hand, sell ourselves so short as parents of kids who require so much. We're often doubtful, self-critical and failing to realize our value. We forget that we are trained and equipped for our mission just as that soldier. It may be the School-of-Hard-Knocks that has provided our education, but we are competent nonetheless. Our confidence needs to match that of our military counterparts.
As we march forward in duty, let us learn from the One who laid down His life in countless ways so that we might have a home beyond this nation! Stay prayerful, obedient and ever focused on the mission. Remember that you are on foreign soil. This is a temporary assignment in light of eternity. Because of the Loving Commander who leads you and the unwavering sacrifice you make each day, YOU are an inspiring hero to all who witness your service.

Pray:  Father, help me to be an obedient, faithful soldier in Your army!  Lead me to complete the mission for which you have enlisted me.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Ultimate Sacrifice


"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV)

A couple of weeks ago, we received our annual update from SAVE ONE LIFE on the boy we have supported in India for the past 3-4 years. This 18 year old with sever hemophilia (the same diagnosis as our son) lives in a 1 room apartment with his mom on the mere $40 a month she makes working at a local shop. Because of his frequent bleeding episodes, he has suffered permanent physical damage and often misses school.

After reading his update, my heart sank. His physical condition seems no better, although our donations do help him to stay in school. The pain he most surely sufferswould make daily living difficult for anyone. How I wish we could bring him here to live with us and receive the quality of care our son does!

Situations like this leave me with humble gratitude that we have the privilege of being citizens of this great nation. Despite its shortcomings, our medical care is far superior to anywhere else in the world. We have the freedom to debate issues and opinions without fear of imprisonment. Even with a difficult economy, we still have a good lifestyle when compared with much of the world. And the list of liberties available to us goes on.

How important for us all to remember that these benefits come at a price! I know a World War II vet whose service goes virtually unrecognized by all but 1 of his 5 children. Sad! We have other friends who have experienced or continue to experience the anguish of separation from spouses, children, parents and friends, along with the horrors of battle, all for love of country. Things like lost limbs, permanent injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and, yes, even life itself, are sacrifices laid on the altar of freedom.

Like Jesus Himself, these devoted men and women lay their lives down willingly for you, for me. The very least we owe them in return is our thanks, our prayers and our support.

As we indulge in the pleasures of barbecues, family gatherings and relaxing with friends, let's set aside some time to remember those who have laid down their own God-given rights in order that we may safely continue in such a standard of living.

PRAY:  Lord, as I go through life's challenges, let me not take for granted those who have sacrificed to make my life better.  God, bless those who have served and their families.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Full On Battle!

Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power.  Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil's evil tricks.  For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.  So put on God's armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy's attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.
  
So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate, and as your shoes the readiness to announce the Good News of peace.  At all times carry faith as a shield; for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One.  And accept salvation as a helmet, and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you.  Do all this in prayer, asking for God's help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God's people.  (Ephesians 6:10-18, GNT)

I am not one of a kind.  I have several colleagues in the special needs community who have children with a diagnosis just as I do.  And there are times when God is moving His work forward through us when we come under attack more than usual.  Nothing seems to be off-limits to the evil powers of this world.  Our personal finances, our marriages, municipal negotiations we engage in, and the status of our organizations all walk around with a target painted on them.  No doubt, one of our biggest vulnerabilities is our children.

Several recent medical crises that a number of my co-laborers in Christ have experienced with their children have opened my eyes widely.  I am not one who believes in coincidence.  I have seen too much and know better.  This particular group of colleagues are all a part of an amazing project that is beginning to see some forward momentum.  Our response has been to come together in prayer, put on our full armor, and believe in the power of the One who defeated death itself.

While this story serves as a clear illustration, the fact is that no believer is exempt.  This idea may seem to be a bit far fetched for the average church-goer.  Still, the fact remains that God confirms in His word the unseen activity of Satan's oppositional forces.  "The evil one", as he is known, would love nothing more than to harass or discourage every one of Christ's followers.  Stealing people's testimony of faith and their living, outward example of hope is a small win for the devil.

The question then becomes, in a practical way, how do we resist the enemy's attacks in our times of trial?  Let's pull apart what we are told to do.  Putting on the full armor of God implies to us that every piece of what we are being instructed to do is necessary to be properly equipped for battle.

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

Paul begins his instruction with the belt of truth.  How do we wrap ourselves in truth if we do not know the truth?  With the busy lives of those in the position of caring for someone with a special needs, it may not be possible to find a large chunk of time to steep ourselves in the truth of God's word on a daily basis.  But many tools are available for our help in this era.  When we are traveling to doctor's appointments or even addressing the many responsibilities at home, we can listen to audio versions of the Bible.  In this internet age, there are also many tools available online like BibleGateway.com and YouVersion.com to aid us in our access to scripture.  Regardless of how we plug into God's word, it is essential that we immerse ourselves in the truth He pours out through His word.

GUARDING OUR HEARTS

The next piece of equipment we are instructed to clothe ourselves in is "the breastplate of righteousness".  According to Unger's Bible Dictionary, righteousness includes "being and doing right".  Our hearts, the seat of our affections, are guarded by that mighty breastplate. We are unable to live above reproach on our own, especially when we live lives in crisis. As a result, we are to be clothed in the righteousness of God, not ourselves.  (See 2 Corinthians 5:21)  To break it down further, this righteousness comes from full reliance on the goodness of God, not from our own abilities.  Clothing ourselves in the goodness of Christ will certainly ready us to resist the devil.

USHERING IN CALM

The shoes of the "gospel of peace" are the next essential elements of our battle garb.  In a practical way, what this amounts to is our willingness and readiness to share openly with others what the Lord has done in our lives.  When we can point others to the living hope that has been poured out in and through our lives, it most surely confounds Satan's plans.  (See 1 Peter 3:15)  After all, parents like us should have reason to be hopeless, according to the world.  When we are ready in any season of life to share with others how we have a joy that transcends our circumstances, there is great divine power!

DEFLECTING DOUBT

Faith's shield deflects all of the doubt, despair, and undermining of our trust in the Lord.  In fact, every trial we go through as a Christian should make that shield larger and larger.  Only by its testing does faith grow.  The longer we walk in faith, the more unshakable that faith should be after seeing what God has brought us and our loved ones through.

MIND YOUR HEAD

Our next piece of equipment must be the "helmet of salvation".  Our thought life must be guarded at all times.  In fact, God's word has plenty to say about our "stinkin' thinkin'." We are supposed to take control of our minds just like a soldier takes captive a prisoner. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5) We are warned that we become what we think about. (See Proverbs 23:7) Making certain that we get enough sleep and accepting all the help offered to us will be key in assuring that we have this component covering us.  If we are neglectful of this helmet, we'll find our minds wandering to bad places and the discouragement of Satan creeping in.

FIGHT BACK WITH HIS WEAPON

The word of God is the "sword of the Spirit".  What does this look like?  Again, immersing ourselves in the precious promises of the Bible, committing verses to memory, opens the door for the Spirit to instantly bring those verses to mind when they are most needed.  From personal experience, this is an amazing encouragement when the battle gets long and ugly!

CONSTANT COMMUNICATION

Adornment of all of this equipment is to be accompanied by prayer.  Constant communication with our Savior will tune our ears to His voice in the midst of our circumstances.  Tuning out the deception and confusion the devil attempts to trick us with can only be possible by continual communication with our Father.  We share our worries, pains and concerns with Him.  He equips us, encourages us and sends us back out there as His ambassadors.

Friends, as parents of children with special needs, we are in a full-on battle!  Don't go forward today without your uniform on.

Pray:  Lord, equip me!  I rely on You alone.  The battle is Yours.  Lead me and ready me to come through life's crises victorious, just as You intend.

~ Barb Dittrich

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Gift of Life

"...All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." 
(Psalm 139:16b, NIV)


It's another birthday for me today.  The body doesn't work quite the way it did when I was at the top of my game.  The tennis elbow wakes me up some nights.  Arthritis is beginning to harass the fingers I love to type with.  The weight doesn't come off as quickly as it once did.  And my most remarkable gift today will be the root canal I need to end the nagging pain that can no longer be remedied by a simple filling.

Even so, I greet this day, this celebration of another year of life completed, with tremendous awe and gratitude. Working in the special needs community has deeply affected my worldview.  Perspective has been one of the greatest gifts of the frequent frustration and sorrow I walk through with other parents.  The miracle and meaning of each life can't help but impress me.  How each human, no matter what the level of gifts or abilities, touches every life around them is something few take the opportunity to notice.  As I pray with parents through their most challenging times, I am allowed to notice how deeply their child affects so many others.

At the landmark of my birthday, I can't help but notice what a gift each day of life is.  So many situations in recent months have instilled in me a lasting sense of gratitude.  Several of the families we serve have watched the children they love battle unexplained seizures that have rendered them unconscious and non-verbal.  Through great angst, I have prayed for miracles with these families as they beg God for just one more day of life for their precious child.  Various complicating illnesses have threatened to snatch that gift away.  Our prayers have encircled the suffering and claimed back that which the thief sought to kill, steal and destroy.

I have watched God glorified as these kids are restored to miraculous health.  The story of the teenager who was unable to even sit up in the ICU, walking out of the hospital with a smile the next day moves me.  The thrill of the little boy, who was so recently anguished and clinging to life now suddenly throwing shot-put in a track meet for the school he was never supposed to return to this year, helps me to see the Lord's mighty activity in those whose lives He tenderly holds.  And my own son's vitality, as he no longer grieves the difficulty of his own life-threatening pain that had him hospitalized this spring, refreshes my hope.

How can I be anything but grateful?  How can we be anything but grateful?  Each day together is a gift!  And it is a gift that merely begins today, and lasts through eternity for those who believe in Jesus their Savior.  Even on the worst of days, we are allowed the gift that some are begging for while others are taking it for granted or devaluing it.  Join me today in celebrating another day of life for yourself as well as for the ones you love most!

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12, NIV1984)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sometimes, You Just Have To Go Through It

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish. 
Psalm 25:16-17, NIV

I have the great privilege of leading an organization that ministers to parents of children with special needs.  This ministry was born at a time when my husband and I needed to be ministered to.  We were weak, discouraged and in need of a faith perspective regarding our son's special needs.  Instead of being served ourselves, God commanded us to lead.  As ignorant as we felt, we moved forward in obedience.  Ten years later, we have the honor of coming alongside thousands of parents who struggle just like we often still do.  

Much of the work we do is centered around supporting parents and offering them "a cup of cold water" when their circumstances are especially tough.  This may include having gift baskets sent to them with pampering goodies for mothers or fathers, small comforts for their children, books and written material to encourage, and gift cards for meals, gas or music for the kids.  One mom recently described a package she got from us during her daughter's ICU stay as being "like a warm hug."  I pray that in addition to blessing parents, this also brings a smile to God's face as we love on "the least of these".

But a recent hospital stay by another family I am close to reminded me of a difficult fact of our circumstances that occurs in spite of the ministry work the Lord has us doing.  There are many heartbreaking parts of this challenging walk as the parent of a child with special needs that we just have to walk through ourselves.  While there are tender acts of comfort we can offer another person going through a trial, there is little, if anything, we can do for someone watching their child flit frightfully near to death while hospitalized.  Sometimes, a person just has to go through it.  The anguish of a parent wishing they were the one suffering rather than their precious child can't be circumvented.  No money in the world, no extra help with our other children, no personal possessions or fame can eliminate that suffering that must be traveled through. No one can be in your place at your child's bedside, when the valleys are darkest.  

So, the question arises, How do you survive when there are unavoidable pieces of the journey that you must just walk through?  Here are a couple of thoughts:
  • Remember, when no other person on earth can walk through the roughest parts of your life for you, Jesus can walk along with you in an intimate and tender way that it His alone.
  • Cling to God's words of encouragement and His advice in your times of greatest heartache.  Remember, to God, "there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV)  While your circumstances may be foreign to you, He knows exactly what to do because He's seen it happen before.
  • In the words of my "spiritual father", Pastor Don, "Sometimes God delivers you from trials, and sometimes He delivers you through trials...  Everything you go through is Father-filtered.  It touches Him before it touches you."
  • There is no way you can necessarily handle crises perfectly.  But you don't need to, because He does.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, resting and trusting in His love.
While these words may seem small comfort at the time, know that you will survive the storms just like countless others have.  But how you emerge from it, bitter or better, will be determined by you alone.
 
Pray:  Lord, carry me through when I am alone and experiencing life's deepest heartaches.  No matter what the outcome, let me emerge from it still holding onto Your hand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Speaking LIFE Into Our Kids

I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:13, NCV


Our kids with special needs find themselves in a world of impossibilities.  Before their little minds are even fully aware, they are faced with obstacles.  It doesn't take long for them to realize that their bodies don't necessarily work the way everyone else's do.  Their understanding often can't keep up with others their age.  And they sit in countless appointments where doctors think they are doing them a favor by putting limitations on their future capabilities.


Go deeper into our culture, and now you find our kids' very lives are viewed as one huge, worthless limitation.  The new dawn of "wrongful birth" lawsuits that enable parents to sue because they were not given the opportunity, through a doctor's determination of fetal health, to abort their disabled child rather than bring them into this world, devalues all of our special children.  It sends them the insidious message, "Your life isn't worth living."


But parents living in Christ know better!  Every day, we see the miracle of life in our children.  We live cherished moments with kids we were told, "will never be able to..." and see how much they are able, because of our awesome God.  We invest time and energy in their incredible potential because we realize that when a doctor is described as "practicing medicine," he or she is doing exactly that, practicing rather than executing an exact science.  With holy eyes, we are able to see the value God places in each life, no matter what that life is able to perform in the physical or intellectual realms.


The young boy pictured above is one of those victorious children.  At a recent event, our shuttle buses were unable to deliver participants because of wet mud.  In their place, four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks shuttled kids and their parents further onto the property where we were planting seedling pine trees, creating crafts together and enjoying hot cocoa and homemade treats.  The boy above refused a ride and walked the half-mile muddy trek out to the heated tents and activities.  His mother beamed as she stood by her determined son, who would not let cerebral palsy and walking with a walker limit  how he would enjoy his day.


Whether our children are self-starters or not, as parents, God calls us to speak life into these children of ours.  We foster that endurance with the can-do language we speak into and pray into our sons and daughters.  We teach them to put into perspective a world that tells them they can't by acquainting them with a God who says "I can!"  We assure them of their infinite value by making them aware of how their Creator has a unique plan for them.


When my son is having difficulty doing yet another infusion, tired of being jabbed with IV needles over 3,000 times in his 12 years of life, I sing to him Matthew West's version of the above Scripture.  Tears may flow, but there is immediate comfort and strength that is brought forth by a verse that I have prayed with him since he was an infant.  My prayer for you is that your family would find such a way to speak such life into one another every day!


Pray:  You choose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.  Use our family today as an example to the world of Your infinite capability!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Observe & Imitate

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.~ Ephesians 5:1-2, MSG

Recently, one of my children thought they would bless me when I was sick by emptying our dishwasher and reloading it.  I was pleased as punch at the initiative taken and the kindness shown.  But when I opened the reloaded dishwasher, I found myself struck by a curious thing.  The dishes were loaded in a very strange way, making it difficult to adequately fit a reasonable number of dirty dishes in the unit.  My first thought was, Hasn't this child ever observed where and how the dishes are loaded when they take them out?  My next thought was, I have some teaching to do.

It didn't take long until my mind turned to the thought that God calls us to be more observant throughout His word.  This is an acquired learning skill.  And sadly, most of us rush through life failing to observe many, many things around us.

There seem to be two basic ways we learn to observe and imitate.  The first, rather unpleasant way is by crisis demanding our attention.  For example, when we lose a job, we are forced to pay closer attention to our finances, and imitate wise money-saving techniques others use.  When a loved-one has a medical crisis, we are forced to observe new medical techniques or treatments that we are to administer at home.  By a marriage imploding, we suddenly pay attention to the way successful couples treat one another, and reflect upon where we could have done better. 

The second way we learn to observe and imitate is by having another person remind us to do so.   With a spirited, "Heads up!" a friend or instructor can call our attention to watching more closely.  This second way can be more pleasant, and is exactly what Paul is reminding the church in Ephesus to do in the passage above.  It is a true gift to have another person care enough about us to encourage us to look more mindfully at how things are being done, in order that we might replicate them.

I will tell you that my own skills of observing, then imitating have grown over time.  I think one remarkable way I developed this skill was by intently watching the numerous infusions medical staff performed on my son.  Because I carefully observed every detail of every step of their technique, it became easier to replicate it when it was my turn to perform the task.  Subsequently, I learned over the past 12 years that watching someone who is excellent at anything, and attempting to imitate it myself, is a great way to learn and grow.  It can be true of gardening, cooking, even child-rearing, and certainly in spiritual practices.

This is a gift I want to impart to my own children, both in practical and sacred ways!  I did eventually tell my helpful child to observe how the dishwasher is loaded.  I went over what was done right, and what can be approved upon.  My child thanked me for helping to make the next time at the job go better. 

Much more importantly, I want my children to, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1, GW)  I want them to see how I get to know Jesus better every day through my time alone with Him.  I want them to see the difference in my life made by the way I face my problems holding His hand.  I want them to see how God blesses my obedience, which only grows my faith more.  I want them to learn that it can be far more pleasant to observe and imitate through being admonished, rather than through being brought to their knees in crisis.


Pray:  Lord, open my eyes and ears and heart to carefully absorb all you intend for me to learn.  Help me to love and live just as You did, Jesus.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More Than I Could Ask or Imagine

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
~ Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV ~ 

In my formative years, I always wanted to be a mother.  I can't tell you why I had that desire.  I had no preconceived notions of what it would be like.  But I wanted to be a mom.

In my adult years, it seemed this desire would never become a reality.  My first known pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage.  Shortly after, my young marriage unraveled, and I found myself single again.  When I remarried, I also sadly miscarried.  A number of infertility issues were also discovered.  While God used these circumstances in my second marriage to draw me to a place of salvation, I would get on my knees every morning with pain in my heart praying, "Lord, if it is not your will for me to be a mother, please take this tremendous desire away from me."

Little did I know that through the trials of loss, waiting, and medical chaos, God was preparing me to be the mother of three tremendously unique children.  Had I not suffered in the ways I had prior to becoming a parent, I would have never learned that God was still faithful despite the incredible loss, that He would help me persevere, that He might have a plan that far outweighed my sadness.  I would have never learned to be more self-less, to be my own best medical advocate, to search for more answers - creative answers to difficult questions.

When I finally became a mother, I relished it in ways that only a person who had to struggle for it could.  I knew what a gift every day was.  I soaked up every little moment as they were babies.  I developed my own style of parenting.  And I was resolute in knowing why I wanted what I wanted for my children.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would face the many heartaches of special needs when I became a mom.  Foolishly, I thought that given such suffering in trying to build a family, God would spare us any further serious challenges.  I had not yet learned the lesson that when God calls, He equips.

Through parenting children with a variety of special needs, the Lord has grown me into someone I never imagined I would be.  He knew what He had gifted me with and made me for.  I've found my "sweet spot" in following Him through the trials.  Never would I have imagined my capability at putting an IV needle in one of my children three times a week or more.  Never would I have seen myself as competent to medically assess my children and make major decisions based upon those assessments.  Never would I have seen myself exploring options and separating fact from fiction when using Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) to treat my child with severe allergies.  Never did I think I would be teaching my kids at such a young age the faithfulness and purposes of God in the midst of life's sorrows.

As I reflect on Mother's Day this year, I see that God has, in fact, made this desire come true in my life in countless ways that I never could have asked or imagined.  The anguish of motherhood is greater than I ever could have anticipated.  I am not the perfect, crafty, activity-engaged mom that so many others I admire are.  Instead, I am the discerning, chaos-controlling, prayerful, don't-sweat-the-small stuff type of mother.  That's certainly surprising to me.  And the joys, laughter, and friendship with each of my kids are far beyond what I ever could have requested.  How often I watch them in amazement as I see how God uniquely formed each of their personalities, thoughts, and capabilities.

Yes, even without preconceived expectations, motherhood is far more than I could ask or imagine.  And this Mother's Day, I thank the Lord that He made me fit to serve Him and my family in this role.  Motherhood is such a precious privilege to me!

Pray:  Lord, never let me take parenthood for granted.  Through the good and the bad, open my eyes to the exceedingly abundant ways you are at work.

~ Barb Dittrich

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Knowing When to Keep My Mouth Shut

And Pilate inquired of Him, Are You the King of the Jews? And He replied, It is as you say.
And the chief priests kept accusing Him of many things.
And Pilate again asked Him, Have [a]You no answer to make? See how many charges they are bringing against You!
But Jesus made no further answer at all, so that Pilate wondered and marveled. (Mark 15:2-5, AMP)

In my private time, I have been reading the Gospel of Mark.  I have found myself amazed at the amount of time it has taken me to dig deep into this, the shortest version of the four Gospels.  While brief, Mark still has much to discover.

This is certainly not the first time I have read the Gospel of Mark.  Yet, I found myself particularly curious when I came to the fifteenth chapter, discovering something completely new.  In Mark's description of Jesus appearing before Pilate, within the same hearing, Jesus has both a time where he speaks up and another where he keeps his mouth shut.  He responds to Pilate's questions, but not to the false accusations of the Pharisees.  While it may be a detail that many of us would at first miss, you can see that there is a huge difference between the two ways of being addressed.  These separate behaviors do not warrant the same response.

There are so many amazing things about our Savior.  In His crucifixion and the hours leading up to it, I continually find myself in awe of Jesus' controlled power.  He could have taken the lives of Pilate, the Pharisees and everyone else in that palace with just a word.  Instead, he moved forward in complete obedience to the Father's plan.  He acted in a completely forthright way rather than with selfish indignation.

In Ecclesiastes 3:7, Solomon reminds us that there is a time to speak-up and a time to shut-up.  Jesus not only knew that well, he also had the discernment to be aware of which was appropriate at the time.  Now, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, that same wisdom is readily accessible to us.

As the mother of children with special needs, I need to be more like Jesus.  I should be ready to answer questions like Christ did with Pilate, but ignore false accusations like He did with the Pharisees.  Before I get into a tussle with the school, I need to pray about whether God would have me speak up about it.  When I question myself on whether to call the doctor, I need to pray for the Holy Spirit's wisdom to move me in one direction or another.

A wise friend of mine taught me a number of years ago to examine situations by asking, "Is this a hill to die on?"  In other words, we each need to determine whether an issue at hand warrants our response.  If we raise our voices at every little thing, people tend to tune us out.  If we respond to misguided comments (false accusations) about our family circumstances, we look defensive and give the ignorant credibility.  At the same time, if we do not speak up when we should, we relinquish our serious duty as the stewards of these precious children.

Yes, each of us, including myself, need to call on that Jesus-power within us when it comes to guiding our speech.  With that guidance, we will gain the victory that God intended for us.

Pray:  "Lord, put Your arm around my shoulder, and your hand over my mouth!"  Help me to know when to speak, and when to keep silent.


Footnotes:
  1. Mark 15:4 Capitalized because of what He is, the spotless Son of God, not what the speaker may have thought He was.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Robin Still Sings

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.~ James 1:12, NIV


This past weekend was a tremendously rainy one in Wisconsin.  It was rather unfortunate for our family in that we traveled two hours Northwest to our camper trailer at a local resort, hoping to get it opened for the season, and enjoy some outdoor relaxation.  While we got the outdoor work done of stacking firewood, raking and planting in our small yard, mowing the lawn and mulching the gardens, the rain overtook the remainder of our outdoor time, quarantining us to indoor activities.


For those who have never been in a camper trailer before, you should know that the unit has virtually no sound-proofing.  Talking loudly inside would be almost equivalent to doing so outside.  The opposite is also true.  Most outdoor noises can be heard inside the cabin.


As the rain came down this weekend, I sat inside reading, and found myself amazed at what I was hearing.  Despite the fact that it was pouring, with thunder and lightening threatening all around, I could hear the robin's song.  First, it sang the song I frequently hear from its red breast as morning approaches.  Next, as the raindrops waned, I heard it make the chirp that it lets out as it hops along, searching for worms.  Incredible!, I thought once I realized I wasn't imagining what I actually heard.  Dumb bird!, I subsequently thought, when I contemplated this creature going along happily, as if no storm was dampening its day.


Then it struck me -- What if we approached our storms in life with the same verve as that robin?  Maybe this creature wasn't so dumb after all.  Perhaps it was God's little messenger to struggling humans like me.  


We parents who are raising children with special needs have much to learn from this robin in the rain.  "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have," Peter tells us in his first letter, Chapter 3, Verse 15 (NIV).  That bird sang in the rain as it would at sunrise.  It had the hope that the storms would not last forever.  Jesus tells us, "Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?" (Matthew 6:26-27, NLT)  That bird, despite the storms, had no worries.  God made that creature to trust its Creator.  In Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV), Paul tells the church in Philippi, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  Like that bird, Paul continues on with the work that he was called to do.  As the rain let up, the robin persevered, resuming its work finding worms.  And ironically, the very storm which drove us indoors, became a blessing to that robin as the worms became easy to find in its wake.


Hope, trust, perseverance, blessings in the storm -- Where could you be growing in each of these things in the midst of your circumstances today?  I don't know about you, but I want to glorify God by the songs I sing in the middle of my son's hospital stays or my daughter's social challenges with peers.  I don't want to be consumed by the worry of what their futures might hold.  I want to press on, doing the next right thing for my family.  And I want to help my children make lemonade out of the special needs lemons they encounter in their lives.  I want to sing in the rain just like that robin!


Pray:  Creator God, you made me to reflect your glory, not to be consumed or diminished by life's storms.  Help me today to find that song that You have placed in my heart!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Contolled Burn


When you go through the sea, I am with you.  When you go through rivers, they will not sweep you away.  When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flames will not harm you. ~ Isaiah 43:2, GW


You could see the well-defined edge of it as we stopped on our hay wagon ride.  It almost looked like a black paved road forging right through the middle of these farm fields flanked by woods.  Apparently the team who performed the controlled burn knew what they were doing and took the task seriously.  The land owner described to us in detail the fireproof suits adorning the men and the voluminous smoke that swept through the area during the fire.  


While the intention was to burn the invasive, undesirable species in this field and subsequently seed acres of lovely prairie flowers, the land owner pointed out that after only a week, beautiful, natural, native species were poking their heads up through the ashes.  What a fascinating endeavor this was, all in the interest of restoring this prairie area to its intended beauty.  The families who came out to Zachariah's Acres Respite Campus in the months ahead would surely witness a breathtaking sight indeed!


The memory of these fields and their story surfaced once again as I studied God's word.  Certainly life's trials are much like this controlled burn.  Just like the boundaries of this intentional fire, the Lord puts limits to our suffering.  He only scorches the specific areas of our lives that He sees in need of rehabilitation at the time.  Like the dross removed from silver, so are the "invasive species" of our lives.  (See Proverbs 25:4)  Once this ugliness is forcibly removed, God's best for us can take its rightful place.  The glory He intends to shine through us can be more readily observed.  And while the flames may seem all-consuming, they do not consume the land itself.  Similarly, we are not destroyed, but transformed by our trials.


Are you feeling the heat today?  Know that you do not walk through this alone!  While you may feel like agony will overtake you, if you keep your eyes on your Heavenly Father, and cooperate with what He is trying to recreate in you, it will all be worthwhile in the end.  God will, "...give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3, NKJV)



Pray:  Oh, Lord, too many days I feel scorched by the pains of life.  Use them to create new beauty in my life.  And help me to remember that as I remain in You, I will not be harmed, but will emerge victorious.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Be Still!


God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.  Let the oceans roar and foam.  Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!  ...“Be still, and know that I am God!  I will be honored by every nation.  I will be honored throughout the world.” ~ Psalm 46: 1-3, 10, NLT


If you have a child with any variety of diagnoses from ADHD to auditory processing issues to Tourette Syndrome, you know that noise and self-regulation are a huge issue.  I continually find myself saying to my own children, each of whom have completely different disorders, "You can't hear me when you're being so loud!"  When they are upset or overly enthusiastic or even just wrapped up in their own concerns at the time, I urge them to quiet down in order to hear my instructions.  If there is a trauma, how much more the noise ratchets up!  And to even be able to comfort them in the least, they have to come to a place where they are willing to quiet themselves.


Why should we think it is any different with us adults?  When the turmoil of medical concerns or insurance battles or just trying to "get it all done" overtakes us, it is extremely hard to be still.  In an emergency, the heart and thoughts race as we try to make prudent decisions on the spot.  At times when our plate is way too full, demands of work, parenthood and the special needs care of our children overwhelms us.  Yet, that is the very time that God urges us to settle down and affirm to ourselves who He is. 




If you look at today's verses, you see that the Lord proclaims, "Be still, and know that I am God!", not at a time of peace, but in the midst of trouble.  It is right at the time of life's stressful racing that He wants us to halt, stand up and take notice.  He's got it all under control!  We have no need for the worry and churning going on inside of us.  And we can't hear the wisdom of His voice or fully receive His comfort if we are not willing to settle down for a bit.


While it may be extremely difficult, even a short time alone with God, quieting ourselves in His presence, can bring peace to our chaos.  It may mean waking up 15 minutes earlier in the morning before the demands of family kick in.  It may mean taking a walk alone after dinner to process what God has to share with you about your day.  It may even mean locking yourself in a bathroom for a few minutes.  But the Lord's desire is that we would take a deep breath and drink in the awesome gift that He is our refuge and help even when the foundations of life are shaking.  Be still.  Be refreshed for the moment.  Be encouraged!


Pray:  Father, when life's circumstances overtake me, help me to quiet myself and realize who You are!  Fill me with your perfect peace that far outshines any of life's circumstances.