Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Bad Case of the Gimmes

Don't be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, "I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,"...  (Hebrews 13:5, MSG)

I am as guilty of it as the next person -- that "unholy habit of discontent", as author Linda Dillow* describes it.  I am blessed with a lovely suburban home, but I want a better one.  I have three beautiful children, but I want healthy, problem-free kids.  I have the best medical care in the world, but I want a cure.

It occurred to me a number of days ago that we, as adults are not unlike our children, brimming with avarice.  The kids just get one thing checked off of their list, and they want something more.  They have the DS, and the DSi, but now they want the 3DS.  We shake our heads in shame and discouragement, wondering how we have failed as parents that our children can't see the boundless blessings strewn in front of them.  Yet, we're hardly different than they.

When I quiet myself and disengage from the busy-ness of this world, I have time to contemplate all of my blessings.  I can take that moment to gaze up at a star-filled sky, realizing that every pinpoint of light is actually planet-sized.  And my breath is taken away as I realize that the Creator of the Universe cares about every little detail of microscopic me!  Or I can watch the evening news with stories from around the world of people suffering immense injustices like war, famine or disease.  And I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that there, but for the boundless grace of God, go I.

What about you?  Have you stopped to pause from your strife with the school to notice the soft gentle curves of your child's face?  Have you pulled away from the battles with the insurance company long enough to just enjoy small, tender moments with your special child?  Have you spent time "marinating", as I like to call it, on the powerful but sweet ways God uses your family to touch people all around you?

Our calling as parents of children with unique abilities is not an easy one.  And if we let the demands of this life suck every inch out of us, we can find ourselves in quite a pit of discontent.  "The gimmes" are a natural result.  Feeling we would be happy if only our child could finally adjust on a medication or if we finally came into some money or if we had just one extended family member who understood.  But God calls us to have our focus upward.  Let me remind you that He tells us, "Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, GWT)

Does God want us to give thanks for the horrid suffering and injustice that may beset us?  Not necessarily.  He's calling us to give thanks for the lavish blessings He's poured out in spite of those horrific things. When we're praying, relishing how good He is to us and offering thanks, our sight can't help but be focused heavenward.  No matter what we lose, it is nothing in comparison to what we still have forever in Jesus.  What amazing grace!  And how incredibly useful that makes us in reflecting His glory to a dark, hurting world!

The next time you find yourself with a bad case of "the gimmes", stop to think how pathetic your children look in the same position.  Grab hold of your thought process, and begin giving thanks!  Ruminate on the notion that the God of the Universe will never leave you or forsake you.  That's pretty awesome!  What more could the little average human want? 

Pray:  Lord of all, You have been so gracious to me!  Guard my heart so that I'm not lured into envying the things of this world.  Thank You that the eternity you have assured me is far more than I could ever ask or imagine!
 
*Quote from  Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow / ISBN 1-60006-141-9
Copyright © 2006 NavPress Publishing. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 27, 2012

FULL ACCESS


Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. (Psalm 23:4c, NLT)

Since it was written somewhere between 1040 and 970 BC, countless thoughts have been shared about the 23rd Psalm.  Nevertheless, with God's living and active word, it can touch us afresh today.  As I was sitting in quiet time with the Lord, the Holy Spirit touched me with something deeper in regards to this beloved psalm to share with parents of children with special needs.

When we acknowledge that Christ's rod and staff are affecting us, we must also realize that He comes attached to those instruments.  For those unfamiliar with the shepherd's equipment, know that the rod and the staff are used for rescue, discipline, keeping the herd on track moving in the right direction and for protection from attackers.  The qualities of the One using these instruments is as key as the instruments themselves.

When we are led by the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd, we have full access to:
  • Wisdom -- I strongly encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 2!  As parents of children with special needs, one of our high callings is to make wise decisions for these precious children.  All too often, when I'm moving in my own strength rather than the Lord's, I find that discernment is foggy or I feel anxiety in not knowing what to do.  But when I yield to Christ's rod and His staff, I am granted the mind of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I can move forward knowing that even if I don't have a strong sense of what to do, the decision that God has guided me to will work out and will be covered by Him completely.  
  • Compassion -- Read through the dozens of times God's compassion is cited in the Bible.  Probably the best summary comes in Psalm 86:15, "But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,   slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." (NIV)  That tender mercy is not only extended to us through life's difficulties, but in yielding to the Shepherd's direction, flows through us to others so deeply in need of it.
  • Power -- Weak as we are, we need a strong Advocate, and that is exactly what we have in our majestic God!  The same One who flung stars into space and raised Jesus from the grave is now living inside of you, if you are a follower of the Good Shepherd.  The implications are awesome!  No illness, financial difficulty or interpersonal struggles can dominate you.  You are sheltered by the full power of the Lord of the Universe. 
  • Glory -- Some of the definitions Merriam Webster Dictionary gives of the word "glory" include "renown" or "great beauty and splendor".  That brilliant sense of awe, that had to be "tucked in" as Jesus appeared to be one who was just like us throughout the Incarnation, is available to take our breath away any time we care to meditate upon it.  The virtually unfathomable glory of the One who leads me is what brings deep joy, strengthening hope and a sound peace no matter if I'm in a hospital or on a beach.
These are merely a miniscule fraction of the magnificent qualities available to us through Christ's rod and staff.  Don't discount the growth, provision and replenishment provided through them as well.  I pray that you take the time to reflect upon these things as you journey through your days.  After all, special needs parenting can be a deepening knowledge of the remarkable character of God if only you will let it be!

Pray:  Lord, I want to know you more and more!  Be my Guide through this challenging life.  Help me to see you in every part of it.  Grow my joy as I grow in You.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

INTERPRETERS

He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. (1 Corinthians 12:10, NLT)

Living in the special needs world for over a decade has changed me.  Like much of the typical world, I used to only see symptoms and behaviors without seeing what is behind such things.  I once saw kids with various diagnoses and thought they were "naughty" or had "bad parents".  I watched families who had kids with physical maladies and wondered why they didn't push their child a bit more rather than acquiescing to the child's demands.  God forbid, I probably even spoke about non-verbal children right in front of them without any thought that they might understand what I was saying.

As I look back, I see how God has increasingly melted my heart over the years.  Frankly, I already saw change when I attended my first disability ministry conference in 2003.  I was more than a bit unsettled by the crowd I found myself in.  It was there that I met the Hukills, who have been friends ever since.  Graciously sharing their story, humor and ministry experience helped me to understand that they were much like every other person.  Jim was just a warm, wacky guy who had a body that wouldn't cooperate for him.  By the end of that conference, God had changed my heart, impressing upon me, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted..." (Psalm 34:18).  So often, the disabled and their families are brokenhearted.  If I was looking to be close to God, I need look no further than the disabled.

Fast forward through the past nine years of ministry, and I've seen kids with diagnoses of every kind who are held captive by what besets them.  My own son may will for his blood to clot or for an injury not to take place, but much of it is out of his control.  My own daughter may wish to sit still, be unaffected by sensory triggers or even get to sleep at night, but finds herself victim to her own body.  And a busy, ignorant world whizzes past these innocents expecting what can't be given and ostracizing those in need of compassion.

How amazing that our Heavenly Father calls parents like us to the high purpose of being an interpreter for not only our own children, but others just like them!  We, through our deep and constant experience with these children, are given a unique ability to translate behaviors into words that cannot be expressed.  Extreme, wild frenzy may be a symptom of an allergic reaction.  Avoidance might be translated as an extreme anxiety rather than childish obstinance.  And passing up the birthday cake at the party may be the sign of a child learning to manage his own diabetes.  There are countless subtleties we are gifted at interpreting to those around us who would not know otherwise.  And because of the gift we have been uniquely given, we must be prepared to tell the special needs story again and again.

In the daily grind of a life affected by special needs, don't lose sight of the high purpose you hold in God's economy!  You are a bridge-builder, every bit as much as those who share the Good News in foreign lands.  The Holy Spirit reigns within you enabling that keen sense of discernment that He has fostered over the years.  And your training in "the school of hard knocks" renders much value to every life you touch.


Pray:  God, this is never a place I thought I would find myself or a language I would be equipped to interpret.  But I know that You use all things for the good of those who love You.  Help me to be a lifeline to both those who have special needs and to those who so desperately need to understand them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Incongruent Culture

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.  Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.  Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.  Therefore the LORD’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down.  The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets." (Isaiah 50:20-25, NIV)

It started again last week.  I found myself ruminating about the huge disconnect in our culture that I continue to witness in ever-increasing measure.  Outrage flashed throughout media and internet venues at a furious pace with news of a little girl with cognitive challenges being denied a lifesaving kidney transplant at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).  While the hospital has denied the claim, vigorous conversation continued.

The full gambit of viewpoints could be feasted upon out there.  One blogger made the stark contrast between the struggles of the child being served by CHOP and her own beloved pet, while one of her readers defended how limited resources are used.  Terri Mauro, About.com writer, made a powerful case affirming the value of children with special needs.  And renowned bioethicist, Dr. Mark Mostert, sounded the warning once again for the impending doom of eugenics as he proclaimed the "The new scarlet letter is 'D' for disability, and those bearing it are judged as less worthy of treatment and life than the rest of us."

What strikes me most seriously is that we have become a conflicted, bipolar culture regarding the serious issue of the value of life.  And now this issue has hit the door of our disability community with a battering ram.  While our organization has had parents leave us in disgust because we are solidly pro-life, we have continued to comfort and strengthen those who are sickened and dismayed by true news accounts of things like the award of millions of dollars to parents who are suing because they weren't able to abort a child who was missing limbs at birth.   The parents we comfort know that it's not a long stretch between the prenatal and postnatal discrimination against those who are uniquely-abled.  One only needs to look to articles like a recent one from The National Post (Canada) to see that the culture is becoming more depraved in its valuing of some lives over others.

So, how do we square a society where the pro-choice worldview exists alongside the notion that anybody denying compassionate rights to the disabled is a knuckle-dragging barbarian?  Ironically, the two views are actually not at opposite ends of the spectrum because they both operate under the premise that special needs are "not fair".  One view thinks that this unfairness should be dealt with by avoiding it at all costs.  The other thinks that the unfairness should be addressed by overcompensating for it.  

As I am known to say to people, "This ain't heaven, baby!"  The only solution to such a conundrum comes in pressing obediently into the sovereignty of our Maker.  He made us.  He knows what is best for us.  He set the boundaries for our good, not our oppression.  And when we challenge His authority, taking it into our own hands, calling right wrong and wrong right, we create a dangerous life for each of us.  It never occurs to people that we are each merely one emergency room visit away from becoming a special needs family.  The slope is beyond slippery when we decide who is worthy of life and who is not.  While it may be far easier to dispose of another person than to sit down, get to know them and discover their personal giftedness, we may be sealing our own fate by taking that easier route.  God help us in making this fatal, incongruent mistake!  It is far beyond time the Church start preaching this truth boldly!

Pray:  God, You alone are the author and perfecter of all life.  Help us to be wise stewards, not only with our own lives, but also with every life you have allowed to arrive on this earth!

~ Barb Dittrich

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HOARDERS

So then, as Christians, do you have any encouragement? Do you have any comfort from love? Do you have any spiritual relationships? Do you have any sympathy and compassion? Then fill me with joy by having the same attitude and the same love, living in harmony, and keeping one purpose in mind. Don’t act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves. Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others. Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
 
 Although he was in the form of God and equal with God,
      he did not take advantage of this equality.
 Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant,
      by becoming like other humans,
      by having a human appearance.
 He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
      death on a cross.
 This is why God has given him an exceptional honor—
      the name honored above all other names—
       so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth,
            and in the world below will kneel
             and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
      to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11, GW)


Reality television is a big hit these days.  Just as soap operas and sitcoms used to dominate the airwaves, this genre of video entertainment can be found on virtually every network in various forms.  My 9 year old fancies animal shows like "Hillbilly Hand Fishin'" and "Call of the Wildman" while my husband fixates on "Pawn Stars" and "American Pickers".  Although I'm not much into that sort of entertainment, I have caught a few glimpses as I pass through the room.  However, the one production that both vexes me and literally eats a hole in my stomach is "Hoarders".

Everything in this show screams of the utterly hopeless depravity of man.  Episode after episode shares the stories of people avoiding the truth at all costs.  Behaviors that shout "mine" and an unnatural attachment to stuff are on full display.  And buildings once filled with boundless blessings have become squalor infested and rotting.

Repugnant as this may be, too many of us Christians are also hoarders, but with our dysfunction hidden within.  We are spiritual gluttons.  We feast on good books, Bible studies, sermons and fellowship.  But we use the excuses of being too busy, being in a place of need or being justified in merely wanting to live as the rest of our middle class culture does in order to avoid sharing with others.  We receive our comfort and become comfortable rather than becoming comforters.  Sadly, we put our light under a basket.  (See Matthew 5:14-16)

As this particular cable television show progresses from discovery of the individual's problem, things that were once useful get thrown away.  Items that could have been a blessing to someone else have sat unsegregated from the garbage for so long that they too have become rubbish.  It is an absolute shame.

Our spiritual blessings are no less similar.  How many times we could have blessed someone walking a similar journey or with our understanding of difficulty, yet we kept those gifts to ourselves.  We lose the ability to discern truth from lies and become toxic to ourselves as well as those near us.

In all honesty, all of us could do with some serious spiritual housecleaning.  Why not start today?  Look for ways you can serve rather than being served.  Identify your spiritual gifts by reflecting on some of the big lessons in life God has taught you.  Then pray for the Lord to bring people into your life who need to hear how He has worked in you.  He will faithfully answer that prayer!

We are filled up to be poured out, friend.  Praising God for your abundant blessings is good.  But being the conduit to bless another is definitely intended to be part of the continuum.  Don't find yourself on the ash heap of your life, ashamed of what you have let deteriorate.  Live out the purpose God intended for you today!


Pray:  Father, I know my life is not my own, yet I live it as if I'm deserving of being a god myself.  Forgive me, Lord.  Help me to pass on the abundant blessings you have shared with me.  May the generosity of my life reflect Your goodness to everyone I come into contact with.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Object of His Affection

Long ago the LORD said to Israel:  "I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself." (Jeremiah 31:3, NLT)

Motherhood, while a blessed profession, is so often a thankless one.  How often it is to feel easily defeated, unnoticed, even unloved.  While we get a peck on the cheek from the hubby or a needy embrace from our kids, it's easy to feel like a vending machine that's merely having a deposit made to get the desired concession.  Add the demands of late night Emergency Room visits, therapy appointments, doing battle with schools, standing up to insurance companies, and it's easy to see why we moms of kids with special needs don't exactly feel like runway models!

But there's a sweet treasure we can marinate on despite our great lack of quiet time.  We are the object of God's affection -- each and every one of us!  Take a minute with me to hang out here and think about that for a bit.  We were formed by God, for God.  In His eyes, we're absolutely beautiful, no matter how disheveled we may look in the human sense.  There's nothing we have to produce to earn or keep that love.

Now go deeper with me in hanging out on that thought.  The Maker of the Universe is crazy about YOU!  There's no expense He'd spare in His love for you.  In fact, He'd even give up His own Son, so you could be with Him!  (See Romans 8:32)  He's concerned with every detail of your life, and He even thinks you're gorgeous without makeup!

The next time you find yourself feeling depleted as a wife and mother, take a deep breath, drop your shoulders and remember how insanely loved you are by the One who put the sun in orbit.  Really let your brain process that for a minute!  You have infinite worth, purpose and value just because of His love for you.  As you let that seep in, lift your chin a bit higher and be energized by the Good News to take on the rest of your day.

Pray:  Jesus, fill my mind fully with that sense of how richly deep your love for me is.  May my humble gratitude for that love fill me with the energy and positive attitude I need to make it through each and every day of my life as a wife and mother.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

GROW!

   "God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and for godliness. This power was given to us through knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and integrity. Through his glory and integrity he has given us his promises that are of the highest value. Through these promises you will share in the divine nature because you have escaped the corruption that sinful desires cause in the world.
   Because of this, make every effort to add integrity to your faith; and to integrity add knowledge; to knowledge add self-control; to self-control add endurance; to endurance add godliness; to godliness add Christian affection; and to Christian affection add love. If you have these qualities and they are increasing, it demonstrates that your knowledge about our Lord Jesus Christ is living and productive. If these qualities aren’t present in your life, you’re shortsighted and have forgotten that you were cleansed from your past sins." (2 Peter 1:3-9, GW)

It never ceases to amaze me how we can fool ourselves even after we have started living a life of fully believing Jesus is our Savior.  Too many of us respond to "the altar call", but then expect to go back to living the way we did before.  We resist transformation and fight God at every turn.  We are saved, but lose out on the rewards in the here-and-now intended for those who obey their Maker.  (See 1 Corinthians 3:10-15)  And how often I see people in Christian community using their children with special needs as a reason to opt out or be given a pass on spiritual stretching.  (Ouch!  I know that last one hurt!)

The fact is that God's best for us doesn't merely include crawling as a Christian.  Just as a baby goes from a crawl to a walk to a run, so the Lord intends us to grow in ever-increasing measure into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.  (See 2 Corinthians 3:18)  We are to roll up our sleeves and dig in deep.  Transitioning from milk, to baby food, to solid food, to satisfying meat is the plan intended for us.  (See Hebrews 5:12-14)  And in feasting on meat, becoming spiritual adults, we find great purpose in being able to raise up the next generation of heaven's children.  That spiritual diet is to result in acts of worship that include giving back rather than just remaining sponges.

How are you growing?  Are you doing the same old things, being content with the status quo as a Christian?  Or are you willing to be moved outside your comfort zone for Jesus?  Do you hang around with only those who tell you what you want to hear, who require nothing of you?  Or are you willing to face your flaws head on?  Do you consider yourself to be a "good Christian" or are your actions born out a response to your realization of who you are in Christ?


Pray:  My Savior, meet me where I am at.  Grow me in ever-increasing measure into the image of your Son, Jesus Christ.  May my progress somehow bring a smile to Your heart, Lord.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Bloom Where You Are Planted!

"Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13, NLT)

How often we look to the future with emotional expectation!  We anticipate that our lives will improve, our moods will lighten and our spiritual growth will blossom, if only our circumstances are better.  This is especially common as we flip the new calendar over.  Psychologically, we place hopes on a new year bringing fewer trials and more cooperation in our families, jobs, finances and medical situations.  Sadly, while this may seem like renewed joy, it ends up being more like a set-up for huge disappointment.

What if, instead, we bloomed where we are planted?  What if we looked for God's activity in spite of our unfulfilled expectations?  I don't know about you, but the prospect of feeling joy and value that transcends any circumstances in life is tremendously appealing to me.  And we can know with full certainty that Jesus alone provides such transcendence.  Time and again in God's word, the Bible, we see examples of His miraculous goodness in spite of tribulations.  This isn't just a question of whether such contentment is possible.  The knowledge that our Maker has repeated such behavior habitually gives us the assurance to watch for where and how it will happen.

God works the same way today as He did in Bible times.  (Hebrews 13:8)  We can see examples from those who survive and thrive all around us.  Every person in whom the Holy Spirit dwells can be a Joni Eareckson Tada, a Mother Teresa, a Saint Paul.  We need only to open our eyes to people in our midst who have that pleasantly peculiar quality despite the fact that we know they suffer great trials, and emulate them.

When we find ourselves drooping from life's challenges, we need only to reflect backward to recall how God has continually brought us through.  Keeping a journal can be especially helpful for such reflection.  I found myself doing such holy remembering this year.  Unexpectedly losing my father in June, working together with my siblings to care for my elderly disabled mother, and enduring the trials of my mother's recent kidney cancer diagnosis all made the previous year heartbreaking.  When my sister returned to her home half a country away after the holidays, it was easy to feel hopeless.  Instead, I broke out last years journal, able to reflect on all the ways the Lord provided "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think," (Ephesians 3:20, KJ21).  In His tenderness, our Merciful Savior showed me word by word how He supplied all my needs and provided even better results than I had hoped for, even in spite of my suffering.  Wow!  It was hard to be anything but joy-filled and ready for God's use after that!

Let's begin afresh today, keeping in mind that we are the objects of Yahweh's love.  With Him going before us, beside us and behind us, we can live in full joy and contentment no matter what challenges lay ahead.  He has our best in mind.  Our high calling is to share that Good News with everyone we come into contact with, whether by word or by deed.  Let's bloom where we are planted all to the glory of our great God!

Pray:  Lord, sometimes it feels as if my praise and my joy are contingent upon life going my way.  Help me to live life differently, beginning today.  Let me bloom where I am planted, so I can take full advantage of the opportunity to share with the world the reason for my blessed hope.