Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From Burdens to Blessings

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
~ Romans 12:2~

Mindset.  It can be the difference between life and death.  How we frame things in our heads can determine whether we live joyfully or with total drudgery.  Special needs parenting is no exception to this rule.

When we begin this journey, it is a tragedy.  No one wants to learn that their child will suffer or that something is not quite right.  We grieve.  We spend time coming to accept our new reality.  Sharing the news with family and friends is one of our first difficult steps.  Learning the whole new language of what it is we are dealing with becomes our task at hand.  Our brains are on overdrive, attempting to make sense of the information we are receiving, then making our best decisions based upon that information.  There are the burdens of doctors, therapists and treatments.  There are the burdens of wrestling with the insurance company and/or aid programs for coverage.  There are the burdens of advocating for proper education and adaptations in the school system.  And there are the burdens of just trying to find some normalcy in family life.

While these challenges confront us in huge ways when our child is first diagnosed, they can revisit us throughout the parenting journey.  Any time something new is introduced, we can find ourselves struggling with those same burdens again.  When our child goes from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, we visit those battles again.  If an additional diagnosis or health crisis arises along the journey, we are back to taking in voluminous amounts of information, trying to discern what choices will serve our child best.  Losing funding from a program or a spouse changing a new job with new insurance can place us in a stressful situation once again.

But if we are in Christ, we can take heart!  Our burdens can be transformed into tremendous blessings.  The Lord actually prepared me for this prior to becoming a special needs mother.  The friend who was responsible for bringing me to the Lord had introduced me to the book THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie Ten Boom.  When I was expecting our second child, we began to meet every so often with our toddlers to discuss that book.  One of the most striking stories for me within the book came when Corrie tells of a time she and her sister, Betsy, are ushered to a dormitory room at a concentration camp.  They stand at the door and see straw, which serves as their mattresses on the bunk beds, literally moving because it is so filled with flees.  While Corrie is repulsed, her sister, ever-focused on the Lord exclaims, "Thank you, God, for fleas."  As the story progresses, the reader learns that the burden of fleas becomes a blessing in keeping the vicious guards out of the dormitory room.  This allows the Ten Boom sisters to share the gospel message with the other prisoners, and it keeps every one of them free from abuse because the guards did not want to get bitten by fleas.

That story from THE HIDING PLACE never left me.  When our second child was diagnosed at birth with severe hemophilia, my husband and I looked at each other through tears saying, "Thank you, God, for hemophilia.  We don't know why we're thanking you, but we do."  If we only knew then the blessings that would come from our burdened hearts!  Life with our son has had its share of burdens.  The same is true of our youngest daughter who has a multitude of other diagnoses.  But because we have kept our eyes fixed on Jesus and have allowed Him to transform our minds, we are able to see the blessings in the darkness.  They are too many to count, but allow me to name a few.  We have had the great privilege of meeting some wonderful people and made enduring new friendships since our lives headed down this path.  Our ability to handle adversity in our lives has grown.  We are more joyful and grateful for even life's smallest gifts.  Because of our children's diagnoses, we have traveled places we never would have gone otherwise.  Our eternal perspective is enhanced and a unique connection with God developed because of our children's special needs.  And, of course, this incredible ministry that the Lord has called us to wouldn't even exist if not for what we have endured.  Having a front row seat to watch Him work through this ministry is one of life's greatest joys for us.


As I meet with our Board of Directors each year to cast a fresh vision for the months ahead, we seek to put the correct verbiage to what it is we are trying to accomplish.  Our prayer is that every parent of a child with special needs would be able to journey from the place of seeing this as a burden to seeing it as a blessing.  The only way that this can occur with any eternal value is to put into practice what we are told in Romans 12:2.  Stop conforming to the patterns of this world -- patterns that would tell you that you could have terminated that pregnancy or that devalues your child's life; patterns that kindle bitterness, telling you that the world owes you something because your child has struggles; patterns that stay mad at God because you are convinced He did something rotten to you and your child.  Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind -- be transformed into a good-finder; be transformed by knowing that God is the ultimate recycler, using bad circumstances to create something beautiful; be transformed by giving the Lord full sway over your thinking.  This is how you go from burdens to blessings.  I pray that you are on that path today.

PRAY:  Father, all I can see is the bad surrounding me.  I need You to change my mind.  I trust You because I have nowhere else to turn.  Show me the blessings in my burdens today.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pointing to The Truth

The Spirit says clearly that in later times some believers will desert the Christian faith. They will follow spirits that deceive, and they will believe the teachings of demons. These people will speak lies disguised as truth. Their consciences have been scarred as if branded by a red-hot iron. They will try to stop others from getting married and from eating certain foods. God created food to be received with prayers of thanks by those who believe and know the truth. Everything God created is good. Nothing should be rejected if it is received with prayers of thanks. The word of God and prayer set it apart as holy.
   You are a good servant of Christ Jesus when you point these things out to our brothers and sisters. Then you will be nourished by the words of the Christian faith and the excellent teachings which you have followed closely. Don’t have anything to do with godless myths that old women like to tell. Rather, train yourself to live a godly life. ~ 1 Timothy 4:1-7, GW

This world is full of its own troubles, nonsense and even darkness.  There is to be something remarkable about us that points people away from the world's garbage and towards the light of Christ.  Because of the special needs in our families, we catch people's eyes a little more easily.  This elevates us as ambassadors of God, giving us more opportunity to redirect the world to THE Source of hope.

Does all of this sound like nonsense to you?  Let me give you a real life example.  Last week I was getting my hair done.  At the salon, another woman and I were discussing her daughter, who is struggling as she moves into her young adult years.  The woman mentioned that she was frustrated because her daughter sought the counsel of an astrologist, and is letting that counsel influence her decisions in life.  The woman asked my opinion, which held value to her because of all our family has been through.  I gently explained to her that there are reasons why God tells us in His word, for our own protection, not to seek such counsel.  My words affirmed the woman and pointed her to Christ.

Other times, people have engaged me in conversation about embryonic stem cell research, because they know that this science has been touted as a possible cure for children like my son.  With an informed mind and biblical counsel, I am able to point them to the truth.  It opens their eyes when I can reveal to them the fact that only adult stem cells have actually shown promise in therapy and don't break God's command against murder.  It makes them stand up and take notice when I assure them that we would not pursue embryonic stem cell research even if it were showing promise because it violates what God has set forth for our protection.

Our encounters with others don't necessarily need to be this overt.  When people are watching us without our noticing, how we treat our children, our spouses or the professionals we deal with can all point to the Living Truth.  That Truth cannot be separated from love because God is love and God is truth.  So, when we're loving, gentle and honest with others, we naturally point to Him.

Use that platform God has given you wisely.  Even believers can lose their moral compass in these troubled times.  Keep encouraging and pointing to The Truth.

PRAY:  Father, it is so easy to be deceived in these confusing times.  I want to follow You and point others to You without error.  Grant me Your wisdom and discernment, so I can be Your light in the world around me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Keepin' It Real

 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:4, NIV)

"I don't say everything in public like you do," an acquaintance and fellow special needs mom said to me recently.  "People really don't have a clue all that we have going on at my home."  This acquaintance was both trying to downplay a trauma my family had recently been experiencing while at the same time elevating what her family was going through.  She was also trying to imply that I "air my dirty laundry" involving special needs rather indiscreetly.  I would have felt hurt, if I didn't feel so comfortable in my own skin, confident in my choice to be remain transparent.

However, the whole exchange between myself and this woman sparks a longer look at a wider issue.  Those of us living in the special needs community are under a tremendous amount of pressure to put on a "mask" to make everything look manageable and under control.  Our lives can make others feel uncomfortable.  The sad, natural outpouring of that discomfort is to push those of us raising children with a diagnosis to "tuck it in" and keep it to ourselves.  Whether it's avoiding us completely or changing the topic when we really need someone to talk to about our child or giving us unwanted, heavy-handed advice, the sometimes not-so-subtle intimidation can end up being like the shock collar that keeps the dog from leaving the confines of his boundaries.

I, on the other hand, am compelled to burst through that barrier.  "Keepin' it real," is a hallmark of my personal character.  And I think the good Lord made me with the personality and gifts He did, so I could be transparent for a purpose.  The reasons and applications for my openness are myriad:
  • The uglier I am willing to admit I am, the more beautiful God looks.  My sin condition is irrefutable, whether I cooperate with admitting it or not.  When I admit I'm a mess and in need of a Savior, my life quite naturally points to the Light of the World.  
  • My transparency makes it safer for you to be imperfectly yourself.  When my house is not white-glove clean; if I lose it sometimes with medical or school professionals; if I love my child, but sometimes need a break from that child; if I struggle with making sense of all of this in the context of my faith then it's okay for you to struggle with those things too.  
  • My honesty and candor can help you learn from my challenges.  Years ago, I began "outing" myself as a person who has always wrestled with chronic depression.  It took me a long time in my life to come to the point where I could comfortably share that without worrying about what others think.  I am so grateful that I am at a place where I can tell my story because perhaps now, someone else won't struggle for as many awful years as I did before I received adequate care.  The same can be true of any other issue I face from creative problem-solving with schools to alternative treatments for ADHD.  Nothing can take the place of the sage wisdom of one who has walked a few steps before us on the same journey.
Keepin' it real, willingness to admit that you are fallible, human and sometimes falling apart, is a far greater blessing than it is a curse.  While the rest of the world may exert pressure for us to keep our challenges with special needs to ourselves, that pressure becomes almost negligible compared to the power of God using our trials to encourage and strengthen another.  I may receive grief for it, but I am quite content with remaining transparent.

PRAY:  Lord, I know that you have given me a story that needs to be shared for the benefit of others and to point to Your glory.  Strengthen me to become secure enough to accept my own shortcomings, so that I may be candidly honest.  Use my hurts and imperfections for Your good purposes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

FAVORITE VERSES SERIES: Foreigners

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
~John 16:33, NLT~

Two weekends ago I experienced a remarkable encounter with God at the annual BSL Women's Retreat, which I attend every October in the refreshment of Wisconsin's Northwoods.   The above verse was the focus of this years theme, "Goodbye Ordinary".  While we enjoyed activities such as a prayer walk, horseback riding, crafts and a boat ride during the Autumn afternoon, we steeped ourselves in learning to live as overcomers in Christ during the morning and evening general sessions. Returning home, I found myself transformed in deeper and richer ways.  As a result, I thought it was important to make this key verse our featured favorite for the week.

Pulling apart our verse, I want to start in the middle.  Jesus tells us, "In this world you will have trouble."  He does not say "you may" or "you might".  Rather Jesus assures that "you will."

This is heartbreaking and discouraging to us as humans.  We don't want to be told that in this world we will have troubles, trials, heartaches, sorrows.  Really, in our deepest core, it is shocking to hear that.  Our expectation is that we should have good and pleasant circumstances in which to live, with sound health, happy relationships, financial stability and general well-being.  

Digging deeper in the context of parenting a child with special needs, much of our daily work is spent in dealing with the trials and sorrows that the world seems to pile onto families like ours.  We battle the difficulties of teamwork with schools and obtaining an optimal education for our children.  Hours are spent making critical medical and therapeutic decision on behalf of our precious sons and daughters.  There can be significant distress as we fight with those very medical staff who are supposed to be our helpers.  Trouble can face us when doctors or therapists are not proceeding the way we think is best for those we love.  

Add to these conflicts with other humans the unexpected traumas that face us in our journey as parents of children with diagnoses.  Financial angst can face us as we seek to pay for the best possible care for the ones we love.  Quite suddenly, insurance companies can deny claims causing us to spend endless hours trying to remedy the situation. Physical setbacks or traumatic episodes can occur depending upon the diagnosis.  Due to our children's compromised state, new illnesses can attack or deterioration occur.  Medications that were once effective in treating our child can even stop working.
In light of all of these heavy concerns, is it any wonder we parents feel overwhelmed?  Oh, how often we pray for just a break in the storm!  Will it ever get better, we wonder?  We just need some peace.  It would feel so good to get our heads above water if only for a short while.

The good news is that our Savior lovingly knows the cries of our souls.  This is why he tells us, "Take heart!  I have overcome the world!"  He knows that we expect better because we are actual foreigners here.  He didn't make us for a world of sin.  He made us for heaven!  He encourages us because He knows He has provided the way out of these less-than-perfect circumstances.  He is the way!  He points us towards our divine destination, cheering us toward the finish line. Jesus knows that with his Spirit living in our hearts, we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), able to overcome our tough situations of every kind in this life.  And He also knows that the only promise of our personal peace lays in Him.

Parents, this may sound like a unicorn, fairy utopian comment when we are facing the worst of life's battles.  But it is not.  This is practical equipment for dealing with the daily life to which we are called.  We need to cling to this verse and its truth.  Walking by our faith, not our feelings, will carry us through the worst this world can throw at us.  Jesus is the only hope for us and our children.  Tuck this verse into your heart and mind for the next time a trial washes over you, because it is sure to come.

PRAY:  Oh, Jesus, our Savior, comfort my heart and mind with these words of yours when life's next challenge faces me.  Give me peace in the storm.  Help me to understand the truth that I am destined to face troubles in this world because You made me for something better than this broken sinfulness.  By Your power alone, I can overcome.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Enthroned

Image courtesy of Bhais Sidhe
 "Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!'”
~ 1 Kings 18:38-39, NIV ~ 

"Political Silly Season" is the expression used to describe all the crazy promises and rhetoric of the election season.  One doesn't have to look very far to see people's emotions being whipped up by the speeches of candidates and comments of pundits at this time of year.   In my own life, I see so many friends, family and acquaintances tied in knots about the outcome of elections.  Worry seems to dominate as good intentions and cheap talk cause average citizens yield power to fear.

It motivates me to ask you what I ask those closest to me when they worry about political outcomes:  Is God still on the throne?  Will God remain Sovereign no matter who wins an election?  Will He be in control of our world even in the worst possible scenario?

The photo pictured above is of Monte Pelmo, also known as "The Throne of God" in the Dolomite Range of the Eastern Alps.  View from an aerial topographical angle, this mountain actually looks like a giant seat fashioned out of rock.  This amazing precipice leaves awe at its viewing and causes one to pause, adding perspective to life.

The fact is that the very hands that fashioned such majestic mountains are far more powerful than any politician.  Our Bible passage from today speaks to an instance when the people of Israel learned that fact.  Elijah, whom had been running for his very life, met with wayward King Ahab, his perverse prophets of Baal and Asherah, along with the Israelites on a less impressive mountain than this, Mount Carmel.  It was there that Elijah sought to bring the misled people to a decision point.  Was Yahweh still on the throne, King over all, or were these false gods that their rotten king had elevated before them in control?  Of course, as you read through Chapter 18 of the book of 1 Kings, you discover that Yahweh God makes Himself clearly known, against all odds, to the disobedient people of Israel.  Because of God's miraculous and mighty work that day, the people couldn't help but fall on their faces professing, "The LORD--He is God!  The LORD--He is God!"

While it may be easy to have our hearts troubled by serious issues facing our culture, remember in this and every election, that the Lord is God.  He is enthroned as Ruler over all, never to be removed.  His will cannot be thwarted, and His plans will reign supreme.  No matter our righteous concerns over health care for our children, issues of life and death, care for the poor, and religious liberty, trust in the sovereignty of our God.  While we should make a stand for His righteousness at election time, we should not become undone by the results.  Cover it in prayer and know that He who molded the mountains is mighty to save.  He will still be in control no matter who we elect, and He will bring about His perfect will as a result of it.

PRAY:  Yahweh God, I know that you establish authorities and rulers (Romans 13:1).  Wisely guide our nation as we turn our faces towards You.  Help me to rest and trust in Your ultimate sovereignty no matter who wins elections.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Would Gladly Take His Place

But He was hurt for our wrong-doing. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so we would have peace. He was beaten so we would be healed.  All of us like sheep have gone the wrong way. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has put on Him the sin of us all. ~ Isaiah 53:5-6, NLV ~

Every once in awhile, our family is blessed by being invited to participate in online hemophilia research surveys.  It can be a terrific little help in that most of the surveys offer $50 or $100 as compensation.  So when one showed up in my e-mail this week, I was glad to participate.  What I didn't anticipate was that it would leave me in tears.

"On a scale of 1 to 10 how affected do you feel by the desire to remove your child's pain," the survey question asked.  The stinging tears snuck up on me from behind.  I would do anything to remove his pain.  How many times I've asked, "Why can't it be me, Lord?"  One of the hardest parts of being the parent of a child with a diagnosis of this type is seeing the inordinate amounts of physical suffering your child endures.  And some of that hurt is induced by the over 2,500 IV needle pokes my husband and I have had to perform when administering infusions 3 times per week to help sustain our son's life.  Watching your child suffer is horrible.  Being unable to do anything to end the pain is heartbreaking.  Being the one who has to inflict some of that sorrow is mind-numbing and awful.

At the same time, I find this to be an incredible blessing that allows me to connect to God in a unique way.  Our Father knows all too well what it is like to watch His son suffer.  He knows that His son's anguish was all for the good, just like I know my son's painful infusions are meant for his ultimate well-being.  The Father could have stopped the crucifixion that tortured His son just like I could stop the IV's, so my Adonai understands the angst of having to allow the right stream of events go forth.  He has heard, "My God!  My God!  Why have Your forsaken me," just like I have heard, "Mommy, make them stop!"  Oh, how the Father's heart was broken into a million pieces just like mine!

At the same time, while I often marvel at the insane love that would take my place and endure the torture that should have been upon me, I can grasp it a little bit better as a mother who would gladly take the place of the son she loves too.  There are days where I wish I could just hold my son in my arms forever, and have it be all better.  Jesus stretched out his arms on a cross because he knew he was the only one who could make it better for all of us forever.

My heart breaks for my son.  The only thing that keeps me filled with joy in spite of the pain is the knowledge that there is One who has walked a mile in my shoes, and who lavishes me with His compassion.  I pray that this intimate anguish never leaves me where it found me.

PRAY:  Thank You, Lord, for walking a mile in my shoes.  Uphold me and my sweet family as we walk this painful path.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Facing the Bully

They repay me evil for good,
    and hatred for my friendship.
~ Psalm 109:5, NIV~

I often wonder if all of the attention we have paid to the issue of bullying in recent years has done us any good.  It seems we hear about it more on the news, while suicides and incomprehensible acts of evil are committed against one another.  Schools have awareness campaigns, while students find more insidious ways of emotionally abusing their peers.

Kids with special needs are far more vulnerable to bullying.  Having physical differences or perceived weaknesses often makes our children the subject of taunting or teasing.  Having emotional, behavioral or social issues often makes our kids targets as well.  Unable to process or cope with the typical issues of daily living, the ignorant seem to get a kick out of provoking our kids' lack of skills.  It's just another heartache that parents like us need to face in our special needs parenting journey.

Thank God, the Bible has something to say about dealing with the challenges of bullying!
  •  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (Romans 12:17, NIV) -- In trying to resolve the problem, we need to be careful to not become bullies ourselves.  Even unkind words against the bully can be harmful.  There may be more to the story than we realize.  Oftentimes, bullies were actually bullied themselves.  We have to exercise that power we are given to break the cycle, not repeat it.
  • Stand firm, and you will win life. (Luke 21:19, NIV) -- Child expert, Dr. Michele Borba offers great tips on teaching your child how to handle bullies.  When your child is not successful in following Dr. Borba's recommended measures for standing firm against the bully, you need to stand firm, getting involved with the other parents and/or the school.  That stance needs to be calm and assertive in order to be considered credible and to accomplish your purpose of ending the abuse.
  • If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22, NIV) -- As the old adage goes, "Kill 'em with kindness."  By being kind to the bully, your child stands as the light of Christ in a dark world and may just win the bully over in the end.  Furthermore, you do not know what the child who is behaving like a bully may be going through that is feeding that bad behavior.  We had one girl who was bullying our daughter that had just lost her mother to cancer and was pretty much neglected by her father.  Those "coals" mentioned in this passage can be a purifying fire that turns the situation from evil to good.
You can learn more about practical ways to conquer bullying by observing things like Unity Day or by connecting to great organizations like our friends at Good Friend Inc

Let me also encourage you with this anecdote.  Our son was physically and emotionally bullied in 3rd grade by a boy who is on the autism spectrum.  Talk about a difficult situation!  Here I was, the leader of a disability ministry watching a child with autism manhandle a child with hemophilia!  Nevertheless, we sought God's guidance, worked with the school and the other boys parents.  It took at least 2 years after the bullying stopped for my son to even become comfortable being the same room with the other child.  Today, these two boys are actually friends and share common interests.  Yes, our God IS the God of the "impossible" situation!



PRAY:  Lord, you are bigger than any bully that we could face.  You have handled these things since the beginning of time.  Walk with me, guiding me to handle bullying in appropriate ways, all to Your glory.

Monday, October 8, 2012

FAVORITE VERSES SERIES: Turning Tragedies On Their Heads


You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives.
~ Genesis 50:20, NIV ~

Our third installment of "Favorite Verses Series" finds us once again in the book of Genesis.  While you may have known the story behind the verse since you were a young child, you will find yourself clinging to this verse for years to come.  

These words of God come from the story of Joseph, of many-colored coat fame.  For those who are unaware of the detailed story of Joseph beyond his coat, allow me to give an abbreviated summary of the details.  The favored son of Rachel and Jacob, Joseph had a gift at making his 11 other brothers jealous.  Not only was he not required to exert the heavy labor that his brothers were, but he was also blessed with the talent of interpreting of dreams.  When Joseph shared with his brothers the dream where sheaves of grain representing the brothers all bowed down to one sheaf of grain representing himself, evil schemes started in motion.  In their jealous rage, the brothers staged Joseph's death while really selling him into slavery.

This is where Joseph's pride was burned away and his spiritual growth was fed.  Joseph served as a faithful, diligent slave in Egypt.  Unfortunately, he was thrown in prison when falsely accused of attempted rape after refusing the advances of his master's seductive wife.  Given the hope that he would be released by interpreting the dreams of fellow prisoners, Joseph instead found himself languishing unjustly for years.  Eventually, however, one of those fellow prisoners did recall Joseph when the Pharoah could find no one to interpret his haunting, repeated dream.  With precision accuracy, Joseph translated what had been tormenting the Egyptian leader in his sleep, and thereby, saving the land from a future famine.  This not only won him permanent release from jail, but it also earned him the prominent position of second in command of all of Egypt.

Meanwhile, things weren't turning out too well for the brothers.  The famine did hit the land of Israel.  Hearing that there was plenty of food stored up in Egypt, the 11 brothers traveled to see if they could purchase some grain.  Fast forward through many sordid details, and the brothers come face to face with the brothers that they had wronged.  

Predictably, Joseph's brothers were shocked, fearful and remorseful.  But Genesis 50:20 represents the wisdom that God had poured into a humbled Joseph.  Rather than responding with bitterness and retaliation, Joseph had grown to a point where he saw God's redemptive hand in the entire situation.  The brothers had meant him harm, but God used that very act of wickedness to save thousands of people from the certain suffering and death of famine.

In this Bible verse, there is tremendous power for those of us walking the journey of parenting a child with special needs.  This passage looks at all of the pain and offers boundless hope.  Joseph ends up being a standard bearer for those of us who walk a lengthy journey of heartache.

First, he shows us that injustice in our lives does not go unnoticed by God.  Who of us can make sense of the injustice that our children suffer by being diagnosed with a special need?  Yet, the Lord proves in Joseph that He can bring something amazing out of such injustice.

Second, Joseph shows us what glory can come out of forgiveness.  When he had every opportunity to get even with those who had wronged him, he did things God's way instead.  As a result, both his brothers as well as those of us who read the story are softened by the incredible mercy shown.  How often do we see our children wronged at the hands of peers, educators or doctors?  When they do, remember that mercy will point these people to God far better than vengeance.

Our God is the God of the impossible situation.  He is in control, and will use who and what He wishes to bring a remarkable outcome.  The story of Joseph from Genesis is absolute assurance of that.  Take heart in this verse over the next week knowing that the circumstances you face with your child are intended for good.

PRAY:  Father, what Joseph suffered and my child suffers are both so wrong.  But You use those wrongs for good.  Help us to persist as Joseph did, remaining obedient to You and knowing that You are with us through it all.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Change of Seasons

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
     a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV ~

Since my children were pre-schoolers, I have been teaching them that "It's my job to train myself out of a job."  In other words, it is my duty to teach my kids to become self-sufficient, responsible, productive people.  Day by day, each of my children should become less and less dependent upon me.

However, some days, that mission isn't so easy.  It is not merely because children often find fun far more attractive than diligence.  And it is not because a mother may find it hard to say "goodbye" to childhood and cut the apron strings.  It is because there is also great pain in watching my children come to bear the larger burdens which face adult life.

Frankly, there are many grown-up type realities for my not-yet-grown people.  There are now serious consequences to the still-immature decisions they make.  Watching my child struggle because he chose not to complete an assignment or ask for help after a poor grade is tough.  My kids all have an internal drive that makes them very hard on themselves without any parental pressure being added.  Listening to my son deflate as he realizes he may miss his personal goal of becoming an honor student because he made a poor choice is hard.  Having to tell him that he may not be able to attend the German weekend camp he wants to next year because they have no way to treat his hemophilia is not fun.  The full maturity of understanding he is left out of a group or activity merely because he has a bleeding disorder is now upon him. 

At the same time, the stark reality that he has done all the right things and made all the wise decisions, but still has to suffer hits him as he grows like a cold, stiff slap.  For someone like our son, who wrestles with anxiety and depression, the heavy weight of coming to an adult maturity can evoke even worse thoughts.  It tests his very will to live.  He knows that he is not emotionally ready to learn to self-infuse.  He makes good choices about what activities may be risky for him.  He promptly self-reports any bleeding episodes that may not be obvious to others, so that he can receive immediate treatment.  Yet, that may not mean that he avoids suffering, pain or loss.

While we raise our children to believe that there is nothing they can't do if they put their minds to it, the fact is, there are some things they will never be able to do.  My son with hemophilia is not going to be able to be a professional football player, no matter how badly he wants to be.  Revisiting the sudden realization of such truths at this age is painful.  We don't sit and focus on the impossibilities all of the time, but they can't always be avoided either.

God gives parents that innate passion to protect their children, so being unable to shield their hearts causes great anguish.  There is a season when they are first diagnosed where we come to terms with this.  But when they reach this new season of maturing, it re-opens the wounds of a parent's heart.

When my son is sad, I am sad with him.  Trying to get him to understand that life is not fair, but God is good seems virtually unattainable some days.  I am filled with great concern when I hear him lose his will to live.  I pray like crazy on top of the prayers I already lift up for each of my precious children.  And I wonder what the future holds for him as he steps closer to the doors of adulthood every day.  Will he find a good job?  Will it have good insurance?  Will he have any dreams realized or will this world always sideline him because of his chronic illness?  Some days I feel like my heart is irreparably broken.  This is a season of transition, uncertainty and heaviness.

Thanks for listening to my rambling heart today...

PRAY:  Lord, I know that there are many seasons to this life you have given us.  Travel with my child through these changes.  Comfort my child's heart as he comes to realize that there may be serious limitations on his life.  Help him to rest and trust in you, knowing that even if life is not fair, you are a good God.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lost & Found

 "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him..."
~ Job 13:15, NIV ~ 

This past weekend, I had the great privilege of attending the local "GO Conference" with speaker, Steve Gladen of Saddleback Church (You can read more about it at my leadership blog site.).  Although I had heard him speak before, I was impressed in a deeper way about the need to share my personal testimony.  So, today I offer to you a story that I regret I have never told before on this page.

My family of origin "puts the fun in dysfunction."  I grew up with a very troubled, but church-going bunch.  I will spare you all the details, but that led me to make some very poor choices in my life.  I lived on the surface, wanting to get it right because of all the insanity I had endured.  The world's definition of "success" is what I had followed hard after, without ever finding the happiness I so longed for.

My first marriage ended almost before it had started, two years into the covenant.  I remarried a second man, a wonderful small business owner who shared big dreams and lived large with me.  We enjoyed all the world called "success", planning on starting a family 3 years into our union.  Of course, we got pregnant in the 3rd year of our marriage, but that's where life took a turn.  I miscarried the baby.  My husband began pulling away, just like my first husband had when I miscarried in that marriage.  It frightened me tremendously.

I was deeply depressed, which wasn't too surprising considering chronic depression ran in my family.  Nevertheless, I came to a day where I intended to pick myself up by my bootstraps, start fresh and get over it.  I planned a big shopping spree in Chicago with 2 of my girlfriends, 1 of whom was my sister-in-law.  But my attempt at self-resurrection came crashing down when my sister-in-law sprang on me, right in the middle of Watertower Place, that she was expecting a baby that was due on the exact same date I was due with the baby I had lost.  Feeling complete humiliation because I was in public sensing all eyes on me, I sunk in to an even deeper depression once I had arrived home.  I stayed in bed for days, unable to get past the loss coupled with extreme betrayal and embarrassment.

Fortunately, there were other plans for me.  One Saturday, another couple we know "just happened" to stop by and ask us to go for a bike ride.  I had no desire, but my husband coaxed me out of bed.  This sweet couple revealed along the ride that they had endured several trials in building a family.  Then they invited us to a Bible study later that week.  It felt pretty weird and uncomfortable, but what did we have to lose?  Things were so awful.  We could at least show up just once to appease them and then not have to go again.

That's where I met Jesus.  Having been a church-attender for most of my life, I had heard all the brief Scripture readings they do in services most of my life.  But I had never had my eyes opened to these words like I did in this Bible study.  All of the sudden, it was like a veil had been lifted.  Jesus became very real to me, caring very deeply about my personal well-being.  Within the week, I had stood back at our church and prayed a silent prayer asking Jesus to just take over.  I'm not sure of the exact words, but I know there were tears in my eyes.

My life changed forever after that day.  I would love to tell you that my life got much easier, but it really didn't.  However, my life did get much better.  With every new trial I faced, I experienced growing strength and peace.  My life became deeper and richer.  The world's idea of "success" didn't matter the way it had before.  What a relief!  I didn't have to try and live a life that was unattainable and that I had little control over.  My depression was replaced by deep satisfaction.  I was lost, but now I am found.

I share this story with you and others because my wish is that everyone would be able to experience the joy that I feel.  I can honestly say that I believe that verse from Job written above.  In the past 17 years, I have seen incredible things happen in my life because I have trusted God.  And look at the 3 amazing little people in my arms that He has blessed me with!  That's beyond what I ever could have imagined!

Rather than writing a prayer for you to pray at the end of this devotional as I usually do, today I will be praying for you.  My prayer is that you too will have a personal encounter with Jesus that will change your life forever.  I pray that you come to know a joy that fills your core no matter what your circumstances.  It's a free gift available to all of us.  I pray you open it!

Monday, October 1, 2012

FAVORITE VERSES SERIES: It's ALL About Relationship

Then the Lord God said, 
“It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper that is right for him.”
 ~ Genesis 2:18, NLV~ 

"Pull yourself up by your bootstraps."
"She is so needy!"
"God helps those who help themselves."

How many other phrases could we share valuing the misguided narrative of full self-reliance?  The world seems to beat us up, hurling guilt at us every day, proclaiming that we should need no one but ourselves to have a successful life.  But that is a lie from the pit of hell.  We know because God tells us otherwise in His word.

Last week we began the Favorite Verses Series with Genesis 1:1.  Did you make an attempt to memorize it?  Did you steep in it?  We learned that when there was nothing else, there was and still is God.  

This week, we'll pull apart another verse from Genesis.  While we may have heard these verses many times, it's easy to gloss over them.  The richness of God's word lays in the fact that we are profoundly nourished the deeper we dig.

When we examine Genesis 2:18, we see that it begins with, "Then the Lord God said...".  In a world hungry for the stability and comfort of absolute truth, we can stake our lives on anything that the Lord God said.  The words of the One who spoke the world into existence are irrefutable truth.  Use these words as a yardstick against anything else you hear.  Take a sample of these words, and then the words of the culture.  You will find the words of God so much more deeply satisfying.

Continuing on in the verse, we see that God declares, "It is not good for man to be alone...".  Without digging into Hebrew definitions, but merely staying in the English translation, the Creator decides that it is not a positive thing to have one who was created in God's image live in isolation.  After all, God himself has never been alone.  There are three persons in the Trinity.  If we are to reflect His image, it means living in relationship.

The verse concludes, "...I will make a helper that is right for him."  Clearly, humans were made for relationship.  We were made to interact and "do life" with others.  Personally, I first found relief in learning that we were made to have the sweetness of support and friendship with one another when I read the book The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren.  What peace I discovered as Warren revealed that we are "formed for God's family."  I no longer had to carry the shame I felt by asking for help.

Now, as with so many other things, there is balance required in this togetherness.  If one explores God's word further, it is clear that the concept of pulling away for awhile is essential to our overall health.  With relationship, healthy boundaries are also required.  But the overarching message of Genesis 2:18 is that God created humans to live life in fellowship.

Although we may not recognize it at first blush, there is tremendous freedom in these words of our Maker.  This is especially true of those of us raising children with a special need.  God never meant for us to get through life on our own.  He designed us to enjoy the sweetness of dear friends, the common experience of family, and the support of community.  It is okay for us to reach out for help.  Needing one another is in our DNA.  Praise God that He gave us others!

PRAY:  Lord, thank you for the gift of Your truthful words and for the gift of one another.  When the world weighs me down, and I think I have to tackle it all on my own, I have the relief of knowing that You don't intend for it to be that way.  Bless my relationships with others.  May they reflect Your goodness.