Monday, December 31, 2012

To God Be The Glory!

Pictured above is a small sampling of faithful parents, volunteers and Board Members involved with SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion & the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)


This year has been another of challenges and victories.  Once again, I think both our parents and those who support them can feel confident knowing that we have achieved the mission "Our pursuit is to continuously support and encourage those living with the daily challenge of parenting a child with special needs, so that the genuine love and hope of Jesus will be experienced and shared in their everyday lives."  Here are some of the ways we achieved that:
  • January 14, 2012 – Family Bowling Party held at AMC Lanes in Waukesha, WI with approximately 48 people served with food, fun and door prizes.
  • February 17, 2012 – Valentine’s Respite Date Night held at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Delafield, WI where we entertained 19 children, so that 8 couples could enjoy a rare evening out.
  • April 20-21, 2012 -- Dozens of wonderful families and colleagues were reached through our booth at McLean Bible Church's Accessibility Summit in Tyson's Corner, Virginia.
  • April 28, 2012 – Arbor Day Event at Zachariah’s Acres in the Town of Oconomowoc where kids had the opportunity to plant a tree, enjoy some crafts and warm up with hot cocoa and cookies with their families.
  • May 30, 2012 – Dozens of SNAPPIN’s signature “TLC Baskets” were built by a small group of volunteers, ready to ship to parents in need.
  • June 23, 2012 – Our collaboration with Zachariah’s Acres came to a conclusion after we took the lead with our annual Family Picnic on the property with approximately 4 dozen in attendance.
  • June 26, 2012 – A small group including volunteers and some benefactors gathered at the “SNAPPIN’ World Headquarters” (aka The Dittrich’s Home) to celebrate “A Decade of Dedication,” recognizing what God has accomplished over the past 10 years of this ministry.
  • August 14, 2012 – Once again, Oconomowoc’s KidsFest helped us to bring encouragement and build awareness through our booth there reaching hundreds of kids and their parents.
  • August 24, 2012 – Back-to-School Respite was held at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Delafield, WI, giving 16 children a chance to have some fun while their parents got things in order for them before school resumed.
  • September 30, 2012 – Awesome Autumn Outing at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield, WI provided good food, fall beauty, creative crafts, fun games and special guest, Smoky Bear for a group of about 50 people.
  • October 15, 2012 – After a year of intense, professional work, SNAPPIN’s Curriculum Committee, including members from Crosspoint, launched our new national parent mentor program.  This innovative, one-of-a-kind program offers 3 months of training with live weekly video chat.  The mentors will first meet with their new mentorees in late January of 2013 using unique, Christian study.
  • November 30, 2012 – Holiday Drop & Shop Respite at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Delafield, WI offered a little "Happy Birthday Jesus" celebration along with games, crafts and crazy fun with all of our generous volunteers. 
  • December 13, 2012 – Our final event of the year was our “Friend, Can You Spare a DINE?” at Rocky Rococo’s in Oconomowoc, WI offering not only a chance to earn funds to support our organization, but also a time of relaxation and fun as families connected.
  • Aside from these specific events, this year our organization provided $1,155 in gift cards, 66 gift baskets, $450 in direct aid as well as 3-times weekly devotional blog posts, 2 times weekly leadership blog posts, information distributed through Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook all for thousands parents connected to SNAPPIN' living with the challenge of raising a child with special needs.
If you find this work worth supporting, we would be most grateful if you directed your donations and encourage your friends or family's donations to http://snappin.org/donate.htm#donate in order to help us continue our work boldly in the year ahead.  A little goes a long way with us!


PRAY:  Lord, we give you all the thanks and praise and glory that You are due!  You have been so faithful to parents like us in this past year.  And we know You will continue to be faithful to us in the year ahead.  Help us, Father, to be good stewards of the precious gifts you have entrusted to our care.  And spread Your comfort and compassion through us as we touch the lives of those around us.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Special Mom Resolutions

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Behold, I am making all things new.” ~ Revelation 21:5, NASB

Ah, the beginning of a New Year, wrought with possibility and fresh beginnings!  There's something terrific about turning over that calendar and looking forward to the next 12 months while kicking the past 12 out the door. 

While I am not one to make New Year resolutions, a couple of nagging things that occurred this past month made me think, Gee, I had better get that under control in the upcoming year.  I bet you can identify with a few of these:
  1. Never leave the gas tank  on fumes assuming that your spouse will fill it, for it is then that you will need to rush the 30 miles to the nearest children's hospital.  Yes, more than once this year, and even this month, I found myself in a panicked rush to get enough fuel in the tank to get us to our destination in a timely manner.
  2. Shower every day for you will have to rush to a children's hospital 30 miles away on the very day after you decided to skip showering.  Call me crazy, but I just doubt that the doctors and hospital staff take me as seriously when I am not looking or smelling fresh as a daisy.
  3. Plug that cell phone every night to recharge it.  The one time you forget will be the very time you are out in public, away from your charger, and awaiting a return phone call from a doctor or school.
  4. Keep those follow-up appointments and/or follow through on those referrals.  Even when you don't think your child needs them, 6 months down the road when you find that you actually do, professionals will look down their noses with disdain, giving you the disgusted "bad parent" look, adding unneeded stress to the moment at hand.
  5. Always have enough cash in your purse for that unexpected stop at McDonald's.  There's nothing worse than finally getting out of that insanely long ER visit or appointment with a specialist, hungry enough to chew your leg off, and having no money to buy you and your depleted child something quick to eat.
  6. Never be without some form of frozen or instant meal (aka Mac 'n' Cheese) in your home.  When your head is throbbing from the IEP, or your child has had a remarkably tough day self-regulating, or you've spent countless hours on the phone dealing with the insurance company, the last thing you feel like doing is whipping up a creative meal for the family.
  7. Don't forget to make those doctor's appointments for yourself.  While it's easy for parents like us to be sick of darkening the door of a doctor's office, few things are as embarrassing as the look of shock the physician's assistant gives you when you tell her it's been a decade since your last mammogram.  And of course, who will take care of that sweet child of yours if you are not healthy enough to do it?
  8. Have a terrific little book like God's Promises for Women or God's Words of Life for Moms close by at all times because when you do inevitably forget all of the above, only the encouragement of God will keep you from completely losing your mind.
I hope my special mom resolutions will help you as you look forward to the New Year or at least entertain you.  You would think I would have this down after 12+ years of parenting a child with special needs, but alas, I do not.  By the time I have all of this mastered, the children will probably be grown.

What are your special mom resolutions?  It would be great to compare notes!

PRAY:  Lord, I surely don't have it all together.  But in You, I have it all!  Help me to remember that as I go forward with my precious family into this New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Is This All There Is?

The Holy Writings say, “No eye has ever seen or no ear has ever heard or no mind has ever thought of the wonderful things God has made ready for those who love Him.”
~ 1 Corinthians 2:9, NLV~

It's the comment that every parent dreads hearing on Christmas morning:  "Is this all there is?"  The family is sitting in a sea of torn paper, ribbons and bows, lavished with generous treasures from the heart, and a child expresses disappointment.  Losing sight of the big picture, this child wants the one thing they did not receive.  It makes everyone squirm in discomfort.

How many times does this occur with adults who should know better?  Yet, that feeling almost seems justified when it comes to raising a medically fragile child or one facing other special needs.  Continually marching back and forth to doctors, labs, therapists, hospitals can easily leave a parent wondering if this is all there is to life.  It seems reasonable to want more.

Too many times I have marched my own child into the entrance of our area children's hospital having to look at the ground because of the sheer magnitude of suffering and heartache at this place of healing.  I wonder how other parents, so much like me, do this without Jesus.  How do they face all of the medical bills, the school stress, the broken dreams for their child?  And therein lays the answer to the question.

Jesus is the One and only who assures us that this is not all there is.  When people claim that all deities are equal, they fail to realize that none other but Jesus overcame death.  Only He loves us without requiring we earn that love in any way.  In fact, while we were still behaving as His enemies, He took on human form, being born into this world just to save us.  In and of ourselves, we are too sinful and flawed to be worthy to be in the presence of a gloriously holy God in heaven.  Without Jesus taking on our punishment and conquering death, our eternal agony would be certain.

Because He took on the roughest of circumstances in His own humanity, He is able to empathize with us, yet is holy enough to rescue us out of these very circumstances.  Jesus promised to go prepare a magnificent place for us.  Scripture tells us that what He has prepared for us is so incredible that we can't even begin to fathom it.  I take great comfort in having enough of a peek into the eternal to know that in eternity, "...God’s home is with men. He will live with them. They will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will be their God. God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All the old things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4, NLV)  

Things, people, circumstances in this life will always disappoint.  We will always be left wondering, Is this all there is?  Yet, if we unwrap Jesus' free gift of salvation, eternal hope comes to stay.  Immediately, we can look forward to healing, joy and contentment that delivers us from anyone and anything that falls short in this life.   Truthfully, that's the only way to parent a child with special needs -- with healthy, eternal perspective that gives strength for today and anticipation of a greater tomorrow.

PRAY:  Lord, thank You for the One gift that will never leave us empty.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Loving The Gift More Than The Giver

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
(Never worship any other god, because the Lord is a God who does not tolerate rivals. In fact, he is known for not tolerating rivals.) ~ Exodus 34:14, GW

The story is told of a well-known pastor who lost his voice.  Despite visiting doctors, weeks passed with no sign of his preaching voice returning.  In his frustration, he prayed to the Lord, "How could you let this happen, God?  I am proclaiming Your word and bringing people to a saving knowledge of you."  

In his pleading the preacher heard a shocking response from God.  "Do you love Me or do you love preaching about Me?"  Instantly, the pastor felt convicted.  He spent the remainder of his time in silence, growing in love of his Savior rather than being focused on his abilities as a gifted speaker.  In God's timing, and after this learning experience had served its purpose, the preacher's voice returned once again, speaking with more wisdom and humility than before.

This past month of Advent has been a time where I have found myself "voiceless."  Running my children to doctors and hospitals multiple times a week has dampened my spirits and made Christmas joy seem like an impossible dream.  I have been laid bare, wondering what God's purpose is in our lives, what is all this chaos supposed to look like, and wondering if I am actually accomplishing anything that is of eternal value.

I have wrestled with the Lord in my frustration, pain and disappointment as He has allowed the suffering of both of my children with special needs to continue in unrelenting ways.  It barely seems like we get our heads above water before our feet get kicked out from underneath us again.  I have thought in anger, "Really God?  THIS is how you treat your friends?"  And I have even attended a worship service where I was so worn from the pain that I could barely stand, sing or give thanks.

Yet, I serve a loving God.  He loves me in spite of myself.  Much like the preacher, I found Him asking me, "Do you love the gift or the Giver?  Do you only love what I can do for you or do you love Me?"  I felt convicted that I would only praise Him or acknowledge His faithfulness when my children are restored to health or when He directs circumstances to go the way I would like them to go.  All of the sudden, I found that the Lord gave incredible meaning to my Advent.  Not only have I been humbled, but I have also realized that in this season where we place so much on the gift of Jesus' birth, we can actually forget about loving the Giver.

Too often, in our modern practice of faith, it's all about God coming to rescue ME.  My salvation.  My purpose.  My meaning in life.  My eternal happiness.  I am incredibly grateful that He grants all of that to me and more.  As Scripture says, "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19, NIV)  But what I seem to forget is that He wants us to be in loving relationship with Him.  He wants to be the object of our affection, just as we are His.  And God forbid that we should love anything He gives us or does for us more than we love Him!

As I have spent time pondering the virtually incomprehensible incarnation of the Savior of the Universe since this revelation, I have found myself loving Him more for who He is and for the nature of His character.  I have spent more time in wonder and amazement rather than entitlement and avarice.  Yahweh God took all that immense power and contained it in the form of a tiny baby born in the most undesirable of places.  The Creator became the created.  He left all of that immeasurable glory to enter the deepest darkness.  All of this He did because of a love so vast that He would spare nothing to be in intimate relationship with what He had created.  Wow!

And this epiphany has given me the opportunity to help my children get their precious hearts in the right position for Christmas.  As I wrapped presents with them, it gave a perfect, tangible example to explain that we should never love the gift more than the giver.  They have had a tough month, and that can easily foster a  selfish attitude of entitlement.  Yet, if I direct their young hearts properly, they will be left with a contentment and joy that transcends any finely wrapped treasure they could find under the tree.  Because when we love the Giver more than the gift, our hearts are beyond full and we are blessed exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever ask, think or imagine.

Merry Christmas!

PRAY:  Lord, you allow the circumstances of life to ebb and flow.  May I never love what You do for me or give me more than I love You.  Holy Spirit, when I am weighed down, quickly bring to my mind Your divine character.  Help me to remember who You are and why I love You.  Because knowing and loving You is far greater blessing than anything You grant me in a temporal way in this passing life.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Reality of Pain

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Romans 12:15, NIV

A week ago today, the unthinkable happened.  Twenty precious, young school children were brutally murdered along with six of their faithful faculty in Newtown, Connecticut.  Among the dead were a young boy with special needs who perished along with his aid as she cradled him in her armsNo matter how you look at it, even taking into account that it happened so close to Christmas, words can barely express the depth of heartbreak.

Not quick to write about the tragedy, I pondered this massacre throughout the week. I found myself feeling or being made to feel notably guilty about my own grief in recent days.  Every-other person's comments seemed to be punctuated with, "Well, at least YOUR child is still alive!" or "At least you'll have YOUR child with you for Christmas."  I got the distinct impression that I was wrong to have pain in my heart from the suffering of my own child over the last month.  I dare not express the grief I revisit over the fact that life will never be as we had hoped for our children.  The exhaustion, mental confusion and stress that are a natural byproduct of our unrelenting doctor's visits, hospital visits and trauma over the past month dare not be revealed.

It suddenly occurred to me, Why do we humans think our pain or suffering is any less because another suffers?  I do not intend to diminish the agony of having a loved one suddenly ripped away from us without notice.  I know that pain too well.  But is the pain of watching the child you love suffer for decades any less serious a pain?  Are those dreams that will never come to past any less grieved?

Anyone who understands grief knows that it isn't in the immediate term that one lacks for the care and compassion of others.  It is the long haul that becomes so isolating.  When the perceived trauma grows more distant, so seemingly is the concern and tenderness of others.  Well-wishes end.  Meals stop coming.  Others expect the grieving to "get over it."  Sadly, there are some things that we can only move on from, but never get over.

What if, as special needs parents, that understanding of grief, the reality of pain in our lives, made us better soldiers of Christ to comfort parents like those in Newtown?  The organization I have the privilege to run believes that we are blessed to be a blessing.  We are firm believers in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 which proclaims, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (NIV)  

The loss of a child is an incomprehensible pain, especially near the Christmas holiday.  What if rather than feeling guilty about the reality of our own pain or diminishing the pain of another, we invested the comfort and compassion God has given us into comforting another?  What if we realized our own suffering or the suffering of another is a significant burden.  If we are tenderly ministered to by another, then pass that same kindness on, God can complete His magnificent recycling of our sorrow for good.  Now THAT would be a gift that would last far beyond Christmas!

PRAY:  Lord, I regret having added to the pain of another person by diminishing their grief.  With Your Holy Spirit power alone, I commit to comforting others in their sorrow with the same compassion I have been given, so that Your glory may be on display for all to see.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Week 3: JOY

"I tell you the truth, you will cry and be sad, but the world will be happy. You will be sad, but your sadness will become joy. When a woman gives birth to a baby, she has pain, because her time has come. But when her baby is born, she forgets the pain, because she is so happy that a child has been born into the world. It is the same with you. Now you are sad, but I will see you again and you will be happy, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will not ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy."  (John 16:20-24, NCV)

*"Merry Christmas", "Joy to the World", "Tidings of Comfort & Joy".  These are all phrases we hear with great frequency this time of year.  But do we really feel that joy or does the season squeeze us to the point where our worst oozes out?

I find that studying the biblical meaning of the word "joy" is really useful at a time like this.  What's expected of us or promised to us when Jesus talks about this joy in His final hours on earth?  Does He promise us that everything will be peachy keen all the time?  Does He expect us to have a smile on our face continually?  Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words offers some interesting insights into the word "joy".  One note Vine makes that is rather worth our attention is this, "Joy is associated with life...  Experiences of sorrow prepare for, and enlarge, the capacity for joy, e.g., John 16:20..."  He goes on to say in his description of it as a verb that, "It is contrasted with weeping and sorrow, e.g., in John 16:20,22..."  In The New Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words a more accurate definition of "joy" is given.  Originally the word "chara" in Greek, joy is described as a "calm delight; gladness".  To me that sounds awfully similar to the word "content" or "assured" in our modern-day language.

With these descriptions in our tool chest, let me comment on today's Scripture passage in the context of Advent.  My first thought is that as parents of kids with special needs, we may bear a disproportionate amount of sorrow.  More than a few times in recent weeks I've talked to parents whose children are undergoing surgeries and treatments during this season of preparation.  We ourselves have just completed an extensive neuropsych evaluation on our daughter followed by an initial IEP meeting.  Stress abounds as school staff, medical personnel and our children are distracted by the anticipation of Christmas.  Sadly, what should be a time of joy often becomes a time where we suffer under the burden of our hearts racing to get things done.  The kids are whining and thinking of nothing else, while their bodies are filled with a disproportionate amount of garbage food and their nervous systems overly stimulated by sights, sounds and people aplenty!  What a toxic combination this can be with juggling medical or psychological needs at the same time!

But here's another thought I have.  While Jesus promised His disciples that they would grieve and have pain, He also assured them that they would be left with a joy that no one could snatch away.  In other words, if you are walking with the Lord, His Holy Spirit fills you with that chara or calm delight that can only be lost by you surrendering it. 

That leaves one to ask, How am I surrendering my joy this holiday season?  There are a number of ways we do it.  One way is by biting off more than we can chew.  There are so many delightful things available to us this time of year.  My daughter with ADHD and SPD was invited to both a play and an opportunity to decorate cookies with the elderly this month for her Brownie troop.  This was in addition to her regular meeting and gift exchange party.  While it sounded like so much fun, I had to process in my mind, What will this look like once the event is finished?  Frankly, it would be very difficult for her to sit through any play unless she is right down front to see well.  That easily scratched the play off the list.  Her behaviors are also very difficult for people of my parents' generation to understand.  It can be exhausting just watching or listening to her.  So there was another event scratched off the list.  Further, on both of those days we were expected to do some other things like pull the junior high float in the local Christmas parade, so the rest of the family would have been cranky from all the running and tight schedules.

How are you keeping yourself from biting off more than you can chew?  Are you buying fewer presents or maybe shopping online?  Are you only going to bake 3 kinds of cookies this year than the usual 6 or even buy already made cookies this year?  Are you putting off some of those doctor's appointments or school meetings until January rather than trying to deal with all of it at this time of high stress?

Another way we give away our joy is by trying to live up to the expectations of others this time of year.  Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows that I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend who together wrote the Boundaries series.  If you haven't read any of the books, you must!  People with children who have special needs must be especially careful of guarding their time and priorities lest they collapse from the weight of all they deal with!  This series of books gives the visual image of creating a fence or boundary around your life with a gate.  You open the gate to let in the good and close it to keep out the bad.  An example of what this may look like in your family is, "Sorry, Mom.  We can't come for Christmas dinner because Johnny is on a gluten-free diet and can't be around it.  But we'll be happy to come open gifts at a specific time you'd like."  Another example might be, "Sorry, cousin Susie.  We can't make it to your party because there's too much snow to handle with little Morgan's wheelchair.  But we'll be looking forward to your get together around Easter!"  Relatives are notorious for wielding guilt at times like this, so rehearse what you will say.  Mustering up the strength to do such a thing will feel invigorating versus the anger and exhaustion you feel by giving in to the unreasonable demands of others.  And lest you allow the guilt to get the best of you, remember the words of my friend, psychologist, Dr. David L. Smith, PhD, "You can either be like Velcro and let everything stick to you, or you can be like Teflon and let it slide off of you."  Make the choice for your sanity and for the sake of the true meaning of Christmas, to be like Teflon when dealing with the expectations of others.

The final way I'd like to discuss the manner in which we surrender our joy is by holding on to our own unreasonable expectations.  I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, and it takes some continual work to improve upon.  It is hard to let go of that dream of a life where your child has no special needs.  We can often carry on throughout the rest of the year with great acceptance, but find that heartache and denial creep in at certain times.  Christmas is one of those times where we may be holding on to fantasies of our perfectly dressed children singing like a choir of angels at church.  With a daughter who has serious sensory issues, I was never able to get a dress on her until I found a wonderful place with special dress clothing she could tolerate. (We LOVE Soft Clothing!)  I've also had the unrealistic expectation of inviting everyone to dinner at a time too close to the time when we're supposed to be doing an IV infusion on our son.  Nothing will make a child resist cooperating like the stress emanating from parents in a hurry to get things done on time!  You may have the fantasy of still being able to participate at the same level in every event that you're invited to.  Perhaps we need to just have the hubby watch the kids while we make a brief appearance somewhere.  We may have the expectation of still getting out dozens of Christmas cards before the holiday hits, complete with letter and photos.  How important is that to us if we are rushed to get them done and can barely afford the postage?

What can you be letting go of in the way of expectations?  What could you adapt to make things a bit easier for your family?  Do you love to have the Advent wreath on your kitchen table, but find your impulsive child just can't handle it?  Are their precious ornaments that may need to be put away for just a few years?  How important is it that your child be dressed like a catalog model if it makes both of you miserable?

Picture this:  You and your children, snuggling together, being yourselves, reading stories that help them understand that the God of the Universe took on human form to assure that they will be in a beautiful place some day where they will be free of their disability(s) and free of any shortcomings we all have.  Now that's a calm delight none of us can be robbed of!  Please be certain you spend the remainder of this season making sure you don't surrender that kind of joy at any cost!

*Originally published December 12, 2010

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent, Week 3: A One-of-a-Kind JOY!

You have shown me the path to life, and you make me glad by being near to me. Sitting at your right side, I will always be joyful. (Psalm 16:11, CEV)

*On Week 3 of Advent, the traditional theme is Joy. Lighting the pink candle of the wreath reminds us that Christmas is just around the corner. With gladness we anticipate celebration of our Savior's birth.

But is it just the gorging and gifts that make us giddy? If so, then we are missing the entire point! In this season we become reacquainted with that one-of-a-kind joy that only Jesus brings. This is a joy that stands apart from the world's definition. Look back to Week 1 -- We are filled with the pleasant knowledge that relief is near.

It never ceases to leave me in awe when I ponder the notion that the Creator of the Universe loves me so much that He was willing to take on human form just to save me! He left the comfort and glory of His heavenly home just to launch our rescue. And not only did He become one of us, but He became the most lowly of us, being born in a stinky animal pen just to stay out of the cold. Never taking on a life of luxury or prestige, He poured out His life teaching by word and deed. And He took the humiliating, excruciating punishment for all my rottenness. Wow! What a God!

Reread our passage from Psalm 16:11 today. It sums this unique experience all up. "You have shown me the path to life..." After thousands of years of waiting for the Messiah, those who would be willing were clearly shown the guarantee of a full, never-ending life by Jesus. "...and you make me glad by being near to me." The deep joy of realizing that we aren't subject to some obscure, unknowable God, but One who is intimately present to us should fill our hearts to their bursting point! "Sitting at your right side, I will always be joyful." In the ancient world, the person who was most honored, who had the most authority sat at the king's right hand. (Thus, the term "right-hand man".) Realizing that our Maker keeps us close in such high esteem ought to only add to our perpetual inner contentment and peace.

Let me point out to you that joy does not always equal happiness, as we often falsely believe. Psalm 4:7, NLT says "You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine." This means our joy in Christ is a joy that transcends the circumstances of this world. Jesus gives a joy that surpasses the happiness of the wealthy, famous or successful. What He offers is deeper than the fun of the latest party or possession.

"...The joy of the LORD is your strength," says Nehemiah 8:10, NIV. This means that this solid connection to Jesus, this inner knowledge that God has you close, cares deeply for you and has everything under control can strengthen you and bring you joy despite any trial you may face. The Christmas season can be difficult on so many levels for different people. Grasp that unique joy that Jesus came to Earth to bring! It will make this holiday celebration so much more meaningful, no matter what you face!!!
*Originally published December 16, 2009

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mustard Seed Faith


"I can guarantee this truth: If your faith is the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
~Matthew 17:20, GW~ 

Our son hasn't been doing so well these past few months.  In fact, since August, the pressure and troubles have grown in increasing measure.  This month has been especially horrific with treks 2-3 times per week to our children's hospital 30 miles away.  He has probably missed more school than he has attended, and is remarkably discouraged as he suffers.

Meanwhile, I receive comments like these via e-mail and on his Caringbridge page:  "I seriously don't know how y'all do it! Your faith, humor and strength amaze me."  "How do you do what you do for those in need as parents to special needs children and manage all you have at home as well?  You maintain encouragement to others even when you are grappling with such delicate life quality issues at home."  Really?  Comments like this shock me because I feel the exact opposite.  I perceive myself to be a stumbling block to people these days.  I suffer loudly.  I cry out for Christ's deliverance.  I wonder uselessly why God couldn't have chosen  me to endure the pain and anguish rather than this precious boy of ours.  As Jacob wrestled with God at Peniel, so I daily wrestle with Him in frustration and even anger.  Messy, disorganized, worn down, exhausted, unmotivated, self-pitying all seem much more apt descriptions in my opinion.

Yet, in this rumination, God has brought Matthew 17:20 to mind.  He reminds me that even in my absolute imperfection, just a small amount of faith is all it takes for Him to be able to reflect His glory through us.  It is not our doing, but His that makes us remarkable in the midst of life's worst storms.  After all, it is His "power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)  

So I am encouraged to plod on in the midst of terrible adversity with my teeny tiny mustard seed faith knowing that He still receives all the glory He deserves.  His power, beauty, love, patience and wisdom all reign supreme, not because of us, but in spite of us.

PRAY:  Lord, when life is at its lowest, cause me to remember that Your power is perfect in my weakness.  Thank You for loving me no matter how imperfect I feel.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Week 2: PEACE

"I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid." (John 14:27, CEV)

*Here we are already at week two of Advent.  And the theme of the second week is peace.  To parents, especially those who have children with special needs, the notion of peace at this time of year may seem nothing short of ridiculous.  It appears to elude us with the added demands of the season and the frenzy it creates in our children.  When we'd love nothing more than to be sipping hot cocoa, listening to carols and watching the new snow fluttering down as we snuggle in front of a roaring fire, we instead find chaos at its worst.

But that little babe who dared to be born in the most humble of circumstances promised us peace unlike any we have ever known.  The world seduces us into thinking a healthy child or financial stability will produce that inner calm we so desperately seek.  If only the kids would be okay for a while.  If only the relatives or friends would be more understanding.  If only the school would cooperate with us.  Foolishly, we run ourselves ragged, fixated on things like this that will never bring us lasting peace because, well, life happens.

Instead, God guides us to the recipe for that lasting contentment and blessed assurance that all will ultimately be okay.  Those instructions can be found in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord  is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV) 

Let's pull those verses apart to discover the new habits we can develop to give us that amazing serenity:
  • Find your joy in the Lord.  While the world offers things that bring temporary delight, God offers you an everlasting awe that can't be obtained anywhere else.  If you take some time to think on it, that alone can bring you some happiness in the midst of your storms.  Every snowy mountain, every colorful sunrise bears testimony to His beautiful glory.  It's a gift to merely bask in that.
  • Don't take out your frustrations on others.  Your composed behavior will show them that there's something pleasantly different about you -- that you're walking closely with the One who is right at hand to care for you through every challenge you face.  Only by clinging to the power of the Holy Spirit can you go easy on others when you're in a tempest yourself!
  • Don't tie yourself up in knots with worry.  Live like a person who actually believes what they profess to on Sunday!  Lift your concerns to God in prayer and thank Him that He even allows you to approach Him with such things!  Praise Him that He cares about your every tear!  And know that He has your best in mind and will either deliver you from or through your troubles.  Rest in the confidence that solid trust in the Maker of the Universe provides.
When we do each of these things, finding the Lord as THE source of our joy, being remarkable in our soft approach with others, and falling into God's arms with full trust, then will our Creator faithfully set a guard over our hearts and minds creating an indescribable inner calm.  It's when our focus is on knowing a God who makes everything manageable by His power that we find what is anxiously missing in our lives.  There's a solid peace in our hearts in spite of the madness of the world swirling around us.

In the words of St. Augustine, "Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee."

*Originally published December 5, 2010

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent, Week 2: Peace on Earth... At Least in December!

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
(Isaiah 26:3, NIV)

*As we continue on in our Advent Season, the theme of the second week is peace. What’s got you most stressed this holiday season? I don’t know about you, but I sure could use more of this perfect peace around the holiday season! But how do we get it? Yeah, we can talk about it all we want and it sounds nice, but how do we really get our hands on that peace? After all, there are so many demands on us... deadlines to meet, small kids to manage, must-attend events, difficult people we have to be around, baking and shopping and card-sending and wrapping. It seems, quite frankly, an impossible dream. But it’s not impossible.

Let’s revisit today's verse: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Who will be kept in perfect peace? Him (or her) whose mind is steadfast. What does that mean? Steadfast? Well, American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "Firmly loyal or constant; unswerving." There are ways we can keep ourselves constant and unswerving.

First, get your priorities straight. Start with prayer. Continue with prayer. End with prayer. Sometimes I have to cry out in the middle of my chaos, "Lord, give me your grace!", because I want to reach out and touch someone, and it isn’t to make a phone call!

Second, a good little acrostic to remember: H.A.L.T. Never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. I don’t know about you, but going to bed early and eating something other than a steady diet of Christmas cookies and fudge would go a long way for me!
Third, keep things in proper perspective. What will happen if we don’t get those cookies baked or cards sent out on time? Will the world end? You know, Jesus told us when he walked the earth, "In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) There we go with that steadfast focus again. He’s bigger than presents, bigger than cookies, bigger than any hard time someone can give you for not making it to their party.

Fourth, remember how Jesus would want you celebrating his birthday. In John 14:1 he tells us, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." Do you think he wants you all stressed out and miserable? Author Max Lucado tells us in his book, Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, "Are you aware that the most repeated command from the lips of Jesus was ‘Fear not’? Are you aware that the command from heaven appears in every book of the Bible?" Wow! What are we doing to ourselves and to those around us? Chill!

Fifth, don’t expect perfection from yourself or others. Find someone who hasn’t made a mistake. I make them daily and I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit you do too. If we were all so perfect, that little baby wouldn’t have had to been born in a barn.

Sixth, enjoy the season with more humor. Laugh at yourself and other crazy situations. My dear husband Steve has blessed me over the years by reminding me, "Don’t take life too seriously... None of us are getting out alive!"

Lastly, practice peace. We never get good at something unless we practice and make mistakes along the way. Exercise that "No, thank you" muscle. It gets stronger each time we use it.

I’d like to give each one of you that gift, that peace. But you see this gift requires no middle man. All you have to do is reach out and take it from the one who offers it to you. The giver is the one who cared enough about you to set aside everything glorious and wonderful to humble himself and come to earth enduring birth in a barn, scorn from friends, family and community members. He even endured the torture of the cross for you, yes, you. Will you receive that peace? It’s yours for the taking! Will you continue to rush around cramming too many parties, baking, cleaning, shopping so that we can’t even see the gift held out to us? Will you live up to everyone else’s expectations this holiday season or nestle into the chest of the one who can shelter us from the storm?

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) Let’s leave with that peace by closing in prayer. Heavenly Jesus, God of order and peace, come into my heart this Christmas season and grant me your peace during this holiday season and forevermore. Amen.
*Originally published December 6, 2009

Friday, December 7, 2012

My Grown-Up Christmas List - The Special Needs Mom Edition

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
 "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." ~ James 1:17, NIV

We hear it playing on radio stations at this time every year:

No more lives torn apart
And wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list*

While I'm not inclined towards sappy and poignant music (No, "Butterfly Kisses" is not one of my favorites), these lyrics hit me in a deep way a few days ago.  Faced with grim personal circumstances, I could relate to the song's desire for human anguish to suddenly be cured.  Aside from my own grief, there seem to be far too many heartbreaks in this life and inexplicable suffering.

I found my mind ruminating over what might be on my grown-up Christmas list.  So much of it relates to some aspect of our challenged lives with special needs these days.  If my wishes were to come true:
  1. No more painful comments would spill out of the mouths of  well-meaning individuals -- Why is it that the world thinks it's their job to admonish you when you're down.  Have they walked a mile in your exact same shoes?  The worst is when it's a Christian who uses Scripture to make sure you know that you should, "Give thanks in all things," "Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds," "Suffer like a good soldier," etc, etc, etc.  Then there are the people who think that things like, "It can only get better,"  "You're fortunate to have..." (you name it -- healthcare, a roof over your head, an Aunt Edna who loves you), "Be glad you don't have..." (again, you name it -- bubonic plague, cancer, Lindsay Lohan for a twin), etc, etc, etc.  Apparently, none of these Christians are aware that Jesus asked the Father to spare him his cup of suffering if possible nor, evidently, have they heard, "Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart." (Proverbs 25:20) [Read on, if I haven't totally alienated or offended you with those quips yet.]
  2. Justice would come to any who give us grief in the school disabled parking -- Catholics are right.  There IS a Purgatory.  It is more commonly known as school drop-off/pick-up.  Otherwise responsible adults act like completely out-of-control fools when it comes to this daily duty.  They zip too fast through parking lots, they behave in ways that would land their kids in detention and they stick their noses in each others business.  Our son does not always need disabled parking.  However, when he is having an active bleed going on in his lower extremities, he goes to school in his wheelchair.  I have witnessed any assortment of the following bad behaviors regarding disabled parking at the school:  a) Non-disabled vehicles taking up all the disabled parking space; b) People misusing their disabled parking tags to pick up a fully ambulatory child; c) Individuals complaining to the school that I don't have a handicapped parking tag (we went from 2 temporaries to now applying for a permanent).  Really?  What would you have me do with the wheelchair you see me lugging in and out of the back end of my Yukon XL twice every day?
  3. Accessible places would actually be completely accessible -- Our local US Post Office years ago added a long concrete ramp to the front entry of the building in order to comply with the ADA.  I have yet to see any wheelchair-bound citizen maneuver this means of entry because it would be completely impossible.   The turns are too tight.  The doorways too narrow.  And, like the front office at my children's 5-year-old school building, there are no door-opening buttons for those in wheelchairs.  Merely acting like we are helping those who truly have mobility issues when we, in fact, are not is actually a slap in the face.
  4. Doctors would live the lives of their patients for just 1 week -- Arrogance would suddenly fade if our doctors had to walk a mile in our shoes.  Maybe they would suddenly realize that they teach us to advocate for ourselves when our children are first diagnosed, then they get angry with us when we use that self-advocacy in standing up to them.  Perhaps then they would agree that no one knows our children better than we do.  Their dismissive attitude towards us and our parental expertise might even wane.  If doctors had to live the lives of us or our kids for even 1 short little week, maybe we could all work as a team rather than working against each other every time we come to them for help.
  5. My child's relentless suffering would end -- No more lives torn apart?  How about starting with the anguished cries of my child?  My heart feels wrung out after 12 1/2 years of tears, screams of "Please, make them stop!," thousands of needles, struggling with peers and stress that never takes a break.  I'm tired of him curled up next to me wondering how scientists can make such advances yet can't find a better delivery system for his medication than through IV injections.  I am crushed every time I hear him whimper, "I can't do this another day."  It is hard to hold back the despair and bitterness when it never seems to get better.
I could go on and on, but I thought I would keep the list short.  While I may express my desires with a bit too much snarkiness, my heart really yearns for peace in the midst of the daily battles.  I'm not asking for the impossible, but the faith-filled and the miraculous.  I am asking for that which only heaven can provide.  I am looking for the promises of Revelation 21:3-5 to come true.

PRAY:  Father God, shape my heart, gently soften it, so that my only wish is that Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

~ Barb Dittrich

*"Grown-Up Christmas List" written by David Foster (music) and Linda Thompson-Jenner (lyrics), 1990.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Week 1: HOPE

"In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly."
(Psalm 5:3, NIV)

*It's Advent -- The four weeks leading up to Christmas.  It's a season of great expectation and frequently a review of what is truly important in life.  We often draw closer to family and friends as the events of these weeks demand.  But this can be a particularly hairy period for those of us who have children with special needs.

For way too many of us the season screams stress rather than delight.  There's the overstimulation of our challenged children with lights, noise, food and clothing.  There's the total disruption of schedules for kids whom structure holds tremendous importance.  And then there are the unreasonable expectations of family and friends who are more concerned about their party than about the well-being of a not-so-typical child.

It's hard to feel hope rather than dread at a time like this.  Yet, that is what this first week of Advent beckons us to.  It calls us to reflect on the Nativity story and enter in to the promise it provides us.  Two thoughts arise that make this theme especially relevant for parents like us.

The first thought is, if this God of the Universe came to earth and was born in such lowly circumstances, there is hope for us.  The Lord showed His tremendous humility and love by how He chose to dwell among us.  Because He shared in our common, unattractive circumstances, we get to share in His great glory.  (see Phil 2:5-11 and Romans 8:17)  This should encourage us all, knowing that we can joyfully anticipate something better ahead.  We have the divine privilege of  eagerly awaiting something beyond our wildest imagination.  And each of us individually matter.  We have tremendous value to the One who created us.  He drew close to us personally, physically and at great cost to Himself.  Wow!

The second thought is that our challenges today will not keep us in a pit that we can never climb out of.  Advent not only holds out promise for eternity, but strength for today.  If Jesus could remain obedient to death on a cross, surely we can get through the next doctor's appointment with his help!  He didn't remain in that smelly cave where he was born forever, and we won't remain in this stressful phase forever either.  This keeps me going, and I hope it does you too.  If I didn't have this perspective, I don't think I could last most days.

While many might share much more profound thoughts on this first week of Advent, I'd encourage you to meet the God who is willing to meet you right where you are.  Know that there is hope that lays far beyond a government plan, a medical cure or the impulses of a child.  This is a hope you can stake your life on in the present and for eternity.  It's there whether your days are good or are especially trying.  Because Jesus came, we can lay our requests before God and wait with joyful expectation and know with certainty that He hears us and cares.  And focusing your thoughts on that makes Advent a remarkably significant time for parents like us!

*Originally published  November 28, 2010

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent, Week 1: HELP IS ON THE WAY!

The Lord says, "The time is coming when I will do the good thing I promised to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will make a good branch sprout from David's family. He will do what is fair and right in the land. At that time Judah will be saved, and the people of Jerusalem will live in safety. The branch will be named: "The Lord Does What Is Right."
(Jeremiah 33:14-16, NCV)

*Raised in the Catholic tradition, one of my favorite parts of the Christmas Season is the observance of Advent. Meaning "the coming" in Latin, the four weeks before Christmas are a time of forced reflection on who this babe in the manger is and what His life on Earth means. Over the years, I have grown to the point where I arrive at Christmas Day feeling disappointed and like I've let time slip through my hands when I have neglected Advent's deliberate practice. I feel like I missed the entire significance and meaning of why we celebrate this time of year.

Traditionally, the theme of the first week of Advent is hope. How very appropriate! This one word describes the unique gift that salvation through Jesus of Nazareth has to offer. God's Word (and Jesus is named as "The Word" in John 1:1) oozes with hope throughout.

In this point in history, we have the great privilege of seeing many things in the Scriptures from the perspective of fulfillment. We see promises made and kept by God. We see prophecies made and come-true about God. We, in developed nations, have the gift of reading those words in numerous translations and languages, giving us the opportunity to better understand the Message. This all should bolster our faith, filling us with great hope. God's word is true! The probability of one man fulfilling just eight of the hundreds of prophecies made about Jesus the Messiah would be 10 to the 17th power!

The hope engendered by God's truth is more than just "I hope that everybody's happy with the gifts I bought them this year," or "I hope that this Christmas party is fun." It's the joyful anticipation of knowing that everything will work out in this life and will be problem-free in the next life. It's the blessed assurance that belief in Jesus' saving grace guarantees our citizenship in Heaven. It's the comfort of knowing we are deeply loved, never forsaken or forgotten. It's the deep gratitude of realizing each and every life, including ours and our children's, have infinite worth and purpose.

The Creator of the Universe didn't just solve our problems from arm's length. He came into our world and got dirty, becoming one of us. He shouted, "Help is on the way," and then delivered. Pondering these profound facts ought to foster in us hope beyond all measure!

*Originally published November 30, 2009