Monday, April 29, 2013

Soaring Above Our Adversity

Parenting a child with special needs can be one of life's most wearying challenges.  Although we love our kids dearly, the physical, mental and emotional capital required to raise them can leave moms and dads dragging.  So just the simple act of coming together on a sunny Sunday afternoon with other families who are traveling that same road can give us such an unexpected lift.

That is exactly what we enjoyed with the families SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES serves on April 28th at the Gift of Wings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Parents were able to come together with their children of all abilities to construct and decorate their own kites.

Families had the opportunity to watch a stunt kite demonstration that was magnificent despite the wind suddenly deciding not to cooperate.

We even had some lunch.  All in all, it was enough to feel God lifting us above our circumstances.  Even if for only 2 hours, the gift of sharing some special time together, not having to explain our children, feeling accepted, welcomed and loved gave us the renewal to soar.  What a blessing!

PRAY:  Father, thank You that when we are feeling tired and weary, you raise us up as on wings of eagles to soar above our circumstances.  You alone are our hope as we stumble through this life.

*If you were unable to attend, even MORE kite fun will be on display at the 26th Annual Family Kite Festival May 25-26, 2013 at Gift of Wings in Milwaukee's Veteran's Park.

Friday, April 26, 2013

When Worry & Fear Can't Be Avoided

When I am afraid, O Lord Almighty,
    I put my trust in you. 
I trust in God and am not afraid;
    I praise him for what he has promised...
~ Psalm 56:3-4, GNT ~ 

There are times when worry and fear are as natural to every parent as breathing.  As God made us the caretakers and guardians of our precious children, he wired us to know our sons and daughters best, instinctually discerning when there is reason for concern.  The vast majority of mothers and fathers do not take their role lightly.  So when a medical emergency occurs, it is almost reflex to feel alarmed and anxious about the well-being of our child.  The primitive "fight or flight" responses seem to naturally kick into full gear.

At the same time, we know that the words "fear not" or "do not be afraid" are are the most commanded words in the Bible.  Since the time of Abram, we see the Lord calming and comforting with these words of instruction and reassurance.  In situations ranging from His appearance or an angel visit to an individual, to the dark hours surrounding Jesus death, the words "do not be afraid" resound.

So what do we do when our emotions are overcoming us and our natural instincts think they can rule the day?  To be certain, it is challenging to fall into the calm of Jesus' arms when our child is going into an emergency surgery, there are mix-ups in their medical protocol, or death appears imminent.  The good news is that God knows our frail state at those times.  Christ himself experienced nothing less in the Garden of Gethsemane, so his understanding for us is very real.

How graciously God breathes life into our reality with His word!  Training our brains to remember Scripture is the ultimate way to survive our most serious worries.  The Scripture passage above is one I took to remembering 20 years ago when I was experiencing multiple miscarriages.  Note that the psalmist doesn't say "if" but "when" in describing fear's arrival.  He then states that the action he takes when that worry arrives is to put his trust in the Lord Almighty.  Knowing that God has the power and wisdom to handle the situation, trusting the Lord's sovereignty, eventually wrestles control of our emotions away from those primitive instincts.  We can experience a peace that transcends our circumstances.

In other words, we give supremacy to our logic rather than our emotions at times of great danger.  Getting to know the Lord's promises and his character during the calmer, average days of our lives equips us for life's crises.  This way, even when we don't feel like everything will be alright, we know that we can still trust God because of the truth we have allowed him to tuck away in our brains.

Such truth can be found in promises like Romans 8:35, 37-38, "Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death?  ...In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!"  (CEV)

Worries and fears are inevitable in parenting a child with special needs.  Will troubles get resolved with the school?  What will the future hold once this struggling munchkin leaves home?  What if the doctors can't resolve this health crisis?  These questions are overwhelming.  Yet, none of these things are too difficult for the Maker of the Universe to handle.  Only bathing our brains in His blessed reassurance will turn these inevitable concerns and turn them into an unusual peace.

PRAY:  Thank You, Lord that you offer me calm and comfort in exchange for all my parental anxieties.  Holy Spirit bring to mind your precious promises when I find myself afraid.

Photo Image Courtesy of:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Facing the Darkness

Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you will be blameless and pure, children of God without any fault. But you are living with evil people all around you, who have lost their sense of what is right. Among those people you shine like lights in a dark world, and you offer them the teaching that gives life...
~ Philippians 2:14-16, ERV ~
(Emphasis my own)

It's been a long, cold, dark winter this year.  In fact, when all of nature should already be singing out the hymns of joyful spring, it is instead groaning under the perpetual gloom of persistent doldrums.  The heaviness of seemingly endless gray and bone-chilling precipitation only serves to drag the mood to new lows.  It certainly has not helped to have the flood of bad news threatening to hold us under.

Reports of  a prominent pastor's child committing suicide, the endless discord between our national leaders, the increased nuclear threats of foreign madmen, the macabre trial of an abortion doctor who murdered children born alive, a heartbreaking effect of a fertilizer factory explosion in Texas, and hundreds either killed or mutilated by a coordinated terrorist attack in Boston make the days even darker.  Combine this oppressive bad news with our own personal challenges, and the inclination to flee towards the light is great.  Who wouldn't love to abandoned such a pall for the bright, joyful reality of illumination?

I had some opportunities to step out of this ugly gloom.  A peek at the sun and living vegetation were welcomed gifts to my soul.  For just a few days at a time I could forget the endless bad news.  I could set aside the bullies and educational challenges facing my youngest child at school.  I could forget the pressing bills racked up by two children with expensive special needs.  I had no need to be running to doctor's appointments, IEPs or hospitals.  It all made me want to stay in the glow of where I was.

Yet, God calls us, his beloved, to face the darkness head on.  The much-needed break was definitely a divine appointment, intended to bless me.  It filled me back up after being so very depleted.  However, each of us, including me, is wooed, not to run away from the darkness, but to go back in there and shine brightly in a darkened world.

In my selfish humanity, I want to stay where it's comfortable, sunny, warm.  I don't want to go back and face the pitch black.  It's too painful to carry on as so much evil and so many troubles swirl around me.  In my mind, I deserve to stay where people are nice, the days are pleasant and there are no troubles.

Thank God that he calls us to be more like a disco ball covered with many mirrors, reflecting His glory rather than be an independent, self-energized celestial body!  On my own, I cannot shine like a star in a world where humans have seemingly lost all sense of right and wrong.  I am unable to be positive with the dirge of negativity endlessly ringing all around me.  My Maker knows this.  His goal is not that I be the final object of people's attraction.  Instead, when people are attracted to the light of glory that I reflect, I am to point them to the reason for my hope, Jesus Christ.

A person who is able to experience joy and reflect light in the darkness of raising a child with special needs while horrific global events swirl about is someone who is pleasantly peculiar indeed.  When we are obedient to God, facing that darkness we would rather avoid, shining like a star in contrast to the world around us, people are curiously attracted to us.  They want what we have!  Who wouldn't want such joy when they're stuck in the inescapable darkness of this world?  We reflect hope to a hurting reality as God's image-bearers.  And we need to be prepared at all times, in all circumstances to share with others the reason for our refreshing hope.  (See 1 Peter 3:15)

This high calling should be enough to kick our tails into high gear when we would rather remain in that luminescence of vacation.  We are filled up, not to be gluttonous and self-satisfying, but to share what has been poured into us.  Think of what we have to share simply by walking into a children's hospital!

I may not always feel like I want the responsibility of this role, but all I need is to see one other person catch the light that I bear in Christ's name, and it energizes me with great purpose.  I become powerfully motivated to keep on persevering in the darkness with a drive that is not my own.  In radiating outward, I actually get refilled myself.  What a privilege seeing and being a part of God's purposes fulfilled!

When you don't feel like being the reflective light of Christ in the darkness, trust the Lord and do it anyway.  You will gain as much as you pour out of yourself.  You will suddenly gain the unique experience of having a front row seat to watch God work in the otherwise hopeless world around you.  You will overcome the darkness with powerful Light.  In lifting others, you will be elevated with great buoyancy yourself.  Shine on, friend!  Shine on!

PRAY:  Lord, the gloom all around me often seems to be more than humanity can overcome.  Yet, nothing is too difficult for You.  Holy Spirit, grant me the inner peace and discipline to obey you, taking your light back into the darkness.  Let me reflect Your hope to a hurting world.

Photo Image Courtesy of:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Riding the Clouds

A storm will blow the evil person away,
    but a good person will always be safe.
~ Proverbs 10:25, NCV ~

I was recently scheduled to fly out of state as some stormy weather was moving through town.  A huge front moved from east to west bringing snow to one part of the nation, flooding rains to others, and even tornadoes to some.  When I arrived at the airport, a menacing morning fog hung in the air, making me wonder if we would even be able to get out.  I couldn't wait to break free of the persistent, cold, gloom and darkness.

As we took off and climbed to our cruising altitude, it took great effort to push through that which oppressively battered us.  The plane pitched and shook.  We never did reach a point where the ride was smooth or the ride felt safe.  It was white knuckles and seat belts for restraint the entire ride.  And even though the skies were a little bit clearer before landing, the rough winds prevailed making our arrival just as choppy.

Isn't parenting our children with special needs much like that?  When our child is first diagnosed or we discover there's trouble, that lightning strikes, shaking our world with dark heaviness all around.  The storm may even leave waves lapping at our ankles, threatening to drown us.  We're in a fog.  We wonder if we will ever get out of this storm.  

As we learn to live daily with our child's chronic condition, we take flight, pushing through the battering storm and angry clouds, hoping to reach a cruising altitude where it's smooth sailing.  Yet, we may never have a placid, problem-free ride.  It's not uncommon to find ourselves shaken with many ups and downs.  It can feel unstable as we hold on for dear life, just praying to arrive safely.  The many bumps we continue to face cause us to use restraint and sometimes, to remain fastened in our seats.  We are so often reminded by others that in an emergency, we need to put our own oxygen mask on before we can effectively assist someone else.  We tune our ear to the Pilot and hang on his every instruction.  We do make forward progress and see sunny skies, but it's never calm or carefree.

The good news is that we have the most capable Pilot in the universe.  He helps us take flight when we feel as if we might be forever stuck in thick fog, persistent darkness or lightning that strikes more than once.  God doesn't promise us a smooth, trouble-free ride.  He knows we may get sick to our stomachs, white-knuckle it and intensely dislike our journey.  Yet, with Him at the helm, safe arrival at our final destination is secured.

What Jesus wants from us is our full attention and trust.  He wants us to obey his specific instructions for our own good.  That's not always easy to do when we're feeling shaken-up by our journey and freaked-out by the sudden ups and downs.  Those are the times we need to realize He knows infinitely more than we do, so it only makes sense to cooperate.

Buckle up, my friend!  This journey of special needs parenthood may be a bumpy ride, but He will give you glimpses of blue sky amidst the storm, and will remain steadfast as you trust in Him.

PRAY:  Father, thank you that you assure me of safe passage on this rocky ride.  Comfort and remind me that You have me in the palm of your hand, bringing me securely home no matter how this life tosses us about.

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

Friday, April 19, 2013

"It's a Miracle Children Survive In Spite of Their Fathers!"

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber
~ Psalm 121:3, NIV ~

I am half a nation away from my children right now, speaking at a conference.  As I prepare to board an airplane and leave my home, I always spend some time giggling with friends at the impending doom that will surely descend upon my family.  I share with them the copious stories that I receive upon arriving home when I have been out of town.  For instance, after returning from one of my journeys, a neighbor queried, "Were you gone, because I saw your kids dancing on top of the roof of your van?"  Or there was the other time that the kids called me telling me that Dad had taken them to the Thursday Celtic music circle at the local Irish Pub.  Whatever the activity, I joke with my husband that "It's a miracle children survive in spite of their fathers!"

After all, my husband prides himself on providing the risky fun factor that kids love.  Never mind that he skied into a tree with our eldest on his back when she was one year old, this guy knows how to have a good time!  Without my husband, my children would never know the joy of the water balloon slingshot, Nerf gun battles, Airsoft target practice, crazy roller skating (VERY unsafe for a boy with hemophilia), running our dog next to a golf cart at full throttle, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, tactical laser tag, and creating myriad disgusting food combinations.  In other words, their lives would be bland, and they would never have the opportunity to see me smiling while shaking my head.

While it is true that my husband is a 58 year old locked in a boys body in many ways, he is also a remarkable man without whom many of life's most memorable moments could ever occur.  He was there to guide each of our three children through learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  I can only leave town because he takes turns with home medical care, and he is able to put an IV in our son in my absence and dose our daughter with the 4 or 5 medicines it takes for her just to breathe on any given day.  When I am utterly exhausted after days at the hospital, clinic or school IEP meetings, he's there to share the load.  And ironically, he can have a wonderful conversation in German with the children at the dinner table despite the fact that I am the clueless parent traveling with our son to German immersion camp next month.

What I am getting at is that we mothers can often hold onto our children too tightly, expecting our husbands to care for them in the exact same manner that we do.  There's a wrong way, and then there's our way.  We have an entire method and logic to doing much of what we do as mothers of kids with special needs that leaves no room for any other style or routine.

Actually, that is tremendously faulty thinking.  While there are certain non-negotiables (In our house it's sterile procedure for administering an IV), our spouses can offer great color to our kids' lives by approaching things differently from the way we mothers would.  Dads can stretch our kids beyond their comfort zones in a jovial way that we mothers often miss.  They tend to be less overprotective and allow our kids to take flight in spite of their challenges.

Even when we  are a single parent, an engaged father can offer an important new dimension to the life of our child with special needs.  I know of one mother who actually left her spouse for serious valid reasons.  Yet, he made such a huge difference in their son's life because he was committed to participating in Scouting with him.  Another mother I serve found her frustrations assuaged by her ex-husband motivating their special needs teen to engage in meaningful employment.

Both parents have something to bring to the table in raising children.  And when both a mother and father can be involved, we need to each be given some room to share our unique gifts with our children.

I am so grateful for my wacky, hardworking, dedicated husband.  He now brags telling people of my phrase, "It's a miracle that children survive in spite of their fathers."  To him, it indicates that he is doing something right as a dad.  The rich experience and blossoming character of our 3 children certainly testify to the fact that he is indeed.

PRAY:  Lord, I know my spouse doesn't always view things the way I do when it comes to activities with our child(ren).  Guide us to come to common ground on the fact that a well-adjusted child needs each of our unique gifts to thrive as they grow.  And above all, keep our child(ren) safe!  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Would The World Be Without OUR Children?

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:21-25, NIV ~

Like so many of you, I have been horrified and heartbroken as I listen to recent stories of Kermit Gosnell, a medical doctor in the state of Pennsylvania on trial for 7 counts of murder.  Sparing you the gruesome details and highly-charged politics, suffice it to say that this individual is being charged with infanticide.  As a mother, my thoughts can’t help but turn to my own children with hearing such news.

There are many in this world who would think themselves humane by removing children like mine, with various special needs, from this earth before their true struggle even begins.  In fact, as many as 92% of all babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted, with the encouragement of medical professionals.  These doctors are not necessarily malicious.  In their tenderness, these people would not want any child like mine to unduly suffer.  Watching children face pain, anguish, rejection and heavy adversity surely must be one of life’s greatest heartbreaks.

Even though they may have good intentions, I feel sad that these people are unfamiliar with the wonder and richness kids like mine bring to life’s journey.  Despite the anguish and pain of living with a severe bleeding disorder, my 13 year old son has colored our world with his dimpled smile, his natural curiosity, his unsolicited tenderness and his perpetual joy.  If a good mood could be a person, it would be our son.  Our daughter’s life-long battle with Asperger’s, severe ADHD, asthma and severe allergies have only made her a more remarkable human being.  For almost 11 years now we have enjoyed her funny quirkiness, her sneaky intelligence, her incredible vivaciousness, and her tender love for animals of every sort.

While I can brag on my own children, I would contend that every special needs child transforms the rest of us as individuals and as a society.  Allow me to list just a few of the things our world would be missing without our children:

  • True appreciation of life’s simple gifts
  • Moving through our own ignorance and discomfort
  • Patience for those who don't move at the same pace that we do
  • Acceptance and love for those who are different from us
  • Understanding that we are more than our superficial exteriors
  • Hope beyond our physical, cognitive and emotional abilities
  • Knowledge of the Holy because our children are created in the image of God
These are only the tip of the iceberg.  We would most certainly be a society of bland individuals, lacking great character if none of us ever had to face the adversity involved with special needs.  I am certain that each person reading this post could add to the list.

Ponder the gift that your children are to our world today.  Offer God prayers of thanksgiving.  And also pray that those who would snuff out such lives prematurely might have their hearts softened and eyes opened to God’s greater purposes.

PRAY:  Holy Spirit, change hearts and minds.  Put the right words in my mouth to articulate the value of my child and their impact on the world we live in.

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

Monday, April 15, 2013

Offering My Cheap Imitations

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV

I recently flew out to California with my eldest child to visit my sister.  Being her very first trip to the Los Angeles area, my daughter requested to see several of the popular tourist sights.  Of course, Hollywood was on her itinerary.  For those who have never been to Hollywood Blvd, you should know that this street is a complete circus act.  The Walk of Fame has its intriguing stars, but many of them run through dark, unsafe territory.  Hucksters hound you to buy their wears, and cheap imitations of Academy Awards along with other souvenirs are available on every other corner.

My daughter bounced onto the street when she saw adults dressed as favorite movie characters, excitedly thinking they were involved in cosplay.  (Short for costumed role playing.)  Enjoying that sort of thing, she was thrilled, thinking that she could get pictures of them and herself to show friends back home.  It didn't take long before a nasty guy dressed as Darth Vader started scolding her, telling her he wanted money to have his picture taken.  This quickly burst her bubble, impressing upon her, "All that glitters is not gold."

While I could shake my head, thinking my daughter naive and silly, I am no better.  I seem to have misguided perceptions on the best life has to offer.  Bounding forward with great expectations, I find myself disappointed too.

Yesterday, in my devotional time, I read in Experiencing God Day-By-Day*, "People will benefit far more from what God wants to give them than from your best plans.  Have you been short-changing the people around you by merely giving them your plans instead of God's?"  I had to fall on my face, convicted and repentant.  My best for those I love is no better than those cheesy Hollywood tchotchkes.  In fact, God tells us in Isaiah 64:6 that "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags," in comparison to His goodness.

I couldn't help but think of all the wasted time and energy I have invested over the years in worrying that things would not go as I had planned or hoped for my children.  I was aghast wondering how many times I had been a road block to my family rather than God's conduit of blessings.  When the school year has been awful, as this one has for our youngest daughter; when our son is stalled in anxiety over getting stuck with an IV needle yet again this week; when a threatening illness bursts on the scene because of our youngest's compromised immune system; when that unexpected bleeding episode lands our son in the hospital, I too easily forget that the Lord can and does use such things to build human character and to glorify Himself.  I get stressed as I subconsciously think, "This certainly wasn't in the game plan!", and continue trying to force life back onto the track I think it belongs.

I need, we all need, to see God's hand at work in the daily life of those around us.  Rather than feeling dread that plans are delayed or derailed, a more useful view would be "I can't wait to see what God produces out of this!"  After all, some things can only be achieved through the pathway of pain.  I personally would not be the person I am today had I not endured much adversity.  Through such things, I have developed a thicker skin, a better sense of humor, more resiliency, greater flexibility, and definitely more compassion.  Why would I deprive my children of this type of learning?  

While every good parent tries to steer their child in the right direction, each of us needs to step back when God is rearranging our best plans for them.  We need to watch for where God is working in the lives of our loved ones and cooperate with that work.  Otherwise, we deprive those we treasure of the best Heaven has to offer and instead replace it with nothing more than a cheap imitation.

PRAY:  Heavenly Father, what a fool I am to think that what I have in mind for my child is better than what you are allowing!  Open my eyes to where You are working, and grant me the fortitude to cooperate with Your plans.  My heart's desire is Your best, Lord, for those I love.

*Blackaby, Richard, and Blackaby, Henry, (1997) Experiencing God Day-By-Day: The Devotional and Journal, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, p. 105

Friday, April 12, 2013

Conquering and Committed

Thirteen years ago today we received the shocking news that our day-old son had been diagnosed with severe hemophilia.  It felt like the world was going to end that day.  Here was this tiny, helpless newborn whom we had endured months of infertility treatment to conceive, now diagnosed with this dreaded disease.  I could even hear the nurses crying in the hallway outside of my hospital room.  The future was so uncertain.  I wept with anguish and guilt as I held this precious infant, still curled in fetal position, and stroked his feather-like fingers.  How?  Why?  

It didn't take long before we became well acquainted with his hemophilia.  The disorder behaves uniquely in each individual diagnosed with it, and he was no exception.  Our son has always had an "active bleeding pattern."  Having a high bilirubin count, as did all my babies, the heal prick to draw blood would result in endless bleeding.  The baffled hematologist proclaimed that this wasn't a typical way for hemophilia to behave, but it was happening.  Our pediatrician admitted our son to the NICU at two days old until we could control the jaundice.  

We never did have the "honeymoon period" where his hemophilia was barely noticeable, like the treatment center told us we would have.  Whether it was suddenly finding a giant hematoma (raised, hard bruise) on his soft baby body for no reason at all or it was yet another head bump as a toddler (earning him the nickname "Crash"), learning to live with this bleeding disorder has never slowed down.

Some serious challenges have confronted us.  The first time our son had an ankle joint bleed, it took my breath away suddenly seeing his ankle look like an old lady with edema.  Injuries at school have been harrowing to the point where I still jump when I see the school district's phone number on the Caller ID.  The countless cauterizations he has endured after persistent episodes of hours and hours of nosebleeds has been tremendously disruptive and upsetting over the years.  The fear and utter sorrow when he was hospitalized with a life-threatening gastro-intestinal bleed at 5 years old is as fresh as the day it happened.  You never forget hearing your son cry out in pain, "Mom! Dad!  Make them stop!  No more needles!  You're supposed to protect me!"  And having to return to the hospital for another life-threatening bleed in his hip joint when he was 11 years old wasn't much easier.

Nevertheless, we have never walked through all of this without Jesus.  We have long been aware of the unique intimacy we enjoy with the Lord, because we know that if we share in his sufferings, we also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)  How greatly I can identify with Mary watching her own son suffer so terribly, by watching my own son suffer, being helpless to do much about it.  And I also identify with God the Father, having some small inkling of the heart-wrenching pain evoked by hearing your child cry out, "My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1) 

Since he was a small boy, we have poured the words and hope of God into our son.  Our greatest failure, in our opinion, would be to have him leave this world in an unanticipated trauma, never having known Jesus.  Walking with the Lord has been as natural as breathing in our household.  And I so often have reminded him that his hemophilia is his "secret super power to reach people for Jesus."  It has been incredible to watch him bear witness to God's faithfulness in a medical setting by not letting anyone touch him until he prays out loud first.  With the help of a phenomenal youth group at church, his spiritual growth has never failed to thrive and his faith has become his own.

So here we are at thirteen years.  He is currently learning incremental steps to overcome his anxiety and to learn to administer his own IV's every-other-day.  When I told him this morning that today was the thirteenth anniversary of his diagnosis, he said to me, "Great!  Do I get another new laptop like I did yesterday for my birthday?"  Oh, how things have changed in thirteen years!  We are all greatly heartened that he has reached a point where he realizes that he has hemophilia, but it doesn't have him.  Life is hard, but God is faithful.  His love and grace are bigger than any diagnosis or trauma we can ever face. 

PRAY:  Lord, when problems abound, Your grace abounds more.  May I never forget that.  Remind me of all you have brought me through when the present or future look bleak.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I'm NOT Alright

Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the trouble we suffered in Asia. We had great burdens there, which were greater than our own strength. We even gave up hope for life.
~ 2 Corinthians 1:8, ERV ~

It annoys many people and causes others to gossip -- my "letting it ALL hang out" approach to life.  I have gone out of my way live in a very transparent way, ugly and messy as it can get, both in person and on social media in order that I might make it safe for others.  Not everybody has the wherewithal to expose their weaknesses in a very public way, so I charge forward on their behalf.  My openness began several years ago, after the birth of my second child.  I finally started revealing to others that I have struggled through an agonizing lifetime of chronic depression.  While it had been debilitating for years, I finally agreed at one point to accept the help of medication, which I would contend saved my life and the lives of those stuck living with me.  

To understand the present, I need to take you back to the past.  Genetics has long been suspected in the origins of depression, and my family is no exception.  I was raised in an extremely dysfunctional and emotionally abusive situation, with one person close to me having a long history of anxiety, depression and prescription drug abuse.  Couple that inherited predisposition with never having learned sound coping skills, and I was bound to have challenges.  Always having an aversion to medications because of the drug abuse in the family, I was willing to participate in psychotherapy, but spent years refusing medication.

As so often happens in stories like this, I had to hit rock bottom before I would finally accept help.  Yes, I had willingly gone for therapy for some time, but things didn't drastically improve until I had that coupled with medication.  It was like putting a floor under my free fall.  And I couldn't even approach the notion of medication until I was literally at the end of my rope.

Ironically, one of the very things that would continue to tax me emotionally ended up being the lifesaver that helped me step towards medication -- my son being diagnosed with special needs.  I had so little support around me.  And 8 months into the special needs journey, my mother-in-law unexpectedly died after bypass surgery.  Having to fly to meet my husband for the memorial with a newborn and a 3 year old was enough, but having an in-law privately drag me away from the family and verbally slaughter me over our baby's diagnosis was more than any human can bear.  I finally said "YES!" to the help of psychotropic pharmaceuticals.

Since that time, I would tell you that my depressive episodes still occur.  I am more vulnerable than the average person to becoming emotionally overwhelmed or neurologically overtaxed.  However, I am now at a point in my journey where I can usually recognize those episodes as uncomfortable, much in the same way I would describe a cold.  I may feel miserable, but I know it will pass.  That mindset is a tremendous blessing because pre-medication, I struggled to ever see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My depressive thoughts were reality.  Post-medication, I finally had the ability to challenge those thoughts or at least ride them out knowing they were faulty, until they passed.

Does this mean that I'm finally fully recovered?  Absolutely not.  When I'm nearing a meltdown, my friends will more than likely see me share Sanctus Real's "I'm Not Alright" on my Facebook page.  While the group more than likely intended the song for a younger audience, so many of the lyrics resonate with me in a depressive state:

Burn away the pride
Bring me to my weakness
'til everything I hide behind is gone
And when I'm open wide with nothing left to cling to
Only You are there to lead me on.

'Cause honestly, I'm not that strong.

I'm not alright, I'm broken inside
Broken inside
And all I go through, it leads me to You
It leads me to You*

No, I'm not alright.  I am a broken creature living in a broken world.  But He is not broken, so I lean into Jesus in my weakness.  Parenting children with special needs only makes this battle all the more fierce.  There are many more things that can add to that depression or trigger depressive episodes for moms like me.  Yet, when I am willing to admit that I'm not that strong, I leave room for God to work.  He loves me just as I am, and He can use this illness to reflect His glory.
PRAY:  Lord, you have seen my despair and sadness.  Yet, you do not condemn, but comfort.  Thank You for loving me as I am.  Hold me close and keep me safe in my depression.  I am so grateful that I am not alone in this.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Reject Party!

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me." 
~ John 15:18-21, NLT ~

It must have been my Junior year in high school.  I wasn't asked to the Homecoming dance.  Not alone in my lack of a date, I decided to make lemonade out of my lemons by hosting a "Reject Party."  Inviting all of my friends who had also been forgotten, I donned my parent's reckroom with cupids hanging upside down, black crepe paper and broken hearts.  With great irony, my party ended up being the place to be that night, with those who had actually attended the Homecoming dance crashing my little soiree. Remarkably, here I was the one feeling rejected, sitting on the margins, but winding up being loved and included in the end.

Thirty years later, that awful rejection and exclusion doesn't get any easier.  There are the times where I've been forgotten by a spouse on a birthday, anniversary or return from out-of-town; times where I've been belittled by family members who think we're "overreacting" to our children's issues or being negligent as parents because of the kids' behavior challenges; times where we haven't been invited to parties because our lives are too complicated; times where people have been angry with me because I don't do more of the PTA or volunteer-type activities with all the demands of special needs parenting crowding my life.  I could go on about the rejection, but even without such obvious exclusion, parenting a child with special needs is tremendously isolating.

This weekend, that painful isolation was weighing on me.  Many troubles dragged me downward.  I attended church in shifts with my husband, so that one of us could be home with our sick child at all times.  Even my other two children ditched me to attend the youth service, so I found myself at church sitting completely alone.  As heavy sadness threatened to steal my refreshment during worship, I felt the voice of Jesus come over me, "I was left by everyone too."

Communion suddenly burst forth with even deeper meaning.  It was a reject party!  My rejection was Christ's rejection, and His body and blood were my love and inclusion.  My isolation had value.  I shared in His fellowship of suffering.  Once again, the girl sitting on the margins found herself participating in the party of parties.

Friends, this is a treasured revelation from the Lord.  All of us parents endure these heavy emotions from time to time.  We are marginalized on so many levels.  It seems the party goes on without us.  Yet Jesus is well acquainted with our suffering.  He laid down His life, so that we might fully live.  He loves and includes all.  And when we say "Yes" to Him, we find ourselves at the place to be, welcomed and cherished, never forgotten.

PRAY:  Jesus, when I feel so left out, bring to my mind how you shared in being an outsider with me, so that I might be included.  Protect my mind from the lies that I am completely unloved.  Thank You for giving your life that I might live!

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

Friday, April 5, 2013

Love Me As I Am

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ~ 1 John 3:1a,b, NIV

For those of you who do not already know, April is Autism Awareness Month.  While our youngest child has not been officially diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, she has been diagnosed with many components like social deficits and sensory processing disorder, along with her severe ADHD.  If there is one thing she continually reveals to me when she is able to break through her barriers of emotion, it is her deep desire to be loved and accepted. 

I want to encourage all of you to hop over to our leadership blog to examine what I've called those in special needs ministry and church authority to do to welcome families just like ours in a more appropriate way.  Feel free to leave your comments.  And whether you are affected by a family member with an autism spectrum disorder or not, let's pray more fervently this month that we, as Christians, would lavish those considered "quirky" or strange by the culture with the same outrageous love that Jesus continually pours out on us.

PRAY:  Jesus, you chose the foolish things of this world to overcome the wise.  Too often my child is considered foolish by the world, yet You give that child infinite worth.  Help us to love on all who have an autism spectrum disorder or special need of any kind.  In this way, we will more greatly reflect Your awesome glory to a hurting world.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

White Hot for Jesus

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
~ Matthew 22:36-39, NIV ~

If you missed The Bible Series the past 5 weekends on The History Channel, you missed a truly remarkable portrayal of God's love letter and consistent outreach to mankind.  For our family, it opened conversations that still continue with our tweens and teen, taking their faith journey even deeper.  We feel blessed to have such a visual aid to grow our children in love and knowledge of their Savior.

Working in special needs ministry, I took a particular interest in the series because I saw much support ahead of its premier by church leaders.  Rolling my eyes at first, I thought, Here we go again...  Another "Passion of the Christ" frenzy.  But I reined in my cynicism as I saw prominent leaders I trust, like Rick Warren, continuing to get behind this drama.  I decided to watch the first episode with our children and found the series to be worthy of all the support it had garnered.

I suppose part of my reserve comes in questioning people's motives for producing such media.  As we all know, everything claiming to be about the Bible or Jesus is not necessarily good.  I wanted to get more into the hearts and heads of those producing and acting in the series.  Was this just another role for them?  What does Jesus mean to each of these people?

A gifted and charismatic Portuguese actor, Diogo Morgado plays the role of Christ with a focus towards love and compassion in the New Testament episodes.  As I began to watch him as well as Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, suddenly entered the expression #hotJesus. Apparently, his good looks and tender portrayal have earned Morgado quite the swooning followers on Twitter.  Thus, their 140 character remarks about him are tagged with the expression #hotJesus.
While there is no doubt that Diogo Morgado is an attractive young man who loves the Lord, the revelation that this was going on actually made me sad.  It suddenly occurred to me, What if every one of us treated the real Jesus as if he is THE #hotJesus?  What if we had the passion for Christ that we have for movie stars?  What would that look like?

Imagine a world where we are as obsessed with Jesus as we are for those in the popular culture!  Our spare time would be spent reading everything we can about Him.  We would be talking with our friends about Jesus all the time.  In fact, we would let friends who don't know Him know that they were missing out on Someone BIG.  Can't you hear the words now, "Oh, you have GOT to check him out!"?  We would want to be everywhere Jesus is working.  That means that we would gladly get dirty working with the poor, the needy, the outcast, standing in long lines and facing miserable circumstances just to be near Him.  We would hang on His every word, repeating it to one another again and again in intimate conversations.  Being just like Him, close to Him, knowing Him would fill our minds and would be a reflex reaction.  Everyone around us would know how we feel about Jesus.  We would cherish His visit to us in the hospital or the school.  We would know His clout would accomplish for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.  Our world would be completely different.

So, the million dollar question is, Why aren't we white hot for Jesus?  My teenage daughter brought me a chuckle when she suggested that it would be good if you could learn everything there was to know about Jesus in 15 minutes on Wikipedia just like you can your favorite celebrities.  Together, she and I laughingly confessed how pathetically addicted to instant gratification we humans have become.  We want to see Jesus, hear from him immediately in our present circumstance.  The funny thing is, we can get closer to that, if we just spend more time in solitude with Him and devour His word.  We need to remember that "We walk by faith and not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7)  His Holy Spirit assures that we don't need an appointment, a phone call or tweet to hear from Him.  And no matter how many obsessed followers Jesus has, he'll always love each one the best.  How cool is that?

Friend, get to know him better, deeper, more intimately.  Your world will change when you love Jesus with the same level of passion that He loves you.  Celebrities and every human on this earth will disappoint you  eventually.  The real Jesus will never fail, leave or forsake you.  That makes him THE #hotJesus indeed!

PRAY:  Lord, I have set up idols in my mind and heart other than you.  I see it as a fun distraction from the challenges of raising my child with special needs, but it's just misguided.  Those celebrities can never be half of what You are.  Holy Spirit keep my heart obsessed with You instead!

Bible Footnotes:
a.  Matthew 22:37, Deut.6:5
b.  Matthew 22:39, Lev. 19:18

Photo Image Courtesy of Bible Series


The Bible Series is now available on Blu-ray & DVD for your family's spiritual enrichment.  Please note that there are many violent, graphic scenes which may not be appropriate for young children.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Garbage Picking

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags.
~ Isaiah 64:6, NLT ~

Remarkable!  That is the only word to describe watching your eldest child experience the true sacrifice and miracle of Easter from the depths of her spirit.  Baptized as a believer years ago, our teenager has always had a vibrant faith that is uniquely her own.  My own relationship with God at that same age paled in comparison.  Yet, our girl had never grieved or mentally identified with her own wickedness until the end of this Holy Week.  I stood next to her as she cried in guilt for the first time this year, while our pastor nailed about a dozen spikes into a wooden cross on Good Friday, linking each spike to one of our common, human sins.  Experiencing Jesus' crucifixion in that context, a new awareness swept over our daughter, as she suddenly felt anguished realizing the magnitude of Jesus taking her place, her punishment.

A wonderful, deep conversation continued with her into the next day.  My daughter and I talked about how easy it is to fall into sins of gossip, pretending to be someone we are not, and judging our neighbor.  Great humility hung in the air between us as we experienced the quiet shame of our default actions.  And amidst that, we both had to confess that we don't miss a beat, trying to justify or normalize those sins.

Yes, we all try to justify our sin by arrogantly rationalizing, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as that!"  How many times have any of us shaken our heads at others and thought, "Wow!  I could never be that bad!"?  Such mentality has existed as long as the ugliness of sin has been wedged into our world.  Jesus even quoted a parable chronicling this sort of rationale.  (See Luke 18:10-14) 

Suddenly in our conversation, like a spring flower unfolding in bloom, God revealed a fresh truth to my daughter and I.  "Isn't it strange that we judge ourselves by garbage picking, using the lowest common denominator to compare our behavior when God tells us that our very best intentions, behavior, holiness are like disgusting rags to Him?"  We hung out on that thought for a few minutes.

It is utterly ironic that we, who can never be good enough to work our way back to earning God's good grace, would try to elevate ourselves by casting a downward glance at the behavior of others.  And it's especially ridiculous when God wants our focus to be fixed upward at Him.  Easter morning, the angels greeting the women at the tomb asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5).  It makes me wonder, how do we think we will reflect the Light of Life by focusing on dead behavior?

As my daughter and I parted company later that day, I thought of all of the self-justification I struggle with while raising children with special needs.  How much garbage picking have I done to make my behavior seem better than it truly is?  Rather than aspiring to a godly response to my circumstances, how many times have I tried to legitimize biting the teacher's head off or gossiping about the doctor with hatred while claiming that I'm at least better than the driver who just flipped me off or the relative who has just done me wrong? 

In the light of what we remember Jesus doing for us, shouldn't we be lifting our eyes, our full attention to Him?  Don't we owe Him the highest debt of gratitude knowing that we could never deserve the Salvation He so freely gives?  Who cares who I might perceive to be less well-behaved than me!  My best is still filthy rags.  And yet, He still loves us and gave His life for us.  Do we not owe Him our very best?  Being pliable, teachable in God's hands, setting our goal as being shaped more and more into Christ's image is what pleases the Lord.

"All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life." ~ Philippians 3:10-11, GNT

PRAY:  Jesus, you are the lifter of my head.  I need your Holy Spirit to keep my eyes fixed on yours rather than wasting time down in the garbage heap of bad behavior.  I want to reflect Your glory to everyone we come into contact with, regardless of our circumstances.  Help me to accomplish this goal in ever-increasing measure.

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF