Friday, March 29, 2013

You Think YOU Have Problems?

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? 
 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people. 
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
~ Isaiah 53, NLT ~

"Pity!  Party of one!"  That's the phrase I often jokingly use to cajole myself out of a downcast mood when my problems get to me.  After all, the challenges of parenting children with special needs can often leave me weighed down and discouraged.  When I have given it my all and still find myself at odds with doctors, the school, family and insurance companies, I am prone to focus on my problems as an insurmountable giant that can never be overcome.

Good Friday teaches me otherwise.  I reach a somberness and tears of gratitude on this day as my mind suddenly awakens to the thought, "Problems?  You think YOU  have problems?  Look at what Jesus allowed himself to be put through when he was completely innocent!"  This is a day to quietly meditate on the unspeakable suffering our Savior experienced in our place.

Oh, and He suffered far beyond what we take for granted at first blush.  Focusing on the hours from Jesus' last supper on, we see pain that exceeds anything most of us must ever face.  As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the anguish he experienced caused him to experience hematidrosis or "sweating blood", which brings about the following experience, according to Apologetics Press:

“Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.
From these factors, it is evident that even before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.
All of this crushing emotional experience in the Garden of Gethsemane assured that Jesus' further physical experiences would be more catastrophic and painful.  As he was brought before the high priest, Jesus was bound, struck in the face, spat upon and mocked.  With his skin already so vulnerable, surely he was bleeding and in pain even more now.  When people get contentious with me, never to I endure such awful things.

Ultimately after undeserved humiliation in front of religious authorities and the Jewish King (Herod), Jesus was dragged in front of the local Roman authority, one who was well experienced in heinous torture.  Pontius Pilate, in seeking to appease the religious rulers and avoid civil unrest, sentenced Jesus to undergo flogging.  This procedure alone brought its victims to death's door.  Again, add the condition of Jesus' skin from his existing hematidrosis, and this was certain to have been uglier than usual.

Dr. William D. Edwards', "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ," from the "Journal of the American Medical Association," Volume 255, Number 11, March 21, 1986, gives a horrifying medical picture of what was endured during such a scourging.  Tied to a pillar, the victim was stripped of clothes and either whipped with stiff reeds or with a multi-stranded instrument containing leather strands with steel balls or sheep bones attached.  Two Roman soldiers struck the prisoners entire back side with these tools, beating them within inches of their life.

Despite the fact that such abuse would cause a man to experience incredible pain and weakness, this was not enough for the Jewish religious class.  Only the tortuous murder of crucifixion would do.  Pilate allowed the now frenzied bunch to have their way, ordering the execution.  Referenced again in Dr. Edwards' article, crucifixion assured the maximum searing agony in a slow, humiliating death.  None of us have to think too long about how horrendous it might feel being nailed, hands and feet, to a cross when we merely recoil from the pain of a deep paper cut.  Additionally, the cumulative effect of all the torture prior to this act, the bloody back of scourging, the exhaustion and pain of walking as one carries a 75-125 pound beam rubbing against those injuries, and then having them scrape against the wood pillar piece of the cross is a pain we can hardly fathom.

In a generation where most of us live with access to medical facilities and means to lessen pain or cure injury, our brains can barely get around such an event.  While we are highly driven to avoid suffering or remove it, the One who made us and loves us willingly walked right into our atrocities on a rescue mission.  I think I have problems?  Not intending to diminish any of the suffering that parents like myself go through, I still have to agree that what my children, my spouse and I suffer is "light and momentary" (2 Corinthians 4:17) compared to the One who gave us a hope far beyond it.  I am subdued, ashamed.  What right do I have in getting persistently stuck in feeling sorry for myself?

Good Friday is a time of humbled sorrow and boundless grace.  Because of what Jesus faced, no diagnosis, no disagreements with schools, no frustration with medical personnel and no financial woes born out of medical bills can rob us of eternal joy.  There is no dark power over us.  Nothing can succeed in keeping us down without our own foolish permission.  He not only took our sin that day, but our deep, unjust suffering.  And he replaced it with a hope and restoration that goes far beyond anything we could ask, think or imagine.  How incredible!  Hallelujah!

PRAY:  Jesus, you gave me all.  I surrender my self-pity and give you my all in return.

~ Barb Dittrich

Photo Image Courtesy of Free Bible Images.com

Bible Quote Footnotes:

  1. 53:4 Or Yet it was our sicknesses he carried; / it was our diseases.
  2. 53:8a Greek version reads He was humiliated and received no justice. Compare Acts 8:33.
  3. 53:8b Or As for his contemporaries, / who cared that his life was cut short in midstream? Greek version reads Who can speak of his descendants? / For his life was taken from the earth. Compare Acts 8:33.
Apologetics Press Quote References:

Barbet, P. (1953), A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books).
 Lumpkin, R. (1978), “The Physical Suffering of Christ,” Journal of Medical Association of Alabama, 47:8-10.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

~ Mark 8:27-29, NIV~
 
"People First" Language can sometimes drive me nuts, because it puts all the emphasis on words rather than getting to know a person and their preferences.  The intent of encouraging this type of language is good, but it doesn't take into consideration that each individual has a different slant on words to describe their diagnosis.  I have been in private, small group meetings where one person prefers use of the word handicapped, while another goes away disgusted because they prefer the word disabled.

What none of us wants is to be defined by others, especially when it comes to a disorder or chronic illness.  Both my husband and my son absolutely recoil if someone uses the word "hemophiliac" to describe someone with this bleeding disorder.  Our son wants to be known for his humor, his intelligence and his hobbies.  His disorder is part of his life, but it certainly doesn't define him as an individual.  Smiley, well liked and helpful are all personal qualities of his that should supersede anything you know about his health status.  If the monster of his hemophilia obscures the view of getting to know the real him, you will miss a remarkable boy indeed.  You might mistakenly label him as scary or fragile or burdensome when in reality, our son is a treasure.

Jesus knew that frustration of being defined by others.  Some had him confused with his baptizing relative.  Others fancied him as a reincarnation of dead prophets.  The Pharisees defined him as a threat and a troublemaker.  And many adored him only for what he could do for them.

Prior to his arrest as described in John 18, Jesus asks his enemies who they are looking for.  When they reply, "Jesus of Nazareth," he takes his opportunity to define himself by replying, "I am he."  "I am" was the name that Yahweh God used to identify himself to Moses from the burning bush.  As he defines himself clearly in the full power of God, his enemies are thrown to the ground by the mere mention of His majestic name.  Jesus reveals who he really is in this exhibit of briefly exposing then subduing his own power to sacrificially give his life in payment for our sins.

Further in to the chaos of Jesus' arrest, he comes before the chief priest and Sanhedrin, where those testifying against him try to falsely portray who he is and what he has said.  Ultimately, after being pushed to speak in his own self- defense, Jesus boldly declares who he is to his detractors:

"Then the Chief Priest said, 'I command you by the authority of the living God to say if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.'
Jesus was curt: 'You yourself said it. And that’s not all. Soon you’ll see it for yourself:
The Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One,
Arriving on the clouds of heaven.'” (Matthew 26:63-64, MSG)

Aghast at Jesus claim to such majesty, the prideful, power-hungry Pharisees sought out his execution.  They clung so tightly to who they wanted to define Jesus as that they refused to accept his own self-revelation.

In this world, our children will be described as -ics or -acs by those who seek to define them first and foremost as the diagnosis they bear.  As their parents, we know better.  We are allowed the treasure of experiencing their true identity every day.  And we know full well that they bear the image of God, that same image that was distorted by those who called for Jesus' crucifixion.

Friends, know who you are, who your children are, in Christ.  Like your Savior, proclaim to the world their true identity against all false labels and descriptions.  Fight to the end and stand firm.  Jesus knows what you fight against, and he will equip you, because he has been there himself.

PRAY:  Lord, our identity lays in You alone, not in some disease or disorder.  Help me to firmly, but politely, stand for my child when others would seek to label, demean or distort.  Thank You for the hope that we are victorious against all misconceptions in You!

~ Barb Dittrich

Monday, March 25, 2013

Behold, He Comes

Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion!
    Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem!
    Look, your king is coming to you!
He comes triumphant and victorious,
    but humble and riding on a donkey—
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
~ Zechariah 9:9, GNT ~ 

I don't know about you, but for me, there is much emotion attached to Holy Week, the 7 days leading up to Easter.  It is hard to get my small human mind around all of the events encountered by a person who is fully God and fully man.  My heart aches as I contemplate a Savior who knowingly faced unjust abuse, betrayal and murder, yet walked straight into it for my sake.

At the beginning of the week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem during Passover week on a donkey.  Crowds cheered Him and waved their national symbol of freedom, palm branches, excited to have him take the throne as prophesied.  The people had the expectation that Jesus would be their king, leading a successful overthrow of cruel Roman rule.  Instead, He came to rule their hearts and spirits, pointing them back to obedience, love and their Creator.  That, in part, is what turned the crowds against Him.

Meditating on that scenario, I have to ask myself several things...

Jesus comes lovingly, in peace, willing to knowingly enter my out-of-control life.  Will I welcome Him as the ruler of my life, my heart?

Are my expectations of Him distorted?   Am I demanding my own way when Jesus has an infinitely better plan than I?

Will I listen to His call to love, obedience and trust in the Father?

Will I turn my back on Jesus, betraying Him when he doesn't meet my convoluted expectations?

Life raising a child with special needs is a messy one.  Having 2 out of my 3 children facing such challenges, it's easy for me to fall into attitudes of self-pity and bitter entitlement.  It's easy to raise my hands in praise when everyone in the house is reasonably healthy, the school is cooperating, and friendship is going well.  But a true lover of Jesus welcomes the humble, peaceful Lord to the throne of their heart, expecting freedom, even when the medical bills are piling up, hospitalization looms and accommodations fail during the school day.

My prayer for you, as for me, is that we would come to know Him so deeply in the slivers of quiet we find that we have no other option than to shout "Hosanna!" and surrender to Christ's reign over every detail of our lives and emotions.

PRAY:  Jesus, you know I am disobedient, chaotic, wounded and you step right into my mess anyway.  The very least I owe You is all of my heart.  Grow me in ever-increasing measure into the type of follower who will always welcome You and submit to You.

~ Barb Dittrich
Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, March 22, 2013

Standing Firm as a Defender as Long as I Live

Defend weak people and orphans. Protect the rights of the oppressed and the poor.
~ Psalm 82:3, GW ~

Every day as I comb through information to share with parents of children with special needs, I am greeted by horrifying headlines like this:





This morning I silently thought to myself as I sadly read such headlines, when will stories like this ever end?  If I am honest with myself, I know the answer is "never".  After all, God tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV), "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?'  We fool ourselves into thinking it could never happen again, to us or to our children.  The depravity of mankind will not leave us until we leave this world.

If we are honest, every mother like me reads such stories thinking, That could have been MY child!  How do I keep this from happening to us?  How can I protect my precious one from such things?

While raising a child with special needs can bring such weariness, we parents must never tire of defending our helpless ones.  This means advocating for them at all times.  Despite feeling weak, we must speak up.  We must trust ourselves rather than letting our children be swept away in the current of either circumstances or what others think should be happening in their lives.  We know them best.  No one cares for them the way we do.

Being a defender of our children includes the following:
  • Reading all we can to educate ourselves on best practices and options for the treatment, schooling, and protection of our children.
  • Being an information hunter, talking to parents and professionals that we trust to see what they have encountered that works.
  • Courteously standing up to insurance companies and government programs that would deny our children the care they need.
  • A willingness to politely, but firmly confront the school when a current situation isn't working or bullying is encountered.
  • A strength to question our doctors and to politely, but firmly press for different treatment options when current protocol is not working.
  • Bravery to lovingly confront our pastors when our child and others like them are not welcomed and included in the Body of Christ.
  • Moving out of our comfort zones to educate and involve ourselves in legislative advocacy that will shape society's treatment of our children and thousands more who are just like them.
These are no small tasks!  This is a huge calling, especially in the context of exhausting daily care.  This requires Holy Spirit power!  Thankfully, that same indescribable power that burst Christ forth from the grave now lives inside each of us who believe.  When we lean in to God, relying fully on Him, asking Him to put the right words in our mouths, praying that He goes before, beside and behind us, there is nothing that will not be achieved for our vulnerable children.

I once had a man pray in a meeting that I was at with another woman of influence, "Thank You, God, for these warrior women to help in this situation."  I was shocked and even empowered by such a prayer.  Yet, I would tell you that it is only the Lord who makes me a warrior, equipping me as I put on the full armor of Christ each day. (see Ephesians 6:10-18)

Should my children grow and leave our home or go home early to meet the Lord, I know that I will remain a soldier as I obey God's call to be a defender of the defenseless. This is an incredible privilege to which each parent like myself is beckoned.  Parents, let us stand firm as defenders in the Lord for as long as we are on this earth!

PRAY:  Father, you have told us in years past to be strong and courageous because you go with us.  I trust that command and promise, especially in being a defender of my child(ren).  Guide me with all wisdom as I serve as your soldier.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sisters Through Sunshine and Storms

Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief]. ~ Romans 12:15, AMP

I spoke with a girlfriend the other day who had just gone through a difficult medical episode with her daughter.  She knew that when the family was finally in the recovery phase, everything would hit her -- the exhaustion, the stress, the sorrow.  Yet, she still had the ability to cope because of the support of a close circle of moms whose children all had a similar diagnosis.

My friend recounted for me that lost, frightened feeling we all feel when our babies are young and newly diagnosed.  She described how helpless it felt until she found these other women, who ultimately became lifetime friends, traveling the same journey.  What a relief those friends are now, so many years later!

Words to describe this type of relationship are hard to grasp; the deep comfort of knowing other parents this way is better described with that glance of experience and a head nod.  I think of all the other parents I have walked this bumpy road with for almost 13 years.  I can still see the moms at the Madison Zoo, fawning over the little "baby hemo", our sweet son, whose life seemed so horrifyingly fragile to us in those first few months.  Some from that original bunch are still the ones I turn to when there is a new episode that I am unfamiliar with.  When I am upset with the doctors, I compare notes with these other moms.  And our shared gallows humor surely gives us buoyancy as we work through our frustrations.

Even closer are the camp moms whom I spend an entire week with each summer.  Not only do we know the diagnoses and battles each of our children bear, but we are familiar with one another's souls.  Spending those years of laughing, crying, learning, getting outside of our comfort zones together, and spending time as a group in God's word makes our bond particularly meaningful.  Some of these fellow sojourners are the first to show up with meals if there is a hospitalization or share candid conversations about faith battles that we all face.  Like our most comfortable worn shoes, there is an unmatchable ease in our interaction.  These friends are instantly close no matter how much time may have kept us apart.

I know that my husband has a few relationships like this as well.  When we go to a hemophilia conference or event, the fathers share a deep understanding of the stress they each face.  But when my husband attends his bi-weekly men's Bible study with other special needs dads, there's an even deeper bond as they each seek to walk with the Lord in the context of their fatherhood.

My heart breaks for the parents who haven't cultivated relationships like this.  God made us to be relational beings, for which I am incredibly grateful.  Yet, I know so many live in isolation because they don't know there are others out there just like them.  Knowing this feeds my passion to serve other parents with love.  I don't know how I would survive one day on this journey without the Lord and the wonderful people He has put into my life.  He strengthens me continually with these blessings.

If you have relationships like this, carefully nurture them, and thank God for them.  If you lack relationships like this, seek them out, and know that the Lord has designed them as His best for you.  We were made, in part, for that warm human connection.  The Holy Spirit surely works through those healthy friendships to edify us through the sunshine and the storms.

PRAY:  Oh, Lord, thank you for Your plan to end our isolation.  You did not make us to journey alone.  Thank you for friendships past, present and yet to come. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

What is Good ≠ What is Easy

They strengthened the believers and encouraged them to remain true to the faith. “We must pass through many troubles to enter the Kingdom of God,” they taught. ~ Acts 14:22, GNT ~

"Good, Better, Best" was the theme of yesterday's sermon at our church.  One of our fabulous pastors, Pastor Dan Morse, led us through the mindset of Solomon as we pondered all the foolish things that we chase after in a lifetime.  He wisely noted that there is nothing wrong with enjoying the good blessings of this life.  He also admonished us to remember that all this good comes from our Maker.  And in the end, he rightly guided listeners to the only true conclusion, that ultimately, only Jesus satisfies.

As I sat and pondered Dan's words, I thought of all the sorrows and trials our family has endured that have painfully taught us the truth of this lesson.  Chasing after anything other than Jesus always fails us.  Yet I wondered why, despite knowing from experience, we as a family fall back into that foolishness of seeking satisfaction in anything other than the Lord.  

When we set our hopes on anything apart from God, we can be certain those hopes will be dashed.  I can cite specific examples of hoping for improved health, but not receiving it; looking forward to our kids finally having a friend to hang onto, only to have that kid quickly disappear from their lives; planning on a vacation that eventually ends up being too short; depending on another person, who can't come through for us.  The list could go on, and on, and on.  And serving thousands of parents raising children with special needs, I know our family is not the only one who confronts such attitudinal challenges. And I think I have the answer to why we humans get stuck.

What is good often does not equal what is easy.  Humans don't like icky.  We don't like inconvenience.  In our foolish brains, good = easy, hard = bad. Unless there is a very valuable, immediate reward to us, we avoid anything short of ease like the plague.

Think about the simple act of giving birth to a child.  There are so many challenges around it.  A mother waits anxiously for 9 long months, endures strange and awful things going on with her body, and labors in pain to bring that baby into this world.  Childbirth is a wonderful thing, with an instant reward at the end, but it certainly isn't easy.  

In fact, if parenthood doesn't have a high value to an individual, it is so painful, that it will be avoided.  This is no less true of other things in our culture -- working hard for a college degree, staying in good physical shape with a disciplined diet and exercise, becoming a good gardener who grows copious and beautiful produce each year are all good things that require some effort.  Still, if a person does not hold those things in high regard, they will never pursue them through adversity. 

Special needs parenting is no different.  The treatments we must subject our children to always seem heartbreaking, but we know it will ultimately provide what is best for our child.  Yet, if we can, many of us delay or avoid these difficulties.  It's easier to be permissive than to have our child on a special diet; it's not convenient to schedule the procedure right now; we deserve to whip out a charge card and spend a little money we don't have.  All of this is so much easier than fighting the battle.  However, I would hazard a guess that most of us regard our children as such treasures that we will ultimately do what is best for them.

Settling for ease just because it is ease is not God's best for us.  We can take encouragement from the Bible.  God's word is replete with stories of those who have gone before us, pursuing the excellence their Maker intends for them, while also pushing through unbelievable hardship.  The Good Book has no shortage of challenge, labor, suffering and exhaustion, yet the faithful pressed on in the strength of the Lord.  

While it may sound crass, as seekers of the Lord's favor, we must "put on our grown-up pants" and set our faces like flint towards doing what is difficult.  Yes, there is an overabundance of it in our lives, but we need to accept that this only leaves more room for God to be glorified when we cooperate with it.  We need to abandon the lie that good = easy.  For there is no doubt, as evidenced by the very cross itself, that much of the very best God has for us can only be obtained by running straight through the heart of the unpleasant, agonizing, and challenging things this world has to offer.

PRAY:  Only by Your strength, Holy Spirit, can I persevere.  Jesus, transform my perspective and my attitude as I seek to look more like You every day.  Thank You for being the only One who can offer true hope and joy.

Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Friday, March 15, 2013

When I Think I'm Going Under

*

When I think I'm going under, part the waters, Lord
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea
When I cry for help, oh, hear me
Lord and hold out Your hand
Touch my life
Still the raging storm in me
~ Part the Waters by Charles F. Brown, 1975 ~

We've all been there.  You and I both know the times when we thought the sea of life's troubles would sweep us right under its raging current.  You might be there right now.  It could be a torrent of medical bills; job loss could be tossing your family about; your child's health concerns may be unrelenting; or like me, you could be enduring one of your child's worst school years ever.

I don't like violent waves.  They are impressive to watch from the safety of a dry, comfortable, enclosed area, but certainly no closer.  Getting bantered about by them accentuates our weakness and naturally brings a fear of not making it out alive.  I choke and flail when these waters are pounding me.  I gasp for life, and I find them so exhausting.

Yet, I know that my lifeguard is the One who walks on water.  With a simple word, He can bring calm.  His rescuing grasp on me is so solid and strong that I never need fear being taken from His hands.  (see John 10:28-29)  What comfort this brings me amidst those wicked waves!  I am blessed to know that though, "all your waves and breakers have swept over me," (Psalm 42:7, NIV) I still have an unshakable hope.  He is there with me.  I don't go alone.  In the end, I will still be found standing.

In those impossible life circumstances that threaten to drown us, God proves anew who He is.  It's times like these when the bank account is empty and home foreclosure seems imminent; when our child's life is at risk and the doctors are baffled; when divorce seems to be the only way out of our frayed and torn marriage; when the school seems to be turning its back on our sad, struggling child; yes, it is at humanly hopeless times like this when the Lord proves the nickname He has awesomely earned in my life, "God of the impossible situation."  

What are you facing now, friend?  Is there anything too big for Him? (see Jeremiah 32:27)  Rest assured that the mighty Creator who spoke the world into existence is with you in those pounding waves and has you by the hand.  He will make himself known to you in these very times if only you look up.  

PRAY:  Jesus, my Rescuer, I cry out to you as I am battered by life's turmoil.  Help me to feel Your comforting grasp today.  Bring to mind all of the times in the past where you have delivered me from impossible circumstances.  And let me rest in the peace of trusting You.

 *Painting:  Our Refuge and Strength by Morgan Weistling

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Grateful Reflection

Praise the Lord, O my soul. And forget none of His acts of kindness.  He forgives all my sins. He heals all my diseases. He saves my life from the grave. He crowns me with loving-kindness and pity. He fills my years with good things and I am made young again like the eagle. ~ Psalm 103:2-5, NLV

A year ago at this time we were in the hospital with our son who was facing a life-threatening bleed in his hip.  The onset of this episode was so mysterious and unexpected that it truly set our family life on its head.  It all began with him simply saying the word, "Ouch," as he got into the car after school on March 12th.  I asked what hurt and he told me his upper thigh had been giving him trouble all day.  Even though I believed I was worrying about nothing, I remembered the triage procedures I was taught when he was first diagnosed.  This was nothing to mess with.  We did range of motion tests when he got home and called the hematologist's office.  They told us to infuse and sent us to the ER.

Once there, he had to be infused again, and had a horrible time cooperating with the thought of another needle poke.  An ultrasound and CT scan confirmed that there was reason for concern.  He was admitted, and two long months of drastically altered life began.

Of all the heart-wrenching things we learned in the process, the most frightening was that this type of bleed was known for being a repeat offender.  In other words, males who get this ileopsoas bleed typically end up having repeated problems with bleeding into this hip area where much blood can be lost.  This results in a great deal of time off of their feet, increased amounts of infusing clotting factor and a generally more stressful life.

We anticipated having a drastically different summer.  We planned on having more trouble come our way within the months after that trauma.  Yet, the trouble never came.  We were spared.

So, here we are, at the one year anniversary, feeling the dread of remembering, while still rejoicing in God's infinite mercy.  Even though we may not be exempt from future trials, we have been given the gift of 12 whole months without another life-threatening trauma.  Only those of us who live under the weight of immense trials can fully appreciate what a gracious gift that is.

We give thanks for the gift of our precious son's life.  Every day is a miracle, and we certainly don't take it for granted.

PRAY:  Thank You, Divine Healer, for granting healing when You see fit.  Thank You for life's contrasts, for the sun shines so much brighter when we've endured long stretches of darkness.
  
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Monday, March 11, 2013

We're All In This Together

So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NCV ~

SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES is the extraordinary compassion of God, carried out by ordinary people... 


Yesterday, we got to see that love on display through the generosity of a couple who offered 10% of all their day's sales to support the ministry.


Volunteers, families we serve, and supporters came together at 3 different Culver's locations in Wisconsin dining out to help fund our cause.


Many brought friends.




Others brought their extra-cute!



We even got to celebrate one parent's birthday (much to her dismay).



From our family to yours, THANK YOU for joining in the support and encouragement!


PRAY:  Lord, life doesn't always turn out the way we would have planned it, but thank you for helping us in ways we couldn't have anticipated either.  Bless all the people who support Your work in this world whether it be financially, through sharing time and talents, or simply dining out to raise funds.  Thank You for the gift of one another.

Don’t forget to vote for SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES in the About.com Readers Choice Awards. You can vote every day until the contest ends March 19th.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Enjoying the Gift of Where We Are


I wonder if you ever get in the same rut with your special needs child as I do.  I keep my nose to the grindstone, concentrating so hard on all of the medical information and decisions that have to be made, that I sometimes forget to look up and enjoy the moment.  After all, I'm in the place that every parent dreads, the doctor's office.  Filled with concerns about my child's health, I realize I am not the only parent of a kid with chronic illness or unique abilities who spends a disproportionate amount of time in these stressful places.  Yet, I am curious, questioning if I am odd in missing the precious moments because I am so stuck in thoughts of, "Will my child be okay?", "How are we going to pay for this surgery?", "How am I going to juggle everyone's schedules around this procedure?", "Gosh, I can't wait to get home!".

It may sound ridiculous, but I know we parents of these remarkable kids are actually given a tremendous gift.  We get more time alone with our offspring than the average parent might.  While that may feel like a burden rather than a gift when we have prolonged periods without a break, we need to remember that these are the same precious people that we lament are growing up too fast.  These are the same babies we prayed would be part of our lives one day.  These are the same ones we would run in front of a train to rescue.  These are the same children who make us laugh, shake our heads and relish the amusement, when we take the time.

Yesterday, I was captive at our local Children's Hospital with the youngest of our "specials" for 2 hours.  Rather than let my angst take me hostage, I relished the time getting to know her and all her quirks even better.  I smiled looking at the mismatched clothes she endlessly insists on wearing.  I listened to her nervous chatter as we waited for the doctor.  I entered into the things that were important to her as we traipsed around the medical complex, getting prepared for her upcoming procedure.  We slowed down enough to notice cool things meant to soothe kids just like her.

I thanked God for every blessing along the way.  I praised Him for the personality He formed in her, which is like no other.  I relished her fawn eyes perfectly arranged on that sprite-like face.  I shared her awe of how a human could create a board that changes color merely because we press our hand on it.  I educated her on how an artist took time with their incredible, God-given talent to paint the amazing plaster horse that captivated her attention.  I was grateful to hold her hand and have competent medical care to help preserve the life of my precious treasure.

Oh, how I need to do this more...  Tell me I'm not the only one.

PRAY:  Lord, may a day never pass by where I don't thank You for the special reward You have blessed me with!

Don’t forget to vote for SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES in the About.com Readers Choice Awards. You can vote every day until the contest ends March 19th.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chchchchchanges!

Everything good comes from God. Every perfect gift is from him. These good gifts come down from the Father who made all the lights in the sky. But God never changes like the shadows from those lights. He is always the same. ~ James 1:17, ERV, Emphasis mine ~


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. ~ Hebrews 13:8, NIV

Ask any expert on children with special needs, and you're certain to learn that kids of virtually any diagnosis thrive on structure and routine.  Whether it be a cognitive, emotional or physical challenge, the comfort and security of stability often provides a solid floor under our children's wobbly lives.  Control is gained over their out-of-control circumstances when they can have some amount of predictability to their schedules.

Ah, but we parents know the sad truth that life is continually changing.  It seems that just when we get into a manageable, comfortable groove, some sort of transition comes to upset the apple cart.  This requires adjustments and adaptations, frequently from very frightened young people.  That fright or upset can be expressed in some unusual ways.  Aside from the usual child anxiety of trying to get accustomed to perhaps a new teacher or new friends, our kids face the additional stress of new sensory input to adjust to, new medications and different therapists.  This can really overwhelm a child, ruining sleep, causing bad behaviors and even resulting in depression.  

Needless to say, adjustments take time.  Wisdom dictates that we parents help our children through these many changes by taking some extra measures.  Preparing our children farther in advance, describing the new change that will take place, even simulating or practicing the change are all parental best practices for helping our precious kids through transitions.  Assuring that there are some familiar anchors to cling to in the transition, such as a favorite fidget, a familiar friend, a cherished activity or a trusted adult can all be helpful as well.

While all of these measures are prudent, the greatest stability and anchor we can give to our offspring is that which is found in their Maker.  Speaking the words of life that insure the Father's stable nature is essential for our kids well-being .  Writing the truth that the unchanging God goes with them into every circumstance gives our children a reassurance that will outlast us as parents.  No matter what their cognitive level, teaching our sons and daughters that the Lord is the One on whom they can always rely is life-changing.  We can know the effect of teaching our kids the Bible's promises for certain because God tells us with certainty that His word will not return to Him without accomplishing the purpose for which it was sent out.  (see Isaiah 55:11)

Personally, I pray aloud over and with my children.  We pray Scripture and God's promises on the way to school in the car.  When I do so, there seems to be this filling and strengthening of the kids for anything they are facing.  I can literally see it in their countenance.  And I have been blessed to hear at least one of them articulating this awakening sense that Jesus has Himself wrapped around them in the chaos.

Friend, pour this wisdom into your children along with me.  They face way too many changes and transitions in their young lives.  Equip them with the assurance that He who is the same yesterday, today and forever goes before them, beside them and behind them in every single situation they face.  That is a solid foundation that will never shift under their feet.

PRAY:  Holy God, thank You for who You are!  I praise You that no matter what swirls around us, You are dependable, reliable, always present.  Guide me as I impart this truth to my child.  Comfort my precious one with the knowledge that though changes come, You never change. 
Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Don’t forget to vote for SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES in the About.com Readers Choice Awards. You can vote every day until the contest ends March 19th. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Are You Watching?

Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only LordLove the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Always remember these commands I give you today. Teach them to your children, and talk about them when you sit at home and walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them down and tie them to your hands as a sign. Tie them on your forehead to remind you, and write them on your doors and gates. ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NCV

Our kids learn in different ways.  Some are auditory learners; some visual learners; some kinesthetic learners.  Adding special needs to the mix can seriously complicate that learning process.  This is even more the case when we are attempting to teach our kids abstract concepts like faith and spirituality.

I am grateful that actress Roma Downey and her producer husband, Mark Burnett decided to put their faith into action by bringing The Bible mini-series into our homes via The History Channel.  This is one more tool to reinforce what our kids are learning through Bible reading, Sunday School, AWANA, CCD or other Christian formation.  

Last night, we viewed the first episode as a family, cuddling together and eating popcorn.  The experience in our home was a meaningful one.  For starters, the story line, which begins with Noah recounting the creation story and fall of humanity, moved at a pace riveting enough for our youngest with severe ADHD.  The cinematography was so remarkable, that it truly helped God's word come alive for our kids.  It was fun to watch the light bulb go on a couple of times as our neuro-typical 16-year-old connected the dots with some things in Scripture that she had learned before, but that had never previously made sense to her.  Of course, our youngest had plenty of questions.  Because we had the luxury of viewing this as a family in our own home, we could spend time during the commercial breaks addressing all of her inquiries. For us, the best part of using The Bible series as a tool  was that it spawned plenty of discussion -- between us and amongst the kids.  

There was no questioning that the common thread throughout each Bible story portrayed was God's faithfulness.  He was faithful with Noah and His family.  He rescued Lot.  He fulfilled His promises to Abraham.  And He delivered His people through Moses.  Seeing this all visually portrayed in vivid and action-packed ways helped reinforce with our children the lessons that we must trust in God's timing, provision and power to rescue.

As this week's episode concluded, we were left in awe of our Mighty God, thirsty for more.  And isn't that what the Bible evokes in us, when traditionally read with understanding?  The Bible Series is a venue for the Lord to ignite the passion for knowing Him, and for that, I am tremendously grateful.

The History Channel is making available additional media to enhance this opportunity of growing in relationship with our Maker.  For adults, there is the 30-Day Experience DVD Study & Guidebook, allowing small group engagement.  Individual study can be deepened with A Story of God and All of Us Reflections.  This devotional style book includes photos from the movie, a brief passage from Scripture, a personal narrative by Roma Downey and/or Mark Burnett, and a short prayer.  Recommended for kids with a cognition of 8 and up is A Story of God and All of Us for Young Readers.  This narrative follows the exact script of the movie with a photo section of movie clips.  Of course, if you are not able to view the series when it is aired or wish to have a permanent copy of it, you may purchase on DVD.  Rounding out the complimentary media, A Story of God and All of Us gives Bible highlights in a narrative that reads like a novel.  All of these items are intended to spark more interest in God's word, not replace it.

We look forward to the weeks ahead, and pray that this will be an impactful season that our family remembers the rest of their lives.  What a blessing to know that the Maker of the Universe, the ultimate Author of History is glad to make Himself known when we earnestly seek Him!

PRAY:  Father, thank You for any additional tools that You provide for us, helping us to obey Your commands in Deuteronomy 6.  Give us wisdom as we attempt to grow our children in love and knowledge of You.  Grow us, ourselves in intimacy with You, the Lover of our souls, so that we may impart what we have learned to the young lives You have entrusted to our care.  We put our trust in You, Almighty God.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weekend? What Weekend?

I have no peace or rest—
    only troubles and worries.
~ Job 3:26 ~

TGIF!  How many times have we heard that cheer of relief as the work week comes to a close?  Fridays usually hold the promise of time off from the daily activity of intense labor.  Refreshment is just hours away as the weekend approaches.   That may mean dinner out, a fun activity with the family, relaxing with sports or reading a book.  Sunday offers the spiritual renewal of community worship to fill us up for another week ahead.

Yet, for many parents living with the challenge of raising a child who has special needs, the weekend is stripped of this simple joy.  It may mean upset in the household because of the typical daily routine.  Often, it can mean trying to get our heads above water by catching up on the reams of paperwork that need to be completed for a child or other looming duties we have put off.  At the very least, the weekend means that parents of kids with special needs are required to be more "on duty" and not less.

Sadly, with how many churches are still unaccommodating and unwelcoming, families with a child who has a diagnosis often don't get to fill their spiritual cup on the weekend either, not to mention their precious kids.  Instead, a frightening number of churches remain either condemning or apathetic about inclusion.  This means that these parents at their children never have someone investing in them, pointing their eyes to the Hope that supersedes all of their challenges.

Despite all of these obstacles to enjoying weekends, those of us raising a child with unique abilities can still redeem that time.  How?  We must be intentional.  While it may sound crazy, we know that so many of our children, no matter what their diagnosis, thrive on routine or structure.  Even if you must do so by sitting in a bathroom with pen and paper, carve out a little time to plan ahead as to what a good weekend might look like for your family.  Could you plan something to keep your child busy long enough to give you one extra hour of refreshing sleep?  What about planning a family art project or game night?  Have you searched out available free respite within a given radius of your home that you might be able to use for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday?  Might you store up some freezer meals that you could pull out on a weekend, so you don't have to be a slave to the kitchen over the weekend?  These are just a few of the ideas you might explore to make your weekend better.

Of course, church attendance is something we need to be intentional about as well.  While it does require some effort on our parts, with all of the ministries and resources now available to help families and local churches, there should be no excuse why a family cannot get connected.  If your church would like to develop a special class to meet kids' cognitive needs, there are several turn-key curricula available in multiple religious denominations to make that a reality.  If your church would like to become more inclusive, there are several excellent ministries that will come and train the church leadership to bring that to fruition.  Churches may simply need the prompting from parents to do such things.  Can't find any church that will cooperate in your area?  There are actually several churches across the nation that do live services on the internet where you can log in and be personally welcomed to the Sunday celebration.  Even more churches have podcasts that can be accessed to observe some family worship time together when live attendance is not an option.    No matter what the choice, being deliberate about seeking out the refreshment of corporate worship is something that God makes a point of elevating in His word:  "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)  He knows that this weekly pursuit will encourage and refresh us.

Parents, whether you are raising a child with special needs or know someone who is, be mindful of weekends.  When the Creator formed the galaxies, He set us an example by observing a set time of rest.  We are called to do no less, and to assure that others walking this journey have the opportunity to do so as well.

PRAY:  Creator God, I have bought into the lies of today's culture demanding that I do ever more work without stopping.  I see others relax, and I get so jealous.  Remind me to rest, and guide me with creating an intentionally rejuvenating weekend for myself and my family.  We need your restoration.
Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Don’t forget to vote for SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES in the About.com Readers Choice Awards. You can vote every day until the contest ends March 19th.