Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Magnolia Leaves and Good Neighbors

Magnolia grandiflora by Andrew Butko via Wikimedia commons

For your name’s sake O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11 NRSV)

If I knew magnolias were so messy I probably would not have planted them.  We moved to Texas twenty years ago into a new construction neighborhood.  The front yard was put in by the builder, the barren back yard became a mud pit with the pounding thunderstorms virtually every afternoon.  Add a four year-old who saw no issue with red Texas clay and new carpet… we needed some landscaping, stat! 

Living in the south for the first time I made a snap decision that we needed magnolias. I loved the movie Steel Magnolias, the strength of the women, the way they kept going in the worst of times, the way they could rely on each other. Magnolias are the trees of the south. Magnolias on the fence line would be perfect!  Right after we got the yard put in a neighbor down the street commented that her husband wouldn’t let her have magnolias, “They are so messy.”


Thus began the guilt.

The leaves fall year round.  Really?  When they get stressed in the heat they REALLY fall.  Drought? They throw a pouty, hissy-fit of leaves all over the place paying no attention to which side of the fence whatsoever. On our lawn or in the neighbor’s pool, those trees don’t care. 

But I sure did. 

I could clean up after messy trees in my own back yard, but it’s not like I could hop the fence and toss our leaves back over to our side.  Well, not unless it was the dead of night with a waning moon. Don’t ask me how I know this.

After twenty years those trees are really big now, dropping trashcans full of leaves at a time. Guilt by the bagful. I sometimes contemplate baking cookies for the neighbors as a sign of repentance. Then I get busy and the cookies never quite make it to the oven. I have even felt guilty about that!

New neighbors moved in two years ago.  We met over the back fence one afternoon. I apologized profusely about our trees.  “Let me know if they are a problem or if you need branches trimmed back. I’m so sorry they’re so messy…”

A gracious smile stopped by tumble of word. “We love your trees.  They are beautiful. We wouldn’t have a bit of shade in the evening without them. Just look at all the blooms about to come.”

Blooms? What blooms?  The guilt for messing up their yard took away the beauty of the blooms.

Funny how guilt is so insidious, yet serves no purpose. We beat ourselves up for things that matter little to others. We withhold forgiveness for ourselves when others offer it freely.

Special needs parenting can come with a heaping plate of guilt for so many things. Guilt for birth differences, lack of access to therapy and medications, lack of time for family and friends, short-changing siblings who get a smaller share of everything, to name a few. Does any of that guilt serve a purpose? Does it help in anyway?  Or does it just make the load heavier?  Do you work through it to a place of forgiveness just to find a few days later that you’ve picked it back up again?

Our lives are messy, like those trees.  So what? We grow stronger through the years, blessing others in ways we do not even see. We too have beautiful blooms. Do we take the time to recognize them for ourselves?

Whatever guilt it is that you carry, God is bigger. God forgives, wiping clean the slate for a fresh start. Allow yourself to live into that gift by giving over to God your guilt and taking back a life free of self-condemnation.

My prayer for you today, enjoy the blooms!

Monday, September 29, 2014

More Than Meets The Eye

He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
~ Daniel 2:22, NLT ~ 

Take a good long look at this picture above from our church Fall Festival yesterday.  Can you tell which one of these beautiful little girls has a disability? 

How about this picture?  Can you tell which child has special needs?

What about this one?  Can you tell which of these teenagers has a chronic illness or special need?

The fact is that the vast majority of parents our ministry serves are raising children whose diagnoses simply cannot be seen with the naked eye, even if only part of the time.  Some of the children in these pictures are dealing with diagnoses like anxiety disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, RAD, PTSD, spina bifida, and hemophilia.  Behaviors can sometimes reveal that something is not quite right, while other times medical emergencies might expose the situation.  Still, most of the time these kids are just like any other.

Which is pretty cool...  Except when we parents come up against difficulties because of it.

One of the more challenging parts is one we talk about frequently -- having our parenting skills judged by others.  Humans are SUCH visual creatures.  Unless we have walked a mile in someone else's shoes, we often can't see that the behavioral outburst a child may be having is due to a sensory processing issue or medically induced PTSD.  What some perceive as poor discipline on a parent's part is really just an autism spectrum meltdown that is a regular part of life for a weary family.  Our families need TLC, compassion, and support, not judgment.

Another challenging part is that people fail to lend a helping hand because everything looks so "normal".  They don't see how exhausting it can be living with someone who has ADHD, needing constant redirection.  They don't see the medical battles fought with chronic illness behind closed doors.  They don't feel our angst at the never-ending parade of medical bills.  And because they don't see, they forget to help, they forget to volunteer for organizations like ours, they are under the false assumption that our problems are suddenly resolved.

It can all be so frustrating.  Why can't we get the help we need and eliminate the false accusations we don't need?

But then there is the One who sees all.  Even those things hidden in complete darkness do not escape His view.  His heart is filled with the love and compassion we so desperately seek.  We can flee to Him with our frustrations, and He hears us.  He knows the truth about our struggles with our kids because He IS the Truth.

What I find comforting about today's verse is the fact that "He reveals deep and mysterious things..".  This tells me that I need not obsess about the injustice of being unfairly judged or ignored in times of need.  He will vindicate me.  It will all eventually be exposed.  The foolish will be shown their foolishness.

There's so much we encounter that doesn't meet the naked eye.  If only people in a crowd of kids knew that as many as 16% of those standing there likely have some sort of "developmental disability", perhaps they would more positively treat and serve everyone around them.

And yet, we can delight in God's great grace.  Our kids can find their place in life to fit in, while we are still blessed by a Maker who cares about our every need.  That turns the frustrating into glorious. 

PRAY:  Maker of heaven and earth, nothing escapes Your view.  Thank You that You are the Truth, Jesus.  We can rest in the assurance that You know everything going on with our children, regardless of outward appearances.  Help us to remember that there's always more than meets the eye, and to treat others as we wish to be treated.

~ Barb Dittrich

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Are You Serious" Awards - Volume XXXIV: The Fool Me Twice Edition

Let this be a cautionary tale to you...

Many of our kids, no matter what the label, have a multitude of diagnoses.  This means that our kids have more than one medical or social challenge that they need to give attention.  It's hard enough for adults to juggle a variety of treatments.  Harder still for our children!

As I always tell my kids, "It's my job to train myself out of a job."  In other words, our lives as parents include day after day of instructing of our children in self-care.  

What our instructions look like completely depends upon our child's ability to translate what we are showing them into activity.  For some kids learning to brush teeth comes as early as age 2, and others beyond the age of 18.  Growing to manage their own diagnoses is an important journey for our children with chronic illnesses or special needs.  It may be as simple as developing the wisdom to use noise-cancelling head phones when a sensory overload situation occurs.  It may be as complex as learning when their own blood sugar is too low.

That being said, I have to say that you must be prepared for some setbacks.

My youngest child has a multitude of allergies, some of which could end her life in the blink of an eye.  Since she first began encountering the worst of these allergies at the age of 18 months, this is an awareness that we have developed in her from little on.  Her eyes will nearly bulge out of her head at the mere mention of penicillin, as her rare erythema multiforme reaction was caused by that drug.  She can tell you that she can't eat pineapple or that other triggers make her miserable.

Still, she forgets.

Yesterday, was one of those days.  As I saw the dreaded school district phone number on the Caller ID, my heart sank.  It was my daughter, announcing to me that her grass allergy had slipped her mind, and she had broken out in a reactive rash after playing in the grass with her friends at recess.  I promptly zipped over to the school with Benadryl to treat her.  Thankfully, when I arrived, the rash was not as bad as I had anticipated.  Last year, when she had forgotten the same allergy, she rolled down a giant hill behind the school while she was out with her photography club.  That had resulted in a horrible, angry rash from head to toe.  This time, however, only required a dose of medicine, and she was back to class.

Problem solved, right?

Oh, no!  Life can never be that simple.  Once again, last night, she forgot about her earlier misery and took refuge in the grass while playing "ghosts in the graveyard" with the neighbor kids.  She came inside more covered in rash and experiencing greater discomfort.

  Are you SERIOUS?!

I promptly dosed her once again with Benadryl, but this time threw her in a bath with baking soda and lavender essential oil.  I obviously have more training to do.

While we don't want to scare our children unnecessarily, may I mention that there are terrific FREE resources on YouTube from authorities that are great teaching tools like this...

From experts like Mayo Clinic and Web MD to diagnosis specific groups like The Juvenile Arthritis Foundation and The National Autism Association, parents can find useful videos on everything from social skills to how to handle a seizure via YouTube.

Remember that our kids live in the era of technology.  Video tools like this can convey serious lessons that our kids simply do not absorb by listening to their parents or the doctor.  Appealing to both their visual and auditory senses at the same time, this type of tool is more likely to help children retain important instructions.

Sometimes, in learning to manage their own diagnoses, our children let things get worse before they get better.  When our son was first learning to administer his own IV's of clotting factor, it would sometimes take a painful bleed for him to understand the importance of not missing a scheduled infusion.  These times can be extremely stressful for us as parents because we realize that critical situations don't always afford us a do-over.  The best we can do is to pray for God's protection over our precious kids and continue to use every tool available to teach them the serious nature of their own personal medical care. 

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, September 26, 2014

When Anxiety Conflicts with Routine - An Asperger's Journey

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
Living in a home with a child who has Asperger's disorder makes us very aware of how important routine can be. Due to this fact, we try very hard to maintain a pretty predictable routine. However, certain anxieties get in the way of those schedules sometimes. 

One of the hardest things at this point in our journey is dealing with the obsessions. The obsessions of Asperger's are positive and negative ones. The positive obsessions revolve around a like or desire of some kind like Lego's or Lord of the Ring's. The negative obsessions revolve around anxieties. Both ends of this spectrum of obsession seem to consume my sweet child's thoughts daily. It must be 
exhausting for her.

Back to our family routine; We decided that Friday nights would be pizza and movie or game night together. This could be a fun thing for kids who thrive on schedules but in our house it causes yet another problem. You see, my sweet aspie child currently has a strong fear of throw up. Any sound, smell, reference to, or act of throw up or gagging causes her great discomfort. 

What does this have to do with a movie night? Well, because of this phobia, we have paid attention to many movies and shows and a large number of them include some sort of gagging or throw up. Isn't that crazy?! Because of this, my sweet girl has much anxiety during family movie night. 

The above picture is a contract that my girl wrote out in order for us to get her to watch the family chosen movie. She holds the controller so she can pause it if she thinks this may happen and watches along according to the contract. It is a strange part of our family but it gets her watching with us and is helping her conquer her fear. 

I know anxiety is often just a part of Asperger's disorder for many people, yet I also believe this Scripture posted at the beginning. When we are with Christ there will be no more fear, no sin, no shame. Until that day when all things are complete I plead this verse in prayer for her very life. I pray her mind will be sound as to not fear anything because Christ's perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I pray that she will cast all her anxiety on Him because He cares for her (1 Peter 5:7). One day when we are with HIM, all this anxiety will cease.

This is a good verse to continually pray because fears always come, prior to this present fear obsession it was the fear of storms. Fears come and go but the Lord remains with us forever and there is nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35). I don't understand why she has to go through these hard things here and now but I do know I can trust the One who loves her more than anyone else. He will never leave or forsake her (Hebrews 13:5).

No matter what you are going through on your special needs journey we must remind ourselves of these truths that God is for us and our child (Romans 8:31), and he is good, He is in control, and He will never leave us or forsake us because of His great love.

Prayer:  Father help us rest in your love. Help us to know and see you as enough. Help us to cast our anxiety on You. Help us to best help our children in their times of need. Help us to stay focused on your unstoppable, unshakable love for us. IN Jesus Name. Amen.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why Was I Even BORN???

Photo Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net
Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man
    who brought the news to my father, saying,
“A child is born to you, a son,”
    making him very glad. 
 Let that man be like the cities
    that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
    and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
    so my mother would have been my grave,
    and her womb forever great.
Why did I come forth from the womb
    to see toil and sorrow,
    and spend my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:14-18 NRSV

Have you ever had days like Jeremiah and felt that way?  Have you ever wished you could just crawl right back into bed and cease to exist because you were weary and heavily burdened with all you had going on in your life?  Have you ever had someone say to you, "Come on, cheer up and be thankful for all that God has given you?"  

I know I have~and this past Sunday, when I was at church and listening to Chris Brown speak on prayer, and how God wants us to pray, the Holy Spirit put this message that I'm about to write on my heart.

God wants to hear from you...

God wants to hear about your fear like how Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion.  He prayed against God's will...Jesus, the Savior of the World asked God to "take this cup from me" Luke 22:42.  Have you ever prayed the same?  

God, I can't do this...I'm not strong enough!  I can't have a child with cancer, don't you know me?   I can't deal with a rare disease, I can hardly handle the ones that are well-known!  WHY WAS I EVEN BORN?

The great prophet Elijah, convinced that he was a failure, wanted God to kill him:
He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  1 Kings 19:4 NRSV
Jeremiah, Elijah,...and others like Moses and Jonah...and JESUS...they all prayed against God's design at one point or another.  And, if God is the author of the Bible, if his breath inspired all of this to be written as a love letter to us; then God sees greatness, or at least great inspiration in the weakness of others here on earth.

God wanted THAT printed.  God wanted to show us how he takes flawed men and builds them up.  God wanted to show us how he "qualifies the called" and doesn't "call the qualified."  God wanted to show us what PRAYER looks like, sounds like, and CAN do...

So, when you need to, cry out...lament, implore, prostrate, weep...and then listen.  Listen for his direction, listen for his peace, and listen for his blessings.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for loving all of us as imperfect as we are.  Thank you for being our confidant in whom we can entrust our greatest defeats and our biggest fears.  Thank you for printing the prayers of distress as well as the prayers of praise.  Your love letter to us is perfect.  Amen

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Ghost in Our Church Basement

You will keep in perfect peace

    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Isaiah 26:3 NLT

Rumor has it there's a ghost in our church basement. Her name is Mrs. Bottoms, and the story goes that she haunts the sacred halls under the sanctuary (in the area where the Senior Adults now hold Sunday school classes) because the church didn't use the money she left to it for the purpose she designated. 

Corny, right? I agree. But there are a few dozen children who, despite how ridiculous the story is and how many times they've been told differently, scare themselves and each other out of their wits when they are given the opportunity to run around down there to play hide-and-seek. 

It starts upstairs. The kids will get excited about getting to play downstairs while most of the adults are in a meeting (they're always supervised by someone in our children's ministry), and someone will bring up Mrs. Bottoms. The ones who haven't heard the story before listen intently, others share spooky experiences they've had, and even the children who know the truth, who have been told by parents and church leaders alike that there's nothing down there, who know the story is silly, will find themselves caught up in the tale. Nervous giggles abound, and then, thoughts full of ghosts, they go to the basement to play hide-and-seek. Some children make spooky noises, trying to frighten the others. And it works. Why?

They can't stop thinking about the ghost.

Because their thoughts are full of the wrong things, they are tricked into believing things that aren't true when they're down in that basement. It's so silly, and I find myself getting exasperated sometimes when my daughter comes to me, finding it difficult to sleep because she keeps thinking of Mrs. Bottoms, and we go through the whole story again. She laughs and admits she knows it's not true, but she's still scared because she's still thinking about ghosts. Only when she chooses to focus on the truth can she calm down enough to sleep.

Then I realize that I do the same thing. When I get anxious and fearful about the future, about finances, about my child failing to make progress in a certain area, about job situations, about stories in the news, that's the adult equivalent of thinking about ghosts. When I'm consumed with fear and anxiety, it's because my thinking isn't fixed on God and the truth in His Word. I can only have peace when I'm focused on Him, trusting Him to be with me each step of the way.

PRAY:  Father, please help us to stay focused on You. Despite how hard things are and how hard they may get, please help us to know that our help, our safety, our provision, our joy, our peace, and every good thing in our lives comes always and only from You. Amen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Planting a Spiritual Garden

A young mom raising three kids was going through a hot, dry Texas summer.  The garden was wilting, grass withering to dry, brown patches.  She moved the garden hose around to the backyard, filling a small wading pool for her kids to play in. She meant to reconnect the hose to the spigot out front where it belonged, but instead left it in a heap in the back yard. She’d get to it later when things weren’t so busy. There were so many other things that were more important.

One day she looked out the front window to see that the dry front lawn had caught fire, probably from a cigarette butt tossed out a car window.  She ran to the spigot she had forgotten. No hose!  She ran to the back yard, dragging the hose around.  It was a tangled mess, full of kinks and knots.  She ran back to get her children’s sand castle buckets abandoned by the wading pool.  Racing back and forth from the spigot to the front lawn, she tried to put out the fire, one child-sized bucketful at a time.

This is the kind of story Jesus used for teaching. It’s a parable.  The life-saving water is God.  The hose is our connection to God that comes through developing an intentional relationship. The fire is whatever crisis is waiting in the future. 

Have you ever disconnected your hose? Left it in a tangled mess? I know I have. Life gets busy.  I mean to read scripture. I mean to schedule a prayer retreat. I mean to… well, a lot of things. Just like physical and emotional self-care from my earlier blogs, spiritual self-care takes intentional nurture.

Spiritual self-care is intentional focus of time and energy on your relationship with God. Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and a leading expert on spiritual self-care, offers the following suggestions as ways you can enrich your spiritual life.

·       Internal Disciplines. These disciplines focus on your spiritual life through internal reflection.
o   Prayer
o   Meditation
o   Study of scripture
o   Journaling
o   Silence/listening
o   Fasting – not only from food, but from distractions such as television.

·       Outward Disciplines. These disciplines are lived out in personal actions and outward expressions.
o   Solitude – set aside time to be apart from others to focus on God
o   Simplicity – embrace a practice of “enough” and let go of wanting more
o   Submission – follow where God leads

·       Corporate Disciplines. These disciplines are lived out with others
o   Worship – regularly participate in worship, including the sacraments
o   Service – being God’s hands and feet in the world in help to others
o   Community – engage as part of a Christian community where you can share your talents with others, as well as be supported

There are many additional options.  Look at this list and think about what already works for you. Celebrate those! Well done! Look for what interests you as something you would like to do and make a plan to try it.  For me, silence is a great discipline.  My life used to be filled with noise. The TV always on, or the radio, some distraction constantly in the background. One year for Lent I gave up those distractions. I took a fast from noise and found the gift of silence.  I liked it so much that I didn’t turn on the radio in my car for a decade. Whenever I decide to watch TV I need a quick lesson from my son or husband about how to use the remotes (why do we have to have so many and why do they need so many buttons?)

Solitude is also a great discipline for me. I’m an extravert. I love being around people, but at times I crave being alone.  Right now I have the house to myself for four days, a rare gift. I will be a total hermit. Just me and the cat, writing away on my book and blogs, thinking of scripture and seeking connections that offer hope to parents. Even in my solitude I found space for another discipline, worship.  I joined Key Ministry Front Door Online worship.  I was blessed by the message and connection with others for an hour, but now I return to my gift of solitude and prayer for parents.

Where I work there is a serenity prayer garden.  It has five flowing fountains and a labyrinth gravel path that winds its way through an arbor of wisteria. I try to spend at least a few minutes there each day. On a glass water wall there is this hymn:
I come to the garden alone
            while the dew is still on the roses,
            and the voice I hear falling on my ear,
            the Son of God discloses.
 And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
            and he tells me I am his own;
            and the joy we share as we tary there,
                        none other has ever known.

My prayer for you is that you find what nurtures your spiritual garden and be filled with the peace of Christ. Amen.

~Lorna Bradley

"Serenity Prayer Garden" by Lorna Bradley

Monday, September 22, 2014

When God's Answer Is "No"

Even though the fig trees are all destroyed, and there is neither blossom left nor fruit; though the olive crops all fail, and the fields lie barren; even if the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be happy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; he will give me the speed of a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.
~ Habakkuk 3:17-19, TLB ~

 Even though He would kill me, yet I will trust in Him. I will argue my ways to His face.
~ Job 13:15, NLV ~

There is so much hard truth that comes along with the life of special needs or chronic illness.  

We wrestle, sometimes relentlessly, with heavy, sorrowful questions.  "Why, Lord?"  "When will this get better?"  "Will You please grant us a miraculous healing, God?"  

As Jesus followers, we are encouraged to be a people of prayer.  Intimate conversation with our Maker, with the Son, with the Advocate, weaves our life together with the One to whom that life ultimately belongs.  The Lord Himself taught us to bring our concerns to Him with determination in the Parable of the Persistent Widow.  (See Luke 18:1-6)  And so we do.  Time and time again we bring these difficult challenges to God.

Where I see us hit a wall with the most regularity as Christians is when we need to confront the hardest of life's hard truths -- Sometimes God's answer is "No".  "No, your child will not be healed this side of heaven."  "No, your marriage will not get better, despite doing all the right things."  "No, the foreclosure on your house will not be put to a stop."  "No, the school will not ever cooperate with your child's IEP the way you desire."

What do we do with that?  Immediately, almost reflexively, we seem to default to the indignation of wondering how a loving God can deny us such basic things.  After all, we're not asking for the world here.

Even in Christian circles, we try to fix things.  We shoot out quick answers to repair the problems of others rather than just offering support and a listening ear.  We grow tired of one another's trials when God says, "No, this is not going to get better this side of heaven."  Though unintended, the implication from other church-goers is often, "Well, you must be doing something wrong if this persists."  Or there is this mindset that if we do all the right things, go to the right seminars, read the right books, pray, read our Bibles, go to a counselor, confess our sin, our problems will resolve.  

Except they don't.  "No" is still God's answer.  

As believers, we almost refuse to go there.  It brings us way too much fear to admit that despite walking uprightly before the Lord, the deep suffering in this life may never end for some until heaven.

My daughter and I were discussing a never-ending darkness that hangs over our family.  I told her of an article I had recently run across by Pastor Ron Edmonson entitled, "21 Reasons God May Allow More Than You Can Bear".  Her eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she shouted, "Send me that article!"  Being the oldest of our children, she has always seemed wise beyond her years, leading her to lament more heavily over our circumstances.

"Remember when you told me that I won't understand some of the pain you bear until I get older, Mom?  Well, I'm beginning to understand, and I'm sorry."

I reassured her that despite the circumstances, I continue to press on and press into God.

"Ultimately, we have to decide if God is still good even if his answer to us is 'No'.  And I am here to tell you resoundingly, 'Yes!  YES! He IS good!'"

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she fell into a knowing, protective maternal embrace.

Right now our ministry is serving at least 2 sets of parents who have their children in hospice.  Every day they draw closer to a too-soon graduation to heaven.  I know God is good because I see the glory of His glow in the faces of these parents despite their deep, deep grief.

I know He is good because, despite the financial deliverance never coming for so many families we serve, God still provides.  Laughter is still to be found amidst the crushing weight of mounting medical bills and waning income.  

I know God is still good because even if my children suffer in the most horrible of ways, He knows the path I walk.  His Son suffered society's bullying, religion's rejection, and power's persecution.  He suffered excruciating torture, humiliation and injustice.  All of this to give us eternal hope.

St Paul shares his encounter with the hard truth of God's "No" in his second letter to the Church at Corinth:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NIV)

God has proven Himself trustworthy again and again.  I also know full well that there is so much in this world that is unseen.  Although agony may remain a constant, unwelcome house guest, I can be at peace knowing that even when I receive the difficult "No" that I don't want to hear, that in my humanity I would perceive as unjust, I can still rest in trusting that He knows better than I.  He loves me.  Anything persistently painful that He sees fit to allow, I can know is for my good and for His glory. 

PRAY:  Jesus, only by Your resurrection strength can I delight in my persistent hardships.  Draw me closer to You.  I can't do this by my own character.  Holy Spirit work in me and through me, so I may declare the goodness of God, even when His answer is "No".

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Return, O My Soul, to Your Rest

  "Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you." (Psalm 116:5-7 ESV)

I love Advent and Christmas, and the turning of the year, but there seems always a difficult season to be traversed ahead of the celebration, ahead of hope. Early fall and its cold winds usher in for me a sense of melancholy and loss. I know it is coming, yet each year it finds me less prepared. This year it has come early, and I’ve donned despair like a mantilla.

Despite the many blessings of the year, despite answered prayers and evidences of His grace, my heart gravitates toward regret and fear: My son on the spectrum turns 15 in a few weeks. How will I help him transition to adulthood without adequate supports? My eldest has left for college. Have I prepared him well? Will he be safe away from our protection? Pressure and anxiety secretly fill me as I discuss the new school year with fellow home educators.  Even the fruition of a long-desired missions opportunity has had me in distress.

It seems my bent to be filled with heart cares. But just as surely as sorrow threatens to consume me once again, the Lord lifts me up and out, and restores me to my right mind.

When the weary, seeking rest,
To Thy goodness flee;
When the heavy-laden cast
All their load on Thee;
When the troubled, seeking peace,
On Thy Name shall call;
When the sinner, seeking life,
At Thy feet shall fall:
Hear then in love, O Lord, the cry
In heaven, Thy dwelling-place on high.

As I step away from all that demands my attention, and read and pray through Psalms and the Gospels, hymns and devotional writings, I am reminded of a rest already secured on my behalf—the Lord has already dealt bountifully with me. Rest is the natural state of the believer. Even in the midst of pressures and very real challenges, the Lord can be a refuge to the soul. He is our source of rest. To return to rest is to resist the seduction of worry and irritability, and to consciously quiet one’s own soul with truth. It is to repent of sinful worry and self-sufficiency, and to return to worship.

Pray:  Lord, pressures can seem unrelenting as we raise children with special needs.  The temptation to despair or to be fearful is always with us. We need your wisdom, comfort, and peace. Thank you that in the midst of our cares we can rest in you. Teach us, Lord, to bless your name at all times, and in all seasons, for you save the crushed in spirit.  You are our refuge.  Amen