Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude

Photo image courtesy of Petar Paunchev via

There truly is something to be said about the complexity of our demeanors; dictated by our emotions and circumstances, our attitudes can redefine who we are and what our values are on a given day. Without the right ones, we’re unpleasant, bitter, full of ourselves, needy, and any other slew synonyms our cohorts can come up with to condemn our poor behavior. Our attitudes can immediately alter how others feel about us, which leaves to be said that such an important piece of ourselves should probably be under our own stronghold, not the fluidity of the world’s.
So now we have a simple solution: take control of your attitude and you can take control of your life. Pretty easy, right?
Wrong: it’s completely incorrect, and all of you have learned that firsthand!
Our attitudes tend to be wildly influenced by what the world has to dish out at us.  Wake up late on an important work day, you label it a bad omen and act as though the rest of your day will be just as miserable.  You find you don’t have the money to pay the gas bill for the old minivan, your attitude becomes irrational, and you assume you won’t be able to travel anywhere for the next six months. Your child is suddenly admitted to the hospital, and just like that, the only thing you can think and talk about with anybody is the misery of having your young ray of sunshine wrapped in a cocoon of IV’s and starchy hospital sheets.
We’ve all been there, and it’s clear to say that we let our emotions and situations take the driver’s seat of our behaviors. So, what is there to do when our own human flesh fails our needs and expectations? I’d say that’s a pretty easy query to answer, and the solution is nowhere near pitying our imperfections. As in all things, we use the spiritual rule of thumb and turn to God.
Allow me to digress:  The beginning of my junior year had been a difficult time for me to bear, and my attitude clearly resembled my hurts. I had recently lost my six closest friends over the summer, leaving me quite stranded and alone. For the three months that followed, I spent my time in solitude, pitying my absolute lack of relationships. One good thing emerged from this isolation, and that was the empty time I spent in thought. I remember walking to work one day--no music, no friends, barely a visible man for blocks--and feeling dumbfounded with wonder. I couldn’t make sense of myself that day, because after so many previous months of melancholy, I felt joyful and serene, and only for this one reason:  I was grateful. I watched birds fly by, and smiled at how complex their bodies were, how their bones were so light that they could carry themselves in midair. I considered my own body, how oddly balanced my organs and bodily functions are, how all of myself is made in such a way that the universe could never create me by chance.
My vision traced a trail of power lines and I thought, “God made man and God put the first thought of ingenuity into the minds of His creation. It was God’s plan for men to weave metal into cables, to force heat into those cables to generate power--tangible power! God meant for man to carve wood into perfectly balanced posts to suspend the cables and conductors. God designed electricity to create the light which these cables bring! It’s all in God’s plans before it’s put to a draft!”
For all these things--for the birds, the cables, for being able to walk to work on my own two feet--I was grateful beyond words and beyond reason. Following suit, my attitude had made a complete ‘180: by focusing on what blessings I already had in this world, I was able to train my emotions away from my terrible circumstances and hone in on the grand scheme of what God had set forth on the earth. My demeanor had made a drastic change because of my thankfulness for God’s presence in the world, just as God has said it would...


When we are grateful for all the little things God brings to our lives, the massive appearance of our woes becomes as small as God intends it to be, and when our hearts are set on the better things in life, our attitudes gladly follow in their wake.
Pray: Lord, help me to leave behind all of my worries, troubles, and harmful emotions. Let your spirit fill me so that I may reflect Your perfect peace in every sense of myself.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Insight into "Normal"

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. ~Psalm 139:13-16

I type this at this moment as I deal with great pain in my hands and joints all across my body. I grieve the loss of normal. I grieve that my body once worked well and now it doesn't. It all started when I was 22, when the downhill spiral started at such a young age it shocked me. I was athletic with a body that worked with no complaints then it started breaking down. It was gradual but more than I could take especially since many professionals had no clue about why.

Sixteen years later I sit in this pain, a new normal I have come accustomed to, yet I grieve because it goes away and I forget. It hits when it wants and as long as it wants then it does leave again for however long it desires to leave. It is a frustrating and unpredictable journey.

I struggle more with this invisible illness because I do have a "normal" that my body keeps returning to that is different from when the invisible illness attacks. I like to compare my struggle with my daughter's struggle with Asperger's but I cannot do that.

I observe her Asperger's on the outside looking in. When she seems to have a good day with no outbursts of any kind I tend to think this is "normal" then when she has one it is not "normal" so her struggle must be like mine. A struggle that goes from one "normal" to an "abnormal" so I feel bad for her but this is not true. She does not grieve over the loss of "normal" like I do.

I watched a video with her recently about what it was like for a person with Asperger's. It detailed the experiences that consume their world. She said it was accurate and I felt bad for her. She just looked at me and said, "Why do you feel bad?" "That is my normal." "That is what it is like everyday, Mom so I am used to it." "It has always been that way." I was just dumbfounded. Here I was feeling sorry for her and her condition but she was fine with it. It is all she knows.

I cannot compare my invisible illness with hers. I don't know what it is like to be her and she does not  know what it is like to be me. She just loses her composure sometimes when Asperger's overwhelms her but she is learning great coping skills. She inspires me so much. Her "normal" always was, my "normal" left me. I grieve but she doesn't. I am glad that she opened my eyes to this.

I don't even know if this article is helpful but the experience was helpful to me so I hope it will help some of you parents out there. These kids are amazing and they are made exactly the way God intended so we don't need to feel bad for them, they may be the luckiest of us all. Made differently does not mean it is bad, perhaps they are the true "normal" anyway. Either way it brings me comfort that no day is a mistake and that God has them all written down. His watchful eye is always on us and He is always with us so whatever our "normal" may be we have no need to doubt it or fear it. He is good.

PRAY:  Father, help us to trust your plan in our lives that seem abnormal when we look around. Help us to trust your perfect plan. Help us to remember you orchestrate our days. We can trust you are in control no matter what comes our way. Keep our eyes fixed on You. In Christ, Amen.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. {1 Chronicles 16:34, NIV}

No doubt we all have boundless blessings to be thankful for each and every day.  Yet, as you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with those you love this year, we would ask that you join us in giving thanks for the following with us...

Words can hardly express how grateful we are for all of the Board Members who give so much time in directing and supporting this organization.  The leaders who plan and execute things like Recess Respite, our Christmas Mini-Mall, family events, and refreshment for parents.  We give thanks for all of the writers who contribute to this blog, allowing God to pour His words of encouragement and inspiration through them.  And the tireless volunteers who mentor, provide free child care, and do so much heavy lifting.  These are the faithful workers who make this ministry happen, and we thank God for each of them today!

As we thank the LORD for the hands that serve, we also praise Him for the wallets that FUND all of this work.  It takes benefactors on every level to finance the special care we offer caregivers.  We praise Jehovah Jireh for how He supplies all of this ministry's needs!

And OH, the organizations that are involved in every part of our work!  You may not always see them with your eyes, but they are there every step of the way, providing facilities, funds, and tangible items to make God's love a reality for parents.  Glory to God for how He orchestrates every piece!

PRAY:  LORD, we have so much to thank you for every day of our lives.  How can we ever thank You enough?  Still, today we pause in a special way, praising You for Who You are and what You do.  Thank You, God, that You are mindful of us, Your humble creation.  In the awesome, powerful Name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Be Thankful in All Circumstances

Be thankful in all circumstances, 
for this is God’s will for you 
who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT

This year has gone by so quickly. I can't believe tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It has been an incredibly difficult year, full of struggles on almost every front. I have a daily habit of practicing gratitude, but many days I have struggled to come up with three things I am thankful for. The verse from 1 Thessalonians continues to come to mind, telling me that it's God's will for me to be thankful.

I tend to read that verse incorrectly, thinking that God is insistent that I'm thankful for all circumstances. Instead, He asks that I be thankful in all circumstances.

It's hard to be thankful for situations that blindside your family, that turn lives upside down, that cause anguish and grief you're not sure you'll survive. The only reason I can be thankful for circumstances like that is that they give God another chance to show His power and might, His ability, His provision, and His faithfulness on our behalf. It's amazing, but it's still hard to utter prayers that start "Thank You for . . . ."

When I think about being thankful in all circumstances, it's still hard, but I can reach this point a little more quickly. Even in the middle of the battle, I am thankful. I am thankful for friends and family who support us, for basic needs met, for the intimate relationship with God that is developing from hours spent seeking His face for peace and joy as well as answers, and for the comfort of His Word.

There's not a huge difference, but that one little preposition changes the meaning significantly---and it makes it much easier for me to remain in God's will. I want to be in God's will, especially when it comes to expressing gratitude. Gratitude has changed my mindset about so much. Instead of thinking about the worst in a situation, I'm able to turn it around and remember what I'm grateful for.

This really became evident to me one Christmas Day when my younger daughter got sick with a stomach virus right after she opened her gifts. We ended up in the emergency room later that day, which led to a hospital admission. I could have wallowed in self-pity and thought about nothing but how our holiday was ruined. Since I'd been practicing gratitude every day, I was able to come up with a whole list of things I was thankful for and didn't feel like the entire day was lost. It was a much better mindset for the evening.

It's also a much better mindset for life.

Pray: Father, thank you for telling us to give thanks in all circumstances. I have seen the work you have done in my life through the daily practice of gratitude, and I know that's why you want us to remain thankful! Help us to find the good that surrounds us, even when everything is so bad I feel I might not survive. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Home for the Holidays

Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. (Psalm 100:3-4 NRSV)

My favorite holiday is just a few days away and my son is coming home.  I can’t wait! I’ve been so excited I’ve gotten a bit carried away buying or making his favorite things to eat. One person cannot possibly eat that much. His dad and I may need to help.

This is the first year that Craig has traveled to be with us, another milestone in his growing independence. When he was young, holiday travel was full of challenges. It got so complicated that we stopped going to visit others.  It turns out airplanes fly BOTH directions and if others wanted to see us for the holidays it was easier for them to come here than for us to go there. They were welcome to come, but often did not. Our holidays were much simpler than the ones I had when I grew up, but they were just right size and fit for Craig.  I used to worry he was short-changed, but in hindsight I see that the way we celebrate was less-overwhelming, less hectic, less frustrating. Smaller and simpler isn’t less, smaller and simpler is a blessing.

Embrace simplicity this holiday season. Live in the moment and treasure making memories in simple pleasures. Enjoy the many blessings God has shared with you and your family.

PRAY:  Gracious God, thank you for how you have blessed my family. Sometimes I get so busy that I do not notice how truly blessed I am. In this season of giving thanks, let me most of all give thanks to you for all that you are all that you have done. Your love and abundance and blessing amazes me. Amen.
Photo "Home for the Holidays" by  Lorna Bradley

Monday, November 24, 2014

5 Scriptures to Use In Calming The Anxious Child

Photo image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici via

I am no expert on anxiety.  I don't personally struggle with anxiety disorder.  I would never set myself up to be the go-to source on this topic.  For solid medical wisdom on that topic, we refer parents to our colleague, Dr. Steve Grcevich over at Key Ministry.  He has all the information you could ever want or need in both the areas of medical expertise and church engagement on anxiety.

That being said, I DO live with at least one child in my home who suffers from anxiety disorder to a level that it can be disruptive in their life.  It has been a long, lonely, sometimes shameful road for us to walk together.  And being a parent who does not suffer from the same disorder as my child, I can find myself incredibly frustrated.  You cannot just talk a child out of an anxious outburst with logic.  There are times where this makes me extremely irritated and impatient as a mother.  Suddenly, my child's anxiety becomes my anxiety in the sense that I am agitated, and I want it to end NOW.

As the holidays approach, I am contacted by more fellow parents who are struggling through an elevated level of anxiety in their children.  They are frustrated.  They don't have the time for it.  Anxiety shuts down life in its tracks, because it's afraid to move forward.  Parents wonder how they will manage school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, relatives, expectations and demands with these escalations.  Their stress increases as those who are not familiar with anxiety push too hard, causing their child to shut down even further.

Hear me when I say that there is no simple answer to such a complex issue.  However, God, by the power of His Holy Spirit supplies us with what we need to improve things, if we seek His face.  I am not suggesting a cure-all, but just enough light for the step we are on with this journey raising our children.

Here are some things that have helped our anxious child:
  • When there is an anxious outburst or episode, it is the worst time to push harder with a "get ahold of yourself" or "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality.
  • Counter the anxiety with your calmness.  Everything in you wants to throttle that child and make them come to their senses, but your irritability will only escalate the situation.  The more worked-up your child gets, the calmer you must be.
  • Offer comfort, but don't push.  Be emotionally available to that child, willing to just put an arm around them or rub a back without words.  This simple act of compassion can be so incredibly soothing to the person whose world is emotionally whirling out of control.  
  • At the same time, if they need time to be alone, respect that space, staying aware of safety.  In our home, no one is allowed to break things.  If you are hearing objects being thrown or suspect some self-harm is imminent, calmly intervene with simple words like, "I know you're upset, but you may not take it out in this way.  You may scream into a pillow or twist a towel.  Which will it be?"
  • Speak the Life of Scripture into your child once the emotional outburst has deescalated to a level where they can hear you.  God PROMISES His word will not return to Him without accomplishing its purposes.  We can feel good, whispering that blessed assurance into the ears of our challenged children.  While it may not feel like we're accomplishing anything in the immediate term, we are leaving the hope-filled imprint of truth on the heart and mind of a child who feels like all is lost.  That can be such a life-affirming gift.

Some of the Scripture I have been known to speak into my anxious child as I try to calm include... 

  1. In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame nor let my enemies triumph over me.  No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. (Psalm 25:1-3, NIV)  Since shame or fear of embarrassment can frequently be a part of an anxious person's catastrophic thinking, these verses not only provide assurance, but also provide a positive way for us to pray.  And as I always tell my children, "If it's big enough to worry about, it's big enough to pray about."
  2. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)  Anxiety most often likes to walk hand-in-hand with it's buddy, depression, and this promise is a bright encouragement when life feels like God has nothing but bad in store.
  3. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, NIV) "Fear not" or "Do not be afraid" is the most frequently commanded set of words in the Bible.  If God thinks it's important enough to encourage and soothe us with as a people, it should be important enough for us to do the same with our children.  I particularly like this verse because of God proclaiming that He will uphold with his "righteous right hand," which would be known by the reader of that time as a place of high honor.  Our anxious kids need to know how much God treasures and esteems them.
  4. Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31, CEV)  What powerful words Jesus uses to reassure us!  It continues to blow my mind that the Maker of the Universe has numbered every hair on my head.  Imparting that to my child again gives such reassurance and personal value for them to carry into the face of their fears.
  5. "God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All the old things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4, NLV)  We are a people made for eternity.  Pointing our children to our Eternal Hope helps with increasing endurance for this life.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are some of my favorites.  

In addition to all of these things, we have found both consistent medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) essential to challenging and overcoming anxiety disorder.  While this disorder is in no way "cured", it certainly occupies a far smaller piece of our overall family life, and the child who suffers through the worst of it has learned to talk back to their thoughts more often than not.  What a blessing!

PRAY:   Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139: 23-24, NIV) 

~ Barb Dittrich

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Birhan ("Light" in Amharic)

“… to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79 ESV)

We made our way through the old corrugated metal gate, and down a dirt corridor lined by adjoining tenement rooms. A woman, pleasant and talkative, met us at one of the entranceways. I scanned the teal green room behind her, windowless and spare, until my eyes fell on the small figure of a young woman sitting on a chair in the corner. My first reaction was a bit of fear—not of her, but for her. Immediately, I felt the weight of the significance of our team’s visit. How would we effectively communicate God’s love, joy, and hope, and her value in him, in our short visit?

Mary didn’t receive many visitors, I was sure. Left mute and largely paralyzed following a brain injury eight years ago, there was little remaining of the chic and confident teenager in the pictures to which her mother repeatedly directed our attention. This neighborhood in Mojo was one of the poorest our team from Joni and Friends Chicago we would encounter on our mission to Ethiopia. The people are diligent and industrious, and eke out subsistence through the steady work of their hands. One’s worth is closely tied to one’s ability to produce and support the family. Without resources to support even the simplest of impairments, to become disabled is to lose one’s value, to become a burden, to be deemed cursed and a curse.

There was a small stool next to her chair, and I positioned myself as closely to her as I could, holding her hand, rubbing her shoulder. She melted into the hugs and smiled widely. Kebede, our translator on staff with a partnering ministry, shared the gospel in the Oromo language with the wordless Bible. I prayed for her, and attached a bracelet with corresponding colors to her wrist to remind her of what was truer than the reality of that dark room, or her mother’s constant words of regret. Staunchly loyal to the Coptic Church, Mary’s mother had little use for our evangelism. But I watched Mary’s face—the sincere joy—and I wondered what the Lord might be doing in her heart and mind through our visit and the sharing of gospel truth. I love one translation of Psalm 119:30, which says, “Your word is a doorway that lets in light.”

A couple days later, as I read Luke 1:79, I immediately thought of Mary and other dear souls we had met on our home visits.  Mary’s life has been reduced to one task—to wait. She is suffering, having retained full mental faculties, but contending with a body over which she no longer has control. Quite literally, she has tarried aimlessly for years in darkness.  But the gospel has the power to transform her waiting. Titus 2:13 says the grace of God trains us to wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The truth of “the tender mercy of our God” breaks into our sorrow with the good news that the misery of our separation is now broken, and that we are now reconciled to the Father. The Son himself has visited us from on high—God with us—to rescue us in our darkness. Regardless of our station or situation in life, salvation through Christ snatches us from the shadow of death, and redirects us into his peace. What life-transformative news this is, and especially for one like Mary. How, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this can change one’s entire perspective, even in suffering.  

Mary’s needs are great. No doubt, she cries out to be freed from her disability. But the gospel is a help to her in her waiting by revealing her greatest need and directing her to her greatest Hope. Randy Alcorn, in his book, The Goodness of God, says this: “God uses suffering to break us of self-dependence and bring us to rely on him. He helps us learn that he alone can bear the full weight of our pain, and give us strength and life when we feel only weakness and death. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

I don’t know if Mary accepted Christ, but I believe quite sincerely that the Lord brought us to her home to show us his heart. The Lord has looked upon her affliction. I’m praying that he sends others to nurture what was planted in our brief visit; and that as she comes to wait in hope, he would use her as a light to draw others to himself.

Pray: Lord, thank you that there is coming a day when you will open blind eyes, the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute shall sing for joy (Isaiah 35). But as we wait for our complete healing, continuously direct our hearts to our greatest Hope: your son, Jesus Christ.