Monday, November 30, 2015

MERCY: A Gift Your Kids Will Remember Forever

Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.
~ Ephesians 6:4, MSG ~

Have you started to feel SQUEEZED by the holiday season yet?

Maybe it was all that you could do to get through Thanksgiving with the family...  Or maybe your son has gone through such a grueling stretch of medical challenges that you feel driven to get him that one thing he really wants at that Black Friday sale...  Or perhaps your daughter is already tipping the scales of anxiety thinking about the school's upcoming Christmas program.  You see where I'm going with this.  The insane amount of PRESSURE this time of year can rob us of every ounce of joy that the season was meant to hold.

We want so badly for our children to enjoy the best parts of the holidays like we did when we were young.  We want them to fully participate and be filled with the wonder and excitement these days hold.  We want them to be left with happy memories to carry along with them into their adult years.

At the same time, we have unbelievable pressure pushing and driving us.  Relatives expect us to show up for their parties and dinners, nicely dressed with well-behaved children.  Teachers expect us to help with classroom parties and public performances.  The boss expects us to be at the company "holiday party," undistracted and undetered, showing our devotion to the corporate family.  The Christmas cards... The cookie exchange...  The extra volunteers needed at church... They all press in on us this time of year.

As our stress escalates, so does our child's.

What if we gave the best gift ever this year?  What if we released the pressure valve, let some of that steam evaporate, and said, "ENOUGH!"?  

We may seldom think of it, falling victim to the marching orders of others, but we can give a gift to our children that they will never forget:  MERCY.

This is what the gift of mercy looks like in a household where a child has a chronic medical issue or special needs:
  • Saying "NO" to many more things.  This means taking the pressure off our children to endure programs and parties that overwhelm them.  It's okay to sit out the neighborhood round robin for a couple of years.  Not going to your sister's on Christmas Day with 80 people might be a wise choice for a time.  It could even mean that you make a limited appearance somewhere out of deference to your child and their needs.  Regardless, relieving yourself and your child of that tension can actually open up the opportunity for a deep breath of that crisp winter air and the peace it brings.
  • Choosing your battles.  I can remember the year that our youngest daughter's sensory issues were at the peak of their chaos.  While all the other little girls were adorned in pretty bows and dainty dresses, our girl wanted nothing of the sort.  Tags, and tights, and certain materials drove her crazy.  I managed to get her to wear a puffy, polka dot, corduroy vest, over her long-sleeved shirt, so she at least looked presentable for a winter program.  In the big scheme of things, it didn't matter one bit what she was wearing.  Yes, this can be one of the times where it stings to have a child who is different.  Yet, years later, you will be so glad you didn't ruin yourself over holiday attire, and may even smirk when you look back at those photos from Christmas past.
  • Change YOUR expectations.  This really flows out of the "choosing your battles" mentality mentioned above.  No matter who we are, we each have our vision of what we want the holidays to look like.  This is another piece of life where we need to "die to self" or we will rob ourselves of enjoyment.  After numerous holiday seasons where we were facing surgeries or joblessness or a death in the family, I learned that flexibility and just living fully in the moment creates the opportunity to appreciate things as they come.
  • Cuddle up close to the ones you love.  Honestly, as every year passes, I see more and more how just being together is all that matters.  As we snuggle, sharing the story of God-come-to-earth, a sense of awe seems to easily wash over all of us.  The praise goes up to the Lord, and the blessings fall down on us.  What more do we need than that?  Pausing together to quietly realize that every moment is a gift trumps every other expectation, demand, ceremony, or celebration that nips at our heals.
This year join me in that lavish gift of MERCY towards yourself, your spouse, and your children.  You and your family will be flooded with a peace that surpasses all understanding like you've never known.  You might even actually enjoy the holidays!

PRAY:  Jesus, help us to remember that the last way You would want us to celebrate your birthday would be to rush, and push, and demand of one another.  This year, let us offer ourselves and our families kindness and clemency when it comes to so many expectations involved in the season.  Remind us of Your love and mercy, that we may offer each other the same.

~ Barb Dittrich

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bumpy, Unsure Road of Parenting


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 NIV

I was reading an old post, to remind myself what my thoughts were on parenting, to “gird my loins” (because, hey who doesn’t need a good loin girding) and gather my strength. You know, when we are in the middle of it, sometimes we forget, or loose sight of the “big parenting picture”.

So I thought if you happen to be finding yourself in need of a reminder, you might like to read this too.

Parenting is hard.

These people, big and small, that God has entrusted to grow, care for, and guide. The people we love more than words can adequately express.

Our children.

I sit here with a heart that hurts, it hurts for my children, for the things that I can not fix and the things that I should not fix. Fixing things is, as Moms and Dads, part of our job description. From broken toys and scraped knees, to hurt feeling and broken hearts.

We are there to mend and soothe.

I read a great post the other day about Why Parenting is the Hardest Job I’ve Ever Had By Rache Brady-Dorfman. The post was about parenting through the tough times even when it breaks your heart a little. I commented on that post because I so related to the moves that this family had been though, very similar to our moves. As I commented, I felt pretty good about how we had pushed through and persevered through the transitions. How we had guided our children, making sure they were confident and cared for through the difficult times.

To quote myself, part of my comment said these words... "I always think of them as so resilient, and they are, but we too have experienced the nerves and anxiety. You feel like you put them through so much…yet you know you have to push them through just a little bit more." I was feeling pretty good, with a hint of "hey we got this all figured out" and that #doingitright thing. I was smugly confident in our parenting, in my parenting.

I suppose I should not have been so naïve.

I had no idea what was waiting around the corner. The reality is, none of us do. That's the way it is with life, with parenting. There is inevitably something that is just out of our of sight, seen by God, but not yet visible to us. This is where our Faith comes into play. You know, that thing we hold on to, when all of a sudden we find ourselves feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under us and our world is falling a part.

When I realized that we were about to turn onto a very bumpy road, my first thought was..."you have got to be kidding me?". I am not going to lie. I feel like my children, who have been through a lot these last few years, are entitled to a little smooth sailing, some time of things going their way, a little bit of getting what they want. I was "Why, why, whying it?"

Then of course being the top notch mother that I am...I quickly shifted to how can I fix it. It's what we do, remember? I know I am not alone in this. Our willingness and need to step in and fix our children's heartaches, disappointments, and defeats are plastered far and wide on social media for all to see. We brag about our abilities to correct injustices, we post vaguely threatening statements about those who wronged our children, and sometimes we boldly call them out by name. I would like to say you get no judgment from me but the truth is...I judge. The other truth is...I am just as guilty of stepping in, over stepping, over parenting, hovering, and fixing. I just don't always shout it from the proverbial social media roof tops.

So, after much discussion, a sleepless night, and some praying, I remembered.

I remembered my comment to a post, a comment where I said..."yet you know you have to push them through just a little bit more".

Words I needed before I knew I would need them.

This is where God is a step ahead, where he sees what is around the corner long before we turn it. Then I remembered a verse..."Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 NIV

So I look at this bumpy road, unsure of where it will lead. I take a deep breath, and remind my child that our strength, our purpose, our comfort comes from a sovereign God. He is a step ahead, a step behind, and He is walking every step by our side.

I fight the urge to fix things, I gather my strength and push them through another challenge, another heartache and I take comfort in knowing that they are loved by a God who cares about the smallest of details...

even the ones we don't always understand.

and I pray...

Dear Heavenly Father, "I believe, help my unbelief". help us to remember that you created these gifts that are our children and that you are with them wherever they go, and may they go and shine Your light.

~Beth Clay

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful for the Mystery of God

Sand Harbor at Incline Village, NV

Can you discover the depths of God? 

Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? 

Job 11:7 NASB

We moved to Nevada nearly a year and a half ago now, and quickly I adopted Lake Tahoe as my favorite place in the whole wide world.  At first I loved the North shore for the ease of access to the water and the picturesque view across to the opposite side.  I quickly discovered the beauty of the South shore too.  The vast number of restaurants kept us well-fed, and the shallow beaches made it seem like a perfect haven for my daughter to safely swim. I also fell in love with Emerald Bay and it's mysteriously brilliant green waters.  We would often have to drive right on through because it was hard to find parking in such a beautiful area, but when we could stop and snap a photo, we always would.

Then, this past weekend, a year and a half later, we finally made our way to Sand Harbor.  Oh my goodness.  I felt like I was meeting a celebrity.  For a year I'd been seeing post cards and photos of Lake Tahoe and many of the images were taken from a shore which had these flat, grayish-tan PERFECT rocks.  The blue lake water would compliment the neutral and graceful appearance of the rocky shore.  I wondered, "From where is this taken?  How have I never found this place?"

Finally, here it was in front of me.  I was star-struck...I was entranced by the dominant power of the rocks as I didn't realize how large they were from the photos.  I wanted to explore, and climb, and crawl, and see each and every inch of this gorgeous shoreline.
Sand Harbor at Incline Village, NV

As I contemplated this in the car on the way home, I was baffled by the fact that we had been driving around Lake Tahoe for a year and a half...taking all of the friends and family who visited us, driving up there on Saturdays and Sundays to take in a great meal, snapping photos in hopes of somehow catching the magic of it and taking it home with us.  But, after a year and a half of this, we STILL didn't know all of Lake Tahoe.  Her mysteriousness continues to reveal themselves to us slowly and awesomely.

Isn't that just like our God?

  • He reveals himself more and more over time. 
  • We have to return to him over and over again in order to know him more.
  • Just when we think we have identified our favorite part of his character, we realize there is an even more beautiful part.
  • The quantity of time we spend with him is directly related to the amount of awesomeness we experience in him.
  • His beauty and mystery knows no limit.
There's the serenity of the south shore beaches; like the peace we experience when we rest in him and let him be in control.

There's the bustle of the shops and restaurants at the Stateline; like the exciting chaos we find ourselves in when we have allowed him to turn our lives upside down with a new adventure.

There's the rocky shores of the north beach area; like the times we are going through trials and it seems like we will never be able to make the jump to the next rock in front of us.  But, we pause, we gain our strength in him and we leap forward in faith and find ourselves on holy ground.

There's the still, placid waters of Emerald Bay where we want to bring all of our friends and family so they too can fall in love with God.

I'm so thankful for EVERY shore to which he has led me.  Sometimes the journeys were terrifying and overwhelming, but I look back and see how he carried me from rock to rock and lifted me over the boulders.  I hope that today you can see the many places you have gone with God and how he has been steadfast and sovereign through it all.

Pray:  Dear Precious Father...I'm over-whelmed by the beauty of the world around me.  I know that this world will fade away, but I'm so grateful that you have given us such beauty in the midst of the dying parts of this world.  Help me to have a thankful heart today and always.  Help me to show my thankfulness to others today; all glory and honor belong to you.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty
Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful, Even in the Lions' Den

Photo Credit, David Niblack,

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, 
he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber
open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees
three times a day and prayed and gave thanks
before his God, as he had done previously. 
Daniel 6:10 ESV

My family is going through a difficult time, and my daughters and I have had a hard time keeping our eyes on God instead of everything that's going on around us. On Sunday our pastor preached a lesson about being thankful despite our circumstances, and I was feeling convicted because I’m not doing such a great job at that.

Then my daughter motioned for me to lean over so she could tell me something. She whispered, “Today in Sunday school we talked about Daniel and the lions. He praised God even when it looked like he wasn’t going to get out. I think we should do that too---praise God. Because it’s kind of like we’re in a lions’ den.”

If I hadn’t already gotten the message, my daughter’s insight made it super clear. My job is to focus on God and let Him figure out my circumstances. That’s easier said than done, but it’s something I’m going to be meditating on and learning while I celebrate the holiday where being thankful takes center stage.

Pray: Father, thank you for being kind and loving enough to make sure I understand what you’re trying to communicate to me, and thank you for sharing truth with my child in a way that she can easily understand. You are so good. Help us to trust you while we wait for you to intervene in our situation like you did for Daniel. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son and for the privilege of being able to come to you with everything that concerns me. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Give Thanks

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. 
(Psalm 9:1 NRS)

It will be Thanksgiving on Thursday and I can’t wait! It’s my favorite holiday. It’s not as glitzy as New Years, nor as huge as Christmas, nor as romantic as Valentine’s Day, nor as sugar-overloaded as Halloween. It’s the simple holiday about sharing a meal and taking time to be thankful. 

As a child we had the family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. There were 13 of us at my grandparent’s home and I slowly moved up the ranks from the kiddy card table to the big table. Now my husband and I share duties from the ends of the table, the living bookends to all of the friends and family who gather in between with us. Some years it is a big gathering with a massive turkey. Other years the group and bird are much smaller. One notable year it was just me with a game hen! Regardless of the number of faces at the table, the tradition remains. What am I thankful for?

I am thankful for the many parents of special needs children who have invited me into their lives and share their children and stories with me. I am thankful for the healing that happens in community. I am thankful for God’s call for me in ministry and my encouragers who help me fulfill it. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for so many things in my life. In taking the time to be thankful, my challenges feel so much smaller and more manageable.

I'd love to know what you are thankful for.  Please share in comments below. 
Gracious God, thank you. Thank you for the blessings we see and feel and touch, as well as the hidden ones that you orchestrate in the backgrounds of our lives. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for all that you give. Help us reflect and share those blessings to others. Amen

Photo "Season of Thanks" by Vikki Yost