Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Art of Survival


Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, 
how can you make it salty again?  
Have salt amount yourselves 
and be at peace with each other.  
Mark 9:50 NIV

A week ago we were on vacation and took an airboat ride through the Mangrove forests in the Everglades.  I was fascinated by the long walking gray roots of the twisted trees along the brackish water.  So, of course, I came home to my iPad and had to read about WHAT makes a mangrove a "mangrove".

The mangroves thrive in the salty conditions of the ocean water.  Most plants and trees could never tolerate that much salt, but the mangroves have filtration systems that can eliminate salt, they also have leaves like desert-plants which store fresh water for as long as possible.  Their twisted, frenzied roots-called prop roots-entwine and form a barricade of sorts to prevent the land from eroding into the coastal waters even during tumultuous events like tropical storms and hurricanes.  The roots also "prop" the trees up to help them stand.  

I started thinking about how important it is to be LIKE a mangrove tree while we are here on earth.  As Christians, we are the salt of the earth, but we can't survive on salt water alone...we MUST get our share of freshwater...or non-Christians.  And even though we have filtration systems to help us draw the salt to our roots and keep the fresh water for "later," we need a good balance of both Christian and non-Christian friends in order for us to continue to GROW in our faith.

We need to establish a system of roots that help prop us up and keep us from washing away when the tide comes in or when storms slam against us.   These roots not only save US, but they help US provide safety and refuge for others creatures as well.  We are only as strong as our roots...we must rely on the resources with which God provides us, or we will never stand when life gets hard, and we will never be able to help others if we haven't developed our own roots.    

Finally, the mangroves have those bald, gray walking roots which also act as air roots-they breathe in the oxygen in the air atop the water, and have vessels throughout the surface of our roots, so, even if the roots acquire surface damage, they have so many other vessels running along their roots that they can sustain a lot of damage without being hurt too badly.  As Christians, we need to develope that system of vessels because we will sustain a lot of surface damage in this world; we need to have multiple avenues with which to communicate with God because their will be a lack of TRUTH in our world in the end times...

We need to be like the mangroves!  
Air roots hang from even the high branches of this tree.

We need to have multiple systems of vessels running throughout our bodies to help us get the nutrients we need...

We need to memorize the Word so if there comes a time we don't have our Bible, we can recite scripture to ourselves.

We need to know how to study the Bible ourselves so if there comes a time we are absent from church, or there ARE no churches, we can dive into God's Word on our own.  

We to need to have a healthy and robust prayer life so we can talk to God anytime and anywhere without having to "learn" this skill when we are under duress.
While the roots look dead, they are actually what makes
the mangroves stand tall and strong.

Yes, the Mangroves taught me a lot about what we should look like as Christians in this tough, tough world.  I love how God uses nature, His creation, to show us over and over again His masterful plan; how we can simply look around at His design and realize how He wants to the world to work.   By observing and learning from God's creation, we can know what His HEART for us is like.  

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us your plan in EVERYTHING around us.  Thank you for teaching us YOUR ways when we just pause and learn about your majestic creation.  Help me to remember the lessons of the mangroves…how to survive until I am home with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hurricane Season With Good Food

Photo credit:
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”So they got into a boat and started out. As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger.
The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?”
The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!”
Luke 7:22 - 25
One day, I'll be more organized, I keep thinking. One day, I'll figure out the the strategy to have mostly controlled chaos. And I might....

Hurricane Season

I remember the first real hurricane that I experienced in NYC. Perhaps because we were a little on the outskirts of the city, and a bit farther from water, it didn't seem like much to us.  Yes, there was devastation, and I'm grateful I didn't live in any of the flood prone areas. Still, the experience was... ok.  Now, I've experienced quite a few hurricanes in my life.  I grew up in Jamaica, W.I. Knowing the kind of structure you need to live in  and preparing for hurricane season was a way of life.  Those who could afford it, knew what kind of structure they needed to live in, what kind of roof they needed, to have a chance when the hurricane (that was often bigger than the entire island when looking at the satellite pictures) hit the island.  I learned that to handle a storm, you should know it's coming and strategically anticipate it, while eating some good food (because the power will go out and your refrigerator will be of no use) and slow down to manage the fallout afterwards. Oh, and be flexible all through the process, since the insecure sheet of wood off the other person's house could crash into your window in a second.nWhat you don't do is try to manage the hurricane.  That's above your pay grade.

Hurricanes - A way of life

These past few months have been a whirlwind of an other kind and I've been using all my smarts to manage the windstorm.  For a couple weeks I was flexible and relaxed, then I got to the point where I started to say, you should be more organized than this by now, you should be better at this by now, you should be limiting.... Those SHOULDS were so loud.  I should be controlling the storm.  Mercifully, the Holy Spirt is on the job, trying to keep my mind on the path of renewal (Rom. 12:2).  Controlling the winds is above your pay grade.

The New Normal

My message to families caring for kids on the autism spectrum is usually to embrace the New Normal.  It can be a hard message and I don't hand it out carelessly.  But it's a reflection of the constant journey to not fix the new normal, or even control the new normal, but to go on the ride with God and trust that He is the architect of the new normal.  This means

  • agreeing with the Controller of storms that they will come and that He is doing His job
  • building your (inner) structure to survive the storms (Matt 7:24-27, eat good food before the hurricane)
  • enjoying the present moment (with some good food)
  • being flexible with what the wind brings (did I mention the good food?)
One day, I may be more organized.  Today, I absorb the nourishment available to me in God's presence. Today I trust. Today I embrace life in this climate and breathe. The shadow of the Almighty is a good spot to listen, to hear how to engage today.

Lord, What a relief it tis to know that storm control isn't my job!  Please remind me to stop, to relinquish, to attend to you, the Director of my actions, the Source of all wisdom, energy and strength, the Protector and Provider as I embrace the day that you have gifted me. Amen.

Monday, March 28, 2016

How to Handle an Identity Crisis

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness." Colossians 2:6-9a (NIV)

"So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life." Colossians 3:1-3 (MSG)


In the dailiness of life, it's easy to get weighed down by the different hats you have to wear.

The roles we must play as adults making our way in the world — well, they end up taking their toll on our identity. We wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and wonder who that vaguely familiar face is staring back at us?

“Who am I anyway?" 

It’s a common question. Is there more to you than just the work you do, the tasks you perform, the person you force yourself to be for all the people who need you?

Identity Crisis

In the chaos, it's sometimes hard to remember our true identity.

Who is the person down underneath all the layers, beneath the mask we wear to convince others we have it all together and we know what we're doing?

If we look deep enough for long enough, the questions can send us into a full-blown identity crisis. 

It’s one of the reasons I believe we as special needs parents have such high stress levels. It's not just the amount of actual work we do, which already takes its toll. But it's also that we lose ourselves — our very identity — in the chaos of it all.

We hear experts stress the importance of self care — and we chuckle under our breath — because who has time when there's so much needing to be done? When there are so many places to be, so many appointments to schedule, so many boxes in need of checking off?

Those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves, you know.

And so we shove it all down inside — the hurts, the fears, the hopes, the dreams, the emotions — and we deny we have needs at all. We do what's necessary to survive.

It seems like an acceptable solution. But the problem with denying the truth is this: in the process, we lose our identity. And then we wake up one day and wonder who this person is living inside our bodies.

There is hope.

Because your identity is secure.

If you are a believer in Christ, there is one word that defines and identifies you above all else. That word is Jesus. Your identity is in Jesus.

Who are you, anyway?

You are the beloved of God.

Before you think I am using trite catchphrases to slap a bandaid on a serious problem, stop to consider what a paradigm shift this truly is.

Changing How We See Ourselves

You see, we know on an intellectual level that we belong to Christ, that our identity is found in him --- but far too often, we don’t live as if we believe it. Instead, we wrap ourselves in what the world and those voices inside our heads tell us we are.

For me, it looks like this: hard worker, dedicated, wounded, anxious, smart, lonely.

Some of those aren’t bad qualities. But they are works-based qualities. They are fickle parts of me that keep me striving for unhealthy levels of perfection, always trying to earn my way to worthiness. They are bed partners with shame.

Here’s what an identity rooted in Jesus says of me: free, healed, creative, forgiving, thankful, loving.

These are grace-based characteristics. They are the easy yoke we so desperately need. They are what God sees when he looks at us through the lens of Jesus.

I know how tired you are. 

I know because I’m tired, too. The only thing saving me through this arduous earth-journey is knowing where my identity lies.

And that means putting on my Jesus goggles when I look not only at others, but also at myself.

In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg says,

Too often, those of us in the Christian community see people the same way the rest of the world sees them. It’s even how we see each other. This is why we feel it necessary to wear masks in church —- to present an image that will make them see us the way we want them to see us. . . imagine how the world would respond if Christians saw people the way God sees them.”

I’d like to go a step further and add, “Imagine how your life would be if you saw yourself the way God sees you.”

Special needs parents, there is deep value in your identity. You are precious and dearly loved. 

If you’ve spent time struggling with the lies of sin and shame, I want you to know first of all, you’re not alone. And I also ache for you to know this: you don’t have to believe those lies anymore.

You don’t need to hold the world together. We have a savior who’s already got that job under control.

His name is Jesus. Take a breath and speak His name out loud. Ask him to help you see yourself the way he sees you.

Take baby steps.

You are loved. Your identity is in Christ alone.


Lord, I pray for any reading these words who have been weighed down by shame for too long. For those who are always striving to do it all and hold everything together, I pray for an extra measure of your love and grace. May we learn to see ourselves the way you see us, as holy and deeply loved. Give us the humility to accept your easy yoke and not be burdened anymore by the yoke of slavery. Remind us how we are precious in your sight. Teach us to rest in you.

~Sheri Dacon

Friday, March 25, 2016

O The Blood

You see, the life of the body is in the blood, and I have directed that you are to take blood and offer it on the altar to atone for your lives and cover your sins. It is the life flowing in the blood that atones for you and covers you.
~ Leviticus 17:11, VOICE ~

This is my blood,
God’s new covenant poured out for many people
    for the forgiveness of sins.
~ Matthew 26:28, MSG ~

One of the soldiers stuck his spear into Jesus' side, and blood and water came out.
~ John 19:34, CEV ~

People tend to squirm when they learn you have a child with a severe bleeding disorder.  Given to misconceptions and ignorance, the uninformed somehow think your child is going to suddenly skin their knee and gush blood onto everyone and everything around them.  While they try to thinly veil their discomfort, the horror flashing through their heads is not easily disguised.

God hard wires humans to recoil with adrenaline at the sight of blood.  Rightly so, because death is the fate of any person who loses too much of it.  Messy and sticky, it only tends to make an appearance in emergency situations.

No one has greater appreciation for this critical bodily fluid like a person who has a bleeding disorder.  They know that this red liquid is a miraculous component, consisting of much more than meets the eye.  

The job of the blood in our body is to be a "speed boat," delivering essential nutrients like oxygen, hormones, vitamins, minerals, and sugar to every cell.  Once those necessary products are offloaded, the blood picks up waste materials from those same cells, carrying them to be disposed of by organs like the lungs, kidneys, and liver.
Diagram of the clotting cascade, necessary to form a stable clot

While this explanation of blood's job may sound simple, there are incredible intricacies involved with its correct function.  For instance, to form a stable blood clot a sequential series of over 20 chemical reactions must take place.  If one part of that sequence is missing, such as the Factor VIII in my son's blood, a stable clot cannot form.  Problems with other parts, such as Factor V, can cause too much clotting.  And someone with sickle cell disease can tell you of the intense pain they experience because their blood cells do not properly carry oxygen to cells or carry carbon dioxide and toxins away from cells.  

Blood truly is miraculous.  In fact, God tells us in the Old Testament that blood is life.  That's why the sacrifice of animals was used as a temporary solution to cover the sins of the Israelites.  It was the animal giving its life as a replacement for the person's life.  A Holy God was too pure and glorious to be approachable by someone with even the smallest imperfection of thought or deed.  The blood of a perfect lamb also foreshadowed a more permanent solution to come.

Jesus hinted to his disciples at his last Passover that he would be this permanent solution.  This is why he asked them to drink of the cup as a new covenant with God.  Receiving Jesus as our Sacrificial Savior would seal the deal, pay the price for our every wrong.

On what we now celebrate as Good Friday, Jesus made good on that promise.  With extremely sensitive skin which had already poured forth blood as he agonized with his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane the night prior, Jesus willingly subjected himself to further draining of his life through the searing pain of Roman scourging.  The added torture of crucifixion depleted him further, until with the piercing of his side, every last drop was poured out for us.

Good Friday is good because that draining of Jesus' blood for us did what cannot be done by the blood coursing through our veins right now.  Yes, the Savior's blood gives life as does ours.  Yes, the Savior's blood takes away impurities just like ours.  Yet, Jesus' sacrifice takes that blood work to an infinitely sacred level.  It grants us ETERNAL life and takes our sins away FOREVER.  We are permanently oxygenated and nourished by His grace.  The refuse of our lives is perpetually removed by the movement of His merciful willingness to carry them away for us.  His blood carries away our hell and replaces it with Heaven.

O the blood
Crimson love 
Price of life's demand 
Shameful sin
Placed on Him
The Hope of every man

O the blood of Jesus washes me
O the blood of Jesus shed for me
What a sacrifice that saved my life
Yes, the blood, it is my victory

Savior Son
Holy One
Slain so I can live
See the Lamb
The great I Am 
Who takes away my sin

O the blood of the Lamb
O the blood of the Lamb
O the blood of the Lamb
The precious blood of the Lamb
What a sacrifice
That saved my life
Yes, the blood, it is my victory

O what love
No greater love
Grace, how can it be 
That in my sin
Yes, even then
He shed His blood for me

Copyright© 2011 Gateway Create Publishing/Integrity's Praise! Music
CCLI Number: 5783630

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rumors of a Cure

John’s two disciples found Jesus and said to him, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’”

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind.  Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”
~ Luke 7:20-22, NLT ~

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread and thanked God for it. He broke off some pieces, gave them to his followers and said, “Take and eat this bread. It is my body.”

Then he took a cup of wine, thanked God for it, and gave it to them. They all drank from the cup.  Then he said, “This wine is my blood, which will be poured out for many to begin the new agreement from God to his people. I want you to know, I will not drink this wine again until that day when I drink it in God’s kingdom and the wine is new.”
~ Mark 14:22-25, ERV ~

Since before the day our son entered this world, accompanied by his genetic bleeding disorder, there have been rumors of a cure for that disorder.  For quite awhile, people were hanging their hope on gene therapy, meant to replace the faulty gene with a new, corrected one.  Sadly, a patient lost his life in the human clinical trials phase, thus halting gene therapy advances for years.  Trials have once again been resumed on humans, and many parents hopefully await this treatment.  Meanwhile, longer-acting clotting factors have been developed, and many parents have found hope in this therapy.

When Jesus walked the earth, there were rumors of a cure for the afflicted as well.  People flooded to him as they learned he gave sight to the blind, healed the severely disabled, and cured those with dreaded diseases.

Yet, just as Jesus responds to his cousin, John the Baptist, in the passage above, these physical healings were only a sign of something much deeper going on.

What really ails us can be traced all the way back to the first book of the Bible.  When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, our world was forever fractured.  Life on this earth would no longer be the way God had intended for it to be.  Sin gave birth to our greatest afflictions and suffering.  Still, our Maker had a rescue plan that would heal that fracturing, enabling us to be made whole with Him forever in the Paradise for which He had formed us.

Later in that same book of the Bible, Genesis, the Lord makes an oath, a covenant with Abram.  Animals were split in half, blood running down.  The Expanded Bible explains that in this old ritual, "by passing between the pieces of the sacrifice, one vowed to keep an agreement or suffer the same fate as the animals."  God not only passed between the 2 halves of this sacrifice on His own behalf, but he also passed through the pieces a second time, committing that HE would pay the price if Abram and his descendants broke the covenant.  Yahweh hints that He knows we are just too sick to heal ourselves, so He will provide a lasting cure.

That same blood covenant is spilled forth through the Passover, which God commands His people to reenact year after year.  The Lord WILL cure His people from the imprisonment of their affliction.  

As Jesus celebrates his final Passover with his disciples, he hints that a cure is imminent.  He turns the usual words of the Passover prayers into something different when it comes to the cup.  This is a new covenant!  This time he eludes to the Jewish ceremony of a groom proposing to his bride, offering her the covenant cup saying, "I love you.  I give my life to you.  Will you marry me?"  By taking the cup and drinking it, the bride would accept the groom's proposal, pledging her life to him.  

The breaking of Jesus' body, the pouring out of his blood in boundless love would be just what the doctor ordered.  The celebration of this meal offered rumors of a cure that would come less than 24 hours later.

Like any remedy, we cannot be healed unless and until we agree to fall forward into what is prescribed.  Accepting that we are hopeless sinners who cannot ever be "good enough," and that Jesus paid our debt in full to make us whole again, will give us complete healing.  We just need to be brave enough to do it.  Yet, that fearful, unknown concern about what we may have to go through can stop us short.

Isn't it strange how we will turn over every stone, embracing all sorts of treatments in hopes of a physical cure, yet recoil at the notion of jumping with abandon into the One thing that we can know for sure will permanently heal our wounded souls?

This Easter, as we remember the breaking of bread and drinking of wine rumoring of Jesus' sacrifice, let us not miss the opportunity to once again be made whole.  Accept his proposal and be forever renewed.

By His stripes we are healed.
~ Isaiah 53:5, NKJV ~

PRAY:  Jesus, we remember your sacrifice on our behalf and thank you for providing complete healing for us where there was once none.  You alone are our hope beyond anything this world can offer.

~ Barb Dittrich

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Mother's Heart

Mary comforts young Jesus after fall - The Passion of the Christ
"And a sword will pierce your innermost being too."
~ Luke 2:35b, CEB ~ 

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 
~ John 19:25, NLT ~

Is there anything worse than watching your child suffer?

It's Holy Week.  For the past 16 years, the lense through which I view this week has changed.  Having a son who has suffered so much with his severe bleeding disorder has given me pause to identify not only with the Almighty, but also with Jesus' earthly mother.  The angst, sorrow, and sacrifice involved in my salvation ripples far beyond Jesus himself.
Mary comforts Jesus when he falls carrying the cross - The Passion of the Christ
Even in the animal kingdom, it seems mothers are hard-wired by God to protect their offspring.  "Mama Bear" is the familiar phrase we hear nowadays to describe the woman defending her child in a contentious situation.  Human and animal father alike had best watch themselves when it comes to a mother protecting her baby!

When a child is not feeling well, who can soothe like a loving mother?  Loving arms, tender, soft words, and gentle stroking of the hair brings comfort and gives a child the stamina to fight on.  That yearning continues into our adult years, the want of "Mommy" when life just isn't right.
Image courtesy of
Is there anything worse than the helplessness we feel as parents when we can't help or comfort that child we love?  We can't help but cry out to doctors, school administrators, lawmakers, family members, ANYONE to help when we can't.  Most mothers would rather have their arm amputated without anesthesia than see their child helplessly struggle.  A mom's heart is smashed in a thousand bleeding pieces when her son or daughter is in agony.  We would storm the gates of hell for our children.
Mary at the foot of the cross - The Bible Series
This pain is something that we parents raising children with special needs know all too well.  Bullying at school crushes our hearts.  Harsh, uncooperative educators dissolve us to tears.  Medical trauma ushers in bitterest grief.  Average struggles with chronic illness furrow our brows.  A sword pierces our innermost being too!

As this Easter approaches, so many of you are in the deepest valleys of this bitterest sorrow.  Yet, you are not alone.  You have a God who knows and who sees!  He walked through it, so did the humans He most closely involved in Jesus' earthly life.  Artists have portrayed that heaviest of pain for centuries.
Michelangelo's Pieta in Rome, Courtesy of
Know that in your suffering, you share in the suffering of Christ and those he loved.  Study Mary in her steadfastness, to bring you encouragement.  Take heart in realizing that if we share in Jesus' suffering, how much more we will share in his glory (see Romans 8:17).  That is amazing news!  While our present anguish can seem hopeless, we KNOW how the story ends -- God WINS!  Jesus overcomes the grave!  The deep, incomprehensible suffering of Jesus transformed him from a victim to a King.  And because we love him and share in his suffering, we get the royal treatment as well!  

It may seem small consolation as you shed tears over your child in that hospital room or IEP meeting, but as you meditate on this truth, may it empower you this Easter.  Your God has a heart for a mother's heart.

PRAY:  God of all comfort and Father of compassion, as we recall Jesus' torture and brutal execution, comfort us by lifting our vision beyond the grave.  Remind us that as we share in His suffering, so we will rejoice in an uncomparable bliss that far outweighs what we and our children endure here on earth.  Thank You for this boundless hope in our darkest hours.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What Your Complaining Girlfriend Doesn't Know

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me."
~ Mark 8:34, NLT ~

We all know at least one.

The person(s) carrying a heavy load, difficulties, bad circumstances who is perpetually downcast, self-absorbed, and complaining...  They make us cross the street when we see them... or mute the ringer when their number comes up on Caller ID.  It isn't that they don't have reason to be sad, or upset, or whining.  It's just that they never do anything else but.

What I wish my complaining girlfriends could learn is what God taught me years ago: Getting my mind off my own burdens and onto another person's lightens my own cross.

When I look at someone else's pressing challenges, mine seem to shrink in comparison.  More than once I have leaned on another person during my season of trouble, only to have that person suddenly learn that someone very close to them (a spouse, a child, a parent) had cancer.  Also more than once, I have felt that my marriage is a disaster only to find friends who seem like they have minor troubles getting divorced. 

When it comes to our kids' difficulties, the story is no different.  I can remember chatting with a girlfriend whose son was non-verbal, in a wheelchair, and facing serious surgery.  While I found her situation most unenviable, she told me she would much rather deal with her son's issue than having to put an IV in her son every-other-day like I had to with mine.  My years in ministry watching parents interact is no different from that conversation.  In nearly 14 years I have seen compassion pour from one parent to another time after time, though both are enduring personal trials with their children.  I guess the old adage is true that most of us would not trade our own problems for another person's.

Now, lest I sound overly harsh to the complainer, let me acknowledge that we all fall at times when we are carrying our cross.  Even Jesus did!  The key to getting back up is twofold.  First, fixing our eyes heavenward gives us the hope to persevere and press onward.  We take our sights off our heavy troubles and instead look at the One who is capable of handling any trial or circumstance.  Second, just as Jesus needed help from Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross to the finish line, we sometimes need that extra help to make it to the end.  "A problem shared is a problem halved," is solid truth.  The key is to not treat every bump in the road as if it is a major boulder.

One final insight I have gleaned over the years that my perpetually complaining girlfriends don't have:  My cross is Jesus' cross.  When I suffer with my heart united to Him, I share in His suffering and He shares in mine.  If that is the case, I lighten the cross of Christ when I lighten my cross by refocusing my sight on others.  My burdens become lighter when I lift another person by simply listening, validating, and affirming them in the midst of their journey.  These simple acts of tenderness are a huge relief in a world where everyone is too busy to care.  They draw us from the frantic superficiality of the moment into deeper relationship with one another and God.

As we focus this week on Jesus' final journey carrying the weight of the world's sin on His shoulders, remembering that reframing the way we view our own cross can transform our lives from torture to eternal hope.  Complaining can diminish when compassion becomes our focus.  It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the very moment we need to get over ourselves is the moment when we're feeling the worst.  Now THAT is how Jesus lived.

PRAY:  My Load-Bearer, thank You for modeling for me how to bear my own cross with perseverance, kindness, and grace.  May I be Your example to others around me, because I know that You have blessed me in order to be a blessing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dear Parent of World Down Syndrome Day... Look How Far You've Come!

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?"
~ 2 Samuel 7:18, NIV ~

Dear Parent of World Down Syndrome Day,

I have written to you before.  You amaze me.  Not because "God only gives special kids to special parents."  No, I realize you are completely incapable of handling this journey on your own.  My admiration comes from seeing how you persevere with God's help on this journey.  It is who God makes you through the challenges of raising your remarkable child that is so incredible.  When you cooperate with Him, you reflect His glory all over the place!

Most people don't know the challenges that you face every. single. day.  I confess that I didn't have a clue until I began serving parents like you.  The average person only sees the hallmark physical characteristics and cognitive delays of those bearing this diagnosis.  What is too easily overlooked or unknown is the increased risk of heart defects, autism, dental issues, vision and hearing challenges your child is more likely to encounter.  People don't know that your child has a more fragile immune system or may be more prone to certain types of cancer.

In addition to people's limited knowledge about your child personally, they are also ignorant to the important advances made in the world of Down Syndrome over the years.  When Dr John Langdon Down first published his paper on this collection of symptoms back in 1866, a child with this diagnosis would rarely live past their teen years.  People nowadays don't realize that back in the Mid-1940's someone as renowned as Dr Benjamin Spock recommended institutionalization of children with Down Syndrome.  That breaks my heart!  They are unaware that it wasn't until 1959 that Dr Jerome Lejeune identified this diagnosis as Trisomy 21, a chromosomal abnormality.  By the time Eunice Shriver had founded the Special Olympics in 1968, the lifespan of those with Down Syndrome had doubled to age 25.  More progress was made for all children with cognitive challenges when the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) passed in 1975, requiring that public schools offer a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children of all abilities.  In 1990 President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, also defending the civil rights of those with Down Syndrome and others.  By 1997 the life expectancy of a person with this diagnosis had once again grown to 49 years of age.  And most recently in advocacy, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was passed in 2014, allowing tax-free savings for those with Down Syndrome and other disabilities to pay for basic needs.  That's quite a history!

Parent, while it may seem like we have so very far to go, be encouraged by looking at how far you've come!  Yes, we still need to banish the "R-word" and transform minds regarding inclusion, but Down Syndrome is not what it was when we were children.  Now children can look forward to a full life expectancy.  Just last month, headlines cheered Kenny Cridge as he celebrated his 76th birthday!  Madeline Stuart is smashing all preconceived notions as she garners much attention through her modeling career.  Work opportunities are expanding through AMAZING opportunities provided by places like Special Kneads and Treats Inc, Shepherd's College, and Plantables, LLC.  One by one, hearts are being changed and inclusion is growing.  Things like Tim Tebow's Night to Shine are building acceptance and fostering real relationships with the next generation.  And the value of each child's life is being protected as new laws are beginning to be passed in a few states, outlawing abortion because of the Down Syndrome diagnosis.

While it is so frustrating at times to feel like old perceptions and ignorant hatred will never dissipate, take heart!  A new era of hope is dawning!  The possibilities for those with Down Syndrome are greater than ever before!  And with the persistence and dedication of parents like you, things can only get better.  Sometimes we need to look at how far we've come in order to feel strengthened for the battles we still face ahead.  Today, dear parent, look at all of the ground gained and feel empowered.  God holds a bright future for you and your child.  And those of us in community with you are THRILLED to see it!

With Love and Admiration,
Barb Dittrich

PRAY:  Sovereign LORD, thank You for those with Down Syndrome and the families who love them.  Thank You that on a day like today we can pause to see how far we have come and gain encouragement for the road ahead.  Continue to blaze a trail of love, acceptance, and inclusion for all of Your precious children.