Friday, January 29, 2016

I Can Do Nothing

12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:12-13 (NKJV)

I know that last verse is one that is seen everywhere and most of us can rattle it off with out a second thought. I do love it. It's not an easy verse though and actually, I don't like to read it without reading the verse right before it.
We struggle.
I struggle. 
We are human and broken and life is hard.
Trying to live our lives with a focus on God and grow your families that way is not the easiest path to choose. Throw in the added challenges that many of us face with our unique children and well sometimes that verse is a little hard to swallow.  
It almost sounds like there is some special strength that God just magically gives us, enabling us to do anything.
I don't have that.
What do I have?
I have that verse in front of it. The one that says I know how to have nothing and everything. I know how to be hungry and full. To have my needs met and to be neglected.
When I read those words, I say, "I am learning...".
I am learning contentment.
I am learning how to have nothing and praise God and how to have everything and praise Him.
I am learning that in reality our weakest moments often come when we are full. 
And I am seeing my faith is worked and strengthened in the temptations of my peace.
I am learning that "my strength" is not mine at all.

We have moved a few times in the last several years. Moving was not anything that I ever wanted to do. I am a bubble person, a cocooner, a deeply rooted "I want to live here forever", I don't like change, I'm afraid to leave...kind of gal.

But bubbles burst, cocoons break open, and roots are unbound...

to expose,

to release,

and to allow for deeper growth.

Once that initial breaking away occurred and we took that first step, as painful as it was at the time, I  began to understand something. I realized that the comfort, security and contentment I felt with my physical location, with my surroundings, our home...even our family, they were nothing compared to the comfort, security and contentment found in Jesus.

It was hard, but I was "strengthened" in the transition. In my weakness God was there, it is that knowledge and experience that strengthens faith and provides contentment.

Those are the things we need for the times when we can't quite see where God is showing up.

My husband and I frequently discuss moving again. He would love to go back to middle Tennessee...I will admit I have no desire to, except to be closer to our daughter, other family and friends. We talk about being open to moving anywhere, and I confess to him that for the most part, I think I could be happy anywhere. My husband, stopped mid discussion once, looked at me slightly annoyed and said, "You know I think you could."

He can be a grass is greener on the other side type person, and I am an eternal, "oh it doesn't matter what color the grass is, it will be ok."

You see, it's not that I want to let life happen to me, to my family, I don't. I firmly believe we have to move, in all areas. We have to engage and make choices...but at the end of the day, I trust God. I trust Him to plan and use and care for us. I trust his provision and I trust his strength in my weakness.

Because I am weak.

I doubt myself and I ask why.

But I am learning and growing stronger in the knowledge that...
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5 (NIV) 

Those last words, "apart from Me you can do nothing"...

Dear Heavenly Father,
    We rest in the knowledge that we are weak but You are strong. Our comfort, security and peace is found in the strengthening power of Your word and the experience of seeing Your promises fulfilled. May we have hearts turned toward You with praise, both when we are hungry and when we are full, when we have and when we have not. May we be comforting reminders of your strength for those around us when they are weak. Amen

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Blind Faith


You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

When you see my daughter running without her white cane, you might not realize she is legally blind. Actually, there have been many blog posts written about the honest and painful reality of how many people with legitimate visual impairments are accused of "faking it." 
What many people may not understand is that BLIND doesn't always mean absolute and complete lack of seeing anything.  Blind could mean a very blurry, or clouded view; or maybe such a brightness that clarity is lost and uncorrectable.  There are many levels to blindness.
This past weekend, our pastor continued a sermon series on the passage from Jeremiah 29 concerning God's plans.  We saw how God made promises to the Israelites that he would not abandon them; that he still had a plan for them, but that they needed to begin to "bloom where he planted them" for that season.

So, what does this have to do with my daughter's vision? 

Our pastor mentioned an excerpt from Brennan Manning's book The Ragamuffin Gospel about Mother Theresa.  I'll use a post from a blog Ears to Hear in order to summarize the Manning excerpt for you:
When he [Kavenaugh] met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
Hmmm...so, while there might not be CLARITY...we may step out in faith and trust...

Yes, this made me think of faith verses clarity in terms of how my daughter will run around an area without her white cane. 
How can she do this if she is legally blind? 
Well, very similar to how we can step out in faith and trust God even if we don't have a CLEAR picture of what he wants us to do.

Know the terrain:  My daughter is NOT safe in a new environment without her white cane.  When we go to someone's house for the first time, or if we are going to an area with lots of stairs, changes in lighting, dark areas, or bumpy and unpredictable terrain, we take that cane and we make sure she uses it!  BUT, if we have been to the house a few times, or if we know the area well (perhaps a familiar playground with equipment she has used before), then we might choose to leave the cane off to the side for a while so she can play like the other kids. 

In the same way, we need to know our terrain in our faith.  We need to read our Bible so we are familiar with how God has led his people in the past, how he has spoken to us, how he has acted, how he has timed things...if we don't get familiar with the character of God; how could we possibly learn to see him in our current surroundings? 
God took the Israelites out of Egypt, but he didn't take them straight to the Promise Land...so why do we think he would quickly solve any of our problems in our lives? 
If we see how he has acted in the past, we can understand his actions in the present. Even if we are not perfectly clear, we can still learn to trust him by getting to know him better.

Beware the dangers of over-stepping:  Our daughter has taken many, many spills down the stairs...both at home and out in public.  She will forget that there is a danger of over-stepping and will miss a step; or may not see the staircase approaching at all.  The white cane is there to give her the indication of a drop-off, but, even then, if she has her momentum going, she may not be able to pull herself back in time to take a safe and slow step down.

I think I've done this with my faith before as well.  When I get too comfortable, and I feel a little too sure of my OWN abilities, I start to think I'm invincible and that no harm will come to me even if I try to race ahead of God and his timing. 
Just because we think we have a short-cut, or a better way to accomplish something quickly doesn't mean God is in agreement with us. 
We could be trying to cut out a "step" that is used to teach us our limits, guide us in another direction, or alert us that we are on a completely wrong path.

Shut up and Listen!:  One day my daughter and I were crossing the street and I was talking to her.  She said, "Shhhh..." and put her finger up to her mouth the indicate the need for silence.  When we got across to the other side she told me I could talk again. 

I had never thought about how I was making things unsafe for her by TALKING while she was trying to listen for traffic!  (She also needs to hear her cane on the concrete, and needs to hear it ticking against the stairs as she ascends and descends because that ticking noise indicates when the steps end.) 
How often are we so busy talking about our worries and problems that we never take the time to just be still and silent and wait for God's answer? 
How can we hear God if we are constantly talking over him?  When we pray, let's be sure to include some quiet time to listen to God as he talks to our hearts.

When I heard about Mother Theresa's statement not to pray for clarity, but to pray that we trust God...I knew I was at fault for looking too hard for clarity. I always want a sign that I am walking in God's will. If I feel friction, then I assume it's because I'm NOT walking in God's will. But, wow, look at all the times that people did as he directed them to and things did not magically get better! Life wasn't a cake-walk for Abraham or Noah just because they obeyed. And, yikes, Daniel got thrown in the Lion's Den! Let's look at Paul...he finally starts following God and he gets to be beaten within an inch of his life, shipwrecked and imprisoned...I would have said, "What am I doing wrong Lord?"


So, since I'm a clarity seeker, this image of my daughter running and playing without her white cane helped me to understand what I should be doing. Rather than waiting for absolute clarity, I need to be more in tune with God and his character so I can run in faith and trust.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, we often are impatient and don't wait for your timing.  We often want you to spell out your will so perfectly to us that we completely miss the opportunities you place in our paths along the way.  Help us to be more in tune to you so that we can function on less clarity and more blind faith.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Life of a Polished Turd

But Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the 
Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7, ESV 

Yes, YES you really did read that title correctly.  Why would I use such a CRUDE title for a Christian blog post?  Because there is something pervasive that goes on in the Church that needs to be addressed, and it includes those of us living in the special needs community.

See if this sounds familiar to you:
Life is crumbling all around.  An esteemed member of the community has a child whose diagnosis is kicking the family's tail.  Life-threatening episodes have landed that child in the hospital repeatedly.  Days here on earth are not looking very hopeful.  Suddenly, the parent also receives a grave diagnosis, requiring additional time in the medical system, leaving time for little else.  Yet, that family pushes forward as if nothing is out of the ordinary, smiles plastered on faces, lips gushing about the goodness of God, never letting on even a hint of feeling shaken.
OR
A respected couple is doing everything they can to get into a routine with one of their children who has a diagnosis, when a completely different diagnosis hits one of their other children.  They bravely march forward, despite teetering on the brink of bankruptcy from all of the medical bills.  Perfectly coiffed, matching outfits, they are faithfully at church each week, garnering the utmost respect of others around them.  They are perceived to have it all together with their smiling, fun photos on Instagram and Facebook.  And their expectations are for everyone around them to carry on as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. 
THAT, my friends, can be the life of a polished turd.
It may be all beautiful and golden on the outside, but there is the same rancid, rotting content on the inside.

Now hear me when I say that I am in no way diminishing God's commands to "Rejoice in the Lord always," (Philippians 4:4) or "Give thanks in all circumstances," (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  We absolutely should be obeying the Lord's mandate to do those things.

However, rejoicing and thankfulness don't mean that we bury our hurts or attempt to function at the exact same level when troubles come.  As we are reminded in the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time and season for everything.  We circumvent God's best for us when don't slow down, grieve, or make people understand that we ARE going through a difficult time in our journey.  We may be looking pretty and functional to the less astute observer, but inside, we're still a mess.

When we live the life as a polished turd, we also do something terrible to our fellow members of the special needs, chronic illness, or disability communities.  It may not be intentional, but we create a very unsafe space for others.  Suddenly, they do not feel like they have permission to fall apart or slow down.  Transparency and intimacy wane because caregivers sense they can't share with those who are oh-so-perfect.  They falsely feel that they are falling short and being judged by others.  Mutuality vanishes to our detriment.

Jesus decried this sort of behavior in the Pharisees, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27, ESV)
Just like a tomb with a rotting corpse, the polished turd still stinks to those willing to draw close enough.

Especially in this generation where right is wrong and wrong is right, where appearance seems to be EVERYTHING, God is looking for TRUTH-TELLERS.  Since He IS the Truth, we are aligning our lives most closely to Him when we abide in that Truth.  This doesn't mean being "Negative Nancy" or barfing out every thought that enters our heads.  However, it does mean finding a way and taking the risk to be honest with people.  It means taking a pause when a pause is completely reasonable.  It means living out the reality of our situation while maintaining the Hope that is within us.

Friends, I put up with a great deal of disdain from those who expect me to always have a smile plastered on my face.  Fortunately, I am unshakably secure with who I am in Christ.  That, in my humble opinion, is the key.  

It is a LIE that we are more godly, more holy, or more spiritually mature when we maintain the appearance of holding it together at all times.  Read the Psalms!  David was known as "a man after God's own heart."  Yet, Israel's greatest king poured out his heart to the Lord without duplicity.  Despite his deepest frustrations and sorrows, King David was secure with who he was in his Father's eyes.  His unbridled honesty still blesses any who will read his words today.

Like David, we all need to feel close enough to Jesus to know that he still loves us even when things are tough and our emotions are raw.  We need to remain an open book in our hurts or struggles, lest we set up unrealistic expectations for our peers.  We can only lead others through life's worst moments when they have seen us literally crushed and broken, yet coming through with an unstoppable faith and hope.  We need to make it okay for our peers to opt out for awhile simply because life is just too hard to do otherwise in certain seasons.

Don't live the life a polished turd, unless you want to look like every other "poser" in our culture, limiting God's ability to use you fully.  Keep it real and watch how a life fully poured out blesses both you and everyone around you.

PRAY:  Father, I confess that I have too often tried to look good to others, putting on a happy smile when I would rather be pouring out cleansing tears.  Holy Spirit, empower me to take the risk of being honest and transparent with others in order to make it safe for them to do the same.  Thank You that You see our hearts when people only see the exterior.  Remind me to treat others with the knowledge that there may be much more going on inside than I can see with my eyes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Inclusion is Simply Love and Respect


 Honor all people. Love everyone.
 I Peter 2:17

Wouldn't it be amazing if our world operated from this Bible verse?


As a parent of a child with special needs, I realize this verse is what I long for Bethany to experience in life.  I want people to honor and respect her - and for her to be loved and be known for who she is.


Nine years of dancing in our Christian Dance Drill Team - The Dazzlers - has been possibly the most amazing, inclusive opportunity that our family has ever experienced.


When Bethany was 6, Jessica, a dance teacher from Dazzlers, asked us when we were going to sign Bethany up to dance.  Dance? Really? Were they just being nice?  I had no idea that they would welcome/encourage a child with Down Syndrome to join a dance team that competed.

 


Dazzlers - where she was treated just like everyone else - learned and danced just like everyone else - memorized multiple routines- just like everyone else.

And oh, that wonderful circle of joining hands - praying at the end of each practice and before each competition and recital.

Dazzler teams praying in a circle before performance!

Community.  Respect.  Inclusion. but more than that - Love.

Nine years of practices, recitals, parades, and competitions, have unfolded.
Dazzler Parade

And then - 9 years of inclusion culminated into a beautiful MOMENT -  last Saturday we went to Bethany's 9th Regional Dance and Drill Team Competition with Dazzlers.


Each of her 4 performances were beautiful but I was aware of how much more difficult this "Junior" Level had become for Bethany.  The dance moves were faster, the jumps are higher, and the choreography more complicated.

Bethany was still memorizing, performing, and enjoying each dance----but I - (as her mom) nervously noticed each and every time Bethany would do a move a little bit ahead----- or a little bit behind her team mates.  I hoped no one was upset with her for her "bobbles" that took away somewhat from the overall precision of their performance.

Last year, I had even asked Caryn (the owner/teacher) if she would ever want us to not go to the competition part because I didn't want the team to lose out because of subtracted points.

"Cindy! We are about dancing and fun. We teach the girls to do their best for God's glory.  It's not about awards or trophies for us - it's about community and loving to dance. We love Bethany!"

 dazzlers3 
our Dazzler family 


WOW.  They really mean it.

The judges began giving out awards. I will remember this moment and treasure it all of my life.

For as a mom of a daughter with special needs, I long for to other people to NOT see down syndrome - I want them to see Bethany -the girl God created.

 The judges announce Bethany has been awarded the WOW Factor Individual Dance award.

video

I'm crying.  Jeff's crying. And Bethany is walking up - to get her award. She turns to the crowd and holds up her award with a 1,000 watt smile.

Her team leaps to their feet and the rest of the crowd joins in a standing ovation.  

I can't stand - I'm crying to hard - my knees are shaking. 


We took pictures and listened as the judges talked to Bethany. One judge tells her she won the award because of her passion and joy she shows while dancing.  "I couldn't take my eyes off of you, Bethany. You'd better be back here next year!" 

We finally pack it up and begin the drive home. My heart is overflowing; with thankfulness, with joy and tears.  

Bethany could not - would not have experienced this affirmation 
this respect and development of her abilities 
the joy of success and fulfillment - 
had it not been for the opportunity, teaching, and respect and love that Dazzlers has always offered.

Our Prayer: 
Oh Father - who loves each and every one You create - teach us to love and respect all people - to offer opportunity and true community and inclusion to all.  Give us eyes to see each person as the gift You created them to be! Help us encourage and instruct people so they can experience success and fulfillment in Your purposes and plans for their lives.

In Jesus Name
Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mid-winter Perspective Shift!


And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
(Phil. 4:19, NLT)


While I sigh in consternation at the persistent poor alignment between myself and my son's school, I wouldn't call sorting that out a 'need'.  Supermarket this week, and the landlord saying he's selling the house we live in and surprising bills and my mom's loss of medical insurance ... all added to the normal chaos of life on the spectrum road can drive a girl to ... hopefully prayer, though despair beckons. Perhaps it's because it's January, and the holiday euphoria has passed, and there are 20 inches of snow outside competing with my car for space.  Everything feels hard and dealing with one thing leaves me feeling like all the energy has been sucked out of me.

That's life from my perspective.  Yet, as I help my daughter navigate extremely anxious thoughts, about the things I tell her not to worry about, I remind her, you aren't alone.  You have a shepherd.  He holds you and walks with you through these things.  You can relax and be held.  I hear God saying "Hmmmm..." It's so funny when He uses my own words to speak to me!

photo credit: pixabay.com
Panic and despair come from my perspective as source and supply of my own needs.  Peace comes from remembering the real story: GOD is my supply.  As I remember His infiniteness as my source, I'm challenged to stop it! with micromanaging His work. I have work of my own to do. Growing. Loving. Serving. Giving. Stopping. Allowing. Resting. I'll leave Him to the work of being God and allow myself to be a supply channel to others.  Somewhere in there, my needs will be met by His glorious riches. #grateful.

Lord, While things outside can feel very cold, limiting, you show us yourself by keeping birds alive and winter plants alive and animals alive!  Your supply is limitless and you have made us to thrive in your care. Please help us to shift our perspective from us being the source and remember that you are the absolute, infinite source of everything. Wrap us in your peace as we Stop. Allow. Rest. Amen.

Beyond Our Wildest Imagination ~ #SacredSunday

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Not All Decisions Have to Be Battles When Keeping Eternity in Mind

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" ~James 3:17

 
In autism, the element of surprise or a change without warning can be difficult. Well, today at the orthodontist, that happened. There was shock. There was quiet. Then there were tears. Many tears.

Autism comes with a whole lot of sensory issues and going to the dentist or the orthodontist can be a chore for those sweet kids. It is filled with anxiety and the issues that come with extra sensitivity. 

We thought we had time, perhaps a year, before these braces had to come but there is a problem that is now presently seen. The stretching and pulling of the face just to get those pictures and x-rays were enough to stress my girl out. The sensations that come with it are almost unbearable for her. Then to hear they need to be put on the teeth now. It was too much.

After the shock
We took time to pray and process. She is at an age where she can reasonably see that braces would be beneficial. She asked all the right questions to the orthodontist. She knows the consequences of not getting them on her teeth. So at this time in our life, I decided to leave it up to her. I will let her decide whether she wants them or not.


I am not suggesting that you do this in every situation but as our children grow, they will become adults and will need to make these kinds of decisions on their own. They will need the freedom to do this and it is now while they are under our roofs that we can help coach them and discuss with them how to make the most wise decision.

In light of eternity
Braces, in light of eternity, don't really matter in our case. I desire that she grow into a woman of grace and truth. Braces will not affect that. Braces are something that can be applied at any age or stage in life. Braces will not make her a better person or a worse person in the long run. So to me, it is a non issue. After processing all the information with her, I can trust her to decide.

If she says yes. It will be because she decided. She will be able to feel proud of taking the risk. I will admire her bravery because only we truly know how hard these sensory issues really are for her. I know the professions think they understand it but they really don't. Any kid who has extreme sensory issues who go through with braces is extremely brave. These little victories after every appointment are a celebration of true bravery! These are great opportunities for them to trust God in the hard places of life. My heart swells every time I see her bravery and it makes me want to be more brave.

In the context of the verses above regarding the James text and how to make a wise decision, it speaks about making ungodly decisions as well. It calls them demonic wisdom. It states that selfish ambition and jealousy are part of this kind of bad wisdom. So essentially if I force her to do this because I fear what the orthodontist might think of me, this is selfish ambition and therefore demonic wisdom. Get what the Scriptures are telling us? If she gets the braces because she is jealous of another's straight teeth then again, it fights the category of demonic wisdom. 

If however, the decision is made out of godly wisdom, it will be from a pure heart, it will be full of gentleness and open to reason. It will be full of mercy and good fruit. It will be sincere and impartial. It will be peaceable and it is here with this kind of wisdom that we walk in that we bring the most glory to God. I am trying to weigh all my decisions this way while asking myself, in light of eternity, will this really matter? How will this decision bring the most glory to God?

Prayer
Father, thanks for giving us a clear guideline to wise decisions. Please help us pause so we can think of you before we make decisions. Thank you for not leaving us alone. In Jesus Name. Amen.


~ Angela Parsley

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Do not Dwindle Away...

Photo Courtesy of coward_lion /freedigitalphotos.net

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem:  “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29: 4-7 NLT

Yes, God had freed them from slavery, but then he sent them to wander in the desert. 

Have you ever felt like God has left you to wander?  Has he ever sent you out from your comfort zone and you wondered where he had dropped you? 
Have you ever cried out:  What is the point to all of this?  You had me very used to my life and now you're asking me to change everything?
I've been feeling God moving in my life...saying, "You need to move on...you need to change...you can't stay here forever." 
We tend to get really used to "life as usual."  We even grow accustomed to our DIScomfort because it's better than the unknown. 
God clearly commanded the Israelites here in this passage of Jeremiah to quit waiting for the Promised Land.  He wanted them to set up shop and start life RIGHT where they were; the place to where he had brought them. 
I think about our move from Wisconsin to Nevada.  What if we had moved with the thought that:  We won't get comfortable here, because we'll be trying to move back to Wisconsin soon?  (Fortunately, the weather prevented us from having this attitude.) 
If we had moved with that attitude, what motivation would we have had to join a church, get into a small group, volunteer, or encourage our daughter to get attached to new friends by having lots of sleepovers and special parties so she could get to know them? 

God tells the Israelites to build homes, marry, have babies...SETTLE HERE and LIVE NOW! 

What does that translate into for us as parents of children with special needs or adults with special needs? 
Don't wait for the PERFECT time.  There will never be a PERFECT time because something will always come up...we know it does! 
In our family, what we realized is, there are hospitals, ERs, and pharmacies EVERYWHERE...so, we don't have to be at home to go there!  We've gone to the ER in Detroit, we've had to have a change of prescription at Disneyworld in Florida, and we've even pulled into an ER fresh off the highway between Minnesota and Wisconsin.  But, HEY- we saw some wonderful cities and have happy memories from our trips.  
God doesn't want us to keep waiting for tomorrow, he wants us to enjoy TODAY!  Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Jeremiah 29:5 NLT
Don't HIDE.  You see how God said, "Do not dwindle away..."?  Yes, that can mean to continue to multiply and grow in number, but it also means, "Don't disappear and shrink into non-existence."  There are people in the world who NEED you and there are people out there that YOU need.   I've even found that it means getting involved LOCALLY...not just on the internet.   
You know how easy it is to get super-connected to a group on-line?  It's easier than trying to schedule in-person meet-ups, that's for sure.  But, since we moved to Nevada, we have found an amazing group of face-to-face support which has brought so much joy to our lives, it's remarkable.  If you're having trouble connecting, maybe try one of Snappin' Ministries Side-by-Side groups which offer both in person and on-line opportunities to support one another.  Do not dwindle away!  Jeremiah 29:6b NLT
Don't deny your ability to serve.  You are as much a blessing to others as they are to you.  Look around locally and see where you could fit in.  Statistics have always shown that volunteering raises a person level of happiness.  Whether it's answering phones at a crisis center, doing highway cleanup, or delivering meals to shut-ins; try to find a way to serve that encourages you and brings you joy. 
Pray for God to show you the needs of your city, and where his will would place you.  And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”  Jeremiah 29:7 NLT
So, if you feel that God has been stirring in your heart, listen to his words in Jeremiah...Do it!  Stop waiting for the Promised Land.  We are not here on Earth to sit in the waiting room of Heaven.  We are here to serve, just as Jesus served while he was here on Earth.  Live for today and do not dwindle away.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, sometimes it's so hard to step out of our comfort zone and it's so much easier to wait for tomorrow.  Help me to hear your will so clearly that I can't deny what you want me to do.  Guide me in your path so I may fulfill your purpose for me here on Earth.  Thank you, Lord, for the blessings and support that you have provided me...show me how to bless and support others.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

IN EXILE TOGETHER

"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

It’s a new year but autism meltdowns have followed us right into 2016.

Bummer.

This special needs life can feel like being in exile. Will Luke stay happy if we take him out to Chipolte’s or have a meltdown and bang his head on the table? Should we even attempt going to this party or will we just be chasing after Luke the whole time?

Seems like anybody’s guess. And so we often just skip even trying.

My American Heritage Dictionary defines exile as “the enforced removal from your native country or self-imposed absence from one’s own country.” Too often this is what happens to families affected by disability. Or at least how it feels.

In the book of Jeremiah God’s people were in exile; they were in Babylon instead of Jerusalem. Recorded in Jeremiah 29, the prophet sends a letter to the surviving elders, priests and all the other people who were carried into exile. What does the letter say? It tells them to build houses, marry and settle down in Babylon!

We can apply this “settling down” in our circumstances as parents and families affected by disability.  How?

Even in exile they had each other and so do we. We have each other; other special needs families who get it! I think this is one of the reasons why Joni and Friends Family Retreats, for example, can be so powerful. It reminds us that we are in exile TOGETHER.

Later, in Jeremiah 29 the Lord says after seventy years in Babylon He will come to them and bring them back home. And then? The often quoted verse 11—“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.” After the exile Jeremiah gets to become the prophet of salvation and points towards the future when Jesus comes!

As special families we can cling to the fact that while often our lives take place outside the norm, we have hope and a future in Christ and will one day be with Him in heaven.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that you are always with us. Thank you that you have given us the special needs community to share our life with. Help us trust you no matter what.

--Deb Abbs

Photo from ShutterStock ID 317231903

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

He Makes Beautiful Things

You shall also be a crown of glory, in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem, in the hand of your God. 

Isaiah 62:3 NKJV


The redwood trees in Northern California are some of the largest trees you will find on earth. These trees have survived hundreds of years through hardship, flooding, fires, and even diseases.

Recently on a trip from California I took the opportunity to spend some time in Humboldt Redwood State Park. Specifically the “Avenue of the Giants”. I remember seeing them as a young child and have always wanted to go back. They were every bit as gigantic as I remembered.

The trees tower over you as you drive along a narrow winding road. You find yourself slowing down, feeling like you are in another world amazed at the sheer beauty and majesty. 

 I was thankful that we worked it into our schedule to be able to spend a day at the park. Stopping at an area that was marked wheelchair accessible. I was pleasantly surprised that the accessible trail truly was a well-marked accessible trail!  Ryan had no problems navigating his wheelchair through the path, allowing him to get up close to these giant trees. I appreciated the information signs posted along the way offering interesting facts about the trees.   

One thing I learned was the large growths you sometimes see on trees are called Burls. These burls are formed during an intense, stressful time in the trees growth. These stresses; flooding, fires, diseases, etc., can cause the growth of the tree to temporarily change. This temporary change causes the grain of the wood to twist, contort and form burls.  A normal wood grain is like a single strand of yarn but the wood grain in a burl is like the strand of yarn wrapped around itself into a ball.    

The unique pattern of the wood grain in the burls make them highly valuable. The more contorted, twisted, knotted they are, the more valuable they become. To me they just looked like awkward growths.  In the hands of a master woodworker, these burls can be crafted into beautiful, rare, works of art.

I think about the hardships, trials, and extreme times of stress in our lives. I wonder what our burls would look like.  How have they changed us?  In the midst of trials I often wonder how God can use such difficult things for his good. I may not be able to see it, but God does! 

I am called to love him and trust him. Trust him, my Creator.  I can trust that under his loving skillful hands he will take the burls of my life, with all the twists and turns, and create a beautiful unique masterpiece. After all God is the Master-Craftsman!


Heavenly Father,
Thank you that we are able to see you, the creator in the beauty that surrounds us.  I am so thankful that you are able to see beyond our hardships and trials to bring forth the beauty within. Father we trust you and your timing, thankful that you can create unique works of art of our lives.
In Jesus name,
Amen


He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also he has put eternity in their hands, except that no one can find the work that God does from beginning to end.   Ecclesiastes 3:11

Monday, January 18, 2016

Special Needs Marathon

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 

Hebrews 12:1 NLT


Have you ever been so tired you weren't sure you could keep doing life? I have felt this way many times!


That's when I like to remind myself of a life-changing race I ran. :)


Flash back 37 years ago: My husband, Jeff and I were dating. He was a runner. I was not. But I wanted him to be impressed so I started running.  I actually started enjoying it and could run 2-3 miles. I don't think I impressed him (he ran marathons at the time) but I impressed myself and learned that just putting one foot in front of the other, I could finish something I never dreamed was possible.


After 3 months of running, Jeff thought we should run a race together.  He signed us up for a 10,000 meter race to finish at the NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Finals.  Cool.


Then I found out 10,000 meters is 6.2 miles!  Not cool.


Jeff assured me it was no big deal. If I could run 2 miles I could run 6. (That - my friends, is crazy thinking from a marathon man.)


But I was young and in love and so naive'.


The day of our race was beautiful. Thirty minutes before the main race began, a starting gun signaled the beginning of a "pre-race" - It gave a 30 minute head start for people with disabilities who were racing in wheel chairs!   I didn't think much about it at that time but this experience would prove to be a pinnacle lesson that would revolutionize how I thought about life.

On your mark.  Get set!  BANG!

And we were off.  The first two miles were easy.  The third mile and I was ready to be done. D-O-N-E- done!   That's when I started telling Jeff exactly what I thought about him tricking me into signing up for a six mile race! We weren't even half way done and I truly didn't think I could keep on going. My side ached, my shins hurt, I was out of breath and low on confidence.

Jeff said, "Babe, I'm with you every step of the way. Even if you have to quit running to walk, you're going to be able to finish.  You can do this!  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other."


So I did.  Partly because of pride.  Partly because there was no other choice.  And partly because I wanted to finish the race!


The fourth mile marker came into sight. I could breathe better but was still hurting. Every step was a determined effort.


The fifth mile marker came into sight and I realized I was going to make it. I began to see past my present misery.


As we were approaching the 6 mile marker, I saw a man relentlessly pushing his wheelchair- obviously in pain but determined to finish.

As I pulled even with him, he smiled and spoke before I could say anything.  

"Great job! Keep going! The finish line is just ahead."

Embarrassed by his positive words  when I had just wasted 2 miles complaining, all I could manage was, "Thanks. You, too!"


His words, his spirit of joyful endurance stirred me.  I got a 2nd wind. I began to pick up my pace.  Then I saw the stadium not far ahead.  I could see people going in to finish their race and I heard the crowd cheering.  I could envision the finish line.  All thoughts of complaining and weariness left as I focused on the reward- reaching the finish line. 


I began sprinting the last 100 yards.  Exhilarated I looked at the time and was wonder filled that I had done this thing- I hadn't died- or collapsed- or crippled myself.  I was filled with shame I had complained so much.


I turned to Jeff and said, "Now that I know how long this race is, I know I could do it faster and better the next time."


Precious parents: especially parents of children with special needs.  Life is a journey of daily relying on Jesus AND fixing our eyes on the finish line.


Life is a marathon- not a sprint.


Our Savior and Friend is with us every step of the way!


 Wrap your mind around that! 
God is with us EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. 

He doesn't care if we run, jog, walk, crawl, claw, or push ourselves in a wheel chair.


We don't know how long our race will last- but all we really have to do is walk with Him and put one foot in front of the other. 


He is with us, strengthening us, encouraging us, and cheering for us. We're surrounded by others who have run the same race we are running and they are a testament that it can be done.  And how much better to do it joyfully.


I think I learned Life is really about not missing the joy of our daily journey while keeping our eyes on the finish line.


I know life is hard- but I also know there is a beautiful ending point.  Weeping and Pain my last for the night- but JOY comes in the morning.  
photo credit- A Well Rounded Woman


We can do one more step with His help. And we can do it with purposeful joy!

No regrets. No looking back and wish we could do it over and do it better.  We jut have do the best we can with the journey we've been given!


When we get overwhelmed with all our responsibilities and endless list of care-giving- STOP- Fix your eyes on the finish line: Our 
endurance will be crowned with His glory.


Prayer: Lord, you know our frailty- our limits- our weaknesses. We rejoice You are the giver of the strength we need to endure each and every part of our race. Help us take one step at a time.  We thank and praise You for taking us forward. Inspire our heart and mind to be fixed on the finish line and Your words- "Well done."


Cindy Barclay