Monday, October 31, 2016

The Masks We Wear

Image Courtesy of pixabay.com
Asking my daughter with special needs to wear a mask over her face for Halloween is like trying to put a costume on a cat! Just getting her into a costume can be a challenge.  Her school puts on a fantastic Halloween event for families at a local Embassy Suites that they call “Trick our Suites.” Different companies decorate an entire suite and then students can go from room to room to trick or treat instead of navigating streets and houses.  The whole event is amazing, but best part of the day is seeing an entire school of children with varying disabilities all dressed up.  Wheelchairs and siblings stroll from room to room and you can hear the enthusiasm spilling out into the hallway. High fives and photos are being passed between strangers and friends. There is a sense of celebration for being who we are…a special kind of family.

This is our daughter’s last “Trick or Suites” since she will be moving on to high school next year. I don’t even like Halloween but I got a little sad in the car on the way home! This is one of the only times during the year that we are with other families like ours.  We all walk around encouraging each other, waiting patiently for wheel chairs to pass by, commenting on the great costumes.  No one has anything to hide.  We know exactly, to some degree, what each other is dealing with and it’s okay.  No one feels bad for us, all the siblings understand these kinds of disabilities and so, there is a great sense of peer acceptance and kindness as you move from room to room.

I don’t know about you, but for me this kind of “disability friendly” environment is incredibly refreshing.  That’s what having a community is supposed to feel like.  Sometimes church doesn’t always feel that way. It is designed to, it is meant to, but we have a tendency to hide. There is a song out right now by Francesca Battistelli called “If We’re Honest.” The chorus describes what Christian community is supposed to be, “So bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine.  'Cause love can heal what hurt divides, and mercy’s waiting on the other side…if we’re honest.”  I look at my daughter and I see a young woman who is perfectly comfortable being herself.  Her disfigured fingers, hearing aids, drool, and CP walk doesn’t stop her from doing anything or loving anyone. She is completely unashamed.  She has nothing to hide behind, and this is her freedom. 

That kind of freedom is meant for you and me as well.  Ephesians 3:12 says about Christ, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (NIV) If the work Christ did on the cross is enough to cover our sin, it is more than enough to cover our shortcomings as well. In 1 John 2:1 we read, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (NIV) Because of the forgiveness available in Christ, we can be completely unashamed.There is no need to come before him, or his people, wearing a mask.  He knows us intimately, and loves us.  As a result of having been lavished with this kind of love, we have a responsibility to offer it to others.    We can take off the masks we wear and be honest with God, ourselves, and others about what we're dealing with. Christian community is a kind of special family too...with people just like us. It's a beautiful thing when we do it right!

“Lord, help me to be more comfortable being myself in front of your body.  Help me to live free in Christ, forgiven and unashamed. Give me the grace to help create a place where others feel free to be themselves as well.  Thank you for seeing every part of who I am, and extravagantly loving me anyway. There is no one like you. Amen”

~Kimberly M. Drew

Friday, October 28, 2016

One Good Year

I wanted it. I wanted it for him and I wanted it for me. I prayed for it repeatedly and relentlessly.


"One good year, please God...just one good year."
Cooper looking out at Lake Erie.
The truth is, where we were at the time, I honestly had no clear vision of what exactly a "good year looked like". I just knew, as far as school was concerned, he had never had one. My son had definitely had some years that were okay for our circumstances,  he was absolutely in the presence of people who I have no doubt loved him and cared about him...and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not very clearly state; they had no idea how to teach him, none.

The few who wanted to attempt to figure it out, well they were equally stuck, embedded in a school system perpetually glued to the thinking; Special Education students are nothing more than props to be hauled out for cute stories and photo opportunities. The desire to truly educate and prepare them to be contributing members of the community simply did not exist.

In their eyes, and more importantly in their actions, they proved over and over again they saw no value in the education of my son or those like him.

I know I need not remind most of you reading this that every life created, no matter how "defective" it may appear to the world we live in, has not only value...but God designed purpose. God created them, they are..."Fearfully and Wonderfully made!" But oh I know too well, most of the time, that is so hard for the world to see.

It is often, hard for us to see.


The world may just see what they feel is broken, or defective, they may say there is "something wrong" and think a child is simply, "not good enough". And as parents, that is almost unbearable to hear; it is hard to know, that our children are looked at and thought of this way.


We look at our children, who have arrived on this planet in some unique, intriguing and challenging packages and WE LOVE. It's what we do, it's who we are. Because of this, we want it all for them, and we want no hurt, no pain, no heartache.


We were created for heartache, and it is not an easy road.



"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Psalm 34:18 NIV

Our children are created with a God-designed purpose, and that is the thing that heals the heart. It's indescribably difficult to know your child will suffer, will hurt, will live and die in a world that will never truly see them and value them the way we do, the way God does.


How can God do this?


The Bible clearly tells us that every life is carefully crafted by God.


Every Life...

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
 I know that full well."
Psalm 139: 13-14 NIV

And when we ask why...
"Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
John 9:3 KJV


We are also told...
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:9 NIV


I wanted a good year for my son, and I wanted it right then. I wanted them to see what I saw, and believe what I believed. I wanted them to help him, to teach him, to value his education. It just was not happening.

Eventually, I was exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually...I was completely drained.

I will never forget the morning I stood in that shower and desperately cried out to God with what little I had left, "Where are You? You are supposed to be here. I am all alone and You are supposed to help me. You are supposed to help my son! I don't know what to do anymore, just please...please help me."

I asked God to just point me in the right direction and whatever that path was I would go and fight and not ever give up.  

It wasn't long after that, my husband came home and informed me he had been given a promotion at work and we would need to move to another state. Moving was something that I had never wanted to do, in fact, it was often a source of great conflict in our marriage. I think this was one of the first and most memorable times that I can truly say I felt the peace of God surround me. I knew when I heard those words from my husband that God was there.

So we went.

I was reminded of this story recently while I was talking to a new friend, I shared with her how the timing of God's plan didn't match up with what I wanted, but how incredible it was to see Him answer that prayer I had, for "one good year". I am so thankful for that, for my son.

I am equally thankful for that one year we spent in Ohio, for myself.

The effects of that one year we spent in Ohio are far reaching and life changing. My son made more progress in one year in that school environment than he had in all his other years combined. It was truly amazing to see him progress, and the proof of his ability to learn and thrive given an appropriate setting and proven teaching methods has turned out to be invaluable in our current location.

I had a year hidden, and I was able to rest in many ways that were so very much needed. That year also brought with it a growth in faith that I feel safe to say could have been accomplished, no other way. 

I know many of you reading this may think, "Well great, this is all tied up in a neat little package and God answered your prayer, but I and my family are still struggling. God hasn't answered our prayers."

I want you to know this, there are many of us out here who really do understand how hard it is to wait and trust in God's timing. I hope, by sharing  our story, you can see that even though it took many difficult years God was faithful to answer the prayers of a mother. I hope you find comfort in seeing where he moved to provide what was needed in our lives. Because I know from experience, when you are exhausted and in the middle of heartache, it is hard to see that God is with you.

I am praying for you today.

Dear Heavenly Father, I come to you with the heart of a parent, a heart that is breaking with the struggles of our children and our families. God, I know that You hold the deepest understanding of what it is like to see your child suffer and hurt. I also know, for that reason you walk close beside us every step of this journey. So I pray, please cover those parents who are tired and worn, those who are unsure and scared, God cover them with Your peace in a way that even through the most desperate of times, they feel Your presence and never take their eyes off of Your hope. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Click, Click, Jesus...

Image courtesy of James Barker/freedigitalphotos.net
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  
Matthew 5: 19-20 NIV

I sing periodically with my church's worship team during our weekend services. We have a sound system that requires us to wear earbuds in order to hear ourselves, as well as the cues and "clicks" which help us keep time. Hearing one another is so important because it helps us know if we are in tune, hearing the cues is important because it tells us which part of the song is coming up next, and hearing the click is important because it is the metronome that keeps us on the same beat the whole way through a song. 

This past weekend, we struggled as a team to stay on beat; we kept losing the timing of the song.

Gosh, when that happens, you feel lost. You suddenly feel this tension around you because you can tell that the words are of off, the music is off, and you become uncertain of how to course-correct and get everyone on the same page without stopping the music altogether and starting over.

Our worship leader would say, "Listen to the click and listen to my voice. If  you get lost, listen to the click and listen to my voice."  
Hmmmm...Doesn't that just say it all?
I think of Jesus as the metronome of my soul. Click, click, click, click...always in sync, always with the perfect timing. When I'm listening to him, when I'm in the Word, when my prayer life is rich; everything feels in sync and my life just goes along: click, click, click.

But, things start to happen. Life gets busy! It's IEP time, or a child is sick, or the car breaks down and suddenly we are off beat. We start to panic.  
How did I let this happen? My faith walk had been going so well. I was reading the Word, I was memorizing scripture, I wasn't swearing or overeating or gossiping...but now it's been two weeks since I opened my Bible and I can't even remember John 3:16 anymore...I was just gossiping about someone on the phone and I just ate that entire sleeve of cookies... (feel free to insert any sinful crutch you might lean on here). I'm all out of whack. How will I ever make this right?
"Listen to the click, and listen to my voice," says Jesus.

Jesus KNOWS we are going to mess up. He KNOWS that we are fighting our sinful nature in a sin-filled world. And, while he said that we MUST be righteous to enter the kingdom of Heaven, He's also already told us that we can NEVER be righteous enough on our own. We NEED him. He HAD to be our righteousness because we would never be able to deliver on our own.
It's very reassuring to me that Jesus will never give up on me.  No matter how OUT OF SYNC I get, he will always remind me to listen to the click, and listen to his voice. Jesus knows that this is a life-long journey for us. He knows that we will constantly need to be recalibrating and course-correcting as long as we walk in our dying bodies on this sinful earth.
In music, keeping time is not always easy; and here on earth, staying righteous is IMPOSSIBLE. But God has already taken care of that by stepping down from his throne in Heaven to set our hearts in time with his.

Click, click, click...

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your son as our "once and for all" time-keeper for our lives. Even when we lose "the beat," we can stop and listen to the click and listen to Jesus's voice. Thank you for reminders like these, because I am prone to failure when it comes to remaining righteous. Amen

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

More Grace Needed!

Photo Credit: Green Chameleon
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore,
I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭HCSB‬‬


Recent changes in our lives, both big and small, have my daughter's OCD tendencies kicked into overdrive. Her sensory processing is more out of whack than normal. I got sick, complete with a fever of 101. I'm a single, working, homeschooling mom of two, one with significant chronic health issues. I was on the edge. I cried out to God: How much more do you think I can take?


I would like to say He swooped in and fixed all the brokenness in our circumstances, made everything instantly better. He can do that. I know He can. But that's not what happened this time.


The fever lasted for two days. The congestion and cough lingered. Work deadlines still had to be met so I could get paid. I had to do the extra work of keeping both kids on track with school in the middle of my illness, including trying to calm the additional sensory needs and OCD issues. And we still had to eat and have clean clothes to wear!


It was hard, but we made it through that week. While God didn't immediately fix everything for us, He gave us a greater gift - the peace of His presence in the middle of it all. We worked together to come up with a new plan for those days so we could get the critical things done and still work in extra rest for me.


Because I involved my children in the process, they saw how He saw us through the difficulty, and it built their faith for the next obstacle we face.


And then, when we attended church together on Sunday, the pastor preached from Proverbs 3:5-6, outlining all the reasons we can trust God.


His grace is matchless. It carried us through, and it carries us still. It will carry you too.

Pray: Father, thank You for carrying us through a difficult time. Please remind everyone who comes across this that You are carrying them too. You give us grace for every moment that we face, and I am so grateful that You don't leave us alone in our circumstances. Thank You for loving us far more than we can ever imagine. Amen.


~ Jennifer A. Janes

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Five Healthy Ways To "Check Out"

Photo image courtesy of Frédéric Poirot
"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today's trouble is enough for today."
Matthew 6:34 NLT
___

Chances are, if you are reading this blog right now, you are probably familiar with the term hyper-vigilant. I didn’t have any response to this term whatsoever until I had children. (If you don’t know me, I have four sons, two of which have special needs.) Now, there are ENTIRE DAYS that my palms don’t stop sweating and a fun combination of fear, frustration, and sadness washes over me in waves. Images flash through my mind of everything from the police showing up at my door with my runaway son to an eternity of packing school lunches. 

Worry. 
Worry. 
Worry. 

I begin to long for a huge glass of wine and an impossibly soft blanket. Sometimes – if I’m being really, really honest – I just feel like “checking out.”

You know what I mean? Check Out, as in daydream like a teenager in the middle of a Monday morning Geometry class. It’s just a little mental vacation here and there to keep your sanity safe and accounted for.  My Check Out of choice used to be stress eating, particularly cheesecake. However, I’m working on worshipping God with my health, so cheesecake isn’t a part of my life right now. It led me to seek out new, healthy ways of checking out. Through accident or divine design, I've found some. They are effective, silly, and Mom/kid approved. 

Here’s my top five Healthy Check Outs in the hopes that you can use them, too!!
  1. Disable your self. One morning my glasses broke so my vision was pretty significantly decreased. I was still able to see blurry bodies moving around and was still able to pack lunches. I was JUST impaired enough that I couldn’t see the cereal spilling on the floor, the shirt tucked into the underwear, or the mess threatening to creep out of bedrooms. It was like everything was perfect! This can work with earplugs (disposable type available at most Wal-Marts/Walgreens) or peppermint oil under the nose, or mittens over the hands. Whichever sense is the one that causes you to be the most Type A, disable it temporarily when you know you are most likely to stress. The time will MOST DEFINITELY keep you blissfully unaware of everything that’s not a house fire or broken bone.
  2. Pray WHILE they’re talking. Temper tantrums in our house sometimes involve looooooooooooooong explanations as to why the naughty thing done wasn’t so naughty as much as it was necessary. The child in trouble will go on for as long as it takes to explain every. Single. Detail. Of how THEY were actually the victim of the situation. In these cases, I check out by praying for that child in my mind rather than listening to the saga. It puts a peaceful look on my face and it carries that child’s (and my) stress straight over me and straight on up to the only One who can actually fix it.
  3. Bake/cook. I never thought I would ever suggest this one, because I am the farthest you will ever find from Betty Crocker, but hear me out. If kids know that they will get a warm cookie after leaving you alone to make them for 30 minutes, they’re pretty inclined to leave you alone. OR, they might even offer to help and you can give them a job that keeps them 1) out of danger and 2) occupied, so you can think. Put on some music that makes you happy – I like Jimmy Durante or Hillsong.
  4. Take a driving vacation. Sometimes the best Check Out ever is just having the children immobilized in a vehicle. I put a whole basket of library books between two of them and the third kid goes in the 3rd row with another basket. I’m fully armed with their favorite book on tape or music cd. Then, you buckle yourself in and set off to Check-Out-Ville, USA.  You get to just focus on the scenery and the emotion-free task of driving. Who cares where you are going – it’s more about the freedom to plug into a different part of your brain.
  5. Give up and go out for ice cream. Yep. I said it. Sometimes, even after the worst day ever, all of us need a reminder that we are loved unconditionally. There is a Dairy Queen right up the road, and we have been known to shove all children in the car – even right before bed in pj’s – and go get something fun. They even have low-carb options there so it’s a win-win!!!! 
Obviously, there is a season for everything, and I think check-outs would apply to that truth. But they are the exception, rather than the rule. The key is to use them as a reminder that YOU LOVE THESE LITTLE BEASTS. 

And, above all else, do not check out without thanking God that you CAN check out – because he’s got this. 

Pray:  Dear Lord, we are so thankful that you don't ever check out on us. Please help us to remember to lean into you and laugh a little more often. It's so easy to get caught up in earthly perfection, comparison and discouragement. Thank you for keeping us right at the pace and place you know we will serve you best in. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Say Yes! to the Season


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…
Ecc. 3:1 (NIV)

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.
Gen. 8:22 (NIV)

You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.
Ps. 47:17 (NIV)

A few years ago, I had a life changing moment when friend offered me a helpful question. In our conversation, I commented, 'I feel like I have 6 children.' She said ‘How come you act like you have 2?’ (I have 3 children). She went on to explain that women who had 6 children probably had different boundaries and lives than their counterparts who had 2. They honored the natural constraints provided by the number of children. What were the natural constraints provided by the season I’m in?

The scriptures about seasons speak to me when I think about this question. Different things happen in each season and trying to make stuff happen in the wrong season can have exhausting and possibly, disastrous effects. The journey of life with autism has had many unexpected gifts and one of them is the ability to acknowledge the natural boundaries. So taking my son to places that will overstimulate him and increase the risk of difficult behaviors is a no-no. For good or ill, that’s a boundary for us. So, I don’t go to those places much. And guess what? It’s been a relief! I don’t realize the amount of opportunities to say ‘no’ that I had been overlooking. J is offering me the gift of a backbone. Acknowledging the natural boundaries in life means I have to be really deliberate about my ‘No’s’ and my ‘Yeses’.

And there is no better season to pay attention the that than the one we are staring into. The beautiful fall colors remind me that Thanksgiving and Christmas are on the way. I have choices to make. What do I allow? What do I refuse? Each year I get better at this, so here’s the list of guidelines I’m using this year.

Say ‘No!’ to things that:

  • create the bad kind of exhaustion (you know the type, It’s when you end up being mean to husbands and children while working on the thing)
  • increase my stress level (as identified by tight, painful shoulders and risk of item 1)
  • the thought of saying ‘no’ fills me with delight and relief (that’s a dead giveaway for me)
  • create exhausted, crabby, overstimulated children (which increases the risk of items 1 and 2)

Say ‘Yes!’ to things that:

  • bring delight and wonder
  • help us to practice gratitude
  • help us create time to appreciate the beauty of the season in the ways that are most meaningful to us
  • allow us to invite others to share the beauty we are experiencing
  • empower different ones of us to express our wonder and gratitude in a range of ways, even if we aren’t all together.

This year, I’m hoping to honor God and His calling to me and my family by not resisting the specific boundaries and limitations that are just a part of our normal life. Actually, not only will I not resit, I’ll embrace the boundaries. And the relief they bring. They too, are gifts from God.

Lord, You commented to Martha that Mary had chosen the better path, and that only one thing is necessary. As we look at the approaching season, with the special boundaries and constraints that we have, please help us to hear you say ‘Only one thing is necessary’.  Help us to sit with you and hear what that one thing is, that will be nourishing and encouraging and empowering in our lives, these special lives that you have called us to live.

Amen.

Friday, October 21, 2016

When You Are Told You Have A Rare Disorder

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day."
 ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16, ESV ~

Over the past 40 years I have been wasting away on the outside; but so have you. Some of us will waste away bodily quicker than others. There is no real reason for this except the number of days we are allowed on this earth. That is God's business. He is the one who numbers our days (Job 14:5). It's what we do with them that counts. It's how we live them and use them that matters.

We can spend our time in worry or we can not lose heart. We can choose to look to Christ and believe that, "through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:10, NLT).

The point of this life is to become more like Him. An amazing glory will be revealed in us after; for all of eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). I can use my difficulties and weakness to let Him shine bright or rebel and complain. I hope to be a light.

A diagnosis is a tool. And I am thankful for it. I am not sure if it is even exactly right. And it is scary to think about what it means. However, after 18 years of this often invisible suffering, I am the same person, I have the same medical issues that keep repeating themselves so with a diagnosis or not, I am the same person. A new understanding of the diagnosis brings in new tools through medicines that may help prevent further problems. Or it may not because they just don't know a lot about it or they could be wrong. Yet, I will not lose heart, instead hoping to shine His light.

With this wasting-away body of mine, I will try the best I can to care for it with what knowledge I have of eating right (yet research on this changes often)! I will go to the doctors and try the things they say. Do the tests they want to do but it won't change me. As I go, I can be a light. It will bring me in contact with a new group of people. And I will not lose heart by His grace.

It is also truly renewing me inside because I am losing the idol of approval. This disorder is an invisible disorder. Much of the time I am well but that can turn at any moment and we are still trying to figure out that trigger. I feel so strange going through the motions of some potentially dangerous disorder when I feel fine. Our bodies are so complex! I cannot even understand it yet, so how do I expect others to? Yet, I will not lose heart. God is in control of even this. He knows the number of my days and He knows yours too. No matter the trouble or diagnosis, He is renewing you on the inside day by day. In this we can rejoice! That is what matters most -- to be more like Him.

Pray:
Father, help us to trust you with the unknown and the hard. Help us to not lose heart as we are outwardly wasting away. Thank you that you are indeed renewing us inwardly day by day. What a blessing it is to know this and be reminded by your word. Help us to hold fast to it when we are tempted to doubt. In Jesus Name. Amen.


~ Angela Parsley

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!



"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'" 
(Job 1:20-21 ESV)

I don't know about you, but I often struggle with the sovereignty of God. I wrestle with understanding suffering and pain and loss. Tragedy and grief seem so far outside the realm of what God could ever want for me.  What happened to the idea that following Christ would automatically make life better?

Earlier this month, I attended the memorial service for the son of my friend who died at age twenty-eight after a battle with brain cancer. As painful as this was, the service was filled with hope at the idea of a young man who lived with such passion and zeal, not only for the things of God but for every aspect of life itself.

I walked through a bitter and painful divorce, brought on by a long time of going through the motions and finished off by multiple instances of adultery. As I became aware of what was happening, I began to grieve not only for the destruction of a marriage but for what life would look like moving forward for myself and my two small children.

Our country is in a constant state of grief it seems between shootings and natural disasters and uncertain leadership. The basic morality that previously existed has morphed into more of an "every man for himself" mentality that leaves confusion and destruction in its wake.

So, what do we do with the grief? Where can my sadness be placed? How do I escape the pain that life so often throws my way? John 11:35 is one of the most profound Bible verses in my opinion. "Jesus wept." It's so simple and concise, yet it is filled with such great hope as I am able to realize that Jesus truly is the Man of sorrows who understands pain and loss and grief. I am not alone in my wrestling but rather have the ultimate Advocate on my side.

He never promises to remove grief or to insulate me from all loss. Rather, He knows and understands and sees me. He is with me in my grief, when confusion is swirling, and feelings of anger are overwhelming. He is in the midst of the storm, walking on the water and providing whatever I need in that moment.


Oh that the world would be without grief!!


How sweet would life be if I could live a little more like Job and be able to declare my worship of God in the midst of great grief! I don't think I need nearly as many answers if I can just remember that God is in charge and I am not - this must drive me to worship, not frustration.

I have no idea what the source or sources of your grief might be, but I have a hunch that you have experienced and maybe are currently experiencing this grief. At times, it is hard to get out of bed, to function, to even consider living life again. Yet, that is exactly what God calls us to. He whispers our names, sits in the mess and cries with us, and then picks us up and provides the strength needed to move forward.

May you never lose sight of Jesus, regardless of the depth of grief. May you always remember that God is for you and that even when you don't understand, you are able to declare with a loud voice that the name of the Lord is to be blessed!!

Dear Jesus, grief hurts. It wounds the soul and so often paralyzes. We live in a broken world filled with loss and confusion. Yet, You are in the midst and Your presence is never far from us. I pray that You would be the God of comfort and hope in every situation and that together we would worship you in and through the grief that we experience. Amen!

~ Mike

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Are You Hiding Behind?

Photo Credit: Josh Mckenzie
Two are better than one because they have a more satisfying return for their labor; for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and does not have another to lift him up. 
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (AMP)

I checked in for my hair appointment and was told my hairstylist was running late. I sat down in the waiting area, my mind filling with thoughts of how the day had gone so far. It had been a hard emotional day and I had no desire to be around anyone. I was in no mood to make polite small talk but knew if I canceled my appointment it would take at least a month to get back in. So I waited. I was determined once I sat in that chair, I would close my eyes and tune out the world. That was my plan anyway.

My hairstylist finished up her client and quickly cleaned up her station. She hurried over to me apologizing for being late. I muttered, "That’s okay," and followed her to her station. I sat in the chair, and she briskly flipped the cape around my shoulders asking me how I wanted my hair cut.  I started to answer but her reflection in the mirror caught my attention. I stopped mid-sentence and said, "You look beautiful today."

As I spoke she stopped her flurry of activity. Her eyes meet mine and started to well up with tears. She said, "Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me. It has been an extremely difficult week. I just wanted to feel better, so I got up extra early to make myself look presentable. I figured if I looked okay maybe I would feel better."

I have known her for a few years and knew she had three small boys all with some challenging issues.  I asked her a few questions about her boys, then did a lot of listening. She finished my hair, I stood up to leave and gave her a big hug! I told her I understood the feeling of being overwhelmed and reassured her, she was doing a great job with her boys! 

When I think about it, I have no idea why those words came out of my mouth. After all, I was planning on tuning out the world. But God had other plans. He knew she needed some encouragement, someone who would listen. 

In a way, my plan did work out. I wasn’t going to talk, right? Well, I didn't do much talking, just a lot of listening. In that moment all she needed was an understanding ear. 

I wonder how often we do that. We put on a "happy face", when we are miserable on the inside. We go to the extreme to make everything look good like we have it all together while all the time hiding our true feelings. 

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with caring about your appearance. There are those days, even though we may not feel like it, making that extra effort does help us to feel somewhat better.  Especially when we may be in the depth of depression. 

However,  it goes beyond physical appearances.  I'm thinking about when we are constantly using extra energy hiding behind the mask of "everything is great".  The mask of perfection. The  perfect family,  job, house, clothes, hairstyle, marriage, etc. If we look and act like we have it all together then maybe no one will ask questions. We try to fool others and even ourselves into thinking if everything on the outside looks good, then everything must really be okay. 

We are afraid of what people might think if they really knew what was going on. But keeping up this pretense is exhausting! We are using energy that we really can’t afford to keep others from truly seeing behind the mask.  

I know it is hard to let that guard down, and not everyone can be trusted to protect your heart. Yet sometimes we need to take that chance. Do you have a friend or two that you will allow to see what you are hiding? 

Likewise, I think we are all able to be that friend to someone else. It does take time, time for them to see you really do care and can be trusted. You can start but just being available, asking a few simple questions and really listening. 

Taking the time to see what others are going through and to offer them encouragement may be just what we need as well.  By helping others, we might find the courage to drop our mask and let them in. 

Be the kind of friend that goes to the hard places behind the mask. Offering encouragement, hope and a new perspective. Life is hard. We aren't meant to do it alone! 



By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. 
Ecclesiastes 4:12 (MSG) 

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for always being with us. Bring those trusted friends into our lives that we will feel safe in sharing with. Help us to offer up that same safe place for them to be open. Enable us to offer encouragement and strength for each other. 
In Jesus name 
Amen 

Donna