The Power of a Positive Word: Children with Special Needs

I’m sure I stared at her with a deer-in-the-headlights sort of look as she spoke. “Your son is just awesome! He is talking so much and is so smart!” Of course, these are all things that I know to be true about my son, but hearing these words from another human being about my son who has autism is definitely rare. I fought back tears as the therapist helped my son into the car after a long day at the clinic—I’m not even sure I responded appropriately to her kind words.

You see, I’m not used to these comments. I have seen frustrated glances and shoulder shrugs. I have had multiple conversations with educators about all the things my son can’t do. The most cutting remark was a therapist who blankly said, “I just can’t do anything else with your son until you medicate him.”

Unfortunately, these are the things that most parents who have a child with special needs are used to hearing. There is a constant dialogue between parents and caretakers regarding their children with special needs, and sadly, the conversation is often centered on areas of difficulty.  Parents become beaten down and discouraged. That’s why I was so shocked when my son’s new therapist complimented him. She saw his strengths and made sure to let me know—it meant the world to me.

This is such an important thing to keep in mind for anyone working with those who have special needs. You need to understand what families like mine are used to. Most of all, you need to understand the power of a positive word.

Positivity is Powerful: If you are working in a special needs ministry or just happen to have the joy of knowing a child who has special needs, you need never underestimate the power of positivity. Every child has a set of God-given gifts and strengths. Look for ways to delight in the wonderful things they can do! In a world of negativity, this will fuel the hearts of both the child and their parents. In a case such as ours, it gives hope that others see glimpses of what we see when we look at our son.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” Proverbs 12:25

Positivity is Contagious: This summer my son began therapy at a new school where he is surrounded by people who cheer him on and celebrate his strengths. And guess what? He rises to the occasion. Certainly, he still has struggles, but in an atmosphere of encouragement he works hard to overcome the obstacles of autism. We must remember that children who have special needs, although they may not verbally acknowledge other’s comments, still understand what others say about them and even how they feel about working with them. Your positivity will greatly influence the trust and relationship you build with a special needs child and their family. Positivity is contagious; spreading from child to family with your ministry as its source!

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thess. 5:11

Positivity Does Not Mean Masking the Truth: When working with those who have special needs, truth and trust go hand in hand. Just because you encourage and focus on the positive aspects of a child, it does not mean that you should neglect to share with a parent any problems that arise. Often, parents are trying to work on medication changes or therapy changes for their child. Your input is important if there is an area of trouble. Sharing hard truths in love, covered by the positive things you see in their child, will make all the difference.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Ephesians 4:25

Positivity is powerful and can be one of your greatest tools when working with those who have special needs. It makes a difference in the life of a child. It makes a difference to families just like mine!

 

First Published at http://irresistiblechurch.org/power-positive-word-children-special-needs/

When Words Are Few And Tears Are Many: The Heart Cries Of A Special Needs Parent

The ache was so deep and the pain so raw, that I could not utter a word. There I was, on my knees in desperation, poised to cry out to Jesus. But trying to sift through the emotions that flooded my heart only rendered me more speechless.

It was too much. I had no words.

There in our tiny living room I knelt, eyes closed, as I imagined myself at the feet of Jesus. And even though I had no words, even though the hurt of our circumstance had overwhelmed me, I continued to kneel there weeping.

I was doing business with Jesus. No words necessary.

In our culture, we place a great deal of value on words. Sometimes our palms begin to sweat as we are asked to offer up a prayer in front of a crowd. We try so hard to say the right things. Sometimes we worry about sounding “spiritual” enough.

But God has never been a God of many words. He is a God of the heart. He has the sovereign ability to look past our inadequate words, and even past our weeping, as He peels back the curtains of our heart to reveal our true selves.

So, when words are few and tears are many, He sees your heart.

As I knelt on my living room floor, pouring out the heart cries of a special needs parent at the foot of my Savior on behalf of my son, no words were necessary. The Lord promises that even when our words fail us, His Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  Romans 8:26 NIV

The truth is, I was feeling helpless. I was trying so hard to make a way for my son.  I was overwhelmed by the lack of understanding the world seems to have for a little boy like mine. It seemed as though even the very people who were supposed to be advocating for the success of our child just didn’t quite get it. Is there really no place for a seven-year-old, blue-eyed, wide-smiled, precious little boy who happens to have autism? I was hurt for him. And there is no other hurt like a momma’s hurt for her baby.

Although I can now quite accurately articulate the thoughts and feelings I was having that day, at the time I was left with nothing more than sobs. Sobs at the feet of Jesus. But there was no need to articulate anything because the Lord already knew.  

Dear friend, is there something burdening your heart? Maybe your words are few and your tears are many as you carry the weight of your child’s disability, or fight for your marriage, or strive to make ends meet.

Whatever the circumstance, run to the Father. No words are necessary. His Holy Spirit intercedes for you. You need only come to Jesus with your heart, He will refresh and restore your soul. He longs to exchange our grief for His grace, our burdens for His blessings, and our tears for His triumphant plan.

First Published at Irresistible Church http://irresistiblechurch.org/words-tears-many-heart-cries-special-needs-parent/

 

3 Questions The Church Should Be Asking This Month

The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. What does this mean for the Church? It’s time for the Body of Christ to evaluate how we reach out to those with special needs.

Here are three things the Church should be asking during Autism Awareness Month:

  1. Who are we reaching?

    I hope your church has a true passion for people. I pray you are a group of people who desire nothing more than to love God and share His love with others. I would expect to find that “Missions” is part of the heartbeat of the congregation. However, when the pew meets the pavement, what does this look like?

    I fear that it has become too easy for Christians to donate to a worthy cause, get the t-shirt, and walk away. It’s easier for us to open our wallets to help dig a well on the other side of the world than it is to give our time, change the diaper of a 10-year-old with special needs, or cry alongside the family who has just received a diagnosis. Donating to a cause demands very little from us. The latter is messy, it makes us uncomfortable, and it might take some commitment. But I can tell you this, there is a huge, unreached mission field right here in America.

    In 2012, the CDC conducted a study that estimated 1 in 68 children were affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). [1]  It is also estimated that very few families who have a child with ASD attend church on a regular basis. So, whether we realize it or not, the autism community is affected by the Church. They are either embraced, loved, and accepted, or they are falling through the cracks. Dear Church, who are you reaching?

  2. Do we have a willing heart?

    Churches often ask how they can start a program for special needs children. They feel ill-equipped, have no budget, and honestly, they’re scared. Training, security, and activities are all essential elements of creating a program, but there is one thing you must have first: a willing heart. Church, you must develop a heart for ministering to those with special needs.

    I have visited churches with my own child who has autism. Some churches had state-of-the-art equipment, but the members did not have a heart for those with special needs. It was evident the moment we walked in. It made us uncomfortable to leave our child, so we didn’t.

    I have visited churches who had little more than a room of bean bag chairs and a teacher who fumbled through reading the Bible to the special needs children in her class. But the church had a heart for those with special needs, and they sought to include them in all that they did. They cared, so we stayed.  

    There are families out there who long to be accepted and loved. They want their child to belong, to be a part of a community. All we need is a willing heart.

  3. What happens if we do nothing?

    Simply put, nothing. The Church will continue being the Church. We are a beautifully broken group of people who gather under the banner of Christ’s grace and unconditional love. We will keep loving people, feeding people, worshipping, and growing. We will keep donating to missions. We will continue in our comfortable Christianity.

    But, we must also know that in our communities, perhaps in one of the very houses that line the street of our Church, there is a child who has autism. This child struggles to feel understood and accepted. This child’s mom cries herself to sleep as she fears for the future of her child. This child’s father is grasping to find peace in the midst of a life no one could have prepared him for. This family is searching. They are looking to be loved, and they are lonely. They are falling through the cracks. They are part of an unreached mission field, right under our noses.

    Dear Church, if not us, then who? We have a grand opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let us embrace disability ministry and ultimately those who are hurting!  

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm.html

First Posted at Irresistible Church Blog  http://irresistiblechurch.org/3-questions-church-asking-month/

From One Special Needs Parent To Another: Don't Give Up

Dear Parent,

I know how easy it is to feel like you are all alone in this, but you’re not. While your child’s special needs may be different from mine, we are on a very similar journey. I want to encourage you with three words. Simple though they may be, these three words are so important for the task the Lord has given to us. The Lord has entrusted you and I with the life of a child who has special needs. So, no matter how ill-equipped you may feel, no matter the severity of the disability, no matter how weary you have become, let these three words spur you on as you care for your child. From one special needs parent to another: Don’t Give Up.

I know your weariness. I know how you sleep with one eye open and one ear listening throughout the night, just in case. I know how you wake in the wee hours of the morning to change soiled bedsheets and to wash your precious child. I know that often times coffee and a prayer is what keeps you going all day. Don’t Give Up.

I know your discouragement. I know that no matter how many times you give yourself a pep talk, you will find yourself comparing your child’s development to other children their age. I know that for every milestone achieved, it seems there are a million more standing in the wings. Don’t Give Up.

I know your fears. I know you fear for the future of your child; wondering what level of independence they will have, their wellbeing, and what will happen to them when you are no longer around to make a way for them. I know you fear for your child’s education and whether the school budget or politics will limit their chance at having every opportunity for personal growth and success. Don’t Give Up.

I know your joys. I know that overwhelming sense of excitement when you watch your child achieve something for the first time. These are moments of pure joy that others might find hard to understand like when you feel as though you have just conquered the world because your child made eye contact with you for the first time. I know how one touch from your child can make all the days of struggle melt away in an instant. I know that little things are not so little in this life of ours. I know that those moments and milestones that bring us such joy are almost puzzling to the rest of the world. Don’t Give Up.

I know sometimes you might feel like giving up. As you fight and you push and you try your hardest to make a way for your child in this world, sometimes you become weary. Sometimes it seems like an uphill battle. Don’t Give Up. No matter how battle-weary you become, you must hold tight to this task the Lord has entrusted to you. Because no matter how ill-equipped you may feel at times, the Lord specifically chose and gifted you with this special child.

Let us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue making a way for our children. Giving up should never be an option. Continue praying over your child, the Lord hears you. Continue those late nights and early mornings, the Lord is with you. Continue those therapy sessions and treatments, the Lord will provide. But most importantly, protect this gift that the Lord has entrusted to you and Don’t Give Up.

Psalm 127:3 “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.”

First posted at www.IrresistibleChurch.org 

This is Your Story: 3 Important Truths

Everyone loves a good story. We allow ourselves some vulnerability as we cry or share a good laugh over another person’s tale. However, when confronted with the pages of our own life, we are often discontent, desperately wishing we could re-write a few pages. We might even wish we could completely make over the main character, ourselves. The hardships, sleepless nights, medical conditions, or struggles just weren’t what we had in mind to fill the pages between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After”.

Have you ever felt this way? Many of us have. Sometimes the Lord writes on the pages of our lives with permanent marker. Try as we may, we cannot blot out, color over, or erase His pen and are eventually left to embrace the marks of our Savior. It’s at this point of surrender that we discover He is the greatest story teller there ever was. He is the Master Story Writer; fashioning your story for His glory and for your fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Here are three important truths to keep in mind as you trust the Lord with your story.

Comparison kills contentment. Every time. This is your story! Do not be concerned with the story the Lord is writing for someone else. He has a very specific plan and purpose for your life. One of the fastest ways of discouraging yourself is to compare your story to someone else’s.  Count your blessings, and not theirs. Do not miss the beauty written on the pages of your own life.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30

There is beauty in brokenness. Many times, the very things that you would not have willingly chosen for yourself, are what make your story most beautiful.  Life is not always easy. When you are faced with disability, you learn to rely on the Lord’s ability. When you face trials, you learn to rely on faith and trust. Sometimes tears precede triumphs. You must remember to give Satan no opportunity to discourage you from the purpose the Lord has for you. Have faith that you will be able to one day flip through the pages of your story to find that heartbreak brought hope, struggles produced strengths, and that beauty came from brokenness.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

There is joy on the journey. Each day you have the opportunity to choose joy. Our God is not the author of gloom and doom. Do not miss out on the joy of this life. Rest in the assurance of the Master Writer’s pen. The Lord longs to reveal Himself to you. Find comfort in His care, strength in His sovereignty, and peace in His presence.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

God is crafting your story. There is no other story like it. Once you open your heart to the authority of His pen, trusting that He knows best, there is peace in resting between the pages of life. This is your story!

First posted on IrresistibleChurch.org  Blog.

Thank you, Lord, for our story.

Thank you, Lord, for our story.

Asking for the Healing of a Loved One: To Touch the Hem of His Robe

Have you ever prayed desperately for someone’s healing? I mean the cry-from-the-bottom-of-your-heart pleading with the Lord for deliverance, freedom, and healing.  After all, God is fully capable of full healing. Doesn’t he see this great need? Doesn’t he feel the heaviness of your cries as they fall one by one before his throne? I know you are able, Lord. Please, I am asking for healing. It’s as though, in the corner of your heart, you hold out hope that if you just plead hard enough, you might somehow will your loved one to healing. I know this desperation. I know this cry.

As I laid in bed next to my little boy, he wrapped his tiny arms around my neck and drew in me. He kissed my cheek with his baby-soft lips and then laid his head down on the pillow. I continued to hold him as tears filled my eyes and a rush of emotions filled my soul. It’s crazy how this Autism thing works. When my son has struggled through a particularly hard day, I am crushed. However, this day he had not struggled at all. In fact, he had made wonderful eye contact, had snuggled, and talked to me throughout the day. It was a beautiful day of clarity and freedom from the chains of Autism that so often bound him. It may be hard to believe, but sometimes the wonderful days break my heart almost as much as the hard days.

I had seen glimpses all day of the little man that he is. We had shared smiles and giggles. His bright personality had lit up the room. We had played together and he had spent part of his day in a tent with his sister making choo choo train noises. He was able, for the most part, to communicate his needs and wants. It had been a beautiful day. Now as I laid in his bed holding him, I felt so very grateful for the blessing of this day, but I was also overwhelmed with sadness. As the parent of a child with Autism, I fully know that just as a ray of sun will peek through the clouds and then go back into hiding, this bright day of clarity would not last. Tomorrow would be a new day and I would once again be left searching for the little boy I know is locked somewhere deep inside my sweet boy. This thought ached deep in my heart.

I pulled my son closer; as though I was trying to hold on to him as tightly as I wanted to hold on to this day. Please heal him, Lord. I know you can. Without even thinking, I closed my eyes and imagined reaching out just to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. If I could just touch Him. If I could just hold my son in my arms and touch Jesus. Just touch the hem of His robe.

You know this story, don’t you? The bible tells a story in Luke 8 about a woman who was sick. She had been sick for many years with an illness that would have alienated her from society and caused her to feel miserable. And there was Jesus. He had just calmed a storm at sea, restored a demon possessed man, and He was on his way to heal a twelve year old girl who was dying. Yes, this woman knew who this “Jesus” was. I can almost feel her desperation. Jesus, this man who professed to be Messiah, this healer of so many, was passing through. In complete abandon, I imagine her rushing out her door, desperate to see this Jesus. I know you are able, Lord. Please, I ask for healing. As she approached Jesus the crowd pressed in on Him. Was this it? Would she get this close to healing and complete restoration just to lose Jesus in the crowd? With her heart pounding in her chest, she pushed through the masses and was able to squeeze her hand through a small break in the crowd. If I could just touch Him. If I could just touch Jesus. Just touch the hem of His robe. With twelve years of sickness behind her and the thought of an eternity of pain, exclusion, and embarrassment ahead of her, she reached out and grasped just the hem of Jesus’ robe. Healing. Complete healing. Trembling, she came before Jesus and He told her, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).

Desperation. Faith. Healing.

So, as I held my little boy, desperation rose up inside of me. If I could just touch the hem of His robe. I know you are able, Lord. Please, I ask for healing.

It’s very rare that I ever ask God to “heal him from Autism” anymore. My prayers have shifted. I believe that some parts of Autism are a very special gift. My son sees the world in different ways than you or I could ever imagine. In many ways, Autism gives my son a unique and special gifting and personality that I would not ever want to lose. It’s the frustration, the inability to communicate, the aggression and impulsivity that I pray he would be released from.

I have seen the Lord work miracles. I have seen babies live who were said to have no chance. I have seen cancer disappear when the doctors have no medical explanation. Yes, He is in the business of miracles and He is able. So I reach out to Him, to touch the hem of His robe, to ask for healing. Maybe one day He will answer “Your faith has healed your son. Go in peace.”

I have great faith in a great God, but I also have faith that He is sovereign and that He may not have plans to heal my son. It takes an equal amount of faith to trust that God is capable of healing, as it does to trust that He is sovereign and may withhold healing for a greater purpose that we may never understand this side of heaven.

Until the Lord lays it on my heart to quit asking, I will plead for healing on behalf of my son. If I could just touch the hem of His robe. I know you are able, Lord. Please, I ask for healing. I will also not stop trusting that the Lord knows best and that His ways are perfect. I find myself in the in-between; between desperation and dependency, fear and faith, helplessness and hopefulness, tears and trust.

If you find yourself in the in-between, just like me, remember these things: Our prayers do not fall before an unable God or an empty throne. He hears you, so ask. Our prayers do not fall before a limited God. He is able, so trust. Our prayers fall before an all mighty, all powerful, all knowing God. He is sovereign, so have faith.  Have faith even if it means trading your hopes for His perfect plan.

On those days that you are weary from the fight, remember that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). When days come that you wish so badly you could hold on to for forever just to see them disappear, remember that His ways are higher than ours and that He is not a God of mistakes (Isaiah 55:8-9). We must have faith enough to touch the hem of His robe and faith enough to trust if He responds with a “not now” or a “not ever”. If you are praying for the healing of a loved one, I’m sending you a hug. You are not alone.

 

 

When You Feel Guilty For Talking About Your Life's Problems or Praises to The Parent Who Has a Child With Special Needs

You complain to me about work. You share with me about your child’s awards and accomplishments. You gripe about the lady who did your nails. You talk to me about money problems. You tell me about the plans for your next big family vacation. You worry about your kid’s grades. You share a personal prayer request. And then, you feel guilty for saying these things to me because I am the parent of a child who has special needs.

I know it’s true. I know it’s true because you all apologize to me. “I’m so sorry, I know my struggles are nothing compared to yours.” “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t burden you with these things. You have enough on your plate.” “Of course, I know this is nothing like what you are going through.” For as many real conversations I have with friends and family, I have probably received just as many apologies.

So, I am writing you dear friends, to set you free. I want to share with you exactly what I think about my life problems and your life problems, your life praises and my life praises, and why your feeling of guilt is unnecessary. I want you to know that we parents of special needs kiddos need you, and you need us too!

WE’VE GOT ISSUES AND SO DO YOU!

As I’m writing this, an old (revised) cheer is flitting through my head. “We’ve got issues, yes we do! We’ve got issues, how about you!?” But you guys, it’s the truth. We all have struggles.  Sure, some of my family’s struggles look different than other people’s because we have a child with special needs. But please remember this about us Special Needs Parents, we have jobs, some of us have other children, we have bills, we like to watch TV, we like to go shopping, we have interests, we have spouses who we love, we have spouses who sometimes drive us crazy, some of us are single parents, and ALL of us are just regular people like you. And, we’ve got regular-life issues; issues that have nothing to do with Speech Therapy, Disability Insurance, or Autism.

When a friend shares with me about her struggles, I do not feel resentment. The impression I get is that many of you think we Special Needs Parents are listening to you talk while we mentally calculate, “I can’t believe she is talking about this. This is nothing compared to my life and my problems.” Friends, nothing could be farther from the truth. When a friend confides in me, even if it is a struggle that I have not personally faced, it reminds me that others struggle too. There is a human bond of comradery. I so appreciate it when someone is real with me and does not feel that they need to somehow protect me from their life’s issues, because of my own. Yes, our family faces a unique set of hard struggles at times, but I am willing to bet that others of you are facing a unique set of struggles all your own. For lack of a better phrase, the struggle is real for all of us.

My fear is that you are holding back from us. My fear is that little by little we Special Needs Parents will become more and more isolated because others believe we have too much going on or too much on our plate. Believe it or not, in many ways, we are very much like you. We have not gotten so lost in a world of disability that we cannot see life outside of it.

So, let me free you from the guilt of sharing your struggles with us. Your sharing reminds us that we still have friendships. Your sharing reminds us that we are not alone in this thing called life. Your sharing makes us feel valued, because you came to us with a burden.

YOU’VE GOT PRAISES AND SO DO WE!

I would much rather measure life by the praises and not the problems. Wouldn’t you? I hope you have praises. I hope that you are able to see the fingerprints of God all over your life. I hope that you are able to watch the Lord, who gives every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), work in and through the very fabric of your everyday life. I hope you take time to celebrate the many blessings, accomplishments, and praises in your life, even in front of me.

I have actually had friends apologize to me for sharing about their child’s academic accomplishments. They thought they might be hurting my feelings because I have a child who has special needs. Again, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it hurts so much more that anyone would ever feel that they need to hold back from sharing a praise, because we are Special Needs Parents.

You need to know that we Special Needs Parents are not watching you and measuring your many blessings against our “plight in life”. On the contrary, we wish for your success, we are happy for your children, we want you to enjoy your life, and we would love for you to share your praises with us. You also need to know that we Special Needs Parents have many praises of our own. We would love to share with you about our child’s many accomplishments. My son’s accomplishments may be different than your son’s, but the pride of a parent for their child is the same. You see, we are not so different.

The truth is, God has gifted each of us with our own lives and set of blessings. Comparison kills contentment, every time. Because we live in a culture that cultivates comparison, I can see how it would be easy for others to think that we Special Needs Parents feel uncomfortable with others sharing their life praises, particularly when it comes to their children.

So, let me free you from the guilt of sharing your praises with us. We would love to share in your joy with you. Your sharing offers us connection. Your sharing ushers in celebration. We feel blessed by the friendship that recognizes that we all have our own unique, God given blessings. We will praise with you and for you!

WE NEED EACHOTHER!

The cause for community is an important one. We “Special Needs Families” need you. We need your “regular life” to collide with ours. You help us keep our sanity. You keep us connected and help us to feel a part of society. What’s more, you need us too. Those who dare to invest in the lives of a “Special Needs Family” will find that we aren’t too far off the beaten path. Our lives are full of love, laughter, problems and praises, much like yours.

We want to rejoice with you over your child’s accomplishments. We want to cheer your family on as you enjoy a much needed family vacation. We want to intercede in prayer on your behalf. We want you to share your burdens with us so we can be there for you. We hope you will do the same for us!

I hope this helps in freeing you from the guilt of sharing your problems or praises with parents who have a child with special needs. We all need to have authentic relationships. We all need true, meaningful conversation. We want to share in this crazy, wonderful, messy, beautiful thing called life with you all.

 

 

Our Homebound Half-Summer: Special Needs Parenting

Just as my son wraps himself up inside a tunnel of weighted blankets, Autism crept in and wrapped itself around every fabric of his life leaving him trapped inside and overwhelmed. It seemed that every time he tried to overcome the impulses, aggression, and sensory overload, we would catch little glimpses of the boy we know is inside, only to watch this force called Autism overpower him once again.

He had been battling through these struggles common to Autism for a while. As a parent, it is the most heartbreaking thing to watch your child writhe on the floor in pain, want to hide inside a box so as to shut out the world, or to lash out in frustration because he so wants to be understood.

We were working intensively with his therapists, teachers, and doctors to help him through this extraordinarily tough time. We don’t know why this extreme behavior seemed to take over this last year. Some might say it’s the six year old boy hormones clashing with Autism. Other people might just say that Autism is not only a spectrum, but it is also a journey. This journey is full of ups and downs, trials and triumphs. Regardless of why, my child was struggling and we were going to do anything and everything we could think of to help him.

In the midst of this quest to help our son, May came, and then June. That’s the way it works. Before we knew it, we were thrown into summer.

I determined to be brave. I wanted both of my kids to have a wonderful summer. We were going to go walking, swimming, go to the park, and go get ice cream. I made a picture schedule. I made a social story for my son that told him about all the cool things we were going to do.

Without going into too much detail, it didn’t work. Oh, I could share a dozen stories of failed attempts. I could tell you about the morning we attempted to go for a walk through the neighborhood (me walking and my son being pushed in his stroller) and how I had to call someone for help as he had a meltdown that left us sprawled out on the gravel. I could tell you about the Sunday morning that we gathered up our courage and tried to go to church only to come home in tears with broken hearts. With each failed attempt, we retreated further and further into ourselves and our misunderstood reality. Before long, we were homebound.

The Autism journey can be a lonely one. I know this. I have felt this. I know of other families who have a child with special needs who have expressed feelings of isolation and loneliness. But nothing could have prepared my heart and mind for our homebound half-summer.

I wasn’t sad for me. I was brokenhearted that while other six year old little boys were camping, swimming, and biking this summer, my precious son was at home struggling. We continued to work hard with his doctors and therapists to bring him relief. But make no mistake, we were homebound. We did not go out to eat, out to swim, or out for a walk. We had family pick items up for us in town because we could not leave our son and we could not take him with us. We. Were. Home. I did my best to create a world of summer fun from my front door to the backyard gate. It was within the confines of this small area that we laughed, cried, snuggled, had meltdowns, and tried our very hardest to pull our son out of the overwhelming layers that Autism had seemed to wrap so tightly around him.

In the midst of all this, the Lord was gracious to teach me and speak to my heart. I want to take this opportunity to share a few things I learned during our homebound half-summer.

1. Not everyone understands, and that’s ok.

Throughout these six years we have watched friends come and go. Not everyone understands. This still stings a little, but not as much as it used to. There are a hand full, and I mean a tiny handful of people who are still walking through this journey with us. These are the friends who come sit on our living room floor and visit while Ezra drives his train on their leg like a train track. They don’t have to go out, go bowling, go to a movie, or require a fancy meal to spend time with us.  These are the friends who understand that if they come to us, they will experience the very best version of our son in his own surroundings, creating an environment conducive for visiting. These are the friends who pray for us and with us. These are the friends who do not pass judgment and trust that we (a least sort-of) know what we are doing and that we always have our son’s best interest in mind.

During our homebound half-summer, I was reminded of how thankful I am for the few who understand. Those living room talks, checking-up-on-me texts, and phone calls helped to keep me going during a season of great loneliness. I am thankful for their love and friendship even through our darkest times.

I was also reminded during this time that not everyone understands. As the parent of a special needs child, I am learning to let go of the stares, comments, and cold shoulders. I am reminded that our crazy life does not fit into everyone else’s fast pace life. Not everyone understands, and that’s ok.

2. My first ministry is to my family, even if it means letting go of many other things.

This summer, I had to let go. I let go of writing, I let go of blogging, I let go of keeping up with very many people, and I let go of keeping a super orderly house. I let go of many things. These are all things that I love, but I love my son more. He is worth it. Whatever it was going to take to help him through this difficult time was exactly what I was going to do.

 Keeping up with Ezra and his needs while balancing being a momma to our daughter and wife to my husband is a full time job. By the end of each day my body was physically exhausted and I was usually emotionally drained.

My greatest desire for my son during our homebound half-summer was to make sure that no matter what, he felt loved, understood, and that he knew we were not giving up on him.

My greatest desire for my daughter during our homebound half-summer was to make sure that she still had a wonderful summer full of love and laughter. June was hard for her as she watched her brother struggle. She began asking the “why?” questions about Autism and Ezra. She needed extra love and attention as she had a front row seat to the overwhelming force that Autism can be at times.

I had to ask the Lord to help search my heart for all the things that I should let go of in order to not only help my son, but to serve our little family as a whole. It got to the point that letting go was somewhat freeing. I knew each day that my focus was going to rest solely on my children, helping Ezra to overcome, and loving my sweet husband. It was enough, and it was good.

3. There is beauty even in brokenness.

Although I was brokenhearted to watch my son struggle, there were many beautiful moments. Every moment we made eye contact was priceless. Every hug and sweet kiss fueled my fire to keep pressing on. (Oh mamma’s, don’t take those hugs and kisses for granted; some of us wait and pray for such treasures.) Even during our toughest times, it would tug on my heart when my son was able to verbalize and cry out “Momma” in the midst of a severe meltdown; a tiny victory in the midst of a great storm. Every word said, direction followed, toy not thrown, glance in my direction, display of affection, and smile across his precious face made all the gut wrenching struggles worth it. The Lord was gracious to give me exactly what I needed when I needed it. Just when I thought I couldn’t cry another tear, my son would unexpectedly come over to kiss my cheek. There was beauty in the brokenness.

June sluggishly brought July and around this time, we were finally beginning to break free from the tangles that had so tightly bound my son. His doctors had worked with us continuously and we were finally beginning to have our Ezra “back” again. Things were not perfect, but we were able to venture out every once in a while. We took baby steps as we attempted to establish a new normal. We even braved a vacation to the beach that had been scheduled long before we ever knew we would be in the midst of such struggles.

As we began to try to acclimate our family back into society, we moved very slowly. We are still in that process. It feels as though it took all of July just to recover our strength and energy from all that June had to offer. With school just around the corner, we are gearing up for what we hope is a wonderful school year. This has been a long process, full of lessons, longings, and love.

There is something you should know, there are others just like us. There are countless families who have children with special needs and they are homebound. They cannot leave their home and they are lonely. Some have been homebound for much longer than just a half-summer. If you know one of these families, please reach out to them. May times people think we just “want our space.” This could not be farther from the truth.

If you are one of those families, I am sending you a hug. Press on dear parents. This road is a long and bumpy one, but nothing could ever compare to the triumphs (both large and small) along the way. This is a journey worth taking, a battle worth fighting, and a love like no other. Thank goodness God does not forsake us, even in the midst of a homebound half-summer.

To My Son's Special Education Teacher: We Need to Talk

Dear Special Education Teacher,

It’s time. I’ve been holding this back for far too long. We need to talk.

You see, I’ve been waiting. I’ve been waiting to see if you would do what many other teachers have done before. I was waiting to see if you would grow weary, lose hope, or just plain give up. As the parent of a special needs child, we are far too familiar with the disappointment of a discouraged teacher. Now, as the end of the school years is upon us, and as many Special Education classes have simply slipped into survival mode, here you are still pouring yourself out for our little boy.

I want you to know how thankful we are that you have not given up on our son this year.

You know better than anyone else that this has been a hard year. With every milestone crossed, there has been a new mountain to climb. With every behavior overcome, there was a new behavior that seemed to take its place. As it goes sometimes in the world of Autism, this year has been a never ending journey to try to help quench the insatiable need for sensory input and curb the overwhelming impulsivity that seems to try swallow our precious little boy.

It would have been so easy for you to give up. It would have been so easy for you to maintain a survival mode mentality. It is because of your refusal to give into defeat and your determination to not just allow my child to “pass through” your classroom, that we were able to confidently entrust our child to you each day.

So, now it’s time. We need to talk. I want to make sure you understand all the reasons why THIS was my child’s BEST year of school, even though it was the hardest.

Constant Communication

There were very few mornings this year that I did not drop my child off at school without my stomach being in knots or at least a few tears streaming down my cheeks. I knew that my child would be well taken care of, but I was just so burdened for him and for how his day would go. He struggled this year. As a Momma, when our babies are struggling, it’s just so hard not to worry.

Your constant communication was what helped me to get through each day. I knew that I would receive pictures of my child and sometimes even videos.  I knew that you would keep me updated on the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout the day.

Every afternoon when I got home from work, I would go straight to my child’s backpack to check his folder to see what you had written about his day. I knew that if for some reason you were unable to write in his folder that day, you were just a text or phone call away.

Teachers of Special Education Students sometimes lose sight of the fact that our children cannot tell us about their experiences at school. They cannot tell us what made them sad or happy. They cannot tell us about their huge accomplishments or things that made them frustrated. You, the teacher, are the only link between school and home. If you had not told me, I would have never known. Thank you for your constant communication.

Honesty

You’re a straight shooter, and I’m so thankful for that. While you have capitalized on my son’s strengths and celebrated his many accomplishments this year, you also shared his struggles with us.

I’ve heard the almost mechanical, half-hearted answer of “Oh, he did so great” from many caregivers and teachers before. They are afraid they will hurt our feelings. They don’t like yucky conversations. The truth of the matter is that my child’s well-being and future are on the line, and as the parent of a child with special needs, I don’t have time for flowery conversations if, in fact, not everything is “so great”.

 This year, Autism for our child meant struggles with aggression, impulsivity, and sensory integration, among other things. Your honesty helped us to gage what kind of help our son needed. Your honesty helped to shape his Speech and Occupational Therapy sessions at home. Your honesty helped his Neurologist and Psychiatrist to make informed decisions as they worked with us to help our son learn new coping mechanisms and as they worked to develop a plan that would best serve our child.

I truly believe that the open and honest dialogue we have had with each other this year is one of the main reasons that we consider this year to be a success. There is very little progress that can be made in the life of a Special Education Student unless the teacher is willing to honestly give feedback to the child’s parents. Thank you for your honesty.

Care and Compassion

It has occurred to me that no one outside of our home has a better understanding of our life, than you. Loneliness is a common struggle amongst families who have children with special needs. We wonder how on earth anyone could possibly imagine what our day to day is like. But you know. By having my child in your class, you are privy to an understanding of my sweet boy that others just are not able to have. It is what you do with this special understanding that makes all the difference in the lives of families like mine. And what you have done is show an abundance of care and compassion.

When people think of a Special Education Teacher, I’m not sure they envision the multiple times we have sat together in a dark room beside my sweet boy as he laid rolled up in his stretchy blanket on the floor, trying to calm down. I’m not sure people think about the late afternoon phone calls when my son has had a possible seizure and you are the only person I know to call because you’ve seen him have one before. I’m not sure people realize that the only constant with Autism is change, as you have helped my child meet his ever shifting needs by finding weight and then compression, light and then dark, water and sand, walking with the service dog and then sitting in his box. I’m not sure people think about all the many times you have called to check up on my boy, just to make sure he is ok after a hard day.

Teaching my child is more than a job to you. You have invested in my child and have truly cared for him and his success in your classroom. You were not content to just let him be. Each day was a new day and my son knew that you had not given up on him. You have cared, struggled, disciplined, celebrated, cried, pushed, and have poured yourself out for my little boy. You cared enough to challenge my son and you had compassion enough to love him unconditionally. Care and compassion are not things that can be taught when you go to school to become a teacher. You either have them, or you don’t. Thank you for the care and compassion that you have relentlessly shown our little boy, and our family.

It’s true, it’s been a hard year. I am so thankful that the Lord gave us you for this season in our child’s life. I know you must have days that are exhausting and discouraging. Press on dear teacher! You are making a difference and your hard work does not go unnoticed. Because of your constant communication, your honesty covered in love, and your care and compassion, I can say that this has been my child’s BEST year of school, even though it was his hardest. Thank you for loving him enough to not just settle. Thank you for not just surviving. Thank you for being you!

Miscarriage and Mother's Day

Emptiness. That’s the feeling I remember most. In the place of where a heartbeat should have been, there was nothing; leaving my own heart with a feeling of emptiness.

It was Mother’s Day weekend almost seven years ago that I lost this precious child, but time has not made the very real memory of it all fade away. How can you be so absolutely in love with a little life that has only existed for a few short weeks? I’m not sure how to explain it, but you can. 

I remember breaking down in tears at the hospital as they drew my blood and conducted tests to further prove what I already knew to be true, I had experienced a miscarriage. And then, to my surprise, a second heartbeat. I had miscarried a twin.

I have heard of other women miscarrying a twin. I have also heard of the “Vanishing Twin Syndrome”. But I have never personally known another woman who has experienced this. Apparently the people in our community during this time were not familiar with this happening and awkwardly offered up their condolences by saying things like “I’m really sorry, but at least you still have one baby in there!”

The truth is, no matter how thankful we were that the Lord allowed us to carry and deliver our precious son, Ezra, we still grieved over the loss of our other child. I still dream of what it would have been like to have twins. I still wonder how life would have been as “Huggins party of five.” We have never forgotten.

Because we had picked out both a boy name and a girl name for this pregnancy, and because we were able to deliver our boy, we gave our lost baby the remaining name, Abigail. And we have never forgotten her.

For our family, a life is a life no matter how small. Every year as Mother’s Day approaches I can’t help but be so very thankful for the family God has given me. Every day, and especially on Mother’s Day, I also can’t help but remember all of my babies, both here on earth and in heaven.

Going through the experience of having a miscarriage has given me a new perspective and a depth of understanding that I believe some people just do not possess. So, as Mother’s Day approaches, here are just a few things I hope you will keep in mind:

We Never Forget Our Babies:

I can remember the shirt I was wearing, the sterile smell of the doctor’s office, and the nauseating pit in my stomach. I vividly remember the long trip from the doctor’s office to the hospital as my husband and I were clutched hand in hand. I remember my mom driving eight hours to be by my side as I laid crying on my living room couch. I remember the feeling of loss.

It’s not every day that I think about Abigail, but it’s often. Probably more often than you might think. And I would venture to guess that if you know someone who has had a miscarriage, whether early on in pregnancy or further along, they never forget. Our children are a part of us forever, even if they were with us for only a short while.

This Kind of Loss Can Be Lonely:

It was my experience that people did not know exactly what to say, so for the most part, they said nothing at all. Because I was only a few weeks into my pregnancy, I remember feeling as though others might believe I was making too big of a deal about our loss. As if somehow I did not have valid reason to fall apart for a while after this loss of life, especially because I still was carrying the surviving twin.

I will tell you, this kind of loss can be lonely. So, I implore you friends, if you know of someone who has experienced a miscarriage, be there for them. If you worry about what to say, say that you love them through your actions. Sit with them, cook for them, and acknowledge the life that you know they have lost because it is very real to them. It is a different kind of lonely to go through a miscarriage alone.

Our God is a God Who Sees:

To the mother who has lost a child, God sees you. We may never know this side of heaven why the Lord gives and takes away, but I am thankful that He sees us through our pain and grief. I am thankful that He acknowledges the life of our little ones, because He is the giver of life and is infinitely aware of our loss. God sees our sorrow. He sees our broken hearts and is able to mend them. We are never alone. The Lord is good to carry us through those times when we feel others just cannot see or possibly understand. He sees you.

As this Mother’s Day approaches, I hope you will remember those who have babies both here on earth and also in heaven. I promise you, they are remembering all of their babies on this special day. Because a life is a life no matter how small and each child reserves a special place in its mother’s heart, forever.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Teacher's Aide in My Son's Special Education Classroom: I See What You Are Doing

As the parent of a child with special needs, I cannot help but be an overemotional ball of overprotectiveness most of the time. I have decided that this is not a downfall, it’s my job. I must be my child’s voice, until he finds his own. I must be my child’s eyes, until he can tell me what goes on around him each day. I must be wise and very discerning of the people I allow to surround my child, because he cannot tell me for himself how they treat him. I must be my child’s advocate on every front, because that is the sacred calling that the Lord has hand-picked for me.

It is because of this sacred calling, that I watch and I protect. And I want to send this message to the teacher’s aide in my son’s Special Education Classroom: I See What You Are Doing.

I see you early in the morning as you greet my little boy in the drop off lane at school. I see how you smile with excitement about another day as he wraps his little arms and legs around you when you lift him out of our car. I see you in class pictures sitting with my child in your lap. I see how he loves to give you hugs and kisses your cheek. I see the gentle hand you use to help guide him into the classroom and how you keep a watchful eye on him to make sure he is always safe. I see the pre-cut triangles and squares that you helped to prepare for my little one to learn with.

I know that you have been there for my child as he struggles to the ground in an Autistic meltdown. I heard how you placed your hands under his head to help protect it from the hard ground. I know that you have walked the empty halls a million times with my little one to help calm his overwhelmed mind. I know that you help my child with the smallest of tasks such as cutting up his food, drinking from a cup, eating his food, going to the bathroom, and washing his clothes after a sensory activity that he had a little too much fun with.  You have learned his personality, his quirks, his strengths and his weaknesses.  Yes, I can see what you are doing.

You are building a relationship with a precious child that longs for connection. You are growing trust in a little boy who feels as though the world is coming at him every second of the day. You are pouring yourself into a child that can rarely offer up a “thank you.”

Let me remind you of something that you already know: my child is brilliant. He can sense love and compassion a mile away. On the other hand, he also knows immediately if someone feels uncomfortable around him or if they are working with him because they have to verses if they want to. Ezra does not learn well in a hostile or begrudging situation. He has to feel comfortable with the people that surround him. You are partially responsible for creating an atmosphere that is conducive to my child’s ability to learn. Thank you for loving him so well. Yes, I can see what you are doing.

I know you have days that are rewarding. I can see the love and trust my child has for you and I hope you can see that too. I also know you have days that are exhausting and so very discouraging. Thank you for not giving up. Because of your unconditional love for children like mine, my little boy knows that each day is a new day and that he is worth showing up for.

Yes, I see what you are doing. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. My child notices you. I notice you. Because God has given me this incredible gift of being the protector of my special boy, I watch so very carefully. Because my precious child cannot verbally tell me about his experience at school, I cannot help but take in every little detail about what I see. And I see what you are doing.

I am not sure what the world’s perception is about a Special Education or Life Skills Teacher’s Aide. I’m not sure if people realize all that you do. I believe that one of the most overlooked and underpaid positions is that of a Special Education Paraprofessional. If I could, I would give each one of you a big raise and a superhero cape. But because I cannot, all I can offer is my heartfelt gratitude. I want you to know that I see what you are doing, and I am so thankful for you.

As I write this, I count myself so very blessed that it brings tears to my eyes. Ezra has such an amazing PPCD teacher who works tirelessly with Ezra and with our family to make sure that he succeeds (more about that in another upcoming blog). But, over the years Ezra has also had multiple teacher’s aides in each of his classrooms who have had a tremendous impact on him and his success in the classroom. Each of them have thrown themselves in 100% to loving and caring for children like mine. They could have not cared so much, but they did. It is because of these amazing professionals (and his awesome teachers) that my son has had an environment of support and love. I have no doubt that Ezra would not have overcome and learned as much as he already has without these incredible educators. If you work in a special education classroom, PRESS ON! Your work does not go unnoticed. I see what you are doing!

Ezra at school. As I understand it, it was the normally scheduled time for Ezra's class to go outside. Ezra lined up, on his shape, all on his own because he is super smart like that. I can just imagine him thinking "Don't they realize what time it is!? They are going to make me late!"

Ezra at school. As I understand it, it was the normally scheduled time for Ezra's class to go outside. Ezra lined up, on his shape, all on his own because he is super smart like that. I can just imagine him thinking "Don't they realize what time it is!? They are going to make me late!"

When it Rains, it Pours

In the last two weeks, I have sat in more doctor’s office waiting rooms than I have in the last two years combined. Some of this was for “well checks”, some for my daughter, some for my son, and some for me, but it all just seemed to hit at the same time. Just the other day, I found myself in waiting room number six, sitting beside a sweet elderly woman. We struck up a conversation and it seemed as though she and her family were having a rough month of health as well. At one point in our conversation I found myself saying “when it rains, it pours!”

Super. Glad I could be such an encouragement.

The truth is, I had allowed myself to let the “Why Me’s”, “What If’s”, and “Could Be’s” overwhelm me by waiting room number six. I would love to tell you that I offered my new friend some super “Christianese” lingo, but I didn't. Don’t worry, I wasn't all “gloom and doom” either, but I mostly just sat and listened to her, smiled and nodded, and offered my profound “when it rains, it pours” two cents in. The conversation could have led to so much more. It could have been deeper. It could have offered hope. But I was tired, self-focused, and just really wanted to sulk in waiting room number six. (Totally embarrassing)

Anybody else ever been there? The overwhelming weight of the “Why Me’s”, “What If’s”, and “Could Be’s” can take such control over our hearts and minds if we are not careful. My words to this sweet lady have rung in my head since I spoke them- When it rains, it pours. Was my heart really so heavy that I could not see beyond that present moment? Had I really allowed the “things” of life to overshadow all the many blessings the Lord has so graciously given me?

I needed a shift in perspective. I needed to allow the Lord to “refresh the weary and satisfy the faint” (Jeremiah 31:25) that I carried in my heart. I needed to remind myself that God is much bigger than waiting room number six or any other circumstance I am facing.

Can I tell you this, friends? “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Easier said: “When it rains, it pours”….that’s right, the Lord doesn't just sprinkle His blessings and mercies on us each day. No, He pours them out! It is so very easy in our human flesh to overlook all of the beauty and blessings the Lord has poured over our lives, and to feel consumed by the many circumstances of life.

I will choose to count my blessings. Let me tell you how I was about to leave for work Wednesday morning, knowing I had a doctor’s appointment later that afternoon for which I was not sure how I was going to be able to pay, and in our mailbox sat a one hundred dollar bill for “The Jake Huggins Family”. (The Lord provides!) Let me tell you how after a week and a half of my Autistic child struggling terribly with aggression, he let me hold him last night at bedtime and gently touched my face with his little fingers. (The Lord is merciful!) Let me tell you how the Lord has open up opportunities for meaningful, adult conversation this week with dear family and friends- something that we are not always able to do. (The Lord is right on time!) …I could go on with a multitude of blessings that the Lord has poured over us in the midst of the trials of life.

 It’s true, “When it rains, it pours”.  The Lord pours out His love, grace, and mercy on us each day. He offers us promises and hope that far outweigh the “Why Me’s”, “What If’s”, and “Could Be’s” of this life. There is nothing that better cultivates a heart of thanksgiving than remembering the sovereignty of God. He is so much bigger than any surgery, bigger than any test result, bigger than Autism, or any other trial that may come our way.  Thank you Jesus!

I needed this reminder. Maybe you did too?

…and if you see a sweet little old lady in a doctor’s office waiting room, please give her a hug for me and tell her “God’s got this!”  

Ezra had an EEG a few weeks ago. We have more testing coming up.  Prayers for our little guy are appreciated!

Ezra had an EEG a few weeks ago. We have more testing coming up.  Prayers for our little guy are appreciated!

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Psalm 55:22 

Loving From Afar: A New Perspective on Christmas

I sat on my couch, just inches away from my little boy who was playing with his trains on the coffee table. We had been home from school for at least four hours and he had yet to make eye contact with me, touch me, or acknowledge my presence in any way. So there I sat, just inches apart from my little one. I so wanted to scoop him up and snuggle him, to kiss his precious face all over, or to tell him how much I had missed him while he had been at school that day. But I know better.  I know that in moments like these, he needs silence and to not be touched. That’s just the nature of this thing called Autism.

So, I sat. I watched him play with loving pride swelling up inside of me. He’s so beautiful, such a precious soul, a most wonderful blessing, and treasured gift. It takes an unbelievable amount of self-control for the mother of a child with Autism to learn to love from afar. Often times, that’s exactly what I must do.  

I began to think of another of another parent who had to love from afar. The thought had never crossed my mind before.

I have heard beautiful songs and sermons written about Mary and the beautiful perspective of the young virgin mother of Jesus Christ. What a huge responsibility. What fear and excitement she must have felt. What joy must have flooded her soul as she cradled her baby boy in her arms knowing that He was the Messiah, the Son of God.

I have listened to stories about Joseph, the young carpenter man.  What an exercise of faith it must have been to take Mary at her word and to take her as his bride. What must it have felt like to have been chosen to father the Savior of the world? I’m certain he found his heart overwhelmed at times as he found himself plunged into the very middle of God’s story of redemption.

I have even listened to accounts of the spiritual battle between heaven and hell on that not-so-silent-night. While angels sang “Glory”, all of hell shuddered at the birth of the New Born King. Never before had the birth of a child brought forth such a commotion as the countdown to the cross and Christ’s victory over death came rushing into the world on that starry night in Bethlehem.

But what about God the Father? Certainly, it is His gift, the gift of His son Jesus that we celebrate each year. But I just wonder how He must have felt as He watched Jesus, His one and only Son, be birthed into this world. I wonder how His heart must have raced as He beheld that tiny babe lying in the manger. How His soul must have swelled with all the joy, love, admiration, and awe that a parent feels at the sight of their newborn child. Was there a collision of emotion as He watched Emanuel, knowing what the birth of His child meant for the world and what this sin cursed world meant for the life of His child?

As God the Father watched from His heavenly throne, with all the delight that fills a new parent, did He long to hold His precious Son? To kiss His soft cheeks? To hold His tiny hand? Friends, the Lord is capable of the most complete and unconditional love. Therefore, I can only imagine the love He felt for His Son, Jesus. As God the Father shared His Son with the rest of the world, as He made the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me, He chose to love His baby boy from afar as Jesus was wrapped in clothes and placed in a manger.

This thought struck me as I sat watching my own sweet boy who was busy playing with his trains; as I was loving him from afar.

 How thankful I am that Christ does not ask us to conquer temptations without having been tempted Himself. How thankful I am that we do not experience the shame of sin and guilt without Jesus having borne the sins of the world and fully understanding the weight of which it carries. How thankful I am that we do not experience the deep pain of losing a loved one without God the Father knowing what it is like to have His one and only Son sacrificed for all of mankind.  He has walked our roads, feels our pains, knows our joys, and understands our struggles. God has never withheld Himself from our everyday circumstances but rather He willingly thrusts Himself into our world with all understanding and compassion.

As I sat there loving my child from afar, I felt a peace come over me. I am so thankful that I can come to God with the longings of my heart. When I long to touch my son, long to hold him, long to kiss him, long to hold his tiny hand, but instead must muster up all the strength that is within me to withhold these gifts that are so precious for a mother to bestow upon her child, I turn to Christ.  And in a way, I wondered if just maybe the Lord understands what it must be like to love your child from afar.

Whatever your Christmas may look like this year, whatever you are facing, whatever turn your life has taken this year, may I encourage you that God is so very near. He is Emanuel, God with Us and He cares for you!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Is There Room At Your Table For Me?

I watch my son’s eyes constantly. He may be mostly nonverbal, but his eyes speak loudly. Even when he cannot bring himself to look at me, I watch his eyes and often times, they tell me what I need to know.

I watch them dart from one thing to the next in rapid motion: this usually tells me that he is overstimulated. I watch his eyes cut mischievously at me to sneak a quick glance before he does something he knows he is not supposed to do: this reminds me that despite Autism, he is “all boy” and is testing his boundaries. I am crushed as I see the frustration in his eyes: he wants to be understood. I watch his eyes light up in wonder or excitement when he sees something he desires: he notices his environment. I see the sparkle in his eyes when he is able to stare back into mine: I can see his love for me and my heart melts.

Certainly there is impulsivity and many unknown factors on this Autism journey. There are days when I stare into my son’s eyes and all I can find is a lost little boy, trapped in his own reality. But more often than not, I can find him. So I watch. I watch ever so closely. I anticipate. I wonder. I take him in.

Because I naturally watch my son’s eyes, it’s no wonder that I was watching them closely as we entered my parent's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I often take for granted the fact that not everyone understands what all the holiday season entails for a family with a child who has special needs, so let me give you a quick rundown of all the thoughts that were going through our heads as we joined our family for a Thanksgiving feast.

How long do you think we will be able to stay? He is already a little overstimulated today. Oh goodness, there are pretty decorations everywhere. We are going to break something. Or even more, we are going to throw something and then break it! I hope they don’t mind him singing at the top of his lungs- he loves “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” right now. This may be too many people. We may have a meltdown. Will the other kids or adults acknowledge him? Hopefully he will keep his shirt on the whole time. Do you think everyone will mind if we watch “Signing Time” or “The Little Engine that Could” for about fifty times in a row? Maybe this was a bad idea. Stop thinking negatively…Maybe this will be a great Thanksgiving experience! Oh gosh, he just threw his cup into the already decorated Christmas tree…awesome.

It’s true. No matter how cool, calm, and collected I try to act, there are a flood of thoughts filling my mind during large family get- togethers. Thanksgiving was no exception.

So, as my anxious thoughts rose and we walked in the door to this Thanksgiving feast, I watched my little boy’s eyes for a cue.

I watched him as he did his little step, hop around the large living room and on into the dining area. We have a very large family so there were three beautiful tables set to welcome their guests. Ezra noticed these tables and stared. I watched as his eyes inspected every inch of these tables with their beautiful plates and crystal glasses. He nodded his head at each place setting as though he was mentally counting the places in anticipation for all the guests to arrive and be seated. I took him in as he took in the unfamiliar tables.

Ezra finally moved on from inspecting these tables and began playing with his toys on the floor nearby as we waited for other family members to arrive. I noticed that periodically, he would glance up from his toys to see if the tables were still there.

As each family arrived bearing trays of food and hugs for all, my boy was not left out. Our family has embraced Ezra in such a loving way. My momma’s heart swelled as each niece and nephew greeted Ezra with a “Hey Ezra!” or a sweet pat on the back. Although my son hardly glanced up from his busyness with his toy trains, he knew his cousins were there and he knew that they had included him in their greetings.

As our families sat down to eat, I asked where Ezra should sit. Without hesitation the answer was “Right here!” as I looked at a place setting with a glass plate and crystal cup; just like everyone else’s.

It was as if Ezra knew exactly where to go. He walked to the table and once again nodded his head as though he was mentally counting each place setting. When his nodding made its way around the table, he stopped at his own chair and a smile spread across his face. He knew. There was a place at the table for him.

He was not asked to sit at a table off to the side. He was not left to roam around the room and graze from a plate. He was not given a “special” plate in the event that he might break one of the nice ones. There was a place at the table for him, and he knew it.

Was I nervous about the beautifully decorated table? You betcha. Did I have visions of him possibly pulling the table cloth with all of its adornments into a messy heap on the floor? Yep. Was it a possibility that he might break something? Yes. But my parents knew this. It was more important to them that Ezra have a place at their table than for him to be excluded or pushed to the side.

And Ezra knew it. I could see it in his eyes.

We didn’t have some magic dining experience. We still had to help Ezra feed himself. We still had to remind him to “Sit down, Ezra.” We still had to use his i-pad to help calm him while he was in an unusual setting. But our Thanksgiving meal was complete because there was a place at the table for Ezra.

I keep thinking about my little boy as he nodded his head at each place setting when we had first arrived that Thanksgiving day. I just can’t help but imagine that he was mentally counting the chairs and wondering Is there a place for me at the table?

I have heard too many stories of children with special needs being unwelcomed by friends and even family members. I know that many times precious souls just like my Ezra are brushed to the side. They are excluded. 

You know, it was a possibility that Ezra may not have even been able to sit with our family at the table this Thanksgiving. Some days are just not good days. Some days leave him sprawled out on the floor in a sad or even aggressive mess. But even if he had been too overwhelmed to join us at the table, he would have had a place there, saved for him, just in case.  He would have known that there was a place for him at the table.

Could it be that a true reflection of your heart might be revealed by whom you would welcome to your table?

As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage you to make room at your table for everyone. Just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean that they desire no communication. Just because a person cannot make eye contact doesn’t mean that they wish to not be acknowledged. Just because a person seems to be in a world of their own doesn’t mean that they are unaware of their surroundings and the things being said and done around them.  Just because a person may not comment on your beautifully decorated dinner table does not mean that they do not greatly value being welcomed at it.

As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage you to create an atmosphere of hospitality for everyone. This sounds easy until you take into account that “everyone” may mean that you need to be ok with singing at the table, the possibility of a broken plate, a wheelchair in the place of one of your wooden ones, a feeding tube, an oxygen tank,  or an i-pad on the table. We should search the crevasses of our hearts to see who truly has a place at our table.

It seems to me that the people you welcome to your table are also the people you welcome into your heart.

Won’t you welcome sweet children like mine to your table? Won’t you welcome those who are often cast aside? Won’t you welcome those who are least likely to be welcome at someone else’s table?

They are waiting. They are waiting for you to welcome them. I know. I can see it in Ezra’s eyes.

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angles without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2






I Ask God to Come Sit With Him A While

When I lay him down to sleep, I pray to the Lord his soul to keep…then I kiss my little boy, say “goodnight”, shut the bedroom door, and wait for what is usually a very long night.

I almost forget that our nights do not look (or sound) anything like most other people’s nights. The double-diapers, zip-up pajamas on backwards, hospital bed with netting kind of nights. The singing-at the-top-of-his-lungs-for-hours, screaming, kicking the walls, laughing hysterically, or “scripting” kind of nights. Yep, I almost forget these things are not “normal” because this is our normal; it’s just part of the way we do life.

We never know what the night will bring. Sometimes, there are nights of quiet rest. Other times we get very little sleep as we listen to our son wrestle through the night.

But every night begins in the same way. I lay down beside my precious son, and pray. I have prayed for him while his tiny hands push against mine. I have prayed for him as he tries to hit me. I have prayed for him as he snuggles up close. I have prayed for him through his tears and tears of my own. I have prayed for him through happy chattering and smiles. Regardless of the behavior or the evening, I pray. I pray for Ezra’s future, that he will have a restful sleep, for his safety, for him to know how much his mommy and daddy love him, and most importantly that he would know how much Jesus loves him.

One particularly hard night, my prayer shifted. Ezra was wound up. He could not focus on anything. He was everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. I continued to whisper softly to him “I love you, Ezra. I love you.” My whispers were met with even wilder thrashing in his bed. My momma’s heart was breaking for my son. What was this thing that seemed to be so much greater a force than he or I were able to control? I sobbed through my usual prayer over my son as I dodged an arm, a leg, and another arm. And just before I could no longer utter a prayer between heartbroken tears, I asked God for something I had never asked for before.

Please Lord, come sit with him a while. Come and sit with him. Fill his room with your presence. Reveal Yourself to Him.

There is such a feeling of helplessness when you are the parent of a child with special needs. My son is often times a prisoner in his own brilliant mind. At night especially, his body seems to betray him and I find myself at a loss for how to help. There are just some things that I cannot do. This thing, this Autism, seems far bigger than me some days. But I know who is even greater.

So, in this small bedroom with its hospital bed and toy covered floor, I asked God to come sit. I placed my trust in the reality of God’s presence and power.

In Exodus 33:14, God reminds Moses of the power of His presence as He declares “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Rest. That is what I want for my precious son. Not just sleep. Rest. I want him to rest in the comfort of security. I want him to rest in the knowledge that God does not ever leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). I want him to rest with a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I want him to rest in the presence of the Lord.

Now, each night as I lay Ezra down to sleep, I still pray over him, but I always ask the Lord to come and sit with him a while. I have a very beautiful picture in my mind of Jesus coming and sitting at the foot of his bed. I ask God to reveal Himself to Ezra in ways that only He can. And I trust. I trust in the reality of God’s presence.

Do we still have some hard nights? Yes we do. This isn’t some halfhearted trial to see if my child will sleep better if I say “the magic words”.  Definitely not. This is faith. This is faith lived out by acknowledging what I already know to be true about God and His promises. This is me declaring that I have very little control when it comes to this thing called Autism. This is me remembering that God loves my child with an unconditional, sacrificial love. This is me offering up all of my best efforts and asking God to work in ways that I cannot and that He is completely able. This is me reminding my son each night that he is never alone.

This is me declaring the reality of God’s presence and power as I ask Him to come sit with Ezra a while. Thank you Lord, for using my little boy to remind me of your faithfulness and the power of Your presence.

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

 

Why You Should NOT Welcome My Special Needs Child to Your Church

I realize this may be one of the most controversial posts I have ever written. It has taken me months of writing, stopping, coming back, re-writing and I’m still not positive it’s perfect. But it is my heart. Every fiber of my being burns with passion over this topic. I want to share with you why you should NOT welcome my special needs child to your church.

I write this from what I believe is a unique perspective.  You see, I have worked in ministry for over ten years now. I have been on staff as a youth pastor and a children’s pastor. I have helped to develop a special needs program within a church setting. I have also been a teacher for five years collectively. I have taught classrooms full of children from all kinds of backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. Most importantly, I am a mother to two beautiful children, one of whom has Autism. That’s right, I am the parent of a special needs child.  So why on earth would someone with my background write a blog like this? Allow me to share my heart with you.  These are the reasons I believe you should NOT welcome my special needs child to your church.

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD IF YOU BELIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS ONLY ABLE TO WORK IN THE HEARTS OF SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT OTHERS.      Any good church goer would most likely read this and immediately say “Oh no! Not me! I believe the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of all people! I would never limit what God could do!”  And I would challenge back with this: Many times we (the Church) say such things with our words, but our actions do not hold up.  Does your church offer anything for special needs children? Do you know? Instead of preparing a Bible story for special needs children, does your church place them in a nursery setting and give them a toy and some movies? As the parent of a special needs child, I beg you, please do not pre-determine who is able to be reached by the Holy Spirit.  Church leaders, I want to encourage you that your job as an ambassador for Christ is to prepare to the best of your ability, to teach God’s word, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do exactly what He has promised to do: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” – John 14:26    You do not have to be a special education teacher to share about Jesus’ love with these children. You do not have to have sensory activity based learning, Bible centers, or offer ABA therapy. Your job is to present a sacrifice of your time and preparation, your love for others, and your love for Jesus…and share it.  Share it with children as best as you can. Tell them a Bible story, tell them about Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them, tell them how God created them with a plan and perfect purpose for their lives! And then trust that the Holy Spirit is going to do what He says He will do.  Yes, some parents of special needs children are just thankful for the respite of having a safe place for their child to stay while the rest of the family goes to worship. But why would the church want to miss out on the great opportunity of sharing Jesus with these special children? These are children who are often times excluded, laughed at, looked at, and pushed aside. For those of you who DO prepare a lesson for these precious children, thank you.  I want to tell you something very important: they are listening. They may not be making eye contact with you, they may be singing, spitting, or spinning, but they are listening. I firmly believe that God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). It is not man’s job to determine who is able to be reached by God’s Holy Word. His Word is for everyone and His love is all encompassing.

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU BELIEVE THAT CHURCH IS NOT A PLACE FOR THE “MESSY”. It should always be for the great love of our Lord that we would want to present the Bride of Christ, the church, in the best way we can by taking care of church facilities. I understand this completely. But my heart breaks for the church that has lost sight of the God given mission of the Church. The Church was never meant to be a pristine, social gathering of perfect people sitting in Church bookstores or coffee shops. These outreach tools in and of themselves are fine, but let us never replace the gift of human compassion, connection, and our mission to serve with only tools. This I know: Jesus knew how to get messy. Jesus placed His hands into the wounds of the hurt, He surrounded Himself with the “unclean”, He loved the “least of these”, He cared for the broken, and He washed the dirty feet of the disciples. Jesus knew that ministry is messy. I can promise you this, special needs ministry is messy too. There is nothing very cute about changing a five year old’s poopy diaper. It is not very glamorous to wipe drool or to help change soiled clothes. My special needs son is not going to sit quietly during your Christmas Cantata and he very likely will hurl his sippie cup up on the stage in the middle of your sermon (it’s true, it happened). Welcoming those with special needs into your church will cause you to have to think about wheelchair ramps and points of accessibility.  Welcoming those with special needs into your church might be a little more noisy, might require more volunteers, might cost your church money, and it WILL be messy.  But Oh, dear Church, do not forget that Jesus loves and came to serve the messy. What if the Church began to serve “the least of these”? What if Church was a place where those who cannot care for themselves would be cared for? What if Church was a place where dirty diapers where changed, drool was wiped, and the outcasts were accepted? If Jesus, the Messiah, Lord of all Creation, came to serve the “least of these”, shouldn’t we? What if we have it all wrong? What if Church could be a haven for the “messy”?

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU DO NOT RECOGNIZE THAT “SPECIAL NEEDS” IS A MISSION FIELD. In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives his disciples the “Great Commission” telling them to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19). As the church, as Christians, it is our mission to share with others the unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ.  We send out missionaries all over the world to share the good news of salvation. Praise the Lord! But did you know that there is a mission field, right here in America, that is not being reached? Did you realize it is estimated that nearly 90% of special needs families do not attend church? I can give you a pretty good reason why this statistic is what it is just based on personal experience. It’s so hard.  Did you know that most parents of special needs children who actually make it to church on any given Sunday have probably had much less sleep than you, many have faced several huge obstacles, and are literally hanging on a prayer that “this whole church thing works today”.  It’s hard to take your special needs child into a huge crowd because (usually) it overwhelms them. It’s the look of panic or sheer terror on the church worker’s face when they see your child bounding through the door. It’s worrying if the ministry workers will truly care for your child while you are at worship. It’s wondering if I can truly say “let’s go to church and learn about Jesus!” or if my child will actually just be sitting in a room while the volunteer nervously watches the clock. It’s wondering if anyone would actually be able to relate to you and your family. It’s worrying about the safety of my non-verbal child who cannot tell me how he was treated by those who care for him.  It’s wondering if you’re truly going to be accepted or just tolerated. My husband and I both grew up in church and are quite determined to have our family there each Sunday, but even for us, it can be discouraging at times. Dear Church, there is a mission field of tired, overwhelmed, and often times questioning people who are just waiting to be loved, included, noticed, and accepted. But let me warn you, this is not a mission trip that you can just donate to or visit for one week and walk away. If your church should accept the mission to minister to special needs families like mine, it will be a continuous labor of love. I beg you, Church, to not claim to have a “special needs ministry” unless it is truly the heartbeat and conviction of your church. I have seen what it is to have a church with a “special needs ministry” but it is not the passion of the congregation or the passion of the pastor. I have been the guest of churches who have a “special needs ministry” where there is no heart behind the ministry. Parents of special needs children pick up on this very quickly and for many, it is their first and very last time to “try church”.  I have visited churches that have an undeniable passion for special needs families. I have seen what can be when a congregation embraces this mission as their own. It can be a very beautiful thing! Special needs families just like mine are not welcome very many places. As a whole, public places are not our friend. Special needs families long for community and connection because it is rarely offered to us anywhere else. Would your church please pray about this widely un-reached mission field? If your church will not reach out to a family like mine, who will? We are falling into the cracks, unnoticed.

- YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD DOES NOT SPECIALLY CALL EVERY MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST TO SERVE. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” If you are a Christian, then you are a part of the Body of Christ. If you are a part of the Body of Christ, then according to 1 Corinthians 12, you have a “part” or a job to do. You see, God has given all of us gifts and talents to be used for His glory. The Church is supposed to function as one body of believers with all of its different members serving through their gifts and talents for the sole purpose of glorifying God and furthering His kingdom. I am not a super gifted person, but even I have been given “strengths” in some areas.  These strengths or “gifts” as the Bible calls them, were not suddenly zapped out of my system when I birthed a special needs child. On the contrary, I, like many other parents of special needs children, have gifts that God says are important to the Church. What’s more is that I still greatly want to serve. I believe there is a supernatural, wonderful thing that happens when a believer is serving in the very way that God created and called them to serve. It fuels my heart and uplifts my spirit. It’s true, many special needs parents want to serve.  What is also true is that many times we are not able. We are desperately searching for a church that will allow us the opportunity to serve, a church that values us, a church that believes we have something special to offer. We are also desperately searching for a church that will look upon our special needs child as part of the Body of Christ…which means that he too has something very special to bring to the body. In many ways, special needs families are being “cut off” from the Body of Christ. Oh Church, please do not let this be! If the Church does not find a way to include special needs families, it will hinder any possibility of these parents or children being able to contribute to the Body of Christ within the Church. It will make it very hard for these parents and children to do the very thing that God has charged us to do.

The truth is, I wish you would welcome my special needs child to your church, but for many, there is a work to be done first. Please check your heart and the heart of your church. There are families slipping through the cracks…90% of special needs families to be exact. The Church has a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Who will take up this cause?  It will take work and preparation, it will be hard, it will be messy, and it is not glamorous. But, dear friends, it will be so worth it.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” –Matthew 25:40

ezra field.jpg



Please Overwhelm Me!

With black streaks of mascara running down my face, I sobbed into my husband’s arms, “I’m just so overwhelmed,” I finally admitted.  Can I tell you what gut-wrenching pain it took for me to admit this? As if it is against the “Christian-code” to be overwhelmed by life? Well, forget the “code.” Forget the social stigma of having to have it “all together.”

Instead of buying into the idea that it is just not ok to fall apart from time to time or to be overwhelmed by life, I decided to turn to truth. I turned to the scriptures and found that I am not alone in my feeling overwhelmed. I have come to the conclusion that it is perfectly human to become overwhelmed by life at times…and it is perfectly God to love us in spite of our overwhelmed hearts and to love us enough to see us through until the other side of our grief, hurt, busyness, or whatever your “overwhelmed-ness” may be.

The last several months have been extraordinarily hard for us. We have moved, bought a house, started new schools, and began new jobs. It was a good move, and we love our new home, but uprooting your family and starting over is anything but easy. And it was all a little overwhelming.

We hunted for a new church in our new community (no small task for the family of a special needs child). We were met with ugly stares and even uglier comments. We left several church services with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts…but we will save all this for another blog. We have finally found a church that will love and except all of our family, including our son who has Autism.  And it was all a little overwhelming.

We fell absolutely in love with a precious young man from Ukraine. We had made plans. Big plans. Life changing, family altering plans. We were so excited. In one year, this boy changed our hearts and our family in a wonderful, crazy-love kind of way. How one teenage boy from Ukraine could so captivate our hearts in such a big way could only be a God thing. Even our son (who has Autism), who scarcely acknowledges others or makes eye contact, would hurry over to Pasha and snuggle up to him as soon as he entered the room.  His presence made life just a little bit brighter.  Then, in one night, with one wreck, he was gone, taking a little piece of our hearts with him.  I have found it so hard to bear that the world somehow has the audacity to just keep right on spinning in the midst of tragedy or turmoil. Each day we find the strength to keep going but it is not without pain.  And it is all a little overwhelming.

In the last few weeks, our son’s aggression has intensified. I cannot even begin to describe the pain this momma’s heart feels to have my precious little boy struggle in this way. The hurt in our hearts far outweigh the physical hurt of being pushed away, bitten, scratched, or hit. We work through, we press on, and we overcome. There are moments that are so precious; when he kisses our cheeks or snuggles up in our arms. We cherish these moments and truly just soak them up because we don’t know how long they will last or if he will offer this kind of affection again for days or even weeks. And it’s all been a little overwhelming.

Add these things to the every-day pile of bills, therapy sessions for our son, homework, dirty dishes, lesson plans, end-of-the-school-year madness, parent-teacher meetings, ARD meetings, and award ceremonies, and my “keep-it-together-ness” has flown right out the window. And it’s all been a little overwhelming.

I do not share all this to give you my list of woe’s or to write a sympathy seeking blog. I share all this because I just wonder if maybe there is someone else out there who feels overwhelmed by life as well?  And I just wonder if maybe you also have been trying to act as though you “have it all together” even though you don’t? 

Might I just encourage you with this…If we had it all together, we would not need a Savior. If we were strong enough to withstand the heartbreak that life sometimes throws our way, we would not need to depend on Jesus. If we were resistant to trials, there would be no need to depend on the Lord for our strength, to call on His name, or to fall down at the foot of the cross.

I’m willing to tell you that I have been hanging on by a tiny emotional thread these days. You could probably tell me a story about a hot dog and I would cry. I’m ok with that for now. I don’t plan to stay in this spot forever, but for now, I am allowing myself the admitted humanity of being a little overwhelmed by life.

Just the other day I was reading in Psalms. I was reminded of the continuous pattern to which David wrote many of the Psalms. David was under persecution, he was running for his life, he had lost everything, and many times, he was a little overwhelmed. Understandably so.  But if you read through the Psalms, you will find a pattern. It is a pattern of being overwhelmed by afflictions, turning to the Lord for help, and turning a psalm of despair into a psalm of praise and thanksgiving. David was human, and he became overwhelmed by life’s circumstances. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” Psalm 22:1  

However, David had a secret weapon. He knew what power there was in turning from his bleak circumstances to God’s amazing Sovereignty.  Just a few verses later he says, “I will declare your name to my brothers in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Psalm 22:22-24

And so this has become my prayer: Lord, please overwhelm me.  Overwhelm my soul with your goodness, grace, mercy, divine plan, and love. May I be so overwhelmed by You that all earthly circumstances seem to fade in the presence of Your powerful glory.

That’s right. I want to be overwhelmed. I want to trade my overwhelmed heart- overwhelmed by life’s circumstances- for a heart that is completely overwhelmed by God’s goodness.  When was the last time you let Him overwhelm you?

Being overwhelmed by God and who He is, is no easy task. I guess it should be, but it is just so easy to let life sweep us away in its unforgiving messiness. I believe that choosing to be overwhelmed by God is a day by day, moment by moment choice.

God does not ask us to pretend. God does not ask us to just “be ok” with life’s circumstance. God does not say that it’s not ok to be overwhelmed from time to time. You are no less a Christian if you find yourself at a point of sorrow or if your “keep-it-together-ness” is just a little off kilter.  But God does call out to each and every one of us in a plea for communion with Him. I want to make sure I am bringing my broken, overwhelmed, or messy heart to Him each day. After all, He is the only one who can truly heal it.

So yes, I want to be overwhelmed. I want to trade a heart that is overwhelmed by the world for a heart that is overwhelmed by the Lord. That is how I will find the hope and strength to make it through each day!

In a world of “keep-it-together-ness” I just want to say that you are not alone.  Because really, we all have stuff that overwhelms us from time to time. Because really, my “Keep-it-together-ness” is just a “keep- it-together-MESS”.  So, let’s work on this together. Let’s take our vulnerable, life-weary hearts to the Lord and ask Him to overwhelm us in the best of ways!

So, this is real life! Toys on the floor, kids shoes, dog toys, teacher bag with ungraded papers...writing my blog in my grandma sweater...in the middle of my keep-it-together-MESS!

So, this is real life! Toys on the floor, kids shoes, dog toys, teacher bag with ungraded papers...writing my blog in my grandma sweater...in the middle of my keep-it-together-MESS!





New Life through Death: Beauty Comes Through Times of Brokenness

As a parent, there are just some things that you try to shield your children from. You try your hardest to balance the realities of life with the truths of heaven, covered by a veil of protection from the depths of the pain and suffering that this world has to offer. There are times when God allows that veil of protection to be torn away and the fullness of tragedy and the frailty of this life come billowing in. Throughout these past few weeks, that’s exactly what has happened. There was no escaping what God had planned. There was no protecting ourselves or our children from having a loved one suddenly and tragically taken from earth. With all our inadequacies, we were forced to try to explain the unexplainable.

I am no great theologian, but I do know this truth: God has always been super at being Sovereign. You see, the same God that spoke the world into creation, who said “Let there be light” and there was, who created you and I, who knows how many hairs we have on our heads, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, who spoke about prophecies that we are watching come to fruition before our very eyes, is the same God who allowed this tragedy in our lives. Do I understand it? Not at all. Am I heartbroken? Completely. Do I doubt God or His goodness? No. Do I believe God has a plan and a purpose for all of this? Absolutely.

And so it was with hurting hearts but unshaken faith that we began to explain to our daughter, Grace, about the terrible wreck that took who she considered her “Uncle Pasha” away. She cried and cried. She asked questions. Then, in an unwavering voice she said, “Well, I know where Pasha is. He is in heaven cause I know he loved Jesus.”

Grace has been asking deep questions about Salvation, our need for grace, God, Jesus, Heaven, and Hell for about the last year. We have spent a great deal of time sharing with her about faith and what it means to “ask Jesus into your heart.” We went slowly. Our greatest fear was that she would make a decision to become a Christian just because she thought we wanted her to. Our greatest desire is for our children’s faith to be their own. So, patiently and ever so carefully we have shared about Jesus with Grace. Grace knew all the “answers” but we have been waiting for the day when Jesus would cause her head and her heart to collide in a way so that she had to, wanted to, couldn’t wait to ask Jesus to be her Savior because she needs Him.

I watched Grace watch others. As much as we tried, there was no way to fully protect her from the sorrow and grief we all were feeling. Grace watched. 

As I was tucking Grace into bed one of these seemingly endless nights, she began to recount all that she had noticed. She had noticed how devastated and hopeless some people were grieving and compared that to others who seemed to be grieving their loss, while clinging to hope.  “I guess that’s cause the ones who have hope know Jesus and they know that Pasha is in heaven and they will get to see him again. Right mom?”   “Yes, baby. That’s exactly right.” I could almost actually see her little brain at work, processing and taking it all in.

We arrived early the morning of the funeral. We were very busy trying to prepare everything and to make sure that the “Celebration of Pasha’s life” would be everything it should be. I was busy just trying to hold it all together.  I watched my little girl stare at the wooden box at the front of the sanctuary. “Momma, don’t these peopleknow that Pasha is not in there? He is in heaven!” “Yes baby, we know.” Then, without hesitation she said, “Momma, I am ready. I need to ask Jesus into my heart.” There was about ten minutes until the service started.

Looking back, I cringe at my response. Ten minutes. That’s all we had. I was an emotional basket case and was trying my hardest to remain composed as I was about to stand in front of a room full of people and address them all. I didn’t want to rush with Grace. I wanted to have time to visit with her and pray together. “I am so excited that you are ready, Grace! Why don’t we visit about it after the service? We will have time then.”

We sat in a room full of people, gathered together in Jesus’ name. Just as the bible promises, God’s presence filled the room as we praised God for who He is, who Pasha was in Him, and for others to experience new life in Christ. God’s word says that He is near to the broken hearted, and that is just what He did- He was near.  In that moment, all the brokenness of our hearts met with all the goodness of God and it was a beautiful service. As the pastor invited people to come forward to pray and to do business with God, I felt a little tap on my arm.  “Momma, I gotta go forward. I gotta ask Jesus into my heart right now!”  It was almost as if Grace was politely saying Hey Mom, Im going forward to ask Jesus into my heart. You can go with me or Im going by myself! There was urgency in her voice and excitement in her eyes. It was time.

There, on the front step of the sanctuary, our sweet Grace prayed the most beautiful prayer we had ever heard. It was a simple prayer, wrapped in the faith of a child and the grace of God.  Our Grace asked Jesus to forgive her of her sins and invited Him into her heart. We cried tears of joy as Grace smiled the biggest smile and she radiated joy.

I’ve not heard of too many people being saved at a funeral, but Grace was. I praise God for the gentle way He has pursued Grace over these few years. I am so thankful for God’s promises and truths that we have been able to share with our daughter. Most of all, I am so thankful that God would use the life and testimony of Pasha as the final catalyst for Grace’s salvation.  I am so thankful for Pasha, this boy that we loved as our own, and for the life he lived. I am thankful for the great love and example that he shared with our little girl.

Grace has a new birthday now. She began her new life in Christ on March 11, 2015. I can’t help but think that as Grace’s name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and as all of heaven rejoiced in her decision, that our sweet Pasha was there celebrating as well. We praise God that He can use tragedy to bring about something triumphant and blessings from brokenness. 

I firmly believe that God is not done using the testimony of Pasha’s life for His glory. I firmly believe that as God continues to write Grace’s life story, He will use her for His glory as well. Our God is not a haphazard or careless God. God is super at being Sovereign. It is in Him that we rejoice. It is in His hands that we place our broken hearts. It is in the hope and grace of the cross that we have the power to press on. It is by the blood of Christ that we are saved…including our sweet Grace. Hallelujah!

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Celebrating Grace's spiritual birthday! We had cupcakes and wrote the date in her bible to celebrate her new life in Christ!

Love: It's Not What You Think It Is

Today is Valentine's Day. Today we will see a flood of pictures of oversized teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, kids wired from an overdose of red food dye, and beautifully lit dinner tables to be shared with that special someone. Today is a great day to celebrate love.

As we celebrate love, my heart cannot help but feel just a little heavy. Love. What a word. It's a word that holds so much meaning. It's a word that means so many things. Unfortunately, it is also a word that is becoming more and more overused and abused. The word "love" (in many cases) has become a careless word. This ought not be so.

As I work with this generation of teenagers, my heart breaks as I watch them search for this idea of "love" that the world tells them to embrace. It is a counterfeit kind of love. It is a cheap impersonation. It is a word built on fleeting emotion and not on truth. Little by little, I watch these students give themselves over to this careless version of "love". It is a kind of love that is conditional. It is a kind of love that takes. It is a kind of love that is fleeting. And I am watching this idea of "love" leave these students confused and empty.

But you see, it's not just our teenagers that have been fooled by this diluted version of love. The world as a whole has dressed "love" up in a glamorous suit, and has paraded it around as though it is something that can be put on and taken off, only used for opportune times, can be shared with whomever, and can be thrown away if another more glamorous opportunity comes along. No wonder our students are confused. No wonder more and more marriages are falling apart. No wonder society has become bored with this word called "love."

Friends, true love is not glamorous. It's just not. In fact, I would go so far as to say that true love is the complete opposite of glamorous. Love is hard. True love is sacrificial. True love perseveres. Love says "I see all of your flaws and I still choose to love you." Love is a choice. Love is the commitment to stick it out. Love is forgiving. Love is helping, caring for, and making time for someone else. Love is not cheap. In fact, love can be costly. Love demonstrates patience. Love means more than romance.  Love is not superficial. True love is unconditional.  Unconditional love looks past skin color, sexual orientation, religion, or political beliefs. True love offers peace. True love offers truth covered in love. True love does not turn its head to ignore. True love is messy. True love is complicated. True love is simple.

In my own life, true love has taken on so many different meanings. In my own life, true love means pursing my special needs son with my love even when he fights, hits, or pushes me away. True love is my husband telling me how beautiful I am even though I cannot feel the right side of my face and it now sometimes droops. True love is cleaning, cooking, wiping poop, waking early to lay out clothes, kissing boo boos, and making time.  Love is making sure that my little girl understands her value and worth. Love is building my family up.

Ultimately, love is more. It is so much more than the world portrays it to be. This canned version of "love" that our world promotes is quickly leading our hearts and minds astray.

As I have the wonderful privilege to teach in the classroom, to speak from stages and to share about the love of Jesus with others, I have noticed a dramatic shift in our culture. Many times there is a sense of awe when I share about the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. How amazing that Jesus Christ could love someone like me? A sinner. Broken. In need of saving. And He loves me!  And while most times, this is still a common response, I am noticing another growing response. Oh, Jesus loves me. That's cool, I guess. Though much of this has to do with a greater issue of the condition of someone's heart, I can't help but wonder if our world's watered down version of "love" has helped to create this nonchalant "whatever" attitude towards Christ's unconditional, sacrificial love.

Friends, I beg you to not let "love" become a casual, commonplace, or careless word. Romantic love should never be casual, commonplace, or careless.  True love should never be casual, commonplace, or careless. The love you have for your family or friends should never be casual, commonplace, or careless. Most of all, I hope that you realize that Christ's love for you is never casual, commonplace, or careless.

Christ's love for YOU took blood, torture, tears, and the weight of the world's sin. He saw into the very fabric of our hearts, he saw our imperfections, our darkest secrets, our deepest hurts, and He chose to sacrifice His life for us because He loves us. Christ demonstrated the ultimate example of love, and it was anything but glamorous or flippant.  He pursues us each and every day with His unconditional love.

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day. I pray your heart is full. I hope you have a perfectly tender steak dinner with the one you love or receive one of those little red and pink stuffed animals that you will wonder what in the world do with come tomorrow.  But most of all, I pray that you would understand what love is. Love is not glamorous, but it is beautiful. It is beautiful because true love is deep enough to withstand all of the ugly, wonderful, messy, and complicated things that life throws our way. True Love is a beautiful thing.

"And I Pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Ephesians 3:17-19

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I Stopped for a While

The last few months have been a whirlwind for our family. Such a whirlwind, in fact, that I was ever so slightly swept away by all that October, November, and December had to offer.  God called, we acted. As the Lord quickly opened one door after the other with an almost audible “go”, we obeyed.  It was not what we had planned, but knowing that His ways are higher than our ways, we trusted and found ourselves in a new town, with new jobs, new schools, a new home, and a new adventure.

You, my blog reading friends, have not heard from me in a while because at first, I was just so busy.  Then, you did not hear from me because I felt it necessary to not be so busy.  Every once in a while we must stop. That is exactly what I did.

Certainly, life continued. There were classes to be taught, bills to be paid, clothes to be washed, homework to be done, and many other daily tasks to be attended to.  But besides the most necessary things, I stopped.

I needed some time to not only pour into others, but to be poured into. I needed some time to make sure I wasn’t just writing about life without living in it. I didn’t want to just capture moments with a camera or with my pen, but I wanted to bask in each second of the day.  I made sure to listen to my daughter’s hour long, amazingly detailed stories with full attentiveness and to watch my son play with even deeper wonder and amazement at the complexity and beauty of his life. I took in the cuteness of little freckles, tiny toes, and silly giggles. I wanted to soak in the gift of the mundane.  I wanted to not miss a moment of the extraordinary.  I needed to be sure that time was taken to incorporate praises of thanksgiving for each and every blessing that the Lord has so graciously bestowed upon my life.

There are times, I believe, that we must stop to shake off the things that might possibly be clouding our view of the “life to the fullest” that God promises us in John 10:10. I have been reminded that a “life to the fullest” may not be full of accolades, great accomplishments, or highly “notable” moments according to the world’s standards. A “life to the fullest” is not one of superficial relationships, haphazard conversations, or rushed routines.  Instead, a “life to the fullest” is lived with intention. God says that He came so that we could “have life and have it to the fullest!” He didn't come for our lives to be full of “good things”, but of “God things”.  I want to shake off the things that keep me from developing a deeper faith. I want to shake off the things that destroy my hope.  Most of all, I want to be so filled by the Holy Spirit that I am a reflection of Christ’s unconditional and unfathomable love.

So, I have been busy shaking things off. I've been busy about making sure that I do not allow life to just happen to me. I have been busy about living in each moment and soaking up the abundance of blessings hidden in the routine, mundane, extraordinary and even the busy moments that are unique to my life. I am thankful for our whirlwind and now, I am thankful to have shaken some things off, and to refocus for the New Year... It's good to see you all again! 

Ezra gave Grace kisses. She was so excited! He has allowed her to kiss him before, but this time he was the one looking for kisses!

Ezra gave Grace kisses. She was so excited! He has allowed her to kiss him before, but this time he was the one looking for kisses!

Treasuring this beautiful girl and hours spent building her castle.

Treasuring this beautiful girl and hours spent building her castle.

Ezra has "noticed" our puppy and loves to pet it. This is HUGE because he is learning to be "gentle" and have "soft hands." He does a great job!

Ezra has "noticed" our puppy and loves to pet it. This is HUGE because he is learning to be "gentle" and have "soft hands." He does a great job!

Grace and Ezra have begun to play together more. They have little games and jokes between the two of them. It fills this momma's heart with joy!

Grace and Ezra have begun to play together more. They have little games and jokes between the two of them. It fills this momma's heart with joy!

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest." John 10:10