Monday, August 14, 2017

Learning to Let it ALL Go

In approaching almost the 13th year of being a mother of a special needs child, you would think I would be done giving up all control of my son to my capable and loving Savior and that I was done giving up all of the circumstances around his needs to the Author and finisher of my faith.  Apparently, there are ways I haven't given up that control, and God is digging deeper to reveal the areas of my son's life and my own desires that I am still clinging desperately onto instead of entrusting them to my son's and my Maker.

I learned to give up my goals and dreams of serving God as a missionary full time on a foreign field and embrace the full time mission field ministering to my children and other special needs parents.  I learned to give up the anticipation of my son hitting his normal childhood milestones and instead celebrate the small things like not having a melt down in a community outing or appropriate use of coping skills when upset about a non-preferred directive.  I learned to accept that I can't enjoy the pre-teen years when your child becomes more independent while not needing constant supervision but that I can love on my son in more tangible ways and still have him be okay with mom rather than be embarrassed by her.  I learned to accept that I can't relax and spend more time doing various hobbies like my friends but enjoy the satisfaction that I am doing all that I can to make my son's life just a little bit easier.  I learned to give up the dream of seeing my son participate in team events and celebrate the successes of having a positive social interaction that only required a small amount of adult intervention.  I learned to accept his Autism diagnosis and all of the other diagnoses that have been added throughout the years and embrace the unique and perfect way in which God made my son.  I accepted all of this and gave it all to God along the way.  That's enough, isn't it?

Sadly, over the last 2 months of many set backs and discouraging battles, as the few rays of hope have started to diminish, God had to uncover yet another thing I needed to give up: my son's future: his spiritual walk, the outcome of his teen years and progression into adulthood, his happiness, his struggles.

The last 3 years, I have worked relentlessly to make my son's future and development as successful as possible.  I've stayed current with all of the latest research, behavioral interventions, and natural solutions to give him the best future possible.  We have made so much progress and paved the way for the best outcome possible.  I even got to the point that I once again had a glimmer of hope that he could even get married some day.

Then, it all came crashing down!  Puberty raised its evil head wrecking havoc on his body and causing many hardships and setbacks just as the doctors had predicted.  We coasted through the beginning thinking we were going to skip our way past the foreboding warnings of the doctors.  It looks like we won't be so lucky after all.
As we moved into the reality of what the next several years would look like, I began worrying about his future.  I don't want him to become another statistic of a bipolar youth who kills another person or himself in an angry, illogical rage.  I don't want him to get in trouble with the law and end up in a juvenile detention center.  I don't want him to reject and curse God and flee from the ways in which we brought him up.  I want to make his teen years as easy as possible.  I want him to be able to successfully enter the work force and make something of himself. I WANT...

As my son struggles to maintain control of all circumstances in his life even if it means fighting his way into more and more consequences and lost opportunities, I am struggling to give up the control of my son's future.  As he was formed in my womb, God had his days numbered and his course set.  I can't control how God gets a hold of his hurting and fragile heart.  I can't control whether his teen years are easy or frighteningly difficult.  I have no control because I am not God.  This has become a frightening reality to me the last couple of weeks.  It is so hard to give up control.  To sit back and let God be God and do as He sees fit in my son's life and heart.  It's not that I don't trust God and His sovereignty.  It's the fear of HOW God will accomplish His purposes.  My son has already had so many hurdles to cross, and I don't want to see him struggle anymore.  God doesn't promise that life will be easy but that He will work all things for good.  That has to be enough.

Once again, I find myself learning and battling to let go.  Just as I have let go of the other things, I have to do that with my son's future.  It's just a whole lot harder than I had expected.  Abraham had to give up all control of his son Isaac's life and be willing to sacrifice him in obedience to God.  Hannah gave up control of her son Samuel's life to give him to the ministry in the temple. Mary had to give up all control of her son Jesus' life and let him to his Heavenly Father's work even if it meant going to the cross.   It's time I learn to follow in their footsteps and give up all control of my son's life and his future.  It won't be easy, but it is necessary.  Once I do, the rays of light will break through again because the only place for my son to be is in the good hands of the Shepherd of my son's heart.  If I can do that, it won't be all doom and gloom, right?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It Takes a Village to Raise a Special Needs Child

The last two weeks have been utterly horrific and ones that I pray we will never have to repeat.  Josh came completely unglued emotionally leading to terrible and horrifying behaviors.  It was like reliving the unstable days of years past when his bipolar was not well controlled.  He has been stable for the last 3 years, but since we decided to do a family missions trip because Josh was so stable, it seems as if Satan is pulling out all of the stops to get us to change our mind.

We spent the last week and a half deliberating about whether or not to hospitalize Josh.  It was the most agonizing decision to make knowing he was completely out of control and out of our ability to control yet knowing that if we send him back to the hospital, it will be yet another traumatic experience for him complicated by the fact that the hospital simply drugs the kids to make them calm, keeps them in front of a TV screen all day to keep them under control, and feeds them all of kinds of food that we do not put into our bodies not to mention the gluten and refined sugars that would be served that are huge triggers for Josh and his mood/behaviors.  It was a no-win situation, but we were quickly running out of other options.

Throughout this struggle, we had dear friends from church who regularly checked in with us, sent me encouraging texts including reminders of helpful Scripture passages, and who came at a last minute's notice to allow us to get out of the chaos for a quick breath of fresh air and a chance to celebrate Tim's passing of his Certified Financial Planner exam.  I was encouraged by a phone conversation I had with one of Josh's youth leaders who was concerned about Josh and his behaviors and wanting to know how the youth leaders can help him be more successful in youth group then praying with me that God would help Josh through this difficult time and return to stability.  David's Christian counselor who had done a joint session with the boys the last week and could tell Josh was coming undone sent me an email to check in and see how we were doing and see if she can help in anyway.  Josh's school was extremely concerned and offered their help and support to us and did all that was necessary to help keep him under control as much as it was possible.  Josh's psychiatrist saw Josh on an emergency basis then gave me her cell phone number so that I could contact her at any time (and she walked with us through the battle of whether or not to hospitalize several different days over the last two weeks).  She is also a blessing in that she doesn't always see medication as the answer to problems.  Josh's nutritionist responded to my email asking if she had any suggestions for ways we can help Josh by offering her chiropractor husband's services before his office hours began to do some specialized neurological adjustments to help Josh, and as he did so, he spoke the Gospel to him.  The nutritionist then offered to squeeze Josh into her busy schedule to see if anything from a nutritional and supplemental standpoint could be done to help him.  We had another friend who still willingly came in the midst of the chaos to watch the boys so we didn't have to cancel our plans to go to a concert in Philly that we had bought tickets for back in December.  I had another friend who deals with similar drama in her household come alongside of me and check in with me all while being an encouragement just through her mutual understanding.  We also had many friends and family members praying for Josh and for us, and prayer is just what all of us needed!

I can't imagine having to do these last two weeks alone!  I am thankful for the village God has built up around us to stand with us in trials and support and encourage us.  Had it not been for the support of those faithful villagers, I am not sure what things would be looking like right now.  God through His goodness and providence has helped us have all that we needed to walk through this fire.

With the sudden return to stability Josh experienced yesterday (most likely due to the prayers, neurological adjustment, and supplement changes), we are more than ready to take deep breaths of fresh air.  However as I do so, I am praising God for our village and the way He used dear people to help us get to the other side.  Raising a child with special needs is not for the faint of heart, but it's also impossible to do alone.  It truly does take a village to raise a special needs child, and I am grateful that God has not left us alone!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Letting Faith Rest in the Power of God

As our date of departure for our family missions trip draws ever nearer, and the final plans are made, I found myself feeling more and more nervous about bringing our oldest on the trip with us due to his continued mood instability.  I feared for his safety with the way he was acting not to mention that I worried about how his behavior would be looked upon by the people in that culture.  I was praying that God would help him to become stable again, but it seemed that each day, there were only more problems rather than fewer.  I began doubting our decision and whether or not God wanted us to bring our son with us.  On top of that, I wrestled with the fact that the country we were headed to had fewer than 1% of the population who were Christians and there really wasn't a model for what a Christian family should look like in that culture except what the pastors and their families are presenting as they blaze the trail raising Christian families.  Part of my vision for the trip was that we could let the people there see what an American Christian family looks like.  However, with the way our oldest was behaving, that idea would be a disaster because we'd only show them how truly broken we really are.  I worried about showing that side.

I expressed my concern in a discussion with Tim who stated that it's not our mission to present to them a "perfect" Christian family.  It's our mission to be with them in body and Spirit encouraging and ministering to each other.  That's what a partnership is all about.  Through the ministry of one another, God builds His Church.  I was thankful for Tim's insight, input, and decision that we are going as a complete family no matter what.

The next day, in reading an excerpt from a meditations book written by missionaries with Josh, I had to smile at God's providence at the passage of Scripture and following reflection about that passage because it was just what I needed to read and meditate upon in my heart.
I Corinthians 2:1-5:  And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
God has this trip already worked out.  He has my son's stability under His control.  He's the one who called us to do this trip as a family, and He's the one doing amazing things to make this trip possible.  He has called us to be lights and bring the Gospel to all peoples making disciples.  We do that by presenting Christ in our brokenness.  We don't want to be making converts of the Russell Kingdom.  We want to make converts of Christ's Kingdom.  What better way to do that but through our own brokenness and desperate need for a Savior.  May these dear people we fellowship with see Christ and Christ alone in our broken lives and may all of the honor and glory go to Him who sustains us and gives us the strength to finish each day through His great and mighty power.

Interestingly enough, as soon as I embraced this new way of thinking, things calmed down in our household, and our son has seen the most stability yet since things got rough in December.  Perhaps God just needed to get my attention and teach me a lesson and grow my faith!  To God be the glory!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Encouraging Thoughts to Help You Carry On

Being a caregiver for a special needs person is not for the faint of heart.  It can be exhausting, emotionally draining, and often, it can seem repetitive and rewardless.  It's been twelve years since we started on our special needs journey with our first son and 10 years with our second son.  While we have seen remarkable changes over all of those years, when we are in the day in and day out toil, it often feels as if our efforts are in vain.  The day to day progress seems nonexistent and the step back for every two steps forward is disheartening.

Of late, I have become weary of the same conversations over and over again helping our son with Autism know how to appropriately act in various social situations and when given non-preferred directives.  I feel like a broken record on a daily basis, and it seems no matter what I say or do or how encouraged I am after a conversation, my time and energy spent in helping my son is in vain because either the same day or the next, he ends up doing exactly what we discussed he shouldn't do.  It can be infuriating to say the least.

It is times like these that I am so grateful that I am not on this journey alone but that I have my great God and Savior right there with me encouraging me forward, strengthening me to finish each day, and carrying me when I can no longer walk on my own.  Time spent in God's Word and in prayer  refreshes and nourishes me daily.  God-centered music daily ministers to my heart speaking God's truth into my mind.  Conversations with people who love and accept me and my family the way we are, who are willing to walk with us in our not-so-pretty daily lives, and treat us without judgment help my burdens to not be so unbearable and help me to not feel so alone.

If you know someone who cares for someone with special needs, I encourage you to reach out and be a blessing.  Don't judge.  Get involved in their messy, daily lives and love them with God's love.  Send an encouraging note with an encouraging Scripture verse or passage.  Don't ask "How can I help?" but instead ask "When can I come over and help with housework or care for the kids or bring over a meal?"

Sometimes, when struggles pile up, it's easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged.  Necessary daily tasks become repetitive and meaningless.  Sometimes we need a reminder that the mundane is not for nothing and that we are involved in Kingdom work.  After all, a large part of Jesus' ministry on this earth was ministering to those with special needs.

Some encouraging Scripture passages that help me keep going include:

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights" - Habakkuk 3:17-19.

"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail" - Isaiah 58:11

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." - Lamentations 3:19-26

Some songs that have really ministered to me in my hardest of days include:

"Blessings" by Laura Story

"He Will Hold Me Fast" by Keith & Kristyn Getty

"Grace" by Carolyn Hamlin

"Day by Day" a hymn written by Lina Sandell and translated by A. L. Skoog; music by: Oscar Ahnfeldt

No matter how hopeless a situation, our hope rests in God alone.  He is our strength and salvation.  He is our sovereign designer who is working all things together for our good and His glory!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

No Matter the Cost

As our family missions trip draws ever nearer, we are busy making plans and ironing out details and making reservations.  We are excitedly sharing our plans and desires for our trip with friends and family and asking for prayer and financial support.  We are also, more importantly, trying to mentally and spiritually prepare ourselves for the weeks ahead and the actual trip as we know that we "do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

In my own personal preparations, I just finished reading the book The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected by Nik Ripken, which has been a HUGE blessing to me personally and a significant spiritual growth stimulator in my own life.  This book has incredible stories of Christians who suffered through significant persecution yet kept their faith and had God do amazing work in and through their lives and/or deaths. I have been reminded through these stories and lessons the author learned through his conversations with these believers that God doesn't call us to go and make disciples to areas that are safe.  He simply calls us to GO (Matthew 28:19-20).  At the same time, Jesus warned his disciples and us that the world will hate us and persecute us (John 15).  We are reminded by the Apostle Paul that we are crucified with Christ and no longer live but instead, Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20).  He reminds us that we should desire to "know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10).

When we decided to do this family missions trip, we knew the risks we would be taking in going to a country suffering from unrest and where our dear sisters and brothers in Christ suffer various forms of persecution for their faith.  One of the churches we will be worshiping in is on terrorist group hit lists.  In a country with less than 1% Christians, it can get very lonely for believers, and the temptation to lose faith is great.  On the flip side, the opportunity for faith to grow and be ever resilient is greater for them than it is for us here in the comforts of our freedoms and our assumption of safety.  We want to go and minister to and encourage these dear saints.  At the same time, we hope to be challenged spiritually by their faith and learn to be ever faithful in the midst of suffering.  We want our fellowship with the believers to be a time of edification for them and us alike as we bear each others burdens and sharpen one another helping each other to be more like Christ so that through our lives more people will be led to Christ.  Isn't that the Gospel in action?

Some of our well-meaning friends and family have asked us whether or not we are truly being wise and thinking about our boys in choosing to take them into a dangerous area.  While we appreciate their care and concern for our family's well-being and safety, we have to follow God's calling in this area.  We have discussed with the boys the risks and allowed them to have the final say in whether or not they think it's worth it, and they are 100% behind this and so very eager to go.  We truly believe God has called us to do this, and He has been confirming this call in so many different ways (some even miraculous!) since we made this decision.  God hasn't called us to do this to put us in danger.  He has promised to be with us "always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  Our lives (and our boys' lives) are not our own -- they have been bought with a price, and hence, we must glorify God with our bodies (I Corinthians 6:19-20).  Our lives are nothing to us, and like Paul, our desire is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given us - testifying to the Gospel of God's grace (Acts 20:24)!  We have been reminded by a dear friend from this area that we are truly "bullet-proof"!  No bullet will take our lives or wound us unless it was God's ordained "bullet" because His work in us on this earth is complete or He has greater plans for us.

Are there fears and concerns?  Sure, we are, after all, human!  What's greater is God's call on our lives to take up His cross and follow Him and carry out the Great Commission wherever He leads us - right here in Elverson, PA right now and in other places near and far away as He directs our steps.

This great God whom we serve sacrificed His own Son's life through a terrible, painful death on the cross so that our sins could be wiped clean, and we could once and for all have right standing before God and a home in His presence for all eternity.  He intricately formed us in our mother's wombs giving us the breath of life and ordaining all of our days.  He made us His children when we were filthy in our sins unable to desire Him.  He has walked with us through our various struggles in this life and has never failed us.  He comforts us with His Word and His church universal.  He strengthens us and showers us with His grace to survive each day He has planned for us.  This is love too great for me to comprehend!

As Isaac Watts penned in his great hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."  No matter the cost, I give my life and the lives of my boys to our great God!  Here I stand.  I can do no other!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Greatest Valentine

As I left the house yesterday morning on Valentine's Day heading to work, I enjoyed the Valentine God sent me in the form of a beautiful sunrise.  The sky was painted in the most brilliant and vibrant pink colors.  As my eyes drank in the beauty of God's Valentine for me at that moment, it made me think about how God has given me the Greatest Valentine in the form of His precious Son and all of the lavish gifts He has given me since His Son.

His love for me was poured out as Jesus' blood ran down his body as He hung on the cross innocent of any wrong-doing but bearing my filthy sins on His body and taking my punishment.

His love is poured out for me when He sees me as holy and just because He sees me through His victorious and Holy Son.

His love is poured out for me on a daily basis as he sovereignly controls my daily events to make me more like Him.  Even the mundane tasks that demand my time and attention are a result of His love.

His love is poured out for me through the many blessings He gives me when I deserve only punishment.

His love is poured out for me in the grace He gives me as I walk through the waters and the fires of life's trials that only make me come out more refined as gold.

His love is poured out for me when I daily open His Word - His Love Letter to me - to hear from Him, learn more about Him, and grow to be like Him.  Yesterday, I stumbled upon the verse Zephaniah 3:17 and was awed by the demonstration of love in it.  As God, He has every right to damn me to eternal hell, but yet, instead of rebuking me, He chooses to REJOICE OVER ME with SINGING!  After all of the countless times I have held my precious boys close to my heart and sang over them to comfort them, to make them happy, to help them know they were loved, my great God does the same thing to me!  What an amazing thought!

His love is poured out for me when I spend time in prayer fellowshipping with him, praising Him, and lifting requests before His powerful throne of grace.

His love is poured out for me through the love of my husband who works so hard to provide for me, pitches in around the house to make my life easier, and loves our boys.

His love is poured out for me through my two boys as He molds and shapes their hearts, as they give me hugs and kisses, and as I clean up after them.

His love is poured out for me through the joy I get from music whether it's playing the piano, singing, helping my boys with their instrument practices, or simply listening to worship music.

His love is poured out for me through the friends who take time to notice, to pray, to spend time with me, to lend a helping hand.

His love is poured out for me through the chances to be the Gospel in someone's life and to see the universal church grow and flourish.

Yep, I have the greatest Valentine ever, and He is my great God!  The most amazing and wonderful thing is that He can be yours too!  If He is not already your Valentine, make Him yours today!  I'd love to help you do just that if you don't know how!