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!