Saturday, June 30, 2012

Plans and Course Corrections

This morning I pretty much kept to my routine tho' I slept a few minutes past my regular wake-up time. My routine is: up; coffee; pack lunch; computer: email, Twitter, Facebook; consult list for today.
In reading down the 84 Twitter posts I came across this post by Paul Tripp:
Our struggle with sin is so deep it was not enough for God to forgive us, no he has also unzipped us and gotten inside of us by his Spirit.
I woke up this morning the same way I always do - carrying around a sinner's heart. Granted God is working to restore all that is broken by sin down to the core of my being (my heart) but the process is far from done. I need Him to change me in ways I may not even comprehend to make me less broken by the end of this day than I am at this moment!
What a great thought for beginning my day! I don't know what this day will bring into my life and sphere of influence. I pretty much know that it's going to be beastly hot. I know I have a long list of things to do. I know that sometime today I have to help set up for church tomorrow and finish the Children's Page.............I also know that my plan is often changed by the One Who says, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer. 29:11)
When I put Paul Tripp's thought with God's promise I have to know - when my plans change today in unexpected ways - that because God cares enough about me to get inside me and direct my life from my core being (my heart) that it's a good thing.
I can't see into the future as far as the end of one step in any direction. There is One Who knows His plans and will direct my steps. When the end of the day comes if I look at my list and find few items checked off because of Divine interuptions, I remind myself that because God has plans for me - to prosper me and not to harm me and to give me hope and a future - that these course corrections are a good thing!
When my dad was captain of a Navy ship in the south Pacific during WWII he left the con (control) of the ship to a younger officer while Daddy went to eat down in the mess (dining hall). As he was finishing his meal another officer looked out the porthole and asked, "Captain, you preparing to beach this craft? My dad was always quick on his feet. He jumped up, looked out and saw the beach coming up fast. As he ran for the ladder, he called to the man actually steering the ship, Left full rudder and hurtled up to the bridge. Sitting at the con he found a young ensign with his feet propped. Daddy said, Do you plan to run this ship onto the beach? The young ensign casually looked at his watch and said, Capt'n, it's 20 minutes before a course correction. My dad said, Do you think this thing has wheels? In 20 minutes we'll be three miles inland.
The urgent Left hard rudder brought the ship around close enough to the beach that they could see the natives running down to see the big ship. The ship turned just as the breakers were forming. That was a serious and necessary course correction!
Perhaps I will casually and sometimes frantically go though my day working my plan until the Capt'n asks, You planning to "beach this craft"? I am pretty stupid if I tell the Capt'n that my agenda (to change course in 20 minutes) is superior to His command to change course NOW!
Course changes in my life often include people and their needs. Will I be willing to change course for someone who needs a kind word or deed? Will I be willing to change course for some urgent "interruption," I certainly hope so. And I know so if my Capt'n is directing my course from the center of my heart!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Life Stinks!

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to visit my sister but it wasn't a social call. She and her busy pastor-husband are caring for my feeble, elderly parents in their home. I was there to be an extra pair of hands because my brother-in-law had to be out of town.
It is a 24/7 kind of job with minimal (a few hours a day) help from home health aides. It is physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually heart-wrenching! It involves taking care of practical needs - day and often night - that children just don't usually have to do for parents. It involves enduring the pain of dementia and severe Parkinson's. It is losing parents who are loved, respected and honored because the bodies are there but each day and each week brings further decline and increased need for care. The reality is that having meaningful conversation or getting wise counsel is gone and never coming back!
From my earliest memory both my parents spent time each day reading the Bible and praying and having daily family "worship." Their decline - as I realized last week - includes the fact that neither ever holds their Bible to read and pray. They still attend church but never discuss meaningful things that impacted them in the service. They are no longer able to connect in that way.
There's more but you get my point................ And I know what I describe is the experience of life in many homes where one or more family members have some disability. It's real, it's demanding, it's draining, it's constant and more! Great love doesn't impact the needs or change the demands! The hearts of parents or children are twisted with all the pain and loss! Nothing is as it was meant to be! Everything is broken and needs to be fixed and the reality is that no fix will ever happen in this life. The reality is that ONLY Jesus can make all things new re His promise in Revelation 21:5 - And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. But knowing that while living in the reality of the present pain is almost impossible!I
I spent last week providing a small piece of respite care. If you don't know, respite care is providing short-term, temporary relief to those who are caring for family members who might otherwise require permanent placement in a facility outside the home. My piece last week was really support service and encouragement for my sister as well as love to my parents.
My brother, my four sisters and I along with our spouses take great joy in providing care for Mother and Daddy so they can remain at home. But mostly I'm the chicken related to the breakfast menu while my sister is the bacon big time! The chicken provides an egg and moves on to another day. The pig provides the bacon to his mortal harm. That's the HUGE difference between the rest of us and my sister and her husband!
Last week I found myself so tired that I mostly kept going knowing I would fly home and catch up. My sister would just keep going!
I understood intellectually what respite care is and does prior to last week. I know something of what it means to be pretty involved in caring for a church member or friend for an intense period of time. But I can say emphatically, I have an indelible understanding after last week that sends me to my knees to pray over and over for my parents, for my sister and her husband. I also know I need to plan to go again soon!
Life stinks and there's no getting around that for some because every day brings new, painful reminders!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hands AND Heart!

Yesterday I read Ann Voskamp's blog.
She talks about two Black Angus calves and how she and her daughter tried to get them to drink water from a bucket as part of the process of weaning them:
I rest my chin on the farm gate, and exhale in one long breath while two baby calves with saucer-like eyes stare back at my daughter and me. It’s a showdown. And these cows simply won’t budge. We cajole. We gently splash at the water in their five-gallon buckets. We even sing a sweet, silly tune: “Daisy, Daisy don’t be la-zyyyy! Come drink from your pail of waaaa-ter!”
But those two unyielding, black calves with wet noses simply blink long eyelashes at us.
What they say about horses is also true for cows: You can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink.
My daughter, Lydia, wears worry on her knitted brow. Will these calves ever learn to drink from a bucket? She kneels down, swirling water in a bucket with her index finger. I rub her back.
“It’s OK, hon. We’ll try again tomorrow, all right?” I hand her an oversized bottle of milk-replacer to feed Sherbert, and I hold another bottle for Daisy.
They come to us, ravenously. I look down my arm at Lydia and reassure: “They’ll learn. They’ll wean eventually.”
............. And I can’t figure out simple tasks, like how to get a calf to drink from a bucket. Two tails twitch. Wide, begging calf eyes plead, “More.” Both bottles have been sucked dry now. Lydia and I walk up the hill, to wash up before breakfast. I turn on the faucet, and wash bottles. I rinse with water, watching it all swirl down the drain.
And it feels like a sort of inner cleansing, an act of faith, to stand here at that sink, watching dirty water drain away. It’s an inner turning, a refocusing, a flipping over.
I have to remind myself daily what I already know: Focus on the Father, not my flaws. Look to the Savior, not the self. The Messiah, not the mirror.
And this is the power of the Gospel: Water cleanses, t
hrough the Word.
But this is also true: the patient Father can lead His child to water, but He doesn’t make her drink it.He holds water out, as if in cupped hands. He bids us, come. And at the edge of this sink, I drink from those hands. I preach the Gospel from a self-pulpit. I repeat memorized Scripture, about who I am, about how I’ve been fashioned by God, created in Christ Jesus
to do good works that will bring His Kingdom glory, here-below. There is no earthly yardstick, rating system, ticker or scale to measure that sort of thing. The water runs clean, and I confess it here, to this King with open hands. I confess how I have downplayed the inventive way that He molded singular me. I can feel it now, how when I shift the focus to Truth, anxiety drains away. The Lord didn’t ask for gold-star performances in this life. He didn’t ask me to prove my significance to the world. Or to prove myself to Him. He didn’t ask me to prove anything at all. He is the One who approves, declaring us beloved while we were yet sinners. He asks now only for my heart, my willingness, my hands—even when my hands haven’t seemed all that useful.
Just then, it dawns on me. My hands. I turn off the faucet, and walk back down the hill, to two stubborn calves who won’t drink the water.
I open the creaky gate, step inside and call out for them. I kneel at the side of a five-gallon bucket, dip my hands in water, and hold those hands straight out—cupped—under the wet nose of a baby calf. And, right then, from cupped hands held out on a June morning in Iowa, a baby
learns to drink.
AND THEN is when a light came on! What a parable of life and ministry! We can stand at the bucket containing the Water of Life and we can splash and conjole and sing. All the response we may see is non-response - just waiting and watching us splash, conjole and sing. We live in a cynical world! And splash doesn't impress and never motivates ... well, mostly anyhow. The reason is that life comes with pain and loss and splash just doesn't seem like nearly enough reason to move to the Water.
We all need this Water. We even thirst for this Water but we won't go there for splash. The water in the bucket in the farmyard is only symbol. The Water we need is the same Water offered to a lonely, sad, ostracized woman beside a well at high noon in Samaria (approximately the modern day West Bank). The One offering her Water was the Savior of the World. He promised to give her water that never would run dry and always satisfy! He offered her all that she longed for in her soul and she drank deeply! (John 4:1-26)
What the calves were missing and what people are longing and waiting to find is the hands!
When Ann Voskamp dipped her hands into the bucket of cool water and lifted her cupped hands dripping with water right under the nose of the calf the calf lapped eagerly! It was the same water. It was the same bucket. It was the same two calves. It was even essentially the same time and place. The difference was the hands!
The hands weren't spashing. There was no cajoling. There was no silly singing, But there was a real live person attached to that pair of hands. It was the heart behind the hands that brought the calves. It is the heart behind the hands that brings sad, lonely, disenfranchised people to come with their aching pain to the Water of Life - Jesus!
I saw this lived out last week as I served my parents to help them and my sister. It gave me a whole new perspective on respite but more on that tomorrow! Hands are NOT enough! What matters is the heart behind the hands!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Word is A Word is A Word!

Words do matter! Word choices matter! It matters if the hearer thinks one definition and the speaker has another meaning in mind! NOT much communication happens in that case!
Recently Dr. James Dobson featured on his radio program a couple who discussed "Raising a Handicapped Child."
Handicapped ...... Special Needs ....... Disabled ........... Affected by Disability ...... and more. Which is the best practices term?
No criticism intended or implied to either Dr. Dobson or Focus on the Family or the couple interviewed - just some personal observations related to my journey in disability ministry:
  • In the last six years my thinking has undergone a radical transformation in relation both to individuals affected by disabilities, to myself in relationship to them and to HOW and WHY and WHEN the Church of Jesus Christ should and must work out the mandate to be inclusive to all!
  • Luke 14:12-14 is the core passage from Scripture which addresses this concern. AND the fact that Jesus spent almost His entire ministry hanging with just such individuals is both inescapable and compelling as a mandate!
  • Terms matter - What is the best term to use for this discussion? Frankly I'm still studying on that one. To quote a famous someone, my thinking is "still evolving" evaluating terms and process related to special needs ministry.

Some years ago I read an article in a publication from a nationally known special needs ministry. They actually prefer and advocate "affected by disability." The article described the difference between "handicapped" and "disability." I have never forgotten the distinction:

We are ALL handicapped in one way or another. To use the article's example - I am 5'5" tall. It is impossible for me to reach the top of my kitchen cabinets without some assistance. That assistance may come in the form of a chair or stool or climbing up on the counter top or even something else. I overcome my handicap with a "tool" intended to increase or augment my height.

A disability is a lack of function in life which may be physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual. We are all disabled in one way or another if we generally include "brokenness" as a qualifying category. There is wisdom, however, in having a "best practices" term related to individuals dealing with the wide range of physical, mental and emotional diagnoses or "labels" (for want of a better term). There is significant discussion about hidden disabilities in this "field." We all have hidden disabilities in the sense that all of us are broken in one way or another until Jesus makes all things new on an awesome future day! But I think we need to be careful not to appear to minimize the HUGE pain experienced by individuals and families whose lives are affected by disability 24/7 with real diagnoses and needs.

I don't pretend to know the precise best practices term. I leave that determination to minds much senior to mine in pay grade. What I do know is that there needs to be open discussion about words related to describing disabilities so we communicate without doing harm! My friend Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry recently blogged his own thoughts on this very subject.

The ultimate goal is to find and use terms that are inclusive, respectful, clear, person first, relational and effectively communicative because words DO matter! There are far too many wedge words in life for the church before the watching world not to take the meaning of words seriously!

Monday, June 25, 2012

God, AAA and Me Today!

God, give me a heart today that obeys You no matter what happens - WOW! I'm big time having an opportunity to test this in spades today!
I posted this on Twitter today - only I neglected to hit "enter" - and rushed out of the house to take my hubby a piece of equipment he needed in a meeting. Just a few details: the meeting was on the exact opposite end of Pittsburgh, he didn't have a street address for my GPS so I headed out.........
I got to the right "street" only I didn't know the number - just that he was at a Panera's (There are at least 4 Paneras in a 3 mile stretch of that highway.) . He wasn't answering his cell phone and texted "I'm in a meeting". Well, I knew that!
He finally called me back. I was sitting in a Lowe's parking lot waiting for a call back. So he told me I needed to come a mile or so west. I drove to the stop light with my left turn signal on. Just a few car lengths from the front of the inside lane of two left hand turn lanes my car cut off. There was no power AT ALL! I couldn't run down a window. Even my emergency flashers didn't work! I can't tell how many cars came up behind and then around me to both the right and the left.
Meanwhile John was coming to me. He came toward me and then pulled in front of my car so he could jump my car. NOW you need to know that this was in the middle lane of seven traffic lanes! Hubby hooked up the jumper cables. My car started and ran for a total of about 20 seconds and quit again! THEN a policeman - lights flashing pulled up behind - but he wanted to give us a ticket or rather two tickets and then tow my car which we would have to pay $250 to get back from the impound lot. THEN just behind him a flatbed AAA truck pulled up. We have AAA Plus so suddenly things started looking up. The AAA man offered to get in my car after he put his battery thingy under the hood so he could drive my car around the corner and off the road. Long story short: The friendly (?) policeman left without ticketing us. The AAA man towed my car and it's at the repair shop. John has moved on to the rest of his day after leaving me at home.
I sat down at my computer and saw:
"God, give me a heart today that obeys You no matter what happens!" UH, I guess God was getting me ready for what He already knew! I guarantee you that the words typed somewhat glibly earlier take on NEW meaning now! WOW! God takes even my glib prayers seriously and answers but I gotta say I wasn't exactly on that track sitting in the middle of 7 lanes of busy traffic with NO power in a dead car!
Thank you, God, for AAA men and for husbands and for flexible schedules!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Another Day

I'm sitting a long way from home very tired in a home finally gone quiet and still. It has been a very long day filled with many things. I am helping my sister care for my parents this week. They are both frail and needy. It is not always easy. My sister is a trophy of God's grace as she lays down her life sacrifically for them. I'm just following in her train trying to be a second pair of hands.
There may be other words that describe those we love who have various levels of function that create needs that are special because no one presents entirely the same. Personally I like special needs. My parents both have special needs - different but equally necessary to lovingly care for them! They were neither one born with these issues - physical, mental and more. Each struggles with broken minds and bodies in this season of life. Life has brought each to a place he and she would never have chosen.
It is bitter sweet and I knew when I came that it would be. It will be a sweet memory that I had these days to love and serve them. It is also "bitter" to lose two wonderful people who have been my world in many ways and to lose them inch by inch. Their issues will not be fixed this side of heaven. Their needs will increase as time moves on until one day each crosses over to that eternal world where there is no more pain, where broken minds and worn-out, disease-ravaged bodies will be restored.
Well, the clock is striking hour 23 and tomorrow is another day...................!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A House or a Home?

Scene 1: As I write I am sitting in my mother’s chair at the beautiful mahogany dining room table my parents bought more than 50 years ago. It is more than a little eerie to be sitting here. It’s even more eerie to walk around this house. Yes, it used to be a home but now it’s just a house. Every room has bits and pieces of furniture. Almost every room has evidence of what used to be by the deep indentions in the rugs. Only one room is as it was – one bedroom – but even there is a certain loneliness.
Scene 2: This morning I got up and went to the kitchen but my mother wasn’t there with coffee made, breakfast cooked, sitting with my dad at the breakfast room table. If they were here they would have both been reading their Bibles and maybe talking quietly – just the two of them in their bathrobes. When she heard me slide back the pocket door into the kitchen Mother would have turned and said, “O, hiello Merry Sunshine, how did you sleep?” or her favorite greeting, “Darling, how did you sleep?”
There is coffee today only because I brought it all the way from Pittsburgh AND there is no one else here but me and the spiders. There’s a box that almost got packed and then was abandoned to sit on a chair. I opened a drawer looking for a pencil and found a folded list in my dad’s neat handwriting. It was a list of credit card numbers and expiration dates. The most recent date for expiration was March 2007 for my mother’s driver’s license. Interesting as she was still driving while living in this house for at least three years after that year’s end – scary as that was!
Scene 4: Yesterday as I closed and locked the front door, I noticed a little plaque beside the front door, “Love makes a house a home!” O, I thought, that’s why this is just a house. There are no people here to share love in this lonely house on top of a mountain in beautiful western North Carolina. Even the flowers and ferns have a lonely look! Life has moved on to other places and spaces where the same people who lived and loved here live and love and are cared for in another home filled with love.
We live in a broken world where minds and bodies break with age and disease. So - for now - spiders spin their lonely webs on this mountain top.
Hopefully someday soon another family will come to settle in the four walls of this house to live and love once again … the voices of children will ring among the trees and on the "sheep rock" ….. Someday soon love will come to the lonely mountaintop again and, once more, the house will be a home!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Two Kinds of Thistles

It's just past noon and I've spent the last four hours on an almost perpendicular bank that goes from our front yard down about 90 feet to US 19. I've been hanging out on that bank because I have a thriving bed of thistles all along the bank and a good ways down as well. Jeepers creepers! Why is it that weeds seem to grow so strong and multiply so rapidly especially when they are not invited guests in and among my flowers, trees and shrubs on that same bank?
I needed the right tools for my morning project - heavy gloves, a 10-tinned pitchfork, a big wheelbarrow and a good dose of energy and determination! And for all that, I know that at least some thistles will reappear.
I know Genesis 3:17-18 says, Cursed is the ground ... It will produce thorns and thistles for you ..." God spoke those words in judgment not blessing! Those thistles I wrestled all morning are there as a result of sin! I was thinking about that as I tried to dig out each plant with its ridiculous roots.
Actions have consequences. I know that the thistles I managed to get all the root probably, hopefully will not return any time soon or ever. I also know that I probably - almost certainly - didn't get every last smidgen of root. Those roots will sooner rather than later make their thistle presence known.
When I googled "how to get rid of thistles" one solution offered was to chop them off and keep mowing and chopping until the roots would weaken and die. I have a feeling that's not going to work but I can always hope!
There are lots of "thistles" in life; these don't grow in dirt. These other "thistles" are equally as difficult to weed out. There is hatred, judgment, disdain, hostility, betrayal, injustice, lying and on and on! AND interestingly these "thistles" are also the result of sin. We won't be rid of these "thistles" until Jesus brings about the restoration of all things when He makes all things new in His eternal Kingdom! However we still have to deal with these terribly damaging "thistles" with God's help! All these ugly behaviors and attitudes damage our own hearts and our relationships with others. They cause self-absorption and selfishness. They come from the brokenness sin has brought into all of life. ONLY God the eternal Gardener - who made a perfect world back at the beginning of time - can root out these "thistles" as He works His character into one heart at a time!
I don't know about you but I definitely didn't enjoy my morning on my bank among the thistles. Hopefully - if the life of God is really in me and I know it is - I enjoy the other kind of "thistles" even less! Hopefully I will turn to the ONLY One who can help me with these much more sticky "thistles"!

Monday, June 4, 2012

#1 or the King?

Sad but true that our natural tendency is to look out for #1. Given a glimmer of a chance we incline toward building our own kingdom - trying to BEST others. Well, you know that drill and so do I!
Several times recently I have seen stellar examples of Christian ministries selflessly giving back, paying forward (or whatever the current buzz word is) to help ministries beginning or struggling. Most recently my husband and I met (last night) with two key people from a ministry that intentionally exists to help and support churches and pastors involved in special needs ministries. That is SO cool! This ministry is rooted in the concept that there needs to be a "church for every child." They generously share resources and brainstorm ways to build other ministries! Big kudos to Steve Grcevich and Key Ministry!
In thinking with a grateful heart that another ministry intentionally helps other like-minded ministries, several thoughts surfaced:
  • Jesus builds His Kingdom and we should all be focused on and committed to building His Kingdom not ours! He allows us to participate to bless us! He doesn't need us but He chooses to use us in this Kingdom-building process!
  • It is scary sometimes because we are all sinners so we don't always treat brothers and sisters in ministry with integrity. We should be willing to risk and want the best for others and be willing to assist them any way we can. Remember none of us should be building our kingdoms. Rather we are participating in building God's Kingdom on earth for now and for eternity!
  • God sees the intentions of our hearts so we do the right thing, take the high road walking with the King and leave the rest with Him!

Sola Dei Gloria! To God be the glory great things He has done! So loved He the world that He gave us His Son!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Spell or Live?!

This week I read something by a person involved with disability both personally and in ministry - have no clue who as I read a lot these days. In the piece this person spelled stimming as stemming. Being the grammar/spelling queen that I am, my first response was a little "aha!"!
You know what? I don't like this part of me very much and I hope the process of sanctification is gradually whittling away the rough edges and even the heart of my "aha!" responses even if I hide them!
Just this morning I chanced upon stim in a wonderful blog post by the mom of a grown son with a disability -
The word reminded me of the other day. Once again - to my shame - I had another "aha!" that this person spelled stim correctly. What a stupid focus!!! Yes, that's exactly what I thought about my own heart and response!
In both cases the stem mom and the stim mom were talking about the same thing*: Both were talking about life as they live it!
Who in the world do I think I am to insert my little "Mrs. Editor" self into their world? It doesn't matter how a word is spelled, for heaven's sake! What really, really matters - in fact, the ONLY thing that matters - is faith expressing itself through love! (Gal. 5:6)

*Stimming is a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner - a continuous, purposeless movement. Stimming is one of the symptoms for autism although it is observed in about 10 percent of young children without autism. Many children with autism have no stims. Common forms of stimming among people with autism include hand flapping, body spinning or rocking, lining up or spinning toys or other objects ... and repeating rote phrases.