How God’s Unexpected Plans for You Work for Good

We all have certain fears or phobias—powerful and penetrating worries that can paralyze our thoughts and actions. Fear relates to feelings of anxiety, dread, worry, and being out of control and is often highlighted when circumstances change or our life takes unanticipated twists and turns. Yet Scripture repeatedly reminds us that faith is trusting Christ with the unknown—trusting Him when our plans change and God chooses a very different path for us.

Meaghan Wall had a wonderful life plan as a pre-med student until God led her in a very different direction. God’s plan was not what she could have ever imagined, yet every circumstance, every opportunity, every experience taught her several core lessons that brought her to where she is today.

In this interview, Meaghan honestly speaks to all who have chosen to trust Christ, to walk by faith and not sight. She reminds us that when we choose to let go of our human-made plans, God’s work and will for our lives leads to His working through us in ways we could have never imagined.

Watch the interview:

Serving Kids with Mental Health Disorders and Their Families

When does “bad parenting” end and “disabilities” begin? Do you know or love a child who learns differently, who may not be able to sit still, who suffers with depression, or who longs for acceptance but is terrified of admitting weakness?

In this interview, Dr. Stephen Grcevich tells us we may be able to reach large numbers of families living within the shadows of our steeples simply through considering how to create ministry environments that are welcoming to families of kids with mental health disorders.

No single church can meet every potential need of families in their communities of children with disabilities.

But rather than presenting barriers to their full inclusion in the life of the church, every church can be intentional in doing something to share the love of Christ with kids with disabilities and their families.

Underdogs

I had been sorting through stacks of papers for six hours; it was now 1:00 in the morning. Twelve years of my son Jon’s educational tests, medical reports, teachers’ notes, and therapy summaries—once organized in chronological order—had become stacked in disarray on my study shelves over time. Reviewing twelve years of material is overwhelming for most of us; for caregivers it can also be painful.

The silent message between the lines is the repeated acknowledgement that in this world, different usually means less than . . . not fit for this world . . . an underdog for life.

Additionally, the ever-present load of lingering parental self-doubt and guilt hangs overhead. Sorting through it all is an essential earthly endeavor for our loved one’s care, yet the calm and quiet voice of Christ calls us to remember there are no underdogs in His economy.

(Photo by Teak Sato, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo by Teak Sato, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Who’s in the Who’s Who?

I’ve yet to find a growth chart, I.Q. test, reading test, or writing sample that qualifies a person as acceptable in God’s eyes. Jesus never pulled together a group of “experts” who sat around tables making decisions about whom to include in the “in-crowd”; the Pharisees had that job covered. The Pharisees, with puffed-up heads and proud souls, made pathetically hypocritical judgments about “who’s who.” And we know how Christ felt about that bunch.

However, Christ went about His business, simply revealing what it meant, and means, to advocate with love for one another . . . let’s say, how to root for the underdog.

That’s you and me.

The Class You Can’t Miss

It was a full house. Parents, students, teachers, and tutors had prepared a day to celebrate students in the summer art class.

The students attended classes once a week for six weeks and learned about famous artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Claude Monet. Then the students sat at their own canvases to practice painting some of the famous pieces they had learned about.

The awards began.

Used with permission from Stonebriar Community Church

Used with permission from Stonebriar Community Church

Each student was called to the front to receive his or her reward:

  • Suzy was recognized for her consistent effort
  • Scotty for his diligence
  • Jim for his encouragement
  • Lauren for her courage in trying new styles
  • Jane for being the most joyful artist, whose smile and presence always lit up the room

We applauded with delight all of the students.

Oh, I forgot to mention, all of the students had disabilities—paralysis, extreme shaking, intellectual and social deficits, braced limbs, stiff muscles . . . you name it.

Caring for Families with Hidden Disabilities

Shannon Royce was pursuing her plan for life. She grew up in a pastor’s home, faithfully attended church, married a fine Christian man, and had two children. Life was polished and full of purpose.

Shannon Royce
Shannon Royce

But God’s plan was different than Shannon’s. This became clear when her son was diagnosed with hidden disabilities. In addition, Shannon is a cancer survivor.

These disabling conditions may never be easy, expected, or have an end. But Shannon discovered how God provides a way for us to endure; turning our many sorrows into magnificent avenues of comfort for others and intimacy with Him.

Show and Tell

Show and TellThe stuff had become a problem. Every time my son, Jon, and I headed out for an event, he gathered his stuff; an ever-growing collection of games and toys jammed into an ever-increasing sized tote bag. The time to purge had come.

But something interesting happened as we started our reduction plan. Jon’s anxiety increased when his stuff decreased. Jon was afraid to go anywhere without all his stuff. One afternoon, the core issue emerged. Jon was struggling to pick a few items to carry, and his tics were becoming pronounced. Suddenly, he looked up and said, “Mom, the kids won’t like me if I don’t have my stuff to show them.” Then he let out a huge sigh of relief. His authenticity broke my heart. Pushing back tears I asked, “Jon, do you think you have to have all your toys so kids will like you?” He slowly nodded his head yes.

We are all fragile. We fear rejection, whether we admit it or not. Think about how many of us show up at church with all our stuff—driving shiny cars, wearing stylish clothes, carrying expensive bags, keeping a firm grip on our kids so they don’t appear out of control. It’s our Christian version of show and tell. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with nice cars and cool clothes. I happen to love great style. However, there is something tragically wrong when we attach our worth as human beings to material things.

Most parents don’t have a child like Jon who believes his or her value resides in what he or she brings to show and tell. Because of Jon, I have had to ask some hard questions about genuine faith in daily life. It grieves me to know that church can be a place of grave pain for those with disabilities as well as for their caregivers. I don’t think anyone wakes up on Sunday morning wishing to inflict emotional or spiritual injury on those with disabilities, but it happens.

Below are some questions that I have had to wrestle with as a result of experiences with Jon. These questions are meaningless if we’re not willing to change. But if you have the courage to examine your heart, I cheer you on.

  1. If a hidden camera were placed in my home, would I fear that others would see my actions? If so, what behaviors do I need to address?
  2. Would I be uncomfortable driving to church in an old, beat-up car, wearing less than stylish clothing? If so, what drives that fear?
  3. If I were to let my Sunday school or small group know I am struggling, would they judge me? If not, why have I not been more forthcoming in telling them my struggles?
  4. Do different or disabled people make me uncomfortable? If so, why?
  5. Do I worry what others might think if my children were to misbehave at church? If so, am I more concerned with my kid’s behavior than with our worshiping the Lord?

These tough questions provide a glimpse of what it’s like to learn from my son who has no ability to pretend. The lessons I’ve gleaned from my child are utterly refreshing! I didn’t feel that way at first, but as Jon has taught me about authenticity, pretending to have it all together is a load I don’t ever want to carry again. If you want to know your true value in Christ, you must let go of your stuff.

Please feel free to respond. I’m confident you will find many of us share this same struggle.

What We Need to Help Us through Trials

What We NeedWhen you encounter people who are going through a trial, do you find yourself thinking: I really want to help them, but what do they need most? As human beings, we all need the following qualities in our lives to help us through our toughest times. Perhaps pastors and leaders can consider including this list of qualities in their monthly meetings.

  1. Trust: We need to sense acceptance and value from others without judgment of our behaviors, feelings, reactions, displays of emotion, and lack of functioning; this includes confidential and consistent care through a crisis.
  2. Security: We need nonjudgmental support and confidential, consistent help with the management of our daily responsibilities.
  3. Relational Support: We need the presence of people who are comfortable with silence, who are aware of our needs, and who are both consistent and dependable.
  4. Hope: We need encouragement from other people; their help in locating resources; and their commitment to pray for us. We need their dependable and calming presence amidst our doubts, our coping techniques, our mood swings, our lack of control, and our familial demands. We need to see a ray of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.
  5. Guidance: We need help developing new skills, healthy coping strategies, self-awareness, problem-solving skills, stress-management techniques, and the capacity to deal well with relational conflicts.
  6. Affirmation of strengths: We need others to possess a positive regard for our personal development and character formation.
  7. Time: We need time to cry, to be mad, to have a pity party, to let go of wishes and dreams, to express hardship and sorrow, and to adjust to our trials.
  8. Discovery of meaning and purpose in life: We need the opportunity to rebuild, restructure, reframe, and release life as it was before our crisis, so that we can live life as it is now.

Next time you encounter someone who is struggling, ask God how He might use you to create a supportive environment where healing can happen.

Soul Truth

 

Beautiful Sky
(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com)

You won’t believe what happened in a very formal church, several years ago. My son, Jonathan, not quite one year old, had the fantastic gift of throwing up everything he ate. So much so that I thought I would catch a lung at some point. I had moved to Dallas several years before and life had been tough so I ventured out and visited a church. I needed the reminder that God was still on His throne, sovereign, and always faithful.

Jon had so many struggles that getting out the door for church, with three kids under the age of five, was nearly impossible. Eventually, we made it and just as we walked into the formal, gorgeous, well-known, and respected church, Jon began to empty the contents of his stomach everywhere. I heard a big splat, and then Jon gasped for air, and then another splash, which spread across the beautifully polished, expensive tile. One usher came over with such care and offered to help. In the meantime, I grabbed a stack of church bulletins, hoping they would soak up something. On that day I discovered paper does not soak up vomit effectively! I also learned a few other lessons:

  1. God doesn’t care about how we try to look, but He does care about our hearts. That is freeing.
  2. We can’t possibly live without some messes, either inside or outside our lives. That is relieving.
  3. Pride refuses help, but humility welcomes help as God’s hand reaching to you. That is refreshing.

I also learned some funny lessons:

  1. Because vomit and stink go together, wear your junk clothes.
  2. If throwing up is even a slight possibility, stay home.
  3. Church bulletins don’t soak up a single drop of anything, so carry paper towels.

I found this prayer written by a man who lost his children and needed some help drying his tears. I love his humble, thoroughly honest words.

Lord of reality
make me real
not plastic
synthetic
pretend phony
an actor playing out his part
hypocrite.
I don’t want
to keep a prayer list
but to pray
nor agonize to find Your will
but to obey
what I already know
to argue
theories of inspiration
but submit to Your Word.
I don’t want
to explain the difference
between eros and philos
and agape
but to love.
I don’t want
to sing as if I mean it
I want to mean it.
I don’t want
to tell it like it is
but to be it
like You want it.
I don’t want
to think another needs me
but I need him
else I’m not complete.
I don’t want
to tell others how to do it
but to do it
to have to be always right
but admit it
when I’m wrong.
I don’t want
to be a census taker
but an obstetrician
nor an involved person
a professional
but a friend.
I don’t want
to be insensitive
but to hurt
where other people hurt
nor to say
I know how you feel
but to say God knows
and I’ll try
if you’ll be patient with me
and meanwhile I’ll be quiet.
I don’t want
to scorn the clichés
of others
but to mean everything I say
including this.1Joseph Bayly, “A Song of Single-Mindedness,” in Psalms of My Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1978), 40. Used by permission.

 

Notes:   [ + ]

1. Joseph Bayly, “A Song of Single-Mindedness,” in Psalms of My Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1978), 40. Used by permission.

Porcupineish

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed recently, which is a nice way of saying I was cranky. It hadn’t been a superb week, so perhaps my snappish self emerged from hibernation that morning. By sundown, my attitude had gone from snappish to cantankerous to pretty much porcupineish. Usually, I try to find humor or a hobby to enjoy, but that didn’t really help. Since my quills were coming unglued—and sticking into my loved ones—I did a little study of porcupines; the news wasn’t so likable. Just read on:

nature
(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com)
  1. The word porcupine means “spined pig” or “quill pig.” That day, I could relate.
  2. The porcupine uses its sharp quills for body armor. If the porcupine hits an animal with its quills, the quills become embedded in the animal; and each quill has about a dozen barbs. Once implanted in an attacker’s flesh, the barbs swell from the surrounding skin moisture and heat which force the quill in deeper. Death can occur if an infection sets in or if the quill prevents the victim from swallowing water or food.
  3. Finally, porcupines are solitary, isolated animals.1NatureWorks, “North American Porcupine,” New Hampshire Public Television, http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/porcupine.htm (accessed April 24, 2012).
    Keep in mind that Insight for Living Ministries cannot endorse everything other Web sites print, so we encourage you to approach with wisdom and discernment all Web sites referenced on insight.org or insightworld.org.

It’s nothing new to discuss people and their animal-like traits. Take a good look at Scripture. Remember the hard-working ant, the gentle dove, the shrewd serpent, and the sparrow’s needs being supplied by Christ? Most commonly in Scripture, people are referred to as sheep; now that’s one humbling study! Porcupines are never mentioned in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. So often, Christians behave like porcupines, which is so opposite to God’s desire that Christians be in harmony with others—that is, with others, they are honest, kind, peace-giving, merciful, and gracious, to name a few.

As I pondered that porcupineish day I had experienced, some saddening similarities between porcupines and my attitude sunk into my soul. Thus, we in the body of Christ need to remember a few things:

  1. We often are well armored and prepared to fight against what we don’t like.
  2. When we don’t like “whatever”—and the list can be endless—we speak words which sink quill-like into another’s soft soul.
  3. When we attack others, the barbs sink deeply, and those people can suffer from the pain of being attacked. Some quills we use have names: gossip, betrayal, rejection, pride, false hope, pretense, judgment, and resentment. Thus, our porcupineish actions cut off the circulation to Christ’s transforming work.
  4. Finally and most specifically for many within the disabled population, church often is a place where porcupines reside. Many visitors to a church may never return because of the quill punctures they receive to their already beaten-down souls.

If you act like a porcupine, you have work to do. I apologized to my family for being armored and quilly. And my own soul has been pierced with many barbs, but the Lord can remove them if I’m humbled and willing to let Him do so. That’s one I’m working on today as I write.

Do you need to take off the quilled body armor? Then ask for forgiveness, help someone in need, and speak with kindness. Or have you been pierced by a porcupine? Then pull out the quills of bitterness . . . PULL THEM OUT! Remember, we are all sheep that need direction. The Lord can guide us past the porcupines . . . and make sure we don’t take on their qualities as well.

Notes:   [ + ]

1. NatureWorks, “North American Porcupine,” New Hampshire Public Television, http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/porcupine.htm (accessed April 24, 2012).
Keep in mind that Insight for Living Ministries cannot endorse everything other Web sites print, so we encourage you to approach with wisdom and discernment all Web sites referenced on insight.org or insightworld.org.

Getting Out the Door

At my house, getting out the door, especially to church, is almost an Olympic event. There are wardrobe crises, tired teenager tensions, sibling struggles—at times it’s more a combat zone than a home. I’ve observed many families with the same struggles. But isn’t it amazing how our attitudes change when we finally clamor into church and sit down? Those early-morning entanglements dissipate, and we worship. And no matter what went on before, God is delighted to have us there.

Out the door
(Photo Courtesy of Morguefile.com)

When my son Jon was born with disabilities, the freedom to do things like get out the door with ease was removed. I’d never considered that a freedom until it was lost. But now I hold in high regard those without the freedom of ease . . . ease in movement, seeing, hearing, tying shoes, brushing hair. In his book, Always Looking Up, Michael J. Fox describes his morning routine:

I blindly fumble a plastic vial from the nightstand, dry-swallow a couple of pills. . . . I swing my legs around to the side of the bed, and the instant my feet hit the floor, the two of them are in an argument. A condition called “dystonia,” a regular complement to Parkinson’s, cramps my feet severely and curls them inward, pressing my ankles toward the floor and the soles of my feet toward each other as though they were about to close together in prayer. . . . The aching will persist for the next twenty minutes or so. . . .

Grasping the toothpaste is nothing compared to the effort it takes to coordinate the two-handed task of wrangling the toothbrush and strangling out the line of paste onto the bristles.1Michael J. Fox, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (New York: Hyperion, 2009), 2.

Fox explains how the disease overtakes the body, affecting his emotions, intellect, and physical, social, and spiritual well-being. Even as I type, I’m reminded to be thankful for the freedom of controlled movement, of small muscles working together.

As I raise Jon, I realize how many freedoms he will never have. Throughout life, he will regularly struggle to get out the door . . . yet, right now on Sundays, he is the one person in our house who doesn’t complain. He puts on his favorite suit and tie and finds no reason to fuss. In that, he is more free than most.

Job recorded these words right after a devastating loss:

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised. (Job 1:21 NIV)

This verse brings to mind a few things we all should remember as we get out the door and face the world.

  1. To those with bodily ease—praise God for your freedom. It’s a gift, not a right. Call each part of your body to praise Him. Thank Him for your eyes, arms, legs, back, mind . . . every part. When someone else is slow, messy, shaky, or mentally unstable, resist judgment. You have no idea what that person went through just to get out the door.
  2. To those without bodily ease—I deeply admire you and applaud you for your courage, determination, endurance, and humility. You’re a hero, a person of grand character. You long to be free and whole in heaven, but you’re changing lives right here without saying a word.
  3. To all of us, with and without bodily ease—learn to love one another, serve one another, and live peacefully together.

Notes:   [ + ]

1. Michael J. Fox, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (New York: Hyperion, 2009), 2.