Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Rewards and Challenges of Parenting a Special Needs Child

“Honey,” my mom would say, “Don’t stare. That’s not polite. No, don’t point.”
But I couldn’t look away from a child in a wheelchair. We all grew up politely looking the other way when we pass by someone with special needs.
Our lives were suddenly disrupted when a child with special needs came into our family. No one makes a plan to parent a special needs child. The child simply arrives and the day she does is tragic and life as you know it is redefined for you.
Our special needs little girl, our Allie, is really our granddaughter. Allie was born perfectly healthy to my daughter when she was nineteen and single. Her life, our lives, were suddenly overwhelmed the day Allie became a brain injured child through a violent event when Allie was ten months old. She was shaken and suffocated by someone that was watching her when my daughter was at work. Allie was in a coma for ten days. She emerged from her coma severely disabled. Her diagnosis is cerebral palsy and quadriplegia.
As a single mother, our young daughter was not able to care for Allie. My wife and I could not fathom the thought of our granddaughter going into foster care in her condition. It was not an option. We did what we thought anyone would do: we adopted Allie and became the parents of a severely disabled little girl.
That was nine years ago. I want to say we’ve become accustomed to parenting a special needs child, but we haven’t. Being a parent is never easy, and parenting a special needs child is often an exhausting, all-consuming existence. Days are scheduled, routine and packed with hands-on care beginning with medicines and getting her dressed and into equipment needed to keep her upright while we feed her. At nine years old, Allie is not able to do any of these simple tasks for herself and, most likely, never will.
The joys of school
The part of her morning that is most fun is when I roll her down the walkway to meet the school bus. She shrieks with joy and excitement every time I roll her down our walkway, slightly running, stomping my flip-flops to meet the bus. Allie and the driver share a good laugh when she rides the wheelchair lift up onto the bus. There’s an attendant waiting on the bus that gives Allie compliments on her ensemble as she straps her chair into place for a safe, secure ride to school.
Allie loves going to school. Allie is in fourth grade this year. At school, education revolves around using cause-and-effect devices for communicating, physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. School nurses administer mid-day doses of medicine. The phys-ed teacher straps her into equipment that helps her walk and, recently, ride a big tricycle. The teachers, nurses, therapists, administrators and other staff at Allie’s school have dedicated their lives to children with special needs. We’d be lost without them.
Continuous medical care
The school day is interrupted many times with routine visits to doctors. Allie has epileptic seizures that are managed by daily medication. So we see Dr. Reznick, her neurologist, every 90 days. Once a quarter, Allie sees a rehabilitation doctor, Dr. Cohen, who orders changes on her wheelchair, prescribes orthotic braces and refers Allie to specialists when needed. On a recent visit, Dr. Cohen noticed that one of Allie’s legs was not growing the same length as the other. She (Dr. Cohen) referred Allie to an orthopedic specialist and we learned that Allie’s right hip joint was migrating out of the socket as she was experiencing a growth spurt. Due to her brain injury, bones and muscle growth were not in sync. Bones growing faster than muscles produced enough tension on her muscles to pull her bones out of socket. Surgery was needed soon or her hip would dislocate.
This surgery is traumatic and invasive. The doctor has to break and and reposition the femur. Then he breaks the pelvis and reshapes the hip socket to properly receive the joint. A metal plate is fixed to the broken femur to add strength as it heals. Finally, muscles have to be lengthened. This is done through a series of cuts in her adductor muscle and hamstring. The hip and leg are immobilized for six weeks by a spica cast extending from her abdomen to her right heel. The cast includes her left thigh with a cross bar installed into the cast to hold her legs apart in a Y-shape.
The cast adds twenty pounds to her weight which makes her too heavy and awkward for my wife to carry. My boss, graciously let me work from home while Allie was in the cast to lend my wife a hand during the six weeks of post-surgery healing and recuperation. Family and friends rallied around us to bring us meals and help with household chores.
Allie had this surgery six years ago so we were semi-familiar with the work and care Allie needed. We pray that as Allie continues to grow, this will be the last time she has to have this surgery, but we may have to face this again.
family-2Bottomless love
This sounds like a difficult way to live because it is. Raising children–any children–is no easy task and taking care of them when there are special needs adds to the difficulty. We’ve had to reorder our lives. We don’t get to do many of the things we used to take for granted (wheelchairs don’t go places that don’t have smooth, wide paths). People don’t plan social gatherings around our routine so we miss those opportunities (to be honest, we love having a bullet-proof excuse to opt-out of tedious events).
As difficult, inconvenient and unconventional as raising a special needs child is, the rewards for us in our personal lives are deeply satisfying. There is a transaction of unconditional love that flows two ways between us in our relationship with Allie. We’ve discovered a capacity to love that is bottomless. When this is tested, we reach the end of the trial long before we reach the bottom of our love. Her responses to our affection are uninhibited. There is a shorthand — an encoded language — between Allie and her caregivers that the only way to decode is through spending time with her. Joy flows when the connection is made.
A man after God’s heart
One of our favorite stories in the Bible is about King David when he is moved to bless surviving members of King Saul’s family. David was loyal to King Saul long after his death and David craved an opportunity to prove it. Saul had a surviving grandson, Mephibosheth, who, as a result of an accident, was crippled in both feet. David cared for Mephibosheth and provided for him for the rest of his life. God often referred to David as a “man after God’s own heart” and while David’s shortcomings were many, this act of compassion is an example of goodness that pays dividends to David as the giver more than to Mephibosheth, the receiver. Parents of special needs children know this experience firsthand.

This article originally posted in the May 2016 issue of the Good News of South Florida.

Monday, May 09, 2016

How to Find Holy Balance

“But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten.”—Exodus 18:21 NLT

Many sons hate the idea of working in the family business. Many pastors’ daughters quit church after high school. These kids grew up watching Dad build “the family business” or “the ministry.” Meanwhile, Dad was depleted. Their families were robbed of time together.

The day before Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, said the words quoted in the verse above, he had just returned with Moses’ wife and sons. Moses had sent them away, and while the Bible doesn’t spell out the reasons for their separation, there was tremendous conflict that preceded the separation.

Moses told Jethro all that the Lord had done to bring deliverance and provision as Israel fled Egypt. Jethro was so amazed by all God had done, he was moved to make a public declaration of faith and praise by offering God a sacrifice. “I know now that the Lord is greater than all other gods,” Jethro declared.

While Jethro was amazed with all that God had done, he was a lot less impressed with how Moses was running things; Moses was a one-man show.

“I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them His instruction,” Moses says (Exodus 18:16 NLT). Jethro responds by basically saying, “Well, this is not good. You’re not really getting much accomplished doing this all by yourself. Your frustrating the people by making them wait all day and exhausting yourself. Find some guys to help you. Train them in the things God has shown you and then watch how much you ALL can get done” (Exodus 18:17-23).

Jethro, as the grandfather of Moses’s children, was invested and keenly interested in the future of both Moses and Israel as a nation. Their destinies were intertwined. Moses, as the leader of Israel, also needed to be Moses the dad and leader of his family.

Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald says, “The legacy you leave is dependent on the men you train, the men you do life together with, and the relationships you invest into and nurture for balance.”

This principle works in so many areas of how we do church, work, leadership, family, and community building. We’re called to steward this balance. On our own, it can feel like juggling with fine china. But, in the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it looks, feels, and sounds like a symphony.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

How You Want to Be Remembered

“The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot.”—Proverbs 10:7 (NKJV)

Everyone dies. That’s a fact. Flesh decays and bones dry out. The only things the dead leave are memories.

The Jews had a tradition when speaking of the memory of a just man: “Let his memory be blessed,” they’d say. Nothing would be said of the unjust man. The memories of the wicked, like their rotting flesh, are useless and disgusting, “eaten with worms.”

No one wants to touch the memories of the wicked with a ten-foot pole. They are treated with contempt. Just by the mention of their name makes you wrinkle your nose like the smell of rotting road kill. Bad behavior and the commission of evil deeds leave a legacy of rottenness, and often, generations of destroyed lives.

Proverbs chapter 10 is a list of contrasts written down by the wise King Solomon to train readers in righteousness. Observe a few:
  • Wise versus foolish
  • Slack versus diligent
  • Blessing versus violence
  • Integrity versus perversion
  • Rich versus poor
These contrasting words describe choices and actions. Solomon pairs contrast with literary metaphor to strengthen the description of both desired and disastrous outcomes. He teaches that one can choose his choices, but one cannot choose his consequences.

In the New Testament, when we first meet the apostle Paul, he is introduced as Saul and he is present at the stoning of the Christian evangelist Stephen (Acts 7). He is known as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. He hunted people down and jailed them for having the wrong faith and politics; splitting up families and destroying the newfound peace early Christians found through salvation in Jesus. If that were all Saul did in his life, we would never know his name. If he had never encountered Jesus, his name would have rotted along with his flesh and bones when he died.
But Saul did encounter Jesus. In the exchange, Saul got a new name, a new life, and a new mission that was in complete contrast with the one he had. He went from . . .
  • Destroying lives to discipling men and women in the faith
  • Separating families to uniting groups of families into churches
  • Cursing people for their faith in Jesus to setting them free with the historic, holy, and transforming words we read in the New Testament.
If you encounter Jesus, make the wise choice. Follow Him. Watch Him change the memories you leave along with the lives you impact.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Devil and Debunking Jesus

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”—Matthew 12:30 (NLT)

Some of the most amazing things I’ve seen are the pyramids in Egypt. They are awesome structures. Their construction has stumped scholars for eons. When I was a boy, the bestseller, Chariot of the Gods, explained that the pyramids and other sites of wonder were built with alien technology. The structures and technology employed couldn’t be human–the achievement is too advanced! Space travelers must have lent us their technology to influence ancient science and religion.

If you’ve made up your mind about someone and you really can’t endorse them as being smart or special or talented, or in Jesus’ case, the Son of God, you’d have to come up with another theory to explain the things you see with your own eyes. That’s what happened with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They looked for a way to debunk Jesus. If God was behind the miracles Jesus was doing, then God must have endorsed Jesus healing on the Sabbath, forgiving harlots, eating with sinners, befriending tax collectors, and welcoming outcasts.

So they blamed the devil and said Jesus was doing His work by the power of Satan—basically charging Jesus with witchcraft. If they could get enough people to back this idea, it would be the end of Jesus. Ending Jesus became their agenda.

Jesus laid it out for them: If you reject Him, you are rejecting God’s plan for Israel, and ultimately, for all mankind.

This is a serious warning for us to heed today. The author of Hebrews warns believers not to drift from away from Christ. As you remember when you first came to faith in Jesus, you know Jesus did a miracle in your heart. People saw a change in you. And because you became so different they asked you about it and that opened the door for you to talk about Jesus. You didn’t know any deep theological stuff, but you had an experience with Him that changed your life and you were able to talk about it. People who witnessed it called it a miracle.

Now that you’ve known Jesus for a while, and time has passed between today and that day when you gave your heart to the Lord, you’re tempted to call that work a work of emotion or the convincing words of a charismatic leader or teacher. You’re drifting.

Don’t give anyone or anything credit for the work Jesus has done by His Spirit. There’s nothing or no one else to turn to if you turn away from Jesus.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

God Has a Job For You

“‘Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” —Haggai 2:4 (NKJV)

“Hey, can you come out and play,” my buddy Mark from down the street came and asked me early one Saturday morning. “No, I gotta mow the lawn,” I told him. “Awe, man! I am SO glad I’m not you. I hate mowing the lawn,” Mark said. I told him I liked it and he replied with, “You’re weird.”

Maybe I am weird. But I like work. I like the smell of gas, oil, and exhaust. I felt privileged to use my dad’s lawn mower and gas-powered weed eater. I loved the way the yard looked when the grass had that manicured look by the fence and around the trees. I was proud when I took my dad outside and showed him how I mowed perfectly geometric lines across the yard. He was pleased with my work. That meant everything to me. He always gave me a few bucks to spend afterward. That was a great Saturday.

What my friend didn’t know was that I didn’t get to see my dad very often. My parents were divorced and my dad’s job moved him 1,000 miles away. Since I lived without a father, I was excited to be with him in his house. And he never hid that he was happy to have me with him. I didn’t have to mow the grass. I got to mow the grass. The work was all a bonus. It was one the benefits of being with my dad.

Because of your faith in Jesus, you don’t have to work to get God to accept you. But God has work He wants to share with you—a gospel project. He has a role made specifically for you and tasks to move His project forward. This is work you get to do.

God’s Spirit is at work in you as you do His work. Sometimes the beginning of the work is small and seemingly insignificant, but a bigger job is around the corner. According to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30, there’s a place God wants to promote you to. Be faithful, do the work well, and watch how God uses you in the future. Your participation in the work now holds a place of greater responsibility for you in the future. That’s both a hope and a promise.

Monday, April 25, 2016

God’s Words Get the Job Done

“Yet my friends laugh at me, for I call on God and expect an answer. I am a just and blameless man, yet they laugh at me.”—Job‬ 12‬:4‬ (NLT)

People who “hear from God” seem very unusual sometimes. When Joseph was a young man, he told his family about dreams he had in the night. His older brothers and doting father were absolutely offended. Not only did Joseph claim the dream was from God, Joseph was the hero in the story he narrated! The audacity! Joseph will surely get what’s coming to him, his brothers schemed.

Young King David developed a very unique relationship with God through the solitude of tending and protecting his father’s flock in the wilderness. It was there he trained to listen carefully and discern the voice of God.

When David met his older brothers on the battlefield, they were weary from daily humiliation, blasphemies, and taunts from their enemies including the giant Goliath. David answered their blaspheming with faith-filled words. David’s words offended the sensibilities of his cynical, overly sensitive brothers. To them, he appeared presumptuous and arrogant. David will surely get what’s coming to him, his brothers connived.

When Job was being laughed at, he actually had a reputation for being a “just and blameless man.” Yet calamity struck Job’s life and ramped up in frequency and intensity that shocked the entire community. So much so that it made his neighbors and friends—even his wife—scorn him despite his spotless reputation. Job is surely getting what’s coming to him, they all thought.

Jesus tells us, “Pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NLT). This private place is where Jesus transforms our lives so that His kingdom can break through and impact the kingdoms of this world.

Like David, John the Baptist learned to hear from God in the solitude of the wilderness. He, too, seemed unusual, counter-culture—always rubbing people the wrong way with God’s Word. It finally cost him his head.

When speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus said there wasn’t a greater prophet (Luke 7:28). The strange thing is Jesus never said that to John, He only said it about him. Personal satisfaction is never God’s goal for using you to deliver His message to people. God expresses Himself through you to bring His kingdom near.

So, rejoice if you’re treated like one of these heroes. Now you’re getting the job done.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Growth Happens

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word.”—Luke 8:11‬ (NLT‬‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When you read the beginning of Luke 8, where today’s verse is pulled from, you’ll find an eclectic group of people traveling the countryside with Jesus as He does ministry. In addition to the twelve disciples, part of the troupe includes some women—some of substantial means and some, at least one, with sordid backgrounds.

Here’s how Luke describes them: “Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases . . . contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples” (Luke 8:2-3 NLT). These were women from varied social rungs, all following and supporting Jesus.

They’d been cured, healed, and delivered. Something life-transforming had happened in this small band of supporters. But even within this group of converted believers, there’s maintenance that needs to take place. Fruit needs to grow. Jesus uses examples from farming to make His point.

The Greek word for seed is sporos. The word sperm shares this Greek origin. Here’s the point about the “seed of the Word”: it impregnates. Gestation takes place, and, after a specific period of time, birth. Conditions must be healthy for good fruit to come from the seed of the Word. Later in Luke 8, Jesus describes conditions that cause this process to abort; to miscarry.

The soil is your life. It’s funny what just happened as I’m typing this up with my fat fingers on my tiny phone keyboard. I meant to type soil, but typed soul. This little mishap makes me think a little differently. Soul and soil work interchangeably in this parable of Jesus. Dallas Willard says, “A person who is prepared and capable of responding to the situations of life in ways that are ‘good and right’ is a person whose soul is in order, under the direction of a well-kept heart, in turn under the direction of God.”

Opposition to growth and fruit is always present. Always, always, ALWAYS. You can count on temptations and distractions to damage your soil—your soul. They’re always there. But along with that is an expectation from Jesus that it is possible to overcome what damages your soil and maintain a healthy nourishing environment for the seed of God’s Word to grow and bear fruit. What can you do to prepare the field where seed is sown? Do rocks need to be cleared out? Do paths for irrigation need to be dug? Do some weeds need to be pulled? Let’s roll up our sleeves and plow.