We Can Do Better In The Bible Belt.

I recently noticed a woman’s angry post on social media regarding a lack of resources for special needs families – particularly in the South – specifically in Tennessee, and I curiously asked, “What states do provide adequate resources for special needs families?” Her response surprised me, “Any liberal state” and then she followed up with a few examples – “Washington, Vermont, California, and New York.”

Interesting. The Bible Belt, the South where we have a church on every corner and every flavor of religion imaginable, Trump country, the land where we strongly admonish mothers to carry an imperfect baby to term because of our beliefs, this pro-life land flowing with pregnancy resource centers, right to life events, and church bake sales is also known to be one of the worst areas in the country for ongoing resources after you give birth to that child in question.

But the liberals – Bernie and Hillary and that whole progressive bunch – they’d rather eliminate the imperfection that they know will cost oodles of tax payer dollars, but if you choose the difficult, ongoing, stressful path of raising a special needs child, this bunch is sure as hell going to help you out. Time for a change Conservatives. Time for a change Bible Belt. Time for a change America.

I am pro life when it comes to the unborn. I’ve proven this with my own flesh and blood, and it isn’t an argument I’m going to entertain with this post; however, I am suggesting that pro-life must extend beyond a mother’s womb. Pro-life should extend to providing tax dollars and fundraisers for the parents who make the difficult decision to choose life for these children. Pro-life should provide ongoing support for the least of these even as they age and especially as their parents age. Pro-life means not placing these families on waiting lists that never seem to end. Pro-life ideally would provide enough support so that we don’t hear another heartbreaking story about a parent who reached their breaking point with a child who could not be calmed and would not be pacified, and we point our judgmental fingers and gasp, “HOW COULD THEY?!” when that panicked caretaker finds a less than ideal solution. Not as a fetus – nope – but choosing to terminate the situation when it’s no longer socially acceptable.

Special needs families need proactive change and soon. How are these changes going to occur? And who should provide the resources? I’m not an expert, but I am a mom raising a child with profound needs, and I have a few thoughts.

1. Special needs caretakers need to stop sugarcoating the journey because no one will help us if we don’t make our needs known. If all we do is talk about how little Timmy is such a miracle or Betsy is a blessing, WHICH THEY ARE, but not share the rest of the story, we are missing an opportunity.  We do our stories a great disservice if we never discuss the difficulties or how we have panic attacks on a regular basis. The experts compare the anxiety of raising a child with special needs to the PTSD often experienced by war vets.  Yes, it can be that stressful.  These kids often have needs that never, ever end and that becomes very disheartening as a parent. Society can’t read our minds. Our cities and towns don’t “just know.” Our friends and family are incapable of understanding if we don’t tell them. There will always be a few who will ridicule us for our truth or our choices, but we need to plow through anyway. Courage my friends, courage. We need to make the realities known, set aside our “bless your hearts” and dive into authentic truths when it comes to special needs.

2. Awareness. Right in alignment with number one. We need to tell our stories. I have a dream of one day being a part of a documentary that will showcase all different ages, walks of life, and cultures immersed in a special needs journey; detailing the joys, trials, happy moments and the difficulties – detailing it all so that the world can no longer claim ignorance. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful resource for everyone? But, in the meantime, tell your story. Stories are what connect us to one another and allow compassion to emerge which will eventually provide resources and support. There can not be change without empathy.

3. Contact your state representatives – even if you don’t have a special needs child! Do it for someone you know. Beseech these political leaders to pass the bills, find the funding, or whatever else they need to do to help these families. Currently, 1 in 59 children has autism and that’s just autism! These numbers seem to increase every year so if you’re not affected by special needs now, you will be soon.

4. Churches – Christ admonished us to care for the least of these, and this includes the weakest members of our society – those who cannot care for themselves – the special needs population. I realize that not every church can afford a special needs ministry, but every church can afford to lend a hand to special needs family in the community. Generally, what a family needs more than anything is a break – just a few hours for a date night or time alone in the bath or a nap. Every church can provide this invaluable resource for at least one family in the community. It doesn’t take any money – just time and patience. If your church does have money in the budget to implement a special needs ministry, do it! This is about the only way a family can comfortably come to church. Or, if an entire ministry isn’t in the budget consider a week of Vacation Bible School in the summer or on a school break.

5. I can’t speak for every special need’s family, but I have spoken to many of them throughout the years and the responding themes I hear are: exhaustion, despair, loneliness, and concern for the future. Most of these feelings can be remedied through a break. Summer care and school holidays are really difficult because most special needs kids thrive with structure, and when you eliminate structure, these kids are often confused. What does this confusion actually look like? For Luke, it involves head banging and screaming. I sometimes compare the scenario to a colicky baby – except Luke is 14, and he probably won’t outgrow these behaviors any day soon. In fact, I worry that as he goes through puberty it will only become worse. Structure is oftentimes a special needs child’s best friend.

6. The future. This is a biggie. I know I don’t want to take care of Luke forever. I will if I have to, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for him or me. I think he deserves better than hanging out with his old mom and dad until his dying day (or ours), but I don’t know what the options are. Most of what I hear involves a waiting list a mile long or a bank account a mile long. I pray this changes and we have viable options before it really becomes an issue in our life.

We can do better for these families. Please consider sharing this post so that as a culture we can make life just a little bit easier for the least of these and their families.

Just keep livin!

The Cloud is Moving – Courage in the Midst of Change.

It oftentimes takes courage to say that something isn’t working anymore, and truthfully, it hasn’t worked for some time for us.

A little over five years ago our family left Michigan for a dream that included a simple life in rural Tennessee. This is how Ryan and I operate – we hear “GO!”, and we go. We married quickly, Ryan moved to Michigan within months of proposing, and we moved to Tennessee after seeing our current house once. We are decisive, informed, and not prone to obsessing much about how our decisions will be perceived by others outside of our immediate family. To reference a Biblical metaphor, we move with the cloud. Continue reading “The Cloud is Moving – Courage in the Midst of Change.”

Can We Truly Forgive and Forget?

Ryan and I recently hosted a Blended Live on Facebook where we revealed that marriage and life in general has been difficult for the past few months.  Part of these difficulties stem from circumstances outside of our control: health, 8 kids, four teenagers, and a special needs son; part of them stem from our reactions to the issues – anger instead of joy – and part of it involves the very simple concept of forgiveness.  Instead of rehashing and focusing on the negative, offering forgiveness to the offender and letting go on the angst that accompanies an unforgiving heart.  I’m excited to have author Gil Mertz sharing on the topic of forgiveness today, AND, I have a copy of his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future to send to one reader! Simply comment here on this post or on Facebook for your chance to win.  Contest open until Oct 1st. 

Billy and Ruth Graham were married for almost 64 years and when asked for their secret, Ruth revealed that marriage is the union of two good forgivers. Forgiveness is vital for any successful relationship, marriage and family. One of the biggest challenges of forgiveness is trying to forget the offense and not bring it up over and over again. This not only threatens our peace in the present but our hope for the future. But is it possible to truly forget our past hurts?

We’re told that an elephant never forgets. Frankly, I don’t know where we come up with these funny expressions about animals such as sweating like a pig, eating like a horse, working like a dog or skinning a cat. I’ve never seen a pig sweat, a fat horse, a dog like mine work, and I don’t even want to think about skinning a cat, even those there’s apparently more than one way you can do it! But I know where the expression about elephants comes from.

Unscrupulous circus trainers needed to keep these massive animals stationary and so they would take them very young and tie one of their legs to a stake in the ground with a rope. The tiny elephant would soon learn that it cannot move if it is attached to the stake. A full-grown elephant that has the strength to knock over a tree will not test the stake in the ground because it thinks it cannot move. That’s because, an elephant never forgets.

Many of us are like this helpless elephant. We have total power and freedom to move on with our lives when we forgive, but our past pain is like a stake in the ground. We remain stuck because our memories are telling us that we cannot move forward. If we cannot forget, what if we could learn to remember in a different way so that we can manage our emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them?

The Bible says in Romans 12:2 “Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.” (NIRV) Some translations call this the renewing of your mind, but it basically means to change the way you think. If we can change the way we think, it will change the way we feel and as a result, the way we behave. Advertisers spend billions practicing this biblical principle because they know if they can control your thinking, they can get you to buy their products.

Jesus said in John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So how do we get to the truth so that we can remember in a different way and find the truth we need for our lives? One way is a simple tool known as reframing your picture. All of us see our experiences through a frame of our own choosing. It’s usually limited to our own personal biases and when we’re hurt or angry, the picture can get completely distorted from the actual truth. But if we can reframe our picture by enlarging it to let more truth in, we can remember the past differently.

Recently I was driving in a car with my wife and I was upset because a driver at the intersection pulled right out in front of us. According to the picture in my head, this crazy driver could have gotten us all killed and I was upset. Then my wife gently reminded me that I was intending to turn right at that intersection and actually had my blinker going. At the last second, I changed my mind and decided to go straight. But all the other driver saw was my blinker to turn right and was unable to read my mind. When the frame on that picture got enlarged and I could see the truth, it changed my mind immediately.
Not long ago I counseled with a couple whose marriage appeared doomed. He had a short-term affair which was long over. He knew it was a terrible mistake and had pleaded for forgiveness. His wife didn’t want a divorce but she could not forget the deep pain that had been inflicted. Clearly what he did was wrong and forgiveness doesn’t condone, justify, or rationalize his actions. But as we began to work together to enlarge the frame on this picture, we learned that the wife had been married to her job for years. She was frequently home late and her divided loyalties left a legitimate need in her husband that he tried to fill through other means.

As she could see the bigger picture beyond her own pain, she no longer saw her husband as the 100% villain and herself as the 100% victim. Though she couldn’t change the past, she could remember the past in a different way which gave her peace. This time with empathy, understanding, and love for her husband who also was dealing with a broken heart. Today their marriage is thriving because they become two good forgivers.

If you find yourself struggling to forget your painful past, try to enlarge the frame on that picture by talking to people you love and trust who can help you see things more objectively. Here are some good questions to get you started:

• Are there any details I may be leaving out because of my hurt and anger?
• How might another person’s account of the experience differ from mine?
• Did this person specifically set out to hurt me on purpose?
• Is there any way that I could have misunderstood what was said or done?
• Have I made any attempt to reach out to this person for clarification?
• Do I consider myself more worthy of forgiveness than this person?
Don’t keep rehashing a painful memory and feeling that pain repeatedly. You’ll never learn anything new, it will never help you grow, and it won’t help you change. Besides, didn’t it hurt enough the first time? Holding a grudge is a lot harder than forgiving. Take it easy on yourself and forgive your way to freedom!

Gil Mertz is Assistant to the President at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He has been involved with full-time Christian service for nearly forty years and draws from a vast background of ministry with international missions, humanitarian causes, public policy, and consulting. Article is adapted from his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Permission given.

Adapted from Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future by Gil Mertz (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

 

Letting the Shepherd Lead During Difficult Times

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In 2004 I was told that my unborn child would surely die.

In 2009 I was told the same news about my husband.

My unborn child suffered a stroke in utero and five years later his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Continue reading “Letting the Shepherd Lead During Difficult Times”