Find Me This Week at Key Ministry and in Parenting Teens from LifeWay

It’s been a quiet month here on the blog, but you can find me writing at a couple other places this week:

We talk a lot about how churches can bless special-needs families. But have you thought about all the ways special-needs families bless the churches they attend?

I can think of four big ways and I’m sharing them at Key Ministry today!

005075228.2016-09I was also featured in the September issue of LifeWay’s Parenting Teens magazine. You can purchase a copy online or at your local LifeWay store. I wrote about how our church in Pennsylvania loved James well and how we’re adjusting to the changes as we church plant here in Texas. Other families and churches are featured as well.

 

The Story (an excerpt from The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson)

I first read Andrew and Rachel’s book last year when it was published in the UK (their home country). I loved it. It’s at the top of my list now for books to share with other special-needs parents (along with Wrestling with an Angel by Greg Lucas). I was so excited to see Crossway publish the US version that I emailed them six months before the book came out and offered to do anything I could to spread the word when it released.

Well, it released a few weeks ago and they are graciously sharing an excerpt with you all and giving away a copy! Just leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win! I’ll contact the winner on Monday. 

Here’s a chapter from Rachel

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We all long for stories to end with redemption. That’s what drives the stories I love, whether romantic (“I really hope they get together”), heroic (“How on earth are they going to get out of this?”), or whatever. Fictional stories, famous stories, everyday life stories—something in me longs for a happy ending, with all the pain undone and all the suffering redeemed.

When we skip to the end of God’s big story, of course, that’s exactly what happens. The biblical drama ends with redemption, as the hero defeats the villain, gets the girl, saves the world, and lives happily ever after. But in the meantime, riding the roller coaster through the peaks, troughs, celebrations, and anguishes of parenting, I find it easy to forget who the storyteller is and exactly how that redemption will finally come. I have to remind myself that God is the storyteller, not me. And it is his job to redeem it all, not mine.

That’s hard to accept sometimes. When faced with disabilities, particularly those that affect our kids, the temptation is almost overwhelming to create a fantastic redemptive story—one that suddenly, somehow, makes sense of the one in one hundred thousand chromosomal abnormality, or the brain damage brought about by an overworked doctor who arrives late to a difficult birth. We’re designed to search for reason in the seemingly senseless events that torpedo our lives, and we want to make sense of them as soon as they happen. So we set up support groups. We volunteer for charities. We raise awareness. We start foundations, we hold fund-raisers, and we cook things and make things and write things. We rush to explain all the ways in which having special-needs children has, despite appearances, enhanced our lives. We strive daily to make sense of the senseless, so that the pain we’ve experienced will not be in vain. In other words, we write our own happy ending.

But we are not the storyteller. We don’t have the power to resolve the twisted plot and bring triumph out of tragedy. Only God does. And his timing is often very different from ours.

I would love to be able to come to the microphone at the front of church next Sunday and share a revelation that has come to me of why all this has happened, or a sudden character transformation that has come about in me, equipping me to handle each day in a more godly way. Or best of all, a YouTube clip of my two children making a miraculous improvement as a result of prayer, horse handling, art therapy, or drumming lessons. Then, with my newly communicative kids and my ministry to other parents, I could reflect knowingly on my experience—“Ah, so that’s why all this happened. What a relief!”—and enjoy my eureka moment. Even in the very act of writing this book, I’m having to resist the constant temptation to think that maybe this will make up for autism and that helping others will, in a small way, atone for it.

Of course, there is a sense in which this is partly true. Paul says that it is because of our afflictions that we are able to comfort others who have been afflicted, comforting them with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Cor. 1:3–7), and there is true therapy—and purpose—in that. But we are fooling ourselves if we assume that the benefits we experience will outweigh the losses. For some, they might. For us, at least at the moment, they haven’t.

So I have to remember: the story is not mine to save. The pressure to write a story that makes sense of what has happened to us, as acute as it can feel, must be resisted; God is the great storyteller, the divine happy-ending maker, and I’m not. I am a character in God’s story, not the author of my own, and it is God’s responsibility to redeem all things, to make all things work together for good, and, as Sam Gamgee puts it in The Lord of the Rings, to make everything that is sad come untrue.20 It’s only when I find my place in the giant story that God is writing and come to terms with its twists and turns that I can lean back in the knowledge that it is my Father’s job to redeem, or make right, all things—not only in our nuclear family but in every single thing that the curse of sin has touched or tarnished.

I may never have a eureka moment in this lifetime. I may never tell a “Nicky Cruz for the special-needs world” story or get linked to on YouTube or have people in support groups use me as an example of how things can turn around. My parenting life may be a continual journey of struggling, learning, praying, crying, laughing, loving, and trusting, with no dramatic resolution and no end in sight. But that’s why I cling to the Storyteller, and his unbreakable promise to put the world right. In the end, he redeems it all.

Content taken from The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson, ©2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

On Losing My Labels and Finding My Identity in Christ

I like personality profiles. I’m an INTJ, enneagram 1, C (on the DISC scale), and a beaver, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. I like labels and boxes and people who have labels and fit into boxes.

I’ve lost some of my labels lately, parts of my identity. I was an adoptive mom, then I wasn’t. I was a pastor’s wife, then I wasn’t. And now I’m changing yet another label—homeschool mom.

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None of these changes have been easy, but this one stings because it’s so recent. Being a homeschool mom is something I’m proud of. I’ve even told Lee I would change anything in my schedule I needed to change to keep doing it. Because James requires so much of my attention when he’s home, I feel like homeschooling David gives us the time I need to focus on just him.

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But on a road trip early this month, we got to talking (our best talks often come in the car). David said he’s lonely. I get that. We moved from PA to TX a year ago and left lots of good friends behind. The church we attend doesn’t have Sunday school or Awana like our church in PA did, so he sees his friends before church and after, but that’s really it. And as we transition away from there to focus on Journey, he’ll see them even less. He has theatre friends but only when they are doing plays together. We don’t know any kids in the neighborhood. And he is the best big brother I know, but his relationship with James isn’t a true friendship.

So off to school he will go in the fall. At least for one grading period. We’ll see how it goes and make future plans from there.

I’m excited for him, truly. But I’m sad for me. We’ve homeschooled through major difficult life events and it’s the anchor I rely on each day at 1:00, when David and I meet to start off our time by both reading.

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When my emotions get big, I try to figure out why. What is making me saddest about this? I think it’s because I’m losing part of my identity. Because I’m stepping out of a box I stepped into seven years ago when we were learning B is for boy, ball, and button. Stepping out feels like I’m quitting. It feels like I failed. Again. It feels like yet another u turn in the plan I had for our family. If I’m not a homeschooling pastor’s wife, who am I? 

Paul may have been like me. (I’m 95% sure he was an INTJ at least.) He lists some of his labels in Philippians 3:4-6

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But as we know, those were actually Saul’s labels; the labels Saul was known for before he met Christ and became Paul.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (vv 7-11)

We don’t know Paul as a Pharisee or a Benjamite. We know him as a Christ-follower. That was the most important way he identified himself. After gaining Christ, nothing else mattered. None of the labels or accomplishments. He only lived to please God and be worthy of his calling.

That’s my goal through this too—to focus on Christ and how He calls me to rest in Him. To remember when everything around me feels like it’s changing, He is my anchor.

I may be losing a label, but my identity in Him will never change.

‘But If Not,’ I Will Still Find Hope

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

God hasn’t answered the biggest prayer I’ve been praying for over a year. And this request is coming months after another situation when He didn’t answer a prayer we’d been praying for five years. (And when I say He’s not answering, of course I mean He’s not answering the way I want Him to.)

I remind myself of God's sovereignty, and in Him alone I place my hope. - sandrapeoples.com

 

We had a plan. The next two years were laid out for us with timelines and budgets and t-shirts. And even though we followed the plan and stuck to the timeline, it isn’t working out that way. We followed God’s guidance and expected to be rewarded. Instead, we are suffering. Every one of us. It’s heavy and hard and I don’t like it.

Last week, after days of thinking and trying to understand how I was feeling (we INTJs aren’t so good with understanding our feelings), I finally came up with a name for it—hopelessness. I can’t see a solution. People are making suggestions and coming up with contingency plans, but I’m not convinced. When I lay my head on the pillow each night, all I can think is “This isn’t going to work.”

Almost two years ago I was on the phone with a therapist who was not helpful. I closed my door so the boys couldn’t hear me gasping for breath and raising my voice through my tears, “You are taking away our hope and we cannot live with out hope. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed each morning.” Right now the only thing that’s getting me out of bed is the to do list.

So how do I find hope again? How do I learn to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “God will answer our prayers, but even if He doesn’t, I will still worship Him”?

I remind myself of God’s sovereignty, and in Him alone I place my hope.

I don’t want to remind myself this is all from God. I bet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t either as they faced the furnace. (Or Joseph in jail. Or Moses in the wilderness. Or Ruth and Naomi as they walked back to the home Naomi had left. Or David as he mourned the loss of his son. Or Jeremiah as he wept for his people. Or Zechariah and Elizabeth as they spent decades praying an unanswered prayer.) We like to give God credit for the results but not don’t always acknowledge His love and mercy in our suffering.

I want to blame someone else. If only he had come through. If only she would have said yes. Then plan A would still be working out. But ultimately what is happening is God’s will for us. What I currently view as suffering is God’s will for us.

He isn’t thwarted by detours or surprised when dates on the calendar come and go without goals being met. He is working all things out for our good. And our good doesn’t mean we are going to have success (just like having enough faith isn’t going to mean James will be healed of his autism).

I don’t know why I keep forgetting this lesson. My whole life has been an example of it. The book of James speaks of every good and perfect gift being from above, but who gets to say if what we’re experiencing isn’t a good and perfect gift? From God’s perspective it must be. As we know, His goal is our holiness, our sanctification. And through that comes hope.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:9-12

Houston in July feels a lot like a “burning fiery furnace.” And as we walk through it, I’m going to keep praying for exactly what I want to happen. Even when I don’t see any possible way for it to work out.

It’s not the results I have hope in, but God. That is why I can have “the full assurance of hope.” Why I won’t grow sluggish in my love for God or others. Why I will fight for that hope with faith and patience.

What Is Your Faith in Today?

We need faith. Faith that His purpose and will for our lives and the lives of our children will be fulfilled. Faith that when doctors, therapist, teachers, and even friends and family members fail us, He never will.

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When we have meetings about James, I bring a binder full of information. Copies of therapy evaluations, results of blood tests, a list of medicines and supplements, his IEP, and more. It is obvious to others that we are serious about helping him thrive. That we want him to reach his potential. That we take our care for him seriously. Like this woman, we have been to many doctors and therapists and have spent lots of money. Some of these doctors have helped and others haven’t. But we continue to have faith.

What is our faith in? The medical community? The most recent study? The newest therapy trend? To a degree, yes. Or we wouldn’t keep going there for answers.

To read more, check out my post at Key Ministry for the Special-Needs Parenting blog …