Monday, January 31, 2011

Restless with God

This past weekend was tough! I mean really really tough - to a point that I haven't faced in the whole three and half years we have been in Bayfield. It wasn't really anything major in a way but rather several different situations in which I was reluctant to let go and relinquish them to the hands of the Lord.

I ran the whole gamet of emotions - anger, frusteration, hurt, sadness etc. Let me clarify - that there was not anything that anyone had done but rather a war raging inside me about my insecurity, fear, and insuffieciency. By Sunday morning, I was literally in an inner turmoil and was restless about what to do with it.

I wasn't wrestling with God but more restless with God! Yet, our God is so faithful and true. During worship Sunday morning - my heart began to break and yield to the Father and clarity began to enter! God began to speak and show me that I HAD to lay a specific issue at His feet or I would go back to a place of depression and despair that I didn't want to go back to.

The final song of the service was "I surrender all" - as I sang the words "I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Jesus I surrender." I could envision myself laying this enormous burden at the feet of the cross and LEAVING THEM THERE!

I can't describe the immense feeling of release that came over me as I let go of this thing I had been carrying for so long! Suddenly, all the other issues and problems were also so minor and no longer too overbearing. My heart was resolved to let my Savior carry the load!

Besides the obvious lesson of letting go and letting God, I also learned how holding on to just ONE thing - can literally tear apart every other aspect of our lives. It is amazing how quickly the enemy can grab ahold in one area and creap in and overtake us!

I am so thankful for all that Christ brought me through this past weekend - I am stronger and more in love with Him than ever. I have the joy and freedom restored that only He can bring!!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thoughts from a Mom and Aunt of children with Special Needs

I know there are many out there that are in the same boat as I have found myself in for the past 16 years - being a parent or relative of a child with special needs. It is a life full of challenges, ups and downs, highs and lows but MOST of all - it is a life full of the blessing to look at things just a little different and being able to experience joy in so much!

I read a friend's blog this morning about her "Adoption Story" (awesome story Tina!) and it inspired me to share my "Special Needs" story because I know so many who are faced with these challenges day in and day out!

The story actually begins before Joel and I were married or even engaged. We had been dating almost a year. Joel's sister Jana was pregnant with twin girls - which I thought was SO cool - when he was contacted at college and told that something had happened and Jana was having an emergency c-section. The result - Brianna (one of the twins) had died and Bethany (the other twin) was in pretty serious condition. There are obviously more details to this event but the end result was that our neice Bethany was born with Cerebral Palsy and was Mild Mental Retardation. I have to be honest - at this point I was concerned for Jana and Jeff and their whole family but since I wasn't technically in their family - it was hard to relate.

However - just a few short months after her birth, I had the privilege and honor to meet sweet Bethany Shae and she has literally captured my heart from the moment I first held her! There are no words to describe what she means to me and how she has changed and impacted my life personally. Bethany has had to go through numerous surgeries, doctor's visits, therapies, etc and she is still full of childhood joy and laughter! Her sweet smile lights up the room - she loves her cousins - she thinks her Uncle Joel is silly (well don't we all?) - and she works hard to learn to do things independently for herself!

I know that I do not completely understand the day to day challenges my sister-in-law and her husband face - however I have seen how much perseverance they have, the dedication, the ups and the downs. Most of all, I have seen the way they daily have to trust the Lord with Bethany and look to Him for guidance! I know I speak for ALL of our family - we are so blessed by Bethany and we are so thankful that she is a part of our lives!

Yet, my experience and story doesn't end with Bethany. Shortly after getting married - Joel and I had the opportunity to work at Special Friends Camp which was a Christian camp for those with Special Needs. It was here that my heart was FOREVER captured for those children and individuals with Special Needs. I can't describe the joy that they have brought me and how much I truly value spending time with them.

I now know that all of the above experiences were God's way of preparing me for a special little boy - Tyler Bay Arrington. Tyler is not "typical" special needs as he doesn't have an exact diagnosis or even a "major" issue. Yet - he has faced challenges since the day he was born. At Tyler's 2 week check-up he had not regained his birth weight - being my fourth child I KNEW this wasn't the norm and that there was something just not right. Our family doctor agreed and sent us to a pediatrician in Durango. Thus began a LONG 10 months of weekly appointments, changes in formula, tests, etc. The peak of this time was Thanksgiving 2001 - our Dr called us while we were on vacation (yes, he was THAT dedicated) and told us that when we got back to Pagosa we were to make IMMEDIATE plans to go to Children's Hospital in Denver. After talking with numerous specialists - they all agreed - that Tyler had Cystic Fibrosis and that he was one of the few in America who had a False Negative test at birth. He had ALL the signs. Thank you Jesus for a church family and community who KNEW how to get on their knees in prayer. To this day - I have no idea how the word spread so quickly but the Pagosa community was doing battle in prayer on behalf of our little boy!

When we arrived in Denver - after a LONG stressful drive over snowy passes - we were on pins and needles not knowing what the outcome would be. The following morning was long with waiting rooms, tests, waiting for results, etc - the outcome? NEGATIVE! Tyler did not have Cystic Fibrosis...I will say here that is my belief that he truly did have it but that the prayers of many availed much and he was healed. In some ways this was the end to a long journey physically as Tyler then began to gain physical strength but it was also the beginning of a journey that would show us some other issues physically and eduactionally that Tyler would face.
From birth, Tyler suffered from chronic ear infections and illness. As a result, he was on multiple antibiotics the majority of the first 18 months of his life. He had tubes put in twice and was a "regular" at the Dr. He also suffered from random high fevers frequently and on numerous occasions lost the ability to walk at very random times.

At age 3, Tyler could barely communicate verbally, had trouble with social interaction, and was just to the point we could work on potty training. By the time he was 4 - we knew that he had other factors affecting him but were unsure what they were. It was at this time, that he was officially diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears and would require hearing aides for life. The best way to describe it was that when he heard people it was as though he was hearing things underwater. Although taken off guard since we didn't know ANYTHING about dealing with a child with hearing loss - we were also excited to think that once he got hearing aides he would begin making progress.

Children's Hospital in Little Rock Ar. was AMAZING! They worked with not only Tyler but us as parents in how to help him and work with him. With their help, we were able to not only get Tyler hearing aides but an FM system that would enhance his ability to understand a specific speaker.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of the problems that Tyler would face. Having lived literally in his own world for the first 4 years of his life - he did not know how to interact socially with other children nor did he know how to respond to instruction in terms of us as parents or his teachers. The result of this was many outbursts of anger, frustration on his part and ours, destroying his preschool classroom, melt downs on a regular basis, etc.

Through the help and encouragement of many Godly people in our lives - we were able to help Tyler work through a lot of these struggles and learn to cope in a better way. Tyler still has a hard time interacting with other kids but is making progress daily - he struggles in school and is about a year and half behind his grade level. Daily it is challenging to get him to stay on any one task and to sit still. He struggles with memorization and reading. Physically - he appears to be much stronger as we no longer have high fevers - at least for the past year - he has adapted and learned to rely on his hearing aides but we are also looking at the possibility of future surgery on his mouth and nose to correct some speech issues. Tyler also still struggles with controlling his emotions but is getting better.

I am thankful that God in His infinite wisdom has placed us in the Bayfield School District during this time in Tyler's life. I can not say enough good about the Special Education teachers and the staff at San Juan Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) who have helped us in so many ways and have worked endlessly with Tyler. They are amazing!!! They are wonderful in not only informing us about Tyler's progress and their plans with him - they include us in the decisions, etc. (Ok - enough of a commercial there!)

Tyler is definitely our most challenging child in the realm of Special Needs but we do have 2 other children that have Special Needs as well. Kestra has a learning disability that causes her to struggle with learning and comprehending - but she is also getting to the point where she can overcome it and work with it! Malachi - our oldest son - has a hearing loss as well and although it was diagnosed later than Tyler's it is at the moderate level. He has not had the other challenges that Tyler has had though and has grown and developed normally.

All of this to say - even though it is hard, even though there are days that I want to throw up my hands and scream, even though there are many appointments with doctors - I wouldn't change a single moment! It has been so wonderful to work with not only my son and neice but others with special needs as well! My prayer is that if you are raising a child or know of a child with Special needs - you would be encouraged and know that it is not a walk you have to travel alone. If you haven't had any contact or interaction with people with special needs - my prayer is that you will reach out and get to know these wonderful people! I promise - it will change your life for the better!!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Small reminders - of big blessings!

I just love how the Lord blesses us in both big and small ways; and yet I think I often take the small things forgranted while I am looking for the big things! The past few weeks, God has really blessed our family in several little ways.

First of all, you need to know that over the course of the last 15 and half years our family has lived in about 8 different places. When you move that much, it is really hard to develop good close friendships. Not just for Joel and I, which is definitely something we have struggled with, but also for our kids. For the first time that I can remember ALL FOUR of our kids have at least one really close friend that they like to spend time with and be with - not only that BUT they all have close CHRISTIAN friends!!! I know this may not seem to astonishing to some, being that we are in full-time ministry. The assumption would be that our kids would have lots of Christian friends but in fact, they really haven't. Many of the churches we have served at have had very few children and our kids have been the main ones. In addition, there hasn't always been kids the same ages as ours - for example Hannah has almost never had friends her age or grade in our church. She does have one friend in the youth group - however she is in a different grade and school which makes it hard. So - to know that each one of my kids has a close friend that is a Christian blesses my heart in so many ways! The really cool thing is that not all of these friends go to our church - some are from other churches! How wonderful that the Lord would bring these kids together!!!

Another blessing this month has been in terms of awareness of our finances and the use of them. This may sound strange but the Lord has really helped both Joel and I line up a set budget, how to save $ in little ways, and to just be overall aware of where the money is being spent. One thing that has really helped so far is the use of coupons and grocery shopping based on sales. Through the help of The Grocery Game and lots of perseverance and conviction - we have saved almost $300 this month in groceries!!! I also came across a brand new pair of Gap jeans for Kestra at the Thrift Store - that was only $3.00! The tags were on them and originally they were $39.50!!! God is good and faithful. As we learn to be stewards of what He has given us, I believe He will bless us more so that we can give it back to Him!

The final way in which I personally have been blessed is through the opportunity to work with a special little girl named Emily! Shortly before school started back this semester the transportation Director for our school district called me. He wanted to know if I would be willing to be a Special Needs Aide on the Handicap bus every Friday for Emily. If you know me, you know that I have a soft spot for children with special needs! Part of this is due to my neice Bethany and a lot has to do with how the Lord has used them to teach me SO much! Anyway - I jumped at the chance! As it turned out - because working with Emily requires some special training, I was also told I would be the sub for her on Fridays if her teacher or aide were out at school (she only goes to our school on Friday). So far, I have subbed for Emily all day on 2 different Fridays in addition to being her aide on the bus. Through Emily, the Lord has been showing me that even when I am weary and worn out - His strength can help me to serve others selflessly! Emily has also reminded me of what it means to love unconditionally. This past Friday was a difficult day with her and I was really weary and worn out. By the time we got on the bus - I was literally done! I had been fighting a head cold, Emily had a hard day, Joel was out of town, etc. Then - on the bus Emily grabbed my hand, and smiled! So precious!!! All else was forgotten and I had renewed strength!!!

God is so good and faithful! Thank you Jesus for blessing our family in so many different ways!!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Real Live Face to Face Relationships

Whew...this week has been really good but also really busy! I can't believe that tomorrow is Friday and this really is the first time I have had a chance to sit and catch my breath!

There has been a running theme the past few weeks in what the Lord has been teaching me and laying on my heart in various ways - that is the need to establish and work on actual FACE TO FACE relationships! I am not talking about e-mail friends, Facebook friends, tweets, or even phone conversations. I am talking about getting out there and developing live friendships and relationships with both believers and non-believers. I am not even talking about acquaintences or a quick hi or hug at church on Sunday morning. This is about INVESTING time, SACRIFICING time, and even perhaps making ourselves VULNERABLE...YES I said it - I said that we need to make ourselves vulnerable in order to be relevant and relate to others.

Ok - maybe I should back track and say that this is what I NEED to do...and maybe I am not alone in this. You see, as "busy" as I may seem to be, and as "outgoing" as some think I am - I have a fear of others seeing the REAL me. The me that sometimes yells at my kids when I know it's wrong, the me that lacks faith for the Lord's provision even though He has proven Himself faithful time and time again, the me that struggles to have a quiet time even though it makes every day so much better, or the me that struggles to maintain a balance between home and ministry. This is the me that I am fearful to expose in real life but yet it is also ME and the Lord has challenged me to be OPEN and HONEST with others in real life situations face to face...

Please don't get me wrong - technology has opened so many doors for us to communicate and reach others in so many great areas. However the risk that we face is that not only do we become isolated in our homes and offices but we as a society are losing the ability to interact with other people. One great example - two teens sitting next to each other in the lunch room. Both have their heads down and are frantically typing away on their phones - what are they doing? Not just texting but texting to EACH OTHER! What!!??? Can we not actually TALK to one another. Ok - so perhaps you are thinking - well that's just teens not adults. Another great example - this time ME...another mom in church is struggling with her homelife, kids, work, etc. I sit at the computer and type her an ever so encouraging post on Facebook when what needed to happen was to pick up the phone and ask - "When can we get together for coffee (or coke in my case)?" This is what is happening all around us and it is time to put a STOP to it!

For me, the excuses are endless. They range from kids' schedules are crazy, I haven't had a night at home, well it's much quicker to e-mail, I need to get stuff cleaned at home, etc. Again - I am not saying that we never have a night at home or that we neglect our kids' schedules (although perhaps we have allowed them to get TOO busy). What I AM saying is that PEOPLE are always more important than our agenda. Sometimes we need to put OURSELVES aside and invest in the lives of others.

Perhaps this is a bit of a soapbox but that is not at all the intention. It is simply something that the Lord has really laid on my heart for me to examine and change as well as encourage others to do the same. I KNOW that we get hurt when we open ourselves to others - boy do I EVER know it. I have tears in my eyes right now as I reflect on the pain that others have placed on me and my family when we were open. However - I also know this - God NEVER intended us to isolate ourselves for any length of time from other human beings. He NEVER intended us to hide behind a computer or phone and pretend that we have friends. He called us to get out and interact with people, to love people, to invest in relationships, etc.

How do we do this? Well I don't have it all figured out but I want to share with you what I have felt led to do so far:

1.) Disciple other women. Be committed and persistant in meeting once a week with 2 -3 women and help them grow in their faith.

2.) Have a once a month ladies night JUST FOR FUN! Right now this is taking the form of a Bunco group starting in Feb.

3.) Invite another family over for dinner AT LEAST once a month. Preferably this will be people that we don't know well or want to get to know better but to open our home and our table none-the-less.

4.) STOP after church and truly take the time to visit with members of our church family. Not a mere hug or wave as we head to the car or round up kids but to truly stop and find out how they are and what is going on in their lives.

5.) Take time for one-on-one time with other women from all walks of life. Yes, my house may not be clean or the laundry may pile up a bit but perhaps that sister needs and extra hug or an ear to listen or a prayer to be said.

6.) Notice when others are absent from church or other functions and take the time to call them and make sure they are ok.

7.) Limit the majority of my Facebook communication to those who are NOT local. Not ignore the local people because hopefully I am interacting with them face to face but to focus FB to those that I am not physically near.

I truly believe that these 7 simple things will open the door to developing real face-to-face relationships. Yes - there are times we need to be alone or with our family BUT that is NOT all the time.

Like I said earlier - technology is GREAT! I love the fact that I have reconnected with friends from college, high school and other places we have lived through FB. I love that I can post pictures of my kids for my family that lives far away to share in their growing up - but I don't believe that God wants us to use it in place of developing real life face to face friends in our community.

This week, I LOVED that I got to nurture a friendship that I believe will turn into a beautiful friendship with another pastor's wife. God blessed us with a lunch for just us girls one day and then lunch together with our spouses the very next day! How cool is that? I am excited to have another sister in ministry who can relate to the good bad and ugly of this crazy walk as a minister's wife! I am praying for more divine appointments like this in the weeks to come. No, I haven't been home a single day this week, my house is a mess, I have tons to do - but I would rather develop a friendship than to have a sparkling house..

"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to others, especially to those who are of the household of faith." Galatians 6:10

Monday, January 10, 2011

On my knees in Battle!

My heart is heavy for two wonderful young moms I know. The first mom, is a close friend of mine who is pregnant with her fourth child. I must say, that this pregnancy has been a test of faith, prayer and dependence on the Lord for her but also for myself! I have learned through this that there are some battles that rage on and on and we can't EVER give up on them! We have prayed continuously for the life of this baby since very early in the pregnancy and it has been an uphill battle since then and continues to be so. I will be honest, it is REALLY hard for me to relate to this situation. Yes, I had 4 children, 4 pregnancies, and they were all close together; however, I was so blessed with pretty eventless pregnancies and never really had issues while pregnant. Through my friend though, I have learned how incredibly precious and powerful standing in the gap for LIFE really is! So many times I have thought "I want to do more!" "I need to step up and help more." etc and yet the Lord has brought me back to "You are doing more than you can are fighting the battle for life on your knees and that is the most important weapon of al!" Oh my friends - if we only understood and grasped the incredible and amazing power that we have through prayer and intercession on the behalf of others, how much more would we be on our knees, vervently fighting the battles we face each and every day? The battle is not done for my friend - she needs to carry this baby another 4 weeks for it to be completely healthy and strong but you know what? I am learning that I can help her, I can intervene because I can PRAY. I would ask that you join me in praying for this little life that she carries, that he would become strong and healthy and that she would be able to not only carry him another 4 weeks but that the contractions would stop, the other issues she is having would be healed and that she would have energy for her 3 children that are here. Pray that this would be a battle that we can say "WOW, look what God did!" I believe that God will be glorified through the life she carries.

The second young mom is not someone I know really well although I have met her and know her heart is to serve the Lord. She is facing a legal issue and court case this week that could literally change her life forever. Again, I felt helpless and unable to really do anything and again I am reminded to PRAY. My heart goes out to her because I believe in my heart that she is innocent of the charges against her and yet in our messed up and turned around world - there are those that would have her pay a price higher than any mom should. Yet, once again the Lord has told me - "fight this battle on your knees" Think about that. What soldier would run into battle crawling on their knees and yet - we are so STRONG when we fall on our knees before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We have more strength, more endurance, more stamina, more POWER than the enemy will EVER know when we fall before the throne of the Lord God Almighty...why then is it that we like David, try to weild a sword much to heavy for us and wear an armor way to big and then go into battle? Instead we need to say, like David, the LORD is my sheild, His Word is my Sword and He will go before me!

Prayer is something that I struggle with. It is not that I don't pray but more that I don't do it often or intensely enough. I am learning though and I am anxious to become more and more powerful in my use of prayer. This week, these two young moms are my focus in my prayer time but I don't want to be limited to that. If you are facing a situation or a battle and you know that you need prayer warriors PLEASE e-mail me! For many of you, this is the only way I can help BUT it is also the absolute BEST way I can help. I would also ask that you join me in intense prayer for my two friends - pray that the victory will be one and the Lord God Almighty will be glorified beyond our wildest dreams! - I look forward to hearing how I can pray for you and THANK YOU for helping me pray more intensely than ever before!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lessons on Love and being in the Desert

"Love is God's essence, Power is an attribute of God. Therefore, God's love is stronger than His power."

This quote was in my devotional this past Sunday morning and has captured my thoughts the past couple of days. At first I thought "how can one thing about God be stronger than something else?" However, the more I thought and meditated on this - the more I began to realize that it really is true. You see, God IS love - EVERYTHING He does is a result of His love for man - even to the point of sacrificing His ONE AND ONLY Son on the cross for mankind. (John 3:16) So if God is love - then His Love is the strongest part of who He is!

So, as I thought and pondered and prayed about how this needed to be applied to my life, God has revealed a few things.

First and foremost - I need to LOVE God more! He loves me with all He is and yet, I am quick to place Him on the back burner and to forget about Him or maybe I don't forget about Him but I place other things and people before Him. I love my husband and children - there isn't anything I wouldn't do for them. I claim to love God and I do but how do I show that, how is it mirrored in my life? So, I need to LOVE God more!

The second thing that I have come to realize is that EVERYTHING God does is a result of His love for me and EVERYWHERE He has me is a result of His knowledge of what is best for me. I am going to be completely honest - I have NOT been content with where I am at in life for the past couple of months. Mostly, this revolves around career vs being home but also it concerns our lifestyle, friendships, family relationships, etc. I have had an attitude of discontentment and have longed for something more. It has been hard knowing that I have a college degree in an area of study that I enjoy and love but yet I have not been able to use it. I have had a desire to grow and expand in this area of study and yet have not had it; not to mention that the added income from me working full-time would most definitely help out financially! In the area of friendships - I am struggling. I have some great friends all over the country but circumstances, distance, life seems to be pulling some of these apart. I long for that friend you can call and just be honest and say "today sucks" and they will truly listen to you, they have time for you regardless what else is going on. Don't get me wrong - I do have wonderful friends but lately I haven't been content with the way thes relationships are. So - in essence there has been just an overwhelming sense of discontentment.
This morning though the Lord spoke to me through both a friend's blog and scripture. My friend blogged about being in the desert and how when we are in the desert we are discontent, upset, complain, whine, etc. Yet, when you look through scripture at the times that people were "in the desert" it was usually a time right before God had something big for them and it was a time where He could prepare them for the journey ahead. What came to my mind this morning was Moses - He was in the desert when God spoke in a bush, He was in the wilderness when God spoke to Him, etc. God knew that Moses had to learn to trust Him before moving on with His plans for Moses - as a result of His lack of trust and faith Moses missed out on the reward of the promised land. In the desert - God spoke to Hagar about His plan and protection of Ishmael. I don't want to miss out on God's reward, I want to be fully 100% prepared for the work He has for me and so therefore - I want to know what He needs me to learn while I am in this "desert" place. I am not quite at the point where I can say I am 100% content - but that is where I long to be! I am anxious to know "what's next" but in the meantime, I am striving to be content where I am. I KNOW that God has me here because He LOVES ME and HE IS LOVE! It is all about His love for me that He brings me to these desert points in my life.

I Timothy 6:6-7 talks about contentment in Godliness because we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it. When I read this passage this morning - it hit me! It doesn't matter what I have in terms of material goods or money - I need to have a Godly contentment with where the Lord has me TODAY while at the same time being prepared for whatever He may have around the corner.

Maybe I am not alone, maybe there are those of you who have found yourselves in the "desert" of discontentment and are longing to know what's next. My prayer is that you, like me, will seek to be 100% content with wherever you are RIGHT NOW knowing that God is love and therefore where you are is an act of His love!