The Secret to Thriving, Not Surviving

It was a quiet morning at the oceanfront hotel where we were staying at Virginia Beach. The breeze off of the Atlantic Ocean gently combed the beach grass. Families of birds chased the retreating waves, their footprints too light to make any impression in the sand. I walked alongside the beach, taking in the overcast grey sky blending into the waves. The beach approached a peninsula, promising a view that would surely not disappoint.

As the beach rounded the corner, another expanse of beach came into view with the same grey watercolor. I kept on walking. The horizon continued to taunt me as I walked closer to the end of this beach segment, followed by another bay of sand to trudge through. I kept my eye on the next corner. But each corner rounded to a similar scene. It seemed to be never-ending. It was beautiful, but it was also the same view no matter the number of steps I took. 

This walk felt like my life — a “Groundhog Day” of caring for my disabled daughter. There are beautiful moments. But most days are focused on each step without seeing the view. We are dealing with many of the same issues that we have dealt with for a long time. Only now, we are older. And my daughter is now bigger. It is becoming more physically challenging to keep up. Our patience has grown greater. Our wisdom has grown deeper. But our fatigue has grown more real as well. 

On my walk, I was looking for the beauty around the corner. I wanted the AHA! moment that would allow every grain of sand in my shoe to be worth the gritty journey. But each turn of the corner proved to be more of the same.

A vertebra "shell" found on Virginia Hampton Beach
A vertebra “shell” found on Virginia Hampton Beach

Chronic suffering is being trapped in a never-ending cycle of the same. We all have a painful thorn in our side that does not let up — an unanswered prayer, a salt-wound relationship that never heals, a broken heart that cannot ever be whole, a dream we must mourn. The reality is this broken world is marred by loss. 

I want to thrive in loss. Just survival is not enough for me.

I want a thri-vival

So how do we answer the deep aching feeling that there must be more? 

For the Christian, there is more. 

The only way to understand the intersection of a suffering mankind and a good God is to interpret this life through the lens of eternity. 

The only way to find purpose in our suffering is to know that our lives exist for more than this world. The more we accept decay — and, for that matter, learn to embrace it — the more we become thrivers rather than just survivors.

Decay is everywhere.

When I was walking this beach with the repetitive view, I finally looked down. Shells, seaweed, and abandoned nettings were peppered amongst the sand. All were carcasses of life that once was. The beach is a battlefield littered with the remains of an ocean ambushing its prey. What is one’s child’s playground is the cemetery of mollusks. What is one woman’s treasured pearl is the oyster’s expulsion of waste. What is one family’s treasured keepsake of vacation, is the skeleton of a conch.

Decay co-exists with beauty.

In fact, decay is required. For the beauty that emerges from decay is richer, more fruitful, and lasts forever. Like the compost that enriches the growth of a garden, decay, disability, and death are the fertilizers of a richer beauty to come. Yet decay occurs at the same time that flowers bloom. Beauty and pain can be enwrapped in the same moment.

There is no better example of this paradox of beauty and pain than the cross. The cross is the intersection of many contrasts — injustice and justice, death and life, hatred and love, grief and celebration. When Jesus died on the cross, He did more than punch a ticket to heaven. Purposeful suffering was exemplified. 

Still, living the joy of the cross on a daily basis is not easy. Especially in the mundane everyday struggles of motherhood or caring for the disabled, suffering can feel purposeless and never-ending. We can be deceived into hopelessness if we allow emotions to overshadow truth. The energy needed for everyday surviving makes thriving seem impossible. When the days of survival mode stretch into weeks, months, and years, we must learn how to thrive in the pit. So how do we seek thri-vival?

  1. To thrive means that we change our expectations about decay. Our decay is not unique to our generation and decay will continue until this world belongs to Jesus again. We can certainly point out the decay of others, but we are often unaware of our own decay. We expect progression, not regression. And yet our society, many of our relationships, and our own bodies are fighting the natural decay that comes from the fall of man. We would like to believe that we are always getting better, but in reality, we ourselves are not immune to entropy. As our bodies and minds age, our ability to process our worlds is also dampened. But one day, this decay, too, will lead to eternal beauty. And decay will not exist in heavenly realms.
  • To thrive means we recognize our need for rescue. Grace covers our sin, for our salvation. But sanctification requires us to embrace pit-dwelling. He gives our feet a place to stand between each rung on the daily climb. This state of dependence is uncomfortable and yet necessary for our trust in God’s goodness to grow. The Gospel is lived daily in our lives when we are in a state of dependence. For our need for a Savior is often when we are at the end of ourselves. 
  • To thrive means we learn to abide in Jesus daily. We rely on His mercies to be new every morning and enough for today’s trials. We humble ourselves to be a servant rather than the source. Abiding in Jesus is trusting Him to fill in the cracks daily. Abiding involves constant connection with our Source of strength. We are emptied continuously so that He can fill us continuously. And we must ask for help. Ask for His wisdom. Ask for eyes to see His care for us. Ask for a heart of praise. And these one-second prayers build our relationship with Jesus and help us see the treasures in each exhausting step. We must sit under the Bible as a servant and not stand over the Bible as a critic. As we learn of God’s plan for the decay of this world, our souls are comforted and reassured that He has an ultimate plan for redemption. 

That is thri-vival — where pain and beauty co-exist. It is possible to be a thriver and not only a survivor. To thrive is to abide with Jesus. Because when we look only at ourselves and our circumstances, the decay is discouraging. But when we look at the cross, decay is defeated. It is in the daily struggle of chronic Christian suffering that we learn to abide. We learn to trust in the One who carries us from birth to death to eternal life. God alone sustains us.

Our walk on the beach becomes about Him, not about us nor the view that we think we deserve. 

The walk to heaven is more pleasant when we let go of the “should be” and “should not be.”  We will stop walking for the purpose of the view. We will walk because we are called to walk. And then we will start to see the treasures in every step. We will expect decay in this world rather than be disappointed by it. And one day, at the vantage point of heaven, we will look down at all of the faded footprints in the sand and we will understand why. The deepest sinking sand will be the sweetest places we thrived as we learned to abide in Christ.

This is the hope of the Christian in chronic suffering: There is more. And for today, He is enough.

“Listen to me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you. I will bear and rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:3-4

Rachelle Keng is a physician practicing Obstetrics & Gynecology in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lives with her husband Michael and their two daughters. She cares deeply for people and has a passion for writing about her reflections on life and faith. Rachelle’s oldest daughter has Angelman Syndrome. Her experiences as a special needs mom are often the inspiration for her writing.

What is the Parable of Your Life?

par·a·ble
ˈperəb(ə)l/
noun

A simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.

If your life was a parable, what would the lesson(s) be?

That is a question I began pondering last summer. I was in the process of updating my website, finishing a new book and planning for the next season of life and ministry. I was thinking and praying a lot about how my talents, passions and time might best be used for the next few years.

I thought back over highlights (and low-lights) of my life and began considering how those experiences had shaped me, taught me things, stretched me for the better, sometimes kept me stuck yet often spurred me on. Events and circumstances that left a big impression on me were numerous but included things like moving a lot while growing up (including spending my later elementary and high school years in Canada), being bullied horribly in middle school, putting God “on a shelf” for a while in college, living the “American dream” for a while in our early years of career and marriage, running into a hard storm a few years into marriage, having a child with profound disabilities, helping two other children navigate life and dreams into adulthood and so much more.

From these memories, I realized some life lessons had risen to the surface and become themes that resonated through much of what I have been doing with my life in the last several years. Sometimes, those lessons were spilling over into my interactions with others and, by God’s grace, becoming resonating or teachable points for them too. It was deeply encouraging and humbling to recognize some ways God had mercifully orchestrated both good times and hard times for greater purposes than I could have imagined.

Isn’t that the truth? What can seem to be the simplest, even mundane, experiences in our lives can often be steeped in life lessons! As with the illustrations Jesus used for teaching, those lessons can turn our perspectives upside down and rearrange our ideas about what matters. Those “parables” have the power to point us in the direction of a new way of living — and even a new way of sharing life. That has certainly been true for me.

I believe these have become key “parables” from my life:

  • God uses adversity to move our hearts, lives and relationships to places we were quite unlikely to go if left in our comfortable places.
  • After a life crisis, things may never be the same. But maybe things were never meant to be the same.
  • Where there is human frailty, there is opportunity for grace to break through. And when grace appears, God’s nearness, accessibility, power and goodness are experienced in a whole new realm.
  • Answers aren’t always available to us but Jesus is always available. He is the perfect closure to our questions and ambiguous circumstances. (This is paraphrased from Tim Keller’s book Walking with God Through Pain & Suffering.)

Joni Eareckson Tada’s life is like a living parable, teaching the world about God’s sovereignty in suffering. Joni is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, is an international advocate for people with disabilities. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, without the use of her hands. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. Joni has written more than 50 books on topics ranging from disability outreach to understanding the goodness of God and the problem of suffering. Her life story and teachings illustrate this truth beautifully:

God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.
— JONI

This focus for reflection has been helpful for me. Will you think about it too? When we understood how our lives are like a parable (or series of parables), it can give us some clues about where to prioritize our time, how to invest in our careers and relationships, how we can help others, whether it’s time to shift gears and find a new way to live on purpose. Reflecting on life’s lessons also helps us to see God’s faithful hand in our circumstances and empowers us with the freedom to fully live!

If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
No one.
For Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us,
and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us
from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

—Romans 8:31, 34, 37, 39

So how about you? If your life is a parable, what lessons is it teaching? 

We would love to hear from you. Please drop us a note and let us know what parables you are seeing in your own life story.


This post was authored by Lisa Jamieson and first appeared in February 2018 at LisaJamieson.org.

Miraculous Preservation

A common concern among caregivers, especially parents of children who have disabilities, is what will happen to our children if they outlive us. And as middle age comes, depending on the degree of toll in caregiving and other life circumstances, we caregivers tend to fear that our bodies may wear our long before we actually die. What then?

And so we pray a lot. As we’re able, we do some planning. Having an estate plan in place offers some peace of mind as does doing lots of documentation for those who will be inheriting the caregiving responsibilities. Our family has had many conversations about this and those are always very reassuring as well. But at the day’s end, when my body is aching and I’m weary to the bone (as they say), I’m left with taking it all to the Lord in prayer and begging him to preserve and protect my husband and I for as long has He possibly will!

Today I was reading the accounts of a missionary who travelled a ship between England and China in the 1930s. The ship’s route took them through the Red Sea with full views of the desert places where the Exodus occurred. Audrey Johnson’s pondering jumped off the page at me with reassurance that God’s capacity to preserve and protect His children is not limited by our physical bodies and minds.  

Audrey wrote:

Probably no one who reads Exodus can fully enter into that miracle of absolute dependence upon our faithful God who revealed Himself so clearly that throughout Israelite history and Psalms this miraculous preservation and protection was never forgotten. Think for instance of Deuteronomy 29:5 (which says): 

“For forty years God has led you through the wilderness, yet your clothes haven’t become old, and your shoes haven’t worn out” (TLB).

Audrey Wetherell Johnson

I want to remember this verse and the underlying promise it carries for our family too. Nothing has changed about God, His promises or His abilities. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday as He is today and forever. His character, power, goodness and accessibility remains as certain for me as it was for Moses. In fact, it’s even better because I (we) have access to God through the indwelling Holy Spirit!  

The very same God who so faithfully cared for the people of Israel makes the same kind of promise to me. His protection may look differently than I’m expecting but it remains dependable and will surprise me in the best of ways.

Whether you are a fellow sojourner down the caregiving road with me or someone who just needs reassurance, let us be confident of this — God is creatively preparing all kinds of “miraculous preservation” for us and for those we love.

Jeremiah 29:10-13
This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.”


This post was inspired by the book Created for Commitment by A. Wetherell Johnson, founder of Bible Study Fellowship.

Selective Sharing

A few months ago, I posted this statement on Facebook:

“I don’t believe it can be overstated how stressful and wearying it is being the parent of someone with significant developmental and medical needs. There is also unspeakable joy. But make no mistake that this life is OFTEN more than overwhelming. I speak for my own family and many others when I ask you to pray hard and regularly for anyone you know living this life. We need your persevering friendship and sometimes help. We wish we didn’t need help, and very often we don’t even know what to ask for. But we can’t do this alone. Practical, emotional and spiritual encouragement is a gust of wind in our sails.”

Lisa Jamieson’s Facebook post | April 2017

This got a reaction.

Most people who responded were caregivers themselves. They resonated deeply with the sentiments I expressed. The rest of those who responded were encouraging friends whose comments usually indicated that they were praying for me.

I was grateful for the prayers but even more moved by the hunger among caregivers to feel noticed and heard. Since so many caregivers practically begged me to get this word about their (our) chronic stress out more broadly (on their behalf), I posted again the next day with a very personal and rather lengthy explanation about my own chronic stress and why I talk about it the way I do.  

I wasn’t expecting to post it, yet again, on my blog. But subsequent conversations suggest it deserves one more share. So here goes…

WHY DO I SHARE WHAT I SHARE?
AND WHEN I DON’T SHARE, WHY NOT?

There are a variety of reactions I encounter whenever I talk about how chronic stress is affecting my family and others in intense or complicated, often long-term circumstances. 

SHOCK
WORRY
APATHY
DEFENSIVENESS
RESONANCE/APPRECIATION

Obviously, not every reaction is helpful to a family like ours. But trust me, I understand most people are well-meaning and I’m very hesitant to criticize any reaction — I mostly appreciate ANY reaction (except apathy). Larry and I don’t expect perfection in understanding. But we do hope people at least care. And try. And we hope people won’t over-simplify what we are experiencing. That feels like invalidation of something that is very big and very real for us.

Some people want to better understand this so I’m going to try and explain more about it today and I’m going to be pretty transparent.

I know that I’ll be articulating perspectives that are not just my own because I’ve had emotional discussions with others about this very issue. One of those conversations was as recent as this morning when a friend called me from another state about the post I shared yesterday.

Yup. This hit some nerves.

When we don’t talk about our challenges very often, it is not uncommon for people to think that all is well. Some others who have some idea that life is always hard over here at the Jamiesons think we are just trying to keep a “stiff upper lip” or are wanting to be self-sufficient in our challenges. Some people believe we are trying to be “missional” in an effort to “look” put together with the power of God.

Seriously, we’re not trying to hide anything or even prove to anybody that “God’s got this.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly hope my life points people to Jesus and shows that God is fully able, accessible and worthy to be praised. Because He most certainly is. I don’t know how anybody lives through a crisis like this without a relationship with Jesus Christ. But that’s not what underlies my philosophy (or for lack of better word, strategy) for deciding when and how to share the inner realities of my situation.

Of course we hope people will somehow see Jesus in us — whether through how He meets us in our challenges or for any other reason! Don’t we all want to see evidence that the living God is real? But the way I express my stress publically is way more selfish than that. Larry and I are, first and foremost, trying to live in a way that helps us thrive as individuals, a couple and a family. In the process. We just want to live within relationships that are REAL.

I gave up trying to tough things out a long time ago. I do just exactly what I have to do every day to survive and thrive. So, trying to look “good” or more “Christian” is far from the reality for me and Larry. We always want to be authentic with people and we highly value people who are willing to be real with us. In truth, there are a whole host of reasons why I talk about our specific challenges or overwhelm rather infrequently compared to how often we are actually struggling. For today, it’s important to me that you know WHY. God seems to have prompted me to just lay it out here for whoever cares.

“I don’t want to look normal for your benefit. I want it for me. So even though taking a shower, fixing my hair and putting on a cute, comfy outfit to go out in public takes the alignment of stars at my house and risks masking a reality about how much I need your prayers, help and friendship — I’m going to risk it.”

So, in no particular order, these are just a few of the reasons why I personally don’t talk often or widely about the specifics of my personal stress… 

  • I’m not always in touch with the reality of how extremely stressed out I am.
  • I function on autopilot a lot.
  • I don’t want people feeling sorry for me. 
  • I have all the same stresses everybody else does and would really like those to be recognized as part of who I am too.
  • A whole lot of people would rather just believe that “it’s all good” over here. 
  • Some people just want to cheer me up. 
  • Some people tell me, “you deserve to feel sorry for yourself.” This isn’t helpful for me. I appreciate the attempt at empathy but I don’t believe this is right thinking and it is rarely helpful for me to go to that place.
  • I spend a lot of my daily energy trying to pace my energies and emotions. That means I have to spend proportionately high amounts of time with Jesus and in prayer. Since my physical body is increasingly deteriorating due to Carly’s 24/7 cares, my age, long years without adequate sleep, etc., I have to give some priority to taking care of me as best I can (which is never really enough). I need more naps than the average person because I spend a lot of time awake at night. I need to serve others. It’s a great outlet for me — gives me a sense of purpose and keeps me from feeling consumed with my own challenges. Needless to say, all of that doesn’t leave a lot of time left over for complaining and explaining. 
  • Sometimes I’m just plain tired of explaining.
  • I don’t like people dismissing me as a “drama queen.”
  • I get tired of feeling like I have to be one of the world’s “teachers.” 
  • I weary of the disappointment of trying to build understanding and having my hopes and needs for resonance dashed when people don’t “get it.”
  • I don’t want to get my hopes up that someone will care (reach out) only to be disappointed.
  • When my situation is most overwhelming, I feel unable to explain my situation or emotions. My mind and heart feel too complicated to explain. So, if I feel able say anything at all, I just try to articulate even one thing I know people can pray about or help with. But that can give the impression that just one thing is weighing on me. (Yet, rest assured, whatever I am saying out loud is probably just the tip of the iceberg with lots more behind it.)
  • It helps keep me out of depression and those woe-is-me places if I focus on what is going well and what I’m grateful for.
  • Focusing on Carly’s strengths gives her the best shot of reaching her potential. 
  • Focusing on Carly’s strengths (instead of why she’s making things hard for me) feels more respectful to her.
  • Any time I talk about how hard it is caring for Carly, I risk undermining our ability to ever find or hire respite helpers (because people think they won’t be able to handle it).
  • I don’t want to worry my family.
  • I don’t want people to quit sharing their own concerns with me because they feel badly that their own issues may seem insignificant next to mine.
  • I often feel misunderstood and since I’ve been misunderstood a lot in my life, I avoid that pain.
  • I don’t want to feel analyzed.
  • I get tired of talking about the same thing. Being “that person.” Sounding like a broken record.

When you boil it all down, this is probably the biggest reason why you don’t regularly hear about or see the degree of my stress:

I WANT TO LOOK AND FEEL AS NORMAL AS POSSIBLE. 

I don’t want to look normal for your benefit. I want it for me. So even though taking a shower, fixing my hair and putting on a cute, comfy outfit to go out in public takes the alignment of stars at my house and risks masking a reality about how much I need your prayers, help and friendship — I’m going to risk it. Because for a couple of hours, I’m happy to be clean and out in a “normal” world feeling like a “normal” human being with a “normal” life. Any illusion is for me. Not for you.

And here’s one more thought for you to chew on. If I wrote about this regularly, many of you would have stopped reading my posts a long time ago. You’d be too overwhelmed, irritated, or numb. My perpetual drip of whining would wear you down and lose its oomph. (For some people, it already has. They’re not even curious and are no longer reading this right now.) 

So, consider this “rant” my way of trying to get your attention and urge you to remember there are friends around you struggling mightily with chronic hard stuff — whether or not they look like it or sound like it. Please don’t check out on them, whether they are good at how they handle their communication or not. (Doing this well is hard and even harder when you’re stressed out and/or sleep deprived.)

Thank you for listening. I’ll write again soon. 

But not too soon.


NOTE: This blog is a repost from an “Open Letter” Lisa shared on Facebook in April 2017.


God Changes Lives & Enriches Churches when We Fully Engage with Each Other

Families impacted by disability often feel isolated. And church must be the place where they belong, where they are encouraged, where they find hope and healing.

There are a growing number of churches that are being intentional about caring for and fully engaging with people who have atypical lives. These churches are doing more than just “being nice” to people with special needs. They are actually engaging in life with each other. They are resisting fears. They are stepping in faith despite concerns about being over-stretched. They are taking risks to be engaging. They are discovering that God changes lives and enriches churches when they care for and include each other, especially when life gets the most challenging.  

Accessibility isn’t just about ramps, elevators, special seating in the sanctuary and gluten free communion. The church—and Jesus most of all—needs to be emotionally and spritually accessible to all people. And that involves more than just being greeted nicely by an usher. 

Jesus was much more than just NICE to people. He fully engaged with them—their questions and their pain. He cared that people experienced belonging in His family and wanted them to feel assured they had tremendous value. Very often, Jesus physically reached out and actually touched hurting people. In fact, Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people who were on the fringes, the hurting, the weak, the weary, the “different,” the ill, the disabled, the unpopular, the unglamorous and those who were seeking hope (even when they weren’t really sure where to look). 

What Jesus always did was engage in love and his foremost concern was and still always is for us to BELONG with Him and to have HEALTHY SOULS.  

An Enormous Opportunity for the Church

The Gospel answers hard questions and gives ultimate hope. The church has an enormous opportunity and responsibility to engage those questions, serve in love and wholeheartedly include people with disabilities in the life of the church family. 

Paul describes the church using the metaphor of the human body. God arranged the members of the body as he chose. Some parts were weaker but indispensable and others less respectable but treated with special honor and greater respect. 
(See 1 Corinthians 12:14-27.)

Doing life together well and according to the ways of Christ involves messiness.  The church can not be self-preservational. Still, we all need to be patient with each other. People experiencing disability, for example, deserve to be fully integrated in the life of our churches. Likewise, people facing challenges need to be patient with the persevering church. That kind of patience is a form of grace. 

Four Promises to Anchor and Encourage One Another During the Holidays

1. Nobody is immune to trouble but we have hope.
Jesus said I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLT)
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)
2. God remains your most faithful advocate.
The Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.”  Exodus 2:23-25, 3:7-8 (NLT)
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! Luke 15:3-7 (NLT)
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  Romans 8:26-27 (NLT) 
3. You are never alone.
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:6-10 (NLT)
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (NLT)
4. When you suffer, God’s comfort will be multiplied to you and through you.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NLT)





8 Things Pastors Can Do To Foster a Disability Effective Church

Here are eight things lead pastors can do to foster a disability effective church.
  1. Teach from the pulpit about the theology of disability and suffering.
  2. Support outreach and care coordinators.
  3. Provide a budget that values inclusion.
  4. Provide space in the building for inclusive activities, support groups and accessibility.
  5. Pray and encourage prayer for and with those who have atypical lives.
  6. Endorse and publicly affirm programs, services, missions and inclusive activities that fully engage children, youth and adults who experience atypical lives (e.g., disability, mental health, aging, caregiving, chronic illness).
  7. Provide personal encouragement to struggling families and teams who are serving.
  8. Model what it looks like to whole-heartedly engage with people who have atypical lives.

Love & Advocacy: Everyone’s Holiday Opportunity

Halloween is done. And that means some people are already dreaming about Thanksgiving pie, fireside card games with family, lunch and shopping with friends, high-fiving across the couch during a football game, delightful music and white Christmases. It also means that some people are already on the slide toward holiday season melancholy. 

And that gets me excited. “Weird and twisted,” you say? Well, it would be except for the fact that there is a very real opportunity to share the life-changing love of Jesus where there the “soil is soft” and hearts are ripe and receptive to receiving love. But seriously, so many of us walk around wondering about our purpose and wanting to be “significant for the Kingdom” when there are opportunities everywhere we look to love someone who is struggling and loneliness may be among the easiest problems to solve. That’s what Jesus would be doing. Plain and simple. Makes me wonder why we complicate it so much.

The subject of isolation and loneliness was up for discussion at a recent meeting of the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection. Although we weren’t discussing it in the context of holidays, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight some of that reflection here because it could help ALL of us capture this opportunity during a season when loneliness is epidemic. Isolation is especially pronounced during the holidays but an opportunity that is always there. 

For many people in the midst of challenges, the sense of loneliness and isolation can feel more overwhelming than the crisis itself. Some even feel like they are being persecuted by God and/or others. For example, things like sleep deprivation, attrition of friendships, stigmas about mental health, lack of accessibility and rejection from Christians/churches can cause suffering that feels like oppression. 

Jesus would not turn too quickly to the feasts and festivities. Jesus would devote time, compassion, affection, prayer, eye contact, conversation. He would sit down and play trucks with a non-verbal boy, hang out with the bullied teen who isn’t invited to the New Year’s Eve parties and patiently re-teach King’s Corner to the older woman whose memory is fading. Jesus’ primary activity was pouring the practical power of His love into people (and so often in the form of healing mercies).

The conversation among church leaders during the Disability Ministry Connection meeting began looking at verses that speak directly to people who experience real or perceived isolation. For example, here are two verses that have brought comfort and encouragement to me personally during seasons when I have felt alone, apart or invisible and frustrated because caregiving makes me feel imprisoned sometimes.

PSALM 68:5-6A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

1 PETER 5:8-10Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lionlooking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. [emphasis mine]  

Jesus was regularly found reaching out to people who felt lonely, isolated or discouraged. 

Are we regularly doing this? 

Since disability ministry leaders, not much unlike any of us really, have a unique opportunity to be a voice for caregivers and people who are struggling with physical or intellectual challenges. They can educate others and advocate for those whose needs can get lost in the shuffle of things like busy lives and holiday festivities.

Ministry leaders asked this question: 
Where are we supposed to be on the spectrum of being program developer-implementers vs. educator/advocate/facilitator/culture influencers?  Both are needed and can influence our churches and culture to step out and step up when it comes to engaging with those who struggle. Each of us will lean a little more in one direction than the other depending on things like the season of circumstances/needs in our church, the particular resources available to us, our own personality and passions, or our unique gifting. But the need for us to educate our faith communities is strong and should not get forgotten in the midst of running programs.

Anyone who is not leading a ministry could ask a similar question: 
In what ways am I supposed to be reaching out in practical ways to someone who is struggling versus filling an advocate role in speaking up on behalf of those who need my voice and praying with intention? The reality is that we are all to do all of these things. 

“I’m not one of those advocate kind of people,” you say?

Consider this. Jesus told everyone to “go and make disciples.” No one was excused from sharing the Good News. Sure, some were better at it than others. Some were more passionate about it or comfortable with it than others. But Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on it. He just said, “go.” It’s the same thing as it relates to engaging with people who are struggling. We’re all supposed to go and get engaged, even if it might get messy or we don’t feel particularly good at it.

I’ve been one of those “high maintenance messes” who has needed too much from others at times because I’m a full time caregiver to my daughter who has profound disabilities. I’ve also been in ministry long enough to have encountered more than a few people who stretched me a long way out of my comfort zone with their weighty needs. But when God puts an opportunity in front of us, we know it, don’t we? And He equips us to engage. If we stay attentive to Him, He also shows us when some boundaries may need to be established. (That’s part of what He means when He promises a light burden. He never wants us to overstep Him or His power at work within us. He never told us strive on our own part.) But God also beautifully affirms our inclusive choices. 

Living like Jesus means, in part, that we extend compassion, attention, time and care towards others. It also means speaking up for “the least of these.” Jesus specifically draws our attention to the needy, orphans and widows while also insisting we throw banquets (real or metaphorical) for the poor, crippled and lame (Luke 14, Matthew 6). These folks need extra care during the holidays and the rest of us tend to be paying a little more attention at this time of year. (It makes us feel good, and less guilty about all of our holiday indulgences, when we try to pour into others.) But what about the rest of the year?

I’m praying that we would all grow increasingly aware of the struggling people around us and become more lovingly engaged with each other. Let’s just be more like Jesus and quit getting distracted by busy work, popular/fancy programs and even well-intentioned church outreaches that take our eyes off of the needs right in front of us.

What can you do right now?

  • Pray. Ask the Lord to increase your awareness of people in your church, neighborhood, workplace, school or circle of influence who may be feeling socially and/or logistically limited by their circumstances (e.g., injury, illness, disability, aging, broken marriage). Consider a way you could connect with this person(s) during the holidays and even a few times a year thereafter. Practical helps like bringing a meal, doing some chores and giving a gift card are wonderful but a simple phone call, email, card game, cup of tea and hug can make a world of difference. Explore scripture and learn together with anyone who may be asking tough questions about the sovereignty of God in their situation. Ask for God’s help to move toward others as Jesus would.
  • Explore scripture and learn together with anyone who may be asking tough questions about the sovereignty of God in their situation. Ask for God’s help to move toward others as Jesus would and make discoveries with them. (There are some fantastic books available to help also. Contact Walk Right In Ministries or check out our Lending Library if you want ideas.)
  • Share this post with your friends on Facebook or via email to help stir appreciation for the needs and opportunities around us.
  • Share this post with leaders and pastors in your church. Let them know there are tremendously helpful ways of connecting right here in Minnesota to help us better understand and grow into the kinds of communities that delight God.  
  • Visit one of the monthly meetings of the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection if you are a leader or volunteer in a church. No matter where your church is on the spectrum of serving one family at a time or having an official disability program, these gatherings offer great inspiration and insight. Download the 2016-17 schedule here.
  • Join the Facebook discussion forum for leaders and volunteers wanting to learn about ministering as a church to people with special needs. The page is specifically designed to connect, encourage and grow churches ministering to special needs throughout the state of Minnesota. All group members are welcome to post about ideas, questions and resources to expand opportunities for collective support. The Facebook page is also a great opportunity for those in rural/outstate areas to connect when they can’t easily attend the monthly gatherings in the metro area. You can find us at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DisabilityMinistryCONNECTION