Family Update and Thoughts On Memorial Day

Periodic family updates seem to be of interest to readers, and it has been a while since I reported family news. So, after I pivot briefly to reflect on Memorial Day, I’ll turn to some recent highlights of a more personal nature and our transition to summer.

We lost a friend this week. It was a tragic yard accident. Norm was a veteran who very recently turned 82 years old. I can hardly stop thinking about the heartache of his family and their lack of opportunity to say those “good-bye-for-nows.” While they can rejoice with absolute assurance He is with Jesus, their sorrow and loss weigh heavily.

We rarely know the day or the hour. Even when we do, our hearts and minds resist the warning.

On Memorial Weekend, we honor veterans who have passed — whether in active duty or in some other way. We honor their families who shared the sacrifice too, especially when that involved long times apart or concerns about safety. In many cases, each heart bears the sting of multiple goodbyes, long before the final one.

As a mom to someone with disabilities, I’ve heard many people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I wonder how many times veterans’ loved ones are told that as they wait for a returning solder or grieve one that will never return.

It’s an unfair and unbiblical statement.

The misunderstanding may come from applying 1 Corinthians 10:13 out of context:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. 
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

It is true that God won’t tempt us with more than we can handle. The promise of this verse is that God will always show us a way to avoid sin. The real issue behind that earlier statement is whether God will allow or send extreme circumstances into our lives that are beyond endurable. In the context of suffering that is not related to sin, God absolutely does allow (or even give) us more than we can handle, at times.

Clearly, life presents times of tremendous heartbreak or overwhelming adversity. Tragedies, losses, suffering, caregiving demands outside of our ability to fix or solve can seem impossible to handle. Jesus, himself, declared that suffering and disability are not about any person’s specific sin (see John 9:1-5). Sickness and death, the broadest sense, are about original sin (as in Adam and Eve) but not necessarily anyone’s personal sin.

RELATED: When Jesus Meets Disability by John Piper

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, we get a sense of why God might give us more than we can handle. We can look to a time when Paul was so extremely hard-pressed that he couldn’t imagine living through it:

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.”

Paul wanted others to learn what he had learned. He wanted it known that hope and endurance are possible. God wants us to learn from Paul that our best confidence comes from Christ alone and that our community of helpers (prayer warriors, most specifically) matter greatly.

Our best confidence comes from Christ alone and that our community of helpers (prayer warriors, most specifically) matter greatly.

It’s worth noting that getting rescued doesn’t always mean protected from death, as it did in this particular case with Paul. Answered prayers can look different than we expect. That’s a conversation for another day. For now, it is enough to say that Jesus’ ultimate rescue mission was to release us from condemnation and eternal death. He is most concerned with our souls. In the meantime, He will provide mercies to our circumstances through mysterious ways and timing. While we wait, and most important of all, He teaches us that we can trust God to get us through the slog.

Paul’s message was that we might, as a matter of fact, be given much more than we can handle so that we can discover confidence in Christ and the value of prayerful community. Even Paul had to get to the end of himself to discover the greatness of God and praying friends.

Our prayers for veterans and soldiers matter. Our prayers for their families matter.

My family fights a kind of battle every day. I do not intend to make comparison to the immense sacrifice our soldiers make at war, but I do want to underscore that suffering and sorrow demand an enormous faith, along with the help of praying friends. And sometimes that means a commitment over many years. For all of us.

No matter how many years have gone by since a veteran has passed, their loved ones still benefit from prayers. Your ongoing prayers for families battling heavy weights of caregiving, complex medical issues, or mental health issues matter too. My family knows this very well, and I want to thank you for praying for us, and others.

As you may know from recent blogs and updates, we have been in a season of extreme sleep deprivation, crisis staff shortage, and tedious medical issues with Carly. We have been desperate for more rest and wisdom on the home front while needing to hire a Ministry Assistant at Walk Right In Ministries (as Deb stepped back this spring to care for her own family).

We tried to recruit help throughout the winter until that process, too, became exhausting. Then we all had Covid in early May. We’ve been living at varying degrees of our wits end. Many times, we have cried out like Paul, “how will we live through this?”

Paul had to get to the end of himself to discover the greatness of God and praying friends.

Thankfully, I can report that Larry and I have each been experiencing fresh perspectives from God’s Word and learning new coping skills. I will not pretend it has been pretty, friends. This has been a messy season emotionally, logistically, spiritually, relationally. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “we’re not perfect but we’re making progress overall, by the grace of God.”

Prayers and community have been game changers. But the opportunity to lean into Jesus more intimately and intentionally shifts us from desperation back toward peace, joy and a rest in the soul.

Mercies in various forms have also come, temporary as some may be. In April and May, there was a disability conference, an extremely caring waitress, a long weekend in Canada’s Niagara area for my high school reunion, and a note with flowers that simply read, “You are not forgotten.”


Praise God we are fully staffed with caregiver support staff until early August (at which time we will be desperately recruiting again). Our daughter Erin will be visiting in early July. Our daughter Alex will be moving somewhere nearby soon (hoping the real estate market settles down for an optimal opportunity).

My imminent aim is to squeeze all the joy and rest out of this summer “honeymoon” with help that I can. I am working on a number of blog articles to queue up for a few weeks.

I am excited this season will include some terrific guest posts for you too. We have a line-up of contributors from the Walk Right In Ministries community including authors and leaders in the disability ministry arena who will be sharing. I know you’re going to enjoy hearing from them. Many of these esteemed folks are, like me, caregivers for loved ones with disabilities. Some even have disabilities themselves. Their expertise and perspectives are so valuable.

All of this will afford me some extra space to enjoy the treats (and chores) of summer and preparation for Jammin’ Pie Fest coming in the fall. That amazing event scheduled for the afternoon of October 2nd will be our first one back since before the pandemic in 2019.

Thank you for reading this far, for caring about us, and for praying for Walk Right In Ministries and the Jamieson family.


Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. She leads a weekly online discussion group welcoming caregivers in families living with disability. Lisa and her husband, Larry, are co-founders of Walk Right In Ministries, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families. They live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome.

Parents Make Hard Decisions for Their Kids

We live in a post Easter world. What mercy! I don’t want to imagine being Carly’s mom — being any kind of person, in any kind of role — in a world without Jesus, the cross, the empty tomb.

I know that you know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to be the parent of someone who is suffering to appreciate the magnitude of what Jesus has done and how desperately we rely on capturing the vision He had in order to endure. And even endure toward JOY.

Hebrews 12:1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 11 for an historic list), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I need that absolute assurance of God’s power and love. You see, things like pain, confusion, and fatigue recur frequently in our home. I am utterly reliant on God for help, healing, hope, wisdom, peace — for literally everything. This past week was another good example.

But the examples go way back. Thankfully, the roots of my faith are growing deeper with practice. As I’ve heard so many older parents of children with special needs say, I’ve learned what it takes to be more resilient than I used to be. I just wish I could grow like this without so many “practice” drills.

There was a time many years ago when we were implementing a new physical therapy with Carly. She didn’t like it. No doubt, she was confused by why she was being moved in uncomfortable positions. We had more than a few conversations about whether the payoff would outweigh potential psychological damage we might inadvertently do by pushing through her resistance. We certainly didn’t want to traumatize her.

In the end, it seemed we needed to trust God to help us in two ways. We asked God to cause the therapy to accomplish everything it was intended to do and also protect her from any and all potential negative side effects. We aimed to trust Him for that, and we were really intentional about trying to build Carly’s trust in our love for her, even though it might have seemed to her, at times, like we were being cruel.

A loving parent does that all the time. We do hard things for the good of our children. We know it could be years, or never, before they understand why we did what we did.

This last week, Carly underwent extensive medical testing for chronic and escalating gastric motility problems. For any average person, the tests would not have been difficult. But for Carly, they were nearly impossible. Getting her through the tests, in some ways, carried high risks (e.g., seizures, bowel blockage, emotional trauma). Given the risks, you might wonder why we pursued the testing at all.

Parenting involves making hard choices on behalf of our child. Sometimes our decisions even cause the child pain. At some point, a parent determines the potential benefits outweigh the potential negative consequences.


Seeing one’s child in pain is heartbreaking for a parent. It doesn’t matter whether their pain is physical or emotional. Few things are as painful for a parent as seeing their child hurting or threatened and not be able to fix it for them. It’s a unique kind of pain when you fear you actually contributed to it.

What kind of pain does God feel when He sees His own children suffering, knowing He can stop it. He is well aware of His intention to allow it. Yet He never allows our pain without great purpose.

In the middle of another sleepless night this week, I was second-guessing a couple of our decisions. One test required us to pause her daily bowel regimen for a week. Surely, she would develop a blockage. We could only pray that it would clear quickly once the testing was done. Another of the tests Carly was having required that we pause all of her critical seizure, sleep and anxiety medications for a full 48 hours. The risks involved in doing that were obviously high. Even as I typed this, Carly had only slept during four of the last eighty hours. (She’s back on all of her meds now but it’s taking considerable time for her system to reset.)

So, while I was praying through another wits end moment at 3 am on Good Friday morning, I realized that part of my stress and sorrow was coming from the sense of pressure and responsibility I was feeling for what was happening. I had put a lot of energy — or shall we say thought, effort, and emotion — into getting the best possible information and outcomes with the least amount of pain for Carly. And for us. It’s a natural response.

I needed a supernatural response.

In that dark bedroom, I searched my memories for any scripture that might comfort and reassure me.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

How many of us are well acquainted with fighting with spiritual weaponry. Yet we fail to credit God with power to absolutely demolish strongholds with His wholeness! We need breakthroughs in areas of health, unbelief, false mindsets, health, development, and so much more.

Somewhere between my knowing I’m reliant on God for everything in this messy life and trusting Him implicitly, I still gravitate toward feeling responsible for fixing things — for making the breakthrough happen.

You might say that comes with being a mom. Or you might say that is a lack of trust in God. In my heart, I know that I tend to usurp His authority. And that is sin. Yet He loves me without condemnation (Romans 8:1) and patiently trains me up in the way I should go (Proverbs 22:6).

Sometimes the rough stuff comes because of someone’s weakness or sin. Other times, life is troubling and it’s just nobody’s fault at all. Either way, God uses those things to grow us up in everything from character to perseverance and faith (Romans 5:1-8). If we let Him.

I get a little off sometimes. I put my focus on the discipline rather than on my Father. The resurrected Jesus. He is where the strength is. He is where the peace comes from. Friends, He is why, no matter what, there is joy set before us!

Our circumstances are often a training ground of sorts. Our Almighty Trainer and Coach leads us with authority, wisdom, and exceeding concern for our ultimate wellbeing.

I am thankful God never puts the pressure on me to carry the authority. I am thankful that, no matter what, there is joy. Even at the cross, there was joy!

Some lessons need to be learned, and learned again.

Thank you, Jesus, that You died, and You rose. You did it once. And that was enough. (Romans 6:9-10)

I’ll keep coming back to that.

Hebrews 12:7-13
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 

11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.


Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. She leads a weekly online discussion group welcoming caregivers in families living with disability. Lisa and her husband, Larry, are co-founders of Walk Right In Ministries, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families. They live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome.

Life Is Enriched by Relying on the Almighty Refiner

We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9

Caregiving has forever changed me. In some beautiful, cherished ways and in some ways I’m not at all proud of too. I’m sure there are more than a few here who can relate. It’s always a rich discussion when we get to this principle during the online discipleship group I lead.

 

Principle #3: God lovingly refines us as we cooperate with Him.

In recent blogs, I’ve written about grief and lament — and how uniquely that is experienced by families affected by disability. Part of this life we’re living involves learning to suffer well. Does that statement sound strange? What might it mean or look like to “suffer well?”

“Suffering well” includes allowing God to refine us through challenges.

I believe we honor God and experience richer lives when we let life refine us — shape us for the better. The scary things is, the Almighty Refiner might choose to use a furnace of very high heat. The fires of life can make us terribly uncomfortable. Our human nature will be to resist the fire. But there are gifts and opportunities there.

Life’s shaping and purifying process makes life so much richer. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know that.

Being refined by God means to stop resisting things that aren’t going our way. Stop. Did you catch that? Speaking to myself here: quit resisting all the heat, my friend. Consider that God’s priority is to inject His presence —love, care, vision, and purposes — into the situation rather than just fixing things with His power. Whatever circumstances you’re in, no matter how intense they feel, regardless of how long they seem to drag on, even when pain seems pointless, and we feel hopelessly stuck — God is there.

God doesn’t leave us to burn and He doesn’t leave us alone.

God was in the fire with Daniel.

“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted.
“I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed!
And the fourth looks like a god!”

Daniel 3:25

Consider that God’s priority is to inject His presence — love, care, vision, and purposes — into the situation rather than just fixing things with His power.

If we receive God’s presence and power, He will form our character while teaching us to love Him more and love others like Christ loves. And that’s just the beginning of the gifts He’ll unfold.

God will use the heat in our lives to refine others around us too. That could be our spouse. It is often our children. Certainly, God is using the fiery furnace of our lives with disability to refine the broader community too. Our neighborhoods are watching. Our churches see (even when they don’t seem to be looking).

It can be tempting to grow bitter when we feel like we are the only ones allowing the fires of our special situation refine us. I’ve pounded on God’s chest a time or two feeling unheard, unseen, uncared for by Him or someone else. He further refines me by teaching me to be more patient, and trust Him in using his kindness to lead others to repentance.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?
Does this mean nothing to you?
Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?
Romans 2:4 (emphasis mine)

That’s just one lesson I’ve been learning that I attribute to being a special needs mom. I don’t get to define the pace of someone else’s growth.

There are so many many lessons! Here are just a few more of them in a nutshell. Perhaps sharing them will inspire you. It helps hold me accountable to remembering God is faithful to teach me and give me grace, that’s for sure.

Accept that we are all in process.
You, me, our spouses, our children, our friends, our churches, our extended families. All are sinners who fall short. All are acceptable to God when we repent and turn to the Lord. Each of us who believes in Jesus and trusts Him as Lord is in an ever-increasing process of becoming like Him. That is called sanctification. And God alone authors that process for each of us who love Him. I don’t author anybody’s sanctification (even my own), nor do you.

  • Suffering transforms us into Christ-likeness (Philippians 3:10) and that’s our highest calling.
  • Suffering cultivates our dependence on God (Luke 9:23).
  • We learn compassion for others (Philippians 2:5-8).
  • We ascribe to new values and develop eternal perspective (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) even to the point of holding onto life and death differently.

Extend compassion, grace and forgiveness toward yourself and others.
Growth is a process. Grief is a process. Faith is a process. It can help to recognize that the ugliest parts of us are most apparent at home and in our closest relationships. (I believe it was author Gary Chapman who said that marriage is the mirror showing us what is worst about us.) Yes, those we live with are often the “mirror” showing us who we really are.

Expect everything from God and little from each other.
This is a broken world and every person faces weakness and vulnerability. With God, there is victory over sin and death, as well as strength in weakness. We can learn to play to each other’s strengths. We can’t let our circumstances have too much power — but we can let them have power to trigger opportunities that nothing else could trigger.

Understand where your true soul cravings are coming from.
We can’t expect to get our greatest fulfillment from our children or spouse, or our circumstances. That’s a set-up for disappointment. Our spirit is designed to crave GOD. So, only deepening our walk with Him will truly satisfy us and energize us for a life that really breathes!

I want that so much. I want a life that breathes life. A life that multiplies life and love is joy. It is a privilege. And that is what growth looks like. I hope I’m growing. Don’t you? I don’t want to be the same person next year that I was this year. Do you?

The human soul was designed to aspire growth. The Creator is the author of all growth. Leaning into a life that cooperates with Him — even when it stings of disability’s fires — is a rich adventure, in so many ways deeply satisfying.

QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION

In what ways have you seen God strengthen or purify you (your faith, your character, your mindsets) as a result of challenges, special needs, or some other “fire” in your life?

Have you felt vulnerable to thinking certain prayers aren’t being answered because you haven’t learned enough or changed enough? Talk to Jesus about those feelings and let Him show you the truth.

How does the idea of being held in the gentle hand of the Almighty Refiner give you comfort, peace, or hope? 


Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. She leads a weekly online discussion group welcoming caregivers in families living with disability. Lisa and her husband, Larry, are co-founders of Walk Right In Ministries, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families. They live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome.


We use one Bible principle as the theme for each week’s discussion during Real Talk Connect. Please consider joining us any Tuesday at 2 pm Central! Drop in for richly encouraging connection in a casual setting.

Contact us for the Zoom link, the complete list of Bible principles and all the FAQs about Real Talk Connect!

Good Grief!

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with each other.
Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people.
And don’t think you know it all!
Romans 12:15-16

Ouch! The first part of that passage may be familiar to you. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Being a compassionate and empathetic person means celebrating and mourning alongside others. Hopefully, that is a rather natural response for most of us. The “living in harmony” part is obviously more challenging, but still a worthy and reasonable goal. It’s that second half of the passage that stings for those of us who can feel like we are living extraordinary lives.

I have a confession to make. Since becoming the parent of a child with complex and extremely challenging needs, I have grown bitter when people cannot really understand certain things about “real” life because their lives are so “ordinary” compared to mine. That is a form of pride.

I admit to resenting people who fail to come alongside families like mine when they are trying to work through ranging emotions — grief included — that often come with a difficult diagnosis. This includes processing the ever-unfolding layers of realization that the diagnosis has turned their lives in a whirlwind of complex logistics and feelings.

For all the joy and richness my daughter, Carly, brings to my life, her daily (and nightly) needs wring me out emotionally. Sometimes there is a deep grief that feels too much to bear.

Each person in my family has experienced grief in their own ways and times too. We try to make room for each other to work through those feelings without feeling judged or edited. (Note to self: it is not helpful to tell others how you think they should feel.)

Our aim, as a family, has been to live according to this biblical principle:

We’re called to create safe spaces for processing individual and family grief.

RELATED: Siblings Needing Safe Spaces to Process Life

Here are some examples of situations that have triggered a cascade of emotions for me. When boiled down to the root of those feelings, I would say there is grief. You can probably relate your own list of grief triggers if you are the parent, spouse, sibling or grandparent of someone with disabilities or a chronic health condition.

  • On that Sunday morning, just one week after Mother’s Day in 1998, I sat on the edge of my bathtub sobbing. Our 5-day-old baby Carly had been screaming tears, literally since the moment she was born. When a serious diaper rash erupted that day, it was clearer than ever that she was in some miserable pain. We were all exhausted. I wanted to be at the worship service holding my newborn and celebrating with our church family. I felt robbed of that long-awaited joy. But, more than that, I felt an agony of grief and fear realizing that my child was in unrelenting pain and there seemed to be nothing I could do to fix it for her.
  • On October 10th of 2000, Carly’s neurologist phoned to share results of a genetic study that confirmed Carly had Angelman Syndrome. I felt everything from relief in finally knowing to confusion about all that was now unknown about her future, and ours. I felt overwhelmed and afraid. I groaned in the sorrow that a life-long, unexpected and extremely challenging journey was ahead, for all of us.
  • As our oldest daughter neared high school graduation, I spent the spring listening to other moms lamenting what would be next for them with an empty house. My sorrow and resentment swelled because I could not anticipate the same flexibility, spontaneity, and new adventures their lives would bring. I was angry with them for taking their freedom for granted.
  • At our godson’s wedding, Carly made disruptive noises and grew physically restless. Soon, I had to leave the sanctuary with her. I grieved missing his vows to his wife. I was disappointed I couldn’t hold my husband’s hand while we remembered our own vows. I sorrowed that we would need to hire help with Carly on future days when each of her sisters would get married.
  • It is frustrating to miss out on holiday game nights when family or friends gather because someone needs to keep Carly safe, entertained, or in her bedtime routine. I grieve then too.
  • I lament the interruptions and limitations that Carly’s needs bring to my time and energy for sex with my husband.
  • On the last day(s) of vacations, there is often a sense of weariness and resentment that simmers with thoughts of returning home to the daily slog of caregiving.
  • It hurts to miss out on having the kind of social life or traveling lifestyle I imagined having as a middle-aged adult or “empty nester.”

Triggers can become “holy moments.”

I am very thankful that, in time, God transforms many of my grief-triggering experiences into “holy moments.” That discovery process unfolds like this.

First, I have to lay bare what is raw in my heart to God in prayer. For me, that usually takes the form of prayer journaling with my Bible open to listen (read) for God’s voice in the conversation. It might involve curling up in a chair or lying face down on the floor listening to a worship song of surrender too. Then I try to respectfully but transparently share what I am thinking and feeling within the context of a safe relationship (e.g., mentor, counsellor, caregiver discussion group).

That kind of processing becomes an especially sweet gift when the result is deeper bonding with my spouse, one of my children, an extended family member or a friend.

Certainly, there can be catharsis in the simple act of talking things out. But there is so much more to healthy, biblical processing than that. Safe, respectful, and open conversations present opportunities to learn from others’ perspectives, feel less alone, resonate with each other, encourage each other, and sometimes even remind a loved one about where our ultimate hope and comfort come from.

For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. Psalm 38:17

Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. Psalm 31:9

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

We don’t grieve without hope. Romans 8:18

Grief has masqueraders.

Grief is real. And it not necessarily bad. Nor should we rush ourselves through it. In fact, we should be careful and intentional about taking time to process it fully in healthy and godly ways. If we don’t, those intense emotions will come out sideways. And things are likely to get really messy, really fast.

Feelings of grief can masquerade in various responses. Unprocessed grief can look like explosive anger, obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors, excessive need for control, jealousy bitterness, resentment, withdrawal from relationships or hiding, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, fear, and a myriad of other responses that range from vulnerability and weakness to outright sin.

We are created with emotions that reflect the image of God — yes, our Almighty has emotions too. We need only look to the life of Jesus to see that.

Read how Max Lucado explores Jesus’ time of prayer and grief at Gethsemane:

“We’ve never seen Christ like this. Never heard such screams from his voice or seen such horror in his eyes. And never before has he told us:
‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.’ (Mark 14:34)

How is such emotion explained? What is Jesus fearing?
Christ feared the cup of suffering.

Jesus: The God Who Knows My Name by Max Lucado

Jesus understands our grief.

Nonetheless, He ultimately submitted to the cross with holy love saying, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42)

When we see Jesus at the cross, we recognize the sacrifice and atonement he made for our sins. But it is in the garden of Gethsemane that we see a depth of Jesus’ emotions. And we feel them with him.

Jesus understands our desperation.

Here’s some really good news…

GRIEF & JOY CAN BE EXPERIENCED SIMULTANEOUSLY

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
2 Corinthians 6:4-10


QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION
  • King David expressed his emotions honestly with God. (Read Psalm 73 for a great example of authentic, God-honoring grief!)
    Can you describe your pain and when you feel it most deeply?
  • What grief triggers have you or a family member experienced recently?
  • What is helpful to you when you are feeling emotional?
  • Has God given you a “holy moment” in the midst of your sadness or fear recently?

Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. She leads a weekly online discussion group welcoming caregivers in families living with disability. Lisa and her husband, Larry, are co-founders of Walk Right In Ministries, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families. They live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome.


I hope you’ll consider joining us some time for Real Talk Connect. Caregivers from many backgrounds meet every Tuesday at 2 pm Central on Zoom. We use one Bible principle as the theme for each week’s discussion. Today’s blog was based on one of those principles — We’re called to create safe spaces for processing individual and family grief.

Drop in for richly encouraging connection in a casual setting. Contact us for the Zoom link, the complete list of Bible principles as well as all the FAQs about Real Talk Connect!

An Uncomfortable Family Update

Good heavens, this is not how I expected to title my first blog of 2022! Yet, alas, I’m online today for some “real talk” with friends who will “get it.”

Our daughter Carly is 23 and has Angelman Syndrome. Her needs are complex and relentless. We have been extremely fortunate that she receives government benefits that include county waiver funding. In other words, we have budget to hire caregiver support and respite staff. But having funds available has, for a long time, not equated to finding people who actually want a job.

As a result, we have been significantly and desperately understaffed for most of the last four years. This is a common reality for families hit by the ongoing crisis of a nationwide caregiver shortage. (Caregiver shortages reached an extreme crisis in the US long before the pandemic of 2020. And the situation has only worsened since then.)

I can’t entirely complain. We’ve had a remarkable situation compared to most. The one staff person we currently have has been working full-time weekdays with Carly since soon after she completed her public education and transition program almost 3 years ago. She has become a dear family friend.

Covid POD girls 2020

During the summers and when Covid shut down universities, we had extra help from a second long-time team member who came back to work while studying remotely. Still, Carly’s needs are 24/7 and our ongoing efforts to recruit support (paid or volunteer) has been accompanied by the sound of crickets. Virtually no response to ads at all for years.

Throughout this time, we have been questioning a lot of things about how our lives and ministry need to change if these circumstances don’t change. Again, it’s been very hard to hear or discern what God would have us do. We pray repeatedly:

Lord, show us the next best step.

The lives of families like ours (consumed by disability issues) can be messy and chronically strained. We are constantly learning how to experience God’s presence, purpose and peace while simultaneously living in the midst of challenges that pull us toward our wits end. We’re left, daily, with questions about how to endure the moment and the future.

Now what?

Last week, we received news that threw our family into a whirlwind of learning a deeper trust in God—yet again. Carly’s amazing weekday caregiver is getting married at the end of this month. With many upcoming changes in her life, she is going to transition from full time to part time.

I will confess, Larry and I are struggling on several levels and trying to sort out what to do next. We are discouraged, angry (with God mostly), confused, tired, and overwhelmed. Circumstances like this trigger grief, fear, frustration, fatigue, hurts and hopes along with gratitude and lots of questions.

What are we doing about this?

The short answer is, “we don’t know yet.”

The longer answer is this: while we know more every day about God’s promises and character, we still know very little about His ways.

We are waiting on Him while we pray (a lot). We are also trying to give each other space to grieve and process; have lots of heart-to-heart conversations; journal about many feelings, thoughts, ideas, resonating scriptures; ask for counsel from WRIM’s Board of Directors and friends; learn from others who have walked this road ahead of us in wise and godly ways; keep our minds saturated with truth and gratitude; experiment with solutions; anticipate the surprises of God’s love (they will keep coming); continue pursuing a myriad of recruiting strategies; take space to breathe and slow down (it’s helpful and hopefully only temporary to put an autoreply on my email indicating adjusted office hours); the list goes on and on.

In any case, we will hope for the best, but plan for the worst-case scenario. You might say that motto is a matter of survival around here.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

2 Chronicles 20:12

How can you pray for us?

We surely do invite you to pray with us. And as you do, please pray for other families impacted by disability as well. Anything you might pray for the Jamieson’s will quite likely be a prayer countless others around you need lifted faithfully before God too.

Thank you for praying with us for…

  • God’s generous, timely, and well-fit provision of care support for Carly
  • Carly’s adjustment to changes in schedule and people — inner peace for her as the Holy Spirit communicates uniquely with our precious daughter
  • That Larry and I would respond to all of this with trust, peace, hope, wisdom, discernment, and patience
  • That God would give Larry and I supernatural spaces of time, energy and health in caring for and enjoying life with Carly
  • Quality sleep for all three of us
  • Clarity about priorities, discipline in scaling back, trust in and cooperation with the Almighty Gardener who will prune us well (at least until we have more staff on board and trained, and possibly beyond that too)
  • 2022 planning as it relates to personal life and WRIM ministry affairs given the staffing dynamics and the labor market
  • Careful listening to how God may want to use this current adversity to guide our hearts and lives, both in the short-term and the long-term — learning to yield to Jesus’ easy yoke in new ways
  • Peace and trust in Jesus for our two oldest daughters — Alex and Erin — who live outside the home while caring so deeply about what is happening here

Friends, we need to plead with heaven together for families, ministries, and churches in this respect. There is an adversary hard at work trying to steal momentum in disability ministry on many fronts and around the world. Still, what the enemy means for evil, God uses for good (Genesis 50:20). Always. I know we can trust that.

You can trust that, too.

I can already see the Gardener doing some painful but valuable pruning. Lord knows, we have prayed for clarity about priorities for so long and now we are finding some by being forced into certain decisions while taking others on sheer faith. My family will be working on that “one step of faith at a time” mindset and prayer. 

Since I blogged recently about having worship playlists, I’ve been asked about songs I’m listening to. I can tell you that the new Homecoming LIVE album has been on repeat at our house for weeks. And Kristene DiMarco’s Wherever You Lead has been the voice of my depths with Jesus the last several days.

LISTEN to the official Homecoming album playlist (Bethel Music) here.

THANK YOU, friends! Larry and I find great comfort in knowing we are never alone in this. Jesus is our ever-present Advocate and Companion. But He has also given us this community — a profound gift!

“The joy of God’s people is not determined by their struggles but by their future destiny.”

Jon Collins of The Bible Project

Let’s talk about it.

If you’d like to join me and a few other family caregivers in exploring how to thrive with biblical life principles while wrestling with troubled waters of a special needs family, join us in this safe space we’ve created for such discussions.


Lisa Jamieson

Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Together, the Jamiesons founded Walk Right In Ministries in 2008, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families.

Jesus Makes Much of Our Little at Christmas

Are you experiencing some underlying exhaustion while preparing to make joyful new Christmas memories?

Larry and I love the Christmas season! Yet we are coming into festivities with some battle fatigue and frayed nerves from parenting our daughter with disabilities. We have been short on respite for months while sleep, behavior, and health issues have also been challenging.

A recent doctor appointment offered yet another affirming but sigh-triggering report. Carly’s specialist kindly said, “You guys know just what to do and you do a really good job it. Unfortunately, this is a very complicated condition and there are few effective ways to treat it. The methods we would typically try will not be an option for Carly because of her developmental issues and limited communication abilities.” Fortunately, this physician also had some new suggestions to try in hopes of bringing us all some relief. We’re working the process.

In the meantime, we will very gladly push through weariness for the benefits this festive family season brings.

Such can be the life when parenting a child with complex health issues or developmental disabilities. Parents can find themselves dealing with a lot of trial-and-error, feeling very inadequate to help. Sometimes, we simply have very little to offer our big situations.

We need God to multiply our efforts and the fruit of those efforts the way he did for Jesus and his disciples!

That evening the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”
But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”
“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered. 
“Bring them here,” he said. Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!
Matthew 14:15-21

This passage isn’t just about the multiplication of food. It is about God multiplying the limited physical and emotional resources Jesus had at hand.

The placement of this story in Matthew’s fourteenth chapter is interesting. It reports one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles, but it immediately follows a significant moment in Jesus personal life. It is a moment of deep grief, and it can easily get lost. Yet it carries a helpful and inspiring message for us who have been called by God to care for others when we ourselves feel weak or depleted. 

“As soon as Jesus heard the news (about John the Baptist’s death), he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
Matthew 14:13-14

Jesus wanted to be by himself. He had lost a dear friend and cousin. He likely felt somewhat responsible for John’s death too. Grief is exhausting. Possibly He needed rest. He may have wanted to find a safe space to express his raw emotions. Surely, He would also pray.

Despite Jesus’ desire to get away from the crowds, He tapped into two things that empowered Him to serve beyond himself:

God’s Indwelling Power
and
Compassion

Jesus was often motivated by compassion (Matthew 15:32, Mark 6:34, Luke 7:13). We can ask God to give us a vision to care for others that is moved by compassion too. We also have the Holy Spirit in us to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 
Hebrews 4:14-16

When the many needs of our families and a busy holiday season are pressing in like a “huge crowd,” we may desperately want to set some boundaries, find rest, even grieve some disappointments. Periods of separation in a quiet place are fair, appropriate and necessary. Jesus frequently modeled boundaries and rest. But He also shows us there will be times to engage with the needs of others, even when it is very hard. Even when we may rather be somewhere else.

And He will supply.

The God of compassion — the One who fills all things with Himself (Ephesians 4:10) — will fill you with His comfort and mercy to extend to those in your care.

He will make much of your little.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:13, 19

RELATED: A Prayer for Minimized Losses and Multiplied Gains


Lisa Jamieson

Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Together, the Jamiesons founded Walk Right In Ministries in 2008, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families.


8 Truths About Disability & Relationships

The Bible provides many anchoring truths to guide us and spur us on in life. Caregiving families see those truths tested with extraordinary perspective. We also get to see — up close — how a foundation in certain truths stirs our compassion for each other, bolsters our sense of purpose in suffering, and reassures us that each person in our family is celebrated by God.

Each and every one of us is one hundred percent unique,
purposed for God’s kingdom,
and made for belonging.

Consider how our lives would be transformed if we really believed this one thing about ourselves and each other!

Let’s take a closer look at this foundational belief through the lens of eight truths about disability and relationships. By transforming the way we think, God’s truth has power to shape the way we live. By shaping the way we live, God’s equips us to cope with challenge or crisis. As we learn to cope — by the power of the Holy Spirit — we thrive in relationships with God and others.

God's good design is reflected in every person.

God’s good design is reflected in every person.

The fingerprints of God are on every person and circumstance. No matter how complex, senseless or hopeless a situation looks, every person has value and carries the image and power of Christ in them with the potential to contribute God-purposed things to this world.

Exodus 4:11
Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?

Psalm 139:13-15
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Suffering and weakness do not negate the value of life.

Suffering and weakness do not negate the value of life. 

Our culture hates inconvenience. Jesus welcomed interruptions and weaknesses as Divine opportunities. His value system is quite unlike the world’s. We worship knowledge and intelligence. God values wisdom over knowledge, and character over intelligence.

Our personal worth, our value to God, even the degree of our sin are not dependent on our abilities or anything we can earn. That means we are completely free of responsibility to earn God’s favor. All that God requires of us is faith. Even faith that is metaphorically as small as a mustard seed — one of the smallest seeds in the plant kingdom— is enough for Him.

Romans 3:23
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Ephesians 2:8-9
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

1 Corinthians 12:22
The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

God is not limited by anything.

God is not limited by anything.

Issues that are so complicated for us are really very simple to God.

We scratch our heads (or pull our hair) over suffering that seems senseless. We wrestle with dilemmas about everything from medical ethics to school services to whether to accept governmental disability benefits. We train ourselves in different ways to pray for healing that might be more effective. We wait, often for a very long time, for answers to our questions and God’s response in areas where we are powerless.

In his book, Why the Church Needs Bioethics, John F. Kilner offers relatable encouragement, “Godly waiting reorients human beings from demanding that God perform, to prayerfully declaring that God’s character is holy, good, just, full of mercy, abounding in grace, and the source of all comfort. God’s gifts are good, both to desire and receive. The human heart tends to strive stubbornly for its wishes rather than rest in the contentment that flows from acknowledging God’s faithful blessings.”

Isaiah 45:7
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Jeremiah 32:27
“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?

Disability frees a person to multiply grace.

Disability frees a person to multiply grace.

The culture values self, comfort, happiness, ease and an entitlement mentality. We feel no one deserves to suffer. Yet suffering positions us to give and receive unique and good gifts from our Heavenly Father and each other.

Disabilities help us appreciate different values like slowing down and unconditional love. The world teaches self-reliance. The Bible teaches God-reliance. There are times when the hardships of disability stretch us to trust God more. Over time, we become increasingly reassured of His faithfulness. We learn how freeing it is to surrender our weaknesses to the God of the universe!

Those who are most dependent are most freely used by God as a means for grace. My daughter with Angelman Syndrome is not limited by the need to work eight hours and tend to a home. She is entirely available to bring joy and love to others in a way that is profound and unique to her.  She teaches us humility in caregiving. She shows us how to persevere despite external obstacles and internal limitations — hers, and our own. She gives us a living picture of God’s unconditional love and challenges us to love one another well.

I must admit, my husband and I have often wished we could protect Carly’s siblings and others from the “burden” of her care. Yet we are reminded that the promise of God’s grace is just as much opportunity for them as it has been for us. 

James 1:2-4
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

God is first and foremost concerned with our hearts.

God is first and foremost concerned with our hearts.

Disability, suffering, and weakness remind us of the severity — and very broad reach — of the impact of Adam’s sin. We see in Mark 2:5 that God is generally more interested in changing people than changing their circumstances.

Mark 2:5
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Our relationship to God and others is what matters most to Him. And God will use whatever method he needs to in order to accomplish that intimacy. This means that God’s response to our requests for healing, to our weaknesses and sin, and to all of our concerns in life, always begins and ends with how our circumstances work to shift our focus and affections toward Him and then others.

Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love each other. We were told to carry our crosses instead of seeking our own comfort or happiness. Suffering makes us long more for heaven and less for the world. It encourages a Kingdom perspective. Others will see that God Himself is our treasure.

God desires to restore us to right relationship with Him and others.

God desires to restore us to right relationship with Him and others.

God loves us even before we love Him. He created us and wants to be intimately near to us. Our lives will not be untroubled, but they will be deeply satisfying and life-giving when our choices, attitudes and beliefs drive us toward God rather than away from Him. Until we choose to receive the generous love Jesus offers, we will miss out on the richness of life and relationships.

In his book Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God, John Piper offers this challenge: “The truth is that suffering can only have ultimate meaning in relation to God. Jesus says that the purpose of blindness is to put the work of God on display. This means that for our suffering to have ultimate meaning, God must be supremely valuable to us. More valuable than health and life. Many things in the Bible make no sense until God becomes your supreme value.”

Romans 8:26-28
We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

1 John 4:19
We love each other because he loved us first.

If you are ready for a reset in your relationship with Jesus, watch here.

God transforms people and churches when we engage with each other through the adverse circumstances of our lives.

God transforms people and churches when we engage with each other through the adverse circumstances of our lives.

Christ-following families living with disability know the transforming power of doing life together in diverse community. Our own families are a picture of this on the smallest scale. Imagine what the family of God would look like if we learned to live out that same kind of community on a large, Kingdom-minded scale!

It is really really important for leaders in the Church to recognize and embrace this truth too. Individuals and families impacted by disability need to know they belong. As the Church, we need to get engaged with each other amidst challenges. But we don’t do this just because we are really nice people. We need to get involved in messy lives because God tells us to, because Jesus showed us how to, and because the Word promises that God will glorify Himself and give good gifts through unique people and unusual circumstances.

Godly communities make the compassion and truth of Jesus easily accessible to all who seek it.

Godly communities make the compassion and truth of Jesus easily accessible to all who seek it.

Making church and church programs accessible is a matter of eternal salvation for any person. This certainly includes people with disabilities and their families.

We have an opportunity to defend life. This opportunity has nothing to do with anyone’s ability. It has everything to do with making the Good News of Jesus known to all. Jesus is the Giver of life and the Way to life. He is the Giver of all good gifts. He witholds no good thing from those who walk in faith (Psalm 84:11). We are called to follow in that Way — to walk in that Light.

1 John 1:5-7
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Of this we can be sure:

God made each of us for a purpose and is going to help us in that purpose.


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Special Needs Dad Shares Hope for a Redeemed Life

Our guest writer today is Ken Atkins, a man who grew up in the pleasant surroundings of a small North Texas dairy farm during the late 1950s. From there, he wandered through a career that included schoolteacher, newspaper writer and editor, advertising executive and construction sales. When his son Danny was born in 1992, Ken faced the life-changing reality that Danny would require full-time care for his entire life. Ken’s journey meandered through the early days of doubt and discovery about Danny’s neurological and related medical issues, over the hills and valleys of a parents’ worst fears and highest hopes, past the financial and marital issues that eventually crushed his family, and into the deep pit of lifelong struggles with alcohol and relationship addiction.

But Ken’s story doesn’t end there. Read on as Ken shares how he found transformational hope and life-saving tools in taking one step of faith at a time.


“I am a grateful follower of Jesus Christ who has been redeemed from a life of alcohol abuse.”

For nearly eight years now, that is how I have introduced myself to the small group of other men I meet with each week in Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery, also known as “CR,” is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone — men and women — struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. It is a program that changed my life and the lives of my two children.

But if our introduction is meant to give others a quick glimpse into the truth of who we really are, I probably should amend it to:

“Hi, my name is Ken, and I am a grateful follower of Jesus Christ raising a son with Angelman Syndrome. I have been redeemed by a loving Savior and have experienced the joy of being forced into a world that I am totally unequipped to manage on my own.”

My son, Danny, recently celebrated his 29th birthday, but developmentally he is basically a happy, healthy 2-year-old. He can’t speak or walk unassisted. He is incontinent and his basic needs must be met by someone else, which would be me, at least 95 percent of the time. Danny has been my constant companion through career changes, divorce, bankruptcy, a couple of major relocations and more emotional roller coaster rides than any amusement park.

Danny sat next to me through many of my recovery meetings. This is fitting since he was the only person in the room or the truck as I fought my single-parent battles for years with a Bible in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other.

Stock Photo: Pick-up truck parked in Wildlifepark Dulmen, Germany.

Step One in Celebrate Recovery, as well as in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs with slight wording variations, is this:

“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

One of the first and hardest lessons many parents of children with special needs learn after we get the news that our child has some physical, neurological or development issue for which there is no cure or even successful therapy, is that we are powerless. Initial attempts at denial include thoughts like: the diagnosis isn’t correct, we can fix this, we just need to look harder and do more, and God wouldn’t do this to our family. Eventually these arguments lose their sway to the preponderance of evidence that we must adjust all our thinking, hopes, plans, and dreams to this new reality.

RELATED RESOURCE: Discovery Your Course for Life, One Step at a Time by Ron Keller.

By the time we give up on our denial, we often do so out of sheer exhaustion and the depletion of our finances, if not our hope. Only then do we admit that our addictions, compulsions, or other problematic behaviors — like trying to “fix” our kids, or clinging to control over their lives, or unfettered devotion to our family’s dreams and traditions — are a greater threat to the emotional and spiritual well-being of ourselves and our children (including those without special needs) than whatever lifelong diagnosis we are confronting.

Only with that admission can our healing begin. Because only then are we ready to take the next steps in the recovery process where we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore our lives to normal. It’s a new normal, to be sure. But at least it is our normal. Only then can we make the decision to turn our lives and our families, over to the care of God.

Ken coaching Danny and their adapted baseball team.

One of the many truths I have learned in Celebrate Recovery is that any addiction or compulsive behavior has its root in the same sinful place—pride. We believe that we can (and should) handle any challenge in our own strength. We think we have a God-given right to live our lives on our terms. Whether it is a drinking problem, or uncontrollable rage, or soul-shattering depression, or the physical and mental exhaustion of caring for a child with special needs, we are tempted to believe these are our issues and we can handle them.

But it was never meant to be that way.

God didn’t give us these challenges to show us how strong we are, but to show us our dependence on His strength and His faithfulness. We are entirely dependent on God to meet the special needs of our child, and our own special needs in the process. We get the joy and the honor to have a front row seat to what He can do in all our lives.

There is a saying on t-shirts at many church camps that we should, “Let Go and Let God.” In recovery, and in my life as a parent of a special needs son, I have found this message being worked out again and again.

God has blessed me and my son in many ways these past 29 years. But before He could do what He wanted to do, I had to quit trying so hard to do what I could not do.

Psalm 107:13-15
They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.


Ken Atkins is the author of Silent Son, the story of how God turned one man’s mess into a life-giving message through his non-verbal son, Danny. Ken has been serving in Celebrate Recovery ministry leadership for more than five years. He leads men through the 12 Steps that have given him the tools and support he needed to face the challenges of raising a son with special needs. Ken and Danny enjoy multi-generational living in Newport News, Virginia, with Ken’s daughter and son-in-law.

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.





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