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.

Ruts to Recovery

A lot of family caregivers are starting this near year depleted. As a special needs mother myself, I understand how wearying it is to provide 24/7 care for a medically complex and intellectually-developmentally delayed adult daughter. I’m also a pastoral counsellor and caregiver consultant who spent many hours last year hearing stories of moms, dads, and caregiving siblings wrestling with unfulfilled longing as well as things like “Covid-fatigue,” guilt, worry, restlessness and feeling stuck in the “woe-is-me” rut.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

None of us wants to continue suffering from the same mental or emotional plagues of 2020 for another year. On the road to recovering from the bumps, bruises and ruts of the past, it is helpful — even essential — to understand that certain behaviors and response patterns have become ingrained in us. Some of those patterns are simply ineffective. Others are outright ungodly and unhealthy.

Once we recognize there is an unhelpful pattern, God can begin to show us there is hope for a way out of it. We can ask Him to teach us new habits and pathways toward thriving.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 

Ephesians 1:18-20

From my observations and some personal experience as well, there is one particular pattern that can be a common among caregivers in families impacted by disability:

  • Your self-esteem or sense of security feels attacked. 
    Do you feel invisible or under-appreciated, even taken for granted? Has something triggered insecurity or a lack of purpose? Has someone withheld affection? Do you feel rejected?
  • Your defenses get triggered. 
    Do you feel hurt, angry, or weak? Has someone in your life or something about your circumstances made you stiffen your back or harden your heart?
  • Emotional intensity grows. 
    Do you start to get passionate as you battle to feel understood, accepted, appreciated or loved?
  • You rely on others to pump you back up. 
    Do you have an intense need to feel known and accepted? Who do you depend on to bolster your self-esteem when your spirits are low?
  • You become disappointed in how people respond.
    Have people fallen short of your expectations? Do your needs feel neglected or unseen? Have you experienced heart-wounds that began to fester and then grew into a root of bitterness and resentment? Have you been able to make your needs clear?
  • Shame develops.
    Do you recognize some self-centeredness? Although some sense of conviction and a need for repentance may be appropriate, have you felt yourself spiral into self-loathing?
  • Your esteem suffers another setback.

Friend, let me join you in asking God to give you a new “song” to sing!

And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Revelation 5:9

There is a new, healthy and effective pattern you can cultivate in 2021 to break the ugly cycles of discouragement. There is a place to take your vulnerability and a way to find a deep sense of security. There is freedom from the grip of painful patterns.

To prevent and escape your ruts, try working this recovery pattern toward peace, rest and hope:

FUEL UP

Soak in your identity as God’s son/daughter. Learn to appreciate yourself and God’s unique imprint on you. Learn godly ways to meet your most intimate longings.

CHECK YOUR HEART

Make an honest assessment of yourself and repent of your sins.

  • Lord, if I have unconfessed sin, help me to bring it humbly to You. Thank you for giving me freedom and another chance to lean on You to do better.
  • Lord, remind me how YOU feel about me. Help me to believe the truth about who I am in Christ.
SEEK RECONCILIATION

Make amends with others as God leads you.

  • Lord, give me compassion to understand how others are experiencing the situation too.
  • Lord, show me if I have hurt someone. Help me confess any of my own sin to You. Help me go to others and seek their forgiveness. Help me to forgive them, even if they do not humbly ask for my forgiveness. (Show me how to keep safe and practical boundaries without harboring ill will to towards others.) Help me to release all of my expectations about how others will respond. Teach me to put all of my hope in You.
REPLACE LIES WITH TRUTH

Keep leaning back into God’s true design for life and love. You are a beloved child of the King! Saturate your mind with specific truths about those lies:

  • There is no condemnation in Christ; He pursues you with compassion. (See Romans 8:1 and Isaiah 30:18.)
  • You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (See Philippians 4:13.)
  • At just the right time, God is going to make your efforts fruitful. (See Galatians 6:9.)
  • Jesus has called you to live in peace, truth and purpose. This is a gift of God, not something you earn. (See Romans 12:18, Psalm 86:11, Psalm 57:2 and Ephesians 2:8-9.)
  • God will be faithful to complete you. You are already a masterpiece but also a work-in-progress. (See Jeremiah 29:11-14, Ephesians 2:10 and Philippians 1:6.)

This is a trustworthy pattern backed by the countless promises of Almighty God! You can rest assured that God will faithfully honor a lifestyle that practices a pattern like this. Practice is the operative word. Practice won’t make perfect — only Jesus was perfect — but your practice will bring progress. Pray and keep working the process.

Friends, let’s cast off the weights of sin and depleting patterns, asking God to walk us out of darkness and into the light of a new year — one day and one step of faith at a time.

Lord, teach me to rely on You for my sense of security, affirmation and hope. Help me to practice healthy new patterns this year. I can’t do anything good without Your help, Jesus! Strengthen me to develop a habit of seeking You first when my soul is aching. Interrupt my thoughts and emotions when they are stuck in loneliness, emptiness, self-loathing or self-pity. Remind me that I am your precious and treasured child. Help me to see myself and my potential in the way that You see it. Help me to rest in the promises You’ve made to me. And fill my soul with Your loving kindness so that I overflow with Your good gifts to others. As I receive compassion from You, Jesus, I want to have that same compassion for myself and others. Make me an instrument of love.  


Lisa Jamieson

LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include Finding Glory in the Thorns and the picture book Jesus, Let’s Talk.

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.


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. 

One Father’s Desperation Holds Urgent Lesson for Us All

These comments from July 25, 2015 warrant reposting today.

The Angelman Syndrome community worldwide has been reeling this week — experiencing a horrifying, heartbreaking loss. Never before has my passion been greater that caregivers need support, encouragement, a place for resonance, an adequate rhythm of respite and the kind of hope and strength that only Jesus Christ can give. 

Take a moment to read/watch the full news story (July 23, 2015). Click here: Facing changes to the respite care situation for his 16 year old son, a father took his son to an area park and killed him” and then killed himself.

I’ll never be able to thank enough the many people that have poured into our family so that we can thrive amidst the 24/7 weight of “extreme caregiving.” Some seasons have been better than others but there’s no denying that the way people have come alongside to support us is remarkable. (It should not be remarkable. It should be commonplace for all of us to have enough compassion and margin in our lives to reach out to others who are so stretched.) 

While I can’t fathom taking the kind of action this dad took, Larry and I (as well as our oldest children Alex and Erin) all know too well the kind of desperation that can be felt behind closed doors when things like difficult behaviors, seizures, diaper catastrophes, cyclic reflux vomiting or sleep deprivation have taken us to our wits end. My heart aches and a sense of nausea wells in me when I consider so many friends who struggle daily with deep depression and/or sense of overwhelming loneliness/isolation caring for a loved one. 

Our culture doesn’t value caregivers enough, doesn’t pay respite staff enough (it’s extraordinarily difficult even to find people willing to work this type of job at ANY rate of pay), doesn’t encourage enough. Yet there are shining examples of progress. For example, the heart behind Caroline’s Cart and practical value it is bringing to families is like a hug from God. 

We must pray for the reality of this need for community and outreach to sink in and fast. May all of us to value more highly our opportunities to encourage one another, lead lifestyles that prioritize time to support a weary friend and have courage to ask for help when we’re struggling. May we create churches that go beyond just being welcoming places to becoming places that truly ENGAGE with these families, do more than just “be nice” and actually figure out how to carry another’s burden. 

Lord, help us all. 


When Graduation SHRINKS Rather than EXPANDS a Young Person’s World

Spring is here in all it’s glory and the greens seem more vibrant to me than ever before. I hope you’re seeing opportunities to soak up the refreshment of this new season!

Our daughter Carly turned 18 years old this past weekend. And she’ll graduate from high school in just three weeks. For Carly this is a dramatically new ‘season’ and you might be surprised that there are some very unsettling things about this for her dad and me—things that are causing us some grief. I hope you won’t mind that I share some personal reflections about it here because I believe God has something to say about this to each and every one who is reading today. 

As other students head off to college, explore new jobs or take a ‘gap’ year to discover their true passions, Carly will begin a transition program a few miles from home in a building filled with several other young adults who, like her, experience significant developmental disabilities. While there will be plenty of important and enjoyable activities, a skilled and caring staff, and new friends among her classmates, there will be no typical students in that building. None. Unlike high school where Carly participated in the mainstream choir class and walked halls with typical teens, she will now be more isolated from ‘normal’ society than she has ever been before. Occasional school outings to places like the grocery store (to learn money skills), some family activities and church attendance will be the extent of her exposure the ‘outside’ world.


Typical high school graduates are seeing the world open up before them; opportunities and relationships are blossoming. But for Carly, becoming an adult and finishing high school means that life will be changing in very different ways. In contrast to Carly’s peer experiences, her world is in high risk of shrinking. Unless somebody thinks creatively and takes initiative on her behalf, Carly’s opportunities and relationships will immediately start narrowing after her last day of high school.

Carly is highly social. Yet she is fully dependent on others to bring her places and help translate her efforts to communicate and engage with others. Her social connections will continue to narrow unless her caregivers, church and community are intentional about optimizing connectedness for her. Carly also has gifts to share with her church and community. Yet she is fully dependent on others to make room for her and assist her in plugging in. Unfortunately, I see a world that is too naïve to notice and too busy to join us in exploring and embracing the possibilities. So I’m praying for a culture change. I’m also praying that God would give me fresh energy and vision to see the opportunities for Carly (and others like her) and show me how to facilitate connections and belonging for her in a world that doesn’t really understand what God has said:

“Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” 1 Corinthians 12:22-23  

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10  

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'” Matthew 19:14

How about you?

Have you noticed any adults in your congregation who have disabilities? If you have, you might praise God for the caregiver or group home staff who have been willing and energized enough to initiate that outing! You can greet these friends — BOTH the caregiver and the resident. You can thank group home staff for their supportiveness. You can greet these friends and ask questions about their day as you would with any other friend. The few moments you spend chatting with them may be among the very few ‘outside world’ interactions they have all week.

How can you help adults with special needs in your congregation find ways to serve and increase their sense of belonging in the community? The church is not complete without these friends. More than just being friendly with each other, we must think of each other as ministry partners and invest in helping each other share in the life of the church and in life with Christ.

Does it cross your mind that there are numerous adults in your community who are invisible to you? Perhaps they are there and you just aren’t paying attention. Perhaps they are not there because nobody has made a place for them. There are a range of obstacles that keep people with special needs from attending church. Although building accessibility and transportation can be challenges, the more frequent issue is emotional. None of us wants to keep going where we aren’t noticed, cared about or feel like we belong.


Andrea’s Glory Story

We have all done things we’ve regretted. But have you ever needed a completely changed life? Today, my friend Andrea is sharing a memory about a time when she encountered God and it became a turning point for her.  Together we’re praying that her story gives you confidence in God and courage to run toward Him, no matter how hopeless or unworthy you may feel.  


See that little corner parking spot on the left? Five years ago, I drove under the influence of alcohol in the middle of winter and ended up in that little corner at 1:00 am. For the most part, I don’t remember driving (at least 15 miles). I crashed my car into a snowbank. Then in my attempt to get out, I ruined the transmission. Soon after I got stuck, my phone died. It was freezing and the night was a blur to me. 


For three hours, I sat in the car (no car heat for most of the time) and honked my horn, waiting for someone to get me. I was in a rough part of the inner city and too scared to get out to try looking for people to help. A police officer eventually came and brought me to the Police Station. 

I will never forget how kind she was to me. Most would say I deserved jail time or something of that sort.  I think God knew that what I needed was someone to just talk to me and love me in my mess. I was so young but had the capacity for these kind of crazy stupid decisions. That officer talked to me and processed with me. 

Maybe she broke all the rules. I’m not sure. What I do know is that the moment she had me call my mom to come and get me, I was already at the pit and needed Mercy more than anything. Anyway, she let me go. No charge.

Because of God’s grace, I didn’t hit anyone while driving drunk. I made it out safe in the middle of the night in North Minneapolis by myself. And I didn’t even get sick from the cold! I still get freaked out—in a good way—about this story.  I don’t know every reason for why I didn’t get penalized, killed in an accident or something else horrific, but I am thankful, and amazed. 

I drive by this spot almost everyday on my way to school nowadays…and I smile. I smile at that young girl who had a Perfect Father smiling at her and just WAITING for her to come home to His embrace. A couple of years later I did, and now I barely recognize that person. I am so thankful that I can look these horrible memories in the eye and DECLARE that these moments didn’t have the final word. Jesus came and made me beautiful. And now that’s my story.

Hebrews 10:22-23 (NLT)Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.  


A Personal Glory Story from Lisa

Today was the last meeting of the Bible study I’ve been participating in weekly since September 2013.  I loved loved discovering more about how scripture hangs together from Genesis to Revelation while connecting on a heart level with new friends.  At a pace of about one chapter each week, we tarried and dug deep through the Gospel of Matthew exploring the character and ways of Jesus.  There are so many special and important things I could share about things I learned during this time but I’m not going to linger in those details here today.  I’m simply going to share three areas where I have personally been drawn closer to the heart of God in the last several months.
Three promptings I have sensed God impressing upon me this year: 
  •  Engage more intentionally and frequently with Me in prayer.
  • Let Me embrace you in your weaknesses.
  • Bring more people with you to our party.
I continue to learn that prayer is the place I need to dwell (not in activity).  Jesus needed prayer more than He needed rest.  Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  I want to access the freedom I have in Christ to tell Him the desires of my heart while asking Him to align my heart with His.  I want to be still with Jesus more often. I want to be more prayerfully discerning.  I want to be a house of prayer.
Second, God is not surprised by my sin. In fact, He will point out my weakness but then meet me in it and walk me through it. I’ve found it so encouraging to see how Jesus did this with Peter.  Jesus walked with Peter on the water after calling out his weak faith (Matthew 14:28-31) then He walked with Peter in a place of strength (Matthew 14:31-33).  Jesus predicted Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:34) then reinstated him with significant affirmation (John 21:15-19).  What comfort it is to know that God wants us with Him even when we’re weak and no one is too far from the Lord’s reach!
Finally, I’ve been inspired (through various things, not just my Bible study) to take God’s Word where the soil is soft — to people of peace.  In my study of Matthew, I realized that I like getting ready (dressed up) for the party (heaven’s banquet) but I tend to avoid making the invitations.  So participating in Revive Twin Cities has been my way of jumping into the water by faith and learning how to make more invitations and do that more effectively.
How about you? 
What is God teaching you lately about His presence, power and goodness in your life?

I would love to hear about it!

A Different Kind of Birthday

I’m celebrating some things today. You got it. It’s my birthday. It’s been odd for me to think of myself as 48 years old. Part of me feels older than that. Part of me wonders when this happened! Either way, this year feels like a different kind of milestone than other years for some odd reason. Here are some possibilities:
  1. Staying fit, healthy and thin is no longer a battle. Now it’s WAR!
  2. I find myself praying for my kids’ safety and traveling mercies even more than I did when I first handed them my car keys. (What is this about? Do we get more paranoid as we approach 50 or is the natural pile-on of life experience just giving us a sense of reality-check we didn’t yet have at 21?)
  3. Apparently, I look less my age than ever. When people find out I’m 48, they just say, “Oh!” then kind of smile in an encouraging sort of way as if they’re thinking “Hm. I thought she might be a little older than that.” I figure I’ve got two more years until I get the “WOW!” response with a hug and “You look great for your age!”
  4. I’ve graduated to the bifocals club. I don’t mean those cute readers you buy in the drug store like the ones I heard a little boy begging his mom for in Target the other day. I mean the very expensive kind you have to order special. And I don’t yet qualify for any AARP discount. Thankfully, I’ve managed to adjust to multi-focal contacts. God is good. I can still hide.
  5. I no longer have any urge to make my own cake. Whatever I can buy at Nadia’s cakes (gluten free) will suffice.

Now, just to prove I’m not all sarcasm, I do want to share some spiritual fun too!
I love Jewish history and enjoy learning new things about that part of my Christian heritage. A friend showed me how to look up my Jewish birthday! It’s the 29thof Tevet (5726). Ya. Cool. I have no idea what it really means.
The Torah portion commonly attributed to my birthday (1/21/66, morning in case you’re wondering) is Exodus 6:2-9:35 — starting when God spoke to Moses about taking the Israelites out from under the hand of the Egyptians as His special people and deliver them to the Promised Land then continuing through the first five plagues. The realities of God’s grand plan of redemption were unfolding and we see His absolute authority to perform great acts (starting with judgment on Pharaoh). 
Just before this (in chapter 4), we see that Moses’ faith was shaky and he worried about his weaknesses as an appointed leader saying, “I am slow of speech and tongue.” But this gives me great comfort and hope on many levels. God responds saying, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”  (Exodus 4:10-11)
THE TRUTH: God is sovereign over all things including disability, brokenness, weakness…yes, my “old age” as it comes along too. His design is always good. He takes good care of His children. He is perfect and powerful in my weakness. In my weaknesses, He is shown to be strong. He redeems all those who trust in Him. Because I TRUST IN HIM, there is a Promised Land ahead for me! And even though my faith is shaky sometimes, God is patient and kind. He surrounds me with support, equips me for every good work, and keeps giving me good gifts. He reveals more of His power, presence and goodness as I walk in celebration that there is FULLNESS OF LIFE IN HIS PRESENCE!
For sure, my greatest gift and reward today is the privilege of walking with Jesus. Now THAT really is something worth celebrating!
If it would be fun and spiritually enriching for you to use the Jewish Birthday Calculator, visit this site: http://m.chabad.org/calendar/birthday_cdo/aid/6228/jewish/Jewish-Birthday.htm