Parenting-The Christmas Story

The Christmas Story has taken on a new perspective for me this year. I never gave much thought, before now, to the purpose God created in the details of making Mary, a young inexperienced teenager, and Joseph, a simple, follow the rules kind of guy, the earthly parents of the Savior of the world. I guess if the truth were told most of us don’t, we hear the story from Linus and we kind of think of Mary and Joseph as some form of superhero. The “Ones” God chose, but they were human, like you and me, with sin and doubt.

God NEVER makes any mistakes. When He chose Mary and Joseph to be the earthly parents to His son, it was on purpose and for a purpose. That purpose, I believe was not only to show us what parenting looks like when God chooses you to be a parent, but what it looks like against the world’s view.

When Gabriel told Mary she would be a mother before she was married, before she had sexual-relations with a man, she wondered how, he explained. Luke 1 says she was greatly troubled, yet, submitted herself to the authority and sovereignty of God. She acted in faith to obedience to God. She knew what it would mean to be pregnant before her wedding day.  She knew the sneers, the sideways looks, the whispers, the rumors would hurt her family and her reputation. She knew this is how she would be referred to in the future as, “the one who couldn’t wait.” Yet she told Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s slave, may it be done to me according to your word.” Mary bound herself to the will of God despite what it would cost her. The disgrace, the stigma, the scandal, paled ultimately to her choice to obey God’s will.

Then there is Joseph, the baby’s daddy. A man’s reputation is extremely important to men. (Not being a man I can only speak from what I have been told and what I have observed, I am certain I will be swiftly corrected if I misspeak.) Joseph being a good man did not want to humiliate Mary, so he decided that he would quietly leave her, thereby saving his reputation but not harming her so much. God in his divine wisdom created an opportunity through an angel to mentor Joseph and explain His plan to the young man.  Ultimately, Joseph choose to continue in the plan God willed for him despite experiencing the same shame it would bring Mary.

For Joseph, to choose to stand up to the cultural norms of his day, take on the shame that would have been Mary’s to bear alone, and NOT blame her is a reflection of a man who was sold out to God. He chose to see what was going on from God’s perspective and to protect the gift God had given him rather than discard it. He chose to respond to God’s will in the manner God desired regardless of the lasting ramifications to his future. We celebrate his choices now, but when he lived, he was not celebrated. This is the daddy God calls men to be.

For Mary, the role God was calling her to was much more valuable to her than her own comfort, it was more important to her than what others said about her. But I guess that is why God chose her to do what he called her to do, because he knew she would bind herself to the will of God. Mary died to herself to accept what God asked her to do; be looked down upon, and to be labeled with names that were not true. Can I in all circumstances align myself with God’s truth and His will, despite what it may “cost” me in the world’s view? As a mom, this is what I want to emulate, and it is hard.

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I believe this is what God wants all parents to do. Our future, our legacy, the future of the church, and our world lies in our willingness as parents to be representative of the call to parenting Mary and Joseph epitomized. They both could have chosen to say, no. I am so glad they didn’t.  

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Broken Shells

Beach moms

My good friend Ann has 4 boys, she likes when we, my daughter Allyson and I go with them to the beach. Wrangling 4 boys at the beach is a lot of work. It helps to have extra eyes, and I love visiting the beach. I really enjoy listening to the waves, they drown out everything I worry about. I feel a closeness to God at the beach. I feel more still and able to connect with my Daddy.

Getting to the beach this summer has been difficult. Finding the time was the first hurdle. Then weather became a problem.  Who knew the weather man was actually right sometimes?  Maybe only on days we wanted to go to the beach.

On our first trip, it rained the entire time, it was chilly, it was not fun for those of us not in the warm water. Our next trip was planned around the rain forecast. This trip was cloudy but dry. And because God loves me and you, He had the waves bring in shells and deposit them on the shore. Large amounts of shells were strewn in piles on the beach, in various states of wholeness and brokenness. As I looked at them, I noticed something. Some of the broken shells were sharp and rough, but many this day were smooth and impressive.

You may not know this about me, but I have a “thing” for items the world sees as broken. Our son, Toby, has Cerebral Palsy and is often seen by the world as needing fixing.

As I pondered these beautiful broken shell pieces, I understood that God redeemed each one.  Through the storms, the rough broken shells being beaten against the sand on the ocean floor and repeatedly being tumbled on the shore; the rough shells were refined into beautiful stunning pieces. I thought about how the shells do not fight against how hard it is to be going through the process, like we often do.  The shells are just there, going through it.

We can liken ourselves to those broken shells.  Each of us is broken to different degrees. Instead of fighting through our circumstances we could be more like the shells. Through life’s challenges and our circumstances, we should allow God to transform us into smooth, vibrant, colorful, pieces. We can endure for the sake of being refined.  We become to God like these broken shells pictured here………

Brilliant broken shells.

For you, O God, have tested us;

you have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net;

you laid a crushing burden on our backs;

you let men ride over our heads;

we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:10-12

Warm Hugs

Sometimes I get a little picture of Heaven when I am just doing life. Several weeks ago, at church, was one of those times. Before you go getting all excited and super spiritual on me, I did not experience anything weird. It was more like a keen observation followed by a vision of what God wants for us all.

We attend a multi-site church in the town near where we live. By multi-site I mean, there is a Senior Pastor who preaches a message live, that is recorded and streamed to multiple sites around our city, the US, and on the internet. The live recording is done on Thursday nights.  My family attends this service.

During the worship experience this particular night, I was privy to a little interaction that was beautiful and so sweet. Witnessing this exchange warmed me and I reflected on how our Lord must crave this very thing from us.

We were singing, I love this part of the worship experience.  I really enjoy singing but mostly enjoy thanking God for every way He impacts my life daily. If music was a love language it would be mine. I love singing, dancing. If you want to connect to me and get me, do it through song, and I am toast. My singing and worshipping was interrupted by a watching our senior pastor getting a little tug on his jacket by a 30 something inch someone. He turned, and his face lit up. It was one of his grandchildren (he has 20), seeking a warm hug. Which he aptly gave, with sheer pleasure. And she then trotted off to her momma.

I then could not stop thinking about how our Heavenly Father feels about us, how He really just wants us to come to Him and tug at His jacket and get a hug. God does not desire a perfect life, or manners, or all the right words, or the right job, stuff or accomplishments. I mean what did this little child have to offer her Papa in that moment? Just a hug.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph. 2:10

LOVE is MESSY

On February 14th all over the world humans celebrate Valentine’s Day. Today I noticed the vast extravagance and abundance with which our next generation expresses love today. At Toby’s high school there were countless dozens of balloons, stuffed animals and even a teddy bear larger than I am. I began thinking about what this tells us about love. Our society tells the story of love this way, love is not love without an expensive extravagant gesture, the larger the gesture, the bigger the diamond, the more expensive the gift, the more love. While I am all for showing love in a practical way and gifts are awesome, those gestures and gifts do not truly reflect the example of love we have been given. Without a knowledge of what true love is, these gestures and gifts convey a message to our daughters if you do not receive it you are not worthy of love. Our sons learn if you don’t give it you are not worthy to love.

 

If you are a parent, think about the first time your precious offspring threw up or pooped all over everything. You had to clean it because they weren’t old enough or able to do so themselves. You might have been mad because it was an inconvenience. The act of cleaning them up and the mess they made was actually an act of love. It was messy, maybe even smelly, maybe you even got some of that mess on you, but you did not stop cleaning because you love that child. And you refused to leave them sitting, lying in their mess.

 

God is like that with us, He refuses to allow us to keep hanging out in our messy. He comes right into it with no regard for his own personal feelings, the stench, or the time he will need to invest. He digs in and touches us, where we are, even if we are knee deep in shit and vomit. Because that is true love.

 

The most quoted verse in the bible is John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and whoever believes in him will not die but have life everlasting.” In our world today, sometimes we think of someone dying for us, a little on the romantic side. “I love you so much I would die for you.” I myself have been guilty of saying that. What does it really mean? Think about this for a minute, what would you bear to die for that person.

 

Would you bear the wrath of being accountable for the countless episodes of loving something more that God?

Would you endure lashes as a penalty for worshipping other gods or idols, speaking against God’s name, not resting in God?

Would you abide in the fury connected to disrespecting your parents, murder, or adultery?

Would you shoulder the anger associated with theft of anything or lying about anything?

Would you undergo the violence linked to coveting things that do not belong to you?

 

Maybe yes, if it was one of those things one time.

 

BUT God………

 

In the form of Jesus, He persevered this, for every single sin, for every single person past, present, and future.

 

He displayed love in life even when his beloved disciples betrayed him, injured others, fell asleep when he was counting on them to be there for him. Christ displayed love to others even when their circumstances were messy. He forgave those he loved for their imperfections. Jesus is the truest reflection of love, dying to yourself, forgiveness, submitting to the authority that is perfect and does reflect the truest love. He reflected the example of love we need to follow. Love is sacrificing our own needs for someone else that may or may not return the sacrifice. Love is forgiving all trespasses against us. Love is digging in and persevering to a goal greater than us because we have been called to it.

 

Stuff will break. Things will be lost. Gestures are only powerful in the moment they are displayed.

 

Love is not first a feeling:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Cor. 13:7

Children’s Ministry-Leadership Development???

I have spent a large portion of my adult church life working is ministry to children or teens. I have always been amazed at the serious lack of persons serving in this ministry. Many churches I have been a part of lacked the leadership to develop leaders in this ministry, but some others have not. Why the common denominator of frustration by directors when garnering support is waning in this ministry area, because there are not nearly enough people to do all the work?

 

NO!

 

I believe it boils down to an unwritten rule in most churches and society. It is not a rule anyone will readily admit to. Children’s ministry workers are loyal to a fault and will not leave until they have just had enough. Honestly, for the most part the children’s ministry workers don’t know this rule. To the leadership outside of children’s ministry this ministry functions well. Kids are happy and want to come back, this equals success. Success means we have not problems.

Since I work in the realm of advocacy for those with disabilities and their families, I see a correlation between the working with those who have a disability and children’s ministry. Both look great on the outside looking in. I mean we have laws that have been created to protect those diagnosed with a disability, right? Certainly, people follow the rules. And they don’t understaff classrooms with students with disabilities. And no one who is not disabled ever parks in a handicapped parking space or blocks a ramp. And the administration celebrates differences of those with disabilities in their school and secure every opportunity to celebrate the little accomplishments of all of the students in their school, right we are in the 21st century?

 

NO!

 

The unwritten rule…………

 

Only certain people are valuable!

 

I understand, NO ONE wants to admit they think this way, or they operate this way, but will you do me a favor and ask yourself this question, how do you treat the things you hold dear?

You spend time if it is a person. You care for it if it is a pet. You ensure it remains intact if it is an object.

What did you say? I take my daughter on dates, I MAKE time to serve her. I play with my dog, I MAKE time to attend to his needs. I wash my dishes, dust and sweep my house, take out the trash, I MAKE time to perform these functions to make sure the things associated with carrying out these functions will last a long time and work properly.

Again, I say, only certain people are valuable. The truth is you were conditioned to think this way, and I do not believe it was training that was meant to be malicious. It is an unwritten rule we must see and absolve to eradicate.

 

HOW?

The first step is admitting that we do not see everyone equally. And that because of that we sometimes operate as though we are not all equal. It is a type of classism.

I started reading a book on leadership recently and in the book the author discusses leadership development and building leaders up through the pipeline within an organization. As I meditate more and more on the unwritten rule of assigned value I began thinking.

Most people at church do not see children or persons with disabilities, as potential leaders, nor do they see them as a part of the pipeline.

As a parent, depending on where you are at any given stage of your child’s human development, at one end you could be dreamy, or you could be so completely frustrated you wondered if they would live to see their next birthday, not because of anything you thought to do to them but what decisions they were making, but most days you are not likely saying, wow, I see a leader, I know I wasn’t.

As a member of the congregation, you probably see those kids come into the foyer or sanctuary after service and making noise, running around, or you see a person not saying a thing, maybe you see someone in a wheelchair, and you are not saying I see a leader.

I am not knocking you. It is hard to see potential in messy children/people. Especially, when we don’t understand why they think fart sounds are so hilarious and why they must make them then choose to blame in on another person.

Children’s Ministry is our greatest source of leadership development in our pipeline, if we are not being intentional and considering the value of developing leader in our children we are missing out on the entire purpose of leadership.

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If you are a leader, you should be serving children in Children’s Ministry to develop them into leaders that crave developing other leaders. (think of the head start you get to development when you start with children)

If you want to be a leader, you should be serving in Children’s Ministry to learn the difficulties involved in leading through tough situations and language barriers. (kids do not speak the same language adults do)

If you have no desire to lead, you should serve in Children’s Ministry, to understand it isn’t about you it is about your calling and kids are brutal at times and will give you what you may not want to hear but need to hear. (they are also the most forgiving when you make mistakes)

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What should not be hard to see is the opportunity for us to be a leader. Leadership is not reserved for adults you like, it’s not even reserved for the adults you don’t like and think you want to change by your leadership. Leadership is for everyone. If we are going to build great leaders who will grow up to be extraordinary humans, we must invest in leadership in children’s ministry. Jesus said in Matthew 18:10, “Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?”

 

And if you want a good read, pick up, Empowering Leadership, by Michael Fletcher. He will be doing a book signing a Barnes and Nobles in Fayetteville on February 25th. Details here.

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Being the Bus Driver

I realized recently that I have been living in a fantasy world. A world where I knew that people with mean and hate filled hearts lived but those people were somehow barred from contact with me or my child. I was very fortunate to not have come in contact with any of them directly, until I became Toby’s bus driver. Since then I have learned a lot.

No, I am not actually driving a school bus, but I have been providing transportation for Toby since January 23rd, because there have been some issues with his bus driver and it is not safe for him to go back to that bus with that driver, yet. We are hoping for a resolution soon. That may be another blog for another day.

I have discovered many things being Toby’s bus driver. I learned, despite being in a school where a significant number of students are connected to the military; teenagers display poor manners. Rarely have any students held open any doors for Toby to enter in his wheelchair, the doors close almost immediately, and his school does not have any power assisted doors.

I have noticed, even though Toby has been attending this school for more than 2 years and has been in attendance in classes with typically developing teens, they do not recognize that he needs more space to get by in his wheelchair. So, we put a bell on his chair. The bell worked, kids heard the bell and moved. I was so excited to see the fruits of my ingenuity pay off. I was hoping this bell was the gateway to a more conscientious school, and more inclusive relationships for Toby. I had a dream that someday Toby would roll into school and his peers would hear his bell and the students would meet him and greet him with smiles, tell him jokes and ask him questions because they saw him. I was filled with an over-abundance of hope and eagerness to share with his one-on-one the elation I was feeling. We rolled into class that day, I was beaming, and I shared with the one-on-one, the observations I had made and how pleased I was with how well the solution I developed worked. Just as I was about to share my vision for all things inclusive, the one-on-one spouted off pleased as punch that she yells at the students to get out of her way or she will hit them, with the wheelchair.  I felt like a 5-ton truck with a full load had just run me over, backed over me and run over me again. Some say I don’t have a very good poker face, so I feel like my eyes bonked out of my head. I leaned into Toby and managed to stammer out, “Toby, I know Ms. So-n-so thinks its ok to hit children, but really, it is not.” I left the school feeling like the Japanese did at Hiroshima.

IMG_4699 While being Toby’s bus driver, I ascertained that we are NOT exempt from being on the receiving end of ugly.

The thing every parent of a child with a disability dreads but secretly prays never ever happens to them. The thing that every caregiver of a person with a disability can stomach when they see it happening to someone else, it doesn’t mean they approve or tolerate it, but they can stomach it when it isn’t happening to them, finally happened and in a double whammy. I was a few minutes later than normal picking Toby up. I arrived in the classroom when one of Toby’s classmates arrived telling the teacher he had missed his bus. This young man is able to articulate his needs, but is still working to master other higher forms of language like syntax and pragmatic functions. We made it to the office just as he was calling for a ride. His tone was loud and short, and his message was matter of fact. There was a man about my age standing at the counter in the front office, he looked at me and declared, “They need to teach these kids to talk right.” Again, not sure I have a great poker face. I think my jaw dropped to the floor and tears came to my eyes. The receptionist ushered him back and timidly uttered, “He is special needs.” I told her I would have gladly shared a few words with him. I detected even caring kind individuals, who deal with the public and persons with disabilities, do not know the appropriate language to use to portray value.

Thinking undoubtedly that was the worst thing I could experience that day, I went out and decided to chat with Toby’s teacher while she was waiting with Toby’s class mate for his ride. We were talking when without warning a student jumping into the back of a blue pick-up truck yelled out, to me and the teacher, “Your kids need an extra chromosome.” Now, before you edumacated folks get all up in arms about this dissecting the verbiage and telling me how stupid this was. I KNOW!!! I know having an extra chromosome is a specific disability labeled Downs Syndrome.

For the first time in Toby’s 17 years, I was face-to-face with the hatred that is ignorance. All the other times have been subtle side glancing types of behaviors or comments made just on the edge of my earshot. This was a full out frontal attack, a cowardice one (jumping in the bed of a truck and speeding off), but a frontal attack none the less. So, I turned to the teacher because surely this does not happen in a progressive school that houses more than one class of students with disabilities. I think we mirrored the horror in each other’s faces. Just about that time, my thoughtless friend from the office emerged out front. I thought right then would be a great time to educate the innate man. My compassionate plea to consider the young man he decided was rude, actually has progressed a considerable amount, was met with an entitled statement about having “bragging right to this school” because he farmed the land before there was ever a school there. Followed by calling out his own child’s indiscretions in public to strangers. He was sure to leave me with hopeful words, “Don’t you worry I have Jesus in my heart.” Trust me sir, you left no doubt in me about your heart.

I would have expected this if we were pioneering inclusive public education in the late 1970’s early 1980’s. IDEA was new. IDEA is PL 94-142, which “assures that all children with disabilities have available to them…a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs, assures that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents…are protected, assists States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities,  assesses and assures the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities. ” Source: Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act of 1975.

More than 40 years after it has been mandated to allow and accept students like my son in “regular” public school, there is still no school wide education to ensure that our student’s rights are not being violated by other students. Students with disabilities are marginalized daily by the fact that administrators fail to ensure that they are viewed and treated like real live people, with hopes, dreams, preferences, disappointments, fears, crushes, desires, the need to love and be loved, to accept and be accepted. Administrators and other school officials often portray a mentality that conflicts with the true purpose of education, to educate. Not educating students on what a disability is and that is does not mean that a person has no value causes administrators to be culpable to devaluing students in their schools who have disabilities. Though they will vehemently deny such thoughts, sadly they validate these students as objects to be placed and delivered and they secure this mindset by their actions and inactions.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even With No Wheel There Is A Way

Our New Year’s Eve tradition for the last 6 or 7 years has been to run at midnight through Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC.  We have made it a family affair. The race is excellently directed by the most amazing race company out there Jones Racing. Ally and I usually help with packet pick up, while Eric and Toby do the man thing (nap) until race start. Toby loves this race. He gets to see the lights up close and personal with very little obstructions from barriers. Toby keeps his head to one side a lot and in the truck (Waldo), if the lights aren’t on the side he is looking at, he misses the lights. This race is something he looks forward to running every year.

 

Toby is usually pretty fast.  In years past, his dad has run with him and both of them placed in their respective age groups. This year was likely to be fast for Toby and his dad. About 45 minutes before the race start, Eric came up to me and said, “We have no way to use the front wheel of Toby’s running race chair, there is no skewer!” I’m freezing, because I am volunteering at packet pick up, outside, it was below freezing and felt like it was in the teens because of the wind chill. Yes, I am whining a little.  But I could not muster a bit more than, “Can we fix it?” “No” “Dang it!”

 

Ally and I get to Waldo to get our gear to run, then Eric and I start discussing how frustrating it is to not have the equipment we need, in the condition we need it in, when we need it, and the options for racing. I say, it will be hard but we still have 2 wheels. Ally pipes up with “Even with No Wheel There’s a Way.” All of our frustration melted. We saw the fruit, the harvest, the gleaning of living a life of inclusion for Toby’s sake.

 

We have a child who through being exposed to inclusion, the living out that Toby can do anything, he just might have to do things differently, can view what others might consider a race ender as a new way to do the race. By being exposed to loving and kind teachers like Brent and Kyle Pease of the Kyle Pease Foundation, my daughter has learned that 3 wheels are a convenience not a necessity to race. My daughter has learned from the Scott Rigsby Foundation athletes, that tenacity will help you to finish well.  And she told us exactly what we needed to hear, from the lessons she had studiedfrom those great teachers. And because she is so smart we heeded her advice. Toby and I ran, and walked the 5.5K through Tanglewood Park, with 2 wheels.

 

Because God loves me, Toby and I made a buddy who is connected through a relative to the Ability Experience, the organization that helped make it possible for Toby to run his first marathon. We figured out that we have mutual friends. How cool is it to find a friend you did not know you had at a race, 2 hours from home? Hanging out with Natalie made the time go by faster, and her encouragement made it easier to suck up the difficulty of pushing a wheelchair with only 2 wheels.

 

Yes! We finished the entire 5.5K on 2 wheels and with a smile.

We love this community of ours, racers with different abilities, people who do not think it’s weird that we raced anyway. If you don’t have people like this in your life you should get some.