Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Treasures in Darkness

Before Benjamin was ever conceived, a spiritual mentor in our lives told us she felt like God had showed her that when we had our first child there would be a struggle of some sort, but the Lord would bring a testimony through it all. She didn’t have a clear sense of what this would mean, and neither did we! I’m so thankful that God doesn’t show us everything all at once. Our idea of a struggle looked like a bump in the road compared to the mountains we came up against. If we had known ahead of time all that we would face upon Benjamin’s birth I would have had a hard time believing we could make it through. I believe the Holy Spirit will reveal to us different things about the future as we ask Him and wait on Him, but His desire is that we would always depend on Him in the present and trust Him with the future.

When our struggles met us there was fear and there was shaking, but we never fell. Jesus was so faithful to sustain us and walk us through. We have personally experienced more of the truth of the Word of God:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. -2 Corinthians 12:9(NIV)

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:13(NIV)

The amazing thing is that, not only have we made it through, we have come out on the other side with a deeper trust in and love for Jesus than ever before. He has planted things deep inside of us that can never be taken away!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28(NIV)

I believe there are some treasures that can only be mined in darkness. However, we have to be willing to look for them and open to receive them. We can simply grit our teeth and try to make it through (sometimes getting stuck along the way), or we can keep moving forward and come out with something beautiful and valuable, made possible only by the grace of God. I believe this is the dividing line between tragedy and triumph!

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. –Isaiah 45:3(NLT)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Embracing Change

The Holy Spirit often speaks to me through my son. This morning I heard His voice again. Every morning while I shower and get ready for the day, Benjamin watches a movie in his Super Stand. Most mornings I pop in one of his two Sesame Street DVDs. Yesterday, while running an errand I happened upon a brand new baby DVD. It appeared to be the same genre as some of Benjamin’s other movies, with lots of music, puppets, and images of infants and children playing. I thought it would be very nice to have another option for his viewing enjoyment (and for Mommy’s sanity!), so I made the purchase. Shortly after we arrived at home, I set Benjamin up in his stander and popped in his new movie, while I got busy preparing supper. Now, my son is very much a creature of habit. He most often bucks against any new thing at the start. However, with persistence, he will eventually embrace the change and keep moving forward. (Do you hear the lesson yet?) So, I expected some protest to the new movie, and it surely happened. He did the same thing with his now beloved Sesame Street shows, among others. The fine line for me is being able to recognize how much he can handle at once, and I am still very much in the process of learning! So, after 10 minutes of hearing his cries of protest, I stopped the movie and popped in one of his favorites instead. After that, he was as happy as a clam. I told him, “We’ll try it again tomorrow.” Well, back to this morning—we gave his new movie another chance while I got ready for the day. I could hear his disgruntled cries even in the shower. By the time I was dressed, Holy Spirit was already speaking to me as my son was escalating in his discontent. We made it through over 20 minutes this morning, and I am confident that in time this new DVD will encourage smiles instead of cries.

As I listened to my child, I felt like the Lord was whispering to me about how often His children (myself included) do the same thing when He ushers change into our lives. It’s so easy to remain in our comfort zones with what’s familiar. However, we will never move forward with God if we stay in that place. Sometimes the changes are circumstantial and out of our control. We can gripe and complain and fall into self-pity, or we can fix our eyes on Jesus, place our trust in Him, and keep moving forward. Sometimes the changes are optional—a new attitude of heart, a willingness to embrace a new mindset, or a willingness to go in the direction we feel He’s asking us to go, even when it means giving up our own agendas. Change is often hard, and it’s often uncomfortable, but He always has our best interest at heart. However, if we buck and protest, He will allow us to stay where we are for a season. He will not cross our free will. He will be persistent, though, and bring us back to the place of choice again and again, not content to leave us where we are. His leadership over our lives is perfect, but we have to be willing to relinquish control. If I’m not confident in His heart of love towards me, this is a very scary thing. The more I experience His love and His affections towards me, the easier it becomes to trust and allow Him to lead. In fact, refusing to allow Him to have His way becomes a scarier prospect than losing my control! Only He sees from eternity past to eternity future, and only He loves with perfection.

There was another lesson to be learned through my son this morning. His cries of anger and frustration effectively pushed out quite a mess! I smelled it as soon as I started to lower him down in his stander. Now, this may be more information than you care to know, but when I say mess I mean MESS! We are talking about the kind of blow-out that necessitated an immediate bath, load of laundry and sanitation of his changing pad. It’s a wonder I made it through the incident without needing a fresh change of clothes myself! Again I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice. I love you and enjoy you even when you’re making messes. Oh, He’s good! Often the process of change brings the messes up and out. Things I didn’t even realize were in my heart begin to surface, and it stinks! It’s so easy at this point to slip into feelings of shame and condemnation, but Jesus already bore all my shame on the cross. He is not intimidated by my messes, and I believe He thoroughly enjoys the process of cleaning me up because He knows exactly where He’s taking me, and He sees me through His blood that has already washed me clean and pure. There is a processing of “working out my salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13), but He sees ahead into eternity future when I will be fully conformed to His image, and He enjoys me in the here and now.

I suppose this is where my analogy breaks down a bit. I cannot say that there was any enjoyment for me in cleaning up my son’s stinky mess. I didn’t enjoy the process, but I most definitely enjoy the child!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Defining "Normal"

Shawn calls him “Astro Boy” when he’s all strapped in. At first sight I thought it resembled a strange torture devise. Benjamin knows it as his movie time place. I know it as his “Super Stand.” At this present time, our family knows it as “normal.”
When Benjamin’s Child Development Specialist first recommended a Super Stand sometime before his first birthday, I couldn’t quite envision what she was referring to. She explained that it was very important for Benjamin to have a way to be held in an upright position in order to develop proper posture for future standing and walking and to give him the opportunity to bear down with weight on his feet and legs. Though he was a big boy overall, his feet seemed to be lagging behind. She explained that the body needs weight on the feet to send the message to the bones to grow. Otherwise, the human body will actually take calcium from the bones that are not being used much and send it to other parts of the body. She also said that it’s important for his digestive system that he be placed in an upright position more and more, especially since our son has a bad tendency of spitting up. So, she helped us make the proper connections, had measurements taken for Benjamin’s equipment, and filled out the necessary paperwork to make a requisition to his Medicaid Disability. Thankfully we were approved, though it was several months before his Super Stand actually arrived.
By this time we had just recently moved into our new home. Benjamin had just learned to remain in a sitting position by himself. He had already received ankle braces (known as orthotics) for use throughout the day but most importantly for when he would be in his stander. The significance of these did not sink in for me, however, for several more months. They left red marks on his feet and ankles, and he seemed so uncomfortable that I did not have a very strong resolve to make him use them much. By the time I realized how important they are for Benjamin to develop proper foot alignment and ankle strength that will set a life-long course for his posture and walking stance, it was time to have new ones made. They only recently came in.
Any way, back to the stander…A gentleman delivered the large contraption to our home and showed us how it is to be properly used. He helped us make the necessary adjustments for Benjamin’s current size and taught us how to make future adjustments. I probably looked like I was a deer trapped in headlights as he told us more than once, “I know it looks intimidating, but it’s really quite simple.” “Simple” was the last word in my mind at that moment! How simple would it be to strap my 15-month-old into this device every day and listen to him scream?! We were encouraged to start Benjamin out in small increments with the goal of increasing his time to at least an hour a day, though it didn’t have to be all at once. Knowing this would be important for our son’s development and thankful that such an expensive piece of equipment had been provided for us, we pressed forward. I have to admit, though, that in some ways this large and awkward piece felt more like an intrusion in both my house and my heart. It was difficult to hear Benjamin’s cries of protest and see his tear-streaked face as we tried to familiarize him with this brand new experience that must become a part of our “normal” life. It was painful that he would even need such a seemingly drastic intervention when other children his age were up and running around. After some rocky first attempts, though, we discovered that our son seemed to forget, at least in part, about the awkwardness of the stander when we played one of his favorite baby movies. Soon his cries of protest evolved into occasional cries of impatience while I strapped him in, so eager he was to watch Vinko the Bear and D.J. the Dinosaur from Baby Geniuses, and later Rachel from Baby Signing Time, Elmo from Sesame Street, or Ta, Dee and Ed from Musical Baby!
What felt so intrusive and so foreign has now become a part of our daily routine. Benjamin watches a movie in his stander every morning while Mommy gets cleaned up, and he watches another one or two throughout the afternoon and early evening. Overall, he averages around 1 ½ hours of stander time every day. Instead of tears, I see smiles as I push the hydraulic lever to raise him up while telling him, “We’re going up, up, up!” or later “Down, down, down.” Benjamin has accepted his stander as part of “normal” life and has no concept of how “abnormal” our routine would appear to the general population. While I still have this awareness, the stander is now part of “normal” life for me as well. I’ve nearly mastered the art of maneuvering the bulky piece from behind his crib’s headboard out into the living room and back again, though the patches of chipped paint at the bottom of the doorway reveal my many less successful attempts. Benjamin’s orthotic braces are becoming “normal” too. He’s not to the point of being able to wear them all day, but he no longer fights me when I fit them on, though he doesn’t necessarily like having to sit still during the process. During the first drawn-out attempts while he cried and fought and I felt like I was all thumbs, I just kept telling my son (more for myself than anything), “We have to get used to these. It’s part of life now, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.” We’re beginning to adjust much better, and I can see the improvements the orthotic braces are making in his ability and stamina to remain in an assisted standing position.
These unusual interventions are never what I pictured, and they’re not necessarily easy, but that doesn’t mean they are not good. I’m realizing more and more that so many of life’s disappointments spring from the stem of unmet expectations. I have an expectation for what “normal” should look like; when that expectation is not met, it is easy to feel hurt, angry and/or offended. It’s easy to feel like I’m “missing out” on something I felt the “right” to have. However, am I really missing out, or do I just need to alter my expectations? What should my expectations look like anyway? Life is uncertain; God is unchanging. Life (in this age) is fleeting; God is eternal. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). He has promised that His love for me is unconditional; nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8:38-39). He has promised that His goodness and His mercy will pursue me and overtake me if I will allow Him access to my heart (Psalm 23:6). Maybe my expectation should be to love Him and trust in His love for me no matter what I’m faced with in my circumstances (Proverbs 3:5). Maybe my expectation should be in His goodness and eternal wisdom that I will probably never fully understand in this life (Isaiah 55:9). Maybe my expectation should be in the glories of the age to come and not in the sufferings of the present age (2 Corinthians 4:18). I say “maybe,” but I know it’s true.

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:8). He has us all in process, and each one’s process looks different. Some steps are delightful, and some steps are painful. Will we yield ourselves to His process, or will we insist on our own way and grow hardened if we do not receive it? Will we allow the disappointments of our unmet expectations in life beat us down or will we allow Him to use these things to shape and mold our hearts as He sees fit? One of my greatest prayers is that my heart would stay tender in Jesus’ hands. The inner response of my heart towards Him in trust and love no matter the circumstances is what He’s after. This is the only thing that will truly give me the strength to stand.