Finding Glory in the Grind

I have to admit I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I am drawn to challenges and seek out big payoffs. I am a recovering Type-A personality. As a ministry leader, I am energized by mountaintop experiences. I love embarking on new programs and initiatives. Life should always be that energizing. Well, it isn’t. Much of my job would be considered mundane and routine — preparing for meetings, paperwork, answering too many emails and other numerous administrative duties – necessary functions in ministry but with little feedback or immediate gratification. At home, I have what seems like an endless list of household duties and chores, errands and running a taxi service for teens.

Much of what I do in my family and ministry life is, indeed, routine and repetitive. I sometimes struggle with finding contentment in the daily grind of life. It is undeniable I am like a moth drawn to the light when it comes to mountaintop experiences, which tend to be electrifying and exciting; but do I have that same enthusiasm and attraction to the mundane times of the day? There tend to be many more mundane-top experiences than mountaintop experiences in most of our lives.

So, what do we do during the daily grind? Have we learned to appreciate it, to thank God for those times as much as we praise Him for adventurous, exhilarating times? We are to be reminded God calls us to serve wholly in times that are exciting and fast paced, as well as those that are slow, trusting in Him from mountaintops to plateaus in life. God calls us to serve him in the ordinary and insignificant times as well. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:23). Whatever that duty or job may be, do it with excellence as for God. With a mindset focused on Christ and not on the monotony of tasks set before us, we can find glory in the grind. We need to take our eyes off the stack of papers on our desks needing attention or the kitchen floor that beckons to be cleaned and put our attention on God, finding our worth in Him and not in what we do or in what we are involved, by solely concentrating on Him and what He did for us.

Feel to Zeal

As I reflect on the past summer months, it’s a blur. Time whizzed by:  days filled with therapies, doctor visits, family obligations, errands, ministry and work-related events. I realize I had rushed through summer missing something, yearning for something more with an empty, lost feeling.

I searched inward, looking head on into my state of discontentment, and it dawned on me I had slipped into a state of mediocrity – doing too much and nothing well. This state of mediocrity had slipped into my spiritual walk. Yep, I was in a state of humdrum Christianity. I had become lukewarm at times, just going through the motions without fervor. My enthusiasm for Christ had slipped. The busyness of life and what seemed like never-ending demands on my time as a ministry leader and mom had begun to distract my focus. I no longer had a laser focus; it had gone from laser-like to a dim flashlight. I had exchanged a zealous walk for a blasé, passionless journey.

What I needed was to find that zeal. In Romans 12:11, Paul warns us, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Easier said than done. What are some ways to keep passion in your walk with Christ? How can you find the zeal?

  1. Pray for God to change your heart for Him, to draw you near to Him.
  2. Prioritize time in the Word and with God; He must come first.
  3. Simplify life – cut out activities; say “no”.
  4. Recharge – plan for downtime
  5. Stay in community with believers

We are called to be zealous about pursuing Christ, which is much easier said than done in this crazy, complicated thing we call life. Staying zealous doesn’t come naturally; it is work and must be intentional. When we are zealous, we serve Him with abandonment. Dare today to serve Him with all you have and all you are.

Help me live my life for you. Help me to be zealous in all you ask of me. Help me to know you, love you, worship you and serve you more each day.

Second Wind

It is week three of Soaring Over Seven, a camp designed specifically for children with disabilities and their siblings, and I had begun to notice staff looking weary and a bit downtrodden. Attitudes were starting to take a dip, with some grumbling and stinking thinking creeping in, as staffers were not only physically exhausted but emotionally fatigued as well. While camp is fun and exciting, it is also demanding and oftentimes challenging.

The team had “hit the wall”, similar to what happens to a marathon runner when he or she becomes depleted of all energy once all the glycogen has been used up. For most runners, this happens around mile 18-23 out of a 26.2-mile race. At this point, the runner’s body begins looking for other energy reserves and turns to the fat cells to convert to energy. Converting fat to energy takes more oxygen; and for a period of time, the body is in oxygen deficit. Many of the camp staff were at this point. They had run out of quick energy, or human effort, and now needed to turn to another source in search of that second wind.

A second wind in running is the phenomenon where the runner, who was at one point completely exhausted, out of breath, feeling as though his or her legs were like cement, and mentally ready to throw in the towel, finds the strength to press on at top performance with less exertion and finish the race well.

Our God is the God who dishes out second winds to those who desire and pursue Him. He loves to come alongside us at our weakest times and those of brokenness. Through His Spirit, we are renewed and refreshed. Just like the runner who pushes through hitting the wall into their second wind, God gives us the strength to carry on and help us push through. We do all we can on a human level, and God does the rest. God is the God of second winds. Let him pick you up and carry you. Let Him be the energy source into which you tap.

Soaring Over Seven staff, you rock!

“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.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

A Child’s Curiosity

The other evening, while walking and talking with Alexandra, my 11-year-old granddaughter, we were discussing summer plans and goals. Alexandra shared with me one of her goals is to read 20 minutes each day during summer break. I inquired as to what book she was currently reading, which is Mocking Bird by Kathryn Erskine. 

Alexandra had purchased the book at the most recent school book fair. She was initially drawn to it by the cover design of the soft copy. She assumed she was getting a book in which the central theme or character would be about a mocking bird. To her surprise, she found it is not. She told me that, as she began to read the book, she was surprised but not disappointed at all.

The main character in the book is Katilyn, an 11-year-old girl, who is a bright student and artist learning to navigate life after the death of her older brother. Alexandra spoke of some of the life challenges facing the main character and then mentioned Katilyn had something called “Asperger’s”.

I responded by telling her I know what Asperger’s is and actually know several people diagnosed with it. I asked Alexandra if she knew what Asperger’s is, and she didn’t but thought it might be something like Autism. What an opportunity, a teachable moment in which to expand disability awareness.

I explained Asperger’s as a condition where a person’s brain processes information differently from individuals without Asperger’s, and the person oftentimes has difficulty understanding social situations, such as making friends. I explained people with Asperger’s are as different as she and I in our interests, likes, and dislikes. I shared with her people often think children with Asperger’s and those on the Autism spectrum don’t want friends, which is untrue; most of those children simply do not understand how to create and maintain friendships. Just like in the book, Katilyn received support from her counselor on navigating friends and relationships.

I continued to answer my granddaughter’s questions – the whole series of “But, why?” - with the best, most succinct answers I could provide, the entire time weaving in the idea that all children have a desire to be loved, valued and included. All are unique with strengths and abilities, created by a loving gracious God, a God who is perfect and all He creates reflects His image. 

Tips for Talking with School-Age Children about Disability

 1.       Create opportunities and environments for open dialogue; welcome and encourage such conversations.

2.       Answer questions matter of factly, giving appropriate level of information based on the age of child.

3.       Choose words carefully; stay clear of words or phrases with negative connotations, e.g. retardation, crippled and handicapped.

4.       Practice “people first” language, such as “child with Autism” or “classmate with Down Syndrome” instead of “autistic kid” or “Downs child”.

5.       Accentuate similarities and common interests/ground, as children with disabilities are more similar to typical children than they are different.

6.       Talk about each child’s strengths and positive qualities.

7.       Celebrate diversity – in ability levels, racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

8.       Acknowledge how boring life would be if we are all exactly the same. Variety is the spice of life.

9.       Foster inclusive friendships. All children desire friends; some children just have more challenges in making them. Friendships boost self-esteem, confidence and independence in all children.

Remind children all kids are a unique masterpiece created by a loving God.

The Heart of A Parent

I can’t help but be tickled every time I read the heartfelt sentiments from Ethan’s mom included at the end of this post. See, many people might believe Ethan lacks intellect and potential due to his Autism, but I know differently. I have known Ethan since kindergarten, even before his parents had an official diagnosis for him. Over the years, I have watched Ethan grow into a teenager.

Sure, he loves food, as do most teenage boys; he will hunt down pizza and oreos. Ethan is prone to laziness, as many teens are, and oftentimes needs to be motivated, cajoled, gently coached, and often bribed to participate in activities.

He has his favorite things to do, as do we all. He is a video guy and has a great facination with Mr. Potato Head, a facination only a loyal fan would have, since his adoration began in kindergarten.

Ethan is a young man of few words unless required to use them. It is easier for him to point instead of speak; but since Ethan has language, it is more desirable to have him use his words.

Ethan is special in God’s eyes and in mine. Made perfect by the Master Creator and Image Bearer of God, Ethan is a gift and joy to serve.

Following is Ethan’s mom’s letter to our Access volunteers….

“Thank you to each and every one of you who has been part of Ethan’s church life…

  • You who saw God’s love in him.
  • You who made him smile and you who smiled at him even if it seemed he didn’t care.
  • You who gently stood your ground even if it meant risking an “Ethan meltdown”.
  • You who did his art projects for him (we know he didn’t do it!)
  • You who made him love coming to church.
  • You who braved the cupboard battle with him.
  • You who made him speak when he wanted to make you think he can’t.
  • And last but not the least…you who always hooked him up with Mr. P in his room :D  

Our family thanks you for all you do.  You are in Ethan’s nightly prayers and we are so grateful to have each one of you in Ethan’s life.”

Jesus Loves You And Me

Every time I watch this video clip of Madison singing her rendition of the children’s classical hymn “Jesus Loves Me”, I smile from ear to ear. Madison’s parents sent in the clip full of gratitude that their precious child is not only loved and embraced in her Sunday school class but is activly learning God’s truths.

“Jesus Loves Me” was first written as a poem and later became a song. The verse and chorus are so simple yet so significant:

“Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”

In Mark 10:14b, Jesus tells His disciples “Let the little children come to me…”. Children have a special place in God’s heart, as do the weak. Jesus held the children in His arms and blessed them. His invitation to let the children come was an inclusive command for all children to come to Him, regardless of ability, as He is fully accessible to all.

We must do everything we can to bring the children to Him, whether typical children or those with disability, so they can experience the love, grace and goodness of our Heavenly Father.

Compassion Fatigue

I was doing some reading the other day and came across a term that caught my attention causing me to reflect and want to learn more:  “compassion fatigue”. Sure, I knew what each word meant independent of the other, but I had never heard the two used together. I began to do a bit of research on the term and found it originated in the 1950s, referring to the nursing community, in particular those involved in high-level care of patients.

Compassion fatigue refers to a condition in which an individual/caregiver grows less and less sympathetic to a particular circumstance over time. Because of the condition, individuals are at risk for depression, a sense of hopelessness, high levels of stress and anxiety, and a negative attitude in general.

Compassion fatigue is often felt in the medical community by those providing care to the sick, both psychologically and physically. It also frequently occurs among first responders, men and women in the police and fire department, teachers and counselors (especially those working with children with disabilities or in the underprivileged or poor areas). High rates of compassion fatigue also occur with rescue workers, dental professionals, and veterinarians.

Compassion fatigue is certainly common among special-needs parents and ministry workers/leaders caring for children with disabilities (more specifically, those ministry workers who are providing a level of direct care). This compassion fatigue may partly explain seasons of my life both personally and in ministry when I can honestly say I had compassion deficits or was lacking in grace; however, as we are called to imitate Christ, we must be compassionate, caring individuals.

Jesus demonstrated compassion for the multitudes (Matthew 9:36, 14:14). The Bible speaks to compassion fatigue in 2 Corinthians 4:1, “As we have received mercy, we don’t lose heart.” And we are reminded in Galatians 6:9 to not grow tired from doing good. In 2 Thessalonians 3:13, Paul encourages believers, “As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.”

How did Jesus avoid compassion fatigue from the constant demands and needs of the masses to care and heal those with whom he came in contact?

  • He took time off.
  • He would slip away to be with God. (Luke 5:16)
  • He maintained boundaries and was able to say no. “And after he sent the multitudes away….” (Matthew 14:23)
  • He prioritized his time and kept the main thing the main thing. “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35)
  • Typically those in a season of compassion fatigue tend to try to do more, only to accomplish less. Let’s admit it:  as caring, loving people, whether parents, caregivers or ministry leaders, we are wired to care; and good easily falls into compassion fatigue if we fail to practice basic spiritual disciplines and self-care. You are the most important person in your life, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14) You must first take care of you and your relationship with God by taking positive steps to combat compassion fatigue.
  • Prayer and meditation
  • Reflection and study of His word
  • Healthy living
    • Sleep and rest
    • Diet
    • Exercise
  • Maintain balance:  work hard, play hard.
  • Cultivate hobbies and interests outside of caregiving or ministry.
  • Create a circle of support:  family and friends.
  • Just say no:  practice the art of self-management.

The very first step in dealing with compassion fatigue is developing an awareness and acknowledging it is real. Caregivers, parents and ministry workers involved in continuous direct care of the sick, needy and oppressed day in and day out are very much at risk. There is a high cost to caring, which includes physical and emotional toil on the one providing care. We must be proactive by balancing a high focus on self-care and being dependent on God for our strength.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Rest from Stress

 

Getting stuck in the cycle of worry is like a dog chasing its tail:  a lot of energy expended and not getting anywhere.  Stuck in the same pattern, unable to move on, and quite frankly, it’s exhausting. That sums up last week for me.

As a ministry leader and special-needs mom, my days were filled with more-than-usual clamoring voices with requests, demands, needs, and a to-do list that continued to grow with nothing getting crossed off as completed. Ministry work and home life collided more than usual as I had to deal with my son’s IEP issues in school, therapy concerns, the completion of a new physiological assessment complete with a possible new diagnosis, two behavioral emergencies, and, on top of that, a typical teenage daughter and the drama that goes with that.

Breathe in…1…2…3…. Breathe out…1…2…3…. As I focused more on my circumstances, my anxiety level increased and eventually was off the chart as I worried and fretted about how to solve all the challenges that were now on my plate. I am fixer by nature and, by default, fall into that mode. Being a mom is tough work, and life is complicated. Being a mom of a child with special needs bumps up the level of complication and challenges on most days. I had entered into a place of great worry and stress by focusing on the demands, challenges, and possible solutions brought on by the issues of the week. Focusing on what was in front of me took my eyes off Jesus. Shutting God out in the process and pushing Him out of the daily happenings of the days placed me in a cycle of perpetual worry and stress.

By Friday night, I’d had all I could take and realized I needed a break from stress caused by obsessive worry. I needed rest. Only then was I able to reflect on my great God and how broad His shoulders are. He invites us to bring all our troubles, worries and burdens to Him to carry. “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Rest does not happen on its own; it is something that needs to be intentional and purposeful. I needed rest from stress. I have to seek God first, and then rest follows. We need to trust God and His goodness and greatness. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled, trust in God, and trust in me also” (John 14:1) Give everything and every part of the day to Him. God is bigger than any struggle, situation or challenge in your life. God stands there with His arms wide open, beckoning us to come and give Him all our worries, troubles and trials. We only need to follow and keep our eyes on Him at all times.

“God, stretch my faith. Help me know nothing is too hard or difficult for you. You are bigger than anything and everything going on in my life and have the perfect plan.”

Because of you, I am a better leader!

The Accessibility Summit 2012 has come and gone. What a wonderful weekend of reconnecting with dear friends and making new ones. The Summit flies by each year and becomes a blur of busyness and hustle-and-bustle. The nine months of planning is consumed in the 36 hours of actual Summit weekend.

This year’s Summit kicked off with a special leaders lunch to honor and thank those giving of their time and talents to serve and empower those with disablities. Twenty-one leaders came together to network, share  and fellowship before the evening events began. The Summit was filled with wonderful keynote speakers Eustacia Cutler and Patrick Henry Hughes, and informative workshop presenters.

After 30 breakout sessions came the post-conference workshops. This year, the post-conference session “Staying Balanced and Passionate about Disability Ministry” was an amazing opportunity for me personally. Collectively, I  and the four panelists, Aaron Scheffler, Hamony Hensley, Amy Kendall and Jodi Graff, possess over 54 years of experience in disability ministry and outreach. Hearing each speak from their hearts on the passion and love they feel each day as they go to work and what tricks and tactics keep them balanced encouraged and uplifted me. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT) I am a better leader from having spent time in the presence of these Godly servants. As a group, we came together to share ideas and strategies on how to keep ministry a marathon and not a sprint:  how to stay in love with ministry, those we serve, and  to be totally dependent on God in all seasons of ministry. Below is a list of some of those ways to stay balanced and passionate:

  1. Take care of yourself first, physically and emotionally. Practice self-care and preventive health.
  2. You are never too busy to spend time with God—in busy seasons, adjust your quiet time and prayer life (you may need to get up earlier or cut out some other activity).
  3. Be in biblical community, and have a prayer partner.
  4. Know your ministry vision, and be able to articulate that vision to others.
  5. Write out personal life goals, and review them regularly throughout the year.
  6. Invest in family and friendships; be present and in the moment.
  7. Build a networking group of leaders with similar interests or ministry to bounce ideas around and get feedback.
  8. Develop hobbies and interests.
  9. Maintain a sense of humor — have fun at work and outside of work. Laughter is good medicine.
  10. Control your schedule, or someone else will. Use a system, whether it’s a paper planner or smart phone.
  11. Build teams, and give ministry away; many hands make light work.
  12. Have a Paul and Timothy in your life; mentor someone and have someone mentor you.
  13. Value your time off; turn off phones and email.
  14. Learn the fine art of saying no, and be okay with it. Effective leaders need to learn to say no.
  15. Remove toxic people from your life and ministry.
  16. Deal with conflict using the Matthew 18 model.
  17. Don’t worry about pleasing people; focus on pleasing God.
  18. Never stop learning; be a sponge.
  19. Every morning, the first thing you decide is your attitude; make the right choice.

I’d like to thank the amazing leaders who shared their insights on what keeps them fueled and their fires burning brightly for Christ and the ministries in which He has them. Thanks, Aaron (Mark 2 Ministries), Harmony (Key Ministry), Amy K. (Saddleback Church), and Jodi Graff (North Pointe Community Church in Canada). Because of you I am a better leader!

Children’s Ministry and Autism

It was no surprise last week when CDC (Center for Disease Control) announced the latest findings regarding the alarming increase in Autism incidents. The research sited a swift rise in cases of Autism, a 78% increase from 2002 to 2008. In 2002, 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with Autism compared to 1 in 88 in 2008. Autism affects one million children in the USA and is associated with a spectrum of disabilities, including repetitive behaviors, social deficits, communication challenges and inflexibility. Many children with Autism have high IQs, while others have cognitive challenges.

While the medical community continues to debate the suspected causes of Autism, ranging from a genetic link to environmental factors, one thing is undeniable:  we as the church need to make ways for the families impacted by Autism and other disabilities to belong to community and to be loved by the church, as God loves. Many of those changes, considerations and modifications need to begin in children’ s ministry.

Houses of faith should intentionally seek out and bring in the families of children with Autism, who more needs God’s love, grace and mercy than a family in need or crisis. As a special-needs mom, I can attest to the fact that I and other parents spend a lot of time in crisis mode. Being intentional about bringing in these families begins with a changed heart, a commitment to love like Jesus, and then equipping leaders and volunteers with the necessary tools and knowledge to get their jobs done. Children’s ministry training needs to include disability etiquette, disability awareness, and curriculum differentiation/modifications, as well as behavior management and sensory needs of the child with Autism. These and other topics should no longer be left to the expert or special educator but to every childcare worker and church leader. With 1 in 88 children now diagnosed with Autism, this population will have a huge impact on children coming into church and ministry. A children’s ministry of 500 children would potentially have 6 or more children with Autism in addition to other children with other special needs. What do we do to train children’s ministry staff, leaders and volunteers to better include, engage, reach and teach God’s word to all His children of all abilities? What are some basic teaching tips?

Click here to see a list of downloadable materials from our Access Ministry website.

Following are a few tips to consider:

  • Give children warnings before transitions; provide countdowns or timers to the next activity.
  • Set expectations high; believe every child can learn and achieve.
  • Vary goals based on children’s ability levels.
  • Treat children with empathy, not sympathy.
  • Capitalize on children’s strengths or areas of focus; get to know what excites each student.
  • Know what each child does independently and what they need assistance with.
  • Allow extra processing time when instruction, directions or multiple steps are given.
  • Use visual aids and schedules to help cue children; vary modalities while teaching.
  • Be patient with behaviors; begin to look at the function of a behavior—what need does it meet?
  • Praise students for appropriate behaviors.
  • Use nonverbal communication strategies:  learn basic sign language, and use picture symbols.
  • Most importantly of all, welcome these children into programming. Let them experience God’s love through you as you become the hands and feet of Christ. Have the same inclusive mindset our God does:  all are welcome; He excludes none.