Humbled and Hungry

Recently, Aaron and Gary had both been feeling puny.  In fact, they had each been tested for COVID.  Thankfully, both were negative. 

When a family member is sick, I slip into full-on caregiver mode – which means I usually hit the kitchen and start cooking.  I did this last Monday, making a huge pot of potato soup.  It was way more than the three of us needed but that’s the way I roll.

We sat down to eat that evening, where Aaron declared that he didn’t like potato soup and that he would not eat. 

“That’s fine,” I said.  “Suit yourself.”

Gary and I proceeded to eat.  Finally, realizing that I was not offering another option to him, Aaron begrudgingly agreed to try a small amount.  Three bowls later, he left our table full and happy.

“I liked the potato soup, Mom,” he told me later.  I just smiled and thanked him, not telling him that I knew he would because he had eaten it before and loved it.

Sometimes Aaron needs to see that I am not going to give in to what he wants.  I will allow him to get hungry in order for him to learn that the food I have made is good and that he needs to eat what is offered. 

How amazing it was that the passage I read in Deuteronomy 8 happened right after this object lesson!

Moses was reminding the Israelites about the reasons God had told them to obey Him and to remember all the ways He had led them. 

And then in verse three:

            “He humbled you, and let you be hungry…”

God let them be hungry.

Why?

So that He could feed them with the manna that He provided.  There was nothing they could do in the desert to feed themselves.  He gave them what they needed, and in their hunger…a hunger he allowed…He showed them a great truth.

“…that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” 

I didn’t enjoy seeing Aaron hungry.  It would have been easy for me to rush in and offer him something I knew he liked just so he would eat.  But if I did, then he would have missed an important lesson:  You eat what Mom has provided.

I can look at my life and see that there are many times when I don’t understand the way that God has led or the events that He has allowed. 

I ask why.  At the time, a decision seemed to be wise and right, but it led to situations that were hard.  Sometimes those ongoing situations are the very ones that roll around in my brain in the dark night hours.

But I have learned to push those circumstances aside and to look at God Who loves me without fail.  And I know…I KNOW…that the hard times – the times I am humbled and hungry…are by His design and His allowance.

God isn’t being mean when He allows me to experience hunger.  He knows that in my hunger I will be more aware of His provision, and I will learn that I do indeed live and eat and prosper only through His food that He provides.

His words to me are manna and life and strength.

And I will come to Him one day, hopefully, full of His Words that I have eaten, and I will thank Him for the hunger that brought me to the place of being satisfied with His goodness.

“How sweet are Your words to my taste!  Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  (Psalm 119:103)

A Setback…But God

Seizures have been a part of Aaron’s life…and ours…since he was in the first grade.  He had his first seizure at home on a Sunday afternoon, out of the blue and utterly terrifying.  God was so good to let me be standing right behind Aaron when it happened there in our military apartment in Germany.  I was able to catch him.  If not, he would have fallen onto the hard kitchen floor and received a serious hit to the back of his head.

His seizures have morphed over the years, as seizures do, seeming to eventually bypass all the medicines and treatments that can be provided.  The majority of his seizures occur in clusters during his sleep, most often at night.  These clusters carry their own dangers, one of which is SUDEP – Sudden Death by Epilepsy.  Those words from his epilepsy doctors over the years always send a chill down my spine.

Aaron has occasionally had drop seizures here and there.  A drop seizure happens when Aaron is fully awake.  They hit suddenly, with no warning to us.  Aaron will fall either forward or backward like a downed tree, not able to break his fall. 

A few years ago, he began having more and more of these drop seizures.  He sustained significant injuries.  Cuts, scrapes, bruising, stitches, a fractured tooth that had to be pulled, and very hard hits to his head. 

Finally, on March 9, 2019, Aaron had a drop seizure on our stairs.  He had walked up a couple steps, then fell backward, and hit his head on a metal file cabinet handle.  He ended up with 8 staples in his head.  It was awful!

When we got home from the emergency room and checked our mail, there was a letter from our insurance company approving Aaron for the new pharmaceutical CBD oil, Epidiolex.  We had experimented with over-the-counter oils from good sources but had no success.  His Epileptologist couldn’t provide any guidance for those OTC oils, legally.  As soon as the FDA approved Epidiolex, Dr. Lee put in our request for approval.  Now here it was, on the same day that Aaron had fallen…a visual and sad example of why we really wanted to try this new drug. 

Dr. Lee was able to oversee Epidiolex since it was FDA approved and obtained through a prescription.  Over the next few months, we adjusted Aaron’s dose and tweaked another medicine and waited to, hopefully, see positive results. 

And we did!  Aaron’s drop seizures totally stopped!  We were elated, and soon began to relax.  Our fear over those horrible and dangerous seizures slowly went away.

Until this past Thursday. 

Aaron and I delivered for Meals on Wheels in the morning.  We enjoyed lunch at a cute Mexican restaurant.  Then home, where Aaron took a nap…and had a seizure while he slept.  This is nothing uncommon.

Later, as I was getting supper on the table, Gary had just come into the kitchen.  He was standing right beside Aaron when suddenly Aaron lurched and went into a seizure.  But instead of Aaron falling into the table and a chair, and landing on the floor, Gary was able to catch him.  This was truly from God, that Gary was there beside Aaron instead of across the room.  We were so thankful!

We got Aaron safely on the floor.  Such disappointment filled us both! 

Almost two years since a drop seizure, and now this. 

We hurt so for Aaron.

And I felt that familiar fear.  It had come back. 

But I also felt something else.  I felt God’s peace pushing back on the fear.  I forced myself to focus on God…His love and His plan for Aaron, and for us.  That knowledge was the best push-back on the fear that threatened to fill me.

I also thought about Mary’s response to the angel when she learned of the very hard path that God had chosen for her…the path of unwed pregnancy in a time when she was no doubt shunned and gossiped about and disbelieved.

Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)

Total submission.

Like the writer of Hebrews said, “Now the God of peace…equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us THAT WHICH IS PLEASING IN HIS SIGHT, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen.”  (Hebrews 13:20-21)

God has been working on me this past year about being willing to pray in submission…being willing to say, “God, whatever it takes…”

Just two days before this latest drop seizure, I had been reading about Mary and then this benediction in Hebrews. 

I don’t know what it is…what it will take…for me to please God. 

But I do know that I need to be willing to let God do in me…and in Aaron…that which is pleasing in HIS sight, even when it may not be pleasing in mine.

Even when it hurts, deeply.

“Submission is preferable to consolation, for consolation pleases us but submission pleases God.”  (Thomas Hog, 1692)

Who is it that I most want to please? 

It’s tough when my submission involves my child.  I love Aaron.  I love all our children. 

But a huge area of my close walk with God, which I truly desire, is to be able to submit “whatever it takes” concerning my children as well.

I humanly want the consolations of God…the closeness and assurance that I feel when He blesses me, and them, with wonderful things.

But true submission to God comes only when I am willing to relinquish all the warm fuzzies for the stark hardship that often comes when the deepest lessons…and blessings…are allowed to occur.

Allowed to occur because I am submitted to God. 

God won’t bully me into submission.  Submission happens when I open my hands and release my desires to Him, trusting Him to do what He knows is best.

Even drop seizures, if they do start again, are somehow being allowed by God in Aaron’s life and in ours. 

The sky just before Aaron’s seizure that evening was so beautiful.  I have only to look up and know that God is there for us. 

The heavens declare the glory of God…and I want to do the same, as well.

Barren

It happened to me again two nights ago.  I was sinking into sleep when I think, honestly, that I snorted and woke myself up.  😊

But then I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Instead, I lay there thinking of a picture I had seen just before bed.  Happy news for someone else created in me a longing for some things I don’t have. 

These are the moments that Satan loves.  He uses the tender areas of my heart’s desires to create in me an unsettled feeling.  The dark of the night is his perfect setting to speak words of doubt and unhappiness into my head. 

I’m a captive audience at that point.  The choice is mine. 

Whose voice will I listen to? 

So, I prayed and I thought of scripture.  I eventually went to sleep.  But I awoke the next morning feeling the weight of my burdens still lingering on my shoulders.

This morning I continued in a new study I just began yesterday in the book of Luke.  Right away we meet the priest, Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth.  They were both righteous in the sight of God and walked in blameless obedience to God. 

They were old.

They were faithful to God.

And Elizabeth was barren.

In their culture, having children was everything. 

They had nothing, in a sense.

I think of Elizabeth beyond the stories we always hear and the ending that we know well.

I think of her hearing with sadness of the pregnancy of yet another friend.  Of probably faking joy when deep inside she is grieving over what she doesn’t have.  Of perhaps not feeling included in the years of family gatherings, celebrations, large happy holidays…

Of laying awake at night, bombarded with these realities, alone and with a broken heart.

And though we know the end of the story, that God gave her a child, she did not know that this blessing would be in her future.

“…there are those who are true servants of the Lord and yet some trial, some disappointment, that may be life-long, hangs over their lives.  ‘Righteous before God’ yet ‘they had no child’.  A very huge fact and a very deep sadness are pressed together.”   (Dale Ralph Davis)

Do you have a barren place?  An unfulfilled desire that eats away at you in the dark stillness of the night?

I do.

We all do.

What ARE we to do?

We are to live faithfully, in daily obedience to God.

We are to “Commit our way to the Lord…”  (Psalm 37:5)  That means to roll our burdens on the Lord’s strong shoulders.  Literally, that’s what it means.

“…God does His most impressive works in a context of impossibility.”  (Davis)

No BUTS…unless we say, “BUT God!!”

Will God give me what I want? 

I have no idea.

The real question should be:  Will I allow God to put HIS wants into my heart?

Will I want to walk with God so closely that His desires become my focus?

“God tends to begin His finest works in the face of human hopelessness and human weakness.”  (Davis)

Walking faithfully with God doesn’t mean we’ll never have our barren places.

But may we, in the barren, bear the fruit that only God can produce in us, to His glory.

Broken Lights

Aaron followed me into the dining room the other day.  I wasn’t paying attention to him behind me as I worked on our Christmas village. 

“Mom, look!” Aaron said.

I turned to see him staring intently at our little tree that is full of my Grandma Holly’s handmade ornaments, made with love so many years ago.  This was a pre-lit tree, but as so often happens, those bulbs had long since burned out.  I had replaced them with another strand of lights but left the unlit lights on the tree – hidden, so I thought, by the new lights. 

“This light bulb doesn’t work!” Aaron exclaimed.  And as his eyes roamed over the tree branches, he pointed out other broken small bulbs. 

“Here’s another one!” he said.  “And here…and here…and here,” he continued as he pointed to each one.

Aaron had gotten close enough to see the broken, while standing farther away, I could only see the soft lights of that new strand that worked.

I am studying through the book of Numbers.  Now that book doesn’t exactly stir excitement in one’s blood, but I have learned that in Bible books we usually consider to be dull there are amazing truths from God…golden nuggets that shine brightly!

The setting of Numbers is the wilderness of Sinai where Israel wandered for 40 years on their way to the promised land.  They should have gotten to the promised land much sooner than 40 years, but because of their sin God made them travel for 40 long years. 

They were a broken nation full of broken families.  Broken by sin…by their willful turning from God.

But look at the VERY first verse:

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting…”

God did NOT give up!  God spoke to His people through Moses.  Again and again, God reached down to those stubborn people and spoke.

“Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him.”   (Numbers 7:89) 

“Moses had so much to talk to God about and, as the long journey progressed, each new day brought its fresh load of pastoral concerns, unreasonable complaints, arrogant accusations.  Yet, desperate as he was to talk about his problems, Moses was overwhelmed with a priority greater than speaking.  The Tent of Meeting became the place of attentive listening.  Moses heard the voice…And He spoke with him.”   (Raymond Brown, The Message of Numbers)

The place where God spoke was the mercy seat, the place of forgiveness of sin.  Sin blocks our communication with God, but at the place of forgiveness we are once again receptive to the voice of God.

Oh, how broken we are today! 

A broken nation…broken families…broken people.

No election, no Supreme Court, no political party can ever fix this mess we are in at this point in history.

Sin, national and personal, has blocked our ability to hear God speak.

But at this time of year, this Christmas season, we see hope for each of us.

Hope came in the form of a baby…God’s only Son…given to this old dark world to be the Light of the world!

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14)

The word “dwelt” means to pitch a tent.  God sent Jesus to live among the people…to pitch His tent much as the tent in the wilderness. 

This is how much God loves us and how much He wants to fix our broken.  We meet Him at the place of forgiveness where we confess our sin and trust His Son to be our Savior. 

Like Aaron, when we look closely we see all the brokenness of this world.  We see lights that don’t work.

But when we allow Jesus to forgive and to redeem, we step back and see that He is indeed the light of the world.

THIS is the message of Christmas! 

Jesus is our only hope today. 

He alone can fix our broken mess.  Please come to know Him today and listen to His voice in the place of forgiveness. 

The Cold Snap

We have a little bush in our front flower bed, a perennial that we planted probably 17 years ago.  In fact, I can’t even remember the name of this little bush, so I just call it that – Little Bush.  This hardy bush keeps its leaves on all year long, which is part of its charm.  In the summer the leaves are green with some maroon mixed in, and in the fall and winter the leaves are mostly maroon.  Small berries also grow among the leaves in the fall, so by Christmas it seems to be all decorated for the season.  I really like my Little Bush!

Last year, though, probably starting in March, I noticed that Little Bush didn’t look so healthy.  Its leaves that always stay were falling off, until finally only stark, naked branches were there.

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This was quite unusual, and I was worried.  Was I finally going to lose my long lasting little bush?  Was there something that I could do to save it?

I kept looking at Little Bush, wondering what had happened.  Then one day an article in the newspaper caught my attention.  The headline said something about how certain trees and bushes in Wichita were losing their leaves.  I read the information with interest because of my little bush.  The writer explained that earlier in the winter we had experienced several nights when temperatures had dipped to -10 degrees or lower.  These frigid temperatures had damaged some trees and bushes that normally held their leaves all winter.

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There was my explanation, I thought.  This cold snap had damaged Little Bush.  Then the article went on to assure gardeners not to worry but to be patient…that most trees and bushes would begin to grow again in the warmth of spring because their roots were not damaged by the extreme cold.

So I waited and I observed.  I checked my little bush routinely and sure enough one day I saw tiny new leaves emerging on the empty twigs.

 

As time went on and the days passed, the warm spring sun and the rains did their restorative work.  Little Bush grew…

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And grew…

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Until finally Little Bush was back, as pretty as ever!

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I’ve had some cold snaps in my life, too…times and events that came unexpectedly and with little or no warning.  Everyone has.

Cold snaps hurt.  And they take many various forms.

An illness.  A diagnosis.  Sudden death.  Lingering death.  Rejection.  Accusation.  Betrayal.  Job loss.  Divorce.  A prodigal.  Regret.  Guilt.

I remember my dad’s victory over lung cancer…how relieved and thankful we were when treatments were complete and he was in remission.  But before the five-year mark came the blood work and the testing and the phone call…liver cancer…inoperable…four more years of chemo…hospice…

Cold snap.  Recovery.  Then another cold snap.

But through it all, our family verse brought us each the warmth and the hope that we needed: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.”  (Psalm 46:1)

Sometimes our hard times…our cold snaps…make us feel like David when he said, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long – “Where is your God?”  (Psalm 42:3)

Where is God in our pain?  Oh, He hasn’t gone anywhere!  He’s a very PRESENT help in our trouble, remember?  He’s right here with us.

Right after David said his tears were his food, he said, “Why are you in despair, oh my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His PRESENCE.”  (Psalm 42:5)

My little bush had hope because its roots were secure, and so do we who know and follow Christ.  We have hope in our despair because we know that God is sovereign…He is in control…He has a plan…He is present…and He has a purpose for the cold snaps that rock our world.

“I called on Your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit.  You have heard my voice.  Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.  You drew near when I called on You.  You said – “Do not fear!”  (Lamentations 3:55-57)

God is near in our pain…near in our pondering…near in our praise that arises even out of hurt and unanswered questions.

I love these lyrics of Jeremy Camp’s song, He Knows:

 

All the bitter weary ways

Endless striving day by day

You barely have the strength to pray

In the valley low.

And how hard your fight has been

How deep the pain within

Wounds that no one else has seen

Hurts too much to show.

All the doubt you’re standing in between

And all the weight that brings you to your knees.

 

He knows

He knows

Every hurt and every sting

He has walked the suffering.

He knows

He knows

Let your burdens come undone

Lift your eyes up to the one

Who knows

He knows.

 

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Fixing the Broken

Last night I felt like this:

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Mangled.  Broken.  Greatly in need of repair.

These were Aaron’s glasses a couple weeks ago after an incident at his day group.  Mixing all the various special needs can at times be volatile.  Even I, who have dealt with many pairs of broken glasses, was surprised at the level of damage done to this pair.  I honestly wasn’t sure that they could be fixed.

I took the rather hopeless mess that used to be glasses into our eye doctor’s office a couple days later.  I hoped that maybe, just maybe, they really weren’t beyond repair.  The kind technician couldn’t hide the look of surprise on her face, which didn’t fill me confidence that anything could be done for them.

Imagine my surprise, though, when before long she returned with this:

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WOW!!  Talk about a miracle re-do of what I thought was hopeless!  She received my profuse thanks with a smile on her face and the comment that she loved a good challenge.  I’m thankful that she did, indeed!

Being the mother and caregiver of an adult special needs “child” with behaviors can be exhausting…physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  I believe that about covers it.  And while I don’t want to come across as complaining, facts are facts and truth is truth.

If there’s one thing I’ve wanted to be on this blog, it’s truthful…truthful without being unkind to Aaron in my honesty.  Talking about being truthful, Aaron is just that…at least in his mind.  He has few filters, and totally does not get social norms.  He is often unaware of other’s feelings.  He gets stuck in his own mind about certain issues and is truly stunning in his inabililty to switch gears and judge those issues with good reasoning.  His own comfort is paramount to him, most of the time, so if his comfort is interrupted or his wishes unmet, we are often met with his anger.

And I get tired.  I get angry.  I did last night, when Aaron who had been happy decided to be rude just before bed.  He and I didn’t have our normal cheerful bedtime routine.  He was still out of bed, on his computer, when I went to bed.  I didn’t even challenge him.  I have no idea when he went to sleep.

I spent time with the Lord this morning, reading about the compassion of Jesus and knowing that I needed that same compassion for Aaron.  Somehow, it’s easier to show compassion for ones I seldom or only occasionally see.  Showing that similar level of compassion for Aaron can be very hard to do over the long term, day after day.

I was very surprised this morning to hear Aaron’s floor creaking before 7:30. Most mornings I must roust him out of bed…very unhappily on both our parts, I might add.  I thought this morning he would definitely be a hibernating bear, but no, he was awake and downstairs early.

He knocked politely on the bathroom door, and when I opened it with some dread, I was so relieved to see him with bright eyes and a sweet smile.  He even received the hug I offered!  We were off to a good start!

We sat in the living room, enjoying the warm fall decorations and soft twinkling lights.  I had intended to sit there and pray, but sitting with Aaron was important, I knew.  We talked softly about some of this and some of that.  Then Aaron decided that he could take his pills, but I reminded him that it was too early.  He wondered why, and once again I explained how he really should take them about 12 hours apart.

“So, Aaron, it’s nearly 8:00 right now,” I began.

He immediately looked at his left arm, pushed up his sweater sleeve, and gazed down at his wristwatch perched halfway up his arm.  I just watched with a smile on my face, waiting for what I knew was coming.

“It’s not 8:00,” he blandly stated as he stared down at his watch.

“Well, I just meant that it’s ALMOST 8:00,” I explained.

“It’s 7:41,” he flatly continued.

Gone was the lesson on the 12-hour rule.  Gone was my caring at all at that point about the 12-hour rule!  In its place was my laughter, deep from inside…much needed laughter.

And Aaron tolerated my laughter, even though he had no idea why the time of 7:41 made Mom laugh.  Many times, Aaron gets angry when I laugh, so I don’t…until he is out of earshot.  But today Aaron let me laugh.  This was a gift.

Later, we sat at the table where Aaron ate a plate full of fried eggs with the yellow hard the way he likes them and where he talked and talked and talked…about separatist droid armies and Trandoshans and commandos and clones…and anything but heart matters.  Or the 12-hour rule.

But it was good.  Very good.

It was our normal.

And it was a gift.  A gift from the same God Who also fills our hearts…my heart…with love and compassion for our Aaron.

I know all too well that we’ll have this again:

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But I also know that we’ll have this:

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Thanks to God who fixes our broken!

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  (Psalm 147:3)

 

 

 

The Battered Pepper Plant

Written a few years ago:

Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night.  It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds.  When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over.  I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm.  I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.

 

 

I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil.  “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought.  And that’s what I did.  I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure.  So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.

 

 

This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash.  They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs.  Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt.  Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green.  They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them.  And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm.  They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm.  Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived.  And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months.  I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs.  So many heartaches from so much suffering!  What’s a person to do?  And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?

 

James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue.  He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  James said what?  Consider it joy when we suffer?  I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.”  Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well?  We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions.  Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself.  Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.

 

James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy.  He explains, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties.  Notice the word “under.”  Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear.  No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives.  Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.

 

Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally.  How do we do that, anyway?  Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life.  Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt.  But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.”  We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us.  We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts.  That’s called faith.  Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.

 

I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition.  And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing.  James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development.  He also says that I will lack nothing.  My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart.  Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.

 

Like the hymn writer said:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.

 

 In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

 

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

 

So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy.  Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.

 

And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone.  He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.

 

It’s so good to know that God is in control.  He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him.  May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.

 

 

 

 

Lens #1

Last week, I once again took Aaron to his yearly eye exam.  Doctor visits are always an adventure with Aaron.  Waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room is also a test of my patience.   Aaron stretches and wants to lay down.

 

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Or he eyes the tempting equipment and tools that the doctor uses, trying to pick them up and test them out before I tell him to stop.

 

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As I sat with Aaron last week and watched him during the exam, I was reminded of the following post from a couple years ago.  This was such a funny moment for me!   Here is what I wrote:

 

I took Aaron to his yearly eye exam today. God bless Aaron’s eye doctor. Next week I’ll be saying, “God bless Aaron’s dental hygienist,” but today all blessings go his eye doctor and to the staff. Oh, Aaron isn’t mean. He just has a very difficult time understanding what the doctor needs from him…..how to express what he is seeing or not seeing clearly…..opening his eyes wide…..not leaning back from every instrument that comes toward his eyes…..things like that. There was one very funny interchange, though, during the exam. You know how the doctor wants you to tell which lens helps you to see the letters on the wall the clearest.

 

Dr. Nelson: Aaron, is number one better? Or number two?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK. Now which is better? Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try again. Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: You mean number three….here…..or number four…..here.

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try these. Number five, or number six.

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try number seven…..

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK, let’s not do numbers anymore. Is this one better, or this one better?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

HaHaHaHa!!!!!! How I wanted to belly laugh!! I do believe that number one was the winner, don’t you??!! 😎😵🤣

 

However accurate Lens #1 was, Aaron was sure that this was the lens he liked the best.  He didn’t waver one bit from that determination.

I’ve been thinking about this as I look at my own life, and the lives of many that I know and love.

Through what lens am I looking at my life?

I just ran upstairs to be with Aaron as he had another seizure today.  I’m thankful he was lying down, so there was no falling and no injuries.  But his seizures, especially after all these years, are serious and scary.  As we get older, and as Aaron gets older, Gary and I do wonder about our future and his future.

In the past days, I have communicated with family and friends who are enduring all kinds of trials.  Two with aggressive and serious forms of cancer, out of the blue.  Tragic family issues.  Separation.  Divorce.  Friends who just bought a house and now he lost his job, literally overnight with no warning.  Lots of chronic health issues with no end in sight.

So much suffering! And the way that I view suffering depends upon which lens I choose to look through.

I know the lens I NEED to be using.  I need to focus on the God that I know and on His word that He has given me.  I may be rattled and shaken, but my focus will be sharp if I’m looking to God.  My faith is in and on Him when I look to Him…not disrupted by all the suffering around me that I or others are enduring.

It’s like Aaron’s eye exam.  I need to realize that lens #2 or lens #3 are not right for me.

Fear is not a lens God wants me to use when viewing my circumstances, or the circumstances of those I love.  Neither is anger…or worry…or a host of other responses that are all too common for me.

I know that when I have my eyes off God, life becomes blurry.  I lose focus.  I lose peace.  I lose hope.

I need to go back to lens #1, for sure!!!

The best way for me to keep my focus is to go to my Bible…to read God’s promises and let His words soak into my mind and my heart.

My parent’s favorite Bible passage is perfect for me to use in keeping my focus:

 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore

we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains

slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the

mountains quake at its swelling pride.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

 

God told us we would have suffering and trouble on this earth. But He also has promised to be our very present help, our strength and our refuge, no matter what carnage is around us.  He is a loving Father who takes care of His children.

This is the focus I need.  God is the focus I need.

God is my lens #1.

I love the old hymn, The Solid Rock.  Look at verses 2 and 3:

 

When darkness veils His lovely face,

         I rest on His unchanging grace;

         In every high and stormy gale,

         My anchor holds within the veil.

 

         His oath, His covenant, His blood,

         Support me in the whelming flood;

         When all around my soul gives way,

         He then is all my hope and stay.

 

         On Christ the solid rock I stand;

         All other ground is sinking sand,

         All other ground is sinking sand.

 

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The Turn Signal

A few months ago, as I headed out of our neighborhood taking Aaron to his day group, I noticed that my right turn signal didn’t sound right.  The second time that I pushed up on the turn signal lever and heard that very fast clicking sound, I knew what it was.  Either my front or my rear turn signal was out.  I drove across town, dropped Aaron off, and then before leaving I got out of the van to check the turn signals.  Sure enough, the rear signal wasn’t working.

Bummer!  Of all the days to have this happen, it had to be on the day I had several errands to run instead of just going straight home.  One of the places I had to go was McConnell Air Base…and they are super picky there about things like the speed limit and vehicles working correctly.  Imagine that!

I drove under the speed limit the entire time I was on base and was thankful that I only had to use my right turn signal once.  But I was sure that this one time would be the one time that an MP was behind me!

I had also promised Aaron that I would take him to one of his favorite stores, Big Lots, after I picked him up.  Our local Big Lots had closed, so I had to once again do some extra driving in my defective van.  I never knew how many times I needed that right turn signal until it wasn’t working!  And I decided a possible conversation with a police officer was a better choice than the conversation I would need to have with Aaron if I told him our Big Lots trip was cancelled.

I wanted to paste a sign in the rear van window that explained my situation…to let others know that I knew my light wasn’t working…to tell them that I really DO know how to use a turn signal.  How many times have I said that very thing out loud about other drivers who don’t use their turn signals?  I was feeling a little guilty, wondering how many of their signals were broken, too.

Sometimes we just can’t see and don’t understand what a person is going through, do we?  We look at the outside and think things look fine, but the inner workings of a person are far more complex than what we outwardly see.  This fact is very true for every single one of us but is very VERY true for our Aaron.

To be clear, I am not saying that Aaron is broken.  What I AM saying is that Aaron’s responses and handling of life situations can manifest outward behaviors that are extremely frustrating for others around him to understand and handle correctly.  His brain is wired way differently than typical people, and so his turn signal often doesn’t let anyone around him know the direction he is getting ready to take until he’s turned that corner and there’s no going back.

Karen Williams wrote in a paper years ago concerning students with autism:  “Rage reactions/temper outbursts are common in response to stress/frustration.  Children with Asperger’s Syndrome rarely seem relaxed and are easily overwhelmed when things are not as their rigid views dictate they should be.  Interacting with people and coping with the ordinary demands of everyday life take continual Herculean effort.”

Williams was writing about young students, but this same description also applies to adults with autism…to our adult with autism…our Aaron – who definitely flipped his turn signal on last week at the theater.

First, the set-up:  Aaron had been home for three days this past week due to our severe weather chances and flooding concerns.  Aaron loves being at home where he is totally relaxed and able to do all the things he enjoys.  But when he must re-enter normal life, like going back to his day group at Paradigm, it is often a huge struggle for him.  And therefore, for everyone around him.

On Friday, Aaron was reluctant to go to Paradigm.  Even the thought of Friday movie day didn’t really help him.  He decided not to go to the theater, despite having his nine dollars in his wallet for popcorn and the prospect of a fun movie to see.  I encouraged him to go to the theater, and his staff encouraged him to go after texting with me.  But no one MADE him go.  However, that is not at all how Aaron saw it.  His anger was getting deeper.

Second, the incident(s):  At the theater, Aaron took a behavioral turn that everyone could see despite his lack of a working signal.  I don’t even know all that happened there, and don’t really want to know.  I believe, though, that his day group staff was told by theater staff that Aaron needed to leave.  No matter what I know about Aaron and what I understand about his autistic outbursts, these times test my love and my patience.  I’m a normal mom who is terribly embarrassed when Aaron blows it, especially in public.

I wonder what all he did there.  Who saw him?  Did anyone we know see and hear our son acting that way?  Now what?

Third, the repercussions:  When I went to pick Aaron up at the theater, he was sitting in the Paradigm van.  Aaron emerged from the van with a very unhappy face, and I knew something not-so-good had happened.  Athena, his kind staff, gave me a very brief update, but Aaron’s still-angry mood told us it was not the time to discuss it.

He and I talked about it on the way to Wal-Mart, and again inside the store.  But Aaron was saturated with frustration and guilt so I knew I could only say so much before I would push him over the edge again.  Two repercussions that initially happen with Aaron, when that angry turn he took is over, are regret and guilt.  He truly wishes that he hadn’t gone so far in his anger.

Aaron was totally compliant in Wal-Mart, overly so.  This is his way of making up for his angry actions.  At the self-checkout counter, Aaron was super helpful.  He held my coupons, helped unload the cart, and couldn’t say thank-you enough to the clerk who assisted us.

“Am I being good, Mom?”  he asked at one point.  “Am I helping?”  And he looked me square in the eyes, waiting for my response and my affirmation.  It would have been so easy for me to say, “Yes, Aaron, but I sure do wish you would have been this nice in the theater!”

But when I saw his eyes, tired from the bad day and hopeful that he was finally doing something good, I nearly cried.  Right there in the check-out lane at Wal-Mart with holiday shoppers all around me, I wanted to burst into tears for Aaron and for me.  For Aaron, because I fully know that he can’t repair his broken turn signal in time to avoid that wrong turn.  And for me, because I love him and I want to “fix” him, but I really can’t.

I turned away quickly and finished paying.  Aaron helped gather up the bags out of the cart and we walked to the van, happy that the rain had stopped.  When we got home, another storm was coming.  Aaron was concerned about the lightning while he was on his computer, so he wanted me to be sure and tell him if he needed to shut the computer off.

“Mom,” he instructed, “come up and tell me, or call to me from downstairs, OK?”

He waited for me to respond.

“I’m giving you two decisions,” he finished.

I always smile at how he says that…two decisions instead of two choices.

But I thought of how true his saying was at that time.  I did have two decisions regarding more than lightning and his computer.  I also had two decisions about that turn signal issue of Aaron’s.  I could be angry and berate him, or I could be loving and instructive at the same time.  The decision is mine to make, despite how difficult it sometimes is.  It’s easier to lash out at Aaron, honestly, but harder to be loving and patient with instruction thrown in.  Yet the first decision only brings more anger and hurt.  The second decision, hopefully, helps to fix Aaron’s hurting heart and show him a better way to handle his anger.

Back to my van’s turn signal – Gary was able to pick up the correct part and repair it that evening.  Aaron was beside him the entire time, at one point using that moment to show Gary some scrapes on his legs.  Aaron is so oblivious about how he looks in public, and at times it’s really funny.

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But at other times, like the theater incident, it’s anything BUT funny.  How we wish that we could install the part that would make Aaron’s turn signal work correctly and avoid all the damage that’s done when it doesn’t!

How many times do I wish I could paste a sign on Aaron’s back that explains his behaviors?!

I can’t, though.  We just keep driving down this road with Aaron, trusting that some people understand and not worrying about the ones who don’t.  Easier said than done!  But God does give grace and He gives us wisdom to make that right decision…and He redirects us when we don’t!

Aaron’s turns aren’t easy when his signal’s messed up, but we’re there to repair the damage and pray it works better at the next turn.

And sometimes hang on for dear life!

 

God In the Ugly

It’s a cold, cloudy, and blustery day here in Kansas.  I was doing Gary duty with our Great Dane this morning.  Gary is out of town right now, so I was the one shivering out on the back walk while our elderly Jackson took his jolly time doing his morning business.  Why must he sniff every single leaf??!!

I looked over at our Rose of Sharon bushes, standing there in an ugly brown row.  I could hear their crunchy dead pods brushing together in the cold wind.  There was nothing inviting there, that’s for sure!

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But something did catch my eye as I routinely scanned the dead scene.  I walked over to further examine a cluster of branches at the end of the row.  It was what I thought it might be.  A bird’s nest, all tucked in securely among the brown stalks. 

As I looked closer, I saw that this bird had repurposed some plastic to help line her nest.  There were little dead leaves inside the nest that had blown there in our Kansas winds.  I have no idea how old this nest is, or what kind of bird built it, but there it lay nestled safely in the branches.

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I immediately was drawn to how God has told us that He cares for the birds of the air.  He created them, He feeds them, and He knows when even one has fallen. 

He also tells us that if He cares for the little birds, how much more does He care for His children?

I pondered all this as I hurried inside with Jackson, who was finally done with his doings.  I thought about why I was able to see this nest.  I could see it because the once pretty, green Rose of Sharon bushes were now bare of their beauty.

I could see a picture of God’s amazing care because all the beauty, for this particular season, has been stripped away. 

How like our lives at times!

This is the scene that I far prefer.

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I love the lush green growth, and all the beautiful blooms.  And in my life, I love it when things are going well.  I like it when life is pleasant; when I feel like prayers are being answered the way I want them to be; when I’m at peace. 

But we all know that life isn’t that way…not all the time.  Yet when times are tough…when my life feels like my winter Rose of Sharon, all dead and dreary…is when something amazing happens.

It’s in the empty times, when all the goodness seems gone, that I can more clearly see the goodness of God.  I can plainly see His care without the distractions of all the fun and pretty things around me. 

Sometimes I must step nearer and look closer, but there I will see God and His loving care in my life.  God isn’t hidden by all the luster that I sometimes have, and honestly desire to have. 

“As for me,” the Psalmist said, “I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.  You are my help and my deliverer…”  (Psalm 40:17)

If things are pretty all the time, I won’t always give as much thought to the Lord’s thought for me.  But when life is rough and even feels empty, I can better see His thoughts for me.  I see the form that those thoughts take…the loving care He has for me…the help He brings to me…how he strongly delivers me.

Sometimes seeing God happens best when I’m rid of the most. 

I’m loving the view of this little nest today, unhindered by eye-catching distractions.

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And I’m loving that I have a Heavenly Father who is thinking of me today and using such simple means to show me how truly awesome He really is!