Conversation Starters

A boy in Jesse’s class invited him to a birthday party recently. I bought a gift and marked the time/date on my phone calendar. The day of the party we arrived to find a few of his classmates in attendance, which I silently felt relieved that we would know at least a couple of the other party guests. Jesse immediately ran to a girl in his class, who is Hispanic. Like him, she is also autistic with low verbal skills. I had never met her parents before since she rides the bus. Other parents who pick up their children after school usually congregate outside the building under an awning. After almost a year, I became acquainted with a few of them.

I walked up to introduce myself to the girl’s parents and was surprised that they knew very little English. In fact, the mother could say maybe five words in English, leaving her husband to do most of the interpreting which was shaky at best. All I could think about was how this couple must have a hundred questions related to their daughter’s school. I could not imagine how lonely it must feel to live in a foreign country, not knowing the language, while navigating/advocating their child’s special needs education!

We attempted a couple of times to talk but the few Spanish classes I had in high school and college completely evaporated from my brain. Knowing how to count to 20 in Spanish or recite the months of the year was not very helpful in the moment. I wanted to communicate with the mother and by the expression on her face I think she did too. She showed me a picture of their other child and I smiled back. We were reduced to facial expressions and pictures. My heart hurt for her and their family.

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Then it occurred to me that Jesse might feel isolated in a similar way. I have wanted so desperately to communicate with him that it is easy to forget how he must feel too. A book I just read from an autistic boy’s perspective called The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida gave me a little more insight and sympathy on this. At thirteen, Naoki transcribed in Q&A form using an alphabet grid with the help of his mother and teacher. The book was later translated into English and has become a national bestseller. I definitely don’t agree with his New Age beliefs sprinkled throughout the pages but the core idea I took away from reading it was that we sometimes limit those who aren’t just like us. Whether it is a language barrier, intellectual, or physical, we often view them as less than the rest of us. Instead of learning what life is like in someone else’s shoes we are quick to treat the disabled or disadvantaged with less respect than someone we can relate to.

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I still do this on occasion to Jesse when I struggle to communicate with him or when he can’t calm down or because bath/bedtime makes him super hyper and giggly. The underlying fact is, when I don’t understand his speech or behavior I’m tempted to give up because we aren’t speaking the same language. It can be exhausting and frustrating. Yet I wonder how many times people with Autism or any other barrier are quickly dismissed because the ability to communicate easily is absent. We assume that there isn’t another way or that the case is hopeless. Reading this book gave me a different perspective, and for the first time, hope. Just because Jesse can’t speak in complete sentences like other children his age doesn’t mean he lacks intelligence or is less of a person. Naoki says,

 

“One of the biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings aren’t us subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we’re childish on the inside, too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do. And because people with autism aren’t skillful talkers, we may in fact be even more sensitive than you are. Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or meltdown.” (p. 109)

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I imagine it might be like someone in a coma who can’t respond verbally or physically but can hear everything going on around him perfectly. His senses are a little thrown off, but mentally the coma patient can comprehend his auditory surroundings. Often doctors, relatives, and visitors talk over the patient as if he isn’t even there.

I’m learning to slow down and intentionally communicate with Jesse – mostly to understand him but also to treat him like I would anyone else without a disability. He’s only six so there will still be wisdom needed (and grace) for training and discipline because I often don’t know exactly what his level of comprehension is. But I don’t want to limit his abilities either. Sometimes that means pushing him a little, to gain confidence. Other moments are more grace-filled and tender, realizing he doesn’t have that specific skill-set yet. But it’s a start in the right direction. Conversation can happen in many forms, not just verbally. For us it looks like a smattering of sign language, spelling words out, hand gestures, pictures and one to two word phrases. We get by. And I am learning that I can’t put him in a box, because he always surprises me by refusing to stay in the mold that society has placed on him.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Insta-faith

I like Instagram. It’s my favorite form of social media because it gets to the point, along with posting a visual that ranges from inspiring, funny, or cute. We are wired in our culture to hustle, no time to waste, even in recreational things. Our society has transformed into an instantaneous one.

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The reason I know this goes no further than my own lack of patience. Whether it be corralling my son each morning, getting him ready for school, or waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-through, or impatiently tapping my foot for the Internet to load faster. I hate to wait. I’ve been trained for instant gratification. But this doesn’t follow the model for deep faith in the Christian life. On some level I know this, but I also want the fast track for spiritual maturity. There must be some corners to cut, right?

Last summer I decided to find an older woman in the faith to soak up all her Biblical knowledge like a sponge. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be mentored; in fact it’s a very good thing! I was just going about it the wrong way. Instead, it became a works based attitude (the more I know, the more I’m validated as a Christian) and a source of pride.

It seems that most of my sanctification does not happen mainly by acquiring facts about the Bible but through daily decisions, responses, thoughts, and people. People and situations are real sticklers for personal growth or failure. Honestly, sometimes I take one step forward and two steps back. Although new life in Christ IS instantaneous the moment we trust Him for our salvation, spiritual maturity takes an entire lifetime.

             For those of us who like to “get to the point” this is not great news, but it is gracious news. We learn to abide in His strength and remember once again that God is the Only One who makes things grow. So we wait. He reminds us to do this, as we trust in His limitless power.

We are limited beings and it isn’t until we realize this that humility can nourish faith. In Hannah Anderson’s book ‘Humble Roots’ she uncovers this wisdom with each chapter. She says,

“In God’s wisdom the very process of learning binds us to Him in a way that simply knowing the answers cannot. And so He asks you to trust Him. He asks you to live in dependence. He asks you to humble yourself to wait for Him.” (p. 130)

There isn’t an “Insta-faith” for deeper fellowship with the Lord. This is what makes it so beautiful and organic, something worth being patient for! Over time and trials, when we allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts, our character is transformed to look more like Christ.

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It’s a little ironic that the more I seek communion with God, I see how deeply underground and twisted the vines of pride around my heart are. If we take Anderson’s analogy of gardening, the uprooting and pruning of our hearts is tedious and painful. But we also know that it is needed for spiritual health and abundant fruit one day. Weeds of pride, disease of instant gratification have to be dug up, pulled out and treated if we want to persevere in this life.

You and I don’t have to become discouraged and give up either. God is faithful to finish all He does, and that includes the good work He is doing in you and me. The Bible says we can be confident in knowing this (Philippians 1:6). And that is gracious news.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Truth telling for Moms

I’m a mom who daily lives under a rock of guilt and failure.

I haven’t given my six-year-old siblings to play with.

 I haven’t worked hard enough (or at all) today on his developmental skills.

 He’s spending too much time in front of electronics.

 I could do this all day.

 

I don’t know if it’s because Jesse has Autism and is an only child that I put this added pressure on myself, or if all moms do this. I suspect we each have our areas we struggle in, the lies we tell ourselves. When I stop the merry-go-round of all the ways I’m failing as a mom, God is gracious to help me fight with truth.

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The truth is, my son operates differently than other kids and so his activities and interests will look different as well. The truth is, I’m doing a great job as his mom, but I’m not perfect either. God knows this. The Lord didn’t wait until I had my act together before He gave me a son. It is in the process of raising him that I am sanctified!

The truth is, I am already “enough” as a mom, wife, friend and woman because Christ is enough and He lives in me. Condemnation has no place here. When I remember this, I breathe easier again, my shoulders begin to relax and I get to enjoy my son instead of focusing on all the ways I don’t measure up.

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If I stay hunkered down in guilt, I can’t clearly see the amazing blessings right in front of me. God holds out this wonderful gift and I reject not only the gifts of freedom and joy, but God Himself when I’m wrapped up in my own shortcomings.

Mom life is hard, but the truth is He gave you and me specific children, with distinct personalities and skills, to love, nourish, and raise for His glory. We get to teach them about the Lord who is our life.

             Our kids are gifts to enjoy, little lessons to learn from, means of sanctification. Preach this truth to yourself today when you feel like waving the white flag. God gives us the privilege and responsibility to care for the least of these, right in our own tribe.

It first starts with us loving Him as our ultimate treasure. That’s the place where we parent well and do anything well. Our relationship and growing love for the Lord will overflow on whatever else we put our hands to do today. We learn that even when we mess up or they do, there is grace and forgiveness extended vertically and horizontally. We start to live the message of the cross and that is the truth we need to tell ourselves everyday.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

A Gracious Receiver

 

I just finished a Bible study in the Gospel of John with a group of women all over my city. One of the questions in our lesson asked, “How have you seen the Lord’s love and knowledge of you in the way He tailors His correction especially to fit you and your circumstances?”

For me it continues to be a lesson of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m no longer “just a sinner”, but covered in Jesus’ righteousness. God wants to show me the freedom I have in His forgiveness over my sins, yet I stay wrapped up in all the ways I fail Him. Isn’t that silly? He has made believers as new creations but I cling to dust and ashes. I resist receiving what is already mine.

The past few months have been painful to learn this lesson. I feel like it should be the easiest one to have down pat. Grace is grace and believers live in a “sea of grace” (BSF Notes, Lesson 28, p.4). Yet growing in spiritual maturity is sometimes remembering that we forget the easiest lessons. And I need to remember every day.

Quick to acknowledge that I’m a depraved sinner, I often miss the very real truth that because of Jesus I am forgiven; redeemed. How many times we miss this life giving principle. When we can’t even accept our own failures as forgiven, how in the world do we forgive someone who has wronged us? Or ask for forgiveness from someone else?

We are hidden in Christ, cleansed from all shame. And the best part is that we have done nothing to deserve such mercy- it is all by the grace of God. That is the most humbling and gracious news.

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The Lord is actively at work in us, in the world, through all the brokenness. He is redeeming all things for His Glory, and He first starts with His Beloved- you and me. If we want deep faith than acknowledging our deep sin that cannot be cleansed apart from Christ is the first step. Then we move forward and receive the gracious forgiveness extended to us, bought for you and me on the Cross.

Live in freedom.

Walk in freedom.

Satan thrives on paralyzing Christians with our failures, but we have an Intercessor who prays for us- Jesus Himself (John 17; Luke 22:31-32). Even though we might stumble and fall, God is faithful to love us perfectly and patiently. All praise belongs to God, because anything we have already comes from Him, even faith. You and I can receive His grace and not live as one condemned.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

For the Overwhelmed Christian

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I sat next to a woman in my Bible study group that spoke words of freedom to me. She was addressing our entire small group, but what I heard was permission to live guilt-free as a Christian. A lot of my life as a believer I have felt the need to serve whenever the church doors were open.

Being a Christian meant serving at all times.

While there is truth in this, it isn’t the full truth. We as Christ followers must serve others because we are the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. However, when we read about Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did only what was right in front of Him. Jesus didn’t multi-task, healing every single person with disease and sickness. He stayed on the tasks that were given to Him, doing the Father’s work at all times, perfectly obeying.

The woman in my group talked about how she and her husband intentionally prioritize their service to others. Each New Year, they write down a list of responsibilities first that are non-negotiable, like being a wife and mother to young children. Then she lists a few passion and gifts, and together they pair down realistically what works within both of their schedules. If it can’t fit inside the square calendar box, it’s thrown out for that year.

What a genius idea, I thought, because honestly I can often become over-zealous in my desire to do everything, wanting to “save the world”. I forget that Jesus already did that, and I’m merely called to participate in service right in my little suburban neighborhood.

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So I went home that day after Bible study and wrote a small list of areas I can practically serve in. The first two are my husband and son because I believe the family God has given me is my first priority. Then I left room for 3 other things that I can do, some of which I am already doing but never really viewed them as ministry opportunities.

The point is that the list shouldn’t be immense but instead focus your service. Sometimes we place false guilt on ourselves, or unfortunately sometimes the Church does. There are endless needs around us and it can feel overwhelming. When I try to do it all I end up fragmented and depleted. I forget that there is no output of eternal value without input as well.

Service first starts with my own heart seeking the Lord, growing deeper in knowledge, faith, and love. When I expend all my energy and time in service production mode I leave no room for God to teach and speak in the quiet.

Believers end up doing ourselves a disservice when we think we can fill every opportunity.

It is a privilege to participate with the Spirit in His work but God doesn’t need me or you. He wants our obedience not our guilt to love in His Name. This was so freeing for me to realize. I’m called to be faithful in the place, the responsibilities and the gifts God has given me. My tasks won’t look like yours and yours won’t look like the next woman’s.

Still feel overwhelmed?

Think about where you spend your time each day and how you could make an impact. Are you already in a Bible study? Maybe start investing in some of those relationships or perhaps they need a greeter at the door in the mornings. It doesn’t have to be big to be life changing. We can encourage through writing notes to people who may feel forgotten, or mentor the young woman on the brink of marriage or teach the 3 & 4 year old Sunday school class.

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Also leave room for the small, one-time opportunities to obey. Those acts of kindness are just as sweet to the Lord; a bottle of water for the over-heated air conditioning guy in the middle of August, opening the door for a mom juggling a baby stroller and toddler in tow, greeting a stranger with a smile.

We do the next thing right in front of us. Not everything is Tweet-worthy and that’s just fine because the One who sees it all is the only One worth pleasing.

God is always at work and we get to join Him, but He hasn’t called us to “save the world”. The Lord desires for you and me to live out of the unique personality, circumstances, and calling He has given us. Our concentrated list might even change over our lifetime. What matters is how we love, how we are faithful with what is right in front of us. Only then does our joyful obedience blossom into fruitful obedience. And that aroma is very sweet to our precious Savior.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Epiphanies & Favorites

 

 

Winter can be blah after the holidays are over. January and February feel bleak, cold and gray. This winter was unusually warm though, with a few spring-like days sprinkled in almost each week here in Alabama. I do like winter because I enjoy hibernating under a cozy blanket with a cup of coffee. However, on days that felt especially claustrophobic those unexpected days of sunshine were a breath of fresh air. A few other things this season made the winter months more pleasant. I made a list of 7 things I enjoyed or learned these past few months. Maybe you’ll find something on here to check out for yourself or just find encouragement.

 

  1. Glorious in the Mundane podcast by Christy Nockels

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I stumbled upon this back in December and have listened to every. single. episode. Christy has the wonderful ability to communicate her heart to her listeners. Her love for the Lord is undeniable. It’s in every episode. Plus she also interviews guests like Chris Tomlin, Beth Moore, Ellie Holcomb and Matt Redman. She encourages me to live out my faith with vulnerability and humility.

 

2. Write it down

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A friend gave me a sweet pink journal last month. It’s The Simplified Journal  by Emily Ley. The front cover says: “I will hold myself to a standard of Grace not perfection.” I love that quote. Plus it’s an organized journal which for me, helps declutter my brain in each proper section. I don’t know about you, but I can’t internalize things for very long or else things start to go very, very wrong. So writing down thoughts, feelings, or occasions can be a good practice. I even write out prayers sometimes so when I go back and read some of the entries, it is amazing to see how the Lord has worked in specific situations.

 

3. ‘The Crown’ on Netflix

This show is a look into Queen Elizabeth II’s life when she takes the throne upon her father’s untimely death. I love British monarch dramas and this didn’t disappoint. If anything, tune in to see John Lithgow play Winston Churchill. The man should win an Emmy.

 

4. Tavern Style Pot Roast for the win

Campbell’s Tavern Style Pot Roast sauce is going to change your life. I’m being a little dramatic but it is the easiest cooking you’ll ever do and dinner will be amazing. With this, you just plop a roast in the slow cooker and pour this sauce over it and you are done.

 

5. Permission to nap

I recently realized why I prefer summer vacation to the school year. When my five year old, Jesse, has rest/quiet time at home during the day I also give myself time to rest. But in the school year it feels like laziness. Why is that? Learning to be still is hard but I’m understanding that times of rest are necessary too and even productive, just in a different way.

 

6. Flowers make me happy

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I started buying flowers on sale in December to spruce up the dining room table. I do this about once a month as a small treat to myself. Now they usually go up on the mantel and just make me smile. Sometimes little things can make a big impact. It’s something I look forward to buying now. And if you live near an Aldi store, they usually have a small arrangement of flowers super cheap! Have I ever mentioned how much I love Aldi??

 

7. Becoming a planner is a good thing

I am not a natural planner or details oriented. I would rather leave that to someone else and just go with the flow. But that doesn’t always happen and if there is something fun or interesting I’d like to do then a plan of action must be set in motion. Sometimes I need to be the one to make it happen and invite someone else along. I did this recently by attending the Broken + Free tour in Nashville, and asking a friend to go with me. We had a fabulous time!

 

So is there anything you loved or learned over the winter? Every season Emily Freeman hosts all bloggers to join and share their seasonal favorites. I always find something new or interesting from someone else’s perspective, which is why I like linking up to her blog for these special posts.

 

Sometimes we do need to take time to look back, for a mental inventory of things we can be thankful for or encouraged by, even in the hardest of moments or seasons of life. Spring is just around the corner and I’m anticipating it, but I hope not to write off Winter too quickly either. That’s the lesson I want to learn: to find gratitude and beauty in every literal season and seasons of life.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

Broken + Free

I woke up the next morning wondering if I had really hugged Ann Voskamp, shaken hands with Rebekah Lyons, and talked with Christy Nockels.

Surreal.

I can honestly say that these women have a contagious love for the Lord. You want what they have. And what they have is Jesus.

 

At their event, the Broken + Free Tour in Nashville, these 3 women received every single person who stood in line waiting for an opportunity to speak with them. They were generous, breaking their time and giving it away. They were living the messages they proclaimed on stage.

Of course as my turn drew nearer my hands became sweaty and all my insides started to melt. I was fighting extreme shyness, trying to find my tongue somewhere back inside my dry throat before Christy Nockels turned to my friend and me. I wanted to tell her what a gift she has been to me, a spiritual mentor through her podcast, Glorious in the Mundane. Christy has a great gift for storytelling, laced with truth and encouragement. Instead, for this event, she led the worship team, calling us all to delight in the Lord through music.

I didn’t know who Rebekah Lyons was until the afternoon of the event. I drove down I-65 listening to her interview on a podcast. I didn’t know she also has a special needs son. Rebekah is further along in this journey than I am, with her son being a teenager. I was instantly drawn to her after that, gleaning any wisdom she might have in special needs parenting. Something about finding someone who has a similar story to yours, like in the special needs community, forms an instant bond.

Rebekah also shared her personal story of fear, panic attacks and learning how to truly be free. After living with her husband and three kids in New York City for a couple of years and experiencing panic attacks for a year, God used these hard experiences to shape her story. In a desperate moment to be set free from her anxiety she cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard her cry and slowly began to help her see freedom through Jesus alone. Only He has the power to save, to heal all sorts of brokenness.

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“Live Cruciform” signed by Ann Voskamp in her new book The Broken Way

Coming face to face with Ann Voskamp was a joy and a privilege. Still in my introverted frame of mind, I stared down at the table, mumbling gratitude for her words and shoved my copy of her book under her nose. Classy. And yet, she embraced me with a hug, this woman who I’ve highlighted countless lines in her books and quoted numerous times. This woman who doesn’t know me from Adam, hugged my neck.

My shoulders relaxed a bit as I began to see that these women weren’t any different than me. They were seeking to bear fruit for God’s glory and look more like Him in the process. That is why we are drawn to those with a bigger platform for the Lord. It is usually because they look an awful lot like Him and we all desperately want to be seen and loved by Jesus.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Nashville and attend the Broken + Free Tour. Singing songs of praise to the Lord, and listening to the Spirit speak through His own, reminded me to delight again in the God who saves, the God who heals our broken. A smile crept across my face in the midst of singing to Him. I’m delighting in You, Father, as You always delight in me, Your daughter, Your Beloved.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April