Thursday, December 14, 2017

God's plan

            She was the most beautiful woman in Galilee. Not just because of those soulful brown eyes or the way her face lit up with joy every time she saw me. No, what drew me to Mary was an inner beauty that glowed like the stars at night. I loved this gentle, humble, godly woman with all my being.
            When she revealed to me she was pregnant, my heart was shattered to pieces. How could she give herself to someone else when we’d vowed faithfulness to one another? How could she look at me with such love, then speak words that would sear my soul? But when she told me some far-fetched story about the child being conceived by the Holy Spirit, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the apparent lie. What had happened to the woman I’d loved? I’d pledged to wed her, yet our plans lay in ruins. I resolved to divorce her, quietly, so she wouldn’t suffer the full consequences of her unfaithfulness.
            But God had a different plan.
            In the midst of the darkest night of my soul, an angel appeared and confirmed Mary’s implausible story. The child she carried was, indeed conceived of the Holy Spirit, the promised Messiah our nation had long been awaiting. Like a condemned man who is suddenly pardoned, I bounded from my bed and dashed through the cold, dark streets to find my beloved and beg her forgiveness. We quickly wed so the condemning looks would fall on my shoulders rather than hers, then settled into our small home in Nazareth to await the birth of this miracle child.
            But God had a different plan
            On a whim, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus decided to take a census. By now, Mary was quite far along in her pregnancy. Reluctant to take her on such an arduous journey, I planned to leave her in the care of neighbors. But Mary, shunned and alone, refused to stay behind. With heavy hearts, we packed up our few belongings and set off for Bethlehem. My intention was to find a nice, quiet inn where she could give birth with the assistance of a midwife.
            But God had a different plan.
            No room? Anywhere? How could this be? With growing frustration, I knocked on the door of a small inn, near the town well. Behind me, Mary was breathing hard, in the pangs of childbirth. We were running out of time. “Have you a room?” I begged the inn keeper. Nothing. As Mary cried out in pain, astride our donkey, the man realized our dilemma and offered us his stable. Hardly the place to bring a child into the world, let alone the promised Messiah.
But God had a different plan.
I felt so helpless, so incompetent as a husband and provider. “We’ll take it,” I said, pressing a few denarii into his hand. The small space was crowded with mules and donkeys because of the many travelers. The reek of animals and manure was overwhelming. Through it all, Mary never complained.
So it came to be that our baby, our first-born son, was born in a stable. For a long time, Mary gazed tenderly at our baby as he nursed at her breast. When he eventually fell asleep, I took the baby from her arms and laid him in a manger filled with hay and whispered “Sleep, sweet Mary. I’ll keep watch.”
But God had a different plan.
No sooner had Mary and baby Jesus closed their eyes, than a troupe of rugged shepherds charged into the stable, like a group of excited children on their way to a celebration. They were laughing and shoving each other in their mad rush to find the promised Messiah. As soon as they saw our son, they fell to their knees and cried out “This is the child the angel told us about, Christ our Lord.” Startled by their words and actions, Mary and I questioned them, then listened in awe as they recounted their wondrous story.
So here I sit, pondering as I gaze at this little boy who sleeps so peacefully, and wonder what will become of him. Will he be as skilled at carpentry as me or prefer to sit at the feet of some great scholar and become well-versed in Jewish law? Will our nation accept him as the promised Messiah? Will the salvation he brings include political deliverance?

Or does God have a different plan?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Drab to Fab or Confronting the Grinch Within

Drab to fab
Confronting the Grinch within

            Winter signaled its arrival some time during the night, adorning everything it touched with a thin coat of frost. Denuded tree branches, once so stark and gnarly, shimmer like jewels under the soft, winter sun. The meadow, so arid after summer’s drought, now glistens like a coffer full of jewels. The ground crunches underfoot as I take my black Lab for a walk through the woods behind our house. Winter has come to call, at least for a season.
            Even though the air is crisp and my toes are cold, my soul is warmed by God’s soft whisper of love. All around me is evidence of God’s transforming power; what seemed so drab yesterday has been changed by his gentle touch – drab to fab.
            I can’t help but think of the transformations God brought to the dark moments in Mary and Joseph’s lives: an unconventional pregnancy; talk of a quiet divorce; broken hearts; a Roman Emperor with sudden whims; a pregnant teenager on an arduous donkey ride; a dim stable with cattle as birthing coaches; hay for bedding and a manger for a cradle.
            Yet God transforms this dark, dismal situation into his most jaw-dropping act of wonder; God is born to the world. Rather than mailing birth announcements, God sends singing telegrams, in the form of angels, to proclaim the good news. Shepherds show up, unannounced, to worship before the King of Kings, then run off to gab about it to anyone and everyone who will listen to their fabulous story. A star, unlike any other,s hangs in the night sky above a tiny town called Bethlehem. Astronomers come knocking at the door, bringing belated gifts for the baby shower, then bow down and worship the long-awaited Messiah.
            My mind ruminates on all these things as I walk through this winter wonderland, and slowly my morose spirit begins to melt like the frost on the trees. God speaks to my soul, reminding me that Christmas isn’t about me. It’s about his incredible gift of love. It’s about God bringing fab to the drab, light to the darkness, hope to the hopeless and joy the sorrowing.
            So today, I’m confronting the Grinch within. I’ve told him to pack his bags and vacate the premises because I’ve much to do; cookies to bake, a tree to trim, cards to write, a manger scene to set up, a Christmas village to pull out of storage and stockings to hang on the mantle.
            It’s time to put some fab into this Christmas season; both inside and out.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Confessions of a Christmas Grinch

Confessions of a Christmas Grinch

            December 25th is almost at our doorstep and I still haven’t caught the Christmas spirit. I must have boxed it up along with the remnants of last year’s ornaments. Given that it’s 70 degrees outside and sunny, it’s not surprising I haven’t caught Christmas fever. A few snowflakes and some twinkling lights might help but I'll probably have to wait a while.
            It also doesn’t help that I have a houseful of surly teenagers who don’t see the point in stringing lights along the front of the house, nor want to trim the tree. So far, I’ve managed to threaten them with skipping Christmas altogether if they don’t help out a bit. All that’s gotten me is a bare tree standing in the living-room, waiting for someone to hang a few lights and ornaments. The cats love it, chasing each other up the tree till they dangle from the small branches at the top, then wonder how to get back down again.
            Last night we tried to string a few lights, but several bulbs went out as soon as we started the process of winding them around the tree. Consequently, the faint Christmas music floating in from the kitchen was drowned out by a chorus of groans and strains of “why do we have-to…..” I was half tempted to grab two of them by the collar and plonk them beside the elf on the shelf. At least he’d be able to give them a few pointers on how to be quiet. Funny thing is, the one with autism was actually quite compliant and helpful.
            There used to be a time when preparing for the holidays was actually fun. Baking cookies, then trying to fill the tins before everyone ate them up; reminiscing over each ornament as we pulled them from the boxes, then trying to find just the right spot on our tree – not too high where we couldn’t see them, not too low where the cats could knock them down.
            Yet, as the boys grow older, it’s becoming more stressful than enjoyable. No one wants to bake or decorate. Even I’ve lost interest in it this year. I’d skip Christmas altogether if it weren’t for Benjamin. He still experiences the joy and excitement of setting up the Christmas village with all its miniature people and tiny houses. He's still excited at the thought of waking up on Christmas morning to find colorful packages stacked under the tree.
            So, I try not to dwell on my grinchy attitude and focus on making it another memorable Christmas, one we’ll look back on, and remember the joys rather than the not-so-good moments. I guess Christmas with surly teenagers is God’s way of preparing me for an empty nest. I know there will come a day when I won’t have any reason to decorate. The boys will have their own families and traditions, and Len and I will wake up to an empty house on Christmas morning.
            On the other hand, this year I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on what Christmas is truly about; God’s advent into our world – a deliberate choice arising from his incredible, sacrificial love for humanity. It must have been a sober moment in heaven when God the Father sent his Son to earth, knowing he would have to die for the sins of the world.
            Christmas isn’t all about trees, decorations and cookies. It’s about Christ, coming to our world to live among us and to die for us. It’s about a season of silent reflection as we prepare to receive Christ into our world, our lives, our homes.
            There will be plenty of time to celebrate and experience the joys of the season once Christmas draws nearer. In the meantime, I’ll keep hoping for a few snowflakes, more cooperative teenagers and a heart that focuses less on my long to-do list and more on the baby in Bethlehem.
            Merry Christmas from our home to yours.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Immanuel - God with Us

"Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means 'God is with us.'"
Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

            I remember my son Benjamin’s first visit to the dentist as though it were yesterday. The pungent mixture of disinfectant and Acrylic Monomer, combined with the high-pitched whir of a drill emanating from one of the exam room, were enough to alarm me, let alone a young child with sensory issues.
            “He has autism,” I told the hygienist, hoping she would show a tad more gentleness towards my three-year old son.
            Obviously, she had no clue what I was talking about as she commanded him to climb into the strange black chair covered in plastic. Benjamin wasn’t having any of it. I snagged him as he bolted for the door, then crouched to his level.
            “Would you like to sit in Mommy’s lap while the lady counts your teeth?” I said, attempting to make eye contact.
            Benjamin didn’t fancy that idea either, but I gently led him back to the chair where I plopped into its sterile embrace then hoisted him onto my lap. Glancing apprehensively at the series of hoses dangling from various metal contraptions, Benjamin attempted to flee.
            “You’re going to be alright,” I said, rubbing his arm. “Just close your eyes and relax in my arms.”
            Joseph also found himself in a harrowing situation when Mary told him she was pregnant. Feelings of confusion, disgrace, betrayal and deep grief vied with a protectiveness that longed to save her from public disgrace. The love he’d shown Mary had just been dishonored and tarnished. Or so it appeared.
Just as Joseph’s hopes and dreams seemed to lay shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor, God showed up. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, confirming that the child within Mary was, indeed, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Then Matthew adds, “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
            Where was God in Joseph’s darkest hour? Right where he needed to be – among us – with us – fulfilling his marvelous plan for man’s salvation. In Joseph’s darkest moments, God was nearer to him than ever before.

Are you enduring a time of trials and difficulties? Have doubts left you wondering where God is? If you can’t see his face, maybe it’s because he’s holding you in his loving arms.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Great Gift Ideas for Teens and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum


            It's hard enough to buy gifts for teenagers and young adults, but when they have special-needs the challenge to find useful, practical gifts grows even harder. Here are a few ideas that just might do the trick.

    Sensory and stress relief gifts

·         Pinch Me Therapy Dough or Thera-putty – Along with aromatherapy, this dough reduces anxiety, provides distraction, and strengthens fine motor skills
·         Fidget toys such as squeeze balls, tangle Jr., fidget cubes, playdough, slime or silly putty.

·         Vibration reminder wristband – helps students with ADHD to stay on track with gentle timed vibrations.

·         Sound cancelling headphones – A fantastic help for auditory processing issues, sound cancelling headphones provide privacy when listening to music and help to block out unwelcome sounds.

·         Weighted blanket or pressure vest– helps with relaxation by providing just the right amount of pressure (if you are buying for someone else, be sure to ask their weight – blanket weight must match individual’s weight)

·         Oral aides such as chewelry necklaces and bracelets, or chewable pencil toppers- helps reduce anxiety

·         Inflatable pea pod, provides a calming, cocoon-like calming effect as well as deep-touch pressure.

·         Liquid motion timers, lava lamp, jellyfish lamp – the mesmerizing effect of bubbles and oil in motion has a calming effect

·         Calming music – Ryan Judd is one of my personal favorites

·         Flowing sand panels – provide relaxation and help with focus

·         Cocoon bean bag chair

2.    Educational gifts

·         Almanacs, encyclopedias or books with lots of facts

·         What should I do now? Family game that teaches social decision making

·         Teen talk cards or Teen talk in a jar – set of question cards to spark conversation and teach communication skills.

·         The empathy game – learn to interpret non-verbal signals and determine how to respond appropriately

3.    Energy burning gifts

·         Yoga ball. Helps with balance, fidgeting and distraction

·         Indoor or outdoor trampoline

·         Punching ball with stand and gloves.

·         Indoor or outdoor swing

·         Carousel spinner

·         Scooter

·         Stationary exercise bike – Learning to ride a regular bike can prove too challenging for some individuals on the autism spectrum, so the stationary bike often proves a better option.

4.    Other

·         Light up alarm clock – clock lights up at preset time, so child knows when it’s okay to get up

·         Building toys such as Legos, Magna-tiles, Magformers, K’Nex, Connectagons help develop creativity – be sure it’s at your child’s level or this could produce more frustration than pleasure.

·         Non-competitive games such as the Ungame, Tall Tales Story Telling Board Game or Rory’s Story Cubes

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Autism; Twelve Truths Doctors Probably Won’t Tell You

            When our son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, we were given general information about autism spectrum disorder. We were also told that our son would never develop an imagination or be creative. We were set up to believe our son would always be withdrawn, have limited abilities and be dependent on others to function from day to day.
            Ten years later, our son is writing stories, constructing new designs with Legos and creating potential YouTube videos on his own. His drawings reveal a mind that is full of original ideas, detail-oriented and exact. He is partly mainstreamed in a public school, loves socializing with classmates, is able to fix simple meals on his own and has the memory of an elephant, especially when it comes to dates and historical events.
            Although I have great respect for medical personnel, I am constantly reminded that man is fallible and cannot always predict the future. God, on the other hand, is the one who has the final word. I stand in awe as I watch Him fashion my son into the man He wants him to be.
            If your child has received an autism diagnosis, don’t be discouraged. Here are twelve truths doctors probably won’t tell you about autism spectrum disorder.
1.    Autism is a spectrum. No two individuals are the same.
2.    Your child is unique. Don’t compare him to others.
3.    Each individual on the autism spectrum has his own challenges and abilities.
4.    No one can predict what your child will or will not accomplish. Only time will tell.
5.    Never say “never.”
6.    Set goals, but don’t be discouraged if your child takes longer to reach them. We all progress at different speeds.
7.    Expectations can lead to great disappointment. Love the child you have rather than the child you fantasized about.
8.    Autism is a lonely journey, yet you are not alone. Thousands of other parents are on the same trek.
9.    Learn as much as you can about autism spectrum disorder. Remember, though, these are just guidelines. Not everything you learn will apply to your child.
10. You are your child’s best and greatest advocate. You know his needs so it’s up to you to speak up in order for your child to receive the care and services he needs.
11. This child will teach you far more than you will ever teach him.
12. This child is a miracle and a precious gift from God. Love him fiercely and unconditionally.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Be still

Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

            This morning I rescued another bird. This one was a little blue bird that my black Labrador discovered in our yard. For some reason, it wasn’t flying well and couldn’t get enough altitude to make it into the safety of our big oak tree. Of course, the dog thought it great fun to poke the bird with her nose and watch it flutter in panic as it tried, unsuccessfully, to fly away.
            I quickly intervened, pushing our dog away as I scooped the frightened creature up in my hands. I tucked the poor bird into my coat, where it quickly nuzzled into the warmth of my shoulder. Because it appeared to just be frightened and not injured, I thought it best to place it somewhere safe in our woods. I found just the right spot; an old tree with a hollow. Ever so gently, I took the bird out of my coat and placed it in the shallow cavity where it leaned into the protection of the big, old tree.
            Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot like that little bird; scared, frazzled, fluttering around in a panic as I try to keep my life together. So many worries, so many cares and Satan constantly poking at me, whispering doubts into my ear; “This could turn out really badly,” “look where he might be headed,” “what if….?”
            In the midst of the fears and the tears, I turned to Psalm 46:10. “Be still, and know that I am God.” As I read this verse over and over, an image of that little blue bird came to mind. As soon as I placed him in the hollow of the tree, the bird sensed he was safe and stopped struggling. Instead of fighting, he leaned into the protection of that big, old tree.
            Likewise, God urges me to lean into him, to find my refuge in his presence. He wants me to find in him the peace and quietness my soul longs for. He says “Be still, my child – in other words, ‘let go, I’ve got this.’ Step away from those struggles and allow me to be God – all-powerful, faithful, loving and good. I’ll handle those concerns because I love you and I care about you. Lean into me, trust me with your life and the lives of those you love, for that is the only way to find true rest and peace.”
            Worrying won’t change a thing. God, on the other hand, can change everything. Be still, and know that He is God.