All posts by Rev Doc Lorna

About Rev Doc Lorna

I am an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, wife, and mother of an adult son with Asperger's. I serve as a Fellow at the Hope and Healing Institute developing tools to provide emotional and spiritual support for families raising children with special needs. My book Special Needs Parenting: Coping to Thriving is available now.

New Year, New You?

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So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRS)

Resolutions are great, except for when they aren’t.  Sure, they serve a good purpose for setting priorities, opening new horizons and creating positive change.  Yet, if we feel we fall short they also come with a side-dish of guilt, something that parents of children with special needs cope with constantly anyway. So what’s the solution to keeping a New Year’s resolution?

Bing Crosby had some good advice “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” In accentuating the positive, I started choosing a variety of goals for the New Year. I choose one thing I’d like to learn, one habit I’d like to change, and one challenge goal that is my personal moon shot for the year.  One year my “learning” and “challenging” resolution were one in the same. I learned to scuba dive despite being claustrophobic and uncomfortable in the water.  Plus, the movie Jaws left an indelible mark on my psyche as a child. Approaching it this way, accentuating the positive, resolutions have become fun, plus I have a whole year to achieve them. I’ve learned how to do things that had lingered on my list of, “someday I would like to…,” I’ve eliminated some bad habits and created healthier ones, and I’ve tested limits and been surprised by what I can do.

It’s the “eliminating the negative” that is the real challenge when it comes to resolutions.  We all fight that voice of doubt that says, “No, you can’t.” Some days we miss the mark, and guilt sets in. We can eliminate the negative by offering ourselves a measure of grace. It takes forty days to make a new habit, or break an old one for good. It’s okay to have a bit of trial and error along the way.  The main thing is that we can trust in Paul’s words to the Corinthians.  “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” That is the true and ultimate new you. The best resolution we’ve all made is to become followers of Christ.  That is the most important “new you” any of us will ever be.  How we celebrate that new creation is important, but when we fall short of perfection in resolutions we can trust that grace abounds.

So how did I do on my 2016 resolutions? I nailed two out of three, and grace abounds.

It is not too late to start a resolution on the second week of January. The year has not been “ruined” by missing a week already. There is still plenty of time to learn, explore, and succeed.

Renewing God,  remind us again of how you make all things new.  Open our eyes to new possibilities and shape us to be who you call us to be. Amen

Happy New Year, and happy new you!

Lorna Bradley

Travel Tips for a Merrier Christmas

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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15 NRS)

Travel is a holiday tradition dating back to the first Christmas.  Mary and Joseph traveled a moderate distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The Magi went on a longer journey.  Even the shepherds had a quick trip from the fields to town. Travel is exciting, but it is also daunting with a child who has fragile health, does not handle changes in routine well, or has physical or behavioral challenges that leave extended family and friends feeling ill-equipped to help. Here are a few ideas to make holiday travel run more smoothly.

While in the Air or on the Road:

  • There are fifteen airports that offer a “dress rehearsal” for travelers with autism.  This provides an opportunity to know what to expect ahead of time. More info here.
  • TSA offers special accommodations for children with medical conditions.  Learn more here and download a disability notification card here.
  • To help shorten wait time at screening, consider enrolling in a TSA pre-check screening program for future travel.  Turn-around time is a few weeks after application so there is not adequate time to enroll before Christmas.
  • Prepare for noise of planes and traffic.  Headphones, earbuds or ear plugs all help reduce sound.
  • Bring plenty of favorite snacks, especially important for picky eaters.  Also, providing sugar-free candy to suck on, or anything to encourage chewing and swallowing, can help avoid uncomfortable eardrums at take-off or landing.
  • Bring lots of activities to fill the time.  Consider getting a toy or activity that is new to your child as a surprise for travel day. Keeping them busy and engaged with something different from the usual may help break up lengthy travel.
  • Bring spare battery packs to recharge electronic devices.
  • If traveling by car, plan on frequent stops and travel at the time of day that best suits your child’s energy level.
  • Notice good behavior and offer frequent praise.

The nice thing about planes and cars is that they go two directions. It is equally possible to receive guests rather than being a guest. This removes the stress of holiday travel.  Sharing a home, whether receiving guests or being a guest yourself, always comes with new routines. Here are a few thoughts for keeping things running smoothly once everyone is under the same roof:

  • Share photos with your child ahead of time so that the faces of extended family are familiar when they arrive.
  • Cousins may have grown and changed since they last saw each other.  Help them connect via phone or text messaging to help break the ice ahead of time.
  • Try to keep the most important part of familiar routines in place: favorite breakfast food, consistent bed time, favorite games, movies or other activities.
  • Educate friends and family about your child’s unique needs (fragile health, food allergies, mobility or communication challenges, and behavioral triggers). This invites dialogue and helps ease concerns.
  • Try to fit in some one on one time with your child to help them feel less over-whelmed with all the new faces and a fuller house.

Wishing you safe holiday travels and a Merry Christmas!

Rev Doc Lorna

 

Oh Yes, We Need a Little Christmas…

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While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7 NRS)

“What do you want for Christmas?” This was the second time my husband asked in as many weeks and I noticed a hint of desperation in his voice. “I don’t know.  I can’t really think of anything.”  He gave me the “you’re not helping” look. I get it.  It’s hard to select presents, but the things that matter to me most aren’t the kinds of things a person can buy.   That becomes a challenge this time of year.  Somewhere along the way Christmas became a too showy, like a competition.  Who can buy the most, decorate the most, host or be invited to the most parties. It’s daunting. It’s also no wonder that December causes a spike in depression and anxiety.

I once took a test that measured life stress, asking questions about health, job, relationships, deaths, etc.  I added a point to my level of stress for each one that was a factor in my life.  One stressor, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” Oddly, celebrating Christmas scored a point on the stress meter, equivalent to losing a job or having surgery.  When did Christmas become synonymous with stress?

Despite the lyrics of Silent Night, “All is calm. All is bright,” that first Christmas was pretty stressful at times, too.  There were two tired travelers bedding down in a stable rated by Trip Advisor with just one star. Granted, it was a pretty big star, but just one nonetheless. Warm? Maybe. Dry? Probably. Clean? Not so much. And a baby chose to be born right then and there. This was not the dream delivery of a nervous, first-time mom. Yes, that first Christmas definitely earned a point on the stress meter.  Except it wasn’t the kind of Christmas we deal with. It was two people coping with the birth of a child as best they could in challenging circumstances. No lists, no parties, no decorations, though there were eventually the unexpected gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  That first Christmas was as simple as it gets, simply the Holy family together marveling at the miracle of new life. I imagine after the excitement of a stable birth it was calm and the future looked bright.  There was peace in the middle of chaos.

That is what I want for Christmas too.  I want peace in the middle of chaos. I want the calm contentment of a family while the world rushes by at its own pace, a pace very different from the one that suits us. I want that sense of hope in Christ that promises a future that is bright even where we cannot see. Years ago we down-sized Christmas.  We buy less, we do less, we stress less and we enjoy ourselves infinitely more. We plan again this year to have ourselves a merry little Christmas. I wish the same for you and your family.

Amazing God, surprise us once more with the meaning of Christmas. Help us to embrace your peace, love, joy and hope, and make us your instruments to share a little Christmas with others as well. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Three Strategies for a Smooth IEP Meeting

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“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7 NRS)

Now that school is well-underway, some of us are in the midst of follow up IEP meetings (Individualized Education Program) to adjust education plans. A new school year may mean it’s time to update goals now that your child is established in a routine. One of the most frequent prayer requests I get is for IEP meetings.  How can parents reduce the anxiety level when everyone sits down around that table?

  1. Know your rights. Being informed helps instill a sense of preparation. Check out wrightslaw.com for information about special education rights.  In particular, their IEP basics tab here is a good place to start.
  2. Understand your own goals. What are your expectations? Are they reasonable? How will you be part of the process? Looking back at my own IEP meetings in early elementary school, I think I had in the back of my mind that the school’s interventions would somehow make up all of the deficits in my child’s development.  I think that came, in part, from the term “developmental delay.” It left me with the expectation that someday he would catch up all the way across the board. That unreasonable expectation added to my sense of anxiety when that goal remained unachievable year after year.
  3. Bring grace to the process, and maybe a few goodies. Teachers and administrators often end up with IEPs scheduled over break time. Light refreshments are often a welcome addition and set a good tone for the meeting. A positive attitude goes a really long way in smoothing out communication. It is possible to advocate by way of appreciation rather than anger. That philosophy worked well for me. Every six-week grading period I dropped off a note or small treat to each person who worked with my child letting them know how much I appreciated their efforts.

It’s great knowing that our children go to school and are taught by people who have chosen the profession of teaching. They have gifts and talents for what they do and they genuinely care about young people or they would have chosen another profession. They are experts in what they do, and the IEP helps them learn to be an expert in our children’s unique requirements. Sometimes neither side of the table is exactly sure what is needed for a particular child, especially at first. Parent and staff alike can be on a steep learning curve in discerning the best way to help each child with their education goals. Understanding that education is a team effort with many players goes a long way in creating the right plan.

God of Peace, help there to be peace throughout the IEP process. Calm the fears of parents, reduce the anxiety of teachers and administrators. Let your glory and gifts shine through in the process of helping to equip children to grow to be the best prepared and most content versions of themselves.  Place love of children at the center of the hopes and plans of all who gather around the IEP table. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

 

Blessed Beyond Measure

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I really stirred the pot with my Tuesday morning special needs parent support group, but I was not at all surprised. I brought up that awkward conversation we’ve all had with complete strangers.  You know the one.  They notice something different in our child’s behavior or abilities or appearance. They look for something to say and it generally starts with, “You must be a really special parent because…”

After the laughter and nodding heads subsided came the resounding cry, “We need a list of one-liners!” The humor soon gave way to transparency.

  • No, I’m not. I’m just holding it together one day after another and, by the way, I have no idea what I’m doing.
  • If you think I have the super hero power of patience, you are wrong!
  • Neither my child nor I are angels from heaven. We are real human beings with all the faults and challenges that come with that, and then some.

Looking for an energizing topic? Nailed it!   What is it about that statement that opens Pandora’s Box and lets it all tumble out?

Maybe it’s because that statement highlights a difference. Maybe it shines a spotlight on us at our hardest moment. Maybe it pokes us where we are most vulnerable, in that tender place between grief and acceptance.

Then came the reasonable voice from that mom who is so quiet and insightful, “You know, maybe we shouldn’t react that way.  They are just trying to connect. They are trying to be helpful. Maybe what we need instead of good comebacks is a good measure of grace.”

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38 NRS)

Jesus taught in an agrarian culture that lacked standardized weights. When buying in the market place sometimes the measure you got was generous, other times the buyer left feeling cheated. A good measure is overly generous, abundant, and indulgent even. That is the grace that God offers to us.  It is so much more than we deserve, filled with understanding for when we fall short. With God’s grace we are blessed beyond measure.

How generous is my measure?  Truth be told, some days it’s more generous than others. We all have growing edges when it comes to grace.

Gracious God,  We thank you for the grace that you offer to us so freely. Help us to see the world through your eyes. Thank you for fresh opportunities to try again. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo “Corn-Grain” courtesy of stock.tookapic.com via Pexels

Pray With Me, Please

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Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness; answer me in your righteousness. (Psalm 143:1 NRS)

Yesterday my son started an internship.  A recent graduate in a slow job market, we were all very excited when he got a ten-week opportunity for a job in his major. Knowing well Houston pre-dawn gridlock, I suggested he leave a bit before 6am.  I pulled on my running shoes at 5:45 planning to have a few moments together before he left.

I found my husband alone in the kitchen reading the paper, “Where’s Craig?”

“He left a while ago.”

My heart sank. “He left?!”

“He woke up early and wanted to get a jump on the traffic. What’s wrong?”

“It’s okay. I just wanted to pray with him before his first day.”

Disappointed, I headed out for five miles. Well, I could pray FOR him even if I couldn’t pray WITH him.  While dodging bats hunting mosquitos by streetlight I prayed about his commute, about his first day nerves, about his co-workers. As a bat swooped a bit close for my liking I also prayed about the various critters he would encounter on his day of environmental field work. I prayed for him throughout the miles, but somehow it just wasn’t the same as praying with him.

We’d had a tradition back in elementary school and beyond that we would pray together each day as he left for school. Maybe it was about a test, or a busy day, or any of the thousand things important to him. It was just part of the rhythm of the morning. So much so that when I started seminary many years ago he came running down the stairs as I was leaving, “Mom! You can’t leave for school until we pray!”

That connection is the biggest difference between “praying for” and “praying with.” God is faithful and hears our prayers either way. Still, when we pray together it forms us, it weaves into the fabric of our relationships. It’s a blessing to hear aloud the prayers that others offer on our behalf. It shapes our own prayers when we are not even sure what we should be praying for. It reminds us again that we are not alone.

He got home in the late afternoon tired and excited, eager to share with me everything he’d done that day.

“I’m so glad it all went well! I prayed for you today.”

“I know, Mom. I know.”

Faithful God, Our prayers are wishes of our souls that we whisper to you. Help us to teach our children how to nurture that inner voice that longs to be heard by you. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Image Praying Hands courtesy of unsplash.com via Pexels

Take Ten. Really, It’s Okay!

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“O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6 NRS)

One of the greatest gifts of back-to-school is that parents have just a bit more time for themselves.  Gone are the long days of summer, which may be pretty empty for families with special needs.  All of that time and creative energy put into filling a child’s day can leave Mom and Dad with little time for themselves.

Yes, we are all still busy this time of year, but everyone can find ten minutes a day for a bit of self-care.  But can ten minutes really make any difference?

Yes!

Ten minutes a day in meditation can improve sleep, increase willpower and reduce anxiety according to health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University.

Ten minutes a day of exercise improves cardiovascular fitness and reduces stress, per Dr. Timothy Church, director of the Laboratory of Preventative Research.

Ten minutes a day invested in talking with your spouse improves satisfaction with your relationship per American Psychological Association.

Clutter driving you crazy? Setting aside just ten minutes for some quick organization can go a long way in reducing perceived chaos, which in turn can improve mood, sleep and health, per Darby E. Saxbe and Rena Repetti in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Ten minutes engaged in a favorite hobby relieves stress and nurtures creativity, with the added benefit of reduced blood pressure and lower levels of depression, per a study by National Center for Biotechnology Information. Plus another study shows it helps improve problem solving, a skill we all need when dealing with challenges.

What is the power of ten minutes? How about a better marriage, better sleep, less stress, better organization, and improved mental and physical health.

Be intentional and find ten minutes for yourself.  I’d love to hear back what you did and how it helped in the comments.

Restoring God, thank you for the gift of renewal. Even as we care for others, remind us to care for ourselves.

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com via Pexels

Be Still? During Back to School?

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“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10 NRS)

Be still.  Familiar words, yes, but oh so difficult to follow.  In our multi-tasking world, being still is challenging enough for grown-ups, let alone children. Stillness may be all but impossible for children on various spectrums. Be still, you say?  Ha!

Seeing my child off for his first day of school, and the many that follow, being still is the last thing on my mind. There is much to do while he is away.  Plus I have all that worrying to do about him making friends, remembering homework, following rules. If I am going to be still it has to be in a very limited window of time.

Be still and know that I am God.

Besides, do I really need to be still in order to know that God is God? I mean, God is still God no matter how hectic things are for me, right? Isn’t it enough to pause and recognize the glory and wonder that is God and then go back to the hectic and the worry?

Maybe I ought to take just a second to read the beginning of the Psalm. Where does the story begin that later ends with being still and knowing that God is God?

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1 NRS)

Trouble, you say? We know a thing or two about that. Refuge and strength? Sign me up! But how am I to be still? It feels like I need to be DOING something, anything.

Hebrew is an interesting language.  One word can mean so many things. That familiar command to be still may better translate as “let go,” “slacken” or “abandon.”

Well that changes things just a bit.  What if I trusted God in the midst of turmoil and accepted refuge and strength? What if I let go of the worry? What if allowed that taut muscle in my neck slacken? What if I abandoned the sense that I need to be in control and gave it over to God?

Perhaps I will take a moment be still and think about the different possibilities that exist in a school year like that.

 

God of our refuge and strength. Remind us that we can let go.  Thank you for catching us when we do. Amen

 

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo “Pier” courtesy of unsplash at Pixabay.com

How to Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety

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When I was a child, back to school came with lots of excitement and the good kind of anticipation. For my son, it was a very different experience.   Early on, we didn’t have anything close to a smooth transition when the school doors flung wide, welcoming all the little people who had become somewhat bigger people over the summer. As the first few years got off to bumpy starts, I found he grew anxious about the start of the school year. I started to worry too. Would my son have a teacher who was a good fit for his needs?  Would he be able to cope with the social strain? Would he handle all the new material he needed to learn? Would he be safe from bullies? Would he make just one friend that year?

Dear God, is it asking too much for the answer to all of those questions to be “yes?”

For both of us, the sense of anxiety about back to school had much to do with the unknown. What happened to the “fun” part of back-to-school that I had known?  I was determined to help him have some happy memories by making what felt unknown become familiar instead.  Here are a few strategies that worked well for my family:

  • Brush up on academic skills. Math skills were always a challenge and hard-won gains eroded quickly over the summer. We found a math tutor who did a two-week intensive, meeting one-on-one an hour a day.
  • Review lists of back to school supplies with your child’s therapists. Check for alternate suggestions that best suit your child’s needs and motor skill abilities. Also, schedule ongoing after school therapy appointments. Therapist’s schedules fill quickly in those coveted afterschool hours. Booking early will help reserve the time slot that best fits the rhythm of your family and minimize disruption.
  • Make a “First Day Plan.” Navigating crowded hallways can be overwhelming to children with sensory issues, especially if he or she already has anxiety about a new routine. Introduce your child to their “go to” people, such as the school nurse, cafeteria monitor, and so forth. We used to arrange a time before school began, apart from the hectic “meet your teacher” night, and find the route to classroom, library, cafeteria, nurse’s office, and restrooms.
  • Avoid unnecessary embarrassment by having a spare change of clothes and underwear tucked away at school, just in case.
  • Help your child connect with other children he or she already knows who will be in the classroom. A familiar face on the first day of school can help alleviate anxiety.
  • Get in the groove ahead of time. Adjust bedtime and waking time to match the back-to-school schedule during the week before school. Experiment with lunch. The first day goes so much better if a picky eater is willing to eat what is packed in their lunchbox. What they ate happily a few months ago may suddenly be less appealing. Try doing a full dress rehearsal of getting ready for the first day and keep it fun rather than rushed.
  • Plan to something simple, but special to your child after the first day. It may take a few weeks to get into a settled routine and that is alright. Celebrate even small victories along the way.
  • Pray for your child each day and give over to God all that is outside of your control.

These are a few ways that my family made back-to-school fun again.  I’d love to hear what works for your family.

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo “Back to School” by Nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blog republished from 8/12/15

 

 

Mean, or Means of Grace?

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“You’re a loser.  You let everyone down. Why can’t you get this right?”

We all agree those statements are mean.  Just imagining these words said to my child makes the mama lion in me wake up and roar.  Words matter.

Even the words we say to ourselves.

Time and time again as I have the privilege to care for special needs parents in the midst of deep grief I hear words like these shared from their internal dialogue.  Already feeling down for the count, the self-condemnation piles on.

When it comes to ourselves, we can be just plain mean.

What would it be like to change that voice to one of assurance and support, especially in times of crisis? Is it worth trying?

Of course it’s worth trying! It’s even biblical! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Rom 8:1-2 NRS)

If Christ does not condemn us, why do we condemn ourselves? The good news is, we don’t have to. It is possible to retrain self-dialogue from being mean to being means of grace.

How?

  • When the negative words kick in tell them to stop. “No, that’s not true,” or “That’s hurtful and I don’t deserve that,” or “Stop. This is not what I need right now.”
  • Treat ourselves as we would a loved one going through the same circumstance. What would we say to them? Don’t we deserve that same compassion?
  • Validate our feelings. If we are grieving, or angry, or feeling justifiably guilty (emphasis on justifiably), acknowledge those feelings are real and raw without berating ourselves in the process.
  • Talk to someone, whether a family member, friend, pastor or counselor. Processing what we feel with others helps create perspective.
  • Refute negativity with something positive. Offer ourselves an affirmation that is true. No, not the cheesy and hollow kind.  Saying we are the best parent, wife, athlete, etc. ever is just as false as negativity and not particularly helpful. Rather, offer real statements of affirmation, “I am strong and I can get through this,” or “God is with me, I am not alone,” or “I made a mistake, but now I’ve learned something.”

Turn off the “mean.” Accept the grace that flows freely from God. Fill yourself to the top with it, washing away self-condemnation and let your words to yourself become, instead, a means of grace.

Gracious God, Hold us when we are hurting. We trust that you surround us with people who bring comfort. Help us to be part of your chosen team of support that builds up and restores. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com