Tag Archives: parenting

Twelve Tips for Special Needs and the Long, Long Summer

“Blank Calendar Shows Plan Appointment Schedule Or Event” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter. (Psalms 74:17 NRS)

I told a lie. I didn’t mean to, but it just happened. I suppose I wanted to fit in with the other moms. Peer pressure is a powerful force, even for parents.

I was picking my son up from school toward the end of the year in second grade.  He walked home with me each day.  The school bus was too frustrating. The carpool line was long and caused anxiety as he waited to see my car.  So day after day I sweated in the late afternoon Texas heat with a handful of other moms outside the second grade hallway.

One mom gushed about her upcoming summer. “I can’t wait for school to get out. We’ve got swim team coming up. Then a trip to see grandparents. Then the kids are heading to my sister’s with their cousins so my husband and I can get away. After that we have vacation Bible school and then I’m sending them off to a week of camp for the first time.  We are going to try to fit in a trip to Disney if we can, but our summer is so packed it may have to wait until next year.”

Another piped up, “Same here.  I think we signed up for every single activity at the YMCA. Family is coming for a visit. It’s just crazy-busy all summer long.”

That’s when I lied. “Us too!” The second part wasn’t a lie, “It will be a relief when summer is over.”

All I could think of was the painfully blank calendar of non-existent summer activities.  Play dates? Kind of hard when your child has no friends.  Swim team? Ha! The noise, the chaos, that blaring horn and shrill whistle – not for my son on the autism spectrum. Vacation Bible school? I tried that once and, honestly, there were parents in that program who stopped speaking to me because I dared to enroll my son after the lead pastor encouraged me to do so. No way was I trying that again! The team activities at the YMCA? Those were a real challenge and more frustrating than fun to my son. He could have a full-blown meltdown playing BINGO. Siblings extending invitations to give us respite? Nope. We did have a couple of weeks planned to go visit grandparents, but two weeks out of twelve is a drop in the bucket.

This magical and marvelous summer the other moms described was not my world, though I desperately wished that it could be. So I lied and said, “Us too!” and set about erasing that lie by finding things to fill the days.

Here are a few strategies that worked for me:

  • Support groups. Other parents are likely to have kids in need of friends too. Ours was not the only family staring down the barrel of a long and boring summer.
  • “Special needs friendly” events. These were non-existent back when my son was young, but are becoming more and more popular. Check with local children museums, movie theaters, sports stadiums and performing arts venues.  For example, the Houston Ballet Company recently offered their first autism friendly performance, complete with interaction between performers and children afterwards.
  • Congregations with special needs ministries. Faith communities are much more aware and inclusive in summer camp and vacation Bible school. Find a program that fits your family and talk to the staff ahead of time so that they are prepared with volunteers who match the needs of your child. If budget is tight, volunteer your own time to help defray cost.
  • Summer camp for special needs children. There are more and more opportunities for children with special needs to experience summer camp. Some are child specific and some accommodate the whole family.  These often fill early so research registration dates and mark them on your calendar.
  • Check the calendar at local disability friendly non-profits. For example, in the Houston area, Family to Family Network and Easter Seals offer or have information about a variety activities and respite care. There is also Mikey’s Guide, a local publication to a broad variety of local disability friendly services and events.
  • Keep a routine. For many of our kids, structure is key. Set a routine for meals, errands, play time, family chores. Routine helps remove boredom.
  • Focus on therapy and acquiring new skills. Fitting in therapies during the school year can be a real challenge. Take advantage of available time to focus on areas for growth. Consider finding a tutor for challenging subjects to help keep your child from losing hard-won skills in math and reading.
  • Enjoy a less hectic pace for a while. While we live in a culture that glorifies “busy,” it is okay to step off the merry-go-round and enjoy a pace that is slower than the world around you.
  • Explore the outdoors. Children are inside for hours each day at school. Take advantage of summer as a time to get outside and explore parks, beaches, and walking trails. State and local parks in your area may have summer programs, such as guided trail tours, that suit a child’s interest and focus. If mobility is a challenge consider a tag along trailer for a bike. Check your own yard for bird nests and enjoy watching the new family grow.
  • Check out programs at the local library. Libraries are a treasure trove of child friendly activities and resources. The best part? They are free!
  • Water is wonderful in the summer heat. If the community pool is overwhelming, go at off times. No pool in your area? Create your own backyard water fun with sprinklers or an inexpensive wading pool.
  • Remember self-care. Parenting becomes 24/7 when children are home from school. With high needs children this can be especially tiring to the caregiver. Tag team with your spouse or other adult when you need a break. Schedule a night out as often as you can in order to nurture your most important relationships. Take time to do things you enjoy.

I learned that filling the summer isn’t about keeping up with what everyone else is doing.  Rather, it is about finding the pace and activities that best suits my family and flourishing there.

God of all seasons, Let there be renewal of spirit and foundations for friendships that last for all. May the bounty growing in the fields of summer also grow within the hearts and minds of nurturing communities of acceptance. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

“Blank Calendar Shows Plan Appointment Schedule Or Event” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When Every Day is Autism Awareness Day

Autism Awareness Day

Is it already World Autism Awareness Day? The year just flew by, but then again it is autism awareness day everyday at my house. Last year my grand experiment in building awareness got me a little more than I bargained for…

On Wednesday, April 2 2014, I joined in with celebrating World Autism Awareness Day. The tagline of the day was “Light it up blue!” and so I did.  I updated Facebook with a blue cover photo and profile pic, all promoting autism awareness. I also dressed in blue, celebrating the many people in my life impacted by autism, including my son.

Figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge.  I discovered at the last minute that I do not have much blue in my professional wardrobe, but one royal blue cardigan peeked out among a rack of long sleeves. Putting it on, I recalled something else I own that went perfectly with that royal blue sweater, a magnificent fascinator filled with feathers and tulle. I bought it for a trip to the Kentucky Derby that never happened. Just the perfect thing to add a bit of whimsy to a day of celebration for friends whose lives could use to be celebrated publicly much more often. Upon arrival at the office, I clipped on the fascinator at the oh-so-perfect, jaunty angle (no small task that!), snapped a selfie, posted it and tagged my many friends whose lives are touched by ASD.

Originally, I meant to remove my hat after the selfie. I felt a bit self-conscious in the office.  I thought, “If I wear this hat, I’m going to get funny looks and have to explain it all day long.” Then again, isn’t that what an AWARENESS day is for? Creating awareness?  If I just wore blue, I reasoned no one would think that was out of the ordinary. But sporting a headful of feathers and tulle? That’s a whole other matter!

What started as my grand social experiment in creating awareness became something else entirely by the end of the day. At first, it was kind of novel. I encountered the anticipated funny looks and immediately explained to each person why I was wearing a hat. By the time I had done it, five times, ten times, the novelty faded.  It got to the point that I skipped over a few opportunities for explanation and just walked on by, accepting the funny looks and occasional humorous comment.  By noon I found myself almost hiding in my office, knowing that another trip down the hall would be another encounter.  It grew old getting odd stares.  I debated removing my hat. It would have been so easy to just take it off and be “normal.”

I wonder how often people with autism wish they could simply take it off. Wouldn’t it be nice not to get the quizzical looks for behavior that isn’t what others expect? Even just for a while? As a parent of a son with Asperger’s, I’ve felt those stares weighing on me and on my son, especially when he was younger. That repeated question from those who don’t understand, “Why can’t he just (fill in the blank – behave, be quiet, eat what everyone else is eating, etc.)? Well, the answer is he can’t, at least not on that day.  It’s not a choice.  Asperger’s, like other special needs, is not something that can be taken off. My hiding in the office and avoiding the break room reminded me of times when my son was young and I longed to take him to the playground, but knew that was not a place where he met with much success. I would gaze out my dining room window toward the playground. If there were other children and parents there, and it had been a challenging day, I knew we just couldn’t go that day.

In the parent support groups that I lead, we’ve all experienced times when we get tired of receiving “the look” and choose to withdraw. It’s easier to be alone, or so we tell ourselves.  It is really isn’t. We are made for community. It reminds me of the story in the Gospel of John.  Jesus was walking through Samaritan territory and he stopped at a well in the middle of the day while it was hot and no one else was around.  Soon a woman came, one who chose to isolate herself from stares and whispers, coming to the well in the hot afternoon sun when others were at home. It was easier for her to be alone, too. But it really wasn’t. And Jesus knew it. By the end of her conversation with Jesus, she was restored to community. So eager was she to get back to her people, that she left her water jug by the well and ran all the way back to her village, inviting others to come and see Jesus for themselves. That is what Christ does for us. He restores us and calls us out of isolation and into community.  Yes, even us with lives touched by special needs.

This reminds me of the amazing story of a church that embraced Max and Emily Colson. Emily posted a blog that went viral sharing her experience of a cruel movie audience that heckled, jeered and mocked, driving Emily and her son Max out of the theater due to Max’s autism. Their church stood beside them and rented out an entire theater so that 500 people could attend Movie with Max.  Their church celebrated autism awareness, not with a splash of blue, but by embracing and including.

Our need for inclusion and understanding is part of the fabric of our beings of which we are wonderfully woven by God. Living into inclusion involves creating awareness in whatever way we can, whether at a movie theater with 500 of our closest friends, or wearing a silly hat to the office. When we stay engaged, even when it is hard, it is one more chance to shine the light of Christ for the ones in our lives who put the “awesome” in autism.

 Lorna Bradley

Just a Typical Day

David as Luke Skywalker

                                             I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;                                                     I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8 NRSV)

A few weeks ago I had a “quote of the day” that will not be topped for quite some time.

David (nine year-old boy): I’ve had the best year of my life.  Want to know why?

Me: Sure.  Why?

David: (Proudly) I didn’t throw up once!

David’s parents: (Shocked) David! There are things you don’t talk about at dinner!

Me: (Trying really hard not to laugh) Congratulations! Let’s hope this year is a repeat!

I had a most unusual experience a few weeks ago. Well, unusual for me. I spent the day with a typically developing child. Somehow I lost sight of the fact that typically developing children just aren’t part of my world. Being empty nesters, I’m not often around young children and when I am they usually have special needs.

I traveled to Minnesota for my ministry and mixed in a bit of fun by spending time with friends I’ve known for years. I also met in person for the first time their son David, a friendly, energetic and interesting boy.  He’s a Star Wars nerd like me so we hit it off right away. The photo above is his impression of Luke Skywalker gazing at the twin suns of Tattoine. It takes a fellow nerd to spot that pose for what it is! He greeted me with a gift, a quarter, and a thank you note for some cookies I baked and mailed to him years ago when he didn’t feel well.  He wasn’t tardy mailing it. I was tardy coming by for a visit to receive it.  He was keeping it to hand-deliver.  How sweet is that? I have his note and quarter sitting on my desk.

What I found so interesting is that throughout the day Roy and Darcy dealt with many of the same things we do as special needs parents. Social boundaries, rules, taking turns, all of it was woven into the pattern of the day. It was just plain old parenting, not the uber-steroid version of parenting so many of us experience.  I’m pretty sure no therapists, behaviorists, or compliance plans were involved.

We went to a botanical garden to enjoy the fall foliage and brisk north wind, a real treat for a Texan in October! It was a bit dull for David with no playground and plenty of signs warning, “Keep Off the Grass.” Following the rules, check. Carrying on a four way conversation, taking turns and figuring out how to jump in with something to say, check.  Practicing table manners, check. Sharing appropriate table conversations, check! Parenting is constantly teaching and redirecting, and my friends are great at it. I marveled at the energy Roy and Darcy had to keep up with David. I was impressed by the constant attention and consistent approach they brought to parenting.

As special needs parents we may feel a bit of envy at what appears to be an easier path for some. It seems to me that it ought to be simpler to parent a typical child. After my day with David I do not think that is necessarily true. Sure, there are things that we deal with that other parents don’t, such as therapy appointments, behavior plans, developmental limitations and medications. But parenting itself, the teaching and forming, the shaping of behaviors, is a lot of work. Being good parents has much to do with and the gifts and graces we share with our kids as we shepherd them toward adulthood. I thank my friends Roy and Darcy for reminding me that all parents share this same bond. It may have been a typical day for them, but it was a day of learning for me.

Loving Father, thank you for shaping us with love, leading and teaching us to live in ways that are pleasing to you. Help us to be for our children the parents that you call us to be, formed in your image. Forgive us for the times when we fall short as parents and help us learn to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes. May we grow in your grace as we grow in our roles as moms and dads. Amen.

Photo by Roy Mayeda

Just the Right Teacher

Back to School

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching … (Romans 12:6-7 NRS)

Meet-the-teacher night is always exciting, nerve-wracking, and hope-filled. Thinking back to when my son was young, at the start of a new school year, I would get anxious butterflies thinking about whether or not a teacher would “get” my son.  His behaviors could be challenging. He took up a lot of extra time due to his learning differences.  I would try to fill the gap a bit for his teachers each year by taking things off their plate where I could.  I figured teaching my son ought to come with some perks. I volunteered to help in the workroom, moving my teacher’s requests to the top the pile and doing them first. Every month I’d leave a small appreciation gift in their mailbox just to let them know how much it meant to me that they were helping my son learn despite his challenges.  A small packet of home-baked cookies, a giant chocolate bar, a gift card to a coffee shop or movie theater were just simple ways of saying thanks. My gifts were so small in comparison to the gifts they gave to Craig.

Teaching children is not a gift I have.  You know how some folks can walk into a room, snap the lights off and on and everyone gets quiet and pays attention?  When I try that I have five kids racing to the light switch, “Let me do it!” Math facts? Forget it! Oh I know them.  I just can’t teach them without someone ending up in tears. Often it’s me! Teaching truly is a gift and some have it and some don’t.  Since I don’t, I really appreciate those who do.

One of the greatest gifts I ever received came from my son’s helping teacher in first grade.  She had a great heart for special needs and could see past diagnosis to my son as a child of God, loving what she saw there. Toward the end of first grade we were talking after school one day when I picked up Craig. She was hoping for a child of her own, which was not coming as easily as it does for some.  She told me that she wished she had a boy just like mine.  I commented something about raising a boy is a lot of fun.  She said, “No. You aren’t hearing me.” Choking back tears, “I want a boy exactly like him. He’s amazing!” It was a healing balm for a hurting mother’s heart to know this woman who spent all day every day with my child was undaunted by behaviors and learning differences. Of all the kids she knew and helped she wanted one just like mine. In a way, her acceptance helped me with my acceptance.  I always accepted my child, but autism? It takes a while to make peace with that.  Having just the right teacher taught me a thing or two.

Prayer: Teaching God, We thank you for those who have the gift of teaching. They bless our families in powerful ways. Each child has a teacher who can unlock their abilities.  We pray your blessings on them as they prepare for a new school year. Amen.

Photo: Back to School by nuttakit from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Place Where Everybody is Welcome!

 

Coco

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. (Gen 1:31-2:1 NRSV)

A sign I have lived in Texas for a long time: Yesterday my husband came home from work and found me relaxing on the back patio. “My car says it’s 95 degrees!  Aren’t you hot?” I was sure he was wrong.  It felt lovely! I checked the temperature on a weather app.  96 degrees.  Well, he was wrong…

Being around creation recharges my batteries. I simply have to get outside and enjoy the beauty of what God made.  A perfect respite for me is time with my cat Coco, my furry and feathered friends who come to my backyard feeder, and a splashing fountain to provide just the right background music. Bliss!

God made it all and called it good.

We have a highly inclusive bird feeder, which doubles as a squirrel feeder.  I keep it on the ground for more convenience to me and the squirrel. We take everybody who comes and everybody gets what they want.  I think about their needs. Blue Jays? More peanuts! Cardinals? More safflower and sunflower seeds! Mockingbirds? Sliced apples and fresh berries hit the pan.  Our garden is planted to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Water, food, shade.  My yard is haven for all and I make sure it is inviting and inclusive to everyone.

Years ago I watched a man feeding doves. He only liked a certain variety.  When ones showed up he didn’t like he shooed them away, kicking sand toward them.  I wonder to this day what he had against those particular birds. Why weren’t welcome?  Granted, they were not as cute, not as agile, not as delicate as the ones he favored, but they were special in their own way. Besides, God made them all and called them good.

Inclusion means making a place for everyone, welcoming whoever comes.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”  He didn’t kick sand at the ones who weren’t “cute and agile.” He made space for them.  All of them. It’s no coincidence that many of the stories of Jesus were about people with special needs. Those were his people. Jesus was inclusive.

All means all.

This past June I met a pastor who leads a worship service where truly “all means all.” Leslie Neugent at Wayzata Community Church in Wayzata, Minnesota thinks outside the box about how to do inclusive worship.  Her service, Parables, is led by and for families with special needs, attracting over 100 worshipers on a typical Sunday. How do they attract so many?  The key is the right invitation.  I don’t mean one they print and hand out, though they likely do that too. I mean Leslie and her team are intentional about thinking about what families need.  A safe place where noises are allowed? Not a problem! A child who wants to be in the center of the action? Fantastic!  The more volunteers the better! Pattern and predictability work best for your family? You got it!  Familiar songs, short sermons, lots of activity for all levels. Check out more Parables worship here for ideas to share with your church: http://www.wayzatacommunitychurch.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=229208

Attraction and inclusion come through thinking about who we care to welcome and then providing a welcoming environment, whether it is a backyard or a church.  God made us all and calls us good, too. I am so grateful to serve our God of inclusion.

Photo: Backyard Friends by Lorna Bradley

Run, Run, Run

Racetrack

“Later you get pie!” Words to live by shouted to me by a cheering spectator as I ran mile after mile in a recent half marathon. Seriously, spending my calorie bank after a race makes me very happy. One of my favorite parts of running races is the motivational signs. Okay, that and the finish line.

I enjoy reading the funny signs along the course:
Better hurry! People are chasing you!
Worst parade ever!
Free bananas ahead!
The end is near! (Held by a person dressed like the grim reaper).

When I am starting to feel a little tired around mile 8 or 10, inspiration is a fine thing:
Never, never, never, give up
Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go
The voice in your head that says “you can’t” is a liar

Wouldn’t it be great for us special needs parents if we had motivational signs to encourage us with the task of parenting?

To the parent on the start of a quest for a diagnosis: Never, never, never give up!
It took our family 17 years to move through ADHD, OCD, Tourettes, and anxiety diagnoses finally to have a name for all those behaviors. Asperger’s. Someone out there has the answer.

To the parent of a middle-schooler dealing with hormones coming into play and new sets of challenges: Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go! Infancy gave way to the preschool and elementary years. Those are all behind you now and you have raised a remarkable child. Job well done! Stretch your arm high in the air, bend it, and give yourself a good pat on the back for the awesome job you have done. Look how far you have come!

To the parent who has reached the limit: The voice in your head that says “you can’t” is a liar! Are you taking time to care for yourself? How can you make that a priority? All those folks who say, “Call me if you need anything.” Call them. Really. They want you to because they care. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are human. Even Jesus took a break from time to time to go away for respite so he could return to his work in ministry refreshed and renewed. Plus, he didn’t go it alone. He depended on his friends. If it worked for Jesus, it’s worth trying.

The Bible is full of motivation for special needs parents.

“Run with perseverance the race set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1b, NRSV)
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV)
“Do not worry about anything…” (Philippians 4:3a, NRSV)
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NRSV)

Parenting is a sacred duty and the most important thing we get to do with our lives. As special needs parents, we have a heaping big portion of parenting. Fortunately, we have a heaping big God helping us, cheering us on for the road ahead.

Image “Racetrack” courtesy of Photokanok / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Please Hear Me

Bend down, O LORD, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. (Psalms 86:1-4 NLT)

My husband and I have the good fortune of commuting together and we enjoy listening to TED Talks to fill the time in the carpool on mornings when the caffeine has not yet gotten on board to create energy for conversations. Recently we heard Afghan war veteran Wes Moore talking about the experiences of veterans returning from war. He said he used to say to soldiers, “Thank you for your service,” because he thought it sounded right. He heard others saying it and so he did too.  He came to realize as a veteran himself that what veterans really need is for someone to hear their story, to understand their experience. Per Wes, often veterans feel ignored and the message they get is that their service didn’t matter.

They feel invisible.

Sound familiar? I never thought before of the connection between veterans and special needs parents, but it is most certainly there. People say things meaning well, “What a blessing!” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” To them it sounds right and they feel the need to say something, but to my ears it is not all that helpful to hear.  What is more helpful is the person who sees beyond behaviors to the family, sees beyond diagnosis to the people, and then takes the time hear the story. The simple request of, “Tell me about your week,” sure is much more helpful and meaningful.  We don’t need a knight in shining armor to ride in and fix it.  We just want someone to listen and care that what we do is hard and what we do matters.

I’ve learned in years of ministry with special needs families that when a parent asks, “Do you have some time?” that means they have a story they need to share. I used to feel the need to “fix it.” In time I learned that ,mostly, they need me to sit and listen and pray for them.  That’s all. There is healing simply in telling the story and being heard. Every parent needs someone to sit in compassion with them and hear their story.

One of the things I like most about the Psalms is they are filled with reminders that God hears us. God is attentive to our prayers. God is a good listener, even when we lack the words to speak.

Blessings to you this week!

You can watch Wes Moore’s Ted Talk at:

Learning to Be a Wide Receiver

Kiel-Baltic-Hurricanes-Spieler

I received some good advice via a devotional the other day.  It asked me if I had been a giver for so long that I had forgotten how to receive.  I needed that reminder. I get caught up at times in doing for others. I actually enjoy helping and doing and supporting. I suppose that is how special needs parents are wired.  It’s written into the job description. It’s the side dish that comes with that great big heaping portion of parenting.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s a role I love. I’m just keeping it real. It’s hard to keep up with everything else in life. It’s easy for days to turn into a list of, “I should have… I need to… I wish there was time for…”

My son comes by his love of animals naturally.  When I was growing up there was a lake across the street from my house.  As a child I spent countless hours there feeding the ducks. I loved tossing out whole slices of bread, setting off a feeding frenzy with ducks devouring in seconds with hungry bills, which eagerly turned my direction for more.  So more I gave, to my delight and theirs. More and more and more, until there was nothing left.

There are days when I feel like that slice of bread. Gobbled up and not enough. Not nearly enough.

That’s the time to remind myself about the receiving.  I’m a lousy receiver. I don’t like asking for help.  I once spent over an hour in a library looking a children’s book to use for a children’s sermon illustration.  The librarian was right there.  She even asked if I needed help.  My answer? “No, but thanks for offering.”

Do you catch yourself doing that?  Turning down help that is freely offered, even when you need it?

It’s okay to be a receiver. It is not a sign a weakness. It’s a gift to the givers in the world who need someone to receive their gift.  By not being willing to receive, I take away someone else’s blessing, as well as my own.

In the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22 NRSV)

How wise of them not to say, “No, but thanks for offering.”

 

photo credit:

Kiel-Baltic-Hurricanes-Spieler

by Torsten Bolten

Papa, Patience and Power

Driving

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRSV)

Throughout my father’s life I saw him change and grow.  He wasn’t always the most patient person, but really, who is?  I can be at the head of the line myself some days. In hindsight ,I think my dad dealt with a lot of stress that he kept to himself.  I was shielded from it, but I think that just made his load heavier at times.  Through the gift of a life well-lived and experiences taken to heart, he mellowed over the years. I remember one time riding in the car with him when he was in his sixties and he missed a stop light.  As he stopped the car, he turned to me and winked, “Now I’m first!  Looking at it that way, it has no control over me. I took its power away.”

That has always stayed with me.  There have been times I have felt powerless in the midst of a situation, especially when watching my child struggle.  I think of my dad’s wise words at times like that. When worry, frustration, grief, etc. get a toehold (or a death grip!), I use my dad’s wisdom of trying to see it from a different perspective. How can I take away the power of something that has negative control and needs to be weeded from my life?

In Psalm 51, the psalmist writes, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRS)

This is a psalm of returning to God and turning away from sin.  I think that same idea applies here.  Asking God for a clean heart, a fresh start, a new attitude creates a new perspective. It gives the power and glory to God in all things.

Prayer:    Patient God, Thank you for the power to renew and refresh and put our hearts in the right place. Give us a fresh view of the world full of wonderful possibilities. Amen.

Photo: “Driving In Car In Fall” by digidreamgrafix

What’s in a Name?

When my husband and I were anticipating the birth of our son, one of the most important, exciting and challenging decisions we faced as soon-to-be parents was choosing a name.  Finding just the right name for a person is no small task.  We wanted a name that resonated with our family heritage, one that was easy to recognize and spell, yet not too common. For some reason it was important to me that he not have a name that could not be shortened. I know a Michael or two who do not like being called Mike.  That was a lot to consider. Then family members wanted to jump in with their two cents.  Opinions were not welcome! My feelings were that if they wanted to name a baby, they could go birth one themselves.  Inquiries to know the names that made it to the “short list” were not satisfied either.  We didn’t want our choice slanted by outside influence.  What our child would be called was up to us alone.  Bothered by constant inquiries we finally made up a couple of names.  “If it’s a boy, Rufus. If it’s a girl, Babette.” Those names have stuck with us.  We recently attended a murder mystery dinner theater and needed fake names, so my husband and I were Rufus and Babette for the night.

Finally, after much time and consideration, and the foreknowledge that we were having a boy, we chose the name Craig.  Familiar, but not common. Easy to spell. Cannot be shortened. (Ironically, we lengthen it and call him Craiggers or Craigerkins. Go figure!)  It’s also a name that reflects who he is, celebrating his Scottish heritage.  I had a concern that his name, which means “one who dwells in a crag,” would be bothersome to him. A valid concern from a mom whose name means “one who is lonely.”  No worries there for Craig.  The meaning of his name actually turned into a great bonus from Craig’s perspective since he has a profound love of all things dragon.

Names are important.  What we call ourselves matters. What we are called by others matters.  This week I am at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in Dallas.  It is a great blend of theological debate as well as practical application workshops shared by 150 participants from around the world.  People with special needs are one of the most diverse segments of the population.  Typically, when referring to any group of people, you want to use the language with which they refer to themselves.  For some, they prefer the term “disabled,” while others cringed.  “Special needs” resonates with some, while others prefer “special abilities.” One person said she preferred to apply the term “handicapped” to herself. My son refers to what I used to call his “learning differences” as his “learning disability.” For those whose bodies function more typically, I was introduced by Dr. Amos Yong to the concept of being “temporarily able-bodied.” Point well made!  In whatever capacity our bodies are functioning today, there is a good likelihood that given time they will come to function differently. Thinking of myself as temporarily able-bodied offers a new lens that increases my awareness of my own vulnerability.

Hearing the various perspectives around the room, I wonder if a person who experiences a difference in the function of their body puts as much care into how they name that for themselves as Mark and I put into naming our son Craig.  Given the strength of opinions, I will say that many do. It’s a naming that needs to be honored for each individual. There is no “one-size-fits-all.” As a parent I would not accept a name for my child that was imposed by the outside.  Nor did I let my child’s life be defined by the names (labels) that come with the journey of special needs.

Names matter and I apply that in my prayer life praying to Loving God, Gracious God, Healing God, Leading God, Nurturing God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In an endless number of names I call on God and trust in God’s attentive presence to my prayers. God is so much more than just one name.  When Moses asked God his name so that he could tell the slaves in Egypt who sent him to free them from captivity, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14 NRSV).

God is all things and cannot be defined by one name. In that we are made in the image of God, that is an important facet in the quality of God that is empowering to take on for ourselves and for our children.  We are wonderfully made, even in the midst of our many unique expressions and differences.  We are who we are, transcending the labels with which others may seek to define us.