Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's Right With This Picture?

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Chapter 8 of Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore we ask, if you feel like it please share in the comments section what you got out of the reading as well. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit!)

At first, I found this Chapter 8, Seeing What’s Right With This Picture to be very similar to Chapter 4, Embracing the Moment. Nicole and I emailed back and forth on this and found some important differences to take this to the next level.

Brief recap…

In Chapter 8, Stormie challenges us to look for God’s perspective when things don’t turn out the way we think they should. She gives us some great examples of people in situations that are upsetting and difficult, and then goes on to find what was good in all of them. One example she gives is when her daughter, Mandy had a car accident. Some of the “good” things to come out of the situation were that no one was hurt and that Mandy would become a better, more defensive driver, which could one day save her life. Stormie realizes that looking for the good in Seeing What’s Right With This Picture is very similar to the points she made in Embracing the Moment and she offers this distinction between the two: Embracing the Moment” is embracing God and finding Him in the moment. “Seeing What’s Right With This Picture”, on the other hand, is searching for the truth and seeing reality from God’s perspective. It’s being willing to let go of our determination to see things through our own tunnel vision. (p.74)

So often, it seems despite all my best efforts, things still go wrong and my plans do not fall into place the way I hope that they will. This chapter was helpful to me as a reminder that God is still helping things come together for my son’s best interests (as well as my own), even when things go wrong. These past two months this has happened several times regarding a gastrointestinal procedure that my son Matthew needed to have. The first time things went wrong was when two days before the appointment for the initial consult, my entire family became sick with the flu (the regular kind!) and there was no way we could make the 3 ½ hour drive. I was so disappointed, and had really looked forward to getting this process started, hoping it would lead to answers and relief for my son. Matthew had several bowel inflammation markers, was in pain and sleeping terribly. So, a few weeks later we had our consultation and scheduled the procedure. A week before the procedure, the doctor’s office called to tell me that they didn’t realize this doctor would be at a medical conference on the day we were scheduled to have the procedure. The procedure was then put off for another three weeks. During this time, Matthew was still in pain, irritable and sleeping terribly. Clearly I had made every effort to help my child. Why were my well-intentioned efforts being thwarted by forces beyond my control?

Reading this chapter made me look back and look for God. First, Matthew and I were prayed over by my prayer group right before each of these obstacles (literally the night before my family got sick and the night before the office called to reschedule the procedure). I had to stop and think that because these events were beyond my control, and came right after we were prayed over, they must mean that God is moving things around for a reason. I like what Stormie wrote on page 76, “This may be a big shock to you-I know it was to me-but often when something unfortunate is happening to us, it’s actually an answer to a prayer we have prayed.”

Looking at it from Stormie’s “Seeing What’s Right” suggestions made me think that maybe there is something that the doctor would learn at the medical conference that would help him while completing the medical procedure. Maybe God knows something I don’t and Matthew would somehow be in a better position to have the procedure at a later date. What really stuck with me was that maybe I’m not supposed to know right now. Maybe I’m supposed to trust God at his word that He’s working things out on Matthew’s behalf. Sometimes we need to stay out of God’s way. Matthew did have his procedure last week and it went unbelievably well. We are still waiting for the final results but felt incredibly blessed at how well he was able to handle the prep, procedure and post-anesthesia wake-up. For whatever reason, it went better than I would have imagined.

Another area in my life where I need to apply these ideas is in the evaluation/eligibility/IEP process that I’ve begun with our public school system. I have a very firm idea of what I think is best for my son, but it will have to be carefully negotiated with an IEP team based on his upcoming evaluation results. Matthew has medical needs that are at the forefront and play into his services/placement prominently. I am trying very hard to follow protocol and provide the key information to the people who need to have it in the most diplomatic way. However, so far one of my key advocates who has offered to help has already let out all of the information to my case manager and I have already been misquoted regarding my wishes for the level of service he will receive in the minutes from our referral meeting. Once again, my best efforts are there, but events beyond my control alter how I think this should go. This chapter reminds me to trust that God knows what he’s doing and be glad that he moves things around in my life. Sometimes it can go to a good end when things go wrong, just as it can when things go right.

When we can look for the truth and are grateful that God is moving in our lives, it can take the "sting" out of some of our disappointment when things don't go the way we've planned. I hope, as Stormie suggests to one day to be able to say "This was the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23). Stormie puts this well on page 78, "What we're really talking about here is an issue of trust. It's basically believing that God is good and he desires the best for you."

One verse of scripture that I've been leaning on heavily lately just happened to be in the Footlights of this chapter, and was also forwarded to me recently by two friends:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Romans 8:28

Lord, thank you for uniting all of the mothers that come to this site both in our struggles and our desire to grow in faith and knowledge of You. We all face situations that are beyond our control and don't end up the way we plan. Help us to remember that our lives are in Your hands and will unfold according to Your perfect plan. Open our hearts and minds so that we may see Your hand in the events of our life and to view every situation as an opportunity for blessing. Give us the faith to trust that You know what is best for us and our children. We pray this in your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reporting from the Front Lines

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Chapter 7 of Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore we ask, if you feel like it please share in the comments section what you got out of the reading as well. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit!)

When I saw that the title of Chapter 7 was Standing in the Line of Fire, I knew I’d have no difficulty relating to it. There are so many battles and attacks from the outside and within that we all can relate to in our journey with autism.

Brief recap…

In chapter 7, Stormie describes two different scenarios where we can be attacked by enemy fire. First, this can happen if we are in enemy territory (ie: not living God’s way) or we can be doing what is right in our own territory and be targeted for an attack. Stormie gives us the example of the Israelites being delivered from Egypt, witnessing miracles and wonders as God guided them and fought their battle. She also gives us the example of Jehoshaphat, standing firm in faith, inspiring others to believe that God could save them. Stormie reminds us that we must first conquer our enemy with God’s help in the spiritual realm and that we must draw close to Him and stand firm in our belief in his goodness. Because any opposition we face from the enemy has spiritual power behind it, the battle must first be fought in the spirit before victory will be seen in the flesh. (p.67)

I really liked Jehoshaphat’s declaration to the believers, “If disaster comes upon us-sword, judgement, pestilence or famine-we will stand before this temple in your presence…and cry out to You in our affliction and you will hear and save.” (2 Chronicles 20:9) If I were to re-write this declaration in terms of my personal battle with Matthew’s autism, it would go something like this, “If illness comes upon us- regression, inflammation, yeast flare-up, gastrointestinal upset, behavior problems- we will stand firm in your presence…and cry out to You in our affliction and you will hear and save.

Once the people declared that they were completely dependent on God, He told them “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15) Thanks be to God that we don’t have to win this battle solely on our own strength, intellect and endurance! I think often about the battles that are waged before us regarding autism: battles to get therapies covered by insurance, battles to uncover and expose the root causes of autism, battles of trying to have your child’s needs met within the confines of a public school system, I could go on and on... As soon as we are drawn into thinking about any of these battles, our first and most crucial line of defense is to go straight to God, and allow him to guide our actions. He will line up and empower the key players, and make divine connections on our behalf so that in following His lead, we may triumph over our adversaries. Stormie writes on page 69, “The hardest part about letting God fight your battle is that He sometimes waits until the eleventh hour so you will have no doubt of where the power is coming from.” Isn’t that the truth! This is crucial for us to understand, so we don’t lose hope or give up before God gives us what we need to stand against our opposition.

Much of the misery of being in battle is thinking that we are alone in it…but you can be sure that the Lord will be with you and help you stand against whatever opposes you. (p.69) It’s okay to feel helpless sometimes, that allows us to realize how much we need God’s help and be in a better position to receive his guidance. When we think of how being in a position to need God poises us to receive greater blessing, it doesn’t feel quite as bad.

“Lord, thank you so much for every mother that has been brought across our path through this site. Bless and empower each and every one of them as they face their numerous opponents and go to battle on behalf of their precious children. Help them to remember that You go before them and are willing and able to bear the brunt of each attack. Draw them to you so that they may rest in their Heavenly Father’s goodness and love and be strengthened in You. It is only with Your help that we can have all we need to triumph in our adversity. May we all take comfort in knowing that You are our advocate, defender and strength. We pray this in your name, Lord. Amen.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lights on! Lights off! Lights on! Lights off!

(Below are Nicole's thoughts on Chapter 6 of Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore we ask, if you feel like it please share in the comments section what you got out of the reading as well. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit!)

Lights on! Lights off! Lights on! Lights off! That's how I've always felt my spiritual walk with God has been. To no one's fault but my own. Chapter 6 really helped me see this!

Brief recap...

In Chapter 6, Stormie compares our spiritual walks/relationships with God to paying your light bill. She begins by saying "When your light bill arrives, you might be able to come up with at least four reasons for not paying it: 1. "I don't have what it takes." 2. I don't want to." 3. I didn't know I had to." 4. "I forgot." Which one of these do you think the electric company will accept as a legitimate excuse for not paying? You guessed it! None of the above. Which one of these will God accept as a good excuse for not living in obedience to His ways? Right again! None of the above."

I started reading Chapter 6 about a week ago. After reading just the very beginning of this chapter, I started thinking about my own spiritual walk. What am I not doing that God requires for me to do? I could actually name quite a few things. Dare I humble myself to my faults? Sure, I can be honest with you and name a few. I don't spend as much time reading the Bible as I should. I don't call on Him first when I need help...I pick up the phone and call my friend in Greenville. I don't spend quality time praying with thanks to God for everything I do have. Then, I stop and think about my days. On my good days, I turn God's light off. It's there, it's waiting for me. I just don't go to it. I don't go to Him in prayer. I don't read as much as I should. But on my bad days, I'm desperately searching for his light. I need to turn on His light quickly.

Then I read more....Stormie says "Often we find ourselves walking in the dark simply because we are not willing to pay the price for having the light." I thought to myself...well that's simple, I can handle that. I kept reading..."We won't experience the awesomeness of God's power in our lives if we are not willing to meet His conditions for plugging into it." I can't tell you how many times I've told my husband that I just feel like we're not doing what God wants us to do. I feel like there's something on the horizon that He's getting ready to really bless us with but because we haven't "obeyed" it's just waiting for us.

Its' so easy to stray off course in obeying God. I love how Stormie compared it to getting drifted out to sea. How many times has that happened to you? You're at the beach, standing in front of where you placed your towels. You start jumping in the waves and playing. The next thing you know you don't see your towels. You've moved! This happens so often in my life. Just look at what happened this week. I decided I was going to make sure God was shining His light on me full blast. I wanted everything He had to offer me and I wanted to do it His way. I had a plan...every morning I would get up, pour myself a cup of coffee, sit down and read my Bible. Then half way through the day I would read an online devotional. At the end of the day, I would read our current study. Things went great day 1. By day 2, I started drifting. I read my Bible but it was usually in the afternoon when I was waiting in car pool line to pick up my son. By day 3, I dropped my online devotional. Day 4, I went to bed and realized I hadn't even picked up my Bible. But I was tired. (Would the light company take that excuse?) I totally saw what Stormie meant when she said "...our disobedience happens with such subtlety that we're not even aware of it." I needed to get back on track, fast. Every time I thought about not doing it, every time I had a worry creep into my head through out the day, every time I started to pick up the phone to call someone about a problem, I stopped myself, prayed and listened. It's amazing how much light He turned on for me this week. Stormie was so right when she said..."When we obey God, we are protected. When we obey God, we hear his voice. When we obey God, we see answers to our prayers. When we obey God, we can be led by Him." It's amazing how just in the past few days, it just feels right. I feel like I'm going on the path I need to be on. Two weeks ago, I never would have thought I'd say that. We had a pretty rough three weeks here in my home. Broken computers, broken toe, broken foot, my son who has autism was fighting off a virus which caused some regression and aggression, broken air conditioners...the worries just kept piling on. Nothing has changed as far as my son. He's still fighting off a virus. The computer is fixed. The toe is good. The foot is back to normal. We still have lots of "darkness" in our day. I've just been able to find the way to turn the light on and keep it on to help guide me to my path.

Any time a worry comes into my mind, which is quite often, I think about the comparison that Stormie gave about the light bill. Then I take it one step forward. What if I didn't pay the light bill and the lights went out? I may not need the lights during the day. I'd be fine not turning them on. But it's nice knowing they're ready for me. At night, in all the darkness where I couldn't see a thing, I need those lights. I desperately need those lights to guide me, help me see the right path to take and to give me that security that I need. It's at that point I wished I'd paid the light bill and I'd do anything for those lights to come back on. For me, I'm going to stop letting God's light go on and off in my life. I'm going to do all I can to walk the way He needs me to walk.

I love Stormie's Prayer Light so much that I've re-typed it below for you read once again...

"Lord, I thank You that You have given me all the light I need for this day. I want to experience everything You have for me, and I am willing to pay the price of obedience for it. So if there is any area in my life where I am not walking in full obedience to Your ways, show me. If You want me to do something that I am not doing, make me understand and enable me to accomplish it. Don't let me drift away. Pull me out of deep waters and rescue me from all that takes me from You. I lay down my will and surrender to Yours. I turn away from selfish claims to my own life in order to heed Your direction. Take any rebellion in me and expose it with Your truth. 'Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting' (Psalm 139:23-24). Lord, I choose this day to obey You because I know my life works best when I do. In the areas where obedience is hard for me, walk me through step by step. I don't want to do anything that would dim the light You have for my path." -Stormie Omaritian

I encourage you to read that prayer out loud. It's amazing how different it felt after I did that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Light for Our Path

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Chapter 5 of Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore we ask, if you feel like it please share in the comments section what you got out of the reading as well. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

Since this is a book about trusting God through the difficult times, the title of Chapter 5, Dancing in the Footlights caught me a bit off guard. It is so easy for me to feel like I’m lagging behind or that my own light is enough. This chapter was a good reminder for me that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Brief recap…

In Chapter 5, Dancing in the Footlights, Stormie gives us the example of footlights in the theater. These lights are on the floor of the stage around the edges. They show the performers where to go and where the stage ends, so they don’t fall into the orchestra pit. God’s word is our footlights, to guide us and keep us from falling into the pit. It is essential that God’s word not just be a part of our routine, but of who we actually are. Stormie gives another great illustration of a miner going down into a dark mine. The light from God’s word is the truth renewed in us that becomes our own personal miner’s light. Once this becomes so deeply engrained into our lives and very being, we no longer trudge along with our heavy burdens, but find reason to dance during our trials.

I have to admit, the first thing that came to mind when I saw ‘footlights’ in the title was a visual of Johnny Cash (Joaquim Phoenix) stomping out the footlights on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in the movie Walk the Line. As I thought about this more I realized that is pretty much the opposite of what God wants us to do. I got to thinking, how many times have I failed to see the guidance God wanted to give me because I felt I could find my own way?

One of the things I had to come to terms with before God could begin to heal my heart was the ways I had (with very good intentions) looked for light from other sources. My son Matthew, who is four and a half was diagnosed with autism last January. For two years prior to this, we dealt with life-threatening allergic reactions, chronic illness and deteriorating health and well-being. I never stopped praying or believing in God, but my prayers were becoming rooted in fear (mostly of losing my child), not love. I tried to do it all, solely on my own strength. It took a near burnout and a great deal of God’s love to turn this around. I needed to be rooted in God’s love and for my prayers and reflection on God’s word to also inspire that deep love for Him. This is something I often feel the need to consciously re-commit to daily, as the challenges can so easily discourage me and take away my focus. I’m just now learning what it means to cooperate and trust, so that God and I do this together.

Just as a loving parent gives advice and guidance to their children, Stormie reminds us that God’s word in the Bible is more than just an instruction manual. When we continually renew ourselves in God’s word, we develop a deep love for it and hunger for it. On page 49, Stormie writes, “Those of us who immerse ourselves in God’s Word, who press deeper and deeper, know its power. We love His Word like a love letter we read over and over.” The deep love and comfort we feel from being firmly grounded and reassured in God’s word makes the light it gives more meaningful. It leaves us feeling loved and blessed, even in our most difficult times.

Thinking of how the Bible can be considered a love letter, I thought of how I’ve learned to rethink how I hear certain songs. It is really amazing to listen to a beautiful love song from a different angle and think, “Wow, that is how God loves me” or “Now I understand how God wants me to love Him.” One song that has ministered to me, as thought it’s God’s love song to me is “By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North.

Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying
Let me lift up your face
Just don't turn away

Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching as if I'm not enough
To where will you go child
Tell me where will you run
To where will you run

And I'll be by your side
Wherever you fall
In the dead of night
Whenever you call
And please don't fight
These hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

Look at these hands and my side
They swallowed the grave on that night
When I drank the world's sin
So I could carry you in
And give you life
I want to give you life

(Chorus 2x)

Cause I, I love you
I want you to know
That I, I love you
I'll never let you go

Scripture verses:

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
-Psalm 119:130.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”
-Psalm 143:8

“But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him”
-1 John 2:5