Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Does A Servant Look Like?

(Below are Nicole's thoughts on Day 33 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

In the past few weeks we discovered our ministries by finding our shapes. We are now heading in the right direction. However, now that we know we are suppose to serve we need to ask ourselves another do real servants act? We want to be the best servants we can be. It's tough nowadays when everyone wants to be the leader. Rick Warren gives us the six characteristics of a real servant of God. They are: make yourself available to serve, pay attention to need, do your best with what you have, do every task with equal dedication, be faithful to your ministry and maintain a low profile. If you haven't done so, I highly recommend that you read about each of these characteristics in more detail. Rick Warren really goes into detail about each of these characteristics and how you can develop them.

For now, I'd like to touch on a question that Rick Warren posed at the end of Day 33.

Which of these six characteristics of real servants offers the greatest challenge to me?

I'd like to share with you my answer to this question. For me the answer was "Real servants pay attention to needs." I really try to pay attention to others who are hurting. However, it's difficult when you are hurting as well. Sure I trust God with autism. Although, it is a daily thing I have to give to God. As selfish as this may sound, there are days where I don't feel like serving. I can't see past my own needs to recognize others. I feel like saying "my day is hard enough." The selfish nature in us will try to put our needs in front of others which prevents us from serving others. I almost missed out on a wonderful opportunity for me to not only serve but for someone to serve me as well. I was having a very hard week. Autism was at it's peak in my home and I was so overwhelmed. A close friend who has a child with autism called me seeking guidance and prayer. I almost didn't answer my phone because I didn't feel I could do any one any good. (Isn't it amazing how God will show up and show how good He truly is?) I am so thankful that God encouraged me to pick up my phone. My friend and I were able to serve each other and give each other the strength we were both we desperately seeking. How sad it would have been if either of us couldn't have seen passed our own needs to reach other to each other. Even more challenging to me is being able to reach out to others who don't have a child with autism. God needs me to serve outside of autism as well. However, I get so focused on autism that sometimes it's hard for me to even see outside our world. Really stop and think about people around you and what they're going through. The friend at work who is making the difficult decision to move her mother into a nursing home. The family member whose husband is unfaithful. The close friend who just went through a divorce. We may not truly "get" what they are going through because we haven't experienced it but God still wants us to serve these people. He wants us to see beyond our struggles and reach out to others. After reading this chapter, I thought about a very close friend of mine that we'll call "Mary" who I believe has the biggest heart to serve. Last year, "Mary's" oldest child passed away from a rare genetic disorder. He was nine years old. A beautiful little boy who had a remarkable spirit. During this most difficult time in her life, "Mary" served me in more ways than she knows. In fact, I really don't think she even realizes how much she naturally serves others. It wasn't because I was sitting back thinking "how she has it worse than I do." It was all in the way she handled the most devastating thing that could happen to a mother....with compassion, understanding and faithfulness. She showed me how strong her faith was and how important it is to trust in God, no matter what. "Mary" taught me to totally give my situation to God and fully trust in Him. Now, she didn't do this in a big sit down talk over coffee. It was in her actions. I love to be around "Mary". Her faithfulness in God and how we should all feel blessed with what God has handed us is so catching. She is using her life and her child's life to serve others. Not only other parents who have lost a child, but to other people who are hurting. That's the key. We need to not only serve families that have children with autism, but we also need to reach out to others. We need to show others our faithfulness in God. We need to scream from our rooftops how much we trust in God even when our child seems to be regressing again. We need to show them all of the blessings that we are finding in the midst of our storm so that they too may see theirs. This is serving God. Think of how many people will hear your testimony and come to God as well.

Here's the thing, serving doesn't always have to look like bringing someone a meal, cleaning their house or taking them to dinner...don't get me wrong these are great ways to serve and I do think it's important to help others. However, we have to open our eyes, look past our own problems and reach out to others. We can use our testimonies to help others testimonies come to life. In my opinion, our best way of serving God and others is all in how we live our lives. It's all about how we handle what we've been given. We can do it to glorify God and reach out to others. Imagine our world if we all did this. If we all leaned on each other, served each other. Now that my friend, is a faithful servant. Wouldn't you love to get to Heaven and hear Jesus say to you "Well done my faithful servant, well done."

Bible Verses from Day 33
Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. -Mark 10:43

You can tell what they are by what they do. -Matthew 7:16

"If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded." -Matthew 10:42

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Just Be Yourself...The Best You Can Be

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Day 32 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

Day 32 begins with this Danish proverb:

What you are is God's gift to you; what you do with yourself is your gift to God.

God created each of us uniquely, with great love and detail so that our gifts and talents complement and help eachother. It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that we should be more like someone else or are inadequate because we don't have someone else's gifting in a certain area. Day 32 was a great confirmation to me that God created each of us with different strengths on purpose and that we will only cause frustration and stress if we try to be like someone else.

In our efforts to help our children overcome their obstacles, we are drawn to different teaching methods to build up their areas of weakness. This is a very important part of helping them reach their potential. At the same time, we should also be continuing to develop their areas of strength. In many instances, these strengths are what will set them apart and enable them to overcome their difficulties. We should also keep this perspective when evaluating ourselves. As autism moms, we are all drawn to different methods based on what our children need. We have collectively amassed expertise in many different areas and are often the best resource one another has. It is also easy in this position to feel like less than we would like to be when comparing ourselves to others-another trap. We are our children's best asset when we take the time to understand ourselves and operate from our own place of strength.

Rick Warren gives us some suggestions about where to start, so that we can discover our gifts and develop them:

Begin by assessing your gifts and abilities. We do this by taking an honest look at what we do and don't do well, as well as where we've had our most success. Rick Warren recommends asking people who know us well and states that "Spiritual gifts and natural abilities are always confirmed by others." (p. 250)

Consider your heart and personality. This is another area where it helps to hear from the people who know us best. We have to ask ourselves questions that lead us to discover what we enjoy most, how we like to work best and how we perceive the world.

Examine your experiences and extract the lessons you have learned. This one takes a great deal of time. In fact, Rick Warren recommends we take a life review retreat, where we review our entire life and take the time to see how God has worked in our most defining moments. He also recommends keeping a spiritual journal, where we document the way our experiences have shaped us. (p. 252)

Once we have taken the time to understand ourselves better, God wants us to accept and enjoy ourselves. I was catching up on Joyce Meyer's Enjoying Everyday Life program and really appreciated what she shared about her own journey to self-acceptance. As she was studying and building her ministry, she was very drawn to imitate her pastor's wife. This woman was very soft-spoken, creative and very good at all things homemade. Joyce Meyer felt abrasive and inadequate as a homemaker in comparison. She became convinced that she needed to become just like her, and tried to grow/can her own vegetables, even make her family's clothes-just like this other woman. The results were comical and quite disastrous: a swarm of bugs attacked Joyce's vegetables (but the other woman's were fine) and she made shorts with pockets longer than the legs. Time after time, God confirmed that it was never His intention for Joyce to be anyone other than who He created her to be. She later found out that the devil had also convinced this pastor's wife that she was inadequate (too quiet, not bold enough) and needed to be more like Joyce. How unfortunate for both of these valuable and talented women! (Joyce Meyer: Enjoying Everyday Life, Letting Go And Learning to Enjoy, 2009) How often do we do this in an effort to be better when the best we thing we can be is ourselves-just as we were created to be.

As Rick Warren points out, part of accepting who were made to be is staying within our own limitations. If we try to act outside of God's plan for us, it is likely to cause stress and frustration. We can only do well that which God anoints and purposes for us to do. God wants us to find joy in serving Him with the gifts and talents he has given. As we do this, they will be blessed and continue to grow. As illustrated in Joyce Meyer's example, the devil will try to keep this from happening. He does this by tempting us to compare ourselves to other people and conform our ministry to another's way of thinking. (p. 253) Changing our God-given course of action in response to criticism is another temptation we may face to keep us from accepting and enjoying who we were made to be. (p. 254)

Once we are able to accept and enjoy who God made us to be, we are to continue developing those areas. As Rick Warren points out in the parable of the talents, this is a "Use it or Lose it" situation. The servant who used his talent fruitfully saw his talent greatly increased, while the one who failed to use his talent lost it. (p. 255). If we continue to use and develop our gifts they will grow and be blessed. We can set a good example for our children and encourage them to do the same.

There is one other example that I would like to share. As I prayerfully consider homeschooling my son with autism, I have been networking with other mothers to help me make a balanced decision. On a discussion board, some of the mothers were asking one another for strategies to help their children to develop their children's areas of weakness in visual and auditory processing. I thought that the best perspective came from a 50 year old woman with autism who shared about how she handled this in her own life. She stated, "all of us have weak areas that force us to rely on others who are stronger in that area...that's why we need eachother so much." (-qt) She also went on to share that love and acceptance (as well as a relationship with the Lord) were her biggest help. This personal statement that she includes in her signature is a great example of the lessons this chapter aims to teach us:

"Never forget how important you really are...that you are needed and loved. No one can replace you, and only you can do the best job of being you!" (-qt, used with permission)

Bible Verses from Day 32:

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. -Romans 12:4-6

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in men. -1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -1 Corinthians 15: 58

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. -1 Timothy 4: 14-15

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting in Shape...Remember No Pain No Gain

(Below are Nicole's thoughts on Day 30 and 31 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

"No pain, no gain!" When I hear someone say this I think of this really muscular strong man with his biceps bulging out screaming this to his work out buddy as they're lifting every single weight around them. "NO PAIN, NO GAIN! Come on buddy you can do it!" They welcome the pain because they know the outcome. They've put in the hours and have worked really hard to work through the pain so that they can get their "gain" that they are looking for. I believe we can take this same outlook on the pain we go through in life. I believe that what you do with your pain, aka what you've been through, helps determine your gain.
I want to spend the majority of this post talking about how we can turn the pain that we are going through with autism into something good. However, before we dive right into this, I want to share with you the points that meant the most in Day 30 and 31. They are:

1. Before God created you he decided what role he wanted you to play on earth. How awesome does it feel knowing that what we're going through is not surprising to God! It may have taken us by surprise but not God.
2. You are the way you are because you are made for a specific ministry. It is so important that we discover what ministry we were born to do.
3. You are a combination of many different factors to shape your ministry. Rick Warren gave us the acronym of SHAPE to help us remember five important factors in helping us discover our ministry. They are:
a. Spiritual Gifts: you can't earn these gifts. They are given to you. Rick Warren tells us on page 236 " don't get to choose which gifts you'd like to have." He goes on explaining that no one receives all of the gifts. This would defeat the purpose that God has with us needing each other. It's important that you figure out your spiritual gift and use it. Otherwise, you may not be helping out someone that you're supposed to be helping.
b. Listening to your Heart. Enthusiasm and passion will guide you to what you love to do.
c. Applying your Abilities. These are your natural talents and they come from God. Page 244..."Whatever you're good at, you should be doing for your church." I believe we need to take this same approach to help everyone around us, including outside of church.
d. Using your Personality. Your personality was designed for a specific ministry. Here we're reminded that copying someone else's ministry never works. "God made you to be you!"

e. Employing your Experiences. This is where we go back to the "No pain, no gain!"

On Day 31, Rick Warren explains to us that one of the most important experiences that God uses to SHAPE us for our ministry are the painful experiences. When I got to page 247 and read..."Who could better minister to the parents of a Down Syndrome child than another couple who have a child afflicted in the same way?" my heart just stopped. I literally put down my book and smiled. I read it again but this time read it as "Who could better minister to the parents of a child with autism than other couple who has a child with autism?" That's us guys! Who can help all of the newly diagnosed parents out the most? Believers who have children on the spectrum. We can use our gifts, whether it be the gift of writing, the gift of listening, the gift of researching, the gift of caring, the gift of seeing things positively...we can use our gifts to help each other out. We all need the help. We all need each other's gifts. I think back to the day that my son was diagnosed. I knew no one. Had no one to talk to about this and really wrap my thoughts around the diagnosis. Friends and family tried to be there but they didn't get it. My church family was there to listen but couldn't really console because they didn't get it. Finally, I found a group of moms who have children on the spectrum who were also believers. They used their gifts to reach out to me. This made the biggest impact on me and showed me that I too need to reach out to other parents. Think about it...if we're all there for each other to help each other through the hard times, celebrate the good times and pick each other up when we would be that much easier. We could all use a little easy. We can take the pain we've been through in life to make that same pain a little easier for someone else. On page 247, Rick Warren reminds us of one important thing..."For God to use your painful experiences you must be willing to share them." It is so difficult to open up about pain especially when concerning our children. I don't know about you, but I know when I first starting sharing about some of the painful things we were encountering with autism, I felt ashamed. Not ashamed of my child. Ashamed of myself. I kept feeling that by talking about the hard thing I was going through with him that others may think I was disappointed in him or didn't like my life/family. It was very difficult to open up. However, the more I shared the easier it was. I realized that people didn't look at me or think of me as not loving my child. In fact, they thought the opposite. They couldn't believe the love, devotion and dedication I gave to my child and my family. However, to know this, I need to open up and share.
It is our responsibility as believers in Christ and as moms of children on the spectrum to reach out to other moms. Yes, it's important for us to be there for each other, comment on the blog when we have something to share and pray for each other. It's even more important that we reach out the moms that aren't the believers, that aren't following this blog, that really need us. I really loved how Rick Warren included Paul and his thoughts on Asia. As you read this again, think of what you are going through in your life. Think of a way you can share your pain like Paul did to help others.
"I think you ought to know dear brothers, about the hard time we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us and saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again..." 2 Corinthians 8-10

Let's go back to our muscle guys mentioned at the beginning of the post. Imagine you just started working out. We didn't realize how much pain you would go through in the first couple weeks, days, even hours. What if you didn't realize that the more pain you go through the better in shape you will be? You'd quit, you'd give up. What if there is a mom out there right now who doesn't realize how these painful experiences will help her grow? We need to get ourselves into SHAPE very quickly and find our ministry so that we can help others.
Remember what Rick Warren says on page 248..."What will you do with the pain you've been through? Don't waste your pain; use it to help others."

Bible Verses from Day 30 and 31

Your hands shaped me and made me. Job 10:8 (NIV)

The people I have shaped for myself will broadcast my praises. Isaiah 43:21

God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all." 1 Corinthians 12:6

You shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. Psalm 139:13

God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God's many kinds of blessings." 1 Peter 4:10

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How May I Serve You?

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Day 29 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comment section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

I mentioned in a previous post that becoming a parent, especially to a child with autism taught me that I needed to learn more about true patience. In the same respect, I continually learn that it's not all about me. Day 29 takes us into God's fourth purpose for our lives, We were shaped for serving God. God saves us from destruction so that we can continue on in His purpose and plan, serving and assisting others with love because of the love He has shown us.

It is very difficult for most of us to step outside of our own lives. Especially in our unique situation, we are working so hard trying to meet our family's needs and we often feel too exhausted or overwhelmed to believe that we can be of any help in service to others. I think the first thing we need to do is value and recognize the great service we give in caring for those entrusted to us in our family, especially our special children. We then take this ministry that we are living in our homes out into the community as we care for and teach our children in the public eye. It is a powerful witness to other people, especially believers in Christ when we go about our work with kindness and love-in spite of how difficult or discouraging a situation may seem. When we encounter another autism mom, or even a mother struggling with a typical child and take the time to listen and offer encouragement, we are serving in ministry. We love others because He loved us first and offers us His love daily and freely. I love to see "veteran" autism moms mentoring and supporting moms of newly diagnosed children. It is a very pay-it-forward kind of ministry we have among eachother. I want to help someone else because I know how hard it is and it meant the world when someone else reached out to help me.

The moment we truly decide to make Jesus our savior and offer our lives completely to Him, the process of becoming a servant of God begins. Meditating on and studying God's word helps us to transform our thoughts, hearts and minds. Through a gradual process of stripping away the "self" focus of our lives, we begin to shift our focus to improving the lives of others. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus continually served others by teaching, healing, praying and loving. We begin to have the heart of Jesus when we feel and do this in our own lives.

Chapter 29, Accepting Your Assignment, gives us the details of our servanthood or ministry as outlined in the Bible.

1. You were created to serve God.
This point, to me reminds me again of the shift that has to take place in our hearts. We make the shift from thinking about how others make our life better to "How can I make someone else's life better." At one of my friend's homes, there is a post-it note on the door leading to the outside that everyone passes on their way out that says "Do something nice for someone today." I love that.

2. You were saved to serve God.
On page 228, Rick Warren states, "Through salvation our past has been forgiven, our present is given meaning and our future is secured." A true measure of how much Christ is really in our lives is in our desire to serve. It spoke to me when Rick Warren also identified any act of service to others as ministry. It warms my heart to know that no small act of kindness on our part goes unnoticed by God. We are each ministers in our own lives and have an important role in the kingdom by building up the church (body of Christ) in our communities.

3. You were called to serve God.
It still amazes me to know before I was even conceived that God had firmly planned what my life's purpose would be, and that it is very important to him. After we invite God into our lives, the journey to spiritual maturity begins when we study the word of God. We then need to put into practice what we have learned. On page 231, Rick Warren writes that many believers "already know far more than they are putting into practice. What they need are serving experiences in which they can exercise their spiritual muscles." He also points out that the shift from "serve us" to "service" is not our first natural inclination, but a true sign of spiritual maturity.

In the end, we have to give an account to God about how we used His gifts and love to serve others. His son lived a life of service and died for us so that we could live eternally. We have already learned that we were made to live eternally. Growing in love and knowledge of God's son Jesus aids us in this process. Knowing that God never gives up on us and wants to give us grace for every situation helps us to believe that this is indeed possible.

Bible Verses from Day 29:

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -Ephesians 2:10

By the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. -1 Timothy 8-10

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. -1 Corinthians 12:27

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.- Matthew 20: 26-28