Hope is Not a Strategy

“Hope is not a strategy.” A simple statement, but one that I’ve been chewing on the last couple of days. The context that I heard it in was at a seminar for churches on how try to prevent terrorism at your church before it happens. Ya know, the security specialist who has worked in the Israel airport and at the Mall of America in counter-terrorism says, “A lot of churches just ‘hope’ something bad will never happen to them. Well, hope is not a strategy… so you need to have a plan.”

“Hope is not a strategy.” That is so true. In life. In the Christ-following life. In autism life. Now, I LOVE hope, don’t get me wrong. I mean, look at what I named my blog. Hope is so foundational that if it doesn’t exist in the first place, there’s very little you can build upon at all. But, hope is a lot like a little blue pilot light. It must be present before the gas can be ignited that will actually throw out some serious heat.  Like a pilot light would never be able to cook your dinner by itself, hope does very little real work without the help of a partner.

Hope Always Pairs Up with Something

Hope itself very rarely just “works things out” like we hope it would. But, when coupled with action and faith, it is a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, when hope is coupled with denial and fantasy, hope is horribly destructive and it eventually blows out altogether–a very dangerous place to be. Here are some statements I’ve either said or heard to let you know what I mean:

“I hope our marriage gets better.”
“I hope God will pull through and heal my child.”
“I hope autism gets cured one day.”
“I hope I don’t stay depressed.”
“I hope God hears my prayers this time.”
“I hope my child will just get better so I don’t have to get more therapy for him.”
“I hope that rash/lump/swelling/ache/pain will just go away.”

You know what? Sometimes these things really do work themselves out. But a lot of times they don’t. In all of those statements, the most important thing missing is YOU or me. If we don’t take the personal responsibility to partner hope with something of substance–either action or active faith–we’re going nowhere, sister. Because hope is not a strategy.

Expectant Hope

Granted, sometimes hope needs to be paired with patience, but even true godly patience is active with expectancy because something has already been planted. “Yes, let none who trust and wait hopefully and look for You be put to shame or be disappointed” (Ps. 25:3). The very posture of God-like patience, trust and hope is still active. It leans forward and scans the atmosphere always looking for signs of growth and breakthrough. But notice the proper target of our hope when it comes to spiritual things. It is not in the need being fulfilled, but hope is placed IN God, the person–our Daddy. “And now, Lord, what do I wait for and expect? My hope and expectation are in You” (Ps. 39:7). It’s trusting that His character is that He loves us like crazy and He inherently is good all the time.

Now, when my husband tells me that he’s going to do the dishes, and I say, “Well, I sure hope so.” I really don’t have a ton of confidence that it’s actually going to get done. We need to check ourselves regularly that we’re not pulling the “Well-I-Sure-Hope-Sos” with God. Real, godly hope is not mere optimism. It is expectation that something could happen or change for the better. You’ve got to have it. And you know when you don’t. Like Prov. 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Are We Really Heartsick?

I know I’ve been heartsick before, and it’s a bad pit to be in. Often my heart has gotten sick when I have put hope into an actual strategy that ended up not panning out like I hoped it would. We autism parents have got to keep moving, though, don’t we? Who has tried something like the GFCF diet, B-12 shots, a myriad of supplements, Respen-A, chelation, HBOT, NAET, speech therapy, OT, PT, ABA, on and and on and on, and not gotten the results you had hoped for?

I’ve done all these and more, and some have helped more than others. And I will continue to try new things because if you don’t try, you don’t know what you’re missing that really could help. When I try new things that could help my son, hope is activated. I have a strategy, a plan. I’m stepping out and taking a risk, and I’m optimistic that something could help and I’m working it. BUT, when it doesn’t help, I can get more pessimistic and sick about all the work and effort and money that didn’t produce much. I can also take it personally, like I failed somehow. It’s exhausting.

Now, hope paired with fantasy is not cool either. Marital issues, for instance, rarely just “poof” go away without some serious work on both people’s parts. You add a stressor like chronic sickness to the mix, and things come out in you and your spouse that you didn’t even know were there. “I hope it gets better” will go nowhere. But, with an action plan, perhaps some counseling, and practice, you can have a lot more hope that things will change. Are we willing to do the work? Are we willing to stop making excuses and work on ourselves?

When Hope Links Arms with Faith…

What I’m learning more than anything is that I can hope in my God, in His Word, and in His plan more than anything in this fallen world. He is not a man that He should lie. But, we’ve got to “up” our game when it comes to hoping in God. Our own hope arises from desire and expectation, but when paired with faith in our God, we come in agreement with what Jesus has already provided. There is a confident assurance that we place squarely in the the most capable Hands that we can have what’s already ours–even healing for our kids. Hope–that little flame–when ignited by faith IS a strategy. It can release unbelievable, supernatural things. Faith is stronger than hope, but faith without hope doesn’t make any sense at all. Hope, meet Faith, and dance!

 NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. Heb. 11:1 (AMP)

This Pilgrim’s Progress

Sometimes you just have to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come. In the thick of a chronic condition like autism where you are working with today’s reality while stretching toward tomorrow’s possibility, you need to make sure you’re increasing in strength. While setbacks, emotional days and disappointments surely will come, the question becomes, “Yes, but at the end of the day, am I still moving forward?”

It’s an awkward place, living in the “inbetween.” I am neither at the start like we were when we first got Josiah’s diagnosis over 3 years ago, nor am I near the desired destination (I don’t have a clue what mile marker we’re even at right now, quite honestly). Life is being lived in the “inbetween.” It’s one of the most rugged places in life. But it’s the richest spiritual journey I have ever been on.

The word “journey” doesn’t really seem to suffice, though. But “pilgrimage” does. I’ve gained great comfort and fuel from Psalm 84 that describes a pilgrimage.

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
      who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (Ps. 84:5)

To put that into context, one author says, “A pilgrimage is holy journey with a purpose in every step. The pilgrim knows that life-giving challenges will emerge. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. After the pilgrimage life is seen with different eyes and it will never be the same again.” That’s exactly what I’ve been experiencing.

In one translation, instead of saying that their minds are on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it says, “their hearts are on the road that leads to You.”

When they pass through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. (Ps. 84:6)

So, I found myself in a valley of autism. And I was weeping. It was scary. It was lonely. It felt dark and rocky, ominous and depressing. And worst of all, at a time when I really needed to feel God the most, it honestly felt like I couldn’t find him at times.

But one thing I could have easily missed is the phrasing when they PASS THROUGH the Valley of Weeping. Pass through means that you don’t set up your tent there forever. You don’t let that be the place where you live. When you’re in the Valley of Weeping, it can feel like you’re never going to get out, but you will if you keep your mind set on God, your destination, your destiny. If there is one tactic that the Devil uses it is to get us to give up and accept our circumstances, to be paralyzed by fear, to stop praying, to be stuck in depression and hopelessness–and to live there. But God’s Word says to never give up and to persevere until God makes a way.

And in that valley, while you’re there, I’ve learned that you can MAKE IT a place of refreshing springs. That means rather than reacting and being kept spinning by our circumstances, we can choose to react differently. In our situation, when everyone around me was trying to show me ways to cope, I had to choose to hope. When depression wants to overtake me, I have to choose to receive His joy. When society shouts at me to “accept the circumstances,” something rises up inside of me and I chose to keep my eyes set on God’s promises.

When I feel unprotected by God I have to choose to trust him completely. Where there is death, I have to choose to speak life. Where there is fear, I have to learn to agree with faith. When I am tempted to worry, I have to choose to believe that God does not lie when he said he will work “all things together for good for those who love him.” That is making this valley a place of springs.

The Scripture says “the autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.” I think it’s important to note that in the land of Israel, the summers are hot and dry—no rain at all. Then, around October, it starts to rain. The autumn rains are what soften the ground that had baked hard during the drought of summer. And after those autumn rains, they could then plow and sow their winter grains. God is all about growth and restoration. I’ve come to know that he never wants to leave us in a broken, dry, and victimized state. He always is about turning things around and bringing life where there was lifelessness. He’ll even put the seeds in your hand!

 They will continue to go from strength to strength, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem. For the Lord God is a Sun and Shield; the Lord bestows [present] grace and favor and [future] glory (honor, splendor, and heavenly bliss)! No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Ps. 84:7,11)

Or as one translation says, they will go from strength to strength, increasing in victorious power. Have you ever experienced this? People saying, “I didn’t think I could do it, but I was stronger than I ever thought I could be.” With each experience in life where your fortitude is tested and you past that test, with the next big challenge you face, you will go into it stronger, more confident, more powerful when you have pressed into God for developing that strength.

    O Lord of hosts, blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man who trusts in You [leaning and believing on You, committing all and confidently looking to You, and that without fear or misgiving]! (Ps. 84:12)

Jesus came to give us life to the full. I just say to Jesus, hey, fill’er up! I want all you came to give. Including healing for my son. I am standing in belief before a God who does the impossible and showed over and over again that it is his will and very nature to heal people—soul, spirit, emotions AND body.

This is the pilgrimage I am on. Not for comfortable Christianity, but refined in the fire, taking risks, committing all, and confidently looking to Christ, the author and finisher of my faith. The One that guides me through the “inbetweens,” because though I cannot always see what the destination, or even the next step in front of me looks like, he can, and he is with me. This I now know for sure! Do you know it too?

2011: Renew & Restore

My boy has me up bright and early this first morning of 2011. It is bitter cold and windy outside, and thanks to having to let the puppy out, I got to take in the first fresh air of a new year. Ah, optimism, hope and resolution recharge the human spirit on January 1 of any new year. For about 10 minutes or so.

This turning over of the calendar year has a certain “feel” to it, but it’s not like something magical happened overnight and the slate is wiped clean, an entirely new canvas was dropped from the sky, or a cosmic “reset” button was pushed. We still bring into 2011 all of the mindsets, attitudes, issues and circumstances we had a mere few hours before. Still, we hear a drumbeat a little louder coming from our hearts and our minds. It sounds a little like possibility.

But, I propose that God intents for us to wake up to that drumbeat every day. For renewal happens not in an instant, but a bit more each day until change comes. But is it even accurate to say that change “comes”? Or is it really doggedly and steadily pursued, sought, untangled, revealed, chosen along a long walk of obedience and faith in the same direction?

God is teaching me that He is all about renewal and restoration, but I have a very active part to play so that I may “agree” to all He wants to do in me, through me, for me. I was praying one day and God spoke to my spirit that “Often when my people come to me in prayer, they are looking for ‘relief,’ but what I want for them is total restoration, and that’s going to take some time.” One is fast-acting, but the other is long-lasting; which do I really want? Am I willing to engage fully in the process of renewal and restoration?

Check out these verses:

…for you have stripped off the old (unregenerate) self with its evil practices, and have clothed yourselves with the new [spiritual self], which is [ever in the process of being] renewed and remolded into [fuller and more perfect knowledge upon] knowledge after the image (the likeness) of Him Who created it. Colossians 3:9-11 (Amplified)

Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]. Romans 12:2 (Amplified)

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
       His mercies never cease.
 Great is his faithfulness;
      his mercies begin afresh each morning.
 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
      therefore, I will hope in him!” Lamentations 3:22-24

So really, this new year, I’m going to continue to trust God to do his part: renewal and restoration for me, for my son, for my husband. I have defined the places that need renewal and restoration, I have formalized my petitions and understand the character and promises of God that back up his will and desire to bring them to pass. Now my part is really engaging with a process: a concoction of possibility, promise, practice, perseverance and patience–all wrapped up in faith. Here’s to each new choice in each new day of this new year!

What if Christmas Was More Like Thanksgiving?

‘Tis the season, so they say, for comfort and joy. Yet, if you take a poll of adults in your life and ask them what emotions they feel at Christmastime, the words “comfort” and “joy” don’t seem to roll right off the tongue. ‘Tis more the season for discomfort and toys.

I’m not sure what happens in the short few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but emotions shift. On Thanksgiving day, we all seem to be reflecting on how grateful we are for what we have. Whether we have a lot or a little, we tend to swap soundbites of thanks. Thankful for the food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, freedoms we enjoy, and families who love us. We’re just more apt to go mining for reminders of God’s blessings that day.

Then, at the stroke of midnight, the pumpkins that we were looking at—and eating—are not as satisfying anymore. We turn around from our banquet of thanksgiving only to be confronted squarely by a giant crystal showcase of lack and loss. Bordered by flashing multi-colored Christmas lights. Accompanied by ironically cheery jingle jangle carols.

I’m not saying that absolutely every adult has encountered affects of “the showcase of lack and loss.” But if you’ve lost a loved one, Christmas brings on an ache for the one who left an empty chair. If you’ve lost a job or finances have been a mess, those toys you are compelled to provide for your kids bring added stress. Then there’s family—broken, bickering or miles away—that adds to the weight.

If your life has very little margin as it is, the “extra” of Christmas buying, wrapping, decorating, card-sending, cheer-spreading, program-going, and cooking can make you feel inadequate and overwhelmed. If you have health problems, the only gift you want is healing and it feels so allusive.

So maybe you feel guilty for your secret—or not so secret—bahs and humbugs. Perhaps you’re like me and you have an expectation of Christmas based on how you felt when you were a kid, and as an adult you’ve never been able to match it again. The awe. The wonder. The anticipation and delight. But you can relive it through your kids, right? The spotlight that shines brightly in my showcase of loss is the fact that my 5-year-old boy has autism and doesn’t yet speak, and I’m not sure he even knows what Christmas is. I know many others in this community that feel the lack of “typical.”

I asked God one day, would you show me Christmas from Your perspective? Like most things, if we look at it from a human standpoint we will try to fill this hole with our stuff, and that never really satisfies. Why should we want a “magical” Christmas when we could have a “supernatural” Christmas, anyway?

I was reminded of this: our good Father sent a baby to this earth to be God WITH us. That baby grew up to be a man who died and rose again so we could have Christ IN us, the HOPE of glory! He is why we celebrate. He alone is our inner source of comfort and joy. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. When I think of that, I am spurred to thanksgiving once again!

A Recipe to Share from the Apostle Paul:

I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. Philippians 4:12 (MSG)

iPad: The Apple of His Eye

Last April we got an iPad for Josiah. After reading about the iPad and watching some videos, I had a hunch that this would be something that Josiah would dig. He already loved buttons, electronics, music and anything that would make noise. Perhaps instead of “stimming” on those things, we could actually lean into those motivators so he could learn. Well, my $499 gamble has paid off big time.

I realized that I wrote about “Why We’re Getting an iPad” last March, but I’ve never really followed up to tell people what the results have been for Josiah. Well, I see nothing but potential, potential, potential! Just this morning, I stepped back and marveled at what he was able to do with this miracle of modern technology. Out of all of the apps that are loaded on there, he knows EXACTLY what he wants, what it looks like, how to get to it, and what to do with it once he gets there. There are not just a few choices, he has to be thoughtful, and my son can figure it out! Yes, he’s still very behind in his development–the preschool apps are most suited to his aptitude–but he’s learning!

Getting Coordinated

When we first got the iPad with its intuitive touch screen, Josiah first was mostly drawn to the piano app. He’s a big fan of keyboards. But with the primary proloquo2go app (think a totally pimped out voice-output version of PECS–picture exchange), he kind of had a hard time getting his little finger pointer coordinated to work with it. He wanted to use his fingernail, and it didn’t have the pressure to make the requests needed. But, his therapists worked with him for about 2 weeks on that, and then he took off with it.

I remember one particular day this summer when Josiah grabbed his iPad and went into our closet, sat in a little laundry basket we have in there, and played for a while. He came out knowing how to do the electronic puzzles all by himself. Before that day, I recall being shocked when he checked out the puzzle app and then took my finger and guided the puzzle pieces into the right places. He does know HOW to do it! I began to realize that both motivation and motor planning–not aptitude–were probably at the core of many of Josiah’s deficits. Then, when he figured that out, he has done nothing but excel with the iPad. Quite honestly, he mostly teaches himself on it through exploring.

Goodbye Velcro Pictures

His therapists began to see that he really was taking to the iPad. So they decided to ditch the velcro book and laminated pictures and replace them with the iPad and proloquo2go for his requesting and communication. They obviously still continue to work on his verbal requesting, but speech is still so slow to come. But the iPad has helped us to learn about how Josiah thinks and what he likes more than we ever could have guessed. When he busts out in laughter while playing a certain game, or solicits my help because he wants the sound for one app turned off, it helps me KNOW HIM more. I so desperately have wanted to know what he’s thinking for so long.

I think the biggest challenge that we face is the education and therapy world catching up to the potential that the iPad can offer to children who have difficulty communicating. A couple of months ago, I had a parent meeting with Josiah’s therapists and they were ready to use the iPad for more than just requesting. I wholeheartedly agreed and said, “Yes! There are apps that I’ve downloaded, and you can see he knows how to do matching, he’s a whiz with the puzzles, he can learn more there how to identify letters and numbers. The electronic books can help him learn to read!”

Hurry Up Autism Therapy World–You’re Falling Behind

Now, I do realize that Josiah’s entire life cannot be lived on the iPad, but because of the iPad he is now doing real 15-piece puzzles when he “couldn’t” do 5-piece ones before, or would lose interest. But here we are, a couple of months later, and they are struggling to know how to start using the iPad more while making sure they can stick to the curriculum and the “towers” they must fill for federal standards. The “one-size-fits-most” approach and standardization can be good, but can also limit creativity. Who will lead the charge at the higher levels? Our kids are born with technology in their hands, so would someone declare that you can use the iPad to accomplish or spur some of the same skills that are currently tracked only when accomplished tactiley?

Our kids with autism don’t learn the same way as other kids do. We all know that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t learn to approach concepts that will translate to real life if we give them the right tools. Apple probably didn’t set out to revolutionize the world for kids with autism, but it sure is doing it. It’s fun to follow some of the older teens with autism on Facebook who are rocking out their lives now with the help of the iPad. And the iPad is cool! When they use it, it doesn’t look like they are lugging around some chunk of medical equipment. It’s helping one teen I know of make more friends and be more social in high school because she can show how funny and interesting and smart she really is–even though she can’t herself speak a word. I had to laugh when she wrote on Facebook that she got “shooshed” by the teacher because she used her proloquo2go app to “whisper” to a friend during class.

So, Josiah’s Christmas presents this year will probably look like iTunes gift cards so we can  buy more apps, instead of a lot of light up baby toys. My boy is 5 now, and he is going to crack his world more open thanks to the iPad. Now, if the rest of the world could catch up, and the people who develop autism curriculum would start making apps like mad fools. Get your current therapists to some conventions and show them how to implement this stuff. Time is a wasting! Link arms with the autism parents that are searching for the cutting-edge, and pioneer with us. Onward, ho!

Here’s Josiah in his early days with the iPad. The piano app kicked things off, and now he’s branched out.

Christmas cards 2010

Ordered the Christmas cards today from Shutterfly!

Why Being a Great Multitasker Isn’t All That Good

I wrote a blog post for my church’s Marriage & Family blog about how awesome I am at multitasking, and how I’m learning that focus is more the way to go when it comes to our families.

Take a look!