Is Your Receiver Broken?

I wrote this for my church’s Marriage & Family blog, but thought I’d share it here too. Be encouraged to receive encouragement, autism mamas!

Women can have a hard time receiving compliments. Tell them how gifted they are, and their eyes will dart down, while they deflect the praise. Tell another women how beautiful she looks and she replies that she really needs a haircut right now. And if you compliment the clothes, it’s like a lady is absolutely obligated to tell you that she got them on sale.

Why are our “receivers” so broken?

Could our inner dialogue actually be keeping us from receiving from God too? Think about it. If someone tells you something great about you, and your gut reaction is to say or think, “No I’m not,” perhaps you’re not able to see yourself how God sees you either.

I was talking with my 16-year-old niece recently and realized this generation is not exempt. She is a breathtaking artist, poet and dancer. Her natural giftedness mixed with perseverance to hone her skills could launch her into an amazing destiny. She doesn’t know it. She’s insecure and compares herself to others. She goes into perfection mode and is always trying to prove herself. As I wrapped my arms around her and told her all the good things I saw in her, she said, “Really? But…” The list flowed out of her like liquid about all that she wasn’t.

Does any of that sound familiar to you—mom, wife, daughter, worker? I remembered a little tip I learned back in the days when I used to do drama sketches at church and shared it with my niece: “When someone gives you a compliment, simply say ‘Thank you’—no more, no less. And in your mind say ‘I agree,’ and thank the Lord for growing or encouraging you.”
I continued, “If someone offers you feedback that’s maybe hard to hear, be teachable enough to ask ‘Do I let that go, or is there a nugget of truth I need to take from that?’”

That posture frees something up in you. A couple of years ago, I came to a startling realization that I was in heavy performance and striving mode with God and others. While I worshipping at a church conference, one simple shift broke something inside of me. We sang this really beautiful song to God (I don’t even remember what it was) about how lovely he is, beautiful, worthy, holy—those words passionately rolled off my lips… and then the worship leader said, “Now sing that again, but now imagine God is singing those words to YOU.”

The tears just flowed from my eyes. “Tahni, you are beautiful, worthy, holy, and I love you.”

Whoa, why did I need to hear that so much? Why do you need to hear it so much? I’m learning we have to know what God thinks about us, or we’re toast. False humility has gripped Christians for centuries. The idea that we have to perform, or perfect, or try to impress God into being proud of us is just keeping us down.

Learning to step in to all that God says we already are is where it’s at. When you get a picture of yourself in Christ, those compliments will be received for the encouragement that they are.

“I desire for you to become intimately acquainted with the love of Christ on the deepest possible level, far beyond the reach of a mere academic, intellectual grasp. Within the scope of this equation God finds the ultimate expression of Himself in you (so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God). We celebrate Him who super charges us powerfully from within. Our biggest request or most amazing dream cannot match the extravagant proportion of His thoughts towards us.” Eph. 3:20 (The Mirror Translation)

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He Thought, She Thought

I wrote this post for my church’s Marriage & Family blog, and thought I’d share it here too. Though I didn’t address it for an audience of married couples facing special needs challenges, I want to acknowledge here that I understand firsthand the strains that something like autism can put on even the best marriage. Married 13 years this August, my husband and I were pretty great communicators for the first 9 years and were always in stride with one other. When autism entered in, he and I have coped somewhat differently, and our insecurities have certainly been tapped into. Stress speaks. Even in the silences.

Our greatest challenge in the past year has been “drift.” When we realized that we both needed to carve individual time to get recharged, one of us always had to be home with Josiah. For the past 4 years we could no longer attend church together, hang out with the same friends, or take the same vacations. That has an affect on unity. It’s hard to “turn toward each other” at times when you’re simply not together as much, and when you are, you realize you’ve learned to guard your heart differently–find ways to face your realities differently. It takes work, but for the man who is a stellar father to Josiah, and who is the love of my life, I now realize why it’s so important to put your own oxygen mask on before you help your child. I want to get better at that. As they say, this is a marathon. Now to that post, “He Thought, She Thought.”

“I feel like you’re constantly judging me on a point system,” he said, paired with an eye roll.

And that started the first little “spat” of our engagement, right on the lovely sidewalk in front of roaming white geese in a quaint colonial spot in Pennsylvania.

Our intertwined fingers separated and I felt totally misunderstood.

“Sheesh! Why do you feel like I’m judging you? Am I that horrible of a person? You must not know me at all,” I retorted.

If I would have known 14 years ago that the root of almost every marital discord we would have would be summed up in that little exchange, I could’ve made much greater strides as an ideal Proverbs 31 woman. Alas, I just made the connection. Today. (And, for the record, the Proverbs 31 woman had maids, so I’d already given up that far-fetched goal.)

Shaunti Feldhahn sums it up best in her book, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men: “A guy’s inner vulnerability about his performance is made more intense by his belief that at all times he is being watched and judged…and perhaps found wanting. It includes the knowledge that since they don’t always know what they are doing, they are just one mess-up away from being found out.”

Conversely, in Feldhahn’s book, For Men Only, she and her husband nailed why my womanly brain ended up in a stand-off with my man’s ego: “If she’s feeling something, it’s counterproductive to try to tell her she shouldn’t be feeling that way. As men, we’re prone to jump to the conclusion that our wives are in husband attack mode. But remember a guy’s performance isn’t usually what’s on her mind. Our wives need to process their stuff by talking about it and having us available to listen…and not take it so personally.”

Women need to process feelings and discuss issues. Men feel like they have to perform and solve. Women feel unheard. Men sense that they don’t measure up. And there you have a little 9-year-old girl standing in front of a 10-year-old boy, both in adult bodies, clinging to their old innate insecurities.

She goes to bed feeling emotionally unmet. He turns off the light feeling like he doesn’t have her respect. While a reluctant “I’m sorry” or two may have been lobbed up, each adds the episode to their record of wrongs. And each secretly takes a mental note of the best ammo to use in case there’s a need to go into “attack mode” later to defend one’s self.

At the end of the day, whether it’s testosterone or estrogen at work, I think both men and women really want the same thing. They both want the other to think the best of them, to know their intentions, to call out the gold, to let the unprompted encouragements and approving glances outweigh thoughtless jabs and critical body language.

So, now that I know what I know, I’m going to try something this week. I’m going to consciously refuse to prey on the known insecurities of my husband, who I truly care about to my core. I’m going to recognize my choice—“speaking rashly, like the piercing of a sword” or realizing “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

Living with Unresolve

“Life would be so much better if I could just remove this one thing.” Do you find yourself saying that? It’s that present problem that you never planned for, but it came. And it’s usually something that you don’t have much control over no matter how hard you try. Like a chronic health issue, an ailing parent, a wayward child, a disengaged spouse, long-term unemployment.

If you truly have a “one thing,” you don’t have to um and ah to conjure it up; it’s an instant response. Because it’s the thing you wake up thinking about and go to bed praying about. No matter how much you pray or change yourself, that “one thing” can still persist—maybe even for years, maybe for life. With that “one thing” persisting, how can you even experience that “life to the full” that Jesus came to give? Do you wonder sometimes if that simply wasn’t meant to be for you?

I’ve faced some tough stuff in my life and even some close calls, but most big things were resolved. Even when my father died suddenly at 55, that was hard, but it was final; resolved. When my son Josiah was diagnosed with autism at age 2—a neurological disorder that doctors say has “no known cause, no known cure, and is lifelong”—I encountered my first big wall in life that I couldn’t get over, naturally heal from, or work my way out of. It’s open-ended, unresolved. Uncomfortable.

I had no grid even in my spiritual life for a problem that didn’t have a foreseeable expiration date. And worse, it affected my only child before my eyes…and not one area of our family lives has been left untouched by it. Still, God says, “I have good plans for you and for your child”… “I work all things together for good”… “I do good work in you.”

Faith progress is believing that He just is Good News that eclipses the power of that which is unresolved right now. He is the Solution to every unanswered question in our lives.

So, how can we live with resolve while that “one thing” is still unresolved (according to Colossians 1)?:

1. Tap into God’s supernatural strength. God offers us a strength accessible by faith that is not our own. It is more than mere day-to-day survival; it is filled with enduring hope and expectation despite the present circumstances. It empowers us to persevere in prayer and speaks to us, “Never give up. Keep walking. Keep trusting.”

2. Cultivate joy and thankfulness. We have to practice these responses by reveling in what we have been given through Christ and engaging his promises instead of succumbing to despair and complaining. The best practice is giving away to others the very thing that you need yourself—like encouragement, prayer, or time.

3. Relentlessly pursue your destiny. God has bright and beautiful things planned for us, and equips us to do each one. The devil would love nothing more than to trap us in the “Land of Why” so that we become embittered to pursuing our God-given purpose. Instead, I dare you to move, to risk, to dream with God again! He is always forward moving—God of the Breakthrough, Restorer.

We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. Col. 1:11-12 (The Message)

Before He Was Savior, He Was Carpenter

My father was a very hard worker. He used to be a road construction foreman, and he was one of those guys that knew just enough about how everything worked to be dangerous. Having grown up on a farm, he could fix just about everything that went wrong in the house or under the hood of car—well, “fix” is a term to use loosely. He could at least “jimmy-rig” stuff together with wires and duct tape until the electricity came back on or the plumbing worked again—for a while.

When I was in grade school, my parents took up a little hobby that turned into a side business. My father ended up being really good at carpentry at the height of country décor in the 80s. I remember watching him in his shop, his pencil behind his ear. His well-worn hands—a little dirt under his fingernails—precisely put shelves and benches, hutches and cupboards together. And at times he would restore antique furniture that people brought to him. After all of the measuring, sawing, pounding, and sanding, something useful and sturdy and full of character would emerge.

With the little bit of exposure I’ve had in my life to carpentry, this week I was reflecting on the occupation that Jesus had before He was teacher, Master, or Savior. For 15 years he apprenticed and worked his step father’s trade as carpenter. I love how God could have chosen for Jesus to do any number of vocations, but the work that prepared the Messiah for ministry was carpentry.

A carpenter builds and repairs. Those two main things comprise the whole of carpentry: building what is needed and restoring what is broken. He went from doing those things thoughtfully with wood to doing those things for people. Building what is needed in us; restoring what is broken.

I also find it more than coincidence that the carpenter, whose hands drove many nails themselves, allowed nails to be driven into his. How the man who worked carefully with wood, hung on a rugged, thrown-together wooden cross. How the one that put broken people back together again and healed them was broken himself by some of those same people. But he in great love endured because he knew he was the architect of life and destiny for all of mankind. He was the only One to repair relationship between us and God, and us and each other. He would fulfill his order perfectly.

Everybody who is pursued by Jesus has different levels of brokenness, yet he meets all of us where we are and goes to work fixing, if we’ll let him. His practiced eye for details recognizes overlooked potential. When we doubt that we could possibly offer anything to the world, he scans all the pieces of our experiences, desires and strengths and he says, “I can work all that together for good.”

In fact, Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s own handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which He has planned for us to do.” One simple act of surrender to put all of our broken pieces before him, and  he goes to work making all things new. That’s what Easter means to me this year.

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!