Postcards from the Journey

Six months ago Jerry and I felt a little like Abraham as we left a familiar comfortable land and began a journey toward a land we knew not of.  We did not know where we were headed, but we knew Who had called us out and promised to lead us.  Having been a follower of Jesus for more than 40 years, this level of faith and trust was unfamiliar to me, instilling both excitement and fear!

If you have not heard, we have both accepted positions with seeJesus in the Bethesda division.  Bethesda takes the excellent books, trainings and seminars that seeJesus has created and modifies them to disciple people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  I serve as administrator, assisting with development, marketing, editing, and training.

auroras-1203289_1280I am filled with gratitude and joy to enter this new land and begin to set up camp.  But, have we “arrived”?  I sure hope not.  Not because I am not delighted to be part of seeJesus, but because as distressing, challenging and painfully hard the journey has been to date it has been equally refreshing, clarifying, and amazing.

I never want to get so comfortable and set in serving Jesus that I miss trusting Him.  And I don’t want to lose sight of the lessons I’ve gathered along the way.

Take a look through some of the postcards I’ve gathered on this journey:

  • People – As tempting as it was to isolate, the truth is we needed people who would journey with us and point us to hope.  Those who just stopped by to hug or cry with us met such a deep need.  It is amazing how many people have walked a similar journey;  the stories others shared reminded us that our heartbreak, while painful. was not unique.   God continues in the redemption business.  As He had done with them He would do with us.hands-791371_1280
  • Intentional Accountability -Jerry and I knew we would each process this journey in different ways and at different times.  While we needed to keep our communication open I needed others with whom I could trust and bare my soul.  I chose eight ladies and asked them to join me in my journey as my “Soul Care Sisters”  They came from different backgrounds, churches, ages and places in my life.  Each one loves me, committed to pray for me and hold me accountable in a variety of ways.  They were not afraid to ask the hard questions.  I knew they had my back.
  • Intentional Fellowship – Along this journey we were bound to meet new people and engage in life together, but that did not mean we wanted to let go of the people who have meant so much to us from the last chapter of our lives.  We instituted “Third Sunday”,  a time when we opened our home to friends to drop in. Some came to chat, with others we colored, or played games.  There are always snacks to share.  Continuing precious relationships in new ways has been a balm for our souls.
  • God’s got this – in fact He always has.  Theologically I knew that and could expound on that truth.  Seeing others who have survived and thrived through change was an encouragement.  Living it out in my own life was a different story.  But God has met our needs through money He had us save, through friends who made work available to us, who shared gifts and food with us,  and those who gave us honest and necessary feedback.  Times I fretted did nothing to move life forward.  Times I learned to turn that fretting to trust in God took me deeper into learning His heart for me.
  • Embracing new experiences -Had we not obeyed God’s prompt to leave, we may have lived status quo for some time.  Exploring new opportunities has led to a deeper passion for writing, enhanced skills and amazing connections with writers across the country.  Through this season of change we have enjoyed meeting dozens of people from all walk of life through our Airbnb experience.  Beyond that Jerry ad I are exploring ideas we had only dreamed about before, and taking steps to make them real.
  • Life goes on. This transition much like other kinds of passing, includes grief.  Each time a memory marker arrives we’ll grieve, and sometimes wish for what was (because it was so very precious).    Yet we are developing new traditions and experiences that someday we may be called to leave as well.  Knowing pain and sorrow may be part of the future does not stop us from investing now.  Seasons change, life situations change, The way we handle the impact of that grief will change, because we too are being changed,

 

 

 

 

Now That We’re Home

I am so thankful for the timing of this trip.  It came when I had grieved “enough” (at least for now) the recent past.  The time away put a buffer up between the past and the present/future.  Coming home I was ready to fully engage in what’s next. nextstep

For the short term that means faithfully serving at a temp job God provided through a friend’s company.  I am working in a field that is relatively foreign to most of my life experiences.  That makes the job a stretch, but also keeps my attention as I learn new skills. This job also provides some income as Jerry and I move forward.

We’re happy to tell you that we are creating a new organization called Unleashed Potential.  It fits well with both of our passions – we want to help people affected by disability to unleash their God given potential.  We will be working directly with people with disabilities to help them discover and hone their gifts, talents and skills.  So often people with disabilities are told what they can’t do.  But as Psalm 139 makes clear, God knit each of us together for a specific purpose.  We want to help people affected by disability to find that purpose, develop their strengths and then find ways to use those gifts and talents in service with others – in their communities, churches and schools.

We also want to help marriages affected by disability (either in the couple or their children) to unleash the potential in their marriage.  So often marriage takes a very back seat to all things disability related.  Marriages dealing with disability are a perfect showcase for both the couple, and those around to see God’s glory and power.

We are thankful for the wisdom that many advisors have shared with us.  Please pray as we move forward setting up the organization and serving God through Unleashed Potential.

Guilt, Need and Call

Note from Joan:  I will be “off the grid” for a short time while Jerry and I take a much needed trip to soak up some sun.  In my absence I’ll be reposting some of my favorite posts from the past.  Look for a return of new material in mid February and with it an exciting announcement about what God has led us to in this next phase of our journey!  Bon Voyage!

Recently I’ve been struggling with guilt.  Not over something I have done, but more about what I have not.  It comes from posts on social media, stories on the news, headlines in the paper and songs that say, “if not you, then who?”  I am admonished by these reports to pray more, step up and act, sign a petition or tell others and together we can combat sex trafficking, ISIS, bring imprisoned and persecuted Christians home, feed those who are starving, and provide a fair wage and working conditions for the many women and children forced in slave labor, among other horrendous needs both in this country and around the world.

There is no doubt that we live in a fallen world that seems to fall more every day.  There is also no doubt that God wants His people to “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8)  I care about the people caught in these issues and want to see justice prevail in each of these situations.  But sometimes I feel guilty that I am not doing enough.

Then I think about my work and life; maybe not daily but at least several times each week I hear stories of someone’s accident or illness that left them or a loved one disabled, the challenges of living with disability in a world that doesn’t always get it, or even worse the hurt and pain that comes from someone in the local church responding to someone with a disability in a way that doesn’t represent God’s heart, or the trauma in a family when  disability takes time way from others.  I could go on and on with examples.  Sometimes these stories come from our neighborhood, sometimes from our region, and even from around the world (yes, the photo here came to our attention at the office this week when someone sent it asking us to pray and help as able).

But I, and those I have the privilege of working with, don’t just listen to those stories.  We pray with the person, share a word of hope that is found in Jesus.  We strategize and work toward moving people affected by disability from the margins of our society to the mainstream of Church and community life.

Then I come home and read the headlines and stories referenced earlier and feel overwhelmed.  “Lord, what I read/see is horrendous; how it must grieve Your heart.”   I wonder how I can do anything more and God gently reminds me that a need is not a call.  There are many needs that exist out there (even some in the world of disability) that I am not called to meet or respond to.  I need to be open and listen to God’s direction for me, but when He doesn’t call me to meet a need I can continue to pray for those He does.

As I release my false guilt, I’ll lift you up in prayer for the needs God calls you to meet; will you do the same for me?

No Longer a Priority!

Praise God!  Disability Ministry is no longer a priority at our church.

That probably sounds like an odd statement from someone for whom disability services and ministry course through my body as sure as my blood flows. Let me explain . . .

The leadership team at our church prayerfully sets the course for the priorities on which we will focus over the next three to five years.  Several years ago five priorities were presented  to the congregation:  Justice; Prayer; Disability Ministry; Community Outreach and Urban Ministry.  We were told that these would be a focus for the next few years.  What transpired over that time would determine if these would continue to be a priority.     The leaders realized God was already working in disability ministry and we should make that our first priority focus.

What a joy it has been to see the church (i.e. the people!) embrace both the individual with a disability, as well as their family members.  Originally one Sunday School class was started by a couple of moms many years ago when their children were young.  They served so faithfully and with little to no recognition.  When the priority was initiated the ministry included about 20 students total in either a self contained classroom, some in inclusion with a buddy and a Wednesday night club program.

Today, three and a half years later  136 individuals have participated in multi class and inclusion ministry, respite events, young adult clubs and outreaches.  The church hired one part time Disability Services Coordinator (Lori), and is in the process of hiring a second.  Thank you Lori and team for your wise and committed leadership, and the stats for this post.

Those numbers don’t even include all the moms and dads who are now connected with the church, those with physical disabilities, or those who make use of the deaf interpretation.

Lori can always use more volunteers in the ministry; that’s how they can serve more people.  It is amazing to me to see the people line up to serve when the need is mentioned from the pulpit.  Volunteers lives are changed as they build friendships with student with disabiliteis and special needs.

In fact, while waiting for more volunteers, Disability Ministry even had a waiting list!   The waiting list was resolved with our church’s expansion to a second location.   We were told by the pastor of that site (and others) that disability ministry will be a part of the DNA of that site from day one.  We have seen that to be true.

With all this wonderful growth and people being reached, why would I celebrate disability ministry being taken off the priority list?

Because disability ministry has indeed become part of the fabric of church life.  Is it a perfect disability ministry?  No, but then again where is a perfect one?  Does it meet and encompass the needs of every person or family with a disability?  Probably not (yet!)  But the vision has changed and with that people have changed.  The priority status has dropped because there is now an  understanding being lived out that the Body of Christ, universally and in our individual church is not complete until all are welcomed and embraced.

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Hyatt Moore putting the finishing touches on his painting of the Great Banquet in Luke 14.

To Life!

In 1984 then President Reagan wrote an order proclaiming the 22nd of January (or the nearest Sunday to that date) to be Sanctity of Life Sunday.  The particular date was chosen as it corresponds to the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision.

Typically in Christian circles this day focused on the unborn.  In my earlier years I participated in some of the peaceable demonstrations of advocating for life for every human, whether inside or outside the womb.  In more recent years I have come to see that sanctity (the holiness, sacredness) of life goes far beyond the birth process.

I share the following ideas, not to promote Jerry and me, but to prod your thinking in how you could be a standard bearer of the sanctity of life.

We have shared our home with many who were in need of a place to live, and perhaps more a home and family.  Some stayed with us a short time, others longer term.

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Photo Credit:  Merelize
  • There was a single mom who just gave birth and did not have a safe place she could take the baby.  I spent many hours cuddling and holding that baby.  I prayed over him and sang to him.  I don’t know what became of that mom and child but I pray that as the baby grew the knowledge that he was deeply loved by his Creator  was a seed that grew with abandon in his life.
  • There was a lady recovering from a serious car accident who needed a home without steps.  Insurance was done providing rehab for her, but she could not yet return home.  Often people in this situation fall through the cracks and can become homeless or institutionalized.
  • Jerry used to say he never knew who would be at our house when he came home from work that day.  We cared for a dozen or more children of all ages who either lived in their birth home or foster home.  These kids, and sometimes the parent, needed a break. I can only imagine that some of those parents were encouraged in years gone by to give their child life only to be challenged by raising that child (perhaps with a disability or other diagnosis) and had no where else to turn.  They needed a break and some support.  Being able to welcome that child and give some relief to a parent for a short break is supporting the holiness of life.
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Photo Credit:  Stuart Miles

Maybe you don’t have room in your home for another person or two; there are other ways you can engage in breathing help and hope into another’s life.

  • Purchase a gift card, or leave some cash anonymously (you have to know the situation to do this) with the parent who is struggling .  Perhaps you would help  them buy diapers or formula, or maybe your gift would be a few bucks extra to get her hair cut or her nails done.  This reminds Mom she has value and worth as well.
  • Offer free babysitting even once a week so the parent can pursue their minimum wage job and reduce a bit of child care costs.
  • Make yourself available to those who may live from crisis to crisis, or have no other healthy supportive people in their lives.  Over the last couple of months we have twice been told that prior to talking with us their plan was to take their life that night.  That’s pretty powerful.  We didn’t do anything special.  All we did was answer the phone and listen, or open the back door and invite someone in and give them a shoulder to cry on, and a hug to remind them they are not alone.  Life, even when it hurts is holy!
  • Build into the life of someone who may not have a family nearby, or any longer.  This might be someone who is new to your area, or someone who was raised in the foster care system and never adopted, or any other number of reasons.  If may even be someone who lives a lifestyle different than yours.  Get to know them as a person – not with the idea to change their life, but to change yours.  To share your life and the blessings God has given you with someone else.
  • “Expand” your family.  Hold on – I am not suggesting anything too drastic here.  I am thinking of the young single woman who recently called us and asked us to be grandparents to the little one growing in her body.  She wanted her child to have the influence of people like us.  Sadly (for the mom and us) that child is now being held in the Father’s arms in Heaven before we ever got to meet him/her.

Lastly, for those of you who live a life of faith – don’t hide your faith!  We experienced the ultimate  sanctity of life recently when one of those above who was in crisis gave their life to Jesus when we simply asked the question, “Where do you think God is at in all this?”  Can there be any better way to celebrate life, and life eternal, than introducing someone to our Heavenly Father!  As the circle of life goes round last night I was feeling down, this new believer, for the first time, texted me a Scripture verse that had encouraged them, and now it ministered to me.  Isaiah 41:13  “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Sanctity of life . . .  not a one day event, or even a nine month journey.  The sacredness of life needs to be celebrated and protected; as the name implies, throughout LIFE.

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Photo Credit:  James R Gray

The Roller Coaster is Real Part 2

This is the continuation of an earlier post.  If you need to catch up, click here.  eoller-coaster

It was only a few hours later (the same day) that I sat crying with Jerry over something I saw that caused the hurt to rise again in my heart and mind.  It’s part of the process we must go through when a loss is experienced, so I while I wasn’t alarmed by my response, it did turn cause my car to do a loop on the roller coaster.

Later that week a few other “challenges” popped up.  Though we hated the financial commitment we made the decision to continue our current health insurance via COBRA.  I went to a Doctor’s appointment that had been scheduled in the past.  They informed me that my COBRA insurance would not show up in the system for 2-3 months so I could private pay and seek a refund later.  I chose another option –  rescheduling.  While driving home I found my anger rising disproportionately to what the situation warranted.  That scared me a bit and I asked God why I was reacting so strongly.  His words in reply?  “Because you still think it is all about you.”  As I explored that thought more with God I realized that because I had felt wronged in another situation I assumed I should be free of being wronged again for a while. That one took me to a dip on the roller coaster.

The ride began to head up an incline again as friends come by to help us design and rearrange our house to make more effective office space for us.  A new friend sent a lengthy email to me that just made my heart sing with gratitude for her and her friendship.  Two other friends and I shared the longest text message conversation I’d ever had (4 hours) one evening.  Clearly have friends join me on the ride helped to hit a new high on this coaster.

Then I paid bills (need I saw more about which part of the roller coaster ride this was?).  We have savings.  Without regular income, we knew we’d have to draw on some of that savings.  Truly nothing unexpected happened, but still to see the numbers change in each account, and wonder when the next significant deposit would be made is scary.  I had to remind myself that God has ALWAYS provided for our needs, and He had again; we have enough money to pay this month’s bills, and likely several more months.  When/if the time comes that this is not the case God will continue to supply – I just don’t know how yet.  But then, I don’t need to know yet.

How do I get off the roller coaster?  Along with Philippians 4:8, I remind myself of 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB) “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raise up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

I hope by reading this small glimpse into a few days of my life you have a clearer picture that I am not a super woman.  But I do love and serve a supernatural awesome all powerful God who  also lets me call Him Daddy or Poppa.  I can worry, fret, stew and share that angst with you, or I can cling to Him and share that joy with you.  Which would you prefer?

 

 

The Roller Coaster is Real Part 1

One of the comments I sometimes hear is appreciation or amazement at how positive I/we have been through this ministry transition.  There are a couple of reasons that may seem to be the case.

Philippians 4:8 (NLT) in the New Testament tells me to “Fix [my] thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  I have lived life with my focus on the “poor me”, the “what ifs” and the “wonder how bad this will get”?  None of those thoughts fit the Phil. 4:8 matrix.

I could share with you some of the negative or challenging thoughts I’ve had the past six weeks, or the disappointment when a message didn’t come that I expected, or when one came that I didn’t want to get, or any other number of things that are part of my daily life.  But that won’t benefit me, and it won’t benefit you.

Secondly this blog was started to raise my Ebenezer.  If you are new to my writings, you may not be familiar with that term.  An Ebenezer is a memorial, a pile of stones set up to honor or memorialize something.  I want these writings to be signs of God’s working in my life.  I record them here so when I hit some down days, as I have recently, I can reread how God has met me in the past and it reminds me that He will continue to be faithful now, and until the day He calls me home.

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Photo Credit:  ByChanceTV

Let me give you an example of how this plays out in my life.  I took the month of December “off.”  I didn’t do much to pursue employment, I rested A LOT, spent time with family and friends, and spent the time as I desired.  As the month ended I geared up thinking that January 2nd was the first day of my new work.  While Jerry and I don’t know all of what our “new work” is yet (we are still talking with some other ministries and praying), we know that part of it at least involves more writing and speaking for each of us.

So, there I sat at my desk on the first work day of the new year of opportunity and began to clean my desk.  As I did that I would periodically check email, etc.  That “happened” to be a day that several new people began to follow me and I had more interactive traffic via both the blog and emails on my writing.  What an encouragement!  As if that were not enough I got a phone call from someone inviting me to be the speaker for their women’s retreat in April.  What particularly struck me is the date they were asking for was one I could not have accommodated if I were still in my former position.  I was enjoying the view from the top of the roller coaster that day; so very grateful for God’s timing and encouragement and blessing.

Check back on Friday for part 2 and the wrap up of this roller coaster ride.

If you’d like to chat about whether I might be the right speaker for your group you can click here.