Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our Special Needs Children Are A Blessing

It is not uncommon for parents of special needs children to feel a sense of shame. Oh I know, there are people who will quickly respond to such a statement by saying, “What are you talking about? Stop saying that! No one feels that way!”

But I know this is true despite any protests to the contrary. It can seem to the special needs parent that something went wrong and, therefore… “I [the parent] must be defective or at fault in some way.” Embarrassment or shame can follow.

I know these feelings are not correct. I am not approving of these feelings or defending them I am simply pointing out that they exist.

There is even an impulse to want to pin the blame for what has happened on one of the parents. I know this because I have had people wonder aloud whose side of the family this comes from, mine or Nadia’s, when it comes to the special needs condition of my daughter.

Having a special needs child will present challenges. Most of us with special needs children will have our patience challenged to a degree we never imagined was possible.
In my case, the staggering amount of questions I get from my special needs daughter on a daily basis makes it feel like I’m a contestant on an episode of Jeopardy that never actually ends. The show just keeps running all day, every day.

“I’ll take ‘Needing More Patience’ for $400, Alex.”

And I am certainly aware of the truth that some folks who care for those with special needs deal with a much, much greater level of challenge than I do.

However, in spite of everything I have just written I believe most parents of special needs children will say their child has been a unique and wonderful blessing in their lives. (I write this with the full understanding that there will be some exceptions to that previous comment. Some parents will have such extraordinarily difficult circumstances that they will not see it this way.) But most of us will recognize the special needs child in our lives is a gift to us from God.

The person with special needs is not a partial human being, he or she is fully human. He or she deserves the same respect, dignity, love and grace that any other person deserves. He or she is not one of God’s mistakes, they are God’s beloved.

To parents of special needs children: do not feel shame or embarrassment. Our children are not a punishment that has been brought upon us because we are broken or because we have done something wrong. Our children are persons God has brought into our lives and families for a reason. Our children are a blessing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Desire For Honest Christianity On TV

I recently saw a very capable, very smart leader of a large Christian organization responding to questions on a TV news program about the moral failures of Josh Duggar, the reality TV personality. Until recently, Josh Duggar was employed by a Christian organization which promotes Christian family values.

The leader of the Christian organization has been interviewed on national media outlets many times. He is a pro at this type of thing and he did a good job on the TV news program. He didn’t say anything wrong. During his segment on this secular news show he even shared the gospel and spoke of how Jesus offers grace and forgiveness to those who have sinned, which includes all of us. Because this man knows Josh, personally, he admitted he was disappointed and grieved as the facts of Josh’s behavior have become known.

As the interview unfolded, however, there was a point at which it almost sounded like the leader of the Christian organization was attempting to offer a defense as the interviewer continued to ask questions. And I found myself thinking this: I wish the leader of the Christian organization would just say, “What Josh did was wrong. It was sinful. I have no defense for his actions.”

The interviewer—based on actual questions she had already posed—would have probably then said something like this: “But Josh had a job in which he was basically lecturing others about moral values, that is hypocritical.”

Then the Christian leader could have simply answered: “Yes, that was hypocritical.”

Completely own up to the truth and all the implications that follow from the truth. Go ahead and admit the hypocrisy. Call it what it is: hypocrisy.

Sometimes honesty is embarrassing. (Believe me, I know this from the painful firsthand experience of my own sins.) Christians are called to be honest, anyhow.

I think honesty is refreshing. I think many people have actually come to have a great appreciation for honesty—even if they maintain a tremendous dislike for the person who is being honest, they still appreciate the honesty. This is especially true in these types of media contexts, because we all hear vast amounts of “spin” and many times the spin is so obviously disingenuous and nonsensical that it is just plain insulting. Some of the spin we hear these day displays such contempt for the audience who is receiving the message that I literally find myself shaking my head, dumbfounded. (By the way, that is not what the leader of this Christian organization was doing. I’m just ranting a little bit. This happens, occasionally, when I get myself worked up. Don’t worry it will pass.)

As Christians we are called to openly, frankly acknowledge the truth. In other words, let the truth be known for exactly what it is and then walk with God, trusting Him as the implications of the truth take place. This will be incredibly difficult sometimes. To put it mildly. We will be humbled. But it will be right. And our willingness to be honest in this way will communicate something significant about the reality of God in our lives in spite of our failings.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Do You Rejoice In The Success of Others?

We may find it difficult to celebrate the success of others. Oddly enough, we may find it difficult to celebrate the success of people we love and care about the most.

It’s strange but the success of others can sometimes feel as if it minimizes our achievements, or magnifies our lack of achievement.

These feelings often have a lot to do with comparison. If we are caught up in comparing ourselves to others and they are experiencing great achievement and success it is likely we will feel that we do not measure up.

Of course, the simple solution is this: Don’t compare yourself to others! But it is so natural for us to compare ourselves to others that it is almost impossible not to enter into this way of thinking. We make the comparisons even though we know we should not. We make the comparisons even though we know it will surely lead to frustration.

In addition to the problem of comparison, the success of others can stir up a desire in us to have what they have. If this happens we are heading down another dead end road. In fact, envy may even be a more troublesome impulse in us than the inclination toward comparison.

The two of them together create quite the double whammy.

As we walk with God and genuinely learn to find our sense of value, dignity and worth in Him, we do not feel threatened by the success of others, in fact, we can truly rejoice in the success of others.

Okay, I admit I’m still a work in progress in this matter. I do not always find myself experiencing wonderful feelings of delight as I rejoice in the success of others. But I recognize the importance, the value, the freedom and the potential joy that comes to those who can put aside comparison and envy. That recognition helps.

Just think how nice it would be to truly live without envy. Think how nice it would be to see someone you know experiencing great success and genuinely experiencing feelings of joy and happiness for the person. That is a significant level of maturity. It is a good way to live. I mentioned the word “freedom” earlier in this post. To be able to rejoice in the success of others is an authentic form of freedom.

This Christ-like attitude is a form of freedom and joy I desire.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice…!” Romans 12:15

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Phony Outrage Community And The PC Police Are Killing Free Speech

We have come to a point in our culture in which a person can say an innocent, relatively innocuous statement and suddenly be descended upon by the perpetually outraged PC Police.

By the time the self-appointed arbiters of what-is-allowed and what-is-not-allowed are done with their campaign of demonization against the hapless speaker of the politically incorrect word/phrase the very fact that the person actually exists has been brought into question.

What happened to freedom of speech?

It is on the endangered list.

What happened to a robust exchange of ideas?

It is frowned upon.

Jerry Seinfeld recently spoke about the “creepy” PC culture that now prevails on American college campuses. This is why he will no longer perform at colleges. Sadly, many of these institutions which—at one time—existed to promote a wide and freewheeling exchange of ideas have become the places that are least open to differing thoughts and opinions.

If things keep heading in this direction, soon legitimate discussion of certain subjects will no longer be allowed. There will be the culturally approved position on topics and all other positions will be banned. (And you will be obedient if you know what’s good for you…you punks!)

It’s too bad. I remember a particular class back when I was in my senior year of high school (approximately 145 years ago) in which we debated the current issues of the day. (Some of the issues are still hot button topics today, believe it or not.)

There were strong differences of opinion expressed. We argued. We even yelled occasionally. But we also laughed a lot and teased each other mercilessly. No one ever whined and complained with great indignation about being offended. It was fun. As a matter of fact, I recall it being one of my favorite high school classes. And then we walked out of the classroom and we were still friends. Crazy, huh?

What bothers me the most about the “I’m-offended-by-everything” crowd is that they are trying to pull all the rest of us into their dull, uptight misery.

I like to kid around, joke and tease in a fun way. I think it’s healthy for people to play around in this manner. Life can be very serious and it is important have some laughter, lightness and mirth. When I was young, a little teasing was even a way of being affectionate with friends. But I find now I do a lot of this joking around only in my own head and never out loud. When technology becomes sophisticated enough to actually read my thoughts and it is discovered I am teasing people in my mind, I’m really going to be in big trouble. (Maybe I’ll be old enough to blame it on senility when this technology is prevalent.)

[ Imagining some point in the future.]  “Are you kidding?!? You can’t take anything we read in Dan’s mind seriously! For crying out loud, look at the old codger, he’s drooling again!!!”

I have expressed a lot of foolish and cringe-worthy thoughts in my life. I’ve been wrong, misinformed, ill-advised, exhibited poor judgment and have drawn the wrong conclusions on many occasions. The truth is, we have all done this. Right? We’re human.

But if we have a culture that allows regular people to have freedom—including freedom of thought and speech—then us regular people are bound to get it wrong sometimes. I would prefer we put up with regular people saying dumb things than living in a culture in which the PC Police and the Phony-Outrage-Community control everything that is said.

“We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

*NOTE:  By the way, I wrote this thought yesterday and have started to post it several times and then stopped. Ironically, I’ve been hesitant to post a thought about not being able to share certain thoughts because I didn’t want someone to read it and then be hurt, or bothered, or offended. But I’ve determined it is important to express thoughts—particularly thoughts that make a case for protecting our freedom to express thoughts.

*FINAL NOTE: If this post truly irks you and you are deeply offended by it, keep in mind that sometimes computers get compromised and something gets posted on a person’s account by nefarious, politically incorrect hackers. (It’s theoretically possible, right?)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

We Can Trust God In The Small Details

I had a very minor situation which occurred recently in which it would have been perfectly reasonable for me to clarify a matter which would then make a case beneficial to myself about a particular issue. I’m not talking about something over which there would have been great disagreement or arguing, frankly, in the big scheme of things this is very small. However a calm, simple clarification of things would have been understandable and would have been to my benefit.

But I had a sense I should just leave it alone and if the minor clarification to my benefit was recognized that would be fine. On the other hand, if the minor clarification to my benefit was not recognized that would be okay, too.

I felt impressed to approach the situation in this way: I will trust God to bring the clarification, or not.

Please understand I’m not trying to present myself as a wonderful marvel of the Christian faith—I’m definitely not a wonderful marvel of the Christian faith. (Although at one time, I came in 2nd place in a Bible trivia contest that included 3 players. So, I’ve got that going for me.) I’m only reporting to you that this was the approach I felt led to take.

Well, it turns out God did bring the clarification to my benefit.

You say, “What is all of this supposed to prove, buster? Do you think you’re special or something?”


The whole episode was simply a gentle little reminder to me, once again, that God is involved in the small details of life and I can trust Him at every level of life. It was also a reminder that God continues to be much nicer to me than I deserve.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Does Jesus Offer Rest Or More Hoops To Jump Through?

Lately—when I’ve read books that have to do with Christian living—I’ve frequently had the feeling that I’m being scolded for not doing enough. I know the folks who are writing these books mean well; they are smarter than me; and the points they are making have validity. But after a while it seems to me the God who is being presented is sort of like an incredibly demanding boss who is impossible to please, however, I need to ramp up my efforts and keep trying to please Him anyhow.

(I know, some of this is probably a reaction that has a lot to do with me and my own fears, faults, inadequacies, guilt feelings and other psychological stuff.)

Maybe this is why I read a certain passage of scripture tonight and it brought great joy to my heart. I have read this passage many times before—in fact I have read it numerous times for others in an effort to bring them words of comfort and peace—but tonight was different. I seemed to be primed to take in this truth in a fresh way and delight in the God who actually offers me rest, not more hurdles to jump through.

Here is the verse, the words are spoken by Jesus:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

Prayer:  “Thank you, Lord. I needed to read this verse today and I am deeply grateful for the truth of what it says. Amen.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No Answer From A Politician

A couple of hours ago I watched a politician respond to two back-to-back “yes or no” questions with long, rambling, meaningless statements. In fact, about 25 seconds into each comment my eyes began to glaze over and I could no longer tell what the heck she was talking about nor could I remember the question.

The response to each of the inquiries probably went on for close to a minute and yet despite all the talking she never actually answered either of the simple questions.

By the way, this politician is not one of the people running for president in either party. This person was merely giving her opinion about some softball political questions. There was absolutely no reason to hide anything or be evasive. She could have answered either question with yes or no and it would not have been a big deal. They were not “gotcha” questions meant to trap or embarrass her.

In a way this is fairly amusing. In fact, I laughed and yelled at the television when it was happening. But this is also part of the problem.

Most long-time politicians (like this person) have been so overly coached by advisors to be evasive, indirect and obscure when it comes to statements to the press that they have lost the ability to communicate in plain, simple, understandable ways.

It went something like this… Question: Do you like ice cream?

Answer: Well you know, ice cream is something we’ve been thinking about and studying carefully and we’re excited about the possibilities that are evolving in the field of ice cream these days. Of course, ice cream can be eaten in a cone or without a cone but there is no conclusive research available, at this point in time, about either method. Both have a reputation for being quite tasty. I’m out and about listening to the people and we are getting ready to present some findings one of these days. This will be far into the future when people have completely forgotten what this issue is all about, most people on earth have become comatose and frozen yogurt has become the topic of the day. However, we remain firmly committed to the good, ice cream eating people of this country…  blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

[Deep sigh…]

Since people in both political parties do this I do not consider it to be a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. I think it is, to some extent, inherent in politics. It is known and understood that this is how you play the game.

NOTE:  Wow, I just took a moment to re-read this piece before posting it. LOL! We are this early in a long election cycle and the politicians are already getting me irritated. I’m going to need to take some deep breaths, count to ten and relax, huh?

Choose A Helpful, Productive, Joyful Response To Life

If we convince ourselves that being in a bad, grumpy, sour, sad, angry mood is something that happens to us and is beyond our ability to control in any way then we will be stuck with that conclusion. And we will be stuck with the effects of those negative emotions in our lives.

Research in the field of psychology, however, has revealed that we can learn to recognize, fight and overcome negative emotions. And in some particularly stubborn cases we can learn to function—even function well—in spite of negative emotions.

Two actions that can help pull us up are: Gratitude and Helping Others.

We have a choice in how we respond to what happens to us. We can deny this is true and understand ourselves to be victims but the life of victimhood is an ineffective, weak and diminished existence.

I admit I have not had to deal with some of the profoundly difficult circumstances some of the people who are reading this post have had to face. However, I still lovingly encourage us—with God’s help and in light of His mercy and grace—to choose a helpful, productive, joyful response to life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Life Does Not Always Go The Typical Way

Occasionally I enter into a situation with preconceived ideas regarding people. I assume I have a pretty good idea what these folks will do and say based on my experience of what has been the typical response I have witnessed in similar situations.

But sometimes life does not go the typical way.

I’ve been reminded, recently, that when faced with incredibly difficult situations and tough decisions there are regular people who will rise to the occasion and behave in noble, courageous, intelligent and thoughtful ways.

These kinds of moments are good, helpful, encouraging and, even, powerful. I’m humbled and glad to be reminded that life does not always go the typical way.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Wrong Kind of Risk And The Right Kind of Risk

When I was young I was willing to take risks but they were often the wrong kinds of risks. In other words, they were risks that were frequently rooted in an unearned and unwarranted self-confidence. They were often risks I was unprepared to learn from due to a lack of maturity, knowledge and self-awareness and, therefore, the risks were not as helpful as they could have been.

Now that I’m older I find I am more reluctant to take risks—I naturally gravitate toward the comfort zone. But now the risks I am unwilling to take are, ironically, the right kind of risks. In other words, they are risks that are necessary for me to keep learning, stretching and growing.

I’m hoping to get this risk thing perfected—avoiding the wrong kinds of risks and diving headlong into the right kinds of risks—any day now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Preventing Consequences May Not Be The Wise Course of Action

Sometimes we step in to prevent people from dealing with the consequences of their decisions, words and behaviors. This often happens because, with kind intentions, we believe sparing the person from painful consequences is the more compassionate and helpful response.

The truth, however, is that there will be times when the most compassionate and helpful response—particularly from a long-term perspective—will be to allow the person to face the consequences, even though they will be difficult and painful. Consequences are one of life’s most important forms of teaching and correction. Attempting to spare a person from this form of teaching and correction is typically not compassionate and helpful. It simply delays important learning.

And because the lessons have been postponed, sparing the consequences now can sometimes bring on the possibility of more significant, more severe consequences later.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Close Call At Chuck E. Cheese

Rachel and I were at Chuck E. Cheese again today—which is further evidence I am being punished for something I’ve done. I’m not sure what it is but when I find out, I will be sure to post my discovery here as a public service and cautionary reminder to others.

I heard Rachel calling my name and she was walking away from the game she was playing proudly holding up a string of tickets she had won.

While Rachel was walking away from the game, however, a very young little girl stepped up to the game and grabbed Rachel’s cup of game tokens. Rachel turned around, saw the little girl taking her cup of tokens and she moved extremely quickly to take the cup of tokens away from the little girl. I think, perhaps, the little girl did not realize that at Chuck E. Cheese a person’s cup of tokens is a sacred treasure which is never to be touched by a third party and—for sure—it is never to be swiped. This would be like stealing someone’s horse in the old West.

This interaction was sort of interesting to watch because Rachel is not very quick and she does not have a high level of physical coordination. But when she needed to get her cup of tokens back she moved with the speed and agility of Batman.

It probably will not surprise you to read that the little girl screamed her disapproval when Rachel snatched the cup of tokens from her hand. At this precise moment the little girl’s father came around one of the large video game consoles and into view.

He was a big guy. And, for the record, he appeared to be very strong.

He looked at the two girls—his daughter and my daughter—then he looked at me. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders attempting to communicate, in a friendly way, this thought, “This is what happens, sometimes, with kids, right?”

It seemed like it took a full minute for him to respond. Actually, it was probably less than a second. But as Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

The large dad smiled at me and nodded.

I thought, “Whew!”

(By the way, it’s not very often that you encounter a Tom Petty reference in a Chuck E. Cheese story, these days.)

He told his daughter, “No, that cup belongs to this girl.” nodding toward Rachel.

His daughter was not happy with this outcome but she immediately took off in another direction, her curiosity piqued by something else in the shiny, bright, flashy environment that is Chuck E. Cheese.

I sat back in our booth, looked at our tray of Chuck E. hot wings and thought: Who knew that being a dad at Chuck E. Cheese would involve potential grappling, fisticuffs and ninja maneuvers? Then I took another sip of Diet Mountain Dew.