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Krav Maga and the Wimp That Used to Be

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Aloha Grill is my favorite spot for lunch.  I love me some teriyaki chicken and rice with mac salad!  My lunch hour last Spring started out like any of the dozens of times I squished into that packed hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  But didn’t end the same.

Two blue-collar men entered right behind me and stood so close that our arms were touching.  Everyone who knows me knows how much I loathe being touched by anyone, let alone strangers, so I looked around the waiting area for room to move aside.  Out of nowhere, one of the men grabbed my arm so hard I thought that maybe he was trying to keep from falling, but when I turned toward him, the look on his face said it all.  He was a sleazy predator and I was at the unfortunate place and time to be chosen as his play thing.

Continuing to squeeze hard enough to leave bruises on my arm, he made a comment to me about the place being so crowded today followed by a wink and dirty smirk.  I just stared at him in disbelief of what was happening while his friend snickered behind him.   He finally let go of me when it was my turn to order.  The tiny room was full of customers, mostly men who were oblivious to what was happening right next to them.  When the cashier asked for my ID to use my debit card, I took it out and showed it to her in a way so the men still standing close behind me couldn’t see it.  I was afraid they would see my name and try to find me.

I had always thought that if the time called for it I would be tough enough to do and say what needed to be done.  But in that moment, when I was being assaulted, every ounce of feminism I thought I had left me, and I desperately hoped that any of the other men around me would swoop in and save me.  That didn’t happen.

By the time I got back to my office, I had lost my appetite and sat down on the bathroom floor and cried.

I thought about that moment every day for the next few months.  Why didn’t I say or do anything?  Why didn’t I stick up for myself?  What would I have done different if I could go back and re-live that day?  I thought of a million ways that hindsight would have changed that scenario, but I knew in reality that the only way that would have gone any differently, was if I was different.

So, I decided to be different.

Krav Maga was something I had been researching for years.  I heard about it on an episode of How I met Your Mother and loved to watch YouTube videos of Krav Maga fighters in Israel and training clips from different gyms and would imagine what it would be like if I were strong enough to do something like that, but that was laughable.  I mean, you’re looking at the girl who would sit out of PE if we were playing volleyball that day because I didn’t like the way the ball hurt my arms.

I was afraid of pain, both physical and the embarrassment of failure.  I’d never really worked hard for anything, pushed through anything, or fought for anything.  I like my comfort zones, things that are safe, familiar, and EASY!  And to top that off, it had been 14 years since the last time I exercised. (Yes, you read that right.  14 years) So obviously the most aggressive form of martial arts was not for someone like me, but I couldn’t shake the burning desire for it, and knew I needed to do something drastic to not be that person anymore.

krav-title-imageLast July I went to our local gym, Krav Maga Spokane, for a consultation.  I had decided that I was going to enroll before I walked through the doors, no matter the cost or how scary it looked.  My mind was made up, It was time to rip the band aid off the wimp and  jump in with both feet.

I asked my husband to drive me to my first class for moral support.  The cardio was incredibly intense, and if I looked as ridiculous as I felt, I’m sure it was comical.  But I kept going and did the best that I could. When the hour was over, I climbed into the car and let out a victory cry!  I did it!  Not only did I survive, but felt like I could fly.  (The next day, however, I was so sore I had to crawl up my stairs on my hands and knees.)

Now here we are in February, and I am still madly in love with Krav Maga. I’m in it for the long haul and would even love to be an instructor some day.  After a few months I stopped going to classes because of the man at the restaurant and started going  for me.  Its lessons have spilled over into unexpected areas of my life, drastically improving my mental health, reviving my sense of adventure, and even strengthening my relationship with God.  Here’s just a few:

  1.  Comfort zones are cages holding us back from our God-given potential.  God gives us our dreams and desires, and He wouldn’t do that if He wasn’t willing to give us His strength that we need to reach them.  If your calling is bigger than your abilities, or in contradiction to what is safe and familiar, step out anyway.  It’s not going to kill you, and you’ll be surprised at what you can actually accomplish.
  2. It’s OKAY to stand up for yourself.  No, establishing healthy boundaries, like delivering a palm heel strike to the face of someone with a death grip on your arm, does not make you a bitch.  It means you value yourself, and that’s healthy because God values you too. Empathy is my biggest strength so this was a hard one for me.  I try not to come across as rude to others, sometimes at my own expense.  But kindness and compassion do not mean we should take abuse.  God cares about us, it’s okay to care about ourselves, too.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others.  A foot injury this winter took me out of class for nearly 5 weeks.  I lost a lot of fitness progress during that time and got really discouraged by the setback.  Because of it, I’m won’t be ready for the upcoming belt test, which many of my classmates, including those who started after me, will be taking.  But as much of a bummer as that is, I am happy for them and will be there to cheer them on, because the only competition I have is myself.  Likewise, there are a lot of folks much younger than Donnie and I who are serving full time at churches as Pastors, and we are not yet, but everyone’s journey is unique.  If I choose each day to surrender my mind, attitude, character to Jesus, to renew my mind in God’s word, to do one more rep than the day before, to hang on the bar a few seconds longer than last time (no, I can’t do a pull up yet, but it’s coming), then each day, by God’s grace, I can be a better version of myself than I was the day before.

It always irks me when people use Philippians 4:13 for just about everything, but in this case, I think it’s appropriate to say that what I’ve really learned is that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” and if God had to use a medium like Krav Maga to help me really understand that deep down, then that’s okay.

If you’re looking for something that is going to challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone in ways you can’t imagine, consider trying krav Maga.    You won’t regret it.  You’re stronger than you think.

krav2          krav3         krav1

 

 

 

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There Is No Fear In Love

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There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18

Last week, my friend gave me a copy of Hinds’ Feet On High Places for my birthday. To be completely honest, I little piece of my heart sank when I pulled the book from the gift bag and gazed down at the cover.  I knew exactly what this book was.  I had heard plenty about it over the years from folks who had read it:  another book that was going to show me how to overcome fear in my life. I had a decent understanding of the premise from friends who credited this allegory with their truly learning how to trust the Lord, and, to me, it sounded like the exact opposite of something I wanted to read.

It’s not that I don’t love a good story.  In fact, my favorite writings are always those that communicate biblical truth through storytelling.  For me, the aversion came from the subject.

Overcoming fear.

The difficult thing about fear is that it is the very obstacle that prevents you from conquering it.  It presses one down under the weight of endless, locked chains, causing one to believe that the most terrifying thing of all is the very key that frees them.

But there I sat, staring at the cover of a book that had been chasing me everywhere I looked for months, almost as if the Lord were gently whispering to me, “It’s time”.  So I begrudgingly conceded.

The world is a scary place, folks.  There’s cancer, terrorists, robbers, GMOs, bees, floods, droughts, oh, and in case you haven’t heard, apparently the entire West Coast is all set to drop off into the ocean in a massive earthquake.  Now, add being a parent to all of that (bad drivers, sharp objects, peer pressure, child molesters, kidnappers, broken bones), and you’ve got good reason to bolt the doors and never see the light of day again.

These fears of the mind come to us from real and logical sources, life, news, people, experiences, and therefore, could possibly happen to any of us.  But there are even deeper fears of the heart that hold us back from where God wants to take us, setting our entire lives on a foundation of anxiety.

“I want to become more like Christ, but what if He teaches me perseverance through suffering?  What if He teaches me trust through famine?  What if He teaches me patience through unanswered longing?  What if joy through unspeakable loss?  What if humility through embarrassment?  What if He has to hurt me to grow me?

And what if… just what if the prize isn’t worth the cost?”

“… perfect love casts out fear…”

The book opens with this verse from 1 John and has caused me to really meditate on it and its practical application.  As an anxiety-lifer (medicated and all), I’ve turned all the “fear” verses in scripture over and over through the years.  But suddenly, there has been freshly breathed revelation through this verse of how God wants wants to deal with fear in my life.  It happened by answering two questions.

1.  What casts out the fear?

Do I have to cast out the fear?  Should I just muscle it up and put on a brave face?  Do I have to force myself, through will of thought, to break my own chains?  No.  Because I am not responsible for casting out the fear.  That’s perfect love’s job.  What a burden is lifted to know that I can pass that task onto perfect love!

2.  Where do you find perfect love?

This question brings the issue of practicality to a verse that seems to offer such an abstract, unreachable  solution to the problem of fear.  Okay, perfect love casts out fear.  Great.  How the heck to I get that?  Do I already have it?  How to I access it?  Is there a button I can push to make it do the casting-out-of-the-fear thing?  No.  There is no button.  But there is a place you can go where this love is freely given to us.  A place that is so full of perfect love that fear can not even enter it.  It is in the very presence of the Father.

“…God is love”

– 1 John 4:8

If God is love, and perfect love casts out fear, then we become fearless as He pours his Holy Spirit into us.  The sweet, sweet place of His presence brings us more than the feels, it drives out fear from the deepest recesses of our hearts and sends it fleeing with it’s tail between its legs.  Fear can not exist in the presence of the Father, so that’s where I want to be.  While holding the hand of Jesus, there is nothing we can’t face.  Abiding in Christ and being continually filled with His spirit doesn’t take the troubles away.  In fact, the Bible promises us that “In this life you will have trouble” (John 16:33).  But instead of being bound by the chains of fear, we can take refuge in the secret place, climb onto the lap of Christ and rest our head against His chest.  And I think that John would know what he’s talking about when he describes this relationship between love and fear as he is the disciple who reclined against Jesus and laid his head on Jesus’ chest. (John 13:23)

And it’s really not that difficult to get there.  Scripture tells us to draw near to Him and He will draw near to us. (James 4:8)  All you need is a few minutes of privacy, a good worship CD, and presto! Distracted mind?  Try praying in tongues.  (She said what??? Yes, she did.  It’s in the Bible.)

The idea of blind faith has always seemed irresponsible to me.  Yet, this is what we’re taught to have in face of fear.  If you have blind faith and trust in God, couldn’t you just have it for anything?  I’m going to have faith that when I say the magic word, a purple unicorn will appear because someone told me so. Obviously that’s silliness. The Bible tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), to actually experience God for ourselves.  If the saying is true that trust always has to be earned, a few minutes in the throne room of the King will earn it real quick, and tasting and seeing will give you assurance in every fiber of your being that that prize is indeed worth the cost.

Then we can approach life boldly, with confidence and joy, without fear of whatever may come.  Not because of who we are, but because of who He is.  Because we know Him.  Because we’re His.

I am so thankful for a Father who pursues me and calls me to Himself in spite of my weaknesses.  What a beautiful week this has been!  The Lord is calling you, too, to a life free from fear.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ” – Psalm 23:4

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” – Psalm 118:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  – Deuteronomy 31:6

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.”‘ – Romans 8:15

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 1 Timothy 1:7

 

What I’m Not Will Never Compare to What I Am Because of Christ

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Do you ever think about all of the things that you’re not?  Have those thoughts ever held you back from friends, family, church, careers or dreams?  Do you ever get the feeling that some of the people in your life think less of you because of where you fall short?  I know I do.

photo credit:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/spjwebster/3617811672/
photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spjwebster/3617811672/

In all honesty, this is one of my biggest personal struggles.  Insecurity has been a companion of mine my entire life. Focused on the things that I am not, I know I have missed out on fully enjoying some of life’s greatest moments and greatest people.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  A few years ago I decided to really make an effort to develop relationships with others, despite my sometimes crippling social anxiety, and in doing so I made an incredible discovery:  Many people struggle with the same insecurities that I do!  In fact, it’s rampant.

Here’s the short-answer solution.  The more time I spend with Jesus, and the more I read His word, the more He reveals to me how He sees me, making me a little more confident in the skin I’m in.  It isn’t until we begin to understand the truth about who we are in Christ and why, that the what-we’re-nots seem to carry less weight.  Let me give you just a few examples from my list:

I’m not exactly normal

I’m extra-strength quirky around with a dysfunctional filter. I don’t always say the right thing (or the appropriate thing) and kick myself a lot.  I once sat at a table with a group of people I greatly admired and listened with a broken heart as they laughed about a person we all knew for being weird, and all I could think was, I’m weird, this must be what people say about me when I’m not around. 

I’m not a Pinterest housewife

I don’t cook or make crafty things.  I can’t decorate my home to save myself and my clothes usually come from Walmart or a thrift store.  And speaking of clothes, did you know you are supposed to separate laundry?  I just found that out (then decided I didn’t care.  They’ll all get clean)  The few things I have that I feel confident in were either gifts or ensembles I copied off a manikin, which Value Village doesn’t have a lot of.

I loved this blog about common themes of women’s ministry because that is an atmosphere where I have always felt the most awkward.  Is there a place for a dorky girl who is nerdy for history and apologetics and could care less about scrapbooking and tips for applying mascara? (Yes, that was an actual topic of a women’s ministry event I attended.)  One of the things I love most about my amazing church is that we take “Come as you are” very seriously. PJs, yard-work clothes, homeless, it’s all good.

I’m not wealthy

Donnie and I married at 17 and 22 and had children right away, before either of us had a college education.  So you can imagine why we’re not going to make the cover of Forbes Magazine anytime soon.  I get self-conscious about my house or the activities we have to pass on and often think that our finances are being judged as a poor decision to start our family so young, instead of just being thankful for everything that God has blessed us with.

Like so many people, I’ve spent too many years allowing my insecurities to define me instead of basking in the freedom and wholeness that comes with belonging to Christ.  What Jesus did for us on the cross allows us to have some pretty incredible labels.  All of which are better than anything we could ever put on ourselves:

 summerfield-336672_1280I am God’s child.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12

I am a friend of Jesus Christ.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15:15

I have been justified.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.
But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:17

I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 

I am a member of Christ’s body.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  1 Corinthians 12:27

I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  Ephesians 1:3-8 

I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians 1:13-14

I am complete in Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.  Colossians 2:9-10

I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16 

I am free from condemnation.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 

God works for my good in all circumstances.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

I cannot be separated from the love of God.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39  

I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  2 Corinthians 1:21-22 

I am hidden with Christ in God.
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4 

I am a citizen of heaven.
But our citizenship is in heaven.  Philippians 3:20

I have been given a spirit of power, love and a sound mind.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 

I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  John 15:16 

I am God’s temple.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  1 Corinthians 3:16 

I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:6 

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

I may approach God with freedom and confidence.
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  Ephesians 3:12 

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

What you are not will never compare to what you are in Jesus!

 

How To Deal With Social Anxiety At Church

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Have you taken any of the personality tests on Facebook yet?  They can be kind of fun, but if you’re an introvert with Social Anxiety, like myself, you don’t need to answer a bunch of questions about whether or not you prefer curling up with a book over going out with friends to know that you have a real problem.

You probably dread social situations that involve people other than your close friends.

You probably have one or two friends that you cling to at a party, talking only with them.

You probably opt not to go out when your safe person can’t make it.

You sweat.

You’d rather give a speech to a large crowd than attempt small talk, which you’re convinced you suck at and must feel as awkward for the person on the receiving end of your futile attempts as is does for you (Oh, and, they’re like, totally judging you, too, on account of your obvious weirdness and whatnot).

You probably use that infamous “Find a few people to shake hands with this morning” time between worship and the message to sneak out and use the restroom.

Did I mention the sweating?

This is one of my biggest challenges because I actually like people.  I want to get to know them, hear their stories, get to the heart of a person, pray with them, help them, and listen.  But taking that first step is terrifying.  And all of this is something that has to be overcome if I want to minister to others, because in order to get to know people, you have to get to know them.

In a perfect world, all of my introductions would go something like, “Hi, my name is Courtney, tell me everything about your past and what God is doing in your life now.”  But because that’s werid, I instead go with the more cultural acceptable spectacle of small talk.  It usually looks like this:

“Hi, I’m Courtney, what’s your name?” Oh, God, I can taste how bad my coffee breath smells

What’s the next question… Think!  What’s the next question… Oh right!…

“So, how did you find the Church?”…..”Oh, mmm hmm, mmm hmm”, Nod head up and down, up and down… make normal facial expressions… “Oh, cool, Okay”…

Mayday, mayday! Conversation dying! Think of another question… Weather?  No, too cliche.  Kids?  Yes! Always kids.  “So, do you have any kids?”  Nailed it….. Nod head up and down…. Wipe hand sweat on pants, shake, go back to seat. Whew!

Hot to deal with social anxiety at churchFor a lot of people with SAD, the idea of this encounter is so daunting, that it is simply avoided all together.  But what becomes lost when the risk is not taken is not only the potential of a great relationship, but the very purpose of the body of Christ: Bearing eachother’s burdens, sharpening one another, and growing together.  You miss out on using your God given gifts to impart something on to the people God has put in your path to help, and you miss out on receiving from the people God has put in your path to help you.

The funny thing about us SADers is that we tend to see others who don’t initiate relationship with us as exclusive, or snobby, never lending the thought that they may struggle with the same social crippling that we do.  So what you end up with is people not returning to the church because they “Can’t seem to get to know anyone” or “There’s too many cliques there.”

We simply can’t be effective for the Lord as islands unto ourselves (even though our island is warm, familiar, and has our favorite recliner) Jesus isn’t just our savior, He’s also our Lord, and we’re saved for a purpose.  His purpose.  Which means we’ve got to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and shake a few sweaty hands.  You never know what kind of beautiful relationships might unfold.

I’m not about to tell you that it gets easier or that as you become obedient to the Holy Spirit you’ll magically be cured and skip happily into a new small group, because that hasn’t been my reality.  Overcoming the stuff in our life doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone.  Sometimes people are miraculously healed, and sometimes we have to walk out our faith with a thorn in our flesh.  Those are the times when we have to lean into the Lord and rely on His grace for each new situation as it comes, or for me, for every new person I meet.  I am still terrified to talk to new people, but I do it because I love Him, and He loves them, and as I get to know them, I begin to love them, too.

And God has given us a wealth of knowledge out there to help us with this.  A little practical suggestion?  If you struggle socially, take a course on listening and communication.  The curriculum that our local Pregnancy Center recently started using, called Equipped to Serve, is fantastic and has helped me tremendously with the tools necessary to start and keep a new conversation going.

Another suggestion?  Make it a personal challenge.  My goal for the rest of 2014 is to strike up a conversation each Sunday with someone I don’t know, and try in earnest to plan a dinner with their family.  It’s a lofty goal, but I know that God will help me do it, and I am excited to see what becomes of jumping into the Body of Christ with both feet.

So how about you?

 

Putting The Pieces Together – Our Autism Journey

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Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 10.32.21 PM

I remember holding my firstborn son, Samuel, in my arms all swaddled up in his blue blankie, pacifier in his mouth, and singing to him until he fell asleep for his daily nap.  Everything about him took my breath away.  Everything about him was samuel babyperfect.  Like many parents, I would look down at him and imagine his future:  What sports will he play?  probably Football since his daddy loves it so much.  When will he meet his wife?  He’s so handsome, all the girls will be following him around.  What career path will he choose? Something that can well support a family, I hope.  Web designer, or engineer, though a missionary would be awesome, too.  Samuel’s life according to mom, was looking pretty good.

Dec 28 2005 (47)The lack of hitting developmental milestones can be easy to overlook in the first year or so, especially if you don’t have enough experience with small children to be able to gauge “normal”.  It wasn’t until Samuel’s brother, Silas, just 13 months younger, began to progress as an infant and toddler should, that we began to suspect something may not be right with Samuel.  Little things, like lining up his cars by color, his delay of speech, his adversion to certain textures and water became highlighted by our younger son’s “normal” behavior.

Read our Autism journeyAt age two, with no sign of verbal communication and other behaviors growing worse, our pediatrician referred us to a speech and occupational therapist.  Within a year, Samuel was speaking in sentences and running through the sprinkler.  Washing his hair at bath time no longer required two adults and he had almost completely stopped banging his head on things.  Over the years the therapists used hopeful phrases like “closing the gap” to describe his progress, and we looked forward to a day when we would soon be “past all this stuff.” Just before Samuel turned 5, we moved away and had to stop his sessions.

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 10.11.39 PMThen: Kindergarten.

That first parent-teacher conference brought us back down to earth.

“Samuel is having a hard time in his overall understanding and I am concerned about some of his behaviors.  He doesn’t seem to grasp anything being taught.  He also doesn’t understand what ‘No’ means, but he can take direction from visual Que-cards.  If I tell him ‘Don’t draw on yourself with the markers’, he looks at me blankly, then continues to draw on his arm. But If I make a sign with a stick-figure drawing  on himself, then put a circle with a line through it, and set that card in front of Samuel, he stops drawing on his arm.”

SAMSUNGFirst grade proved to be even more telling.  Samuel struggled socially.  Samuel struggled academically.  Samuel just struggled.  It was this teacher that got the ball rolling by saying what I imagine had to be very difficult for her.  “Samuel is not meeting the standards, and I really don’t know if he is able to.  I know this is hard, but it may help you to have him evaluated by a psychiatrist.”

It was so discouraging.  We didn’t want a “Label” on our son, but we wanted answers.  We wanted to know how to help him, teach him, and communicate with him, but we didn’t want to give him a crutch, which we thought saying the word, “Aspergers” might do.  Home life was growing more and more difficult.  Samuel was easily aggravated by his siblings, schedule changes, loud noises, and usually responded with aggression.  We needed help, but getting answers was no easy process.

First, we had to visit the Ped, who referred us to our local community mental health organization, who referred us to the Gonzaga Autism Program, who sent us to the school district’s psychiatrist, who said they don’t diagnose, and only SAMSUNGevaluate students for academic purposes, not social or sensory reasons….. and months later we were back to the ped again.  Our second referral, now into his second-grade year, was to the Northwest Neurobehavioral  Institute, where after a 12 hour evaluation and testimonials completed by teachers, our ped, and my husband and I, we finally received a diagnosis:  High Functioning Autism. 

I don’t think that anything could have prepared me for that moment.  It was a mixture of great relief for finally having an answer, and mourning for the loss of the life that I had projected for him in my mind.  Then the questions:  What will this look like going forward? Will he ever get married? What kind of a dad would he be? Will we need to support him forever? Will he go to college? What next?  What I remember feeling the most at that time was alone.  I needed someone to lean on emotionally while I processed this, and not someone with little knowledge and big answers.

first day of schoolSamuel is now in 4th grade, and I would say that we’re really starting to learn how to navigate these waters.  Each challenge that presents itself tugs at our heartstrings, bringing with it the “What-ifs”.  The worst of those are the days, or even weeks, when we go challenge-free and tend to forget about Autism until something happens and it shows up in full force, and a little bit of that mourning for the non-existent made-up son comes back again.  Getting a diagnosis like this for your child can be heartbreaking, but it can also be an opportunity to fall in love with your child in a way that is amazing and unique.  Here’s a few lessons we’ve learned along the way:

Love your child for exactly who they are.  This part comes after acceptance and letting go.  Your child will be better for it, and your heart will be better for it.  “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” – Proverbs 16:9

Pick and choose your battles.  And oooooooooooooh, do you have battles with an autistic child!  We basically take each situation as it comes and put it into one of three categories:

  1. This is a behavior issue needing correction.
  2. This is an Autism issue that can be accommodated.
  3. This is an Autism issue that we need to help him overcome so he can be successful in life.

For example, eye-rolling when told it’s time to start our homework would be number one and would need a discipline.  Changing his shirt 4 times in a day because he gets a raindrop on it and doesn’t like the way it feels is inconvenient for me as the laundry doer, sure, but it’s not hurting him or anyone else and is really OK.  Not wanting to wear his seat belt because it makes him claustrophobic, however,  falls into number 3 (or as we call it, the ‘too damn bad’ category).

Tell your child.  Don’t make it license for them to do whatever they want, but don’t hide it either for the sake of protecting them from the dreaded label.  If your child is very high-functioning like ours, he knows that he doesn’t fit in.  Hiding it from him will always make him wonder why.  There can be freedom in an answer.

Tell their siblings.  Samuel’s autism has forced some maturity on our other children.  They understand why Samuel has some different standards than they do (like not being required to make eye contact when talking to an adult), and it wouldn’t be fair to them to not explain why that is.  It gives them compassion for his meltdowns and, for us, has been a great opportunity to teach the kids how to pray for each other.

For God’s sake, laugh about it!  Yes!  It IS OK to find the humor in the quirky things they do.  Sometimes I will refer to Samuel as Mr. Spock, or have a good laugh over stories shared with other moms who have children on the spectrum.  It’s very therapeutic.

Praise their strengths!  Children, and adults, with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism often beat themselves up for their failures.  They’re usually extremely good at some things, and extremely bad at other things.  Praise them for the things they are very good at, and offer help to them for the things they aren’t so great at.

Be their advocate.  Go to any length to get them the help they need.  Early intervention and therapy can make a HUGE difference in the life of an autistic child.  Research.  Get a 504 plan or an IEP.  If you suspect your child needs to be evaluated, annoy the bajeezers out of your doctor until you get it.  Stand up for them.  Don’t be afraid to “educate” people who are treating them unfairly.  I am a pretty passive person, and I have had to grow some serious mama bear claws when it comes to dealing with others who interact with my son.  Lastly,

Love them some more.  Everything about him takes my breath away.  And everything about him is perfect.

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Just One Chapter In My Favorite Love Story

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“Mercy and wrath met at the cross, and both walked away victorious”

A Princess in peril, an enemy, a valiant Prince who, driven by radical love, risks life and limb to save her.   Before these familiar love story themes were ever prefaced by “Once upon a time”, the world already knew them.  They resonate so deeply within us because they come from the very heart of God, finding their roots in the story He has been writing since creation.  One of my favorite chapters in this epic romance comes from John 8:1-11, in what’s known as “The woman caught in adultery”.

“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”  They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When thewoman-caught-in-adultery accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”’

What a beautiful picture of  a Holy God’s extravagant love for His creation.  Line by line of this woman’s encounter with Jesus, you can see it:  The undeserved, nonsensical, radical love He has for us.

“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” – Jesus levels the field for her.  Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  There is no class system for sin.  Abortion or drunkenness, gossip or adultery, sin is sin, and not one of her accusers was without it.  Jesus makes it clear that The ground at the foot of the cross is level.

“When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman” – Jesus stayed with her when everyone else left.  Jesus remains, even in the midst of our sin.  He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’  ‘No, Lord,’ she said.”  Jesus didn’t force His reality on her.  He didn’t say, “Look around, no one is condemning you, so you should feel better now.”  But He, being the perfect counselor, gently led her through good questions to a realization of the truth on her own.  Time spent conversing with Jesus will illuminate the truth in our own hearts.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I.” – The only one there who was actually qualified to throw a stone at her extended a hand of grace.  Many people judge, condemn, and mistreat us, but Christ, the only Holy one, without sin, pursues us in love, picks us up off the ground, and holds us in His arms.  Grace is unmerited favor.  That’s what makes it amazing.

“Go and sin no more.”  – Anyone who would stop this story at “Neither do I”  for the sake not wanting to “ruin” the grace part just prior is missing out on one of the best elements of the story!  “Go and sin no more” is not a call to ‘follow all the rules or else’, It’s not a ‘I forgive you this time, but you’d better straighten up now.”  When Jesus told her this, He believed in and affirmed her ability to have His best life for herself.  He set her free to see herself living in a way she never thought possible.  It is a command to have a full, abundant life.  It is a command to stay close to grace and let Jesus in to the deepest recesses of your heart to refine you along the way.  Within these two sentences lies an important balance.  Grace meets the father-heart of God that longs to see His child happy and whole.  We can’t neglect this part.  It is made possible only because of the work of the Cross.

A lot of factors could have kept Jesus from responding to her the way He did, and are often the same ones that keep us, His people, from responding to others the way He did:  Cultural pressure and the low regard for a woman in her situation, being interrupted in His teaching, protecting His reputation, and intense scrutiny from the crowd.  But Jesus, the valiant Prince, risked it all to demonstrate the real heart of God.

How, in my life,  have I been the woman caught in adultery, and what can I learn about God’s heart toward me from this story?

How, in my life, have I been the accusing crowd, and what can I learn about God’s heart towards others from this story?

How, in my life, have I given into the pressures around me and not responded in extravagant love toward others, and how can I learn to respond the way He did?

“What Would Jesus Do?”  is speculation.  “What DID Jesus Do” is no mystery.  It’s written throughout scripture, in the greatest love story ever written.

Grace For The Journey

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“God will fix a fix to fix ya”, Pastor Phil Harris said, as we sat with them in their living room.  He was referring to someone else at the time, but it stuck with me because I thought it was deep and catchy.  A few years later, God fixed me a good fix, in an area of my heart I didn’t know needed fixing.

I sat on the edge of my bed with a few glasses of wine in me and a safety pin in my hand.  I was listening for the kids, making sure they were distracted with their movie with no chance of one of them walking in on what I was about to do.  Then a thought occurred, “What if this gets infected?  How am I going to explain this away to a doctor, especially when I work for a ministry?”  So I took out a lighter and held the pin in the flame to clean it, then pressed the tip into the skin on my arm just far enough for it to look like a cat scratch, and pulled the pin all the way down my arm.  I was desperate for escape, but couldn’t go through with going all the way, though that was an option I dwelt on frequently.  I still have the letters I wrote to my kids, just in case I couldn’t handle the darkness anymore.  “How did I get here?  How did I get here?’

It was the perfect storm, really.  A constant pain in my side from cysts that lasted for weeks and weeks.  Some days, I couldn’t stand up straight for a whole day.  I started taking Vicoden to help with the pain.  When that stopped helping, I was upgraded to Percocet, round the clock.  I had surgery to remove one ovary, and when that didn’t help, I had another surgery to remove the last one.  I remember coming home from that procedure, and as if someone had flipped a light switch, I was drowning in inexplicable sorrow. I should have been so happy that my pain was finally gone, but instead I couldn’t stop sobbing.  I was coming off a painkiller addiction while transitioning from my natural hormones to synthetic ones.  And while hormonal issues may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, God wanted to use that time to bring to the surface deeply rooted troubles in my heart, and I fought Him tooth and nail.

I am a bit of a rules girl.  It’s just common sense, really.  Obey the rules, avoid the consequences.  In hindsight, there has been a part of me that applied that principal to walking with Jesus.  I would read of Job’s trials and listen to testimonies of people who walked through difficult seasons and the lessons they learned along the way, and none of that sounded appealing.  I didn’t really recognize it then, but I was too afraid of being hurt for the sake of spiritual growth to let God in to change my heart.  So I just came up with my own work-around:  Being the best Christian ever.

Follow the rules, no refining necessary.

I never missed church.  I read my bible.  I didn’t break the speed limit.  I went to small group.  I didn’t swear or drink (Oh, how times have changed).  I didn’t burn CDs or listen to seedy music.  I had to do everything right.

The problem?  That pesky old fallible human thing we all have.  It makes it kind of a drag when you’re trying to walk out your faith in your own strength.  I didn’t know just how badly I was hating on myself for falling short of perfection until it was highlighted by the emotionally dark place my medical circumstance had thrust me into.  And I needed that perfection to avoid the need for a possibly painful heart lesson.

Grace for salvation, I understood.  Grace for the journey, I didn’t.

And I didn’t want to understand it, because that meant letting go of control.  It meant really trusting the Lord to hold my heart.  It meant believing that, though the refining may be rough, the product at the end would be something beautiful.  And I didn’t know if I could really believe that.  It also meant surrendering the pride that built up from years of believing that my efforts made me spiritual.

Depression for me, as miserable of a feeling as it is, was a bit of a hiding place.  I  hated it, but it was familiar, comfortable, and allowing myself to wallow there never challenged me to face my problems.  I ran from God for a year on the inside, while trying to keep up the charade on the outside.  I didn’t want to be fixed, but I didn’t want to just walk away from 14 years of a faith I had given my life to, either, and I was tormented trying to decide on one or the other.  So I just stayed where I was: drinking, cutting, crying, look like I have it all together at work and church, repeat.

Then one night, last January, the Lord woke me up in the middle of the night and took me to John 13:3-9

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Then, I HEARD (like, with my actual ears), the voice of Jesus say to me, “Courtney, let me wash you”.

The King of Heaven was pursuing me, and my eyes were starting to become opened to see grace for the journey. 

“Let me wash you”

I did.  I cried and cried, and thanked God, and cried some more.  I asked Him to wash me, and felt His presence move in with a peace I had been missing for so long.  I remember waking up and looking at the world through new eyes, much like I did when I met Him.  Prayer was better, more real.  Worship was better, more awe of Him.  A rush of joy was only a God-thought away.  But I wasn’t completely out of the woods.  I don’t know that I will be until I am standing with Him in eternity.

It’s been two steps forward and one step back, and as time goes by, it’s become 3 or 4 steps forward.  I still struggle with depression, but it is no longer my life.  As each wave presents itself I have to make a choice:  Am I going to go to the dark place, or am I going to worship and let Jesus wash me?  Those are the times when I really, really, don’t feel like worshiping.  I’ll just be honest, I don’t chose right every time, but I’ve never been disappointed when I have.

I used to see this whole “grace for the journey” thing as someone trying to keep their balance on a fence, and on one side of the fence is sin and lawlessness, and on the other side of the fence is religion, works, and self-righteousness, and to do it right, one would have to always be checking themselves to make sure they’re not leaning too far to one side or the other.  It took these dark days for me to see that such grace is not a balancing act.  It’s a dance with Jesus. That makes it even more amazing.  Sara Young says it so beautifully in her devotional book, Jesus’ Calling:

“Because you are human, you will continue to make mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride.  Your failures can be a source of blessing, humbling you and giving you empathy for other people in their weaknesses. Best of all, failure highlights your dependence on Me.  I am able to bring beauty out of the morass of your mistakes. Trust Me, and watch to see what I will do.  Romans 8:28; Micah 7:7”

I am amazed by His love.  I am so thankful for what He’s brought me through.  I am so humbled to be pursued.  If that was what it took for me to learn all of that, it was worth it.  Now that I have tasted and seen for myself what the light at the end of the tunnel looks like, I can say with all confidence that the trail is worth it.  The refining is worth it.  If you are where I was two years ago and don’t believe me, you don’t have to take my word for it.  God will fix a fix to fix you.

I leave you with these lyrics from Kim Walker-Smith’s song, Unstoppable Love

Try to stop Your love and You would wage a war
Try to take the very thing You gave Your life for
You would come running
Tear down every wall
All the while You’re shouting
“My Love, you’re worth it all”.

God you pursue me with power and glory
Unstoppable Love that never ends
You’re unrelenting with passion and mercy
Unstoppable Love that never ends

You broke into the silence and sang your song of hope
A melody resounding in the deep of my soul
You have come running
You tore down every wall
All the while you’re shouting,
“My Love you’re worth it all”

No sin, no shame,
No past, no pain
Can separate me from Your love
No height, no depth,
No fear, no debt
Can separate me from Your love

Special thanks to my awesome Pastor, Lori, for her loving patience, and prayerful counsel during this time.

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