Compassion

“Of these three men, who do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by robbers?”  The expert said, “The one who was kind enough to help him.”  Jesus told him, “go and imitate his example!”  Luke 10:36-37 GWT

One of the most important things that I want my kids to learn and to carry with them is compassion.  We talk about this often.  Don’t stare.  Always offer help.  Pray for those who need it and for those who don’t know they need it.  Offer the kindness to others that you would like to receive.  This is tantamount for living out the call of Christ.  Be Jesus for those around you.  Let them see the grace that He has given you so that they can wonder what it’s all about and so through you they can’t help but want to know more about Him.

I crave compassion.  There have been times, as the mother of a child with autism that I have longed for compassion in a way that I can’t even put into words.  People can be so cruel to anyone who is the slightest bit different.  So when you are talking about someone who is VERY different…well, let’s just say you don’t always see the best that people have to offer.  I remember the sight of Genevieve’s face when, as a very little girl, someone made nasty comments about her sister in the grocery store.  I remember having more heart-to-heart discussions than I could possibly count with a very sad big sister who could not understand why others couldn’t see the wonder that was her little sister and why people would choose to stare or offer unsolicited advice on what they would do different “if that child was mine”.  And more recently, I remember the face and searching eyes of one precious 10-year old who was completely confused by strangers’ stares.

At another time in my life, this would have made me bitter.  There were times when all I wanted to do was be angry.  I wanted to tell off that elderly gentleman behind me in the checkout line who suggested that perhaps my child needed more spankings.  But what I realized was that in those moments, my children were looking to me more than they were looking toward those strangers.  Those people may not have been showing compassion for our situation but I could certainly show them compassion.  Because I knew better.  Because I had a Savior who showed me the ultimate compassion.  He offered me mercy when otherwise I would have been left behind.  So, eventually, as my heart softened, my children saw me speak kindly to these people.  They heard me explain to the gentleman in the checkout line that he was not witnessing a tantrum but the evidence of too much stimulation.  They saw me deal patiently and with grace as I dealt with other parents who just didn’t get us.  My children saw me explain to other children that though the little girl they were staring at was different from them in a few small ways, she was just like them in the most important ways.  And what they learned from this was that it is always possible to extend compassion to others.  Even the ones to whom we don’t really feel like extending compassion.  Especially them.

And so while we may not be saving a life in the literal sense as in the story of “The Good Samaritan”, we are choosing to make our own lives better through the compassion that this story teaches us.  And we just might be pointing to the Author.

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God’s Ways

I must admit that this used to be the time of the year that I struggled with how to teach my child who has autism about the Resurrection.  As Easter approached she sensed the anticipation.  She could feel that there was something different in the days as we waited with wonder and expectation for Sunday morning.  She understood the joy and even picked up on the traditional greeting, “He is risen!” and its response, “The Lord is risen indeed”.  The bigger issue, for me, became how to make this real throughout the year?  How do I make her feel and understand the enormity of the sacrifice made for her beyond Easter morning?

There are so many options available to us as modern day parents to teach our children, in a tangible way, about the truth of the Resurrection.  Resurrection eggs, empty tomb cookies and rolls, and countless books written just for them.  I used all of these when I served as a director of children’s ministries.  All of those and so many other activities are perfect ways to share the Good News with children.  Well…with typically functioning children.  For a child with autism, sometimes these lessons get through but, more often than not, they fail to make the connection for a child who is more literal.

The answer came in the simplest way.  Walking into pre-school every day we walked past a wall lined with crosses.  She was charmed by each and every one.  Every day she would pick a new one to stand in front of and just take in every little detail.  And so I began to ask her what they were.  She answered “cross” but wouldn’t answer any more questions.  I continued to talk to her about Jesus, hoping that it was all sinking in and that she was feeling connected to an ancient truth that I felt powerless to make truly real to her.  That her Savior had loved her so much, He had given His life in order to ransom hers.

Then one day, one beautiful day, we walked past the crosses.  She stopped in front of one that depicted the life of Jesus.  I watched as her eyes took in every little detail and I asked, “what is that?”.  She answered, “cross”.  I asked, “What does it mean?” and she answered “Jesus”.  I told her that the cross means that Jesus loves us.  And she repeated it to me.  Over and over.  “Jesus loves us.  Jesus loves us.  Jesus loves us.”  I watched while it took hold in her heart.

Though I had known that God’s ways exceed all my expectations, in that moment I felt that truth become so real to me.  I realized that God’s love was not something that I needed to push on my child.  She already had a relationship with Him.  He didn’t die on the cross only to ignore the needs of those who learn differently.  My job was simply to place truth before her and to let God do the rest.

He is Risen!

“He is risen!”  The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”

How I love this greeting.  This is no “Morning” grumbled while stumbling toward that first cup of coffee.  It’s not a chin raised in recognition of an acquaintance or a quick handshake upon entering a room.  This is the greeting of two believers.  These are the traditional words that Christians exuberantly share on Easter Morning, heralding the joy they share in knowing that their Savior has indeed beaten the grave.  These are the words upon which our faith is built.

The fact that our Lord rose from the grave after three days is the whole reason for this season.  It’s the whole purpose of our faith In Jesus Christ as our Savior.  He came, fully man, to this earth to experience what we experience.  But, he was and is fully God.  The death of a good man on the cross for the sins of others would have been noble and loving.  But it would not have been redeeming.  This is such a difficult concept to teach to our children.  Christ’s death was gruesome and barbaric.  But at the very same time it was beautiful and holy and the greatest act of love ever performed for them.

As we walked through this season of self-denial and prayerful contemplation, I tried to help my children understand that the reason we deny ourselves certain pleasures and comforts in the time leading up to Resurrection Day is not to make us an inherently better person.  Denying ourselves sugar, or TV or meat on Fridays will not make us a holier individual.  It does not in and of itself bring us closer to God.  What it does do, if done in prayer and meditation on what He gave up for us, is point us to the One on whom we place all our faith and that is what makes us a better person.  That is what brings us closer to the One who died to know us.

Not only do we have a Savior who gave Himself over to suffering and death in order to share eternity with us, but He overcame death.  He endured His Father’s wrath so that we wouldn’t have to.  He felt the weight of every sin ever committed by mankind heaped upon his soul until at last The Father was satisfied.

And so we share these words after the long weeks of Lent.  We, at last, share in the joy of Jesus’ resurrection end the fast of the “Alleluia”s.  And when I greet my children on Resurrection Day with these words and they answer back,  I know that they, in part for now, and someday will fully know, the joy of knowing that their Lord has overcome all evil and they will stand with Him in complete victory.  Because He lives.  Today, tomorrow and always.

Sacrificial Thinking

Chocolate? Sodas? T.V.?  What should I give up?

Sharing with my newly 13 year old about Lent, these were the inevitable questions that were bound to come up.  I knew that one day she would question why I give something up at this time every year and wonder whether she should do the same thing.  I wanted to explain it in a way that would touch her heart and not leave her feeling as though this were just another trial to get through.  But where to start?

I was born and raised a Presbyterian but attended an Episcopal school though the elementary years.   This taught me about the dichotomy between religion and faith.  I watched my classmates who attended the Episcopal church “give something up” every year in the weeks leading up to Easter.  I heard them talk about how hard it was to not have a coke when everyone else was having one or how they had messed up and it wasn’t worth trying anymore.  I remember thinking “why did you try if it wasn’t worth it?”  To be honest, I thought that the whole idea was just stupid.  I mean, what do cokes and how many you drink have to do with Jesus? Not a thing as far as my grade school self could see.

Fast forward a few years to the time when I was deciding what religion would serve my new family best.  I wanted to raise my children in a church but I was left feeling as though something were lacking in all of the areas that I was seeking fulfillment.  I chose Anglican to try out and it seemed like a good fit.  A comfortable memory from childhood with real meaning.  But then came Lent… and the concept of giving something up was staring me in the face once again.  I looked past it for a few years, choosing to celebrate Resurrection Day without all the denial that came before.  And I realized, the deeper I went into my Lord’s life and His sacrifice, that I was missing something crucial to the experience of Lent. By looking past the trials to the celebration I was not getting the full picture.  I was fully embracing the worship portion of Easter without honoring Him with the surrender of something I was holding too dear.

I started with giving up meat on Fridays.  A simple enough sacrifice.  Until you actually try to live it out.  It’s hard in Western culture.  And there is the point.  I give up something that I have to actually THINK about.  Not something that doesn’t cause me any discomfort at all.  I give something up so that in missing that particular thing, or in having to think a little harder in consuming a meal on that day, I recall the sacrifice made my Lord made for me.  And it makes me think.  A lot.  About His death.  About His love.  About why I am choosing to do this to honor Him in my own very small way.  My sacrifice doesn’t equal His.  It could never come close.  But it can help me remember in a way that I might miss without that reminder.

Every year, I now put much thought into what I might be choosing to sacrifice during Lent.  Sometimes it’s very simple. Sometimes it is quite complicated.  But it always reminds me of Jesus’ devotion to me.  And in sharing with my children this year, the why’s became much clearer.  It all comes down to a deeper relationship.  I want to know Him more and this is one way I have chosen to do that.  It may work for them or they may choose a completely different way to show that they understand His surrender.  But He honors each heartfelt sacrifice.  Big or small.  Because our heartfelt sacrifices mean we are paying attention. And in the end that it truly all we have to offer Him.

Great is His faithfulness

Ever have one of those weeks where God just keeps showing up?  In every situation, no matter how you mess it up, no matter what rotten attitude you exhibit, no matter the mistakes you make.  You attempt over and over again to screw things up with your complete and utter “human-ness”, but there He is.  Making things ok.  Reminding you that He is in control and that all you have to do is rely on Him and obey.  That is exactly the week I am having.

I’m not very proud to admit that trusting God is not really my strong suit.  I teach my kids that they can rely on Him for everything.  I tell them that they can go to God with anything that burdens their heart and if they hand it over, He will deal with it. I tell them that they will look back on those burdens one day and realize that what once seemed so huge to them will look much smaller and more manageable.  But, I don’t always practice what I preach.  I hand my burdens over to God with the full belief that He will work them out in my best interest. And I let Him deal with them. Until I don’t.  Until I feel like I am not getting the results I expected or until things aren’t happening fast enough to suit me.  I don’t do it on purpose.  I don’t consciously think “God had failed me.  I’ve given Him the one thing that He couldn’t handle.”  But by snatching my worries back from His hands that’s exactly what I am saying to Him.  By hanging onto things I had previously turned over, I am suggesting that I am bigger and more capable than God.

But He remains faithful.  He shows up.  Even when He could leave me to my own sad devices.  Even when He could fold His arms across His divine chest and say to me, “go ahead. You wanted to take it back so badly.  You deal with it.”  But He doesn’t do those things.  He walks alongside me and gives me more chances.  So many chances that I feel as though I must be coming to the end of my share.  Until I remember that there is no end to the chances.

I am so grateful for those times when God keeps showing up in unexpected ways.  When I hear the same message in different ways in a short amount of time.  When the same Scripture keeps popping up and speaking to me in different ways.  And when He makes His presence known in a situation that reminds me to stop, go to my kids and remind them of His great faithfulness.

Faith

Faith.  Such an important word in our home.  My oldest daughter’s first name, given because of the walk that God took me on while I was carrying her.  And it’s the overriding topic of discussion in the Daniels home during this Epiphany season.  It’s a simple concept…but so much harder to live out in daily life.

Mark 5 tells us of a dying girl’s father, Jairus.  There was no wavering in Jairus’ words when he said to Jesus, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (NIV)  He believed.  So he asked.  In the same way, the sick woman came to Jesus in a place that couldn’t have been easy for her to be.  The people were pressing around Jesus.  It was standing room only, so to speak.  Bleeding for 12 years, I picture her, pale and wan, desperate after having tried every healing ointment and potion that others could recommend.  And yet, day after day, the very source of her life continued to flow from her body.  There is nothing to suggest that these two people had any knowledge of each other but they had one very important thing in common.  A firm faith in Jesus.  They both believed that He was exactly who He said He was.  And they both believed that a touch from Him could restore life and health.

This is the faith I want to have.  This is the faith that I want to share with my daughters.  I want them to rest fully in the knowledge that one touch from their Savior will set things right.  Maybe not in the way that they think, but always in the way that they need.  I hope that they will take the desires of their hearts to Him and that they will allow Him to shape those desires so that their hearts more fully resemble His.  I long for this for myself.  To rest so fully in the capable hands of the Son of God that I can’t help but search for Him, even in a place that is uncomfortable.  I want to be the kind of person who calls to Jesus first before I seek answers and comfort elsewhere.

Jesus restored health in both the life of the sick woman and the life of Jairus’ daughter. The sick woman felt health and vitality return to her body immediately.  A child, who had been dead, stood up and walked around and then had something to eat.   And all it took was a touch.  And faith enough to seek Him.

Epiphany: a sudden and striking realization

Epiphany:  An experience of sudden and striking realization; a new and profound understanding that takes an individual to a deeper understanding of a situation.  An “a-ha moment” of the highest order. But, more importantly, to a Christian, Epiphany is the season in which we embrace the newly born child who came to Earth as our Savior.  He was, and remains, a gift.

Teaching my girls about Epiphany led me to a personal epiphany. This time, between the joy of Christmastide and the personal reflection of Lent, has so often gotten lost in the waiting for a time of celebration.  What my family missed is the fullness of knowing why Jesus came.

Ask any child who has been raised in church “why did Jesus come to Earth?” and the answer will undoubtedly be “to die for us and forgive our sin”.  This is true, but only partially.  The magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not lost on me.  On the contrary, each year his death and resurrection is revealed to me in new and fresh ways, increasing my understanding and my love for Him.  What I missed in the scope of that amazing and beautiful picture of surrender to God’s will is that Jesus’ first purpose in coming to Earth wrapped in flesh was so that we could be grafted onto the family tree of God, that we would be made fully aware of our status as fully loved and treasured children of the One True King.

When the Magi made the great journey to see the Christ child, it was not because they had been awaiting the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.  The Magi were not of Jewish descent.  And yet, God revealed the grandeur of this simple Bethlehem birth to them.  And so they came.  They learned who this child was because they stepped out and took the first step of a very long journey.  And God welcomed them.  He lit their way with a bright and beautiful beacon that said “this is my son…and he is here for you.”

With God there is no picking and choosing.  No one is left sitting on the sidelines waiting for the call to join a team that never comes.  No one is left trying to figure out where they fit in or trying to act as though they don’t mind being picked last again.  He accepts all races, all colors with no regard to age, socio-economic or (quite important to my family) developmental boundaries.  He loves us and accepts us because He made us.  We are, literally, His.  And all we have to do is accept the gift.

And so, in this beautiful season, I have had a sudden and striking realization.  My Lord is the ultimate inclusionist  (is that a real word?  It is for me!)  He will seek us across oceans and boundaries of our own making.  He will pursue us to the absolute depths to bring us home.  He knows the heart of those who express their love and pain to Him with unending words.  But He also knows the hearts of those whose words are hindered and for whom pain can only be expressed in cries and for whom praise can only spill out in dances of sheer joy.  He knows who the words and the songs are for.  They are for Him.  Because…we are His.   All of us.  Children of the One True King.  The recipients of the first Christmas gift.

Purpose in Struggle

This week led to some profound discussion in my home.  There were topics that seemed pretty heavy for a 10 and 13 year old.  “Why did He let them arrest Him?”  “Why did He heal the people who were there to kill Him?”  Our discussion (as always) steered us in a direction I did not anticipate.

Jesus came to earth for a purpose and it wasn’t so that we could spend too much money giving gifts and sing carols once a year.  He came, fully God and wrapped in confining flesh, to do nothing less that offer salvation to a lost world.  To save us.  To show us the greatest love that the world has ever known.  At any time He could have given up.  He could have decided that it was too uncomfortable to live a life limited by the constraints of a human body. He could have returned to Heaven. Every day that He lived on Earth he made a choice to finish he task that was set before Him.  A task that was more than difficult but had a greater purpose than the suffering He would endure.

Everyone has to make hard choices.  As Christ-followers we have the choice to seek out our purpose in life.  The purpose that God Himself placed before us.  We have to choose to carry on when things get hard, when our lives don’t turn out like we thought they would and even when it doesn’t seem fair or when we think that someone else has it better than us.  We have to choose to stick around and not run away, to lean into our struggles and accept them as they build our character and sift out the ugliness of our flesh even as they make us more like Christ Himself.  Our choice doesn’t lead to the salvation of the world.  But our choice can lead our families to salvation.

One of the choices our family has to make every day is how to view autism in our lives.  We could choose to feel sorry for ourselves and to get mired in the why’s.  We could choose to compare our lives and our calling with the callings of more “typical” families.  And sometimes we do just that.  We cry out to God for answers and for relief for us and for our sweet girl.  He is always gracious to answer us and that answer always remains “this is your purpose.  This is how my Glory will be played out in your lives.  This is how others will see Me through you.”  This answer is humbling and so full of love that it makes my heart swell.

What an amazing gift to give to my children at Christmas time: the gift of knowing that though God doesn’t always step in when times get hard, He always has a greater purpose in mind.  The greater Glory.  And if we are patient, and learn to listen and to wait we just might get to be a part of that Glory.

Expectant Waiting

“What the heck is Advent?”  This was not the question that I expected on December 1st when we started this adventure of living by the seasons of the church.  But I could tell that my 13 year old was sincere.  I had clearly not explained it to her in the way that I thought I had.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church on Sunday and an Episcopal school during the week.  I understood the seasons of the church because I lived them.  So when Genevieve was a very little girl it seemed a natural fit to take a job as the Children’s Ministries Director at the Episcopal Church that we were attending.  Since Gen was only a year old and she tagged along with me, I took for granted that most of what I was teaching and doing was sinking in the way it did for me growing up.  I was wrong.

So that first night we had a crash course in Advent.  Advent simply means “coming”.    I explained that the entire Christmas season is to be a time of celebration and planning for the advent, or coming, of Jesus.  After a little discussion, my daughter looked at me and said, “We are waiting for Him, just like Mary waited for Him.”  She got it.

My favorite definition calls it “a time of expectant waiting”.  Doesn’t that bring the absolute beauty of the season home?  Especially for a mother?  Can’t we just imagine those 9 long months that Mary spent waiting for the birth of her baby?  The baby she was told would be “Christ, the Lord”. Little more that a child herself she would be giving birth to the One who would one day deliver those who would choose to believe in Him.

In my home we are reveling in this time of expectant waiting.  We anticipate our daily Scripture readings.  I anxiously await hearing from Genevieve how she welcomed Jesus that day or how the meaning of the message we shared really hit her as she was with friends or as she was sitting in her Bible study class.  And my absolute favorite part of the day is when I hear my sweet Charlie’s voice whispering in my ear the words “We welcome your light, Lord Jesus” each night when we light our candle.  She is a girl of few words and so these feel especially sweet coming from her.

Already, after just one week, this is becoming a treasured part of our day.  This time to slow down, to remember, to reflect on the words spoken by our Savior is changing us.  This season feels more poignant than it has before.  And my prayers are focused on asking that we will be more accountable, more faithful and more hopeful for the coming of the Second Advent.

Meet the Daniels

Daniels

Welcome to a sneak peek into our completely crazy, over-the-top, scheduled to the last second life.  We are the Daniels:  Riki, Chuck, Genevieve (13 years old) and Caroline, who we call Charlie (10 years old).   Chuck and I have been married for almost 16 years.  I’m a stay-at-home mom although that’s a misnomer because I am almost NEVER at home.  Chuck works in the oil fields of West Texas.  We are Texan through and through so you might find that I tend to throw in some y’alls and “fixin to’s” from time to time.

At 2 ½ years of age, our Charlie was diagnosed with autism. While this diagnosis was a defining moment in who my family would become, it is not autism that defines who we are.  It is who we turned to that defines us.  What we found while walking the road that autism has taken us down is that we serve a truly amazing God.  He has met us exactly where we are at each and every point in our journey.  He is there in the moments of grief and comparison that inevitably come when one of your children is measured against other typically functioning children and the world finds them lacking.  He is there when the prayers just won’t come because we can’t think of one more way to ask Him to take this cup from our girl. He is there in those moments of joy when Charlie does yet another thing we were told she would never do.  He is there when an older sister, though still a baby herself, truly “gets” her younger sister and changes the way her parents see their role.  He is there when we realize that without autism in our lives, we would have missed so much of His amazing Grace, and that is something we could not imagine.

We are honored to be a “Good Dirt family”.  My hope is in marking our lives by the seasons of the church we will find another layer in our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  And that by sharing this part of our journey with you, we would all realize that our God is bigger than any struggle we might face