What is God calling you to give up for Lent? Is it chocolate, or social media? Perhaps watching television? Is God calling you to do something, like placing an item of clothing for each day of Lent then donating the bag?
God called Abraham to sacrifice his beloved and much-prayed-for son, Isaac. Isaac was a child of promise: all of Abraham’s God-given promises lay on this boy, and God called Abraham to sacrifice him upon an altar of sticks in Moriah. Reading this makes giving up chocolate irreverent.
The passage in Genesis 22 is heartbreaking: “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about,” [verse 3 NIV].
God told Abraham to go the region of Moriah. Israelite tradition indicate that God showed Abraham to sacrifice his son on the tallest point of the Moriah range—a place that, hundreds of years later, would be called Golgotha.
Abraham told the servants to wait. He placed the wood for the altar upon Isaac’s shoulders and “he himself carried the fire and the knife,”[verse 6]. Seeing that there was wood, and a knife, and fire to light the altar, Isaac asked where is the lamb for the burnt offering.
I cannot imagine what emotional turmoil Abraham was feeling as he replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” [verse 8]. What faith! Abraham knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, based on God’s promises that had already been fulfilled (hello, Isaac!) that God would provide.
As Abraham raised the knife to sacrifice his son, an angel stopped him. Abraham looked up, Scripture says, “and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son, [Genesis 22:13]. The ram, which was caught by its head in a thorn bush, was sacrificed in the place of Isaac.
Abraham called that place “The Lord will Provide.” Scripture says, “And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” [verse 14].
Listen: Jesus, the Lamb of God, wearing a crown of thorns, carried the wooden cross up to Golgotha to be sacrificed as God’s only Son, instead of us. God provided the ultimate and last Lamb to be sacrificed on the very place Abraham named “The Lord will Provide.” The Lord God provided the sacrifice—His only Son—in our place.
We are all Isaac.
Right before Jesus was to be crucified, Pilate gave the people a choice: release Jesus or release Barabbas, a known terrorist and murderer. It is interesting to note that in the Jewish culture, the surname Bar- meant “son of.” “Abba” means “God.” Barabbas means “son of God.”
So here we have two men: Jesus, the Son of God, perfect and without sin, and Barabbas, or “son of God,” who, like Adam was also called “son of God” was wicked and sinful. Romans 5:12 and 14 state, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—…Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.”
Certainly Barabbas, walking down to Pilate, couldn’t hear Pilate’s loan voice asking the people who he should release to them. All Barabbas heard was the screams of the people yelling his name. He couldn’t hear Pilate asking the crowd what he should do with Jesus; all Barabbas heard was “Crucify him!” [Matthew 27:11-28]. So all Barabbas heard was “Barabbas…crucify him!”
Imagine his confusion when, upon arriving before Pilate and this horridly-beaten and bloody Man, he was released, and the bloodied and thorn-crowned Man was sentenced to die in his place. Barabbas was deserving of crucifixion: a sinner among sinners.
We are all Barabbas.
This is what Lent is about: acknowledging our sin and our deeply-seeded need for a Savior. Understanding that Jesus did not die in place of Barabbas, but in our place as well. Understanding that the Lamb of God, like the ram caught in the thorn bush, was a substitution: Instead of Isaac, the ram; Instead of Barabbas, Jesus.
Lent is so much more than acknowledgement of our personal debt we cannot possibly repay to Christ; like Advent, it is a time of preparation for Passover, when we remember when the Israelite slaves adorned their door posts with the blood of a perfect lamb to prevent the Angel of Death from killing their first-born sons. It is a time of preparation to remember that God Himself gave the Cup and the Cross to His only Son to bear.
Lent is a time to remember and reflect on the great love God had for us, that He sent His only Son to die a horrific death so that we may be cleansed of sin, and to celebrate the empty tomb three days later.
© 2018 Terrie McKee
The most important gift I can bestow upon any of my children is not found in any store. The most important gift I can give is teaching them about Jesus—Who He is, and who they are in Him. For our daughter, especially, that means intentionally teaching her the truths that are found in God's Holy Word.
While the world will tell her she's not pretty enough, or smart enough—we are teaching our daughter that she is "fearfully and wonderfully made," [Psalm 139:14 NIV] and that God has made everything beautiful in its time [Ecclesiastes 3:11].
We teach her that Jesus so loved her that He died for her and rose again three days later so that she may live in Him.
We pray with her, leading her in prayer to teach her that prayer is communicating with her Lord Jesus. We help her find Scripture passages as she sits with us during church, and stress the importance of reading and studying the Word for herself. Just as she enjoys spending time with her friends, Jesus enjoys spending time with her. We share with her the importance of a personal relationship with the Lord: one that is reverent, built on faith and love for Him.
We teach her to be thankful.
We are teaching her to be modest in clothing and talk and how she sits. We teach her that there is room yet in this world for being a lady of character and renown. We are teaching our daughter to be a woman of faith in Jesus Christ, and that means being sure of who she is in Him: a Child of God, a Daughter of the Most High King.
We are teaching her that one day, she will meet the man that God has chosen for her, and they will complement each other in word and deed. We are teaching her, through example, that a wife is to respect her husband and a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church [Ephesians 5]. We are teaching her that Christ comes first, then her husband, next—her children, then home, and work. We are teaching her that women can work outside and inside the home, and most usually, both.
We are teaching our daughter the truths found in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
The world with its evil desires will come after her, but she will have a strong foundation on which to build a strong and mighty fortress of faith and love for Jesus, serving all in His name. Already we see the fruits of these things as her little hands clasp in prayer and as she shares Jesus with the children in her second grade class.
It is our job as Christian parents to protect and love our children, to guide them to a relationship with Jesus, to lead them to Him. Christ tells us to go into all the world, sharing the Gospel and teaching about Him—shouldn't that start within our own homes, with our own children? For if we don't teach them about God, the world will teach them about satan. We cannot leave it up to the children to learn these important things on their own.
(c) 2018 Terrie McKee
A year and a half after my husband was shot and paralyzed in an attempted armed robbery, I still could not say the perpetrators’ names. I knew their names, first and last, but only referred to them as the “tall one” and “spotted one,” so named for the many moles and freckles on his face.
I could not bring myself to humanize them – to refer to them with names. Naivety took a serious hit the day Greg was shot, and part of me still could not believe a fellow human could try to kill another for no reason with no provocation. It was easier to deal with that night by not thinking about those two men having mothers who had birthed them and held them as babies.
The “tall one” is just four years older than my oldest son. I am within the right age that I could have a son that old. Something happened, during the last six months or so – not sure what triggered it, but I thought about how those guys’ mothers must feel. Their sons not even out of prison more than a few months (the tall one was only out for less than a month), and here they are again, back in jail for doing the same exact things that landed them in prison in the first place.
I put myself in the mothers’ shoes. It hurt.
Though it didn’t change the fact that they would have to sit through the same legal proceedings as us, and they would have to deal with the ramifications of that night by serving time in state prison, I looked at them with a different line of sight. I looked at them with Kingdom Vision.
Kingdom Vision is powered by the grace of Jesus Christ. It’s the ability, given by the Holy Spirit, to see someone who has wronged you in the light of the Gospel. All of us are sinners and need the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and I am no better than those two guys.
Darren and Terrell.
Grace is the power to love as Jesus did. Jesus saw people for who they were: sinners in need of a Savior. For those who have accepted Christ as Savior and have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us, should we not also see people for who they are: sinners in need of a Savior?
Darren pled guilty a couple months before Terrell’s trial started right after Thanksgiving. Greg’s mother endured the trial with us, every single day. She had brought a crochet project to work on—a calming activity for her. She and Greg’s dad sat and silently prayed as Greg, our son Jacob, or I was on stand, giving our testimonies from that night.
Terrell’s mother never showed up.
I actually felt sorry for him as I saw him look back when he heard the courtroom door open in the few moments before court was called into session. He was looking for his mom, but she never came. An aunt came and sat through two days of jury deliberation, but that was it. She never returned.
Grace is this: God extending to us what we do not deserve, whether that is compassion, or mercy, or sympathy. He expects us to extend that same grace to others who have wronged us, with the understanding that it is God who will seek justice. Romans 12:19 states, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
As my preacher is known to say, “This is easy preachin’ but hard livin’.” It’s hard to look at a man that assisted in the shooting of your husband. It’s hard to stand before the judge and read a victim’s statement. Yet, when your cup is full of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is what you pour out. Grace leads to forgiveness and forgiveness leads to peace.
Grace leads us to worship and witness. In the weeks after the shooting, the media and the general public were astounded that we forgave the shooters so quickly. It wasn’t us—it was Christ in us. If we never experienced God’s grace, we couldn’t share it. Since we experienced God’s grace and forgiveness, Christ gave us Kingdom Vision to use this awful tragedy to lead people to Him, by extending forgiveness to the shooters.
Mind you, forgiving the shooters has not made Greg walk again. However, it has decreased bitterness. It hasn’t eliminated it—but when satan is trying to plant seeds of discontent, bitterness, and anger, we know to call upon the Name that is above all names, and ask Jesus to forgive Darren and Terrell again.
© 2018 Terrie McKee
Valentine's Day is around the corner, and love is in the air! With all.things.love the theme for February, now is a great time to share the love of Christ with others. Here are 28 ways to do just that, one for every day this month!
1. Think before speaking
2. Pray for others
3. Don't yell
4. Buy a stranger's meal
5. Smile at strangers and say hi
6. Give a single parent a gift card for an oil change
7. Offer to babysit kids so a single mom can go grocery shopping
8. Listen to understand, not to be understood
9. Support a foster family with a meal, grocery gift card, or cash
10. Send a real card to a senior citizen (or to a little child)
11. Bring a fruit / snack basket to a family with a loved one in the hospital
12. Read to your children
13. Have lunch with your child at school
14. Put the cell phone down and have a real conversation
15. Leave the quarter in the Aldi cart with a note taped to it: "Jesus paid my debt; this cart's on me."
16. Go through the church directory and pray for each individual by name
17. Fill up your teenager's car with gas AND run it through the car wash
18. Bless a stay-at-home mom with coffee and doughnuts at her door... Provide conversation too!
19. Make and distribute blessing bags for the homeless (with your kids)
20. Foster children if you are able
21. Financially support a missionary
22. Talk with someone at church who is sitting alone – even better: sit with them!
23. Notice when someone is not at church for more than a week – and make contact
24. Do something nice for your spouse without them noticing (and don't tell them)
25. Put the cart back in the corral without trash in it
26. Take a meal to a cancer patient (call first to ask preferences)
27. Bless a family who has special needs children with a meal
28. Share the Gospel
BONUS one (for Leap Year!) – Make a big batch of muffins or cookies. In a nice red paper bag with handles, put in six muffins, add a note, "Just wanted to tell you that YOU ARE LOVED by Jesus! Love, your neighbor!" and add a "You've Been Valentine'd!" sticker on the bag. You can put in a small devotional or a Scripture writing printable, Valentine's Day pencils, and a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop. Don't put your name or address on it – it's about Jesus and your neighbor. Put it at their door for them to find.
Want the free "You've Been Valentine'd" ready-to-print sticker sheet and the February Scripture Writing printable? Simply subscribe to the Near Your Altar email list!
And, by the way, Jesus loves you too!
Because He first loved us,
(c) 2018 Terrie McKee
It's hard to break into a new church, Sunday School class, or youth group. People have known each other and have developed relationships going back years. Yet, successful church assimilation –getting people active in the church– increases discipleship because people will get involved in small groups and be more inclined to participate in Bible studies if welcomed.
There are many ways a visitor or new member will not feel welcomed. The lack of signage indicating to people where classes and age groups are located, not being warm and welcoming, looking down on someone for how he or she is dressed -- all these things can be hindrances to people. Walking into a room full of strangers who don't say "hello," or offer to change up the seating arrangements to make room, is intimidating to new people.
Look, we are to emulate Jesus. He did not discriminate against anyone. He showed kindness to the poor, the sick, the powerless, and the destitute. He was comfortable talking with centurions, prostitutes, and priests. While He hand-picked the twelve disciples, He went out of His way to make sure the lost were found, the unclean were made whole, and the discouraged encouraged.
Are we doing these things in our churches?
What are "cliques"?
One of the biggest stumbling-blocks to getting people to come again and again to church and become active in a small group is the presence of cliques. Cliques are small, exclusive groups of friends that by their definition exclude people who are not in that exclusive group. We all have those groups of people with which we associate, either in the church or socially, and call these people family. I know I do. The problem lies in the perception that a church has all cliques and you cannot get to know people and break into small groups to learn about Jesus because you're excluded, for no reason other than you're not them.
I first started going to church when I was 12 years old. I accepted Christ as Savior and had a thirst to know more about Him. My youth Sunday School class, which I really liked, had an announcement one Sunday they were having a social and Bible study at a member's house, so my mom drove me over. I soon found out that there would be no BIble study but a lot of watching MTV back in the day when it was all about music. Inside jokes were the norm. Teens laughed and poked fun at one another, talking and eating chips and dip. I'd try to initiate conversations but was fairly shut out. No one would try to talk with me; when I wanted to play pool with a few of them, they suddenly wanted to go watch the TV, leaving me quite literally holding the eight ball. I didn't go back. While I'd go to worship service, it was months before I'd go back to the Sunday School class.
When I went back, I learned that a member of our class had been out for a couple of weeks due to a broken leg; a card was passed around for signatures. I thought to myself, I've been out for a couple of months and haven't received any cards. It stung. It stung hard. It said to this young, baby Christian: you're not one of us; you're not wanted; we don't want you here.
Are those the kind of messages you want your church or small group to project?
Before the youth event, I was learning a great deal about the Bible in class. Soaking it up. After the youth event, I just went to worship and while I learned a great deal from the amazing Dr. Rick Blackwood in just his sermons, I know now that that shy 12-year-old girl should have also been in a small group with peers her own age.
The cliques in the class and youth group put stumbling-blocks in my walk of faith. It tripped me up. But it's not just in youth groups. Snobbery about who one talks with can happen with the adult crowd, too. There is too much political maneuvering within church groups. We're supposed to be showing the love of God to all, and there we are, shunning our brothers and sisters within our own walls.
Paul addressed cliques in his message to the church at Corinth, saying, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought," [1 Corinthians 1:10].
What is more dividing than cliques?
What can be done?
Sometimes I make pie crust from scratch. Recipes call to take butter and chunk it into flour. I take a special pastry blender and smoosh the lumps out. I carefully knead the dough until it's all of one likeness and there are no lumps. Cliques are the lumps of the church and need to be kneaded from the top down.
Church leadership should be careful not to socially associate too much with the same set of people over and over, lest there be a perception of favoritism. It is good for the leadership of the church to try to have real conversations with many people instead of the most active members, the most giving members, or the members with community political clout.
Sunday School teachers and small group leaders: if you have the same people sitting together every Sunday, do something about it. Buy a bag of colored candy and hand each person a different color: red, blue, green, yellow, red, blue, green, yellow. Have all the yellows sit together, the greens, the reds, etc. Allow the "new" groups time to get acquainted. Force the mixing of the dough, if we remember the pie crust analogy.
Just as Jesus would go up to the lonely, be aware of anyone sitting alone, Sunday after Sunday. Introduce that person to others. Facilitate people getting to know one another. If you have covered dish suppers, encourage the creation of a kid's section with just children so the adults can mix and mingle without
For people trying to break into a church, please don't give up. Keep going. Take the initiative. If you do anything, show the congregation how to be Jesus. Do unto others what you would have done to you -- not what you've had done to you.
(C) 2018 Terrie McKee
This post may contain affiliate links to products I have chosen in order to help you in Bible study. These referral links help provide, at no cost to you, a small income to me and my family. Thank you for your support.
There are four tools I use regularly in Bible study to help me understand Scripture, the culture and time period in which passages were written, and to highlight various verses.
One such tool is Roget's Thesaurus of the Bible. This powerful little book pulls from archeology and history to give detailed information on the culture, politics, and religious customs of the areas covered in the Bible. This is an older book but it's really a timeless tool for in-depth Bible study. I use this one all the time.
Click here to read 5 Tactics I Use to Study the Bible
Another tool was actually a textbook for a Bible class I took in college, but I loved it so much I didn't sell it at book buy-back time. The Illustrated Bible Survey by Ed Hinson and Elmer Towns is a colorful handbook on Bible land culture with detailed information on the messages within the books of the Bible.
The Matthew Henry Commentary is a powerhouse book that combines practical application with theological insight and studied biblical scholarship. It a must for anyone wanting to dive deep into the Word.
The last tool I use is of practical use. Pages of the Bible are thin because of the number of them; if they were of copy paper thickness, the Bible would be way too heavy to carry. I like to highlight passages to remember, come back to, or otherwise note for later. To do this on the ultra-thin Bible paper requires a non-bleed-through highlighter. This handy tool can highlight a verse on one side of the paper and not show up on the other side.
I hope you enjoy these tools to help you dive deep into the Word!
(C) 2018 Terrie McKee
Followers of Christ need to be in the Word: it's our lifeline, our communication, and our marching orders from our Father. As the world becomes more anti-Christian and twists Scripture to suit ungodly desires, we need to be in the Word more and more. Therefore, I'd like to share five tactics I use to study the Bible, for my personal devotional time, to write blog posts, or to prepare for speaking engagements.
It may seem that "tactic" is a strange word to use in writing about Bible study as it seems so militaristic, but that's the point. We're engaging in spiritual warfare, and we have to know the weapon to use the weapon.
Please note: this post may contain affiliate links to products, which have been carefully and prayerfully added as resources for you in the study of Scripture. When you purchase products using these referral links, it provides, at no cost to you, a small income to me and my family. Thank you for your support.
The first tactic is prayer. I pray that Jesus will reveal His will to me as I study, and show me what He wants me to learn. I commit the time I have in study to Him, and ask for His blessing on it.
The second tactic I use is to read the passage of Scripture several times for content. I ask questions, such as Who wrote this passage, to whom was the passage written, where was it written, and when. Why was it written is another question I ask, as is how. The "how" is important to note, especially with the letters of Paul. Most likely, since he was in chains, a scribe was writing his verbal words down, which brings new meaning when he wrote, "See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!" [Galatians 6:11 NIV]. If it was a big deal to Paul that he wrote his name on the letter to the Galatians, we should take note of it.
Reading the passage for content, in communion with the Lord, allows the Holy Spirit to cast new light on a passage you might have read a hundred times before.
Click here to read "5 Bible Study Tools I Use"
Researching the history, culture, and traditions of the time period in which a particular passage is written will make the Scripture come alive and heap new meaning on it. For example, in Matthew 27:54, we read, "When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” You may read this as just an interesting tidbit, unless you look at the culture, history, and religious themes of that time period ~
Who said this? -- a Roman centurion
When? -- during the time of Christ's crucifixion, also during the time of the Roman Empire
Following that line, who was caesar at this time? (using the Internet) - Tiberius
An internet search of Tiberius Caesar pulls up information that Roman coins, inscribed in Greek, had written on them Tiberius theou huios (“son of the god”)
Therefore, when the centurion experiences the earthquake, and exclaims, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (emphasis added), we can deduce that this was an exclamation of no small feat -- a life-changing proclamation for the centurion, his household, and those around him. Jesus, to this Roman centurion, was not a son of god, like Roman priests claimed their gods and Caesar to be, but He was The Son of God.
See how knowing the history, religious customs, and culture adds a whole other element to studying the Word?
Studying the Word to understand the character of God is a powerful tool to understand Scripture. With today's translations, we loose a vital aspect of the Word from the original Hebrew and Greek, in that we may have the words "Lord," "LORD God," or "God," but those words in the original Hebrew would be different based on the Hebrew name for God. This is where an interlinear Bible translation comes in handy, as it has Bible passages in English, Hebrew, and Greek (depending on if the passage is in the Old or New Testaments).
For example, Ezekiel 37:28 states, "Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’” But, knowing that the Hebrew word "Lord" is the Name of God YHVH M'kadesh, which means "The LORD Who Makes Holy," adds meaning and weight to this passage. Don't just gloss over the word "Lord" or "God" when studying Scripture. When you discover the exact Name of God being used in Scripture, it is then when you learn about the Awesome Character of God.
Comparison and Clues
Comparing verses and searching for clues about relationships between verses of different books of the Bible helps give a deeper meaning to Bible study. Near Your Altar will start featuring posts about the Resurrection starting on Ash Wednesday, so I've been studying the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
John 20:14-16 states, "At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)."
At first glance, this seems like a nondescript passage about Mary Magdalene not recognizing Jesus until He makes it so. But, knowing the lesson of scripture is often in the little details, we have to look again:
"At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)."
"Thinking he was the gardener..." If Mary thought the gardener was talking to him, they must have been in a garden. When were the other times God was in gardens? Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Mary wasn't there. God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden.
Whoa. Let's go to Genesis chapter 3. In the Garden of Eden, God asked the question "Where are you?" and in the tomb's garden, Jesus asked, "Who is it you are looking for?" In one garden, God is looking for man; in the other, Mary (woman) is looking for Jesus. Jesus is hidden from her view; in the Genesis account, Adam and Eve are attempting to hide from God. Then Jesus says her name in such a way that she immediately knows it is Him and runs toward him, crying out "Teacher!" It is a moving and tearful passage, but one with incredible meaning once you begin to compare the passage with the one about the Fall. I believe it is about a special redemption for women.
Studying the Bible is something I love to do. I love to learn more about my Lord, and my heart burns with joy when I learn some new thing about Him through His Word. Knowing His Word means that I am able to discern His will for my life and gives me the ability to sift His truth from satan's lies.
With the Joy only Christ can give,
(c) 2018 Terrie McKee
Every parent deals with some level of stress. For parents of special needs children, of any age, the stress can be unrelenting.
This is called chronic stress. An example is this: say you have been diagnosed with the flu. This is a sudden ailment that, barring any complications, will be gone with appropriate medical attention. It won’t last forever. It’s an acute illness. On the other hand, Type 1 diabetes is a chronic illness. It’s always there and has to be monitored and managed as long as the person is alive. It’s a chronic illness.
Chronic stress is unrelenting. There’s always something. As a mom of a young adult with autism, we can be having a good day then, out of the blue – he can’t find a certain book or pencil, and it starts a chain reaction of tantrums and meltdowns. Or, the day starts with a meltdown and it just ends up getting worse. Not knowing how a day will go, or dealing with a child’s special needs, means a parent is under a great deal of stress.
When I was working full-time outside of the home, I would receive multiple phone calls in a week to either talk with Sam in school or come get him. The stress of attempting to balance work with home and a special needs child put me on eggshells all the time. That level of stress cannot be good for the human body.
A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, as reported in DisabilityScoop, found that parents of special needs children, specifically kids with autism, were lacking in a key hormone associated with stress. This low hormone is “consistent with people experiencing chronic stress such as soldiers in combat,” stated the article.
Did you get that? Soldiers facing combat and parents who have special needs kids have very similar levels of this stress hormone. That’s a lot of stress.
Another study dives deeper into this important subject. A study published in Pediatics found, “Mothers of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities often experience poor health, high stress, anxiety, and depression. Highly stressed parents are less effective in their parenting roles, risking their childrens’ developmental progress.”
This makes sense. I know that when autism rears its unpredictable and violent head, my anxiety goes out the window. Depression sinks in. I don’t eat as well or take care of myself. All these things make me a less effective mom to Sam and my other children.
But it’s interesting, to me, that this is a vicious cycle. Sam’s stress adds to my stress which adds to his stress. The next thing to happen is complete caregiver burnout – which only adds to parental and child stress.
The Family Caregiver Alliance, which mainly deals with elderly care, has some key ideas for caregiver self-care in the article “Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers.” Their hints can be adjusted for parents of special needs children of all ages.
Your child is not responsible for your self-care. You have to be the one to manage your own care and take the initiative to do so. When Sam was younger, this often meant I’d take my bath after he went to sleep. Now that he’s an adult but still living at home, I take my bath when I know my husband is awake or if I know Sam is occupied (and yes, that means a favorite television show).
Many times, we put hurdles in our own path in the form of misconceptions that hinder our caregiving and self-care. Thinking we’re the only ones that can take care of the child, or not wanting to ask for help, or believing that you’re being selfish if you take time for your own care – they are all lies.
Reducing stress in parenting special needs children, and avoiding caregiver burnout, helps you and your child. Indeed, it helps the whole family. We are on a community well, and when the neighborhood loses power during a storm, we lose water as well. No matter how many times I turn the handle, water will not pour from the faucet. It’s the same with not taking care of yourself – you cannot help your family if you’re running on empty.
So, what can you do to fill up your caregiver cup? Recognize the warning signs of caregiver burnout. Sleep problems, irritability, and forgetfulness are all warning signs.
Identify the sources of stress. For Sam and I, it’s not sticking to a recognized schedule. Life is so much better when we keep on regular bedtimes, wake-up times, lists for daily activities, and staying on his medication regime.
A note about a “medication regime”: when Sam was a little boy and newly diagnosed, his grandmother fought me on giving Sam meds to manage the symptoms of autism. My point was this: if the medications help him by reducing the symptoms so he can focus and not be a hindrance to himself, why not? Now, this is a highly personal and volatile decision, and is solely up to individual parents. But, for my child, trying out different medications for various symptoms until we (the doctors and I) discovered the right mixture of medicines to give him was well worth it.
For my daughter who has Type 1 diabetes, I would never second-guess her doctors’ insulin recommendations. In my mind, there was no difference in managing her diabetes and Sam’s autism. But again, that is a decision parents must make for themselves. All I know is this: the times Sam has been off his meds, his autism is incredibly more pronounced, stress is increased ten-fold, and he is miserable – along with everyone else.
After you identify the sources of stress, you need to take action steps. Here is a brief list of things you can do to reduce stress as a parent of a special needs child:
Floor exercises are something you can do at home, and even with your child. Or walking in the neighborhood. Exercise is good for all.
Eating right, without junky processed foods, helps the whole family. Getting the groceries, though, can send stress levels through the roof, and no amount of blueberry superfoods can help that. Look into grocery stores near you that offer online ordering, curbside pick up, or delivery. Use the tools available to you to make your life easier.
Drinking water can help you and your child. If you or your child hesitates to drink water because of the taste, or lack thereof, invest in essential oils that can be used internally. I love to flavor my water with tangerine, lemon, or orange essential oils – and they are good for you too!
Time to yourself
Asking a friend who has knowledge and, even better, a relationship with your child, to watch him or her for a couple hours while you get your hair done, or a massage, or run errands by yourself, is not being selfish – it’s allowing yourself time away and your friend or family member the opportunity to build a relationship with your child. Having a marriage when special needs kids are in the mix is a huge topic for another blog post – suffice it to say, moms and dads have to work together. Each of you need downtime, away from the child, to regroup, refocus, and to be able to simply think.
If you want to enlist a friend, be sure to first have the friend or family member over several times to establish the relationship beforehand.
Churches, this would be an incredible outreach ministry to help parents of special needs children – offering a parents’ Saturday off. You want to gird up marriages of parents who are under an incredible amount of stress? This would help.
Something the Lord God put on my heart a few years ago was to have a retreat for mothers of children with special needs. I am very excited to share that Near Your Altar’s first Arise! Shine! Retreat for Moms of Special Needs Children will be held this year. There is something profoundly cathartic and healing about going away for a retreat, away from the stresses of home, to help you regroup. This is what Near Your Altar's first retreat is designed to do.
To be held at Bonclarken Christian Conference Center in beautiful Flat Rock, NC, Arise! Shine! will feature rest, respite, rejuvenation, Christ-encounters, worship, and fellowship between mothers who all share one thing in common: they get it. They also have kids who have special needs and are in the trenches with you. The retreat is for Christian moms who have a child (or more) with any type of special need or disability.
The retreat cost per person is $295 which includes two nights’ accommodations, all meals, snacks, drinks, program materials (including my brand-new Bible study The King’s Table: A 4-Day Bible Study for Parents of Special Needs Children), a 15-minute chair massage, mani/pedi, and a lot of surprises. The goal is to love on these moms in Jesus’ Name. The retreat will be held April 6-8, 2018; click here to register.
As a mom who is in the trenches of special needs with you, I understand. I get it. I’ve had some terribly bad days lately with Sam, and some incredibly great days. Weirdly, though, every day has some level of stress. The key is to not let the stress consume you, and know when to get help.
© 2018 Terrie McKee
The 12-day trial of one of the men responsible for shooting and paralyzing my husband Greg ended just a few days before Christmas. After approximately a three-hour deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty on all charges. The judge sentenced him to 23 years in a North Carolina state prison. At his sentencing, immediately after the jury's verdict was read, I was given the opportunity to say a statement on behalf of my family and I. This is that statement.
The past two years have been the hardest of our lives. Not only have Greg and I, and our children, have had to deal with the physical, emotional, and mental ramifications, but our family and friends have been affected as well.
The two defendants in the shooting...will eventually be released from prison. They will go about their lives. Meanwhile, my husband will be in a wheelchair – paralyzed – for his entire life.
The dreams we had before November 28, 2015 – to have a working farm, to provide respite for families of special needs children, to welcome our home to foster children – were shattered because of the shooting. We are still trying to wrap our heads around what the Lord would have us do in this season of pain and struggle.
Although (the defendants) left empty-handed the night of the shooting does not mean they did not steal from us. Because of Greg’s medical needs, wheelchair maintenance, and a sharp increase in doctor co-pays -- every time we have to spend money on his paraplegia, it’s as though (they) are stealing from us time and time and time again. We are not wealthy, your Honor. We exist on Greg’s income which, frankly, is not enough to cover the normal family expenses plus his medical needs. Our oldest son has autism and lives at home, which means I am his caregiver as well as Greg’s and am unable to work.
Yet, your Honor, in just a week, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to this earth as a baby to die for our sins and to be raised to life so that we too may live.
In that spirit, Your Honor, in the power of Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God, we forgive (them) for what they did to us. We forgive them. They still must deal with the ramifications of the shooting, like we have to, every single day. But in the name of Jesus, we forgive them.
It is our fervent prayer that they will seek out a prison chaplain and ask about salvation in Jesus Christ, for it is only through Jesus that they will know peace. Not through stealing, not through gangs, not through crime – but only through Jesus Christ.
Your Honor, thank you for this time to speak before the court. Merry Christmas.
I removed the names of the defendants as I believe nothing good can come out of publishing -- or publicizing -- their names.
What is next for us? The same as before the trial: to continue writing the book about the shooting and Christ's power, presence, and peace in the midst of it. Greg will continue to play wheelchair basketball. Life didn't stop -- and doesn't stop -- just because Greg's legs stopped working. For us to continue to live is a testimony to Christ working in our lives and in this situation. He is Sovereign.
(C) 2018 Terrie McKee
We are not called to a ministry of busyness.
“Busy” is the go-to excuse I’ve found myself using a lot lately, when, in fact, “lazy” is the word I should be saying. Why didn’t I return that phone call, or visit that person? Why did I not write that post that’s been percolating in my brain for days?
Is it so hard to create a proper editorial calendar for my blog?
Busyness. We’ve gotten so used to loading calendars and to-do lists that we have lost track of the purpose behind it all. That’s like driving on ice: you’re still moving in a direction but you have no traction, and you may not get to where you’re going.
I was taken aback the other day when one of my social media accounts, which displays memories from past posts, highlighted one of mine from last year in which I was pining for a simpler life. I was taken aback because that is my goal for now. I have been busy doing nothing to gain traction on something that would benefit my whole family. That was, ironically, to live more simply and less busy.
We need rest. I need rest. Rest from the daily grind of laundry, bills, mail, and running crazy-like all over town. We’re busy, but not productive. Efficient, but not effective. This is no way for an intentional, diligent, Christ-centered person to live. So what do we do?
I was in such a whirlwind of busyness that nothing was getting done. It was like being on a hamster wheel – I’d be running at a furious pace but not getting anywhere. So, I asked Jesus in deliberate prayer to reveal to me, using His Word, what He wanted me to focus on. I poured into reading 2 Corinthians and that’s where I found His answer.
“We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you,” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:13. What sphere of service has God assigned to you?
For me, He has assigned four spheres: Family, home, church, and ministry. If an opportunity opens up to me, is has to filter through the verses that represent these four spheres of service.
Proverbs 21:5 represents the sphere of family: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” For this particular sphere, it’s not about monetary wealth but relational profit. The more busy we are, the less time we spend, on a quality level, with those that mean the most to us. I love my family dearly, and each member of my family are cherished; if they are cherished by me, I need to do some things differently to be diligent in their discipleship and in cultivating those relationships.
I need to encourage discipleship and building of faith in the children – and encouraging my man in his role as spiritual head of the family. Cultivating peace is a huge priority – I can only imagine how the noise level would go down if peace was cultivated between siblings. If I’d communicate more with my husband.
Teaching responsibility and accountability are two other priorities within my particular sphere. The seven-year-old is old enough to unload the dishwasher. I can teach her how to properly load and run it. Even though the older children have jobs, school, or other activities in which they’re involved, they still live at the house – and should have regular chores. I’m preaching to myself here. Writing it down and blasting it as a blog post holds me accountable.
All other activities that try to invade the sanctity of the sphere of family have to be routed through the Scripture and goals. If something or even someone doesn’t contribute to the relational wealth of the family, then the door needs to be shut. Hastly opening our family up to people, activities, or especially media has done a great deal of damage in the past, and contributed to spiritual and relational poverty. Never again. The devil will not have a stronghold here.
Romans 12:8 is the sphere verse for faith. It states, “If it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
There are four areas of priority within this sphere as well. Taking Laura to school in the morning, then diligently having devotional time with the Lord starts the day off right, and helps me to focus on Him the entire day – this is instead of going back to bed. Going to bed early the previous night will allow me to build my faith and get started on my day without feeling like I’m dragging a corpse.
I admit, each time some giant of the faith has mentioned early-morning devotional time I become a holy [eye] roller. Who has the time or energy to get up that early and be coherent? Someone who is diligent about their relationship with the Lord Jesus.
In order to encourage, give, lead, and show mercy – I have to walk diligently with the Lord. There’s no other way. The other areas of priority – working with the women’s ministry and teaching part-time in adult Sunday School branch off personal discipleship time. I cannot lead where I do not go myself. I cannot encourage other women to be in the Word if I’m not there myself.
A word about the last priority in this sphere: tithing. When the budget is so tight, when arguments about money are a regular thing, it’s awfully difficult to talk about tithing. But tithing has a lot less to do, I discovered during my reading of 2 Corinthians, than money and a lot more to do with trusting the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:12, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” It’s so tempting to give based on what we don’t have: we paid the mortgage this week so we can’t tithe; we bought food, we can’t tithe; we bought Christmas presents, we can’t tithe. On and on and on. Yet, in 9:8, Paul wrote this: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
It’s about this: do we believe God is able? Do we believe God is able to supply our needs so we can do kingdom work? I get it: when you’re staring down utility bills and mortgage and food, 10% is an awful lot – especially when it’s tight to begin with. Electric companies don’t give you a buy if you just pay 10% of the bill, do they?
Tithing 10% came about in the Old Testament, when Abraham in gratefulness to God gave Melchizedek, the High Priest, a tenth of everything [Genesis 14:18-20] – then, throughout the period covered by the Old Covenant, giving a tenth of the firstfruits of one’s labor was mandated by the Law.
But we are not under the Law. We are under Grace, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:3 – “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
We are to give generously, out of a well of gratitude to God. I don’t know about you, but I have more than 10% worth of gratitude for Him. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” [2 Corinthians 9:7]. We are not under the compulsory obligations of the Law, with its endless sacrifices and mandates. Some of us, we can cheerfully place a folded one-hundred dollar bill in the plate; others, cheerfully place one dollar in the plate and that is a sacrifice.
Jesus, much like He did with the fish and loaves, can take whatever we give Him and use it. He will bless whatever we give, in blessings back to us, in an endless cycle of giving and gratitude. Verses 10-11 in chapter nine states, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” God will take what we give cheerfully and not grudgingly, and will increase the harvest of our righteousness – therefore, creating more gratitude within us.
This harvest of righteousness may not come back to us in the form of monetary gain, for this is not prosperity gospel. The harvest of righteousness may come by the use of funds to hold Vacation Bible School and lead children to Christ, or a food bank. It may come in the form of sending people on missions. I know that God provides, and He provides so that we in generous gratitude can give our time, talents, and treasures back to Him.
House and Ministry
The other two spheres are the house and ministry. I am not called to a ministry of busyness, but of service to the Lord, through my family, my church, my home, and my ministry or business. My home is a reflection of my life – and right now as I write this, it’s not looking so pretty. It’s cluttered but clean; disorganized and disheartened. It should not be this way.
I found this verse in 2 Chronicles, “The men in charge of the work were diligent, and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it,” [24:13]. I need to repair (clean), rebuild (declutter), and reinforce [stay on top of it] my home so that it may reflect my Lord and be a warm, inviting place to share His hospitality with others. Being diligent about this work is important. We cannot allow perceived busyness to take away from our homes as temples of the Living God.
The ministry God has entrusted to me is the same. I cannot allow the devil to get a foothold by doing things that do not support one of three priorities: writing, speaking, and events. I am called, by Jesus, to encourage others in discipleship despite difficulties, through these three avenues. Anything else distracts me and takes my eyes off His calling for me. No more.
Friends, we are not called to be everything to everyone. We are not called to a ministry of busyness and to have our spoon in every pot. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:1, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” I lost my heart for everything because I was trying to do everything. Busyness will kill the intentional life of a Christian. Keep your eyes on Him, and allow your two hands to do only the work He has laid out for you.
© 2017 Terrie McKee
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