Holy Discontent


Nobody told us 8 1/2 years ago when our youngest son was diagnosed with autism just how dramatically our lives would change. How could they? How can you ever explain the unknown? Sure we had an amazing doctor who clued us in on the uphill battle we were about to face but nobody could have ever warned us what the day-to-day living in the trenches of the war zone called Autism would be like that. That is what autism is, a constant battle. You fight for recovery, you fight for understanding, you fight for least restrictive environments, you fight for acceptance, you fight to overcome sensory issues, you fight, you fight, you FIGHT!!!! Sometimes you get some good punches in and sometimes you are pummeled to the ground a mere second away from tapping out. My husband often tells me that I cannot expect people to understand what they do not live. Therefore there is always a portion of my life that few people really get. In the beginning even if I had wanted to explain I was often too battered and too tired to take the extra energy to open my mouth. I have now come to realize if I want people to even remotely understand, accept, and embrace my son then I must speak up about the reality of living with autism. I must use the voice God has given me to be the loudest advocate for autism awareness. Why? Because no one understands autism better than those who battle with it on a daily basis. Every day I watch my brave little solider carry on regardless of what that day holds for him. The least I can do is speak the truth of his journey, to be the voice that autism has robbed him of.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” ~ Matthew 11:28

God’s faithfulness abounds, this I know full well. The Sunday after our son was diagnosed with autism my husband and I attended a new church. We were so fragile…so close to breaking. I wonder if the people we encountered that blustery, cold January morning in 2006 had any clue just how close we were to falling over the edge? Our world was crumbling around us yet we were trying so desperately to hang on to the only thing that made sense, God. From the moment we stepped foot into this church…a church I had driven by hundreds of times in my life but never once gave it a passing thought…I knew God had led us there. His love enveloped us the second we walked in the door. I’ll never forget the lead pastor immediately walking up to us, recognizing that we were new to his congregation. There was something in his greeting, in the worship, and in the smiling faces that told us we were home. We instinctively knew that this was where God would heal the wounds of crushed dreams and lost expectations. This was where God would birth the new creation He was forming our family to be. This was going to be our family in Christ and even though nothing made sense we knew that in the arms of our Father we would find rest. We knew God was a preparing a way for our son’s journey and that He was making sure His presence was all around us.

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” ~ Matthew 25: 40

95%. Yeah, I know the rule of grammar that states all numbers at the beginning of a sentence should be spelled out, but I don’t want to. I want you all to see…95%. That’s the percentage of parents of special needs children that do NOT attend church. I’ll never forget the day I first read that statistic, my jaw hit the ground. Why do they not attend church? Because most churches cannot accommodate them or they have had such horrible experiences at churches in the past that the attempt to go is, quiet honestly, not worth it. Can you ever imagine being in a place where you feel like you can’t go to church? I can! Yes, you read that right, I can. As much as I love my church family and I know my church loves my family, I still get nervous when my son comes to church with us. I say when he comes because usually he stays home with his aide while we attend church as a family of three…always slightly incomplete. It’s funny, as a kid I hated when my parents forced us to go to church together on a weekly basis; today I would give anything to be able to have my whole family sitting together Sunday after Sunday but that just isn’t our reality. On the Sunday’s we do bring our son I always walk in a bit on edge. Not because people don’t love and adore him but because there’s always a possibly of a meltdown, always the swaying and fidgeting, always the talking “3 more songs THEN all done.”, and always the fear that he’ll make a run for the stage (I won’t be surprised if he’s in a praise band one day). As active as we are in our church these fears still creep in. What if a visitor sits by us? Will he be a distraction? These are all the scenarios that run through my head. I cannot imagine how it must feel for that family that knows no one…the family that is so beat up and worn out by the battle that all they want is a place to find hope only to discover that the one place that should offer them hope doesn’t know what to do with them. Lack of resources for the special needs community is a silent epidemic in the church. Until recently nobody even really talked about it. It is the elephant in the sanctuary. There is a whole demographic of people not being reached and yet the church has been awfully slow in its response. If you want a mission field I just handed you one…95% of special needs families do not attend church. I can guarantee that figure breaks the heart of God.
In 2009 my husband and I sat in the Global Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek Church out of Chicago. Every August the WCA hosts a world-class leadership conference that, quite honestly, everyone should attend. Christian or not, these are two of the most motivating and challenging days of the year. However at this particular Summit Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor at Willow, spoke about having a “Holy Discontent”. A Holy Discontent is something you can no longer stay quiet or inactive about. A Holy Discontent is a wrong, an injustice, or inactivity that needs a champion. A Holy Discontent stirs a passion in you to move forward to make a change. A Holy Discontent says “enough!” A Holy Discontent screams “what is unacceptable to God is unacceptable to me!” It will come as no shock that my husband and I both walked out of that session shaken…our world rocked to the core. God’s Spirit stirred in both of our hearts. Out of that session we both knew that 95% statistic was our Holy Discontent. The church had left a whole community of people behind and that is simply not okay. It’s not okay to us and it is certainly not okay to God.

“The local church is the hope of the world” ~ Bill Hybels

My husband and I walked out of that Summit forever changed. That year God whispered a vision into both of us. His vision was for us to gather a team of people to run in the Detroit Free Press Marathon to raise Autism Awareness. This team has grown from one member to almost 100 members in five years.  It is very safe to say that God has placed some pretty amazing people around this team.  Runners, Walkers, Supporters, and Prayers…Santino’s Voice has it all and His hand is on us all.  Our team was initially started to raise money for our son, Santino’s, many therapies. But God’s vision for this team is so much bigger. Our real goal is to be a non-profit charity that raises money that will be used to give scholarships to churches to help start special needs ministries. It is our belief that special needs ministries should be a non-negotiable for all churches. Every church desiring to reach all people must be able to accommodate all people.
Today right before my eyes a miracle took place. As a sat watching this year’s Global Leadership Summit it happened. Bill Hybels used his global platform to highlight the special needs ministry at Willow Creek Church. Picture after picture of these precious children of God caused my throat to choke up and my eyes to mist. Then the music started, Katy Perry’s “Roar”. On the screen these true champions “Roared” all the way to the Summit stage.

“You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, your hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready ’cause I had enough
I see it all, I see it now
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter
Dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!” ~ Katy Perry

What a perfect song. A song of resilience, a song that speaks to the spirit of this community. They get up over and over again. The challenges they overcome on a daily basis would bring most of us to our knees but here they where, right before our eyes, pure joy illuminating from their smiles. I sat there, tears freely running down my cheeks…yep, it was the full on ugly cry. These we tears of a mama that was thankful that God’s forgotten children were forgotten no more. Bill Hybel’s just put them on display for the whole world to see. In that singular act he illustrated that we are all “beautifully and wonderfully made”, created by the God who loves us and desires for ALL of us to know His love and the hope that is found in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Today was a game changer. There is no going back. It is time to step up and fulfill the promise that “the local church is the hope of the world.” The hope is birthed when we leave no one unreached. It is our job, we have been commissioned, to bring the name and the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people, in all nations, to the ends of the earth. ALL people…no one is forgotten, no is left behind. Starting doesn’t need to be complicated; simply ask God to allow you to see all people the way He sees them, to love people the way He loves them.

The Art of Friendship


Steel Magnolias…just typing this brings a smile to my face.  This cinema classic from 1989 introduced the world to M’ Lynn, Truvy, Clairee, Ouiser, Shelby, and Annelle; the colorful sextet from Chinquapin Parrish, Louisiana.  This movie is the South!  From the southern drawl, to the ladies chatting and bickering in the beauty shop, the “giant armadilla groom’s cake”, the reference to the local Piggly Wiggly, and even the impeccable church outfits which included hats and all…this movie brought to life everything I had imagined southern life to be.  Stereotype?  Probably, but I loved every minute of it.  However, Steel Magnolias is so much more than your average chick flick.  What makes this movie earn the title of a “classic” is that you actually fall in love with the characters…you take them with you long after the closing credits roll.  They make you laugh, they make you cry, and in the end they have you laughing and crying at the same time.  The true genius of this film lies beyond the stereotypes and the antics…the true genius of this film is the simple theme of friendship.  These six eclectic women have a bond of friendship that transcends age, position, wealth, and stage of life.  The beauty of true friendship is showcased in and through them.  Friendship based on loyalty and love; friendship that celebrates the mountaintops and walks through the valleys; friendship that brings the ray of sunshine and hope when the world seems dark and cold.  The deep impact of this movie comes because it touches at the heart of something we all desire, true friendship; we all long for people in our lives who will love us exactly as we are.

“Friend”:  noun  1) a person who you like and enjoy being with 2) a person who helps or supports someone or something 3) one attached to another by affection or esteem.  ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I love that definition.  What I love even more is friendship.  When we are younger our friends are our world but as we move into adulthood careers, marriage children, etc. distract us away from many of our relationships.  It can be argued that as we get older and life gets busier it becomes more difficult to maintain deep lasting friendships.  Over the last few weeks I have been very reflective about the friendships in my life.  Maybe because I feel like 2014 will go down as the year of friends for me; old friends, new friends, and lifelong friends.  I am coming to place in my life where I value all the people who have entered and exited my world under the banner of friendship.  It has been an eclectic group of people who have touched me deeply and I have learned something from all of them.  I look back at no former friendship with regrets, instead I choose to take with me life lessons.  You see, there is something so beautiful about friendship, so much can be learned.  Whether it lasts a lifetime, a season, or a moment friendship always adds value to our lives. But like any relationship, with friendship comes risk.  Friends can hurt you and betray your trust.  But how does the old cliché go? “With great risk comes great reward.”  There could never be enough words to convey the rewards I have reaped through the friends that God has placed in my life over the years.

“We didn’t realize we were making memories we just knew we were having fun…” ~ Anonymous

TWENTY YEARS!!!!  It’s been twenty years since I have graduated high school.  How is that even possible?!?!  Whether I can believe it or not, twenty years have gone by since I walked the halls of Center Line High School.  At one point in my life that school and the friendships I had formed there were my whole world.  Friendships that hinged on the code of teenagers; don’t ever date the person I like or have ever liked, don’t ever talk to the people who I don’t like,  only take the classes the cool people will be in (or the boys we like), and the silly list goes on and on.  It’s so funny when you really start to think about school age friendships and what they are based on…it’s a wonder that any of them survive beyond the school years. In February I had the chance to stroll down memory lane at my class reunion.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, twenty years is a long time and people change, or not.  Luckily for me, my graduating class was so small that we combined our reunion with the grade older than mine which happened to be my husband graduating class…how’s that for strategic planning.  So with the security of my husband and the few friends I still keep in contact with I anxiously awaited for what the night would hold.  In the end, my nerves were for nothing.  It was a wonderful evening.  Nobody cared who hung out with who in school we were all there to have a great night and that we did.  We laughed over old stories and wondered how in the world we got away with half the stuff that we did.  There was a collective sigh of gratitude among the crowd that night…grateful that social media wasn’t around back in the day. The night was like looking back at photos with fond memories.  I treasure the snapshots, but the people in them have now changed and carried on with their lives.  While we once had promised to be B.F.F.’s (yes, such a thing existed in 1994), the reality is that forever was a lot shorter than we ever anticipated.

“Vulnerable”: adjective 1) Open to attack, harm or damage 2) capable of being physically or emotionally wounded. ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Friendship can be a very scary thing.  Odd statement?  I don’t think so.  I actually think more people would agree with me than not.  You see the difference between childhood friendship and adult friendship is one really terrifying word, “vulnerability.”  There is a reason why Jesus calls us to have faith like a child…children are naturally trusting.  Trust is simple and it is easily given.  As we become adults the cynicism of the world settles in.  Old hurts and betrayals make us weary and gun-shy from putting ourselves out there.  Many of us walk through our adult lives holding people at arm’s length.  We have friendships but they aren’t deep, we keep them on the surface where things are nice and safe.  Unfortunately when we live in the safe zone we rob ourselves of the true joys of friendship.  You can never go very deep with anyone if you only allow so much of yourself to be exposed.  Sometimes you just need to let go…with great risk comes great reward.

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” ~ Ruth 1:16

So why the long dissertation on friendship?  First, because it is my greatest prayer that anyone who may read this will understand that God ordained friendship.  It was never His intention for anyone to walk through this life alone.  He wanted us to experience the blessing of friendship, companionship, and camaraderie.  He is after all a relational God and we are created in His image.  Throughout Scripture He gives us illustrations of special relationships forming so that we may see that He has given us the gift of friendship.  Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Jesus and the Apostles, Paul and Timothy; these are just a few examples.  I encourage you in your own quiet time to study these friendships.  It has taken me a long time to understand the art of true friendship, but when you have it it’s a beautiful thing.  However, you must let your guard down and let people in to form these kinds of relationships.  That means being vulnerable and letting people get close to the real you.  I know that very thought makes some of you break out in a cold sweat, but just remember regardless of where today finds you, in the realm of friendship you are never alone.  God treasures you my dear friends…never forget that.  He is your best friend, first and foremost.  When earthly friends let us down and are nowhere to be found…God is there.  Friendship is all about love, grace, honesty, commitment, loyalty, fun, and, forgiveness.  Does that not perfectly describe the relationship God desires to have with us?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Ghandi

My second purpose for writing this is for change.  With age and maturity I have learned much about friendship.  Friendship for women can be very difficult.  Most guys will read that sentence and laugh, but it is actually a true statement.  The art of true friendship is hard because, in general, we fail to teach the attributes of true friendship.  Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that God created the concept of relationships and therefore His attributes should govern how we live out our relationships.  Unfortunately, God’s attributes have been overshadowed by what the world has deemed as acceptable behavior in friendship; cattiness, jealousy, disrespect, and gossip are the ingredients the world puts into the recipe of friendship.  Don’t believe me, tune into Bravo and watch any one of their Real Housewives of… installmentsAll these women claim to be “friends” yet all of those ingredients are present in their relationships.  Whoever coined the term “frenemies” was, sadly, a genius because that is exactly what many friendships look like today.  It breaks my heart that girls of all ages and even grown women operate in a world where these traits are not only acceptable but expected in friendship.  I caution you all to remember that when cattiness, jealousy, gossip, and disrespect are present true friendship ceases to exist. My heart burns with a passion for us to change the culture for the next generation of girls.  We need to proactively teach our daughters, our nieces, our cousins, our neighbors what true friendship looks like.  What if we taught our girls to extend grace, show kindness, be compassionate, have self-respect, and honor friendship?  Instead of being in competition with each other what if we taught our girls to cheer each other on?  And what if adult women modeled this very same behavior for them?  It would surely be a great day if we could all learn the attributes of godly friendship and then modeled it for our children.  How happy would the day be if the words “catty”, “diva”, “drama”, and “gossipy” were the exception and not the rule.  I believe all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me.  When we operate with the mind of Christ the fruits of the Spirit come alive in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.” ~ William Shakespeare

Last night was a warm summer evening.  The Super Moon hung proudly in the sky for all to see. Its unique, bright, orangish hue illuminated the sky and I was once again reminded of how awesome the creative hand of God is.  I shared the sight of the beautiful moon with fourteen amazing ladies that God has placed in my life.  There we stood sipping on lattes and tea, snacking on baked goods and froyo while the fragrant aroma of freshly brewed Starbucks coffee filled the air along with the sound of laughter and chatter as we all stood around in a circle and enjoyed each others company.  Our friendship has been uniquely knitted together by our Creator who created us to desire fellowship and relationship with one another.  He brought us together to pour into each other and support one another.  The sisterhood we share transcends age, position, wealth, and stage of life. It is based on the truth and love of God that we all stand firm in.  Last night reminded me of how thankful I am for friendship.  At 38 years of age I can honestly say I finally know what true friendship is.  True friends are the people who have seen me in all my brokeness yet they still love me.  They are the ones who give me awkward hugs to cheer me up.  They are the ones who can see the truth behind the “I’m fine” and know when I am anything but.  They are the ones who have cried with me and wiped away my tears.  They are the ones that know the darkness of my journey and choose to hold me up when I cannot stand.  They believe in me.  They know how my mind works and get me back on track when I veer off.  True friends take crazy road trips to get me to a conference that they know God has called me to.  True friends make me laugh til I cry.  True friends understand that my life gets difficult and complicated from time to time.  They hold me accountable.  They pour God’s truth into me.  They pray for me.  They honor our friendship and don’t gossip about me and they protect me when others try to.  True friends are my safe people…they know me pretty, ugly, confident, unsure, insecure, passionate, crazy, broken, over dramatic, silly, sarcastic, and funny…they know ME and yet they still love me.

One of the greatest investments we can make in this life is friendship.  When we choose to pour into others and allow them to pour into us only then can we experience the beauty of true friendship. You could call this post an ode, of sorts, to all of the fabulous friends that God has placed in my life; old friends, new friends, and lifelong friends…God has used you all to shape me into who He has created me to be.  There are few gifts more precious than that.   I have often wished that I was a card writer.  Some of my sweetest friends write and send out the most beautiful and thoughtful cards.  It is something I always mean to do but then times slips away and I forget.  However, one thing I do often is tell my friends how much I love them.  I want them to always know how much I cherish them and what a special treasure they are to me.  Friendship is intentional behavior…intentionally making room in your life for other people, being vulnerable and real, and expressing gratitude for who they are and the value they add to your life.  Will you accept the gift that God has given you?  Will you embrace the gift of godly friendship?  Like most things in life, friendship doesn’t just happen…you must choose it!