Monday, November 28, 2016

Whole-Hearted Engagement With Those Who Suffer Isn't Optional

Loving and praying for each other is not optional and scripture doesn't leave room for anything but whole-hearted engagement with people who are suffering. True, it can be overwhelming, scary and messy learning to engage in the lives of others when their needs are  complex (e.g., disability, mental illness, aging, traumatic injury, chronic illness). But people with atypical lives are not a liability to the church. They are what enrich the church! 

No situation is too big or too complicated for God.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Four Promises to Anchor and Encourage One Another During the Holidays

1. Nobody is immune to trouble but we have hope.
Jesus said I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLT)
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

2. God remains your most faithful advocate.
The Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.”  Exodus 2:23-25, 3:7-8 (NLT)
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! Luke 15:3-7 (NLT)
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  Romans 8:26-27 (NLT) 
3. You are never alone.
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:6-10 (NLT)
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (NLT)
4. When you suffer, God’s comfort will be multiplied to you and through you.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NLT)





Monday, November 14, 2016

Wondering which way to go next?

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, 
although many oppose me.
1 Corinthians 16:9 

History resonates. Paul was anxious to meet up with his friend Timothy and enjoy an extended visit with old friends in Corinth. He had every intention of spending some quality, unrushed time with them even though there were plenty of other things competing for his time and attention. For example, prolonged stays in Ephesus and Macedonia kept Paul from his visit to Corinth for well over a year.


Do you ever feel like that? You want to go hang with friends or pursue some dream that excites you while there are other pressing matters all around? I sure relate!  And it can be hard sometimes to discern which of those “pressing matters” are actually as important as I think they are. Sometimes I feel like it’s moment-by-moment battle to discern what to do next, where I should make some intentional decisions about priorities and when I simply need to press in and make the best of circumstances out of my control. Paul seemed to be a master at all of this kind of discernment and submission. He recognized a ripe opportunity right in front of him and was willing to wait a little longer to see his friends so that he could do the "great work” right where he was and resist moving on too quickly.

Earlier this year when I was reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, this verse from 1 Corinthians 16:9 literally jumped off the page at me. Let me take a moment to tell you why. 

Since the beginning of Walk Right In Ministries (8 years this month), we have periodically asked the question: “Does God want this to be a ministry specific to people with disabilities or is He really moving us into a broad place to serve people facing a wide range of life challenges?” Our missions was clear (to help people connect and grow in Christ-centered community) and our general audience was clear (people feeling lonely or isolated and often existing on the fringes of the church).  What was not always clear is to what degree God wanted our “audience” to be targeted and in what specific ways He wanted to us to reach out.  

Probably like most of you, I have wrestled with these questions in my personal life as well. So when I read this verse and considered Paul’s situation, I got excited. I found great personal encouragement and felt it offered clarity for this current season of ministry. Immediately, I sensed this was a direct and timely Word for Walk Right In Ministries. We discussed it during a Board meeting and agreed the scripture was to be received as reassurance of our existing vision, plans and activities as well as exhortation to release concerns about whether we were becoming too narrowly focused.  So what that looks like today is that we are pouring our energies in three areas:
1.     Programs, services and resources that strengthen caregivers and families experiencing special needs
2.     Fostering inclusive communities that reflect the kind of atmosphere of belonging Jesus loves
3.     Equipping and encouraging leaders in disability and special needs ministry

I had been entertaining anxiety about missing His call. Instead, He was reaffirming our call and refining the vision for Walk Right In Ministries.  It was as if God Himself put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Lisa, it’s all good. Your wholehearted commitment is well placed right where it is!” As I thought about areas of this ministry where there has been growing momentum—areas like the Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection, Jammin’ Pie Fest, one-to-one coaching, public advocacy and speaking opportunities—I had been tempted to see the growing focus on the special needs community and feel restless. Yet God’s voice was clear: “Stay put. I understand you feel like you are leaning into a stiff wind. Progress seems slow and you face obstacles at many turns but I am in the midst of it all doing a great work. Look straight ahead through this door I’ve thrown wide open for you! Stay attentive to Me and the time will be equally clear, if and when I want you to throw your net in a different direction.” 

Please pray for Walk Right In Ministries. These are exciting days. We are busy and we are focused. We sense God’s presence, power and good fruit is steadily growing where He has carefully placed us in positions of influence. Yet we hold plans loosely with the understanding that the Holy Spirit is dynamic and brilliant. We are anticipating surprises in 2017 and are already seeing some sweet ones on their way. Scroll to the end of this post for an announcement about COOL NEWS! for 2017.

How about you?
  • When was the last time you wrestled with God about whether you are fulfilling your purpose or correctly hearing His call? Perhaps you’re making it too complicated when God has actually put a wide open door right in front of  you.
  • Do you ever look around at what others are doing and feel guilty or envious? Consider that God doesn't want you to experience pressure. He wants to give you joy in knowing He has appointed you for something unique and He wants you to experience the kind of spiritual rest that comes from simply embracing the doors He is opening right in front of you every day.
  • Is this the time of year when you will begin wondering about how to invest yourself in 2017? We’re praying for you to have eyes to see and ears to hear when new doors open.
  • What obstacles or opponents are you facing that may be tempting you to change directions when, in fact, God wants you to run straight ahead and trust Him to do a great work despite those challenges? If there is repentance to be done, do it. If there is forgiveness to be offered or reconciliation to be sought, extend it and seek it (whether it is received or not). To what extent might the very things that are challenging you right now (e.g., health crisis, stretched finances, strained relationships, job dissatisfaction) are actually part of what God is using to make your effectiveness more significant?
  • Does this Thanksgiving and Christmas season bring any “open doors” to your mind? What opportunities may be right in front of you where your involvement could produce a great effect?
What joy lies before us when we embrace our current situations for all they are worth and trust God to cause tremendous Kingdom impact! 

Lord Jesus, thank you for answering when we prayerfully wrestle with You. Your encouragement to embrace our circumstances as opportunities is challenging at times but an exciting reminder that life can be a wonderful adventure.  Thank you for appointing us right into life and relationships where we can make a Kingdom difference. Help us to follow you faithfully and enthusiastically, without grumbling or succumbing to doubt. Increase our clarity and confidence so that we live, love and serve without reservation and in full trust that you will bring it all to great effect! AMEN


COOL NEWS!

I have been invited, along with my two oldest daughters Alex and Erin, to present a workshop titled "Parenting Special Siblings" at the 2017 Accessibility Summit in Washington DC. More information will be available when the full workshop schedule is announced in early December.  Until then, here is the low-down on what we will be offering:

Parenting Special Siblings
This interactive session opens a dialogue about the challenges, disappointments, advantages and opportunities of being a sibling in a family affected by disability. It is led by Lisa Jamieson, the mother of three adult children and author of Finding Glory in the Thorns. Lisa is joined by her adult daughters Alex and Erin who share candid perspectives about growing up with a sibling who has Angelman Syndrome which involves chronic health issues and severe developmental disabilities. Discussion topics will include sibling conflict, balancing attention, grief processing, dealing with social stigmas and misunderstanding, family vacations and managing stress.  Participants will leave encouraged with basic principles and numerous practical ideas about how to enjoy more victories and deeper graces despite the reality of weaknesses in every family.

Presenters:  Lisa Jamieson, Erin Jamieson, Alex Jamieson 
Theme Verse:  2 CORINTHIANS 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Lisa Jamieson is a national speaker, author, consultant and advocate who serves as executive director at Walk Right In Ministries and leads Minnesota's Disability Ministry Connection. Her books include Finding Glory in the Thorns and Living Your Glory Story. She is also creator of the Finding Glory small group curriculum, a favorite of caregivers and others wanting Christ-centered discussion through challenges. Lisa and husband Larry have three adult daughters. Carly lives at home with Angelman Syndrome. Their story has been featured on Words to Live By, 100 Huntley Street and My Refuge Radio Belize.
Alex Jamieson is a senior audit assistant at Deloitte (Minneapolis). Active in her church and as a community soccer coach, Alex also volunteers with Walk Right In Ministries as an occasional speaker and regular encourager to families experiencing special needs. She is the oldest sibling to a sister who has Angelman syndrome. During her high school years, Alex worked as a personal care assistant and has since become a strong advocate for her sister Carly and others who experience disabilities. In her blog “Authentically Alex,” she reflects on a range of topics from setting goals to dealing with life’s transitions.
Erin Jamieson is a singer-songwriter and worship leader. Her songwriting, blogging and speaking is often inspired by challenges and insights experienced growing up in a family affected by disability. The title cut from her debut EP Without the Dark is featured in the movie Season of Miracles about a baseball player with autism. Erin is a senior at Belmont University in Nashville where she recently performed in the 2017 Christian Showcase. Her latest release No Dream Too Big is available on NoiseTrade. Erin’s youngest sister has Angelman Syndrome.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Together & Free: That's a beautiful place to be!

Jammin' Pie Fest 2016 was another grand success. The sweet tastes, sounds and community spirit were a smash hit again this year. Over 200 people and 75 different families experienced a colorful fall afternoon out on the lawn with friends, family, live music and 53 delicious homemade pies!

Walk Right In Ministries is tremendously grateful for the fun memories and encouraging stories coming out of Jammin’ Pie Fest 2016. Hours of volunteer effort, donations and prayers make a powerful difference for festival guests. We want to extend deep gratitude to our music artists Regie Hamm and Family Three as well as our generous sponsors Cub Foods, Schuler Shoes and Degree of Honor Insurance. Special thanks also goes to our many many gift card and service donors including AMG Photography who captured the heart of this special day so well.  All of this collaboration keeps the event FREE while making support and encouragement accessible to many. 

Jammin' Pie Fest is always a beautiful community experience. A diverse group of individuals and families are refreshed and that is especially true for those who are stretched, sometimes isolated and needing hope amidst life challenges.  

We hope Jammin' Pie Fest serves as an inspiration and model for what all communities can look like. Let’s consider how, throughout the year, we can continue embracing each other, growing in faith and experiencing the adventure of life together!

WATCH this wonderful video celebrating the memories and expressing our thanks:  https://youtu.be/BE69dGxseY8 

NOTE: Our event photographer, AMG Photography, has a special offer for Twin Cities area individuals and families who experience special needs. Visit https://amgphoto.smugmug.com for session information and enjoy many more memories!


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Monday, November 7, 2016

Delightful Opportunity for Dance Studios & Special Needs Families Nationwide

Do you know a child with special needs who would jump, twirl, bounce and hum at the chance to be part of a dance class? Darby’s Dancers is a wonderful new adapted dance program (non-profit based in Alabama) that has been growing rapidly nationwide. My daughter, Carly (with Angelman Syndrome, del+) has been in the program for 3 years and loves it!  Classes and costumes are FREE to students with special needs and each student is paired with a volunteer coach-helper.

I have come to know the founder of the program quite well and have offered to help her get the word out to others. Here's her greatest challenge:
In signing up new studios to host Darby's Dancers programs, they are finding that studios are very eager to support the concept but apprehensive about whether they will get enough students to fill their class(es). For example, right now Darby's Dancers has two studio owners on the brink of signing — one from GRAND RAPIDS, MI and the other in MADISON, WI.
There is no question in my mind that lots of families want this type of program. It is just a matter of getting the word out. And as I know all too well, non-profits have limited budget for marketing. So we need to rally the word-of-mouth troops — and that's YOU. Please help spread the word about this fantastic opportunity! Studio owners and the Darby's Dancers team want to connect with parents of children who have special needs and organizations who serve them. These connections help them get the word out and build confidence with potential host studios that there will be enough interest.

Anyone interested in having a child participate and studio owners wanting to know more about offering classroom space should contact Valerie Jones darbysdancers@yahoo.com.
http://www.darbysdancers.com

Thursday, November 3, 2016

8 Things Pastors Can Do To Foster a Disability Effective Church

Here are eight things lead pastors can do to foster a disability effective church.
  1. Teach from the pulpit about the theology of disability and suffering.
  2. Support outreach and care coordinators.
  3. Provide a budget that values inclusion.
  4. Provide space in the building for inclusive activities, support groups and accessibility.
  5. Pray and encourage prayer for and with those who have atypical lives.
  6. Endorse and publicly affirm programs, services, missions and inclusive activities that fully engage children, youth and adults who experience atypical lives (e.g., disability, mental health, aging, caregiving, chronic illness).
  7. Provide personal encouragement to struggling families and teams who are serving.
  8. Model what it looks like to whole-heartedly engage with people who have atypical lives.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Love & Advocacy: Everyone's Holiday Opportunity

Halloween is done. And that means some people are already dreaming about Thanksgiving pie, fireside card games with family, lunch and shopping with friends, high-fiving across the couch during a football game, delightful music and white Christmases. It also means that some people are already on the slide toward holiday season melancholy. 

And that gets me excited. "Weird and twisted," you say? Well, it would be except for the fact that there is a very real opportunity to share the life-changing love of Jesus where there the "soil is soft" and hearts are ripe and receptive to receiving love. But seriously, so many of us walk around wondering about our purpose and wanting to be "significant for the Kingdom" when there are opportunities everywhere we look to love someone who is struggling and loneliness may be among the easiest problems to solve. That's what Jesus would be doing. Plain and simple. Makes me wonder why we complicate it so much.

The subject of isolation and loneliness was up for discussion at a recent meeting of the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection. Although we weren't discussing it in the context of holidays, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight some of that reflection here because it could help ALL of us capture this opportunity during a season when loneliness is epidemic. Isolation is especially pronounced during the holidays but an opportunity that is always there. 

For many people in the midst of challenges, the sense of loneliness and isolation can feel more overwhelming than the crisis itself. Some even feel like they are being persecuted by God and/or others. For example, things like sleep deprivation, attrition of friendships, stigmas about mental health, lack of accessibility and rejection from Christians/churches can cause suffering that feels like oppression. 

Jesus would not turn too quickly to the feasts and festivities. Jesus would devote time, compassion, affection, prayer, eye contact, conversation. He would sit down and play trucks with a non-verbal boy, hang out with the bullied teen who isn't invited to the New Year's Eve parties and patiently re-teach King's Corner to the older woman whose memory is fading. Jesus' primary activity was pouring the practical power of His love into people (and so often in the form of healing mercies).

The conversation among church leaders during the Disability Ministry Connection meeting began looking at verses that speak directly to people who experience real or perceived isolation. For example, here are two verses that have brought comfort and encouragement to me personally during seasons when I have felt alone, apart or invisible and frustrated because caregiving makes me feel imprisoned sometimes.
PSALM 68:5-6A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
1 PETER 5:8-10Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lionlooking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. [emphasis mine]  
Jesus was regularly found reaching out to people who felt lonely, isolated or discouraged. 

Are we regularly doing this? 

Since disability ministry leaders, not much unlike any of us really, have a unique opportunity to be a voice for caregivers and people who are struggling with physical or intellectual challenges. They can educate others and advocate for those whose needs can get lost in the shuffle of things like busy lives and holiday festivities.

Ministry leaders asked this question: 
Where are we supposed to be on the spectrum of being program developer-implementers vs. educator/advocate/facilitator/culture influencers?  Both are needed and can influence our churches and culture to step out and step up when it comes to engaging with those who struggle. Each of us will lean a little more in one direction than the other depending on things like the season of circumstances/needs in our church, the particular resources available to us, our own personality and passions, or our unique gifting. But the need for us to educate our faith communities is strong and should not get forgotten in the midst of running programs.

Anyone who is not leading a ministry could ask a similar question: 
In what ways am I supposed to be reaching out in practical ways to someone who is struggling versus filling an advocate role in speaking up on behalf of those who need my voice and praying with intention? The reality is that we are all to do all of these things. 

"I'm not one of those advocate kind of people," you say?

Consider this. Jesus told everyone to "go and make disciples." No one was excused from sharing the Good News. Sure, some were better at it than others. Some were more passionate about it or comfortable with it than others. But Jesus didn't put any qualifiers on it. He just said, "go." It's the same thing as it relates to engaging with people who are struggling. We're all supposed to go and get engaged, even if it might get messy or we don't feel particularly good at it.

I've been one of those "high maintenance messes" who has needed too much from others at times because I'm a full time caregiver to my daughter who has profound disabilities. I've also been in ministry long enough to have encountered more than a few people who stretched me a long way out of my comfort zone with their weighty needs. But when God puts an opportunity in front of us, we know it, don't we? And He equips us to engage. If we stay attentive to Him, He also shows us when some boundaries may need to be established. (That's part of what He means when He promises a light burden. He never wants us to overstep Him or His power at work within us. He never told us strive on our own part.) But God also beautifully affirms our inclusive choices. 

Living like Jesus means, in part, that we extend compassion, attention, time and care towards others. It also means speaking up for "the least of these." Jesus specifically draws our attention to the needy, orphans and widows while also insisting we throw banquets (real or metaphorical) for the poor, crippled and lame (Luke 14, Matthew 6). These folks need extra care during the holidays and the rest of us tend to be paying a little more attention at this time of year. (It makes us feel good, and less guilty about all of our holiday indulgences, when we try to pour into others.) But what about the rest of the year?

I'm praying that we would all grow increasingly aware of the struggling people around us and become more lovingly engaged with each other. Let's just be more like Jesus and quit getting distracted by busy work, popular/fancy programs and even well-intentioned church outreaches that take our eyes off of the needs right in front of us.

What can you do right now?

  • Pray. Ask the Lord to increase your awareness of people in your church, neighborhood, workplace, school or circle of influence who may be feeling socially and/or logistically limited by their circumstances (e.g., injury, illness, disability, aging, broken marriage). Consider a way you could connect with this person(s) during the holidays and even a few times a year thereafter. Practical helps like bringing a meal, doing some chores and giving a gift card are wonderful but a simple phone call, email, card game, cup of tea and hug can make a world of difference. Explore scripture and learn together with anyone who may be asking tough questions about the sovereignty of God in their situation. Ask for God's help to move toward others as Jesus would.
  • Explore scripture and learn together with anyone who may be asking tough questions about the sovereignty of God in their situation. Ask for God's help to move toward others as Jesus would and make discoveries with them. (There are some fantastic books available to help also. Contact Walk Right In Ministries or check out our Lending Library if you want ideas.)
  • Share this post with your friends on Facebook or via email to help stir appreciation for the needs and opportunities around us.
  • Share this post with leaders and pastors in your church. Let them know there are tremendously helpful ways of connecting right here in Minnesota to help us better understand and grow into the kinds of communities that delight God.  
  • Visit one of the monthly meetings of the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection if you are a leader or volunteer in a church. No matter where your church is on the spectrum of serving one family at a time or having an official disability program, these gatherings offer great inspiration and insight. Download the 2016-17 schedule here.
  • Join the Facebook discussion forum for leaders and volunteers wanting to learn about ministering as a church to people with special needs. The page is specifically designed to connect, encourage and grow churches ministering to special needs throughout the state of Minnesota. All group members are welcome to post about ideas, questions and resources to expand opportunities for collective support. The Facebook page is also a great opportunity for those in rural/outstate areas to connect when they can't easily attend the monthly gatherings in the metro area. You can find us at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DisabilityMinistryCONNECTION



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