Category Archives: Biographies

Beyond the Board to Break Through

(Written by my dear friend, Lisa…)

Do you have six seconds for a powerful object lesson?

My daughter passed the first part of her Black Belt test in Tae Kwon Do and broke through 2 boards with her elbow for the first time at the test. In practice, she hit the middle of the board but didn’t break through, leaving bruises but no broken boards. It’s tempting to focus on the center of the boards because if she aims too high or too low, the boards won’t break.   The object lesson for me came from her training. She was taught that she can’t focus on the boards but must focus beyond them at the man holding them. If she aims for his chest, instead of the boards, she will have enough momentum to break through.

It reminded me that in prayer, it is tempting to focus on the challenges that I’m praying about, but that is the equivalent of looking at the board. We need to look beyond the problems to God and seek His heart, trusting Him to break through. He holds the ‘boards’ and us in His hands, and He is able. So I want to remember to look beyond to board … to the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, it says that “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

I appreciate the repetition: All. All. All. All. No exceptions. God is able!

So I say with confidence, I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Psalm 16:7-9).

A Time for Heaven Contrived By God

 A Time for Heaven is one of those “fact is stranger than fiction” stories that would seem contrived and “too good to be true” unless it is, and they say it is!! A Time for Heaven is definitely advertised as being “based on the incredible true story about a tenacious nurse who helped people that had reached the end of their lives come to terms with God and heaven.”  I couldn’t find any more information on line to test just how closely the story line followed the realities, but I did learn that the real nurse was fired from the hospital for being too open about her faith.  A Time for Heaven (2017) is G-rated and has a 7.6 from IMDb, so it’s a well done movie your whole family could enjoy together (or at least those old enough to deal with the issue of impending death).  It showcases hospice care at its best, starring a compassionate young nurse who is assigned a very grouchy patient.  Although he’s hard on her, she’s up for the challenge, and eventually the patient is loved into peace and contentment about his imminent death.  Despite (but also because of) the amazing coincidences, A Time for Heaven is a beautiful story about life, death, abandonment, forgiveness, and hope, and it has a wonderfully happy ending.                                         So, what’s not to love about that?   Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

What Kind of Schmuck Are You?!

Yesterday, I got a call from a carpenter who’s going to be updating our 30-year-old kitchen, and when he accidentally called me “Karen,” he apologized by saying, “I’m sorry! I’m really a schmuck!” I didn’t mind his forgetting my name (he hasn’t even started working for us yet), but I did find myself reactive to the idea that he made it sound like a “schmuck” is a bad thing, because I have a young friend whom I greatly admire whose last name is Schmuck. This Schmuck wants to become a minister, and he’s working his way through college by serving as a member of the maintenance department at our church. We’ve been involved in ministry together, and he is an all-around all-star guy. He also has a great sense of humor, and I’ve heard they advertised the youth group by saying, “Come, and don’t worry, because you’ll never be the only schmuck here!”  So, while we were in Nepal, I couldn’t help but notice the sign on the bathroom door where we had our much-longed-for rest stop on the Prithivi Highway. I took a photo with my cell phone to send to Zach, but then I thought better of it, just in case it might hurt his feelings. However, just a few days later, we visited the International Mountain Museum, and I noticed that there was a famous mountain climber by the name of Marcus Schmuck who led the first successful assent of Mt. Broad Peak back in 1957. It was a very difficult and lofty achievement, indeed, and one that has only been repeated a scant handful of times since.Broad Peak is the twelfth highest mountain in the world, very dangerous, and in such a remote area of Pakistan’s Karakoram Range that no one in the western world even knew it existed until 1892!So, I want to defend the name “Schmuck” and say that there are some mighty fine schmucks out there! Last summer, my young friend got married, and I know that even though he’s had to scrub a lot of toilets while working his way through college (which is not what he’s doing here; he and his wife had a foot-washing ceremony during their wedding [which is very biblical, by the way]), this young man is a true mountain climber, and I know he will also achieve some lofty goals for our Lord over the course of his lifetime.   Jesus taught: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

Jesus also set the example for us: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-10).

The Woman in Gold and a Woman’s Gold

Woman in Gold is one of those movies that’s hard to watch but too good to miss.  Based on the true story of Maria Altmann, who as an American octogenarian (who had fled to the U.S. as a Jewish refugee from Austria during World War 2) took on the Austrian government to recover her family’s artwork.  Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren) solicited for the help of  Randy Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), who was a young (and quite inexperienced) lawyer of Austrian-Jewish heritage as well as a family friend.  The movie traces their struggle to regain possession of Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was confiscated by the Nazis and later placed in Austria’s Belvedere Museum in Vienna.  The conflict lasted over ten years and went all the way to America’s Supreme Court (and beyond).  Woman in Gold was screened at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015 and has been out in America for a couple of years, so if you love movies, you’ve likely already seen it.             Woman in Gold is very well done and I recommend it highly. But, today, instead of telling any more of the story, I want to point out that much of the debate centered around the legal documents: To whom did the painting really belong, and whose will should direct the final disposition of the painting? Certain details of the movie are not correct; most prominently, Maria Altmann did not leave her ailing father in Vienna. Maria said she would have never left her father; she waited until after he died of natural causes before she escaped. Still, the movie was a great success, and in fact, grossed over 60 million. Beyond that, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I eventually sold for 135 million. Now, that’s a lot of gold!!  My questions for us are two fold. First: Do we have clear wills made out in case of our unexpected death? I think everybody who owns anything should have a will, even if it’s just a hand-written document that’s been signed and witnessed at your local bank by a notary public and kept in your important papers.   Even more important, what are we doing with our “gold,” our most precious possessions? If you’ve never stopped to think this through and write out a will, please take the time to do so, even if your only precious possession at this point is a child. Someday, it might make much more of a difference than you’d ever imagine today.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

 

 

Learning to Understand Autistic Life Animated

We have someone attending our Sunday school class who appears normal…unless you try to talk to him. Sometimes I see him look my way, like he’d like to talk, but if I approach him or try to engage him, even in light conversation, he doesn’t respond and will look away. I assume he’s autistic, and I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with him, but after a year, I haven’t broken through. Do you have anyone in your life space like this? If you do, and you’ve been able to connect, please share any advice!! For one thing, when our class starts up again for the fall semester this Sunday, I’m going to try something new I just learned about this summer!          Recently, I saw a really inspiring docudrama about Owen Suskind.        Life Animated (2016, PG, IMDb 7.5) shares the Suskind family’s story.                      Their father was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal       and Owen was the second son born into a warm and wonderful home. Owen seemed normal for the first couple of years, but then suddenly he began to regress, stopped communicating, and developed strange behavior patterns. The Suskind’s ideal home was turned upside down in a heartbreaking search for understanding what had happened. Owen was eventually diagnosed as autistic. The rest of the movie traces the heartaches and challenges of trying to learn how to communicate with their son.                              Probably every child’s journey is quite unique,                             but Owen loved Disney animated classics,  and the family eventually learned how to use pictures of scenes from the movies to communicate emotions… love, joy, grief, kindness, and kinship.                    Life Animated follows Owen’s journey from childhood to adulthood,  educational achievements, and even touching on the topics of romance, hoped-for marriage, and learning how to cope with the limitations and disappointments of autism. In many ways, Owen’s story is a wonderful story of success and triumph over trials. Today, Owen is able to give lectures and offer suggestions and ideas for other autistic young people.                                   Life Animated made me cry and rejoice.  Why can’t Owen (and millions of people for so many different reasons) just enjoy a normal life like the rest of us? Why do so many people suffer and have to live with broken dreams? In all the heartaches of life, I console myself by remembering that life on earth is not the end, it’s only the beginning…a place to develop character and find grace. To find the end of ourselves and the beginning of God. To lose our lives so we’ll find eternal life. God is good. He can be trusted.

As Karla Akins says, “Autism isn’t forever, but love is.”

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

A Pair of Miracles: The Terrors and Triumphs of Rearing Autistic Twins

If you are struggling to provide love and care for an autistic person, or you know anyone who is, this is an A+ resource giving you an open window into the hearts and hard-earned wisdom of Karla Akins and her husband, Eddie,  who took in and reared a set of autistic twins.

That’s right! They actually took on a set of twins, not because they had to, nor because they had no children of their own (because they did). Can you believe this? It’s mind boggling to me. I wouldn’t have had the courage to take on the frustrations, pain, and heartaches of adopting even one autistic child, so I stand in awe of this amazing couple (and any of you out there trying to cope with an autistic loved one).

Not only does the book tell their story, it gives counsel and resources for every step of the way, from the first terrifying realization that there’s something dreadfully abnormal about your child through learning to communicate with, educate, and preparing to emancipate your youngster. There are countless tips on everything, level-headed discussions on schooling options, the litany of therapeutic interventions, and the various medical and dietary issues (and how to maintain a gracious attitude in the midst of obnoxious know-it-alls who try to tell you what you’re doing wrong). A Pair of Miracles is also full of scripture passages and biblical wisdom to encourage you in the way of godliness, and it ends with numerous helpful appendixes.

I’d never heard of autism when I was growing up in the 60’s. In the 80’s, I had one girl friend who had an autistic child, and ultimately, I think the pressures from trying to care for that little girl destroyed their marriage. Today, I know of two couples who have autistic children. This is consistent with the statistics. Autism wasn’t even diagnosed until 1943. By 1966 (when I was a teen), researchers estimated that 1 in 2,500 children were born with autism, but it wasn’t until 1980 that autism debuted in the DSM (Diagnostic an Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have autism, an astounding 1 in 42 for boys but 1 in 189 for girls (roughly five times as likely in boys).

The question is, is this phenomenal growth actually in the occurrence of autism, or in the reporting? Some believe that much of the increase is simply in public awareness, claiming that earlier generations just thought autistic children had very low I.Q.’s and were unable to learn. Many ended up  tucked away in long-term mental hospital settings so most people didn’t even know they existed. It’s only been in recent years that people are becoming aware that many of these children are very bright, just unable to communicate and socialize normally.

Although there’s no fool-proof way to diagnose autism, and no one knows what causes autism, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) helps mental health professionals assess children who may have autism. If your toddler manifests at least 8 of the following symptoms, you may be able to get professional help for him, and the studies show ample proof that the earlier the intervention, the more likely the child will develop some ability to communicate and care for themselves over time.

Here are some of the problem areas that manifest in an autistic child: He/She

*Avoids eye contact
*Doesn’t respond to his own name
*Fails to follow objects or visual gestures
*Does not wave or communicate with gestures (although they often stiffen or flail in non-obvious gestures)
*Doesn’t make noise in order to get your attention (although they often scream
incessantly or make non-normal grunting sounds)
*Doesn’t initiate or respond to touch (in fact, can be strongly resistant or
combative if you attempt touch)
*Is unable to imitate facial expressions (but can make strange faces for sure!)
*Never progresses past parallel play
*Doesn’t show empathy for others
*Doesn’t engage in imaginary play
*Can’t talk about or understand feelings (severe cases can’t talk at all)
*Has a hard time making friends
*Can’t understand or follow simple directions
*Can’t understand abstract concepts and takes things too literally
*Refers to self in third person
*Often has unusual physical posture and toe walking

If you’ve been saying, “Oh, yes! That does describe my child,” then please seek medical help for your little one, and I strongly urge you to read A Pair of Miracles. It offers hope in the most difficult circumstances, and their story of faith and perseverance will strengthen you for the battle to withstand the agonies of autism. Who knows? Perhaps your child might also ultimately become a miracle of love and blessing like Isaac and Isaiah Akins.

“A person can have a doctorate degree from the most prestigious university on earth and still flunk heaven…What matters most, I think, is how much did we love? Autism isn’t forever, but love is.” (Karla Akins)

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
(Romans 12:15)

Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another,
even as also ye do
” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13).