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When life falls apart, confusion sets in. Personal questions are unanswerable, emotions are uncontrollable, and strength seems unattainable; such are the realities of shattering circumstances. Special Needs Ministries represents a source of hope for people by offering sound teaching, resources, and personal counseling. We invite you to visit the Special Needs blog, managed by Colleen Swindoll Thompson, director of Special Needs Ministries and the parent of a child with special needs. Colleen is intimately aware of the daily challenges you face, and she is honored for the opportunity to interact with you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Your Battle of the Will

by Colleen Swindoll Thompson

What battles are you fighting today? I’m not referring to those we read or hear about in the news. I mean the wars that rage inside you—which ones are you fighting today?

Here are some of mine: holding on to resentment, allowing frustration to overwhelm me, wishing for something easier, wondering why trials continue, and missing my personal freedoms.

Battle of the Will
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Neely [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Painful or pressing conditions quickly reveal our internal battles. These struggles are not usually between what is good or bad, right or wrong, but between our desires and God’s will. As hard as it is to admit, the battles that rage within are often caused by our willfulness. What God has allowed for us often conflicts with our heart’s desire.

So, let me ask you again: What battle are you facing today?

Continue reading "Your Battle of the Will" »

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The One Thing You Cannot Live Without

This has not been the greatest week to start my “Gratefulness” journal. Seriously. With summer heating up, schedules out of sorts, and my attitude turning sour, keeping a gratefulness journal seemed like a good idea.

But that was before summer started.

One Thing You Cannot Live Without
By Infamous Hussy at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Day one went relatively well, and day two went better. Let’s say some self-sufficient satisfaction started to kick in. Day three started with a bang . . . my husband’s back was out of whack. Since I’ve heard him complain once in my life, I was concerned but remained committed to being grateful. A good doctor, an open appointment, ice packs, and an early bed time would do the trick.

Day four rolled around, and life rolled out of control. 

Continue reading "The One Thing You Cannot Live Without" »

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

What to Do When You're on the Edge

The jumper was on the edge . . . literally. The creaking of huge metal cables echoed through the thick fog while violent tides crashed 220 feet below.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is well known as a suicide launching pad, and apparently this jumper was next in line. Two police officers were at the scene, including one who is known for talking down hundreds of people who had intended to jump. There seemed to be hope.

On the edge-600-Iridescent_fog_at_Golden_Gate_Bridge
Photo by Brocken Inaglory (Own work) GFDL  or CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

After an hour or so of negotiations, the man asked if the officers were familiar with Greek mythology, specifically the story of Zeus and Pandora’s Box. He told the police officers that Zeus created Pandora and sent her to earth with a box, instructing her to never, ever open it. But one day, Pandora caved to her curiosity, and she cracked open the box. Immediately, a burst of ghostly plagues, sorrows, and wickedness of all kinds scattered into the air, filling the earth. But Zeus had included one more little item that did not leave the box: the spirit of Hope.

The man looked at both officers sadly and asked, “So what does one do when hope isn’t in the box?”

Silence . . .

The winds whipped hard as the bridge’s cables groaned and the waves crashed below . . .

Then he jumped.1

Where Do We Find Hope?

Where does one go when he or she believes there is no hope? This man chose the Golden Gate Bridge, but there are other options.

  • Some drink or use drugs.
  • Others spend money, stay in bed, cut themselves, or cry incessantly.
  • Hopeless people find many ways to numb themselves to cope with pain.

Human nature is interesting in that we often run to things that never promise to provide hope. But we run and run until we run out of options. Hopeless and extremely exhausted, we think that taking a leap to escape something or someone is the only option.

But it never satisfies.

Can There Be a Good God?

I have wanted to leap . . . more than once. When a storm blows through my life, it creates such a mess. Sometimes it’s hard to see the goodness of God in it all. In fact, He seems most distant when we are in grave despair. The writer Ann Voscamp stated it so well in her book One Thousand Gifts:

Can there be a good God? A God who graces with good gifts when a crib lies empty through long nights? . . . How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind . . . when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die, break off without reason, erode away. Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt?2

Indeed, life is full of hurt and pain we never expected. We need only look at Jesus, the greatest example of this truth. He was bullied, maligned, rejected, tempted, misunderstood, beaten, wrongly accused, and murdered. He had every right to be a bit upset, if you ask me.

But He wasn’t. Instead, He endured it all because He believed everything God said He was and is.

God and Our Circumstances

We must not treat our circumstances as our god, but we have to remember that God is with us in our circumstances—however we define them. Do you believe that? Come what may, God is not defined by what we encounter or endure. To stay off the edge, you must separate your experiences and the nature or character of God. We must believe that He is:


 Holy  Patient  Sufficient

 Just  Powerful  Supreme

 Merciful  Sovereign  Timeless




Let Me Hear from You

Are you on the edge or searching for a quick fix these days? Has life been pretty disappointing, aggravating, harsh, unfair? If so, believe in God’s character and run to Him for hope. So I’m holding out my hand, hoping you will give God a try and come off the edge. Take a leap toward the One who promises to help you through. It can be terribly difficult to believe these words. I understand.

This week, let’s talk about what you believe about God and how you can find hope in the days ahead.

 You can leave a comment by clicking here.

  1. Adapted from Kevin Briggs, “The Bridge between Suicide and Life,” presented at TED Talks, March 2014, (accessed Jun. 2, 2014).
  2. Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 12.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Transforming Your Church One Family at a Time

An Interview with Barbara Newman

Labels are everywhere! We live in a world that labels everything from coffee cups and clothing to food ingredients and designer fashions.

While labels are helpful for things, they can be incredibly damaging when they define people—their value, character, or significance. And we do this all the time without thinking.

Change must begin to take place. So where do we begin?

We begin by learning how to love without labels. Few people understand this better than Barbara Newman. For more than 30 years, Barbara has provided education, inspiration, and transformation for churches and families typically disregarded by society. This interview is a must-see.

Watch the interview:

(Can't see the video in email or RSS? Click here.)

We tend to place significant value on what one does, how one looks, where one lives, what one drives, or what one wears—all dependent on what we deem valuable.

When it comes to those who are different—those labeled as diseased, deformed, disabled, depressed, poor, weak—their lives are most often disregarded. Candidly, such attitudes and actions are thoroughly divergent from Christ’s model and teaching.

Tragically, the church is not exempt from attaching labels. I am convinced that if Christ and the disciples attended a church today, they would be looked down upon because of their appearance, what they did, where they lived, and what they said. Stop and think about it for a moment. Isaiah even said there was nothing externally impressive about Christ, but Christ came because He views all of us as priceless, unconditionally loved, so significant that He died for us.

Continue reading "Transforming Your Church One Family at a Time" »

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting Out the Door

by Colleen Swindoll Thompson

At my house, getting out the door, especially to church, is almost an Olympic event. There are wardrobe crises, tired teenager tensions, sibling struggles—at times it’s more a combat zone than a home. I’ve observed many families with the same struggles.

But isn’t it amazing how our attitudes change when we finally clamor into church and sit down? Those early-morning entanglements dissipate, and we worship. And no matter what went on before, God is delighted to have us there.

Photo by U.S. Navy by Paul Farley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When my son Jon was born with disabilities, the freedom to do things like get out the door with ease was removed. I’d never considered that a freedom until it was lost. But now I hold in high regard those without the freedom of ease . . . ease in movement, seeing, hearing, tying shoes, brushing hair.

In his book, Always Looking Up, Michael J. Fox describes his morning routine:

I blindly fumble a plastic vial from the nightstand, dry-swallow a couple of pills. . . . I swing my legs around to the side of the bed, and the instant my feet hit the floor, the two of them are in an argument. A condition called “dystonia,” a regular complement to Parkinson’s, cramps my feet severely and curls them inward, pressing my ankles toward the floor and the soles of my feet toward each other as though they were about to close together in prayer. . . . The aching will persist for the next twenty minutes or so. . . . 

Grasping the toothpaste is nothing compared to the effort it takes to coordinate the two-handed task of wrangling the toothbrush and strangling out the line of paste onto the bristles.¹

Fox explains how the disease overtakes the body, affecting his emotions, intellect, and physical, social, and spiritual well-being. Even as I type, I’m reminded to be thankful for the freedom of controlled movement, of small muscles working together.

As I raise Jon, I realize how many freedoms he will never have. Throughout life, he will regularly struggle to get out the door . . . yet, right now on Sundays, he is the one person in our house who doesn’t complain. He puts on his favorite suit and tie and finds no reason to fuss. In that, he is more free than most.

Job recorded these words right after a devastating loss:

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised. (Job 1:21 NIV)

This verse brings to mind a few things we all should remember as we get out the door and face the world.

1. To those with bodily ease—praise God for your freedom. It’s a gift, not a right. Call each part of your body to praise Him. Thank Him for your eyes, arms, legs, back, mind . . . every part. When someone else is slow, messy, shaky, or mentally unstable, resist judgment. You have no idea what that person went through just to get out the door.
2. To those without bodily ease—I deeply admire you and applaud you for your courage, determination, endurance, and humility. You’re a hero, a person of grand character. You long to be free and whole in heaven, but you’re changing lives right here without saying a word.
3. To all of us, with and without bodily ease—learn to love one another, serve one another, and live peacefully together.

Question: What helps you get out the door? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

1. Michael J. Fox, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (New York: Hyperion, 2009), 2.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Three Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me!

(The following post is adapted from Bob West’s booklet, “Three Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me!)

Everything about life changed for Bob and his family with the birth of his son, diagnosed with disabilities. Your life may be free of disabling conditions, but your faith may be in question due to something that’s happened in your life that you cannot change or fix.

Perhaps you experience or have experienced chronic pain, profound loss, or unfulfilled expectations. Perhaps you are looking for a firm foothold to stand upon. The surest foundation is to place your faith in Jesus Christ.

Photo by Frank Ezelle, CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Good News in Hard Times

I have only three things to tell parents of children with special needs—three things I wish someone had told me years ago. It doesn’t matter what kind of man or woman you are; we all have a soft spot for our children. Finding out something is wrong with them, in our minds, just about tops the list of worst things that can happen. You can’t get through the trauma of your child’s disability on your own, and you need to know that other parents have survived the same battle you’re going through.

I want to help. I want to help you. I want to help your kids.

Continue reading "Three Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me!" »

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Light Is Always On

by Colleen Swindoll Thompson

I had to read these words then ponder them for some time. The story is found in Max Lucado’s work He Still Moves Stones. As you read, allow your imagination to picture this account.

[An] example of faith was found on the wall of a concentration camp. On it a prisoner had carved these words:

I believe in the sun, even though it doesn’t shine,
I believe in love, even when it isn’t shown,
I believe in God, even when he doesn’t speak.

I try to imagine the person who etched those words. I try to envision his skeletal hand gripping the broken glass or stone that cut into the wall. I try to imagine his eyes squinting through the darkness as he carved each letter. What hand could have cut such a conviction? What eyes could have seen [the] good in such horror?

There is only one answer: Eyes that chose to see the unseen.¹

image from
(Photo: By Sayhey1111. Own work. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Such words could be etched on many kinds of walls . . . prisons, hospitals, schools, homes, bedrooms, cars, fences, hearts, and, yes, even churches. Reason being, our eyes tend to focus on what is seen rather than what is unseen, and yet faith alone is belief in Jesus Christ, who is unseen, and His words to us. Remember what Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians?

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18 NIV)

An Essential Question for You
So now you must ask yourself: Is my faith established upon what I can see or on what God promises—which is usually something I cannot see? That’s one doozy of a question, yet it makes or breaks our faith. Two things to keep in mind:

  1. As Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18, let’s make this our daily prayer: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you” (NIV). Why is this verse so valuable? Because Paul was asking the Lord to bring light to their SOULS—to their hearts so that faith would become real in their lives. May that be true for us who struggle with soul-blindness.
  2. Remember those who lived by faith highlighted in Hebrews 11? Though they could not see the end, the final outcome of what God called them to do, only faith—keeping their eyes on God alone—gave them the strength to obey.

Choosing to believe in Jesus Christ means choosing to live through all kinds of challenges with our eyes focused ONLY on Him and God’s Word.

Take Heart!
So how is your faith these days? Is there little light, little love, and even silence when you hoped for light, love, and interaction? Take heart, my friend; Jesus is present through it all and will give you the light needed as you focus on Him and walk in God’s truths every moment of every day.

 Question: What helps you keep your eyes on God? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

1. Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones (Dallas: Word, 1993), 168–69.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

3 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me: A Dad’s Story

An Interview with Bob West

In .22 seconds, more than 94,400,000 links to the word parenting came up in my search engine, revealing that we certainly don’t lack for material on the topic of parenting. However, the parenting process is far more complex than a list of links or a load of head knowledge, and parenting is profoundly more complicated when a difficult or disabling condition is involved.

Twenty-four years ago, Bob and Sue West were settling into life together—successful, well-educated newlyweds with typical dreams of home and family life. But life has a way of teaching us that dreams rarely unfold as planned; such was the Wests' experience with the birth of their oldest son, Kyle, diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Over the course of 17 years, Kyle has endured 11 major surgeries—along with painful and persistent difficulties that have changed their lives in countless ways. In this very vulnerable interview, Bob talks about wrestling with his faith and forging a totally different path with his family.

Watch the interview:

(Can't see the video in email or RSS? Click here.)

Interview Questions

  1. The Lord changed your family life years ago; will you tell us about that?
  2. Tell us about “D” day . . . Diagnosis day. What was it like to hear the doctors say, “Your son has cerebral palsy"?
  3. How did your wife respond to the diagnosis?
  4. How were you able to identify your feelings, and how can we learn to identify our feelings in the midst of such trauma?
  5. How did you and your wife work through the stress of life at that time?
  6. How did you deal with the negative assumptions and judgments from those in the church?
  7. How have you discovered God as your Father?
  8. How did Dr. James Dobson answer your son’s question, “How can God use someone like me with cerebral palsy?”
  9. How did you not get stuck in resentment and bitterness? How did you avoid telling yourself, “This is unfair; I don’t deserve this!”?
  10. What is the third point in your booklet that you wish you would have known years ago?
  11. What are some general principles you have discovered that would be beneficial for men to hear?

Let Me Hear from You

Questioning God, wrestling with faith, belief, doubt, disappointment, and grief are not the most popular subjects people discuss, yet they are part of our lives.

Rare is the person who has an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ who hasn’t endured suffering or entered into seasons of spiritual bewilderment. We can’t walk through the valley alone, so whom do we trust with our deepest questions?

These questions have to be asked somewhere; why not here?

  • What part of Bob’s story did you connect with?
  • Do you feel lost or confused about how to move forward?
  • Isn’t it time to turn on the lights and talk about real stuff as Bob did in this interview?

I promise you will not be judged or rejected; instead, you will find comfort and care as you never have experienced before. So please, take time to examine and reflect, and let’s begin to reach toward each other. We need one another.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 Connect with Bob West

Bob and Sue West have three children: Kyle, Jonathan, and Monica. Due to God’s faithful work in their lives, Bob and Sue have developed a significant ministry to families around the world via their “Need Project” ministry and Web site.

You can connect with Bob on his Web site, where you can also find numerous resources, including Bob’s book.

Insight for Living Ministries Resources by Charles R. Swindoll

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sorrow, Suffering, and God’s Severe Mercies

So much for assumptions. My daughter and I were attending a parent/transfer student weekend at a university she’s been planning to attend. We assumed things would be sweet and simple; however, things were not so sweet and simple.

Due to misguided direction, she was told she would have to reapply and would not be able to attend that fall semester. We were both devastated, and I wanted to ring a few necks! But wringing necks wouldn’t have been wise or kind. It’s hard to be wise and kind when life has just fallen apart.

After resting and readjusting our expectations, we headed out for dinner.

Photo by Brocken Inaglory (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

The restaurant was packed with starry-eyed students and stressed-out parents. We settled into a cozy corner booth just as the waiter came by with menus and water. He kindly asked how we were doing, and we replied honestly. Throughout dinner, he came by several times and seemed to genuinely care about our experiences of the day and our evening dinner. I thanked him several times for his kindness.

Then something happened that surprised us both: he bent down on one knee and said he understood difficult, unexpected life changes because he was fighting cancer. CANCER! Cancer was the last thing I would have assumed about this young man. He appeared upbeat, healthy, strong, together . . . but he was waging an invisible fight for survival in his body.


Once again, I was hit with two truths: we often assume so much about a person, and we are often so wrong in our assumptions . . . which we could also call judgments.

  • We see an expensive car and assume the person driving it is successful and perhaps powerful.
  • We see a large home and assume the family is wealthy and happy.
  • We assume higher virtues to the talented kids and disregard the courage and determination of the disabled ones.

If I may be so bold, some of our worst assumptions about others happen in the church.

  • We see a well-dressed, smiling person and assume he or she must have it together.
  • We assume that the ever-present volunteer has greater spiritual maturity, and we assume that the depressed-looking, disheveled person sitting to the side has little faith.
  • We assume that the single parent with the screaming kid must need parenting classes, the teen with tattoos must be a rebel, and those with mental struggles must need to pray more.

And let’s not even touch on admitting our own addictions or doubts.

God’s Gracious—and Severe—Mercy

I must confess I know much about this because I was that assuming, judgmental person for many years. Then it all fell apart: depression, a disabled child, divorce, and other losses swept across the landscape of my life.

I totally fell apart, which I look at now as God’s gracious and severe mercy. I had no choice but to walk through the suffering; it was humiliating, painful, dark, and anything but perfect. I became the one on the receiving end of harsh judgments and incorrect assumptions. The fullness of my hurting, handicapped, and human condition was laid out; however, slowly but surely, God grew me into being real. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect—it means I’m content to accept my brokenness and the brokenness of others.

Robert Browning Hamilton says it so well in this little poem:

I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.1

Finally, heed this reminder from the apostle Paul:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. . . . Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31–32; 5:2 NLT)

Let Me Hear from You

In the days and weeks ahead, I have some questions for you to ponder. Pick a few, and let’s get real in our comments and conversation. I promise, you will never be judged here.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I make assumptions or judgments of others? What are they, and why?
  2. Am I terrified to let others see my real self . . . my struggles, doubts, disarray, and difficulties?
  3. Am I walking into sorrow or running from it?
  4. Why am I so afraid to fail or to let go of control . . . what is the worst that could happen?
  5. Do I trust God to help me heal, to shape my character, to love me as I am?

 You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Recommended Resources by Charles R. Swindoll:

Special Needs Ministries Blog Articles:


  1. Robert Browning Hamilton, “Along the Road,” as quoted in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, ed. Hazel Felleman (New York: Doubleday, 1936), 537. (Accessed on Google Books, May 12, 2014.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Four Key Questions That Can Change Your Life—Part 2

“When it rains, it pours,” as the old saying goes. Last’s week’s post began with this statement; it seems to resonate with many of us. I asked two questions connected to how we willfully react to life difficulties; this week dives deeply into the heart of who we are . . . in our souls.

Photo by Richard Outram from Wales (Serene Snowdon Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As a recap, I wonder if you could relate to any of these most challenging circumstances.

  • God allows pain to persist . . . and get worse
  • God appears unjust, allowing evil to continue
  • God takes your child, then another, while your friends’ homes are filled with children and grandchildren
  • God allows deception and manipulation to wreak havoc in your life, even though you remain dedicated and devout in trusting Him
  • God is a refuge to others but doesn’t appear to listen or care about your needs
  • God heals others in spite of your faithful prayers for healing
  • God provides in abundance for others, yet you lose your job which provided for your disabled loved one’s medical care

Where is God when the storms go from bad to worse? Those in Scripture—Samuel, Job, Elijah, all the prophets, the disciples—as well as righteous people through the ages have endured the pounding of pouring pain, and we know how their stories ended. But your story and mine are often a mystery; we can’t know the end, yet we are called to trust. That trust is an act of the will and of the soul. You see, storms have a way of revealing the essence of our character, our soul’s truest condition. The greatest challenge isn’t surviving the storm . . . it’s surrendering to what is revealed and then choosing our direction in the midst of it. As you continue to reflect on the willful responses to what God allows, I offer these two questions in regard to our soul.

Two Critical Questions: Your Soul

Question 1: Do you believe there is a greater purpose in the storm?

First Peter, 2 Corinthians 1, Romans 5, and Isaiah remind us that fiery ordeals transform our character, humble us, cultivate our character, and enable us to comfort others . . . even though we may not understand the ways God is at work. Are you clinging to those truths?

Question 2: Are you willing to change your perspective and look through the lens of your soul?

Have you asked the Lord to help you see where He is working, letting go of what you want and embracing what He brings? Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians includes, “I pray that your hearts will be FLOODED with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has given . . . that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him” (Ephesians 1:18–19, emphasis added). We must look beyond the storm which often requires a change of perspective. Have you established an unwavering commitment to soul change?

Let Me Hear from You

No one ever said storm survival or soul change was easy, but Scripture tells us it is right. In the mysterious work of our great God, He uses circumstances for reasons we may never understand, but these circumstances are for a purpose. Most often, we find the purpose is for the transformation of our character. Such work begins and ends in the eternal part of our lives, our souls. Will you take some time this week to connect right where you are? None of us has it all figured out; why not talk with a fellow traveler and find encouragement and hope for the days ahead? I look forward to hearing from you.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.