Challenging the Challenges

Part of being human is that life inevitably brings unexpected and difficult challenges that often shake us to the core. The good news is that we are not alone, the battle is God’s, and God will guide us through the wilderness just as He did for the Israelites. We can trust our Lord to strengthen, comfort and sustain us with the physical and spiritual resources we need to face these challenges. In holding fast to scriptural promises, we are reminded of the constancy, goodness and sovereignty of God. Our faith springs from the knowledge that we are people in whom Christ dwells and delights, and that we live in the unshakeable kingdom of God.

Life With Isabelle
by Carolyn J. R. Bailey

When Isabelle June Bailey was born 17 years ago the doctor said, “It’s a girl.” The nurse said, “Oh, she’s beautiful.”

“Is everything alright, honey?” I asked my husband, Bram. Read More

The Other Side
by Lieutenant Anthony Barnes

One Sunday at the corps, after giving an appeal towards the end of my sermon, several women from the Adult Rehabilitation Center rushed to the altar. My wife and I shared the responsibility of praying with those who came forward. This was a common scene in our small… Read More

Treading Dark Waters
by Lynne Miller

Six years ago, my sister, Rachel, drifted out to sea — not a body of water, but the dark depths of depression. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Family crises, chronic health problems and other factors combined for a perfect storm that sent her spiraling… Read More

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes
by Major K. Kendall Mathews

Springtime is upon us, and flowers are blooming. Spring is a wonderful time to make changes in our lives. As the sun and rain reinvigorate God’s creation this April, let us count our blessings and realize that God wants us to be blooming flowers — unfolding under His grace… Read More

Right Where We Are
by Scott Martin

After Moses encountered God through the burning bush (Ex. 3, 4), God told him to return to Egypt to deliver the Hebrew people from bondage. Moses responded, “I am slow of speech and tongue … O Lord, please send someone else.” (Ex. 4:10, 13) Read More

Who is Mike?
by Major Hollie Ruthberg

Mike is
One of those who was in and out, in and out, in and out
Of the prison of addiction.
Thank God that at the end he was out –
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Read More


Whom Shall I Fear?

As a shepherd boy he battled bear and lion, but when David let fly the stone that felled the mighty Goliath, his life as a warrior began. At the hands of another giant, it almost ended (2 Sam. 21:16,17). Age had taken its toll on the king and, had it not been for Abishai defeating David’s attacker, that day would have been his last. His troops could not bear to lose him, urging him to retire permanently from the battlefield. Nor was danger restricted to the battlefield. There were always rival kingdoms that would see his death as the key to defeating Israel. And assassinations were common ways for the ambitious to seize power. Threats, like a shadow, followed David’s every step.

But David’s daily dangers helped him realize the safety that was his in God, as evidenced in Psalm 27. The first words ring out confidently, even as the writer stands amid his foes. “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) The light of God shows the way while also revealing hidden danger. Salvation speaks of being rescued from certain danger. Further, David proclaims that the Lord is supremely protective, his stronghold, a safe place out of the enemy’s reach. This leads him to ask two bold questions: Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?

As David continued his song of full assurance (vs. 2,3), he was able to say that when the enemy attacked seeking to harm him, the tables were turned and they were the ones who fell. Even though the enemy might have been at the gate, God with him was so much greater than the foe facing him. The fears that surfaced were quickly quieted.

David deliberately sought God’s presence where he found unspeakable relief. “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (vs. 4). A child wants everything he sees, but maturity brings focus. So David, in his seeking is not looking to a larger army, stronger fortifications, a more loyal bodyguard, but to dwell in the house of the Lord. It is here that David would seek to meet God, to gain insight. When we look at the world, it is filled with peril. While the dangers may not drop away as we focus on God, we find a proper perspective in viewing them.

That is not to say that David did not feel fear, as evidenced in verses 7-12. Typical of these fears are those mentioned in verse 12: “Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.” To be human is to experience fear at one time or another, to face foes that are malicious and inflict injury. But the believer has the confidence that, as frightening as a situation is, the God who delivered him in the past will shelter him in the present. The first verse echoes again in the hours when dread clutches the heart, when doubt assails belief. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”

Feeling this, we can hear David’s heart quiet. “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (vs. 13). Though the night be starless, the darkness impenetrable, the dawning sun will chase it away. Though a tsunami blasts past the beaches, it must soon surrender all the land it claimed as it meekly retreats to the sea. Though the winds explode through the countryside and town, they must still to a whisper. And though evil invades the land, it is destined to retreat in utter defeat.

David proclaims, “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Yes, eternity is in the hands of God and He will triumph over all. But He is not waiting for some unmarked future to deliver. His unmistakable action will show that He is at work in this very moment.

The heart that was pounding now slows as it is at rest. Panic is noisy, but trust is quiet. God is the shelter, the stronghold, the covering hand. He is not baffled by events, not intimidated by gathered enemies. He will act, not a minute early nor a minute late, but in His perfect time. David counsels, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (vs. 14).

By Major Allen Satterlee

What Am I Going To Do Today

Dr. Katrina Cochran, PhD in Philosophy in Adult and Community Education and PhD in Philosophy in Counseling Psychology, is a counselor in marriage and family issues, addiction and trauma recovery and crisis intervention. She also does consulting to help people recover from trauma and abuse. Since 9/11 she has served as a consultant to The Salvation Army Eastern Territory and the Church World Service Disaster Relief Division. In the following interview with Editor in Chief Major Allen Satterlee, she discusses the challenges and opportunities we face when challenges and circumstances seem overwhelming.

Q: What is the most important thing to understand about overwhelming challenges?
A: Overwhelming is a bit of a misnomer. We may feel overwhelmed, but the challenge itself is not overwhelming because we have resources both spiritual and physical that are available to us.

Q: What should be said to those who are facing an unexpected challenge?
One of the most significant problems with any unexpected challenge is that we are so surprised and shocked by the challenge itself that we sometimes slow the process of resiliency and healing by not acknowledging that we are in fact hurting, at a loss and feeling completely out of control. The quicker we can deal with the reality of the challenge, the better for our overall healing. Dealing with reality means that we are clear about the challenge itself. We have defined the issue without denial or exaggeration. We have asked for the help and support we need. We avoid being a victim. We stay emotionally in the present, not in the past or the future. One of the major theories of trauma is that we immediately go into shock and denial and try to act as if there really is no trauma, no sense of urgency. We then avoid taking action. The military trains for life-threatening situations so that when the event occurs, the training is so embedded that there is an automatic response. While no one wants to think about a catastrophe or some long-term, chronic situation, we might want to plan ahead and practice our fire drills.

Q: What should be said to someone whose situation will likely not get better?
I don’t work on a continuum of good, better and best. I work on a continuum of here and now. Scripturally, our model is to live in the moment. It’s not just a matter of avoiding the hopeless kind of road where “my life is horrible and it will never get better.” Rather, it is “what am I going to do with it today?”

Q: How does the Bible help people who are facing challenges?
The older I get the harder it is for me to understand how people can cope effectively and find any measure of solace and comfort without a very clear spiritual center. You can start from Creation and the Fall and go all the way through the Tribulation and the Second Coming and find story after story of hardship and comfort. I often refer people to the Book of Job and to the Passion of Christ in the Gospels. Q: Imagine a man comes into your office having lost his wife in an accident that has also left him permanently disabled. What is the priority of your counseling goals? A: To determine, based on the patient’s spoken and unspoken dialogue, whether his true immediate trauma is the loss of his mate or the loss of his mobility. That takes a bit of time and discernment.

Q: How does a person with debilitating issues want to be treated by others?
It depends upon their initial understanding of self. If they come to this life challenge having been a resilient, motivated, positive, the glass half-full kind of person, then those folks tend to continue a more positive recovery with whatever assistance they need to get to that point. If a person has been in a dependent, abusive or self-doubting state previous to a catastrophe, then we have to guard against them falling into a dependent victim role. …………………..

Q: What are the needs of a caregiver?
I’ve developed a workshop, Care of the Caregivers, where I outline the characteristics of a catastrophic event, such as 9/11, the death of a child or a suicide. I try to help the caregiver understand the psychological content of that catastrophe and then structure the response using a marathon versus sprint metaphor. For many who are caring for a seriously incapacitated family member, an Alzheimer’s or stroke victim for example, the need to pace themselves is as critical as the need to continue to support the patient. Often the caregiver gets out of balance. A lot of times it’s an economic thing, because it’s just so expensive to try to get in-home care or find quality care for long-term, chronic illnesses. I emphasize over and over with the caregiver that if you are unavailable because of your own depression, exhaustion, obesity or whatever it is you’re doing to soothe yourself, how is that helpful to your loved one?

Q: Do caregivers feel selfish or relieved to hear they can take care of themselves?
It is easier for those who have a faith–base to understand that we are a family. We come from God, and we return to God. We have God walking daily with us. To ask for help with a physical problem seems easier than asking for help with an emotional need. The biggest barriers to receiving help are financial. Often help is unavailable, especially in rural areas with limited commercial services and few qualified caregivers. Where do we find the help? How do we get help out to some rough, remote county in some state somewhere?

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Folks who find themselves in a catastrophe may view themselves as victims, but they need to know that the human spirit is resilient. We can make a choice. We can consciously choose to shift from feeling victimized to feeling blessed. We can consciously choose to perceive the glass as half full. We can be careful about the people we allow into our inner circle so that those closest to us are the most resilient, hopeful, encouraging and affirming people we can find. I love Philip Yancey’s book How to Want What You Have. If you believe that God has an infinite plan for your life, then some situation that others might call catastrophic, you and God can call something else, like a life lesson, faith challenge or spiritual correction. With patience we can begin to understand what life lessons or silver linings are there for us to see.

By Major Allen Satterlee

Who is Mike?

Mike is
One of those who was in and out, in and out, in and out
Of the prison of addiction.
Thank God that at the end he was out –
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,
Clean and sober and in his right mind,
A new man in Christ,
A part of The Salvation Army.

Mike stood strong and tall in his new life;
Grateful and even proud of the man he had become.
Handsome, charming, good with words
And able to make friends with anyone.
Unendingly committed to the wife God gave him
In this new life – Anita.
He loved to worship and sang in his own voice.
He loved to hear the Word of Life and was always, always ready
To share his experience of forgiveness and salvation
With someone needing a new start.

When the demons of addiction won, and sometimes they did,
Mike knew where to turn when it was time to start again
And begin one more time the count of how many days and weeks clean.
He cried out to God, to his pastor and friend, to his church;
Not willing to stay in the prison of failure and sin
When there was a way out and a way back home.

A new life, born again by the mercy of God,
Does not always undo years of abuse and neglect and sin.
The scars remain, and often the consequences of choices remain
To tell the final chapter of a redeemed life.
The soul can be clean, and the body be left to deal with sickness.
By the grace of God we can be victorious even then,
And the drug addict/alcoholic/violent/selfish man can face death
With courage and a song in his heart.
He can be a witness to God’s unfailing goodness even then,
Knowing that his salvation is complete and that grace will bring him home.

This is Mike. This is RJ. This is Dennis.
This is even Carlos, whose story is sadder.
This is thousands of Bills, Juans, Toms, Jennifers, Marias, and all their friends.
This is the story and the truth of redemption.
This is a wail of praise, a sob of praise, a shout of praise at the graveside.
This is the hope of heaven that we live with in this world
That gives us joy in sorrow, peace in pain, trust in doubt.
This is victory.
This is Mike.


Right Where We Are

After Moses encountered God through the burning bush (Ex. 3, 4), God told him to return to Egypt to deliver the Hebrew people from bondage. Moses responded, “I am slow of speech and tongue … O Lord, please send someone else.” (Ex. 4:10, 13).

I can appreciate how Moses felt. I also dread speaking in public.

The Lord replied that Moses’ brother, Aaron, would help him, and God said to Moses: “I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do” (Ex. 4:15). God also equipped Moses with a staff he could use to demonstrate God’s miraculous signs.

Moses was afraid to step forward and serve the Lord due to his weaknesses and insecurities. But the Lord God equipped Moses to perform powerful miracles in His name. Like Moses, we need to have faith that God will use us, even in our weaknesses.

This may seem like a stretch to those of us who wrestle with hardships and weaknesses, for example, debilitating illness, advancing age, or perhaps even incarceration,.When we are led to serve the Lord, we may ask ourselves, or even ask God as Moses did, “Who, me?”

God not only uses seemingly weak people, but He can also turn weaknesses into strengths—tools that will enhance our ability to serve others.

The Bible is full of great prophets and disciples who were immensely flawed, yet God still used them in powerful ways. The apostle Peter was often an overly emotional and impetuous man. He also denied Christ three times at His trial. Does this sound like the same man who was instrumental in starting the Christian church and who died as a martyr? The twelve disciples did not find their strength and boldness until God sent the Holy Spirit to empower them.

The apostle Paul had his weaknesses and was once a persecutor of Christians. He writes in 2 Corinthians 12:5, “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.” He describes “a thorn in his flesh” that God would not remove, even after pleading repeatedly with God to do so. He then concludes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I have a good friend who had a very severe case of stage fright. When he had to give a practice sermon as part of a class, his stress was so great that he actually suffered a mild heart attack while delivering it. Shortly after that, he was asked to deliver a sermon at our church. His initial reaction was, “Who, me? I can’t even speak publicly without suffering a heart attack!”

Nevertheless, his faith and trust in the Lord were so strong that, after prayer and discernment, he knew the Lord had called him to speak and would equip him. Since that day he has been effectively serving the Lord by conducting numerous worship services and through sermons as a church lay leader.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10About two years ago I was asked to lead a monthly worship service at a senior retirement home. For numerous reasons (weaknesses), in addition to health limitations, this was something I had never pictured myself doing. My initial response was, “Who, me?” But I stepped out in faith and obeyed. In addition, the Lord has expanded this ministry, so I am also conducting a weekly Bible study as well as serving at another senior retirement home. It is amazing to look back and see how the Lord has opened doors for me to minister to the elderly! Again, the Lord has equipped and empowered me to turn my weaknesses into strengths.

I am not attempting to minimize the strong limitations many of us have that might detract from our ability to serve as we would like. But the Lord calls each one of us to serve Him and perhaps to stretch ourselves in some way. For some, this might be as simple as being a prayer warrior; for others, it may be something more. Perhaps we are to minister to others suffering from the same difficulties we have struggled with, such as debilitating illnesses, aging, depression or loneliness.

What might the Lord be asking you to do? If your response is “Who, me?” the Lord can equip you, just as He did Moses at the burning bush. Let the Holy Spirit work within you to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Perhaps, like Paul and those in this story, you too may someday boast that the Lord has turned your thorns into roses.

By Scott Martin

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

Springtime is upon us, and flowers are blooming. Spring is a wonderful time to make changes in our lives. As the sun and rain reinvigorate God’s creation this April, let us count our blessings and realize that God wants us to be blooming flowers — unfolding under His grace, love and spiritual beauty, as we are conformed more and more to the character of His Son Jesus.

KaShaye MathewsWe all have the potential to be dazzling flowers — waiting to break out and flourish for everyone to see. One such dazzling flower is my 19 year-old daughter KaShaye. She’s an active soldier of the St. Louis Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), and known as the “Daughter of the House.” She is a special girl who is moderately autistic. Statistics say that one in a hundred children today have autism. We never thought one of our five kids would be affected by this condition. Nonetheless, she is one multi-colored flower, bright, carefree and affectionate. Those who know her agree.

When she was 2, we noticed that her communication skills were not like those of our other children. After testing by the school system revealed that she had autism, we feared she would never blossom. But we accepted it and raised her just like our other children. Our faith was tested, as we thought we had done something wrong. We even blamed God, questioning why He would give us an autistic child.

Just last year KaShaye played Special Olympics basketball, and made the high school honor roll. She loves listening to music, especially gospel music, and reading books. She visited China last year. Becoming a world traveler has always been one of her dreams.

Recently Kashaye was admitted to the hospital and given four pints of blood. Our flower seemed to be withering, but we had faith. God’s healing hand and the prayerful love of others helped restore her.

If you have a special needs child, know that God does not make mistakes. Trust Him with all your heart and love your child with the same love that God has for His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Here are thoughts that have helped us see our KaShaye blossom. I pray they will encourage you.

  • Treat your special children no differently than other children.
  • Tell them that they are special in your sight and in God’s.
  • Be patient with them as God is patient with you.
  • Get them involved with other children.
  • Pray with them and for them. Encourage them to have faith in God and themselves.
  • Find out their interests and lovingly push them to achieve their goals.
  • Keep them involved in some type of daily routine, which will encourage structure.

Like our darling KaShaye, let us live life with beauty, not for ourselves, but for others, as we serve and love dearly. I guarantee you that someday you will see someone special to you bloom into a great flower created by God, our eternal gardener. He is the endless giver of spiritual rain and heavenly sunshine, and is our source of knowledge and wisdom.

By Major K. Kendall Mathews

Treading Dark Waters

Six years ago, my sister, Rachel, drifted out to sea — not a body of water, but the dark depths of depression. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Family crises, chronic health problems and other factors combined for a perfect storm that sent her spiraling downward. Rachel sat for hours sobbing, her eyes empty and sad. She raged over insignificant things, withdrawing from the people and activities she had enjoyed. Pressures of single parenting added even more weight.

I grieved for my sister and for myself. I missed our spiritual talks, our prayer times, our silly laughter while mall crawling. And I couldn’t understand how a person so committed to Christ could be so enveloped by mental darkness. Despite my prayers, each day Rachel slipped further out into the emotional deep, while I stood on the shore, helpless and confused.

I wasn’t the only one struggling. Folks at church witnessed Rachel’s disturbing moods and suspected a spiritual low had settled on her. They offered help. Some urged her to read the Bible more, pray, or listen to praise music. Others tried to cheer her up. One Sunday morning, a fellow member planted herself beside Rachel and announced, “I’m going to sit here till you smile.”

What this person didn’t know is what I also failed to realize at first—that a person in depression can’t just put on a happy face. I decided to get help from a Christian therapist and do my own research, which was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I have learned that depression isn’t always easy to comprehend, but we can offer companionship to those adrift on its turbulent waters.

I’ve had many down days, brought on by winter, midlife, a job layoff. Usually walking, swimming, spending time outdoors, praying, and talking to a friend have lightened my mood.

I learned, however, that more severe experiences, like the death of a loved one, abuse, health problems or divorce can take someone beyond the blues to depression that can last for weeks, months, or years. Depression is even packaged in some families’ DNA.

A severe case of depression is like a stubborn darkness, an in-your-bones sadness that won’t let go. A number of people I’ve known have plunged into their dark sea after a personal catastrophe, eventually making it to shore. The crisis faded with time, wounds healed, and darkness lifted, sometimes with the aid of a professional counselor.

But Rachel’s depression didn’t seem to get better. It became a major disorder and has now lasted for years. That’s when I discovered that not only outside influences can trigger depression but internal ones as well. If the brain lacks the chemical serotonin, which controls emotions and other neurological functions, depression can set in. Medications and talk therapy keep Rachel’s brain in balance, much as insulin and diet keep the blood sugars controlled in a diabetic.

Don’t confuse depression with lost faith. At church we’re usually surrounded by smiling folks who offer a hug and share what God has done in their lives. But what about a person like Rachel who doesn’t smile, maybe withdraws from us and admits that God seems distant and uncaring? Has she disconnected from God?

Sunset over the waterI used to think so, but Rachel has convinced me that depression doesn’t always signal a problem with faith. After a difficult week, she could cry uncontrollably and distance herself from family, but she couldn’t wait to get to church on Sunday. She drank in the sermons and sang “Amazing Grace” with tears wetting her face. She worked on Bible study lessons and told those in her support group that the only thing getting her through each day was God.

When Job fully processed the reality of his losses, he cursed the day he was born and struggled to sense God’s presence (Job 3:1; 23:3-9). David felt forgotten by people and abandoned by God (Ps. 31:10; 22:1). Jeremiah cried, “He [God] has driven me away and made me walk in darkness and not in light” (Lam. 3:1-2).

Beneath the heavy layers of sadness, depressed Christians still believe that their Redeemer lives (Job 19:25) and that His daily provision of mercies will help them to survive (Lam. 3:22-23).

Be quick to listen and slow to speak. One Sunday when Rachel let down her guard and shared her feelings with someone at church, the woman stared at her and offered a response that was void of empathy: “Things can’t be that bad.”

Another woman brushed aside Rachel’s words and offered her testimony of endurance through hard times. Then she concluded, “I just praise God when I’m down and choose not to focus on the negative.”

When she heard the word depression, she, like many other people, saw it as the work of the devil.

Depression creates an awkwardness that leaves us searching for causes and solutions. But offering those, even with good intentions, discounts the feelings of the depressed person. In speaking before we listen, we inflict more hurt.

A sensitive friend of Rachel’s followed the advice in James 1:19: “Be quick to hear … [and] slow to speak” (1:19). Every week after Bible study, she hugged my sister and asked how she was doing, then quietly listened. She didn’t analyze or recommend a remedy. “I’m praying for you,” this friend said. One day she ventured a step further and asked Rachel, “Do you ever feel that God has deserted you? I’ve had times like that.” Identifying with Rachel’s burden forged a deeper trust.

Make your prayers supportive. When Rachel first drifted into depression, I boldly believed God would heal her. A compassionate God wouldn’t want His child to suffer such mental torture, would He? I claimed scads of Scriptures, like Jeremiah 32:27: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” But when Rachel’s depression worsened, I thought God had met His match.

Eventually, however, I viewed God’s denials to my requests as a redirection of my prayers. Though some are healed of depression, Rachel would not be. But she could survive.

So I prayed for coping skills, that her doctors would find the right combination of cognitive therapy and medications. On her bad days, I asked God to be real to her, to show His presence on the dark sea (Mark 6:45-51). I prayed that Rachel would know that God identifies with her depression. In her affliction, He, too, is afflicted (Isaiah 63:9).

God has answered these prayers. Rachel has accepted her depression as a lifelong battle that forces her to depend on God. Her doctors teach her skills to discipline her thoughts and moods, and antidepressants keep her brain chemicals in balance. Rachel is showing me that God’s power isn’t shown only in healing, but in making our worst weakness strong (2 Cor. 12:10).

In the boat. Rachel’s depression has changed us. But it’s been a good change, forging a deeper bond between us. I’ve left the shore and climbed into the boat with her. Together we row on the endless dark sea, locked in a rhythm of love and faith.

We’re not alone. Beside us sits the Man of Sorrows, gripping the oars and rowing when our strength is gone. A few friends have climbed inside as well. And from where I sit, there’s plenty room for more.

By Lynne Miller

The Other Side

One Sunday at the corps, after giving an appeal towards the end of my sermon, several women from the Adult Rehabilitation Center rushed to the altar. My wife and I shared the responsibility of praying with those who came forward. This was a common scene in our small chapel. On this particular Sunday, I realized that one of the women had come forward about four Sundays in a row. Most times she sought prayer for God to change some aspect of her life or the life of her family, but on this particular Sunday, she asked for the ultimate change. She prayed for salvation. We prayed that prayer of salvation and she rose up from the altar as a new creation.

After the service, we all went into the fellowship hall for a potluck lunch. This young woman came to me with curiosity in her eyes and said, “Have you ever been to Hollister [Correctional Facility]?” “Yes,” I replied. She continued, “What did you do there?” I answered, “You know what I did there.”

Before becoming a Salvation Army officer, I had been a sergeant with the local Sheriff’s Department. One of my roles as the Watch Commander was to oversee the operation of Hollister. This young woman had been there several times, and I had personally booked her into the jail on a few occasions. We recognized one another at the altar, but when a person comes to the mercy seat the past no longer matters. From that moment on, a child of God has taken off her old clothes and put on new ones, claiming a new identity in Christ.

The young woman said “Barnes, I thought that was you.” She admitted that she preferred me in my Salvation Army officer’s uniform, rather than the uniform I used to wear. She felt confident that God had her in the right place because, at that time, I was the only person who had seen her on one side of her life and now on the other. Once, I had led her into the jail in handcuffs and booked her. But on this day, I had the privilege to escort her into God’s Kingdom and a life free from bondage, free from her past—with a clean slate, and a hope that will never perish, spoil or fade.

Today, she is a soldier in The Salvation Army. She attended the Future Officer’s Fellowship Conference, and she continues to consider the call that God has placed on her life, not just to possible officership but to a life lived with Him. To my friend, my sister and fellow follower in Christ, I am proud of you. Thanks and glory be to God for giving us opportunities to live and minister in His name.

By Lieutenant Anthony Barnes

Life with Isabelle

When Isabelle June Bailey was born 17 years ago the doctor said, “It’s a girl.” The nurse said, “Oh, she’s beautiful.”

“Is everything alright, honey?” I asked my husband, Bram.

“Everything’s fine.”

But I knew everything wasn’t fine. I had taken the “what to expect” tour of the hospital, and I knew there were too many people in the room.

Within 15 minutes of Isabelle’s arrival, the doctor was standing by the bed saying, “She may be a beautiful little girl, but she has Down syndrome.”

Baby IsabelleThe nurse watched the doctor leave the room and then came over and said, “She has Down syndrome, but she’s a beautiful little girl.”

The nurse, who had worked with children with Down syndrome in high school, gave me her home phone number in case I had questions or just needed to cry.

I said, “I don’t think it was a coincidence that we got you.” She looked both ways to be sure nobody else could hear her. “Neither do I.” God knew we needed her.

These were my first three lessons in challenging this particular challenge: First, when people aren’t sure what to say, they can say hurtful things. Second, your perspective makes all the difference. Third, God was already with us on this unexpected journey.

We knew what people with Down syndrome tended to look like, and we knew it meant cognitive disability, but we didn’t know anything else. I flipped through the packet of “helpful” information to uncover pictures of newborns with feeding tubes and a chart that predicted a life expectancy chart of only 55 years old. I read that Down syndrome, or Trisomy 21 (three #21 chromosomes instead of two), is the most common genetic abnormality. One in every 750 children has Down syndrome. I read about poor muscle tone, loose joints, weak reflexes, a depressed immune system, heart issues, leukemia, epilepsy, vision, hearing, thyroid and skin problems and early onset Alzheimer’s. It was too much information. I just wanted to hold my baby.

That first night I wondered what the future would be like. Somehow I slept, and I had the most normal dream I have ever had. In it Isabelle grew up. There were birthday parties, Christmases, summers at the beach and fall days running through leaves in the park. She grew up surrounded by family and friends. When I woke up the next morning, I knew the dream was God’s way of saying “I’ve got this. It’s going to be okay.” Since then, every once in a while I find myself in one of those extraordinarily ordinary moments straight out of the dream. I remember that, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I knew the dream was God’s way of saying “I’ve got this. It’s going to be okay.” Since then, every once in a while I find myself in one of those extraordinarily ordinary moments straight out of the dream. I remember that, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The next morning the geneticist sat down with us, showed us the test that proved the diagnosis and tried to explain what it meant. “She will always need someone,” he said. “How is that so different from the rest of us?” I thought.

“She will lack judgment. She might have all the right information but still make the wrong decision. Again I thought, “How is that so different from the rest of us?” Then the doctor said some of the most helpful words we’d heard: “She’s more like you than not like you. She needs what every child needs. Take her home and love her.”

We did.

Isabelle and FamilyFor a long time I would say, “She has Down syndrome” out loud and finish the sentence in my head with “but not like other people.” It took me a long time to be able to say “She has Down syndrome.” Period. Isabelle also happens to have verbal apraxia. (which means there’s a disconnect between her brain and her mouth.) We are a family of storytellers. She is determined to have her turn. So a conversation with Isabelle is a lot like a word puzzle accompanied by charades.

How has God helped us?

He made me pretty good at word puzzles and charades.

He gave me a song.

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, I know, He holds the future and life is worth the living. Just because He lives.”

He gave us the essay, “Welcome to Holland,” by Emily Perl Kingsley, on what it’s like to have a child with a disability. It reminds us to celebrate what Isabelle can do instead of focusing on what she can’t.

He gave us Scripture. Second Chronicles 20:15, 17b (KJV) says: “Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go out tomorrow against them: for the Lord will be with you.” Having a special needs child means fighting battles of all kinds daily. The “multitude” keeps changing, but the battles keep coming. Knowing the battle is God’s helps us to face it again tomorrow.

He gave us a faith community at our Salvation Army corps that appreciates Isabelle when she dances during praise and worship, when she interacts with the preacher, when she goes to the mercy seat every week to pray for the Jonas Brothers and One Direction, and when she takes her imaginary friends to the mercy seat to pray with them.

He brought others to come alongside us. A family, immediate and extended, to embrace Isabelle and uphold us. One of our blessings is Anne Lipnick, my special education “maven” (a Yiddish word that means “she understands”). Everything I know about special education somehow can be traced back to her. Resurrection Children’s Center, an inclusive preschool, saw Isabelle as a gift to be unwrapped, not a problem to be solved. Therapists worked together when we couldn’t afford all the recommended therapies. Teachers rise to the challenge that is Isabelle. Friends and fellow travelers on this journey generously share their lives with us.

He gives laughter, love, joy and peace in the midst. What do I want people to know?

A rabbi was asked, “What is the appropriate blessing for someone who has a baby with a disability?” His answer: “Everyone wants a Mazel Tov”—a Yiddish phrase meaning, “Good has happened to you.”

There are a few questions I’d like you not to ask:

  • “Is she a Down’s child?” She has Down syndrome. She is not Down syndrome. I hope I don’t even need to ask you not to use the “R” word.
  • “How old were you when you had her?” That really means, “Was it your fault?” The answer is, “No, it just happens.”
  • “How far is she going to develop?” Can you answer that for your children?

IsabellePray for me? Yes.

Feel sorry for me? No.

If we’d had Isabelle ten years earlier, we might have been told to put her in an institution, since the prevailing wisdom was that she would never form attachments or make any contribution to the world. Today, people with Down syndrome are actors and spokespeople and dancers and potters and…

Isabelle’s name means benevolent heart consecrated to God. She calls her Bible “my church book. It says God loves me.” She will not be ignored. She is funny, loving, graceful, solid, stubborn, determined, forgiving, able to push her brothers’ buttons, frequently frustrated and embarrassed by her mother and a big fan of One Direction. She is a loyal friend, swims like a mermaid, was born to dance and believes with all her heart that cheese and ketchup make everything taste better. She makes everyone work harder than they ever have before. And, she has an amazing way of stealing your heart.

Mostly I want people to know that we are richly blessed—as a family and as individuals. We are far better people now than we ever would have been had we not been gifted with the beautiful Isabelle June.

By Carolyn J. R. Bailey