Monday, May 30, 2011

The Difficult Gospel

In the previous post my wife told the story of what happened when she tried to take Bella out for dinner the other day. (I was in a different city doing a wedding for one of my Sailors). This post is about Annie and I struggling through how to react to someone like that.
A few verses.....
John 15:20 "...if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."
Luke 9:23-24 "And he said to all, "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."
Phil. 1:21 "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."

I start this blog with these verses because Annie and I are seeking to have a gospel mindset and heart when it comes to dealing with people like Annie came into contact with the other night. The process of dealing with Bella's autism has been an up and down affair. When I first got back from the deployment I had a time of mourning for the future that I thought Bella would have and in my mind that I thought was lost for Bella. Then I was (still am) motivated to get Bella through this. Get her the therapy, get her the education, and one day get her off of the Autism spectrum. Then Annie and I began to feel the reality that Bella and her autism was God's doing (or allowing, or planning, or ordaining, or sovereignly overseeing....however you want to put it). In John 9 Jesus passes by a blind man, and Jesus' disciples asked him who sinned that this man would be born blind (did he sin, or did his parents sin), but Jesus said neither, but that it was God's doing so that His glory and His works might be displayed.
Annie and I believe with all our hearts that God has given Bella autism so that His glory might be displayed, specifically in and through the gospel. The hope is that as people see the pain and hardship that accompanies having a child with autism, they will see Annie and I leaning upon Christ in order to find relief, joy, fullness and the words of the gospel that we speak to them will become alive, through the Holy Spirit. So no longer is it just the words of Jesus' suffering, but they see those sufferings as real in and through our suffering. No longer is it just words of forgiveness and fullness, but it is life reality of forgiveness and fullness.
No that all sounds great BUT IT IS HARD TO DO!!!!!! When Annie called me sobbing on the phone struggling to tell me about what happened, my first thought was "I could reconsider my policy on not hitting old people." But then the gospel started to creep into my heart. It's not a cliche (we turn the other cheek because that is what we've been taught, but I really want to kill them) it is the truth that if not for the gospel and the changing of my heart by God, Annie and I would be in the same place. Granted we might not be making fun of children with disabilities, but we would be just as evil. I can't speak for Annie but I would be the most arrogant, self-loving, SOB and that is no better than the people in the pizza place. If not for the gospel so go Annie and I. My heart wants to feel disdain and hatred for those people, but the gospel speaks louder and says if not for the grace of God you would be the same way. Eph. 2 is amazing, verse 1 - 3 describe how sinful we all are as a human race and how we have rebelled against God. Then in verse 4 the most amazing word in the Bible appears "BUT" yes but, "but God being rich in mercy and because of His great love towards us made us alive in Christ. For grace we have been saved."
Annie and I would love to be able to show the reality of the gospel to people in easy situations with Bella, but that isn't reality. We will show the reality of the gospel in the face of mean spirited, hateful comments and actions, by loving those people with the same love that God has shown to us through the cross.
Please pray for us as we try to do this. Asking always that God might be glorified in our lives and in the life of our little Bella, even in her autism.

God Bless
Josh Earls

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Insult me before you insult a helpless child with autism...

If you know me (Annie), you know it takes a whole lot to offend me or to "ruffle my feathers" so to speak. I was raised in a laid back family where we don't raise our voices, we don't like much conflict at all in fact (it makes us uncomfortable). We are California Koole (I'm so funny). Well insults really do wash away like water, UNLESS they are directed at my child.

I wanted to post this for a couple reasons. First to vent (which is terrible I know, but I love to write so this works for me). I am not complaining, I'm sharing my heart I promise:) Second, to remind anyone who may read this that there is a HUGE lesson to be learned about human kindess and understanding, so here goes:

Bella is Autistic. She's also 2.5 years old. These two factors do not equal "eating out" especially when daddy is out of town doing Chaplain stuff but, sometimes it's nice to try to do something normal you know? Going to a pizza joint sounded easy enough today? Because Bella has a hard time sitting still for more than 4 minutes at a time (and hates to be buckled into anything), the highchair was like prison at our local pizza place. But, that's ok... I had pre-orded a gluten-free/casein-free pizza (from another pizza place mind you) to have ready to eat as soon as we sat down (keeps her occupied with no wait time). The bland pizza was not a huge hit for Bella...per it tasted like poop (I tried, and can confirm). So, I brought various toys, books, ect. It was not working and she was fussing *as per usual when we go out to eat....

..Enter foursome sitting a couple booths away..

These two couples were in their 50's-60's (we'll call them the "Others) I would guess (probably have themselves raised a few children). I, at this point, have already asked for my check at 10 minutes into our meal to make a "smooth get-a-way" with Bells when I hear....

The "Others"- "They have dog muzzles, someone needs to put a muzzle on that child"

This is after numerous DEATH stares and gasps in horror at hearing my daughter cry. I tried to ignore them, I really did. But, when they didn't stop talking about my dearest love in the world...the little person I live and breathe for (who cannot defend herself), I got up and walked over hoping something nice came out.

Me-"Hi, just so you know, my child has a disability so sorry about that" --- pretty nice right?

That is all I said at that point, I was so proud of myself for remaining calm. I turned and walked away and grabbed Bella (while the remarks continued). Then, I reached the hurt point...not for myself...I was hurt for Bella. I grabbed Bella, went back over so they could see her sweet face and said...."Oh, and by the way, next time you talk about putting a dog muzzle on a child, you may want to think twice because they might be autistic".....

To this the "Others" say: "Well, maybe if your child would shut up for one second, we could hear eachother speak"....


....Because I was so angry at that point (and I was ready to take someone out), I turned and left the restaurant. I got to the car, gave Bella a big hug and kiss...."it's not your fault baby"...then I cried. I immediately called her Chaplain father who remarked that he was glad it was me that was in the restaurant and not him because, well.....

....Then he said something sweet. He said it wasn't worth it, not even worth the tears or the time. That they were sad, mean people. That I said the right thing and that it doesn't change anything about our girl. He's right.

I write this today because life as a parent of a child with autism is not easy, in fact some days it's down-right tough. Next time you see a child acting out, cut the parent a break. Consider that they may have spent hours that day doing therapy working on tantrums? Consider that their child may have had a couple hour meltdown that was totally inconsolable after therapy? Maybe they are a military family? Who knows their story? Be sensitive. Be Christ-like.

I pray for those people. That their hearts would be softened --- whatever made them so hard must have hurt--- so badly that they needed to insult a helpless child. We move forward better because of this... after all, didn't we insult Christ, and hang him on a cross--- and he was our Savior!

Forgiveness is mine today:)

Annie & Bella

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so scared....


The time has finally come. My love for a certain sitcom cannot be suppressed any longer. In fact, a few years ago I woke up EXTRA early in the morning just to watch the ENTIRE SHOW FROM BEGINNING TO END... don't worry, it only took me a year... or longer (no, I am not embarrassed). My eyes got tired. I had to take breaks, but I made it through that dark (no hot black) time in my life. My mind is still full of ripped jeans, puffy hair scrunchy's, blue eye shadow, large cell phones, and b-b-b-Bayside cheers. If you are nervous about the next few paragraphs, you should be... they are complete nonsense. You may "regress" in actual knowledge and general 2011 "coolness" by reading them. It's ok though friends, I'll always be here for you (with my late 80's and early 90's quotes, and love for cheesy rock ballads).

I believe it would be a diservice to not share something with you today. This video may, in fact, change you life....

First, you may wonder why I (Annie) decided the blog deserved a brush with such a classy sitcom as "Saved by the Bell"? Well, because it was my favorite show growing up. I used to pretend I was Kelly Kapowski and wished that one day I would meet my real- life Zack Morris. The day I actually did meet Zack Morris (who was a guest judge at a cheer competition I was in) I was so nervous that I almost fell on my face doing a back layout. Little did I know, my Zack Morris would not have blonde hair, or own a huge "cell phone". No silly's, I did not end up with Zack, or the Italian stalion Slater for that matter. I found the notorious Josh Earls (although now that I think about it, both he and Slater seem to share excess hair follicles). :)

Ok, I've been taking lots of pills lately for my back pain (which made me remember this clip). I feel like each morning I should wake up and Josh should approach me so we can do a reenactment:) This really is the ultimate "Saved by the Bell" moment below! The truth is, the Earls family actually does reenact this scene quite often (not kidding)... To see it in real life, all you need to do is peek through our windows late at night....there's a 68% chance that we are doing this very scene at that given moment...

In all seriousness, drugs are bad. Unless, they help your back (of course).

What do you think? I like the one with the hat personally...

Annie Earls signing out. My husband is now embarrassed by his own blog. I will be repremanded!

P.S. Random... as I was compiling this blog, one of my college roommates posted this picture of herself interviewing Screech?! What are the chances? Why are we all so famous?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Being a Chaplain is not being a pastor

I have been in the Navy Chaplain Corps for about 2 years now and I have come to some conclusions. One is that the chaplaincy is not like being a pastor. I don't think that anyone in the Chaplain Corps would say that being a chaplain and being a pastor are the same things, but the DOD says that 2 years of ministry experience (more than likely in a church) are needed before you can apply to be an active duty chaplain. My experience is that 2 years working in a church hardly prepares you for life as a chaplain.
In my experience (which again is limited) there are two lives for chaplains, your deployed life and your not deployed life. First the deployed life.
When you are deployed as a chaplain you experience the closest thing to being a pastor that you ever will as a chaplain. You have a certain group of Sailors or Marines in your care for an extended period of time (sometimes 6 months, most of the time 7 months, and maybe even up to a year). But even this situation is miles away from being a pastor. When you are deployed as a chaplain you live with all the people that you are ministering to, even those that don't want you there. You are a pastor to the people who view the church as an intricate part of their lives. You are a counselor to those who happen to go through difficult life situations during the deployment. You are an advisor to the command when situations arise that involve religion, ethics, morals....... And you are a waste of space to some people. It is funny you hear things like "why are you here?", "you don't even stand a watch", "you only help those people who are weak." This is as close as it gets to being a pastor.
Second, not deployed life. When you are not deployed you basically become a counselor. I have five ships that I cover with about 1500 Sailors total and my role is a first line counselor for these Sailors. These counseling sessions range from "I'm stressed out" to "I'm being abused" to "I think my marriage is over" and on and on. There are no sermons to give, no bible studies to run, maybe a change of command ceremony to pray at, or a retirement or two, but mainly it is counseling. Alot of counseling.
Now I felt called into the Chaplaincy since my junior year of college so I have had a while to prepare. Part of that preparation was to get in contact with as many chaplains as I could and to ask them what things they wish they would have known about before they entered the Chaplaincy. Every single chaplain I talked to said they wished they had more counseling training, so I took this information and tailored my Masters of Divinity to include as much counseling classes as possible. This has been a tremendous asset for me in the past two years and I imagine it will continue to be an asset as I move forward in my Navy career.
But because the Chaplaincy is so unique and different from the pastorate, I will more than likely (Lord willing) leave active duty Navy chaplain work after 9 or 10 years. My dreams are to eventually have a group of people that I can lead not just for months at a time but for years at a time.
So if you are thinking about the Chaplaincy or just interested in what we do, realize that it is not the same as being a pastor. No matter what anyone says.

God Bless
Josh Earls
Chaplain but pastor at heart.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Running For the Unborn: Support Alpha Women's Center

*This was sent out recently to get the word out about Alpha (Josh is one of Alpha's main runners), read below:

Why we are running the Fifth Third River Bank Run

…to provide a stronger voice for the unborn…to pound the pavement and declare our love for babies who have no voice. We are the Earls. Josh, Annie, and our little girl, Isabella. We represent Alpha Women’s Center of Grand Rapids and we believe every step we take is a physical declaration of our devotion to the born and unborn babies of West Michigan (and those around the world). My husband Josh is a United States Navy Chaplain and we are stationed in Norfolk, VA. Josh just returned from deployment where he covered two destroyers, the USS Winston S. Churchill and the USS Oscar Austin, both which were part of the Harry S. Truman Strike group in the Middle East. During Josh’s deployment, we (Annie and Isabella) traveled to West Michigan and we were able to spend time at the center witnessing the amazing services they offer. We just fell in love with the facility and the heart of the volunteers that serve there day in and day out. We watched young women get free GED preparation through Step Up. For these women, getting a GED truly provides that step in the right direction and Alpha fronts the bill for them...those GED's add up!

As a mother, my heart was so full walking through the halls of Alpha. Thinking of the choices for life that are made at Alpha, I cannot help but shed tears of joy. While Josh was deployed, our Isabella was diagnosed with autism so I understand what it’s like to feel a little lost or unsure about what our (and her) future will hold. The women who walk through the doors of Alpha are getting much needed guidance. They are given options, options for life.

The fact is, this pregnancy resource center provides services to women in need. These needs vary from the need for counseling and support, or maybe just physical necessities like diapers or formula. One of the most heartbreaking things I heard while visiting the center was that, on occasion, they run out of formula (per lack of donations) and cannot supply it to mothers in need. I picture these women walking out the doors feeling scared, looking into the eyes of their child and wondering where the next meal will come from. It’s hard to fathom as a mother. Keeping supply shelves stocked is a huge endeavor. Since Alpha is a non-profit organization, they rely fully on community support for financial helps and resources (diapers, formula, clothing, wipes, toys ect.). This is why we run. We run to raise awareness. Please support our efforts. Please support Alpha Women’s Center of Grand Rapids!

Please consider becoming involved in one of the following ways:

Why participate in the River Bank Run? With only 16 charities represented at the run, Alpha has a remarkable opportunity to broaden our audience from a few hundred to thousands giving a stronger voice for the unborn. The Run also allows us to raise much needed funds and resources for Alpha’s operations. We are excited to invite all of our friends who participate in our annual Life Walk to join us for the fun and exciting inaugural year of walking the 5K (3.1 miles) at the River Bank Run.

Walk or Run as an Individual
There are events for everyone! Enter the 5K Walk, 5K Run, 10K Run or 25K Run. Collect donations to support Alpha Women’s Center.

Support Alpha
Unable to walk or run? You can still support our efforts! Click on the Donate button on Alpha's page (below). They also accept donations through the mail by check or credit card. Their address is 1725 S. Division Ave. Grand Rapids, MI 49507. No cash donations please.

For more information on this run or to support these efforts, donate by sponsoring us: