Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Morning After

So last night I was stressed and writing is therapeutic for me so I decided in honor of Mental Health week I should share some of what I've been struggling with recently and try to help break the stigma.

And now, the morning after, I feel the stress of sharing things and opening myself up to judgment and criticism. Why would I try to break a stigma that is society wide? My blog is so lame. Why am I not as good of a writer as others who can put their blogs out there and so eloquently tell everyone what is on their minds so clearly? My post makes me seem pathetic and it barely even scratches the surface of how my mind unravels so quickly. What if others with mental illness read it and judge me because their experiences are different than mine? And cue the actual need for me to add a disclaimer to the top of my last post this morning.

Oy.

Luckily for me I have a wonderfully supportive husband who loves me no matter what. He will give me a minute to catch my breath and give the kids breakfast so I can try to chill a minute. In a lot of ways his love has saved me. He is really good at unconditional love. His love mimics God's love for us as best as I've ever seen. It's not that he's perfect, but he never ties his love for me to my actions. He just loves me. I constantly try to get him to feed my insecurities by asking him WHY he loves me. I'm so messed up and stressed all the time, why on earth would he love me? And usually he can't pinpoint it and that drives me nuts. I'm a list person. I can list for days the reasons I love him. But in reality, maybe it's a good thing he doesn't make a list. Because it's not up to me. No one quality makes him love me. Nothing I can do can earn his love. And that is the best reflection of God's love I can imagine.

So today I am going to try to focus on that instead of my blog and what everyone else thinks. Because I have four awesome kids and a ridiculously supportive, handsome, brave husband who does love me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On Mental Health Week

*Added Disclaimer: This is a glimpse into some of my experiences. Those of us who struggle with mental health all experience it differently, depending on our personalities and what's going on.*

This is Mental Health week. I only know because several of my friends have shared info-graphics on Insta. And the last 8 weeks or so have been brutal for me, so it felt good to get it all out here during Mental Health week. Most of all I hate pretending. I hate pretending I'm strong and okay when I'm not. But I'm good at pretending those things because I often feel like if I admit I'm struggling then someone else might need something more than I do and I might let them down. I will drown myself to keep everyone else happy and it's wearing my soul thread-bare. I love to think my family comes first, but to be honest, if someone needs something and I don't have planned family time, then I'll make time for their need and my family just gets leftovers. And I'm really bad at planning family time since I'm always "with" my family. It leaves a lot of room for unhappiness in my home, which is the worst type of failure because my biggest dreams were to have several kids and to have fun loving and living life together.

I know I've talked about my issues like anxiety, people-pleasing and perfectionism. But it feels right to discuss some of it together and in more detail. To, dare I say, confess some of it.

About 8 weeks ago the hubs and I had to address a situation that we didn't want to address. It was something that had already been eating at me for weeks. It was not received well. I do not handle people being upset with me well. Up goes the anxiety. What if they think I think I'm just judging them and trying to point out their flaws? I'm not perfect, who am I to bring up another's sin? Maybe I should not have said anything. What if they never speak to me again or avoid me? What if the whole church falls apart because of a fight I started by not letting this one thing go? These are all lies. Lies of the devil used to attack my mind, my weak spot. Truth sets us free and love, not judgment, causes us to help one another to stay in the light. But my mind wanders to doubt instantly when I make someone else hurt. My intention is never to harm another, but some amount of hurt is occasionally necessary. I often tie my self-worth to what others think of me though so mild displeasure over the fact I can't give someone a ride will turn into me scolding and berating myself for being selfish and letting someone down and then all of a sudden I'm a bad Christian because I didn't turn myself inside out to be at two places at once. Let me first say, this is not the issue of other people. People should be allowed to be disappointed and I should learn to deal with that. My no will not destroy their life. But, I apparently like to punish myself internally for not being all things to all people at all times and so on.

After that we went on a trip that we had been excitedly planning for months. I was miserable. Our vacation spot was about thirty minutes up a twisty walking path that pretended to be a road in the mountains. Okay, so maybe it was only like five minutes and just felt like thirty because I was white-knuckling the handles just waiting for us to plummet down to our deaths. Now, here is the stupid thing about anxiety. I love all sorts of things and I am excited to do them and then my anxiety takes over in the precise moment I should be enjoying myself and I become miserable and all those around me are miserable as a result. Of course, then I feel guilty. I was terrified on the way up the mountain at 3 am when it was dark and we had no clue where we were going and I couldn't even see the trees we might die on. The thing about anxiety for me is that once I start, I can't figure out how to put the brakes on and climb out. I was a nervous wreck to let my kids play outside because what if a grizzly bear came out of the woods and attacked them. All I want to do when I'm anxious is climb in bed with everyone I love and stay there in a safe cocoon until something transports us somewhere safe. That is not an option when you are on vacation. There are all kinds of expectations that everyone has and lying in bed analyzing fear and trying to meditate on God's word is not one of them. I have come to conclude that expectations are the friend of mental illnesses. High expectations that aren't met cause me depression. I am often in my mind the worst mom ever. If you try to tell me anything good that I do as a mother, then I will instantly discount it and surmise that you are ONLY telling me that because you feel sorry for me and so you're grasping at straws. It's not that I think you are lying, it's just that it doesn't feel valid because you likely wouldn't be telling me that if it weren't for me saying I felt like a terrible mother. See how terrible mental illness is? Anxiety is the fear of not meeting expectations. People-pleasing is the drug that gives me approval that I desperately want and therefore if everyone is not thrilled with me, then my world unhinges. Perfectionism is a control issue for me that tries to guarantee met expectations. It is awful. They are all inter-related but my triggers don't always seem to manifest clearly out of those, but usually they are somehow related.

So after that trip my anxiety was high and depression was lurking because I felt like I had not had as much fun as I would have if my anxiety hadn't shown up. Then, I had a falling out with a close family member, a blindsided unmet expectation because I wanted to improve the relationship with honesty and instead it damaged the relationship possibly beyond repair. I didn't understand how such good intentions could be interpreted so horribly so I obviously was a bad person. That same day I had another falling out with another person because I was attempting to salvage myself from the brink of despair and so I felt guilty for having my own needs and couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I was spiraling out of control mentally from all these things that were pulling on my mind. My mind doesn't shut off easily, I was still trying to figure out what was up with the first situation, now I had two more people upset with me and I was doubting all my actions. With four kids, it is near impossible to have them all happy all the time, but since that is always the goal, I'm always failing there. I was ready to shut down. I didn't know what was going to tip me over but I could feel the edges of that cliff.

Now here is the other catch with mental illness. It can't be shown or examined on an x-ray. So I can share all this and someone might say - you are just saying all this for attention. Or they may read this and think really? A vacation and someone unhappy with you is going to send you off the deep end? That is like the nail in the coffin for someone with mental illness. Because I already feel broken. I already know those things shouldn't unravel me. I have fought these things my whole life. For me, really I've fought not only with these things my whole life, but also with the added fear of having a mental breakdown. You see, mental illness runs in my family. My grandmother struggled and so does my father. I don't want to break down because I have a wonderful husband and four beautiful children counting on me and for which I should be deliriously grateful. Why on earth do I feel so awful? What do I really have to be unhappy about. I could go on and on. It's a circular reference of sorts (my accounting friends will appreciate that). But I don't know how to fix it.

I will tell you one thing I've done. I deactivated Facebook immediately. Facebook is one of my favorite things since I'm a people person. I love knowing what is going well in my friends' lives. I also like the feedback it can give. But when I'm struggling mentally, it's a very dangerous place to be. I worry over and analyze everything. Was that post aimed at me? Why are they posting like everything is fine when our relationship is in shambles? Maybe they never cared about me. I was foolish to value them so much because clearly I mean nothing to them. I am replaceable to everyone probably. These are thoughts that crowd my mind. I had to get off there as if my life depended on it.

I also pulled back. That is so hard for me, but I have spent the last 4 or so weeks in a bit of a cocoon, intentionally pulling back. My reflexes are usually to say yes always and to always be around people. But I have learned that is a recipe for disaster at times when my mental health is wavering. My husband suggested a date night and it is my impulse to invite our friends and I was secretly regretting it. I didn't want anyone else's expectations to worry about. I needed safety. But I invited them I guess because of habits, but when no one could go here is what I thought: a) Thank goodness and b) Why don't they want to spend time with us? Just inviting them gave me anxiety and made me depressed. Stupid, but it is the ugly truth. We also had plans for a movie that we had made quite a while before and I found myself dreading it. I was secretly relieved when one of my daughter's became ill and we had to cancel. I hate that. It wasn't anything against my friends, but when I'm struggling, I don't want to further let people down. It becomes a source of more stress and an occasion for more doubt, insecurity, depression and anxiety that any interaction that doesn't go well could be my undoing.

Thirdly, I took some advice from a friend and got a book on Boundaries. If you are a people-pleaser or if you can't say no - I highly recommend this book. It has helped me so much to a) just realize I'm not completely insane - this is a common problem and b) why I feel some of the ways I do as a result. I am having to learn that I am not responsible for others' happiness. I don't even think I realized I felt responsible for that before.

Lastly, I'm having to learn that me saying no is not being selfish. Sometimes being a Christian is used as a weapon. Well, you're a Christian but you won't help me? Even Jesus, the epitome of denying self, took time for himself. We can't give what we don't have and pretending everything is okay when it is not is the best way to fall off that edge. One thing about mental health that we have to realize is that if we don't take care of our own selves, no one will make us do it. If we keep giving and don't say anything then no one knows what our needs are. We joke about taking mental health breaks, but if you take one then you are seriously messed up. What is really wrong with this picture is that when you are physically ill, people can understand, but America does not understand and accept mental sickness. There is a stigma that only crazy people have mental illnesses and if you struggle then you can't function like a normal human. That is not true and only further isolates and damages the one who needs some help. Hiding the struggle is sometimes worse than the struggle. Even Jesus tells us the truth will set us free (John 8:32). If we don't confess our need for help and our struggles, we are preventing anyone from helping us and we are consequently hiding in the darkness. We must walk in light and part of that light is to confess our struggles.

If you love someone who struggles, please don't try to fix us or offer up advice. Listen, try to understand, but as someone experienced with mental health issues, your fixing can come across as validation that we are messed up and that is scary. Listening, seeking to understand helps us to feel normal. If you think the person needs immediate help, that is another story and you likely know what needs to be done. But most of the time struggling is okay and we just need help understanding that struggling is real and okay. We need to feel safe and we don't need more opinions and expectations to meet. You may need to give us permission to breakdown or validation that it is okay to seek medical help. Many people think seeking medical treatment for mental health issues is embarrassing. It should not be any more embarrassing than seeking help for a broken leg.

If you are struggling, please find someone you trust who will help you. If you have no one else, you can reach out to me and while I won't promise that I can help you, I can at least help you seek help. I love you and I know that God loves us so much that He allowed His son to die a terrible death and so He obviously thinks we are worth it. Sometimes we just need the tools in our tool belt to help us feel the truth of how much we matter and how much hope there can be for whatever our struggles are. Part of mental illness is feeling broken. Please hear me say that we may be beaten down and feel broken, but we are not unfix-able. Besides, God is pretty good at using broken people so you if you are honest enough to admit being broken then maybe God has a bigger plan for you then you had for yourself.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Flee All Appearances of Evil?

I have had a deep rooted understanding ingrained in my heart for most of my life. And I believe it may be wrong. Perhaps I misunderstood or perhaps the way it was presented was muddy. Or maybe the person teaching was just wrong or maybe it wasn't taught per se, but that was what I incorrectly took away. Regardless of how I came to understand this, we each have a responsibility to search the Word on our own and see what it really says. And occasionally I'm shocked and relieved to find I have been misunderstanding or misapplying something.

Over in 1 Thessalonians 5 we read the following:

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,[c] encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

I have believed (I think falsely) that as Christians, we are to keep our lives from any appearance of evil. And by that I mean we can't do things that would allow others to make false assumptions about us at a face value assessment of any circumstance. The above passage comes from the English Standard Version (ESV), but take a look, especially at verses 22 and 23, in the King James Version (KJV):

12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. 15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. 16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

See the difference? Abstain from every form of evil becomes abstain from all appearance of evil. Now, this is essentially the same thing, but taken out of context in a certain version, you can teach that we are to avoid every circumstance that may cause others to make assumptions about what we are doing if they don't know all the details. Especially if you take verse 23 in the KJV along side of it; it's easy to incorrectly tie our blameless condition with the appearance of evil. But being blameless is not the same as appearing blameless. God doesn't instruct us to be sure that we appear blameless, yet in essence, I have believed some version of this for much of my life. I don't believe this is a correct attitude, nor do I think it falls in line with how we as Christians should live. This leads to an attitude of weighing what we do against how people will interpret what we do. I admit, I have lived like this for years; it is incredibly difficult to live with this attitude. No matter what you are doing, no matter what your intentions, there will be people who will misinterpret your actions. Boy, I need to print this out and hang it on my wall! I have been absolutely devastated by people who came to me or to another party involved and gently pointed out why we/I shouldn't be involved in something because of how it appears. And when you highly esteem another's opinion, or that person in particular, you can begin to question your own motives and whether what you are doing is right. Consequently, I believe I have wasted a myriad of opportunities based upon the logic that I can't do such and such because if every person who knows me (or doesn't know me) didn't know all the details then someone might make the wrong conclusions and it might look bad.

So, I'm sure for some of you this seems like a "duh" moment. But for me, this is a paradigm shift. Other people's opinion of me makes up the very essence of my character; I often believe more about myself based upon another's opinion of me than what I know of myself. I try so hard to be sure I don't do anything that might look bad that I sometimes often do nothing at all. But lately I have been growing. And with growth comes pressure and tension as you start to accept new things that don't seem to fit with what you've believed all your life. And lately I haven't been satisfied with the way I am serving the Lord, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what made me so unsatisfied.

Now let me take a minute right here and ask that you not dismiss all this with the "raising your children is your service and work right now" bit. I know it is. And I agree with you. That is one piece of my work and service. But I do not buy for one second that the Lord expects me to put everything on hold in my life while I raise my children. That work should absolutely be my priority. When all the balls I'm juggling fall out of the air, that had better be the one I keep from dropping. However, I believe it is absolutely expected that I find opportunities to serve others while raising and teaching and training my kids. If I raise them in a bubble of Scripture, how will they ever see love and service in action? I don't believe it should wait until they are teenagers. Do I think the opportunities are different when raising young kids? Absolutely. It isn't likely practical that I take kids who are 4, 3 and 1 to go help a family move when my husband is working. In fact, I fear it would be dangerous as they are toddling around and could get hurt or in the way of someone and trip them up. And I'm sure the family appreciates me not allowing them to run around "helping" by breaking lamps and other items. But there are other things I can and should do. It is discouraging to me that I have to look so hard. It is not always easy to identify opportunities where I can take along four young children. And sometimes there are opportunities that I want to help with and cannot and that feels frustrating. But this is a season of accepting what I can do and humbling myself to do the things maybe I don't want to do because that is where opportunity lies. And that is not easy.

So, what does the difficulty in serving have to do with appearances of evil? Well, when you live by the belief you can never do anything if someone could assume something inappropriate and you already have limited ability to help others, you start to question why it is so difficult to serve God. And you start to realize there have been all kinds of struggles to serve and even opportunities you've missed over the years because you are limited to serving God only in ways that look good. And you start to reflect and contemplate and try to look to God's word and figure out how to make it all jive. Then you start to look at Christ's life. Did Christ live so carefully? I don't believe He did. Then, I came across something on my news feed. It was a quote by Francis Chan. He had this to say, "When we become overly concerned about our appearance, our spiritual reputation, our coolness, and our acceptance, we are living as citizens of this world rather than as ambassadors." Wow. That resonated with me. I live concerned about my spiritual reputation - as if others' perception of my Christian walk is what will judge me. But God is the one who will judge me. In fact, as I was considering all this, I realized something that was refreshing and brought freedom back into my Christianity.

From Matthew 1 (MSG):

18-19 The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).
24-25 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.



When God decided upon a way to bring Jesus, His SPECIAL son, into the world, He chose Mary, a virgin, as the vessel. He didn't pick a married couple that wouldn't raise any questions. I don't know why, but I do know God doesn't make mistakes. This miracle would have raised all kinds of questions and appeared as wrong as could be. Can you imagine what Mary and Joseph lived through? We know the truth now, but how many people do you think believed their story? I doubt there were many, if any, who believed Mary. Yet her response when God called her to this task was not "Lord, I can't do that, people will assume I had Jesus out of wedlock." Nor did she say "But Lord, that would dim my light to do that." No, her response was "Let it be with me just as you say" (Luke 1:38 MSG). Wow. Now this was a young lady who didn't stop to decide whether to serve based upon what others might think. This was a young lady ready to serve in whatever way she was called to serve, when the opportunity presented itself.

Now let me pause a moment and say that I am not suggesting we use our liberty to do things that are questionable. I'm not a proponent of doing things that are wrong to win souls. But I am saying we can't serve God if we are worried about what man will think about us. We should be careful to not get caught up in sin and it is a very fine line at times. And there will be things that perhaps you can't do because of your past that would put you in a position to lead you into sin. If you are an alcoholic who has put that behind you, I'm not sure studying the Bible in a bar every Tuesday night is wise. If you are easily tempted by improper relationships, then allowing a young person of the opposite gender to live in your home may not be wise. But because something may look bad or even be unwise for one, doesn't mean it is wrong for everyone else. In fact, perhaps deciding against taking an opportunity to shine our lights or to serve because people may whisper or assume the wrong things is just as sinful. I am not trying to draw lines for anyone with this post. I'm just a wife, mother and daughter of the Creator who is struggling to make the most of every opportunity, to be ready when called and to live in a way that truly emphasizes what God values and thinks of me above what man thinks of me.

The post that really got me thinking, from https://www.facebook.com/crazylovebook?fref=photo.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Confessions of a Resentful Mother

Confession Time. I think I am mad at God right now. I don't exactly feel mad at God, but it's no secret from my last few posts that I have not been thrilled at the idea of giving up my career. I know that it is ultimately my choice, but I feel like a sulking child who knows that I don't really have a choice. I have noticed I just feel indifferent right now which is sad and a little scary especially in admitting it to others. I want to be passionate about God, not indifferent.

So what makes me say that I am indifferent? First of all, I have not been praying regularly and have not tried as hard lately to fit in my study time. I guess maybe I should more accurately describe it as giving God the cold shoulder. I'm mad about my new circumstances, so I'm just not talking to or listening to God. Which is absolutely ridiculous. God does not need me. He doesn't need any of us for that matter. But I do need HIM. Especially now.

I've heard lots of people describe humankind as not caring about God when times are good; when everything is going well people feel like they can take care of themselves and are doing just fine without God. Then when they hit a bump in the road, they are begging for God to save them from whatever mess they are in. Well I am apparently completely backwards. I am so close to God when everything is going well in my life. It's like I can see so vividly all His love and care and compassion for me. But then, if things are not going my way, I get mad at God. I pout. I feel like the sinner in Luke 6:33 who does good only to those who do good to them. Apparently I'll praise God and love God as long as He doesn't ask too much of me. But perhaps somewhere down deep I feel God has crossed the line by requiring me to sacrifice my career. I'm embarrassed that this is how I am feeling. I know it is wrong and He loves me and cares for me through the good times in my life and especially the tough times. In fact, I am pretty certain giving up my career will make me a better mom and draw me closer to my children. I think God allows us these times in our lives to stretch us, allow us to grow. I know I will be better off and so will my kids. But I'm like an adolescent child who will do what is asked, while kicking and screaming. I am kicking and screaming in my heart.

Now, let me preface this by telling you that I have been very careful where my children are concerned in all of this. I do not want them to know how I have struggled with this. I'm trying to keep them from witnessing this battlefield I'm on. Maybe this is wrong of me. But I don't want them to see homeschooling as something Mommy cries about or is mad about. They are excited about it and I want them to stay excited. I haven't felt like they would understand fully and I don't want them to confuse my tears over my selfish struggle with being sad that I'll be home with them. So I have kept that hidden. They will be allowed to believe mommy is happy to homeschool them (and I am happy we have the opportunity to be able to do what we need to do) for now. Maybe one day the time will come to share this struggle with them so they can apply it to something they are going through, but not now.

So back to being mad. Like I said I'm not sure it's exactly anger. I guess it's almost like I'm determined to do this with the right attitude but without God. Why? It's foolish. I cannot explain to you how I can logically know the right course but allow my emotions to mislead me. One of my fears while making this decision has been that I would resent my children for needing me so much that I had to give up my job. Instead, the last few weeks have shown me that this is not the case. Instead I have resented God. What a fool I am. So right now I am doing the only thing I know to do. I'm leading my mind and my heart with my actions, not my emotions. This is nothing new to mankind though, really (Jeremiah 17:9). Following our hearts through emotion can get us into all kinds of trouble. I have had to do this before, with anxiety. I had to lead myself to move forward when my heart was afraid until my heart was no longer afraid. This time I will move forward, praise God, thank God and start forcing myself to communicate and listen to God even though my heart wants to ignore Him and pout. I will ask God to help me let my walls down and to accept this new trial with grace, humility and with an open heart. Because my heart cannot be trusted right now, I need to instead trust Him with my heart.

I share my confession with you because I hope you will be challenged to look into your heart and see any areas in which it may be misleading you. Perhaps it isn't misleading you now, but maybe this confession will remind you to guard your heart from wayward emotions that threaten to take you down the wrong path. And when you find yourself in that position, do not give in to your emotions. One thing is for sure, God transcends emotion. He is truth. He is love. These things are not dictated by emotion. They are facts and choice. So I will choose to believe the fact and continue to follow God and love God. I will acknowledge the facts that He is righteous and has the right answers. For now I will do these things because He has loved me and I choose to do so; even if I don't feel love, I will act out love. And hopefully in time I will quit acting like a child and be restored fully to the type of relationship I truly desire with my Father.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Forgiveness or Permission?

I read a blog entry the other day that I loved as it was challenging to modern day Christians. Many of us who wear the title of Christian struggle with gray areas and he addressed it beautifully here. In case you didn't go read it, in a nutshell he speaks about the attitude that accompanies the question of whether a Christian "can" drink alcohol and if so how much. Essentially what I believe he was really getting at was for us to examine what our hearts are telling us when we ask these types of questions. Perhaps instead of asking if we can, he points out, we need to ask whether we "should". His entry spurred me to explore this a little further and I think in so many ways this applies to all sorts of areas of our Christian walk. Maybe you don't see alcohol as a gray area. But more than likely the real issue that he is dealing with applies to ALL of us who strive to follow Christ.

For example, if you are a woman, you may struggle with modesty. Instead of asking if we can wear this or that type of swimsuit, skirt or blouse, we need to ask if we "should" be wearing it. What is acceptable in our culture does not make it right for us to exercise Christian liberty. There are so many sins that can arise both in our own lives due to immodesty and in the lives of those around us due to our immodesty. Never mind whose 'fault' it is (I'm not interested in blame or pointing fingers) - things happen due to questionable (or even what we may think is not questionable) attire. Any young man or woman on planet earth can likely identify with asking where the line is in regards to how far they can go before marriage. Yet if our heart is striving after the answer of how far we can go, it is likely we will be lead much further than where we originally thought our line was drawn. The state of our hearts is the issue that really determines how close to the fire we will get with any issue of potential sin.

In high school I first heard the adage "It is easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission." I think this reflects the attitude of our hearts when we ask "can I?". There are times this is acceptable - maybe when spending a little extra money or deciding whether to eat your spouse's leftovers from the night before. But in all spiritual matters, it seems ungrateful at best, completely unacceptable and sinful at worst to error on the side of asking forgiveness rather than seeking out with an open heart whether our actions are permissible. The price of our mistakes are too high to elicit such a flippant attitude - after all we were bought with Christ's life. Are we weighing our questions against the price paid or the pleasure we gain? And what about our influence on others? In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul addresses the Christian liberty in terms of our impact on those around us and he concludes that just because we have the right to do something that isn't sinful doesn't make it okay in every circumstance, especially where we may trip up another soul.

In all of these circumstances, no one can directly answer these questions for us. There is no verse that says your skirt should be at the knee or how many drinks are too many or whether kissing is the only acceptable activity unmarried men and women can participate in. In all the gray areas we face as Christians, we must carefully ask whether our hearts are seeking permission, or seeking to avoid any appearance of evil? Are we seeking what we want or what will bring glory to our Father in order to bring others into a reconciled relationship with Him? Proverbs 16:17 warns "The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives" (NIV). And while these examples I quickly looked at may not apply to you, I challenge each of us to examine our hearts to be sure that our culture has not allowed us such freedoms that we have lost our salt and light.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

When we started this parenting thing Before we started this parenting thing, we knew it would be difficult. But we jumped in anyway knowing the joys of parenting and the rewards would be better than the challenges. Right now we are in a part of our journey that is nothing but challenge. Nicolas, the oldest, the one we are basically learning on needs us so much right now and we are really feeling at a loss as far as how to parent him. He needs our attention (he is the only boy after all), he needs our unconditional love and most of all he needs our full on guidance. We have struggled the last several years with how to meet his needs and keep his heart open but guarded. And as many steps forward as we take, there have been huge signs this year that have been warning us that it's not working, that it's not enough. That is why we are taking drastic measures to try to intervene before he gets too old for our guidance. Before he knows way more than us and is too cool to want to spend time with us. Before he doesn't want us to intervene. By now you are probably wondering what on earth I mean by "drastic" measures. In a word: homeschooling.

Some of you are probably thinking that's not so "drastic" and some of you may be thinking, "Whoa, that's a little too drastic, don't you think?" In fact, most of those who know him best most likely feel that he is not that bad, doesn't need that much intervening, but there are things that I won't share that worry us. Worry us enough that we are not willing to wait any longer to see if our baby steps are working. So we are pulling him out of public school and going to devote our time to being sure he gets the right teaching, enough attention and the constant guidance we feel like he needs.

I know there will be those who question our decision. But I know it is the right decision. How do I know we need to do this? Because despite the many, many tears I've shed, I have not waivered upon the course of action that Richard and I have decided upon. Despite the pain that I've been fighting with, the war in my soul that stems from my own selfish desires to keep the career that I've worked my whole life to have, for now, I am willing to walk away from my career for my son. In a short few years he will be out of my house and I will find work to do. But now is the only time available for intervening. After we've walked down the path with him, there are no do-overs. There is no way to take bigger steps down the road. The big steps must come now. The most painful steps must come now in order to prevent more pain from a wayward child later that is undoable.

There is one more way I know we are doing the right thing. Perhaps the most important way I know what we are doing is right. In Deuteronomy 6 we find the instruction God gives the Israelites. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

For some kids, it is possible to impress upon them the right values during the little time they spend with their parents outside of the school walls, the words from the doorframes of home are enough during the seven to eight hours they are away, and the symbols on their hands are an effective reminder when they enter those playgrounds. For others, the influence of the world at a young age is too much. This is where we believe we are with him. Most likely we didn't give him enough of a foundation before school started. But the world is also different. Schools are different and it is too much for him. We are not willing to stand by and let him go down a well-intentioned but misguided path. Our hope is that eventually he will be able to return to public schools and be a light to friends, but we also recognize that it may take the rest of his school years to prepare him to navigate the pitfalls of our society on his own. Either way, the most important purpose of life is to glorify our maker and to introduce others to Him. We feel like we are failing in certain areas with our own son and we want to rectify that before it's too late. I refuse to stand before God without my entire family next to me without a fight. I refuse to let Satan claim the souls of any of my children without a fight. We know Satan is on the prowl and searching for those precious souls that he can devour (1 Peter 5:8). We will not make our children easy prey.

In sharing this hard journey with you, I ask for a few things in return. First, please pray for us. For me, specifically as I take on this ginormous task of educator in addition to being Mom while attempting to put him back on the right track. For Richard, as he leads our family and shows our little guy what being a man in today's society is really all about. And that it would not be too late for us to counteract the not so good job we feel we've been doing the last eight years. Please pray that he will feel the love we have for him in giving up everything required to be sure we are giving him what he needs. Secondly, I ask that if you cannot manage to speak words in support of our decision, that you say nothing at all. This has been an extremely difficult decision for us, one that we weren't prepared to make previously, and one that we've closely guarded from others at first. We need more than anything the support of those around us. If not for us, most importantly for Nic. So far, he is excited about Mommy being his teacher starting this fall. Please don't discourage or take that from him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Curveballs and Casting Off My Right Arm

I generally feel like this stage of my life is devoted to my kids and while I do not come anywhere close to having the parenting gig figured out, I mostly feel like I am thrilled to be mommy and all that comes with it (including the days where I'm at my wits end). But as any of you who are parents know, there is always, repeat always a curveball. Every time things seem to start to level out on a good, even keel, whizz, another curveball.

I'd say our first curveball came when my husband was in basic training and the Twin Towers fell. Yeah. THAT was a curveball. Then when he was in an apprenticeship as a carpenter; the economy had just started to tank and as apprentice, you are high on the list of workers to be let go. So for 16 months he was out of work. Not quite four months after we welcomed our second child, oops, I was already pregnant again! Curveball. Then, we were "done" having kids, but we found out we hadn't planned well enough because I was pregnant with baby #4. There went another curveball. The newest curveball has affected me as deeply as allowing another human being live off my body for nine months and has caused my hormones to go as crazy as much as any pregnancy.

Curveballs are fine and manageable when you've allowed for them in your planning. However, they are really hard to face head on when they require the complete torching of what all your hopes, plans and dreams of motherhood had shown. Well, because, me being the planner I am, I had this carefully constructed idea of what motherhood looked like. How my life would play out. I thought I was sacrificing when I chose my major in college, picking one that would allow me to hopefully work from home or part-time so I could be with my kids as much as possible. I gave up the pursuit of other, higher profile careers that didn't fit in with my idea of motherhood. Come to find out, the major I thought I was settling for was actually the best fit for me and has opened so many doors for my family. And there have been other sacrifices that really didn't cost that much as well. Especially since all along my story had been playing out as planned. More or less. Yes, there had been our curveballs, but things were still on track.

This last curveball has required me to prove to myself that I am all in with this mommy thing and put my money where my mouth is where sacrificial love is concerned. It's not that the sacrifice I'm being called to make is really all that big of a sacrifice to anyone but me. But it is at the heart of what so much of my life has been about. There are only a few extremely important things that I allow to define me (maybe more than a few, but that's another post) and I'm being required to give up one those extremely important-to-me things. Think about what you need to survive - air, food, water, right? But it is really nice to have both arms and both legs in life, right? Well, I'm having to give up my right arm. My dominant arm. No, wait, not really. I'm not cutting off my right arm. But essentially I feel like I am. I am literally in mourning over the death of my right arm. I'm being a bit too dramatic perhaps, but that is how I feel. I don't know how I will feed myself without that right arm. Seriously, what I get for myself out of this right arm helps nourish who I am. Who I have been. Who I thought I was. I don't know who I am without this right arm.

And maybe this is how it should be. Mark 9:43-47 reads If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell

Perhaps I need to cast off my right arm (at least for now) in order to save my children. To be the best mommy I need to be for them right now. Although the right arm is not the offender, perhaps it's a distraction from more important things. Because let's face it, it would be worse to know my children were suffering than for me to actually suffer. Hell is more than the suffering I would experience if I wound up there - Hell would be knowing I hadn't done EVERYTHING I possibly could do to train my children in life's real purpose - to glorify God and bring others into reconciliation with Him.

So, obviously for now, I'm not ready to share more specifics, but I will soon. There will be more to come as I come to grips with our new curveball. And so if we are talking and I start crying and blubbering over the loss of my right arm, you'll have to excuse me.