Saturday, December 24, 2016

Joy: The Third Light of Advent

Joy.


As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, joy is a hard thing for me to comprehend.  

The Google definition of joy is "a feeling of great pleasure and happiness." 

No... that's not it.  For while I struggle with joy at times, I have experienced it.  And that definition is quite simply awful. 

It's not a feeling, at all.  It's a mindset.  It has almost nothing to do with pleasure and happiness, because it can be found in situations that aren't at all pleasant or happy. 

Once again, I go back in my mind to June of 2014, when my oldest child's head was broken into pieces and made new. When the scalpel was a hair's breadth away from her brain stem. As she was carried away from me, crying because of "happy juice" gone wrong... as my baby girl was in the arms of the anesthesiologist instead of her mommy... I smiled.  No other parent that I saw that day was smiling.  Hospitals are not full of smiling. 

So why did I smile?  Because of my mindset.  Because I had fought as if my life had depended on it... because hers had.  Because I had researched and called and argued and yelled and demanded.  And someone had listened.  And so while there was absolutely nothing "happy" about my baby girl's brain sitting exposed on the operating table... while there was no "great pleasure" that my daughter's skull, the one created in my womb, was lying in pieces on a sterile field being analyzed for parts that could be split in half while her brain expanded after having been squished for over two years... 

I knew it was for her good. I trusted her plastic surgeon, after nearly losing faith in the entire medical community.  I trusted her neurosurgeon.  I trusted her anesthesiologist.  I trusted the team they'd assembled to be in that operating room.  And above all, I trusted the God Whose hand was over every hand holding a drill, a saw, a scalpel. I trusted the God who'd allowed doors to be slammed in my face and mistakes to be made.  Because He knows every day of her life.  He loves her more than I do.  
And so, I smiled.  

Not because I wanted her to be in pain.  Oh no... but because I knew that pain would allow her to grow.  I knew that great suffering would give her a chance to not suffer so much later.  I knew that very hard thing would give her a chance in life. 

And so... having experienced that joy... why is it so hard to keep hold of in my daily living? 

I've seen several people recently use the phrase "stole my joy."  I've used it myself at times.  And yet... no.  No one stole your joy.  We laid it down, at the street curb, with a sign saying "free," when we picked up something else.  We picked up perfectionism, worry, anger.  It may disguise itself as an overloaded schedule, an out of control budget, a family squabble.  

I watched it happen in myself just last night.  I laid down shortly after midnight, and as soon as I did, I started going through the list of all the stuff I needed to do today.  And I very quickly had the thought "how am I going to get all this done, oh my goodness, it's going to be crazy. Why did I promise I'd read the girls that really long Christmas picture book?!"  But thankfully, I've learned something in this last year.  I stopped.  And I put down the perfectionism.    

If we don't get to decorating Christmas cookies today, it's okay.  The girls will be fine as long as I promise, and then keep the promise, to make them next week.  And none of the ingredients will spoil.  The basement doesn't have to be perfectly clean and organized.  It's SO much better than it was, there's room for the kids to play and mom and dad to sit. So there's a few more bags of stuff that need to be organized.  Throw it in a box and stick it on a shelf and call it good enough for now.  

There's only one Christmas Eve in 2016.  Only one Christmas Eve when my children are 5, 4, & 2 1/2.  This is it, the only chance I get.  Why am I going to spend it trying to get things perfect?  Why am I setting my joy on the curbside with a "free" sign stuck to it?  Put their last gifts in boxes and let them help wrap their own presents; they'd love that!  Let them be in the kitchen with me and make letters out of the sweet potato peelings.  Let them help me vacuum, not because it's so important that the carpet be vacuumed but because they like helping me vacuum, even though it slows me down. 

Joy.  It's a gift that can't be stolen, any more than grace could be stolen.  I'm taking it back off the curb and throwing the "free" sign in the trash.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Peace: The Second Light of Advent

Peace. 

When I think of peace, for the last few years I've thought of the peace I experienced during Ladybug's surgery.  It truly was peace beyond understanding; I had never heard of any parent being that calm during surgery, and I haven't met anyone since with the same experience.  

And while I'm grateful for that experience... it's time to move on.  Because peace isn't something you just need in the midst of a crisis... it's something you need on a daily basis.  Because it isn't the big things that wear us down... it's the day to day stuff.  

So I've looked back on that experience in Dallas to see if I could somehow replicate that peace in my daily life.  How did I manage to have such peace while my daughter's skull was taken off and broken into pieces?  And the ultimate reason was that there was nothing left for me to do.  

I was completely incapable of doing anything for Ladybug at that point.  Thousands of miles from home, there was nothing to clean.  Stranded in a huge city with no vehicle and little money, there was nothing to make.  I was confident that I had found the absolute best surgeon in the nation at that time.  I'd prayed and prayed, and people all over the country were praying, so what was the point of praying more?  

There was nothing left for my perfectionism to do. 



In daily life... closed fists, clinched jaw, lack of peace seems to be my lot.  I am a perfectionist, although to look at my house you wouldn't think it.  But the state of my house is a symptom... because, if I can't do it perfectly, I just don't do it.  The concept of just doing a small piece of a task is foreign to me.  I can't just start putting together a budget binder; first I have to do a detailed analysis of the previous 12 months' spending, have every bill charted with its averages, minimums, and maximums, have every bill I've received in the last year placed neatly into a folder in chronological order with the details plotted on a separate sheet of paper... Doing 15 minutes of work on something without that being enough time to finish it? Crazy.  Starting to organize without having plenty of pretty colorful bins to organize into? What's the point?

And when I start something, and then make a mistake... start exercising, but miss a day... start eating healthy, but then eat a cookie... I give up.  Cause I've failed, so what's the point? I obviously can't do it right, so what's the point of trying?  It's hopeless. I'll never change.  I'm destined to be the person I don't want to be. 

This year, I was fortunate to join a study of The Search for Significance, and much of what this advent video said reminded me of what I've learned through that study.  That we don't need to do more to be acceptable to God, that it's not about trying harder, being perfect... it's about accepting the gift that God has given us.  And that Jesus is the source of peace, because He was perfect.  He's already accomplished that so we don't have to. So I don't have to. 

I sat and watched a section of my Christmas tree go dark last night.  I looked up when the bottom of the tree suddenly glowed much brighter, and realized a lot of lights on that strand had gone out. But the ones remaining were very bright... all the electricity that had been dispersed through all those bulbs was now going through a third of the original number. But it was too much, and it wasn't long before those burned out, leaving a section of the tree noticeably dark. 

And as corny as it may be, I thought of myself.  My answer for last year was to try harder.  I'd dropped balls, and 2016 was going to be the year I managed to juggle everything.  So I sat through goal setting videos and had my notebook full of detailed goals.  I was burning brighter.  

But it was too much.  And I was trying on my own.  By the might of my own perfectionist willpower I was going to handle it all and turn my life around. Till I lost the notebook. I burned out. 

Now, a wiser person than I might have opted to just rewrite her goals.  Nope.  Not I.  I needed to find that notebook.  Eight months later, I still haven't found that notebook.  And rather than working towards what I remembered of those goals, I gave up until I found that notebook. Which means I've gone pretty much nowhere with my goals. I went dark.  

I find myself in similar messes as I was in this time last year.  I'm overcommitted, again. I'm not being as intentional as I need to be with the kids, again.  I'm not being the wife I want to be, again.  My finances are a mess, again. My house is a mess, again.  I'm not drinking enough water, not exercising enough, not eating healthy enough, again. 

Why?  Because I had to be perfect, and I had the perfect system, and I lost it.  So clearly, it wasn't the perfect system, or else I wouldn't have lost it! 

But I don't have to be perfect.  Jesus already achieved that.  And if I focus on the truth that I'm already deeply loved, fully accepted, completely forgiven... that can give me the courage to just start, even if I might fail, and when I fail, I can try again. I'm never hopeless... And I can have peace. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hope: The First Light of Advent

Hope.

This last year, I've struggled with this word.  I remember asking, what does "hope" really mean?  What is it?  Because whatever it is, I think I've lost it. 

Thankfully, someone pointed me directly to the Scriptures.  So I started a word study... looking up every reference to "hope" in the online Bible.  There are 17 references to "hope" in the small book of Job, and I got stuck there.  

It was as if I were sliding down a muddy slope, and my foot caught on a rock and I stopped with a jolt.  For in the midst of a rant, in the middle of anger and frustration and likely yelling at his friends to just shut up, that they weren't helping... Job speaks truth.  And he quickly goes back into his rant, but for one short phrase... 

"Though He slay me, still I will hope in Him." (Job 13:15a)

For someone in the darkness of depression, for someone angry about her circumstances, for someone fearful for what medical tests will find in her child, fearful for what they won't find: answers... For someone nearly in despair that things will ever get better, that things will ever work out... 

That stopped me in the middle of my angry, hurt, trending towards bitterness steps. 

I latched onto that verse like a lifeline.  I memorized it, listened to this song over and over again. 



And I carried on, and God provided, and some things I'd despaired of did get better, and God blessed at times I didn't deserve it.  



And so Christmas season came and I watched this video. And I watched it again... and again... because I've struggled with hope.  I had felt like the flickering light of hope had gone out of my life... but it hadn't.  I'd had a choice... to refuse to hope, to say, "there's no way," "this is horrible," "God can't be in this."  Or... to say "I don't see it, but God..." "I can't imagine how this is going to be okay, but God..." "It stinks, but God..."  

And that was where I'd found and settled on the mystery.  The mystery of man's choice and God's sovereignty.

That somehow, God was absolutely, 100%, involved and in control of every single facet of my life, of my child's life.  That He'd been there in the midst of the DNA, He'd been in the offices where mistakes were made, He'd been in the operating room.  He'd been with me in that horrible rental house, He'd been there in the plumbing fiasco, He'd been there when I'd blown it financially.  He'd been there to provide... financial assistance, physical help, encouragement.

And at the same time, I could choose.  I had the responsibility to choose.  I had to choose, each day, if I was going to hope in God, or hope in myself.  I had to choose if I was going to bless the Lord or curse Him. I had to choose if I was going to become the person I desperately didn't want to be, or if I was going to be the woman I'd dreamed of being.


I've lived as a convenient Calvinist for years... but in the end, Scripture teaches that I am responsible for my choices.  For whether I get out of bed and serve my family or lay around and be lazy.  For whether I trust Him or worry.  For whether I obey Him or try to work things my own way. And Scripture teaches that He ordained every day of my life before I was ever born.  He chose some vessels for honor and some for dishonor. And it doesn't make sense, but I trust Him.  I don't have to understand.  I simply have to obey.

And so... the stump.  Whatever my stump is... Where my dreams didn't exactly work out. Montana. Chiari. ASD/SPD.  C-secs. Nursing school.  Family.  

In Jesus, there's more.  There's more than I can see.  

And so, there's hope. Always hope.  That God takes my stumps, my disappointments, my heartache, and forms something beautiful from them.  Whether I see it or not. Because He sees the big picture... the picture of all eternity. 

And He loves me.  And in that... there is hope. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving: What If?






Thanksgiving.  Lots to be thankful for.  

But what if? 

Looking over the things I put on our "blessings tree," I stop to consider, how many could be taken away? 

Of the 23 things I listed, only four or five are sure, undestroyable things. The cross. Music. Dr. Fearon, because that's connected to an event in the past that can't be undone. Different seasons. And friends, because odds are I will never be the only non-enemy in any area. 

Image result for syrian children's hospital
Link
But everything else could be taken away. The four family members can be taken away. Working plumbing and clean water aren't guaranteed. Lake Superior, while not likely to disappear, is on my list because I see it every year.  If I can't travel, that might as well be gone. Trees and my house can burn. Books and libraries can be destroyed. Fear can replace safety, Bibles and worship can be forbidden. Vehicles and airplanes can break down. Internet access can disappear in an instant. 

Image result for syrian children's hospital
Link 
These pictures may not be necessarily recent. But they did happen.  They are real.  Those were real people, at a real moment in time.  
PHOTO: Syrian civil defense volunteers and rescuers remove a baby from under the rubble of a destroyed building following an air strike on the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 28, 2016.
Link

What if that came here? 

To America?  To Montana?  

And Thanksgiving Day came?  

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:18

ALL circumstances. Not just when we have 4 walls and a roof. Not just when we have a husband and children.  Not just when we have a table full of food.  Not just when we're healthy.  Not just when we're safe.  

When we're not safe. When we're not healthy.  When we're alone.  When we're in need. 

Give thanks. 

How?  If that was my child in those pictures... if that was me screaming... if that was my husband pulling babies from the rubble... if that rubble was my house...

Give thanks. 

I searched for a Thanksgiving playlist on Amazon this morning and found this album.  The first song was a hymn I've not heard in awhile, but it's one of my favorites. And in that song is the answer for what I could give thanks for if those pictures became my life. (Praise and thanks can be synonyms; we praise God for His goodness, we thank God for His goodness.) 

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
to His feet thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, 
evermore His praises sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Praise Him for his grace and favor
to our fathers in distress;
praise Him still the same forever, 
slow to chide and swift to bless:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Glorious in His faithfulness.

Father-like, He tends and spares us; 
well our feeble frame He knows;
in His hand He gently bears us,
 rescues us from all our foes.

Alleluia, alleluia! 
Widely yet His mercy flows.


Angels, help us to adore Him;
ye behold Him face to face;
sun and moon bow down before Him, 
dwellers all in time and space.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

What's On Your Mind?

I just wanted to record my reading progress on Goodreads. I like seeing my reading habits through the years, and Goodreads has been a fun easy way for me to do that. 

But the Goodreads included on my Kindle Fire just didn't want to let me do that.  Instead, it kept telling me to "share your thoughts." 

And that got me to thinking... so I logged onto Facebook.

Sure enough, Facebook asks me "what's on your mind?" 

Which got me to thinking in light of a verse that caught my attention this morning, 1 Timothy 6:4. 

"They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction"
What if I spent less time sharing my thoughts?  My thoughts.  And what if I spent more time on God's thoughts? 

What if I was slower to share what is on my mind?  Because when I start spouting about what's on my mind, what tends to happen?  Controversies.  Quarrels.  Words resulting in envy.  Strife.  Malicious talk.  Evil suspicions.  Constant friction

Ouch. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Life Facebook Free

I've been Facebook free for 3 days.  

And I almost succumbed this morning. 

"Just one check" I thought this morning.  "I won't post anything, I just want to see what's going on."  

Addiction.  It seems absolutely crazy to me that a single website can have this sort of effect on a person's mind.  My mind.  But it does.  It is absolutely an addiction.  My finger just starts to type that "f." It's a craving, to see a glimpse into other people's lives.  

And why?  I really have no idea.  Because I know, if I log on, I will find myself in a time vortex... my minutes and hours sucked away, never to be regained.  I know I will find myself emotionally upset over people's opinions of the current political situation.  I know I will then be less patient with my children, less engaged with them, get less accomplished in my house, do less teaching, less reading, less serving.  My mind will be filled with the clutter from other people's lives. I'll feel like I "know" people when I don't talk to them in real life.  I'll feel like I have friends when I only know what they choose to share with the world.  I'll be tempted to put my own opinions on there.  My own reaction to things.  

Am I sharing my own opinion right now?  Absolutely, but I think a lot more when writing a blog post than I do when posting a status on Facebook. 

What has happened in my life in the 3 days I've been off Facebook?

I've listened to an online mom conference and learned about emotional coaching, willpower depletion as moms, involving children in the kitchen, having an identity as a person while mothering, budgeting, housekeeping, planning a personal retreat, and raising un-entitled children.  Today, I'm going to learn about decluttering my home, mind and soul, about being a wife for life and succeeding in marriage, and about effective exercises for moms.  

I've realized how much I am an approval addict.  I've processed my childhood and its effects on me.  I've realized it's my responsibility to replace lies that I was taught with God's truth.  I've realized it's time for me to take ownership of my own life, my own happiness.  I've had impressed on me the need to repair areas of my life.  

I've revisited my study of the armor of God, picked up my prayer cards again, prayed for people specifically and followed up with some.  

I've looked over what God's been teaching me for the entire last year... how much He loves me.  And I've thought of how many ways that's been whispered in my ear and shouted in my face.  I've thought about the consequences of beginning to understand that truth.  I've pondered the consequences that could come from fully allowing that reality envelop my mind and heart.  

3 days.  And I've promised to be Facebook free for another 3 weeks, minimum. 

When I look at the consequences of only 3 days, I'm able to resist the temptation.  :)  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

On Ladybug's 2nd Cranioversary

Two years.

Two years since I handed my wailing 2 year old to an anesthesiologist in Texas.  

Two years since I watched her carried towards an operating room staffed with a minimum of 4 doctors.

Two years since I took a Dallas city bus, wearing my 8 week old baby boy, to a Waffle House, while my oldest daughter's scalp was being cut in a zig zag, her never-cut baby hair pulled in many tiny ponytails away from the incision. 

Two years since I ate two eggs scrambled, hashbrowns scattered smothered, and the best coffee on earth, while my little girl's skull was marked, cracking apart at the first incision from the pressure inside, removed, and laid on a sterile field. 

Two years since I sat in the shade of a bus station waiting to return to the hospital, while my little girl's skull was examined for the parts thick enough to be broken in half, so that the pieces could be overlapped to completely cover her brain. Parts weren't thick enough.  They'd been worn thin by the pressure from her brain.

Two years since I rode a city bus back, while my little girl's brain was covered by remodeled pieces of her skull, this time, with plenty of room for her growing brain.

Two years since I sat in that surgery waiting room, watching the screen, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting... thinking it was much later than they'd said they'd be done.

Two years since I walked to the PICU waiting area and met her two primary surgeons.  I'll never forget asking them, "Did I do the right thing?"  


Two years ago, I was filled with such hope.  Hope that my child would be normal, pain free, that we could put all this cranio and Chiari nonsense behind us.  Hope that she'd no longer need early intervention, hope that she'd have absolutely no need of special ed, hope that she would be... normal. 

One year ago, I didn't celebrate inwardly as I thought I would on that day two years ago.  Some things had improved, but there were still things that I thought would magically go away... and they hadn't.  I sat staring at another MRI, wondering if another surgery would cure my child.  Fix her.  Make her normal.  And I dreaded the evaluation that was coming just 7 days later. Dreaded what they would say about my child that I'd moved heaven and earth for...

Today, I celebrate.  Today, I am again filled with hope.  Not a hope that my child will be normal.  She's not normal.  And I wouldn't change that for anything.  It's what makes her special.  She thinks differently than I do... than most people do... but in all honestly, she thinks better than most people do.

No, today, I am filled with hope, because hope is a gift from God.  It's not something I can muster up.  But it's something I can claim.  So this is my prayer for my oldest, my broken and mended tea cup.

 do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might  that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

On World Autism Awareness Day

It is my family's first World Autism Awareness Day.  But I'm not lighting it up blue.

In a way, it seems strange that this is the first time we're a part of this day.  It feels like autism has been a part of lives far longer than 10 months. But that's because it has.  It's been a part of our lives for 4 1/2 years.

What I wish parents facing diagnosis, avoiding diagnosis, or dealing with a recent diagnosis could realize, is that a diagnosis doesn't change their child.  We have only officially been an autism family for 10 months, but we have been an autism family since the moment my oldest daughter was born.

From the moment they placed her in my arms at a couple hours old, and she didn't lock eyes with me, we were an autism family.  My first acknowledgement of it came standing next to the changing table when she was nearly 8 weeks old, telling my husband "no one told me she wouldn't pay any more attention to me than she does to a wall.  It's like she doesn't even look at me.  I'm just an object."  First time mom, I didn't know that not all babies were like that.  I thought people had just made up that magical moment of your newborn gazing into your eyes.  Until I experienced it just 11 months later, when my second daughter was placed in my arms and opened her eyes and looked at me.

I still feel like an object.  I commented recently, one early morning as she ran right past me to retrieve her blocks, "I'm just the thing that opens her door."  Every night we hug and kiss and say "I love mommy" because that's our bedtime ritual.  But it's motions, obedience.  Tiny arms entwined around my neck squeezing tight?  That comes from the younger two.

Does she love me?  Probably.  In her own way.  And that's the way it is with everything.  She does things in her own way.  In her own time.  It doesn't fit anyone else's definition.  It doesn't fit anyone else's timetable.  She makes her own lines, and then colors in them. She has her own world, and it doesn't really line up with everyone else's.  She's a square peg in a world of round holes.  She marches to the beat of her own drum.  She sings in a key all of her own.  Loudly.

So why no blue?

For one, my daughter is just that... a daughter.  A girl.  And continuing to focus on autism being a blue diagnosis, a boy diagnosis, is a disservice to the many girls who struggle.  Girls hide the symptoms better, and normal boys can sometimes be misdiagnosed by untrained doctors whose ideal boy is a girl.

But the biggest reason is that the organization behind Light It Up Blue is focused on finding a cure.

My daughter does not need a cure for her autism.

A cure for the Chiari.  Absolutely.  Please. A cure for the Crouzon Syndrome.  I'll take it.

But leave her autism out of it.

She's not disabled by autism.  She just thinks and processes differently.  And thank goodness for that.
She's intensely logical.  She could care less whether the snow likes her or not.  She asks why it's funny to throw whipped cream in someone's face. She finds patterns, sees the world in numbers, and she is not going to be hoodwinked by a politician who sounds good but has no numbers to back him up. Different perspectives are valuable.  Why would I want to "cure" that out of her?

So I don't "feel" loved by her.  So what?  Love is so much more than a feeling.  She reminds me of that every day.  She does not inspire warm fuzzies in me.  Trust me, when you're dealing with a child having a meltdown, or covered in feces at an age long past the cute butt stage, there are no warm fuzzies.  But love is an action.  It is fixing food, putting it on the correct color plate, cutting it in the correct number of pieces.  It's learning to turn socks inside out so they don't feel "tight" on toes.  It's building an indoor treehouse so she has a place to be alone.  It's correcting speech over and over until strangers can understand her. It's protecting her routines.  It's fighting for medical care.  It's analyzing MRI's and CT's, changing bandages, educating nurses.

It's being okay with the first morning greeting you get being: "Elephants live in Africa.  Africa is a long way.  I'll fly in my purple rocket ship all by myself to Africa to see the elephants.  There are chips and vegetables in my rocket ship.  Cucumbers are vegetables.  I'll use a knife to cut the cucumbers into ten circles.  I'll be careful with the knife.  Eh eh eh elephant.  Elephant starts with E. Fff ff ff frog.  Frog starts with F. Ggg gg gg G.  What starts with G?  Grape starts with G.  I like grapes.  Can I come out and eat grapes?"

It's looking at this brain and simply marveling at the way it works. Even if it doesn't work quite like your own.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Missions

Disclaimer:  I have never been on a mission trip, either local, domestic, or foreign.

I'm going to make a bold statement.

Short term mission trips are the Christian high.

Since I have never personally been on a mission trip of any sort, I am basing this opinion solely on the descriptions given by my many friends and acquaintances who have been on them.  Words I've heard used repeatedly include "amazing,"  "incredible,"  "life changing," "transforming."  They talk about the people they got to see converted, the testimonies of people who have so little, how much they felt led by God to go, how much they depended on God during the trip, how close they felt to God while they were there, how great the worship and prayer was.  And often, how much they want to go back.

Mission trips, I believe, are valuable.  They are worthwhile.  They bless the people they serve, they bless the people who go, they make a difference.  I'm not challenging that at all.  I would like to go on one some day, with my teenage children.

But in all honesty, I think an equally difficult "calling" is to stay behind.

It's easy to give your testimony to strangers.  Not that it doesn't take guts, not that your voice won't tremble or that you won't be nervous.  But all those strangers know about you, is what you chose to tell them.  They have no history with you.  They have never had you cut them off in line, or heard you say something hurtful about someone else.  They have no future with you.  They won't see you next week chewing the cashier a new one because she overcharged you.  They won't see your reaction to a neighbor complaining about your dog barking.  They won't witness the cold anger when your spouse forgets to bring the ketchup to the picnic and the kids refuse to eat their burgers without ketchup.

It's easy to appear "spiritual" for a week or two.  To spend time in prayer when you have morning and evening devotion time set aside.  To follow God's leading for each day when you have no 9-5 job to go to, no kids to shuttle to school, no household maintenance to do. To help others when that is all you're there to do.

But when you're home... when you're in the day to day drudgery.  That person in the parking lot that can't get their car to start.  But you're running late to work because they never schedule enough workers and the person in front of you wrote a check for $4 and you just need to get there with your tray of donuts because you forgot it was your day to bring snacks to work and your wife is mad because you didn't mention this till 9:30 the night before.

That kid that is so loud and bouncing all over the place but you have so much patience with and so much love for because they have nothing and are in an orphanage and you're there to serve.  But when you're home... and it's your kid.  And they know better.  They have so much.  So many advantages.  And they are on your last nerve.  And they are angry because their pj's won't zip exactly right and they yank them off and throw them at you and the zipper hits you in the face.  And you're tired, because you've battled this kid all day, and you just can't handle one more fit.

I'm not saying people who go on mission trips are awful people when they're home.  Not at all.  I do think it's important to realize that God has us in the here and now for a reason.  I would love to go to an orphanage and love on some kids.  But right now, I can't do that.  It's not my time.  I am to be here, loving on my own kids.  And it's hard.  It's SO hard to love on my kids right now.  I'd rather go love on some under-privileged kid, because that'd be a vacation to me.  But right now, I have a job to do, here.

I have a mission field in my own home.  Because my kids watch my every move.  They see my attitude.  My love is how they understand the love of God.  That is a very weighty task, to model the love of God, day in and day out.  It'd be easier if I only had to put up with them a few weeks. But I am here for the long run.   And it's tough.  Think of how many hours a parent puts in, in exchange for the salvation of their children.  The training, the discipling, the repentance prayer that reassures you but that you can't just rest in and say "well, they're saved now so I'm off the hook."

This day to day... it's not glamorous.  It's not exciting.  It's not exhilarating. No one really wants to hear about it. It doesn't give you that high, that feeling of "wow, I'm really making a difference here!"  Or even a "wow, I'm so close to God right now, this is awesome!"  Sometimes, maybe, you feel that way.  But most of the time, you just live.  You go about the mundane, because God has called you to the mundane.  And you do it to the glory of God.  Even when it doesn't feel like it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hard Lessons

Parents want to fix things for their kids.  They cry and we want to make it better.  We rub sore gums and give frozen fruit and try amber necklaces for teething babies.  We kiss skinned knees and put on special band-aids.  We find missing toys and sew torn lovies.  We mediate sibling squabbles and come back to them in the nursery when they just can't be consoled without us.

One of the hardest things I've had to do as a parent, is sit down in front of my crying child and tell her, "I can't fix this.  I don't know if anyone can fix this.  I'm trying, the doctors are going to try to help, but it might not work.  You're just going to have to ask Jesus to fix it.  And He might not.  He might want you to learn to keep going and live life anyway."

She's four. 

Four years old, and mama can't fix the problem.  Cause mama doesn't know what the problem is.  And one of the ideas mama's come up with for what might be causing the problem means the solution may be worse than the problem. Wiggling world or a 6 inch incision down the back of her neck?

We've faced things with this child.  I've fought battles on her behalf and won. I knew what the problem was and I knew how to fix it.  I couldn't be the one to actually cut her skull apart and piece it back together, but I knew that it needed to be done, and I knew who could do it. 

And sometimes, I look at that season of testing and fighting and arguing and praying and think God was just preparing me for the next thing.  

Now, I'm praying she has fluid in her ears.  Don't know why she'd have fluid in there, since she has tubes.  But that's the simplest explanation, give us some drops, clear out the infection and go on with life. 

Cause she's laying in the floor crying that the world is wiggling, the world needs to stop wiggling, make it stop wiggling.  

This isn't in the parenting books folks.  

This is teaching your kid hard lessons.  

Like sometimes, you have to keep trying even when you don't feel like it.  The shoes have to go on, even when your world is wiggling.

Like you can't demand that someone be kind to you just because you don't feel well.  You have to take care of yourself, meet your own needs, but you can't demand niceness from someone else.   


Like sometimes, there are thorns of the flesh.  And we want them to go away.  We pray for them to go away.  And God says no.  And we are to love God, and glorify God, and praise God, even when our world is wiggling.  Even when our child's world is wiggling. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A View From the Top of the Fence

Some mornings, it just hits you.  

You realize you have a glimpse into a lifestyle that others are simply incapable of even comprehending, through no fault of their own. 


I didn't plan on being in this unusual position.  Straddling the fence.  Not really in either camp.  Just sort of perched... but I'm learning to count this vantage point as a privilege.  


There's a fence between the "special needs" parents and the "normal" parents.  Those on the "normal" side of things peek through the knotholes of the fence to the "special needs" side and say "I don't know how you do it.  I could never do that.  You must be very special people to be given a child like that."


The people on the special needs side don't often have time to spend with their eyes against the knothole watching the normal parents.  But sometimes the normal world leaks through and they get a glimpse.  And their reactions differ, sometimes by the day.  Anger, disappointment, rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning, enjoying being reminded life goes on, sadness that their child isn't experiencing that world.  


I read "Dear Exhausted Mom of Littles" this morning.  I love the sentiment.  I do.  Moms need to hear that they're not alone, that they don't have to do it perfectly, that they've got what it takes. And for two of my children, the entire article is definitely true.  But one of my children gives me a different perspective on a couple major points, and they really hit my heart because of my position on the fence.

See, my 4 year old has Crouzon syndrome and a Chiari malformation and autism.  I consider myself perched on the fence because she's able to walk and run and is extremely verbal, and I fully believe she will be an independent and productive member of society as an adult.  There are parents with children with these diagnoses who are very soundly on the special needs side of the fence, who don't have that hope.  But I'm not on the normal side of the fence either, because every day her diagnoses affect us.  She needs some accommodations to function at her best, and we have to keep her special brain and body in mind when we discipline lest we "provoke her to wrath." 


Yes, I am trying to work myself out of a job.  But there's a different time table for us.  I hear people talk about how much easier 4 is than 3, how they can dress themselves and put on their own shoes and coat and buckle themselves.  But that's not my world.  Some days, my 4 year old can dress herself.  Some days she simply can't.  Some days, those shoes go on.  Other days, I don't even make her try because it's not worth the inevitable meltdown and cries of "I can't do anything!" 


I won't always be this tired?  When she's a teen, and a front comes through, she's still going to be in pain.  I'm having to accept that.  And in the middle of the night, when she's crying in pain... I hope I still hear her.  And I hope by then I'll have come up with better pain management techniques to help her.  So yes, I may be this tired for much, much longer than most "normal" parents. 

But I'm perched up on this fence, so who my heart really aches for are those I can see on the other side, who aren't working themselves out of a job.  


They won't always be this tired, no... because the odds are they will bury their child.  


They aren't working themselves out of a job, because, without a miracle, their child will always be completely dependent.  


They look ahead at the years to come, and instead of an image of an independent child growing up and moving out, they see darkness.  They don't know what's ahead.  Or they know and don't want to think about it.  They watch their child deteriorate.  They pray for another child to die so their child has a chance to live with a new organ.  They see unending days of diapers and tube feedings and fighting pressure sores.  They see hospitals.  Days, weeks, months in hospitals.  And they know there's no guarantee they'll walk out of that hospital with their hands as full as they were when they walked in.  


They're not super heroes.  They're moms and dads.  Just like you and me.  This is the hand they've been dealt.  And they get up every day, every night, and put one foot in front of the other. They suction the trach,  They change the diaper.  They check the IV pump and see which nurse is coming today. 


I guess I just ask you exhausted moms... occasionally, think about the other side of the fence.  Don't just thank God you're not over there.  Pray for the moms and dads who are there.  Find someone and pray specifically for their child.  They're all over Facebook and CaringBridge and dozens of other sites.  It's not about making you feel better about your situation.  It's about being a support for that parent and that child, though they may never even realize it.  Maybe when your children are older you can practically serve a local family.  Maybe you can contribute to a care package or write a note.  Even if "all" you do is pray and write on their message board that you are doing so...

I guarantee, when you glimpse the other side of the fence, and you keep your eyes open, and you pry a board off that fence... you'll see your heart expand.

Friday, January 15, 2016

2 Weeks Old

2016 is two weeks old... so how are you doing on your goals?  

The number of people who give up on their resolutions is rather discouraging.  The odds are definitely not in favor of those who actually want success!  After listening to a several different talks on goal setting, I knew one thing for sure: simply saying "I want to do better in __, __, and __" was not going to work. 

I'll admit, I'm not exactly where I wanted to be in my progress at the two week mark.  Actually, I haven't even managed to type my goals into the proper format yet.  But what I have done is started on at least a couple of things, and most importantly, I'm doing my bi-weekly evaluation on myself. 

I started using a planning system that I really like.  It doesn't cover everything, but it at least gets me started.  


I've been pretty faithful in starting my days with this, but I'm noticing a trend.  Things are getting carried from one day's to-do list to the next... to the next... to the next... So the way I'm changing things to handle that is to ask myself, what is it about this thing that is keeping me from getting it done?  Is it too big and broad?  Overwhelming?  Distasteful?  Just not important?  Is it something I really need to get done?  

For example, one of the things that has been floating from day to day is "organize finances."  I changed it to "write down due dates and amounts for bills" but even that is getting carried over.  Part of the problem is the Mechanic and I were supposed to have a budget meeting together to hammer out most of the details.  Instead, our baby sitter ended up in the ER, we ended up with extra kids, our truck ended up sliding into a utility pole, and now here we are a week later, still no budget meeting with a totaled truck. 

Dealing with finances is also overwhelming to me.  Anytime I start working on finances, it seems to eat time worse than Facebook.  I get no laundry done, dinner doesn't get cooked, and I get a tremendous stress headache.  So I avoid dealing with it.  Not smart.

For this next week, I'm going to try a different technique.  I'm going to put a time limit on the financial to-do bullet point.  Spend 30 minutes working on a bill calendar.  In addition... after that 30 minutes, I'm going to make myself a milkshake. I've been craving a milkshake, and while that doesn't fit with my goal to reduce sugar, it's more important right now for me to deal with our finances. 

I think, by putting a time limit on it, it won't be so overwhelming.  Just 30 minutes.  By connecting a reward with it, I'm more likely to actually do it.  And, that means I'll start.  Forward motion tends to cause more forward motion.  It's just getting out of that "stuck" mode that's the problem.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Normal Crisis

So still thinking of prayer in good times and bad times.  

When your child is in the hospital bed, you turn to God.  I'd say it's easy, but it's not... but where else do you turn?  

When you're in the "good times" and everything is great, you find good stuff to thank God for.  Need help?  Follow the sermon outline from last Sunday. 

When you're in between?  

When your child isn't in the hospital.  But life isn't "good."  

When it's ceased to be a crisis because it's just normal life for you.

When your child copes by squishing herself between the storm door and the main door. And screams hysterically when you insist she go all the way in because it's 15 degrees. 

And that isn't really a crisis because it's every week, but it isn't "good" either. 

When you're in the waiting game of "is this another real crisis?"  When there's another specialist on the horizon.  When there's another test, and you're torn between wanting to know for sure, and yet terrified of what it might reveal, and at the same time... you really just don't want your kid to have the test. 

And you know many other people who have it much worse than you... and better than you...  and they all find themselves in the same boat.  Crisis is normal.  Normal is crisis.  

How do you keep God in that?  

Where is God in that?

I prayed today, sitting on my child's bed.  Holding her stuffed animals that have been faithful in every hospital bed she's been in.  

And I told God this sure didn't feel very loving.  And this sure didn't feel very good.  And I really just want my kid to be healthy, and pain free, and develop normally, vehicles to run, and the bank account to be plentiful, and life to just get and stay boring.  

Rock of ages.  Rock.  Of the ages.  He doesn't change.  He doesn't move.  He says He's good, therefore He is.  He says He's love, therefore He is.  His purposes are sure, steadfast through all generations.

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting Rock." - Is. 26:3-4

It doesn't say your life is easy, or good, or nice.  It has to do with the mind... what it's focused on... what its foundation is. 

And that's a rock you can build on.  That's stable through the crisis.  That's stable in the crisis that becomes your normal. That's stable on the average days and the good days and the bad days and the Mondays and the Thursdays. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What if...

One message has been whispered into my heart and mind over the last couple of days.

God is God, and I am not.

It's been said in different ways, but that phrase sums it up most simply.

Friday found me angry.  Broken and angry and shaking my fist at God.  Questioning, "why are You doing this?  We're trying to get things right!  We're trying to get our act together!  And it seems like we run into obstacles at every turn!  And on top of it all, You have to cause my child pain.  You have to make her body complicated.  You have to give her problems that cause her to say "I can't do anything!"  Why can't You just heal her?  Why can't things just be easy for once?"

And I stood up in church today to ask for prayer for her, and I said it would be nice for her to have good health for awhile.

And the sermon was about praying in the good times.  I had a hard time identifying with that at first.  I whispered to the Mechanic, "God doesn't seem to allow us more than 24 hours of good times at a time."

But I've continued to think about that phrase used in the sermon today.  "God is God and I am not."  I recalled a song I played often in my college days, when things didn't seem to be going according to my plan.

And I've thought about what C.S. Lewis wrote in Till We Have Faces. "You Yourself are the answer.  Before Your face questions die away."

And I posed this question to myself: what if God hadn't protected my husband in that wreck yesterday?  What if cancer became, not that person over there, but became me?  And this is the hardest one for me right now... What if God doesn't heal my child?  What if He doesn't take away her pain?  What if her pain increases?

Is God any less God?  Is God any less good?

It's easy to say how powerful and awesome and great and good God is when He holds back the snow for the perfect length of time to get our plumbing fixed.  It's easy to praise Him when we're involved in wrecks and walk away from them.

But when my daughter is crying?  When I don't see an end to her pain that'll last beyond the next weather front?

What if... in addition to praying for healing, begging for relief, I prayed for God to be glorified through her pain? And applied that thinking to everything else I pray about?

Because it's not about God rescuing us from our circumstances.  He can, and He sometimes does.  But it's more than that.  Because if it's only about rescue and relief, what is there to fall back on when you aren't rescued and there is no relief?  Do you conclude God isn't really God?  Or that He's not good?

Truth.  Fact.  You have to base your life on those stones, not on ever changing feelings, whether they be warm fuzzies from seeing incredible provision or that sick sinking feeling in your stomach when you find your daughter curled up in pain and fatigue.

That's why I love the song "Bring the Rain."  Because it ends with the basis for belief: "Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty."  It's not about feelings.  It's not about healing and protection.  It's about the God of the universe being holy.  It's not about Him rescuing us from this life, but walking through it beside us.  Emmanuel.  God With Us.