Saturday, December 24, 2016

Joy: The Third Light of Advent


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


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


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
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
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.

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