Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Real Reason for Discouragement

After a particularly hard week with too little sleep and too much turmoil, I had nothing left.

Just. nothing.

Most days I'd gone to bed utterly discouraged, feeling guilty that as a parent and wife, I was out of patience and ideas and grace. The stresses of my son's mental illness depleted my hope for the future, or even for the next day. Aggravating it was my sleep deprivation, hormones, and financial stress. Just like everyone else, I had multiple problems.

Pining for heaven, I understood once again what it meant to be broken. It's hard to grasp, isn't it, that the Lord wants us broken? Christianity can be a pretty hard sell.

Hey everyone...become a Christian so you can identify with Jesus' suffering in your daily life. Grace is a beautiful Christian word, but can suffering be beautiful? When witnessing to people we leave that detail out in favor of the enticing parts, like peace and joy and hope.

I became a Christian at age 31, but it wasn't until I lost my first child at 20 weeks gestation that brokenness entered my consciousness  I was 34 and it was the first time I'd wanted the Lord to take me home.

Three of my children tell me they don't want to go to heaven yet; they want to grow up and have families. Already they understand that the best part of an earthly life is loving and being loved, in the context of family. They know intellectually that heaven is better than marriage and kids, but they still can't imagine foregoing these perks of being human.

Peter alone perhaps, due to his OCD, knows what brokenness feels like. Inasmuch as his condition is a tragedy, understanding brokenness at an early age is a gift. It clarifies early that it's not about us. We aren't supposed to wake up each day expecting a smooth transition through the hours. We can't jump from one self-indulging ritual after another, expecting low resistance to our selfishness.

Instead, each day begs for self-denial. Joy does exist in self-denial, in following Christ, in embracing the messiness of life, but it's not a worldly joy.

John 14:27 tells us: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I would have to describe the peace He gives as the best kind of fellowship we can ever experience. The peace He gives is a taste of heavenly joy. Peace is to be filled with His love. Family love is wholly insufficient for our souls. It will always leave us wanting, searching. Though beautiful and a gift from God, a healthy family can't be all that we hope for or pursue.

Our souls crave Him. He conceived and designed our souls and only He can fill them.

The Holy Spirit reminded me this week that my exhaustion and emptiness weren't actually because of OCD or ADHD or hormones or sleep deprivation or economic insufficiency, although they certainly made a compelling argument and defense.

The real source was too little time with Peace the Person...with the Lord my God, who promises to quiet me by his love.

I went to the Lord and read about his truth, his love, his faithfulness, his majesty, his grace, his love...and I was filled to overflowing, ready to dig deep for the patience, grace and love my family and community need from me. We give to others out of the abundance we receive from the Lord. If you're empty, it's because you're not filled. It's obvious, but also easy to forget.

These three gifts--peace, joy, hope--are not a mirage or a sham, but neither are they automatic.

Christ died for us so we could have life--so He could enjoy relationship with us. Believing on Him is our ticket to heaven, but not necessarily our ticket to peace, joy, and hope. Those come from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ--a relationship that is ongoing. They come from bathing in His Word, from crying out to Him in prayer, from worshiping him through song and from a quiet and receptive heart.

Proverbs 8:17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Quiet Spirit Talk...And What's Been Going On

Hello Internet of Long Lost Friends. I hope you have been well. Here's what's been going on...

~ We go to homeschool Co-op every Wednesday now. My four kids take 5 classes each (i.e. drama, choir, art, PE, Home Ec, Math is Fun, Creative Creations), while Chase (the 3-year-old boy I babysit) and me sit with other preschool moms and play and talk. I help in one class and will most likely be asked to teach something next semester. My kids are over the moon excited about Co-op, and Mary has made a precious friend already (a friend of every mother's dreams, literally. The young lady is a true treasure).

Most of the Co-Op families have 3 to 5 kids each, so it's quite a large group.

~ Yes, I still babysit. Chase will be four in November. We also had his 5-year-old sister until she started kindergarten last month. Things are a little easier around here with only one daycare child, but with Co-op and AWANA both on Wednesdays, the weeks can still feel like marathons.

~ I'm 50-and-a half-years old, and I hate being the oldest mom everywhere I go. Currently more women in their forties are having babies than women in their twenties, but that doesn't seem to be happening in my area.

Other yucky aging news...The hot flashes, which had only come and gone for short periods before, have now been with me about six weeks. Some days I'm intensely frustrated and I don't know how I'll handle the hotness for another day. I'm afraid winter won't make a difference with this kind of heat. About 85% of women get hot flashes in the year or so after menopause; only about 45% of women get them prior to menopause, in the period called perimenopause. I'm one of the lucky 45% getting them in perimenopause. Does this mean I'll have fewer of them later? Here's hoping.

I take two showers a day now, but the relief they provide is short-lived. Another hot flash (intense heat, not just a little warmth) inevitably comes within an hour of my last shower. I have to stop whatever I'm doing and go stand in front of a large fan for 3 minutes, 10 to 15 times a day. Sometimes I sleep on the couch with the fan next to me, although I have fewer hot flashes at night.

This has changed my life enough that thinking about blogging usually seems like too much trouble, even though I miss the intellectual part of it and the interacting part. I'm kicking around the idea of a Twitter account, because you write in smaller chunks and you can have private conversations, versus interacting through blog comments which are public. Anyone on Twitter that reads here?

~ Mary still has her anxiety about the weather, and Peter still has fairly serious OCD--the weight of which also make blogging seem like too much trouble. I feel like I have nothing positive to share, so why burden people with my whining? Some stages of life you have something to share, and other stages are for hankering down and trying to run the race with as much grace as you can muster.

1 Peter 3:4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

Our pastor is doing a serious on marriage and went over this passage last weekend. He reminded us women that this doesn't mean we have to refrain from talking much. We don't need to change our personality to live up to this. It isn't about whether we're shy or gregarious, whether we're witty or the life of the party, or quiet and mousy.

Rather, it's about an inner stillness--a lack of inner turmoil. It's a gentleness, and a sureness that everything is going to be okay. It's a calmness, more than a quietness, though it's true that if your inner spirit isn't ruffled, you won't shout or argue or complain or speak harshly. So, yes, maybe you'll talk less as your inner spirit quiets.

Our Bible time and prayer can accomplish this calming of spirit, but we can't forget taking the time to just be quiet before the Lord also. A busy mom may carve out 30 minutes a day a few times a week for devotions, but she'll probably find it isn't enough. Try turning off the radio, the TV, the devices, and go to a quiet room to just sit and listen to anything the Holy Spirit sends your way.

He'll say things put that pressure on wasn't from Me...focus on the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you as well...give your children's futures over to me...give the health of your marriage over to me...come to me all you women who are heavy laden...I will quiet you with my Love.

So, what do you think? Is your spirit ruffled? What are you doing to quiet it? What is the source of the ruffling?

Often, it's Satan, you know. He is our accuser. He is the master of distraction and confusion. Most ruffling comes directly from his playbook.

I am learning. Live one day at a time. Hardest. Life. Lesson. Ever.

My gracious Lord holds it all, and he wants me to rejoice in the day he has made. Today. He gives me today, with no guarantee of tomorrow. Therefore, I offer Him my day, my hours, my minutes, holding the outcome loosely, not questioning Him about tomorrow.

When I regard each day as an offering back to Him, suddenly, the hot flashes and the kids' anxiety and the burden of having to babysit (though I love little Chase dearly) all become insignificant. They only carry the weight I assign them. They feel heavy only when I make them my focus. It's like Peter walking on water brilliantly, until he took his eyes off the Prize. I'm not supposed to focus on the details of my life, except when I'm expressing gratitude for them.

The gentle and quiet spirit? It comes from shifting your focus, your gaze, onto the person of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Of Great Worth in His Sight

I go to church service first and then a "small group" Sunday School class of about 50 people. The small group consists of women and men who range in age from 40 to 70, with most well over 50.

Thus, most of the women have raised their families and they have time and money to buy beautiful shoes, pay for great hair cuts and flawless manicures, buy nice clothes, etc. They look stylish and put-together, to put it another way.

I, on the other hand, buy thrift store clothes, get my hair cut far too infrequently, and have chipped, thin nails from chronic housework. I feel like a poor servant in comparison, especially when I'm seated next to a women with flawless toenail polish. I try to pull my long skirt over my sandaled feet as far as I can, and wish I'd taken an extra ten minutes to redo my toenail polish.

Sometimes, on my less-than-stellar emotional days, it's enough to make me want to become a hermit and forgo small groups. They're messy after all, compared to sitting in a large church service and then going home. No investment and no risk. Right?

But I know better.

I know when my thoughts need to be held captive, and I'm quicker to lasso them than I ever was before. By the grace of God.

I know that my worth doesn't come from my outward appearance--I know it with my head and my heart. I know that the finely dressed only give the illusion that they're put together. They aren't better off spiritually. The Kingdom of God doesn't care about their $100 outfit. God is not impressed. We're all messy people with messy problems, and stylish clothes and perfect manicures don't change that.

This seems to be limited to women, these silly comparisons on dress and nails and hair. I know it's silly, and yet at first I recoil, feeling less-than for five or ten minutes.

Do you know of a family who drives away from church in a $40,000 new car, bound for a leisurely restaurant and looking forward to the cleaning lady coming on Monday? They don't have it better than you. Really.

Live involves pain for everyone, no matter what they do for a living, no matter what they wear or drive or look forward to doing next. The pain is well hidden for some, but rest assured, pain is universal. The need for compassion and understanding, rather than comparison, is universal.

If it's respect we want, we're wrong if we think it comes from a stylish outfit. Better to be that person who smiles, who welcomes, who listens non-judgmentally, who is not afraid of the messiness that comes with relationship. The second part of the greatest commandment speaks of relationship. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Our humility earns respect as well. Not only do we need to behave compassionately toward others, we also need to seek compassion by sharing our burdens without shame. A rich relationship involves give and take, and we hopefully can be people and will find people who are capable of mature relationship within our churches.

Some groups are more troubled than others. Some are hungry for compassion and spiritual guidance, without being capable of a give and take. We would do well to make sure we have a little of both in our life. People to minister to, and people to minister with.

We are all equal in Christ. Our worth comes from his love for us. We are precious in His sight. That is enough, my friend.  To be precious to Him means we don't need to hide anything. We can live joyful and free. Free from the confines of social class. Free from the pain of the past. Free from shame.

If we perhaps already have respect and it's beauty we desire, we need to know there's a beauty that far outshines any outward feature. No matter how plain our face or form, it all transforms to beauty if we're gentle with a quiet spirit, which carries great weight in the Lord's sight. This is a rare kind of beauty. A rare beauty we should all covet.

1 Peter 3:4
Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

Do you ever feel less-than? What triggers it and how do you counter your distorted thoughts? Do you recognize them as distorted? 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Life Lessons Relearned

A couple people have written to see if we're still alive. It's not that I've lost my writing/reflecting voice, just that every time I think I need or want to reflect and write something, there's never time.

I'll just jump in and write about a hodgepodge of things that have happened, hopefully some that will help others.

1.We had our end-of-year portfolio review last week and we're on day four of the new school year. I have two ninth graders now, and two fourth graders, though everyone is at their own pace with writing. I've learned the hard way that kids (and Mom) thrive when there's on-going routine, with days off here and there, or half-days off when necessary, rather than an extended break. The neurological problems such as the OCD and ADHD do far worse with lack of routine.

2. I had my second routine mammogram and they called me back again for a diagnostic mammogram (next month for what looks like calcifications), which can include more pictures and an ultrasound. I got the same form letter saying I have dense breast tissue, which basically makes it harder to see things clearly. Last time I was fearful of this "diagnostic" mammogram, but this time I've barely thought about it, except to accept the fact that they'll probably call me back every time, because my paperwork indicates my mom had breast cancer at age 65. The dense breast tissue will get less dense as I age. Now that I do daycare, every appointment is a hassle to arrange.

3. If you subscribe to Netflix DVD, please rent The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry. It's a fantastic Christian movie that will spur your children on in their faith and in their Bible reading. I found it heartwarming, inspiring, wholesome, featuring a culture reminiscent of the 1950's. We also rented God's Not Dead, which I loved. The Christian movie choices are pretty good through the Netflix DVD program.

4. I have learned to love the two children I babysit. The five year old will go to kindergarten in about five weeks and we will all miss her. Previously I mentioned that the mother is having a baby in December, and that I said yes to watching the baby and the three year old, but I recently reconsidered that due to the little boy's challenging behavior. He is a nice boy, but stubborn and prone to fits like most 3-year-olds. I told the mother I could handle either the baby or her preschooler full-time, or both of them half-time, but not both of them for 45 hours a week. She is thinking of staying home after the baby comes, anyway. She is the main breadwinner, so it will not be an easy decision for them.

The five year old has learned how to pray, and she enjoys our morning devotions. Because I am an ex-Catholic and she goes to a Catholic church, I regularly tell her that we do all things through His strength, not through our own. I missed that as a Catholic and my experience was that it is primarily a good works philosophy of religion and salvation. She asked me recently what a Christian is and among other simple things, I mentioned that it means we understand we cannot be good on our own. We need the Lord to shine in any way. He makes us who He wants us to be, as opposed to us trying and failing again and again. I felt defeated by my own nature when I was going to Catholic churches. Now, I understand that I need the Gospel everyday. Not one day any less than another. I embrace His nature in me, rather than hating my own. Does that make sense? God sent these particular kids for a reason. They are hard work, but I know it is good work I'm doing. Loving a child is always good work, meaningful work. Introducing children to Jesus is such a privilege. We may only plant a seed with some of them, but every effort is beautiful.

5. My girls will be doing Sonlight Core D this year, which is American History Part 1. They can do all the readings themselves now for all subjects, which has been a blessing and a pleasure to see. I loved this core when the boys did it, and I am looking forward to it with the girls, too. My husband will have to share the read-aloud load with me, though. Sonlight usually assigns as many read-alouds as they do student novels.

I believe I already wrote about our choices for the boys' first year of high school, but since then we did decide on horticulture as their first elective class. We're reaping the benefits right now of their countless hours of research and time spent planning and planting. The garden is the best we've ever had, even though we've been in a sort of drought here in northeast Ohio. They already have a good head start on their horticulture knowledge.

6. I had a varicose vein stripping surgery on one leg and will schedule the other leg for sometime this calendar year. It wasn't an easy recovery, but there is far less pain in the treated leg now, and he tied off a golf-ball sized blood clot that formed after one of my miscarriages (lower inner thigh..a benign area for a blood clot). The scars take about a year to flatten and heal, but I am so grateful!

Here's the main thing I wanted to share, which might help someone:

Sometimes we have to wait on things we've prayed for, and in the meantime we can be very uncomfortable. This is a given for the Christian, but when it happens to you, it ain't so easy. Right?

Our culture doesn't like to wait, but learning to do so builds character, perseverance, and faith, especially when the wait is very uncomfortable--such as physically or emotionally burdensome, on top of the everyday burdens. Everyday of the struggle, we're reminded that we're still waiting for an answer. Some days, we wonder where God is and whether he cares at all. As I write this I'm aware that America-style burdens are of course much different than most of the world experiences. Our burdens are pretty light compared to the third world's.

And indeed, the less you have, the less you have to be burdened about. We worry about car repairs and they worry not so much about possessions, but about daily bread. A downed vehicle is nothing compared to a hungry stomach gnawing at you, but it's still possible for one to lead to the other here in America.

As soon as I started doing daycare, one thing after another broke around here, at a pace fiercer than before. If were were thinking that my job would end all our financial problems, we were dead wrong. Teens eat a whole lot, after all. By November I'll have two that need more and more calories, and calories are expensive! 

The used washer we bought three months ago started leaking in the bottom front. First a trickle, than a whole bucket-full of water during each load! The used appliance place kept promising to come and fix it for a fee, but they never showed and the 30-day warranty was up. With no hope of another one right away, my husband built a pallet and we put it up on that, catching the water with some tupperware and changing it often. Even looking online at videos, we couldn't fix it ourselves.

This went on for four or five long weeks and even though sometimes I wanted to cry at the level of inconvenience and waste, I couldn't do anything but persevere. If I didn't get there soon enough and the tray overflowed, I had a huge mess each time with six kids underfoot.

Finally, my husband found another washer for $75 from a Habitat for Humanity Restore. It's high efficiency, which I've never used, but it's a Maytag washer, used, for $75 versus the $200 we paid for the other used one. It works but it's loud on the spin, even though it's advertised as a quiet model. I don't know how long it will last, but my discomfort in doing laundry is over for now. I'm so relieved and my experience proves once again that God's grace is sufficient.

Every time I think I'm going crazy, I somehow bounce back and find blessings to count.

That's His grace at work.

I'm sure it seems like this is all so minor, but to a mom with four kids and two daycare kids, laundry is never minor.

Our lives aren't supposed to be easy and comfortable, as Christians. How does anyone grow when things are comfortable? Our journey as Believers is not about moving up in the world, or even having a smoother path, but about moving closer to Him. That's necessarily a lifestyle that should look different than the way your typical American lives.

If you aren't different, why?

Embrace your own discomfort, whatever it is, because God has a plan. Keep praying and believing and listening to the Spirit as to what you should do next.

Sometimes, the answer is just......wait.

Your spirit will want to fight that. It seems so passive and wasteful, this waiting. But putting your trust in God is not passive. It's an active endeavor to rest in Him. It's work to rest in Him.

Around the same time the washer started leaking, the $2000 water softener we bought 11 years old quit working. Because two major car repairs hit us in the same period, along with a broken garbage disposal, we had to let the broken water softener just sit, even though it's likely that the extremely hard water will ruin the dishwasher, which is only a couple years old. It ruined our drinking glasses within a week.

For the first week after the water softener quit, I was incredibly frustrated and depressed, while still believing that God is always good, always faithful. At that point I was just done being long-suffering. I was done with hassle, after two and a half months of babysitting and working my rear off keeping the house up, with only a couple hours on Saturday for relaxation. It seemed there was nothing to look forward to but more broken appliances and more car repairs and more cleaning.

The stress brought worsening OCD and anxiety in the kids, so I knew I had to learn to stay joyful and hopeful.

Devotions became my salvation. Praying with my family brought the only relief from problems and disorders. Discomfort sends us running to the Lord and loving our time with Him. He purposely, I think, contrasts that time with all the other hours of the day.  With kids there are always interruptions, but it's still rich. As they get older, it gets even richer to pray together.

My overall predicament made me appreciate women of the past, who worked even longer hours without the modern conveniences we take for granted. They had so much to do they were primarily workhorses, and I don't say that disrespectfully, but with admiration. They weren't sissies. They weren't weak or impatient. They couldn't be. Their kids weren't sissies, or weak, or impatient, either. There was still the upper-class who used servants, but I'm talking about your every-day American mom from over a hundred years ago and longer.

I'm interested in the history of modern household inventions, but if you aren't skip this entire washing machine section below.

Some backgroundBefore indoor plumbing, the housewife also had to carry all the water used for washing, boiling, and rinsing the laundry; according to an 1886 calculation, women fetched water eight to ten times every day from a pump, well, or spring.[1] Water for the laundry would be hand carried, heated on a fire for washing, then poured into the tub. That made the warm soapy water precious; it would be reused, first to wash the least soiled clothing, then to wash progressively dirtier laundry.
Removal of soap and water from the clothing after washing was originally a separate process. First, soap would be rinsed out with clear water. After rinsing, the soaking wet clothing would be formed into a roll and twisted by hand to extract water. The entire process often occupied an entire day of hard work, plus drying and ironing.
Margaret Colvin invented the Triumph Rotary Washer, which was exhibited in the Women's Pavilion at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

1910 advertisement
Electric washing machines were advertised and discussed in newspapers as early as 1904. Alva J. Fisher has been incorrectly credited with the invention of the electric washer. The US Patent Office shows at least one patent issued before Fisher's US patent number 966677 (e.g. Woodrow's US patent number 921195). The "inventor" of the electric washing machine remains unknown.
US electric washing machine sales reached 913,000 units in 1928. However, high unemployment rates in the Depression years reduced sales; by 1932 the number of units shipped was down to about 600,000.
Washer design improved during the 1930s. The mechanism was now enclosed within a cabinet, and more attention was paid to electrical and mechanical safety. Spin dryers were introduced to replace the dangerous power mangle/wringers of the day.
By 1940, 60% of the 25,000,000 wired homes in the United States had an electric washing machine. Many of these machines featured a power wringer, although built-in spin dryers were not uncommon.
Bendix Corporation introduced the first domestic automatic washing machine in 1937,having applied for a patent in the same year. In appearance and mechanical detail, this first machine was not unlike the front loading automatic washers produced today. Although it included many of the today's basic features, the machine lacked any drum suspension and therefore had to be anchored to the floor to prevent "walking". Because of the components required, the machine was also very expensive. 

It appears that it was after the 1950's before in-home washing machines began to resemble something like we use today. Poorer Americans waited even longer, and of course many apartment dwellers are still using laundromats, at about $2.00 per wash load! Sometimes they simply don't have that money and go without clean clothes.

It's astounding how easy a woman's life is now, in comparison. What do we really have to complain about? We lose our babies to diseases and infections far less often, and we have medicines to treat our own diseases. We know less inconvenience and less heartache. 

Our biggest problem is our attitude, I would think, and that we've lost a sense of what God wants from us, as women.

I still have a broken garbage disposal; I'm used to not having one now. The water softener still sits in a closet, unused, but I no longer lament about the dishwasher rotting away from hard water. 

I've learned to wait. I've learned anew that we must squeeze what joy we can from each day, like it's a juicy lemon. We're not promised our next breath, much less our next 24 hours. I've learned that God promises daily manna, not weekly or monthly or yearly manna. 

Or rather, I should say I have relearned. Such lessons are on repeat from the Lord, aren't they?

A woman who rests in the Lord, who trusts in the Lord, lives a 24-hour day. She laughs at the days to come.
I'm so grateful for the Lord's wisdom and love. He knows what lessons we need and He's faithful to provide.

 So rejoice in your trials. Rejoice!

Our children are watching and learning from us. Let's pray that we can model strength, faithfulness, perseverance, and a heart full of gratitude and charity and joy.

When we fail for a day or for a season, he's there waiting to move us forward.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
What exciting adventures have come your way this summer?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Glimpse of the Empty Nest

Dear Internet,

Help. I'm a mother with a one-fourth empty nest and I feel it keenly.

My boys worked hard to apply for Christian Camp scholarships, keeping up with deadlines and gathering all the required recommendations. God honored it with a huge blessing--an experience none of my children have ever experienced before: A week at camp.

We dropped Peter off at high school camp two hours ago, and I'm a basket case. I feel like my heart has been ripped out. I just miss him terribly. I've never been away from him for more than a few hours since 2005, when I flew to Ohio for a two-day trip looking for a new home. He was three and a half then.

I am praying harder than I've ever prayed...that his OCD will not ruin his time...that he doesn't fall off the zipline and get hurt...that he won't get a sunburn...that he will be a blessing to a lonely boy in his cabin...that he will make a good friend...that all my years of discipling will make him a world changer in cabin #12.

I trust him and I'm so proud of him, and I know he is ready to be sent out, to make disciples of every nation.

This is what the empty nest will feel like at first. Like my heart is being ripped out. Oh, mothers. Soak up every moment and speak Christ with every pore. We can't go backwards...


A drippy-eyed mother