Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Unsuspecting Psychologist

How many times have I typed it here over the years?  That what matters most to the Lord is drawing people to Himself--saving souls and more souls?

2 Peter 3:8-9 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

My anxiety-ridden children--whose anxieties are exhausting and fill me with anxiety, and vice versa--see a psychologist every Monday. We all like him, and in fact Mary had her first full session this last Monday and said afterwards, "Mommy, I really love that man." Before she left, she told him, "I'll miss you." 

He'd given her a science lesson about thunder and lightning and showed her many pictures of beautiful displays of God's glory in the skies, also explaining that lightning hits the highest objects around, if anything at all--rarely your house.

He grew up in tornado alley, he told her, and never saw a single tornado. In fact, when his home area in Ohio has a tornado warning, his family goes into the basement and he sits in the garage with the garage door open and tries to find a tornado in the sky--he so wants to see one--but still, he never has!

He asked her what her worst fear was. "A tornado running down the house and killing everybody", she answered.

"If this happened, which is very, very unlikely, where would you go?", he inquired.

"I would go to Heaven and be with Jesus forever." she answered.

"Yes. And your dolls and toys would be strewn all over the street, and children would come and be very happy to play with them, so is a tornado really all that bad?" he countered.

He's an orthodox Jewish psychologist (who also has OCD and suffered with it as a child) who loves God and intersperses things about God into his counseling sessions.

But he doesn't know Jesus. He upholds what my children say about Jesus--and they all have something to say about Him--but he doesn't personally know Jesus the Messiah.

It isn't only one of my children going to this man who loves God but not the Messiah. It's three of them. How rare is that? Three siblings needing therapy for anxiety? So this man has two hours of exposure to Christian children speaking from their heart about Jesus as the Spirit leads, every Monday.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

There was a purpose to the worst summer of my life? A purpose to me feeling like we were a failure as a family because who has this many children suffering from anxiety? I didn't tell you about all the embarrassment, shame, self-doubt, panic and failing faith that characterized my summer--or did I, sort of?

I'm sure I have a lot to learn--that we as a family have a lot to learn. Like how to abide.

But there is another purpose too, I strongly feel, having to do with an unsuspecting psychologist who doesn't know yet that God loves him so much, he's going to plant the truth of the gospel into the case file of the 7-year-old who's afraid of thunder, lightning, tornadoes and loud booms that just might be bombs. With a little help from her brothers.

When she said, "I really love that man," it could just as easily have been the Lord talking.

Jesus loves us! He really does, and when things are hard and down right messy, and we're ashamed and scared and we don't understand how it could get this bad, we can't lose hope. We don't know the outcome, but we do know the purpose. We do know what the Lord cares about.

We just have to care about souls too, and we'll be okay. We have to remember what he has planned for those who love Him.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1 Corinthians 2:9
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

Sunday, September 28, 2014

When God Gives An Assignment

Forgive me while I write myself into an understanding of my current assignment from the Lord. My approach to these assignments, and my expectations, don't always match His, so in writing it out I hope to relinquish control and drop any personal agenda, and just be His instrument.

Dear me...I don't know where to begin about my 12-year-old neighbor girl situation. The exact day I had decided to begin "counseling" Miss L and have her over to bake with Mary, her mother had a friend over for a quaint little Friday afternoon "drinking party".

Miss L came to our door about ten minutes after the school bus dropped her off (yes, our neighborhood finally has a school bus running again--after two years!). I didn't need to ask Miss L. how things were going or figure out how to approach the topic of alcohol abuse in her home. Visibly stressed, she relayed that her mother's friend was over with "a pack of reds", and she feared what would happen because this friend "was bad news and already had her kids taken away from her".

So, my mind began racing and everything I had thought about saying, I couldn't think of, because: "Wow, God, I didn't expect this opening!"

And right away I wondered...should I ask what "reds" is or just assume since it has "pack" in front of it, that it's alcohol?

Trying to seem as though I hear such news everyday (non-judgmental, I mean), I told her as much as I could remember of my little prepared speech, "I was going to tell you that when I was growing up my mother drank, and so I know what that is like. You can talk to me about it when you need to. Please know that it's not your fault, and you can't solve it. The Lord is always there for you, even when there is turmoil around you. Go to Him for comfort and pray for healing. Please come here if you ever feel unsafe."

I told her there were books from an organization called Alateen that I was going to get to go over with her, written for teens who are dealing with family members who drink.

Her grandfather, I learned, does not drink now, but drank a great deal before his grand kids were born. Miss L's grandmother's recent passing is a stretch for her grandfather's apparent 12-year sobriety, so let's hope the Lord can keep him strong (there are no Christians in this family, but Miss L went to AWANA with us for a year, and has been to Bible Studies here, but her life has been too erratic for us to know where she is spiritually).

The grandfather works second shift so he was not there during this drinking party, nor does he know the mother has been doing such things during his absence. Miss L said if he did know, he would kick her mother out.

Today I asked how the rest of the evening went last night, and Miss L said the mom's friend went out to get more "reds" and was going to smoke marijuana in their house too, but Miss L got her mother to lock the door and not let the friend back in. I guess this worked only because the mother was annoyed with the friend anyway.

Boldly, I told Miss L that although it seemed like a scary thing to do, the best thing for her mother would be for Miss L to tell the grandfather what was going on. "No way. We would get kicked out."

"Would your grandfather care for you if your mother couldn't live there anymore?, I asked (not remembering the second shift).

She said she was nearly old enough to babysit for her 8-year-old brother--and wanted to run a babysitting service--but not yet. Her grandfather couldn't take care of her right now.

My mind is thinking and considering, because obviously this is a very unsafe situation. I would really like Miss L to tell her grandfather the truth. She has taken on the parent role and her mother has taken on the child role, and this is robbing Miss L of her childhood entirely, which will have repercussions for a lifetime. A single mother drinking also puts her young daughter at risk for rape, depending on whom the mother allows around the house.

Right away I'm praying that the grandfather comes home unannounced at just the right time, because Miss L's mother needs to lose her financial support in order to hit rock bottom and have the custody of her children put at risk.

Parts I'm Wrestling With:

~ The Grace of God 

I prayed with both Miss L and her brother before they left our house Friday evening, asking for protection and more. And you know, it seemed like so little, as I sent two kids off to a possibly drunken situation.

In therapy on Monday I brought up with my kids' psychologist that my son Paul feels sad about my headaches and sister Beth's arthritis--almost guilty that we are suffering with things that he doesn't have to deal with. Paul is an anxious worry wort who takes on the weight of things too much, and between the psychologist's comments and my comments (mom and the psychologist work as a team) Paul learned that he has to trust God to provide the hurting with grace--that God is powerful enough to do this, and loving enough. We can be instruments of grace, but when our part is done, we have to trust God to do the rest. We can live in peace, knowing that we can't even imagine or see all the ways God will be there for people we know who are hurting. Sometimes we're privileged to hear about the ways God provided grace, and sometimes not, but we have to trust that God is there, always, loving and comforting.

As I wrote above, after going home last night, Miss L convinced her mother to lock the door on the "bad news friend" before the night got any worse. Isn't this an example of the grace of God?

I don't know what the Lord will do, or when, but I can rest (I can abide), knowing that this is not my problem to solve.

~ Putting Boundaries in Place

I must say, this whole business depressed me. The Lord had to remind me that as I help people, I must have boundaries in place. Their problems can't consume me or take away my joy. I could and should still have a pleasant evening with my own family. Soul joy should prevail, even though there are horrors in the world. This is a difficult concept for the tenderhearted among us to swallow, but it's truth.

People who have come from alcoholic homes have particular trouble with boundaries. As possible enablers growing up, they didn't know where one family member ended and another began. Everyone's identity got mixed up with the drinker's identity. Therefore, when adult children of alcoholics try to help someone (they're over-represented in the helping professions--nurses, teachers, therapists, clergy, doctors), they can lose themselves in the process.

So I must help with boundaries in place, always.

~ The Cost is Great

And then there's this. Miss L is extremely high-maintenance. I can take her in small, forty-minute max doses. Although I have a son with ADHD, that just doesn't prepare me--or perhaps it leaves me too exhausted by 3:30 PM--for the traits Miss L displays as part of her own ADHD. Her attention span is very short--she switches activities five minutes after the kids get something set up, and she doesn't offer to help clean anything up. She has learning disabilities that can be problematic during playtime, which she undoubtedly feels she's got to cover up, and she's ODD (stands for oppositional defiant disorder, but it just means she's very pushy and persistent and bossy--she's got to be told no many times before she'll drop an idea).

When she's here, it's at great cost to my personal sanity. When she's gone, I often feel...now what good did that possibly do, for it was so chaotic and how well did I even hide my annoyance?.

For example, the baking was a disaster. Miss L's ADHD is worse than I thought in terms of planning and concentration and follow through. She had something in mind she wanted to make, but had no recipe in hand. She began ordering me around for ingredients, planning on winging it entirely, but having no idea even of proportions in cake recipes.

I gently steered her toward our favorite (and easy) chocolate cake recipe, and because she wanted to do this project with my girls, I left them alone with the recipe, the ingredients, and the equipment. That was not enough support, because what came out of the oven did not resemble cake. Noticing it seemed thin before I put it in the oven, I asked her to read over each item on the recipe, to see if she forgot anything. She said she did everything.

The frosting I let her put together herself, and that ended up being a waste of money on ingredients too.

Granted, my girls were on chairs on both sides of her, and her brother and my boys were playing in the living room, so maybe that was too much stimulation for the amount of concentration needed.

Every girl interested should be taught to bake. I see it as a gift we can give young girls--a handmade, homemade gift they can bless their own families with, enjoyed on milestone occasions like birthdays and holidays. The wholesome flavor and aroma of homemade cake can be part of beloved family memories.

So, we have to start from scratch, and because I can't do much about the noise and interference from the other kids, I think I will have the ingredients already measured out, and have Miss L and my girls just combine them and do the beating and such--at least to start.

~ Are My Offerings Good Enough...Or Enough At All

When she's gone and I feel guilty for having watched the clock in anticipation of my "freedom", I feel like it's all a waste. Surely she can see the tension in me? How can any love I want to show come through, when the various strikes against her distract me from the very thing I want most to do--extend Christian love and grace and fellowship and teaching? I love her, but she's hard to love.

I feel like I have these meager loaves and fishes to offer, and I'm not even offering them with a pure heart. I don't have enough patience. I don't have enough time. I'm too nervous. My faith is too small. I wish she would bathe more and dress modestly and quit dying her hair with those store-bought bottles every other week, and what is her mother thinking anyway--can't she figure out why she's being bullied? And why is the exterior even an issue to me? I can't change those things--every family has their own rhythms and tastes and habits.

I'm thinking about how big the problems are, and about how many different problems there are, and it's overwhelming. What Kingdom contribution can I make here? Here is a girl with so many strikes against her, from a tough upbringing, to bullying at school, to teachers who are annoyed with her, to multiple disorders/disabilities, to a grandmother who has passed away.

Where will this little girl will be in 10 years, at 22. Will Miss L love her mother and have contact with her? Will Miss L love the Lord? Will she be working in a job she loves, or be finishing school, or be a happy Mom with a loving husband?

Lord, you are mighty. I give you now all these variables. They are not mine to contemplate, or to try to solve. Help me to love, to counsel, to give of my time, to provide a safe haven. Help my whole family to provide a picture of normalcy for these children. Multiply, magnify, and sanctify my imperfect offerings.

And thank you for the reminder that not one of us is any better than another.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Lesson in Abiding

1 John 4:1
By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

The end-of-August tree-climbing accident is drawing to a close, thank the Lord. My son got his neck brace off on Monday. He can read two school books (historical fiction and non-fiction history) as long as the print is not too small, and he can do about 5 to 10 math problems, before getting a headache. That's progress!

It didn't look like we would be this far even a week ago; I'm very encouraged and also a little ashamed.

Did I abide in the Lord well during this crisis? Did I display the peace of the Holy Spirit, or did I search for information on concussions and neck sprains, wanting to know how long...how long...how long will he be like this, Lord?

I failed to abide. Abide means, in the KJV Bible dictionary, to rest or dwell.  I did not rest in the Lord. There were certain moments I got it right, but mostly I felt overwhelmed at multiple crises occurring simultaneously--it was almost like I was being set up for failure. 

Does the Lord teach us to abide by giving us one difficulty at a time? 

Well, no, I don't think so. Because wouldn't we be able to deal with one thing at a time pretty well? 

The Lord seems to teach us abiding by flooding us--thereby teaching us that we never had any control in the first place, so why not put our trust in (and spend adequate time with) the One who said: 

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Revelation 22:13

As we complete the final stretch of the tree-climbing disaster, and start therapy for some nerve-wracking childhood anxieties that have given me the most unpleasant summer on record, I can honestly say, abiding is easier than worrying about (and researching) what-ifs.  
And abiding strengthens and frees us to do God's work. 

Think of worrying as being in chains in prison. You're grounded

During our crisis, our 12-year-old neighbor girl, Lexie, had one of her own. Her grandmother died suddenly of sepsis. Lexie became, not surprisingly, very needy, visiting here daily, crying, asking to come over for dinner almost nightly, and wanting to come in the house after school. I love that young lady, but I don't love her ODD, which drives me to tug at my own hair and lament the sin curse and all that it entails.

I comforted Lexie and her brother and we sent a meal, and we prayed and I listened to every report on her grandmother's condition, but the whole while I was falling apart with worry over what was going on here, and very stressed over my son's deteriorating behavior because of not having any structure or routine anymore (concussion brain-rest).

I felt awful that I was doing little to meet our young friend's ever-growing needs, especially after she revealed the fear that her mother would commit suicide. Lexie revealed that once when her mother was drunk, she talked about committing suicide (first mention of any drinking in the family). Based upon another comment uttered to Peter, I figured out that the grandfather and Lexie's mother both drink, and that they probably lost their enabler with the grandmother's passing.

The same day my son could read a chapter in a book again without a headache (and I experienced intense relief), the Lord spoke clearly about Lexie. Your own mother abused alcohol and you're still reeling from it. Lexie's mother abuses it too, and Lexie needs you to help her understand it. Soon, she will look to boys to comfort her. Show her the right way. Leave the outcome to Me, but put your neck out there and try. Let her know it's not her fault. She is not to be ashamed. She is not to try to solve it. She is to look to Me for comfort. 

For a few weeks Lexie's been asking to bake brownies with Mary. They like to play pretend cooking outside with pieces of plants and flowers and plates and utensils, but thus far I've said no about the baking due to being so overwhelmed with all I had to do (we started school last week and the lessons take all day now with chores starting late). But tomorrow, I will invite her for baking and ask how things are going and slowly begin to counsel her, one baby step at a time.

I will abide--I will rest in the Lord, because doing so strengthens me and frees me to do the Lord's will in my world. 

The Lord Jesus did not die on a tree so that I could focus on:

~how clean my house is and what Lexie will think of the messes, 
~how long it will take before my son can do a full school load after a concussion, 
~how long it will be before my son's infected mosquito bite looks improved, 
~whether superbugs will ever develop for which we have no effective antibiotics, 
~how long we will have to continue with speech class, 
~how long my daughter will look at the skies and cry about the dark clouds
~how long my son will be worried about throwing up from sugar, fat, heat exhaustion, germs...

There are so many things, so many bunny trails I can get lost on. And they all distract me and the enemy is so happy, isn't he? He loves it when I Google mosquito bites turned staph infections for 60 minutes (yes, I took him in and it is healing). God's Kingdom is certainly not growing when I am preoccupied with what might happen. So much easier to take three deep breaths and exhale...abide...abide...abide...

Your turn. When was the last time you had a lesson in abiding? Was it a time of flooding--many things going wrong at once, during which you learned you never had any control in the first place? Did you spend more time in the Word? Did you just sit quietly at the Lord's feet and listen? How did you abide?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

When We Let Go We See God

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength …the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show compassion…Blessed are all those who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:15a and 18

For nearly seven years now I've been at a keyboard typing about the sufficiency of God---His power to fill us and complete us, even heal our brokenness. 

But only this year have I come to terms with my own brokenness. 

For years I said my mother was a "problem drinker", if I said anything at all. Alcoholism was too shameful to admit about one's family--so I never even admitted it to myself. She never drank every day and I guessed that was part of the definition--someone who was perpetually drunk. 

My denial kept me in the dark about my own brokenness--and my whole growing-up nuclear-family dynamic and the brokenness surrounding it. 

If only.

If only.

If only I had known. If only I had known and had gotten counseling as a young single girl just out of the house.

I had so much emptiness and so much hurt and so much crying out for love, and I never knew it wasn't normal. I never knew what normal was and I still don't.

The children's director at our new church--the one who got me to teach the four year olds every other week, which is too much--invited me to the Monday Night Ladies Bible Study. She said we could sit together there and maybe have coffee--reaching out in love maybe because we're both about the same age in a church full of young women, and we both have four children, though her youngest is 13. 

But I don't know how to relate to anyone anymore. My situation is hard to explain and I don't want to let people into it in case they might pity me, and yet I wouldn't feel right listening and being stingy with sharing back either--that isn't true friendship, but more condescending. 

Being gone every Monday night would be a big stretch and would probably just add stress anyway, since the kids' anxiety is worse at night. It's hard to tell people that you don't have any time because your kids have so many mental problems that you're overwhelmed coaching them, and overwhelmed by their doctor's appointments and their learning disabilities and your husband's and son's ADHD and your headaches and brokenness and money troubles.

My husband ran into an old pastor of ours who shared that his twenty-something daughter is living at home temporarily and she's a serious alcoholic. The whole family is trying very hard to keep her away from alcohol until she can get into a treatment center soon, but somehow she keeps finding alcohol. She married young to someone addicted to drugs, and it ended badly, with her addicted to alcohol. He was nearly crying as he told my husband his burden. He said he was always busy with the ministry and wasn't the best dad. He partly blames himself for her situation. 

When husband came home and told me this story, I was devastated for this pastor. It struck an arrow through my heart, this man thinking he was choosing something good but all along, the enemy was attacking his home. It saddened me for quite a while, and I don't want to sadden someone else with my own brand of heaviness, so I feel like I have to keep it all in and avoid getting into new friendships--because who could understand anyway and so many might judge and just say, "Why don't you just go to work and put the kids in school to ease the financial burden?"

We are praying for the pastor and his family and I am glad he shared, don't get me wrong, even though it felt so heavy. We should collectively try to share the sin curse and hold one another up in the Lord.

The bottom line is, relating to people and sustaining intimate relationships, having normal self-esteem, and even having fun, is hard for people from alcoholic families. Normalcy is a mystery. I'm broken and alone and it feels safer and easier to be alone. Staying alone has been my modus operandi for years.

And yet that isn't what God designed for the Body of Christ. I finally get that I'm not living out my faith properly. My safe way is the wrong way.

I read some Ann Voskamp today. A man, Gordon, sat down to lunch with her and asked her how she sees God. She had trouble answering and told him she really doesn't have any answers, just questions, herself.

She thought about his question for days, and an answer came to her out in nature, as she and her daughter picked Chinese lanterns out in a field. She wrote:

I am not thinking of how to see God when I untangle the vines, snapping off a long string of dangling brilliance. I am not thinking of revelation as I peel back the orange sheath to the blazing seed sphere inside. The seed is soft.

It’s when I pick up a vine of browning lanterns and the flaming bead of orange inside a necklace of lanterns rattle. That’s when I think of it. That’s when I think of it only. That’s when I want to stammer out something to Gordon, something about this here.

I kneel down into the grass. The ground is cold. I finger one lantern hanging. It’s this: a delicate skeleton. It’s this: I can see right into the lantern.

It’s in the filigree of fracturing that I can see His flame. That I can see the light.

I remember Guatemala. I remember kids scrapping at the table. I remember, know, all my ugliness.

We see God when we let go. When we let go of the visible, papery skin that surrounds our moments, then we see the sacred jewel gleaming just underneath everything. I want to tell Gordon this.

We see God when we let go. So will I see God redeem my brokenness when I let go of my shame? When, like the broken pastor, I can talk about my burdens whenever they feel heavy--and not just anonymously here? When I stop denying that I'm such a mess and that I need a Redeemer and friend?

Fear stops me. Pride stops me. I want to hide, like Adam and Eve with their fig leaves in the Garden of Eden. Vulnerability is too scary and who can I trust and what if they judge me and their judgement hurts for days and weeks and just adds to my burdens?

Seven years I've written it...that God redeems our brokenness, that he heals and makes us whole. Can he make me the same as an adult who grew up in a home where no addiction existed? Can he give me the ability to have fun, grow a fulfilling friendship, and not be ashamed of my life in all its messiness?

He makes all things new. I must trust that and give him my newly acknowledged brokenness on a platter, served up with humility and hope.

My goal in wanting wholeness is to pass it on to my children. For I fear I'm passing on, without any addiction being present, the brokenness of my upbringing. The alienation, the shame, the extreme seriousness. 

I'm fairly certain my children will leave us knowing the Lord Jesus. Hallelujah. That is enough in itself. That is a triumph over previous generations. But dare I ask even more for them? I want personal wholeness for them as well. The ability to laugh often and well, the ability to trust and experience intimacy without shame, the wisdom to draw boundaries, the courage to take risks---the fullness that allows them to change the world for Christ.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength …the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show compassion…Blessed are all those who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:15a and 18

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Expectations as a Root of Anxiety

Today I want to discuss the roots of anxiety, and how mothers can naturally combat it by changing their expectations.

After trying Celexa (anti-anxiety med) for one day and feeling an overwhelming nausea, I left a message to have the doctor call in an alternative antidepressant. The office never responded and I was too busy to call back.

It was God's will. I don't need a medication; I need a shift in focus.

Yesterday the Lord revealed a better way to combat stress and anxiety--specifically my brand of stress. As a perfectionist there's always more I'd like to accomplish in a day than there are hours to do it. Thus, I'm never completely satisfied and when interruptions and curve balls are thrown at me, the stress piles on.

Here are my present problem areas and what the Lord is teaching me:

1. Stress About Homeschooling 

Most other homeschoolers have started school and I feel left behind in the dust, which is pretty silly because when most homeschoolers stop for the summer, we're still going. The benefit of homeschooling is that you can fit education into your life seamlessly, in ways that uniquely fit your family. You can teach children how to live a one-piece life with God as the center, with all other priorities centered around honoring and serving Him.

My mistake 

I was rushing my preparations for school, and stressing about the fall clothing switch and the delay it's causing, and stressing about my son's concussion brain rest and the delays it's causing...all because I felt I wasn't measuring up to other homeschoolers. The desire to return to routine was part of my stress, but when I was honest with myself, it was more the feeling of not being able to measure up.

So what if we start school in October instead of September? We have 12 months to complete a school year, and I aim to please God only, in gratitude for entrusting me with these precious children.

2. Stress About The House

The house is rarely tidy because I still have a five year old who actively plays with toys in imaginative ways--and not just in one room. Her things scatter about and of course she doesn't put away one thing before moving to another, or before going outside.

Both the boys' room and the girls' room get cluttered with clothes they've taken off or tried on, and that drives me batty. As I walk around the house, not a single room is in order and I feel like a failure, especially right now. Without the routine of school I don't remember the 5-minute pick-ups, which are so central to a tidy house. I spend all day tidying up, in addition to the laundry, cooking and dishes. All the other things I have to accomplish, like school planning, bills, paperwork, etc. get pushed back to late nights or not at all, and there is never time to rest and always the feeling of being behind.

My mistake

I resent my family because I'm overworked and stressed, and so I raise my voice and try to guilt them into doing more--such as, "Don't you see that I already have enough to do? Why is it so hard for you to pick up after yourselves?" As a result of my crankiness, they don't understand the depth of my love for them, or the depth of my satisfaction in being their mommy and their teacher. I have to change so that my love shows.

And of course, lecturing them about responsibility doesn't make them behave more responsibly. I have to give them responsibilities and hold them accountable. When routine is lax, I can expect them to irritate me. It's the very occasional child who is a neat freak. Most others will be sloppy if they can get away with it. I must either have a chore system and 5-minute pick-ups in place all the time, or I shut my mouth about a messy house and try to serve my family in love. There's really no other choice.

And am I really a failure for having a messy house? I have four children with whom I stay home, and we use our house all the time. We prepare and eat three meals a day plus snacks; the kids play outside and get dirty, generating a lot of laundry--even bringing in their dirt often. They use their art things, their toys and their books, and they don't always put them away promptly. It's no wonder our walls and our floors and our carpets are nothing to look at, and why they don't stay nice for long, even after I clean them. It's no wonder I feel embarrassed when someone comes to the door, unless I've invited them and I've thoroughly cleaned the house.

We are all gifted in different ways, and we all have a choice in what we spend the bulk of our time on. A messy house rattles nerves so trying to be a good manager is important, but measuring my worth by the look of my house is not a healthy thing, and will continually contribute to my anxiety if I let it. Other moms can certainly do better than me, either because they have fewer children, a larger house with better storage, they're away from home more, or their children are away at school and don't interrupt their cleaning efforts. Or because they're just better at organization.

3. Stress About Interruptions

It isn't unusual for me to experience four interruptions while doing the dishes or hanging clothes from the dryer. I get irritated that my agenda has to be put on the back burner--the tyranny of the present, so to speak. Most every day my goal is to have a nice looking home by the end of the day, but rarely do interruptions allow that to happen.

Medical appointments further interrupt us and get to me as well, but I'm getting better at accepting that God has a purpose for us to be out visiting doctors frequently, instead of signing up for other things. We didn't do anything to cause juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or asthma, or excessive ear wax, or OCD, or poor vision, or ADHD, or speech articulation issues.

My mistake

The reason I stay at home with my children is to nurture them and disciple them and to cherish these years with them. So then, why am I stressing when they interrupt me for a band-aid or a drink or help with their shoes or the snap on their pants--or to read them a book? Aren't I missing the boat when I look upon all these things as interruptions? Instead, aren't they the point?

Who cares if I go to bed with a house still messy? Some stranger who came to the door and got a peek--how long will that stranger even remember my house? Where will that stranger be ten years from now when my children are remembering not a loving mother who always had time for them, but a stressed-out one who complained about all she had to do?

The Big Fix

1. Know Your Core Values - What are your goals? What are you living for? What is worth spending the bulk of your time on? List these things and review them whenever anxiety plagues you. Chances are, you aren't being true to them, and that is the root of your anxiety.

2. Stay in the Word - We please an audience of one. Truly, this is key to our peace. The Word keeps us centered on what is important to God. Without the powerful exhortation of the Word, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to follow our own agenda and experience stress and failure.

2. Pray for yourself - We remember to pray for many people, but so often we forget to pray for ourselves. As we pray for ourselves, the Holy Spirit will bring our weaknesses to our mind. As we bring them before the Lord, we humble ourselves in the process. A humble heart moves toward Christlikeness.

And Christlikeness = Peace

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Have Hope: Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window:

Cloudy and cool, like fall. Thoughts of fall and winter make me so happy.

Two days ago we had a tornado warning, stemming partly from an actual tornado sighting in a neighboring town, albeit only a 30-mile-an-hour one. Having no basement here, I put the kids in the hallway with pillows for 45 minutes while I continued to check our PC computer for updates and peek outside. It missed us, but since then there's been a worsening of Mary's anxiety. Her anxiety started with the first tornado warning of spring, and I have to admit it's discouraging to have a setback now. Cold weather can't come soon enough for me this year; thunder and lightning will cease, and the bees will hibernate and with them some of Paul's anxiety too.

On my mind:

We got off track with the anxiety-therapy appointments due to the tree-climbing accident, and I'm eager to get back to them in another week. I've met with the psychologist twice now, and so far we've accomplished intake appointments for the two boys, and a fear hierarchy appointment for Peter. The next appointment will include a fear hierarchy for Paul, and an intact appointment for Mary, followed by the first therapy appointment for all three children, which will entail 40 minutes of therapy each, back to back.

Peter has responded best to my attempts at home therapy using OCD books, such as Talking Back to OCD. Mary and Paul have more resistant cases of anxiety and definitely need professional help. Paul doesn't always recognize which thoughts are real and which are OCD-related, and his vomit phobia (emetophobia) is fairly problematic. Mary claims challenging her fears with logic doesn't help because the fear is too powerful.

For my part, I'm exhausted and overwhelmed with their issues and Mary's problematic sleep, so yesterday I went for help of my own so I could continue to help them and take them to their appointments without being overwhelmed by my own anxiety and workload.

I don't meet the criteria for depression (they asked several questions to ascertain this), but the doctor indicated that feeling overwhelmed can be a symptom of depression. I mostly fit the criteria for anxiety, so she prescribed Celexa, which is an antidepressant noted for combating anxiety pretty well. However, it made me extremely nauseous and very anxious. (And I didn't sleep a wink because of the anxiousness, so insomnia was a problem too.) The first common side effect is nausea, as opposed to Prozac, which has abnormal dreams as the first common side effect, with nausea being far down the list. As a busy mother who must be able to drive four children to appointments and homeschool them, nausea for even two weeks as my body adjusts just isn't going to work. I called and requested they call in some Prozac for me instead, explaining my situation.

My doctor also prescribed the Topamax again for migraines, but this time a 50 mg dose rather than 3 months of the 25 mg dose. I decided not to take that again tonight, but to hold off until I find an antidepressant that works. Trying to adjust to two medications at once isn't wise because I won't know what side effect is from which medicine.

I have come to the conclusion that I need a therapist too, but that there just isn't time right now or anyone to watch the kids while I go. I have thought back to the time last February when I got that terribly upsetting email from my mother after she had been drinking. A few days after that I decided it was time to break ties with her. Her upsetting emails after drinking had been going on too many years and affecting my life too much. Following that decision I was sad and depressed for about two months, and both boys reacted to that--Peter with behavior problems and Paul with depression and sadness (he tends to take on the weight of other people's problems). And although Mary claims now she never noticed me being sad, she may have reacted to the stress caused by Peter's behavior issues, which, along with the mid-spring tornado warning, sent her into an anxiety tailspin that is still going on.

I still have had no contact with my mother and don't plan to, but I have more anger than I did before. I see the effects her drinking and denial had on my life and my siblings' lives, and it makes me angry, which isn't healthy. Since I got married and started a family, her behavior never affected just me, but my family as well--my innocent children particularly. Surely deep down she knew that if she upset me, it would affect my family as well?

Still, I understand the sin curse and all that it entails, so being angry is fruitless. I would benefit from help to get through the stages of grief over my upbringing, and the lack of support system I experience now due to my upbringing. I realize what I'm feeling is just the stages of grief, after having denied the seriousness of her problem for so many years, and its impact on my life.

While counseling would be good, I'm sure the Lord will get me through this fine as well, it just may take longer and require the antidepressant, since it also coincides with perimenopause and upheaval in my kiddos.

I realize too that it's hard for readers to have a peek into so personal a struggle, but one thing it does do is help people realize that we all have difficult paths, for whatever reason. I am not alone...you are not alone. We all struggle, and the Lord is there for each of us...intimately available to us in our sorrow.

I have hope. I believe the kids will get better. I believe I will get better. I know this season of life will seem like just a glitch some day. I know somehow the Lord will use it for his glory, and I pray with hope that He will both save and take care of my mom and extended family in ways only He could.

The reason for my hope is the Lord.

Psalm 38:15 LORD, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.

My Blessings:

~ God's love and mercy
~ A qualified psychologist
~ hope
~ modern medicine 
~ that Beth is not anxious
~ the hope of more cold weather soon
~ comfort soups and breads soon
~ colorful leafs coming
~ the hope of routine soon
~ the curriculum we need on the shelves
~ that with heaven comes our perfect bodies and minds
~ support from online friends

Thank you for your prayers and for your friendship! Both have meant so much to me since starting this blog back in 2009. You have encouraged my heart so many times! Writing helps me so much so I am going to make a better effort to write at least 3 times a week, despite the craziness around here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Calm Parenting Secrets: Christian and Mainstream

A concussion follow-up appointment yesterday revealed some bad news, most of which we expected, based upon my son's on-going symptoms. He cannot concentrate on anything, either academic or in play, without getting a headache behind his eyes, often accompanied by blurred vision. Even being read to requires a concentration that gives him a headache. He loves to read and be read to, so without that in his life he feels a sense of hopelessness, as do I. His condition requires a nerve-wracking and depressing brain rest. Only complete boredom is available, for even playing Lincoln Logs right now bothers him, as does painting a simple watercolor picture.

The Children's Hospital neurosurgery department revealed that most children have no symptoms two weeks after their concussion accidents, and we're beyond the two weeks. Not all concussion patients lose consciousness, but if that does happen, the concussion tends to be worse. My son did lose consciousness for less than a minute, so his concussion is probably between mild and moderate, but patients with pre-existing health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, can take longer to heal and can suffer from Post-Concussion Syndrome, with some symptoms lasting up to a year or more.

I knew all this from my research, but I was thinking positively, hoping for some miraculous reason they would take off his neck brace and give him an okay to do an hour of school a day, or say something resembling hope.

But no, in addition to all our other appointments, I have to take him back for an MRI to check for a sprained neck (requiring either surgery or extended time in the neck brace), and I have to take him for a two-hour appointment at the Traumatic Brain Injury clinic to have him checked for lingering signs of concussion (concussion is labeled Traumatic Brain Injury). If there are no lingering signs, he would probably then be referred for a vision evaluation with a pediatric ophthalmologist.

He no longer confuses time and place and his long- and short-term memory seem completely intact. The day after the concussion he underwent cognitive testing and could not repeat five random numbers. I tested him briefly yesterday and he could repeat up to seven random numbers, so I don't expect them to find lingering signs of concussion, except for the headaches, trouble concentrating, and blurred vision.

I don't have to tell you that I left that appointment yesterday in a sorry state of mind. My son is driving all of us crazy with his boredom, and we all wish we could go back in time and keep him out of that tree. Never have any of us felt so desperate to erase something.

After purchasing The Total Transformation by James Lehman, I became the fortunate receiver of regular and excellent parenting emails delivered as a newsletter to my inbox. I learn something valuable every time I click on them.

Guess what I learned today? A calm parent raises calm children. Yes, the stress around here is all my fault (being facetious), even though my frame of mind is normal under the circumstances. I don't know what we're about to face or how long the discomfort will last. I do know that speech appointments, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis appointments, excessive ear-wax appointments, eye appointments, anxiety-disorder therapy appointments, ADHD/OCD medicine follow-up appointments, and your standard dental and winter-illness doctor appointments, fall just short of doing me in as a homeschooling mother.

In case you also deal with that overburdened feeling, I want to go over a couple Christian calmness techniques, as well as some standard psychology techniques for controlling our emotions and reactions.

First, the Christian perspective:

Think Purpose and Plan: God's ways are not our ways. When circumstances like excessive appointments, or a tough diagnosis, or seasons of life overwhelm us, we need to get over ourselves and keep our eyes on God and his plan.

Occasionally I'm blessed with comments from strangers, such as "Your children are so polite and well behaved. What is your secret?" The other day a lady followed me out of a consignment shop and said the above to me, smiled at my children, and then offered me a large bag of clothes her teenage son outgrew. She was as sweet as could be. Paul smiled and joked with her over the "what is your secret" question with "Mommy gives us a lot of milk."

These encounters occur in doctor's offices or thrift stores or grocery stores, but always, they surprise me because my children can drive me nuts in doctor's offices, grocery stores, and thrift stores. These are not calm outings for me--my kids being the creative, overactive types. But somehow, passersby see something that I miss. We are God-followers and that makes us different than about 75% to 80% of America. When God is the center of the family, it shows, even when we're overwhelmed and overburdened.

All our appointments get us out into the world and when Christians are out, they shine. God makes them shine--it has nothing to do with what we've done right, but everything to do with God's power and grace.

So the first Christian technique for remaining calm is to remember that God has a plan. While that plan may make us uncomfortable, it serves a greater purpose and we need to trust in that.

Think Servant of Christ:  Not only do we have to trust in God's plan, but we need to be a willing servant, or instrument in his plan. We live to serve God, not the other way around. He saves us and loves us and sustains us, and much is required of those who call him Father. We have been given salvation instead of endless suffering; in gratitude for that we give up our lives for the Lord. Whoever loses his life will gain it. Our best life comes from serving our Father, not ourselves.

Luke 12:48 ESV But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Luke 17:33 ESV Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

I want to save my life by getting back to routine, starting school, getting a chore and errand chart going, having fewer appointments, etc. I want to restore sanity, but God wants me to learn to smile amidst the unknown and unchartered.

Think Psalms: Need I say more? Psalms sooth and remind and teach, and give us a divine hug.

I also find it helpful to use standard psychological helps, such as:

knowing our triggers
knowing what we can and can't control
distinguishing between fear and facts
digging for the root of anxiety
staying in the present
finding better ways to communicate
practice calming strategies
choosing our battles
using calm language
finding support
being forgiving of ourselves

See these two articles for explanations on the above strategies:

Parenting Anxiety? 5 Ways to Relieve the Worry

Losing Your Temper With Your Child? 8 Steps to Help You Stay in Control

I often turn to Psalm 46 when I feel overwhelmed. It contains so many soothing truths. On your worst days, you can start there:

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jeremiah the Prophet: On Anxiety and Depression

Jeremiah, by Michelangelo, 1512
Looking for information on a medication, I happened upon an article on Web MD about Web confessing, in which people confess things or talk about their lives anonymously on the Internet. The title questioned whether it was a guilty pleasure or healthy habit. Maybe you don't have time to read it? Let me just report that studies show it is beneficial to unload your heart and mind, but of course you have to use discretion to protect yourself and your family.

Even though this is an anonymous blog on which I share pictures sparingly, I do often delete things I regret writing. But feeds? They exist forever, thus the need for anonymity or reserve to the point of producing text that is sterile, or sadly, too much like this: "Look at my great life...no messy heaviness around here! Aren't you jealous and don't you wish you were me?"

Not surprisingly, I've been discouraged lately. I haven't been writing, and hours of research on curriculum cut my devotional time considerably. Depression and anxiety seeped into my daily life before I realized what hit me.

If you have someone near by to talk things over with, that helps, but busy moms relocated from original home states don't always have that advantage. It's harder to make friends once you are swamped with child-rearing, but holding on to old ones is somewhat easier when they live nearby.

We had multiple issues with the kids and other worries, and then the arm-break in one child and the tree-climbing accident in another resulted in more stress. Not to mention, when you take children to the ER, they are trained to ask the child immediately what happened, before asking the parent, so as to uncover any possible child abuse. Taking two children to the ER within two weeks of one another? You'd better have a good story. Maybe you aren't so paranoid about such things, but I feel guilty the second they ask me what happened, even though it's never negligence or abuse.

Yesterday I was so overcome by anxiety that I made the dreaded appointment at the clinic to be seen next week for anxiety and depression. (And migraine follow-up...the Topamax flopped and I'm out of ideas).

I couldn't relax thinking of when the next accident would happen, or the next crisis, similar to the way you feel when you get in your car after a minor accident. When my five year old did a forward roll, I imagined her breaking her neck and being in a wheelchair for life. I pleaded...please no somersaults until you get training in gymnastics...because what if she doesn't tuck her head as I instructed? (Ridiculous, I know, but husband knew someone who used bad technique and did end up paralyzed after a forward roll. Last week she did a handstand that ended in a unintentional flip, and the landing was scary.)

Stick to cartwheels and round-offs, I pleaded.

One child is on concussion "brain rest" right now, but when we start hopefully soon, school will change and be difficult this year, with all four formally taught at once. And with learning-disability materials abounding, most lessons will be teacher-directed. Who will keep up with laundry and cooking and cleaning?

Then yellow-jacket wasps, the venom of which Paul is allergic to, built a nest outside the playroom window. When husband sprayed it outside with the gun-like wasp spray, it drove many inside from some tiny hole or opening, and in a panic, I used wasp spray in the playroom to kill them in a hurry before they overtook the house and stung Paul multiple times. That would be too much venom even for an EPI PEN, I suspected.

You aren't supposed to use wasp spray indoors, but I didn't realize it until I read it after: "Never use indoors". Now I'm paranoid about the spray on the ceiling fan and the bits that dropped on the carpet underneath, even though husband washed it at least from the carpet. How long is it toxic for? Should I just take down the ceiling fan to discard it or try to clean it on top of all my other duties? The kids aren't comfortable in the playroom anymore, and it's one of the largest rooms in our house; we need it. I keep thinking about the effects on our nervous systems, and did it get on other things too, even though it's not an aerosol?

Stop the insanity!

I did just that last night by starting Jeremiah. It reminded me so much of God's faithfulness, power, and mercy. Isn't that what's missing from our lives when we cut devotional time too short? A sense of awe about our Creator? We lose a sense of God's provision, his mercy, his sufficiency, and most importantly, his love for us! Worry and depression seep in and choke us, and all the while the answers were right there in Scripture.

Be still and know that I am God.

We forget over and over again, and that's why we can never be done reading the Bible.

Do you remember Jeremiah? He ministered to Judah during 627 - 586 B.C., urging God's people to turn from their sins and go back to God.

Jeremiah was a miserable failure according to the world's standards; for 40 years he served as God's servant, but nobody listened. He was consistent and passionate, to no avail. He was poor and suffered severe deprivation to prophesy as God instructed. He suffered prison and a cistern, and he was taken to Egypt against his will. All rejected him, including neighbors, family, the false prophets and priests, his audience, and the kings.

Wow! And I thought I had a difficulties.

But what did God think about Jeremiah? Only that he was one of the most successful men in all history, because he was one of the most faithful and obedient.

I am still going to talk to a doctor about depression and anxiety, but I know that isn't the whole answer--not now, not ever. We can have no problem that isn't answered in Scripture.

And in the end, it doesn't matter how successful the world regards us, so why are we pressuring ourselves so? Is a somersault gone wrong ever the end of the world, or like Jeremiah's struggles, might it be part of God's plan, and something we can trust Him through?

We need only please an audience of one.

Just one. 

Jeremiah 1:4-10 

The Call of Jeremiah

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
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