Thursday, September 25, 2014

Only Human

So it is written:  "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.  The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.                        1 Corinthians 15:45

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     Last year was an incredibly hard year for me.  I found out that I had fluid around my heart, and that I had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (T.O.S. - the thoracic vein running across my chest gets compressed whenever I raise my arms, blocking the flow of blood in both directions).  That is the short version.  But the long journey to find all that out, and to address it all, was a complete year of two to three medical appointments a week, umpteen tests and medication changes, blood labs every three to five days, talk of invasive surgery to remove ribs and resection veins, etc.
     During all of that, I did my best to pray and turn to God, trying to trust Him to carry me through.  But boy did I stumble.  It seemed that with every step I tripped on anxiety and fell straight into fear.  The worst part of it all was feeling like I had failed in my faith: that as soon as my struggles reached a certain peak, my faith wasn't strong enough to get me through.  I wasn't angry at God for my situation; other people face far worse things than I was facing.  Instead, I was deeply disappointed in myself for not being able to rise above.
     Looking back now, from a good place (the fluid around my heart is gone and I am learning to adapt to life with T.O.S.), I see things differently.  
     Like Adam, I am a human being first, not a spiritual one.  I am here on earth, walking an earthly road.  I had no choice but to walk straight through fear and anxiety.  Although, in my opinion, they are the scariest elements of this human condition, they are part of the package.
     What fear and anxiety have taught me is that life on the other side of them sparkles.  I have a friend who calls those brilliant rays of sunshine that stab through the gaps in storm clouds "rays of miracles."  That's what it feels like when fear and anxiety part - like life, and everything in it, is miraculously shining.  That's a perspective I didn't always have before this whole experience.  That is the gift that God gave me in the midst of it all.  It took the journey to unwrap it.
     So if you are experiencing any kind of struggle right now that is so overshadowing it blocks out the light, be gentle with yourself.  Recognize your humanness; it is how we were made.  That needs to be honored.  Once we accept that God made us living beings first, then we can begin the journey towards becoming spiritual beings.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sometimes It Can Be That Easy

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.             Proverbs 3:5

     My new obsession is 409 Carpet Spot and Stain Remover.  Until now, I've been lucky if I got around to vacuuming my rugs, never mind cleaning the spots.  In fact, other than my sister coming with her carpet shampooer when I was pregnant five years ago and in "high nesting mode," I've never cleaned my rugs at all in the seven years we've lived here.  Truthfully, I haven't cared one bit.  
     But last week we were expecting overnight guests.  It's always when I'm having company that I see things in a new light.  Suddenly the stains in the guest bedroom carpet were glaring.  So I dug under my kitchen sink and came up with 409 Carpet Spot and Stain Remover that I have no recollection of ever buying.  I didn't really have time to read the directions, but thought I saw a drawing on the bottle of dabbing the stain with a cloth after spraying it.  That seemed like way too much work, and more time than I had.  So I took the easy route: I just sprayed the spots, let it be, and then vacuumed later.  Holy smokes - it worked!  The stains were gone!  It was that easy!
     There have been some major struggles with my kids over the years that were like the stains in my carpets:  they would start out small, going unnoticed by me because my attention was elsewhere, and suddenly, one day, they became so glaring, I was pulling my hair out.  
     Zack never like to read aloud,  But in third grade he flat out refused to do the teacher assigned reading aloud for twenty minutes each night.  Consequently, he fell an entire grade level behind in reading.  
     Mason has always been sweet, but he's also always been VERY slow.  It hit the "glaring" phase in second grade when he was taking more than twenty minutes each morning just to change his clothes.  That doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but there's only so much time before school.  Consequently, we were almost missing the school bus every morning last year (and in fact, did miss it at least 10 times).  
     Unlike the rug stain situation where I used the correct thing on the very first try, I wasn't as lucky with my kids' problems. 
     In Zack's case, I spent lots of money on books that I thought would interest him, even more money on a NOOK with a microphone so he could practice reading aloud by himself, took him to the library to choose books on his own, etc.  In Mason's case, I raced him myself, did sticker charts with rewards and prizes, you name it.  All of my time, effort, and investments solved absolutely nothing.  Both kids were still struggling, and all three of us were completely frustrated.  The only trick left up my sleeve was to finally turn to God.  I had no choice but to hand it all over to Him in prayer, and let it be.
     On the first parent teacher conference of Zack's fourth grade year, I was stunned when the teacher said that he was reading at a fifth grade level.  It made absolutely NO sense to me.  He left third grade at a second grade level.  HOW, in just a few short months, did he jump two whole grade levels?  Although I was utterly thrilled, I was completely baffled.  A few nights later, after the boys were supposed to be asleep, I heard lots of talking.  Right before I turned the door knob to tell them to settle down, it became clear to me that Zack was reading aloud to his brother.  When I asked Zack if he read to his brother every night, he said yes, and that he had been doing so since the summer.  There was no doubt in my mind that he was divinely inspired.  I had turned the problem over to God, sprayed it with prayer, let it be, and Zack was prompted to solve the problem himself.  Sometimes it can be that easy!
     Five weeks into this summer, Mason came down first thing in the morning completely dressed for the day.  To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement!  When I asked him where he got the idea from, he answered, "I don't know."  Again, there was no doubt in my mind that he was divinely inspired.  He has come down every morning since, fully dressed, sometimes with his face washed and teeth brushed too!  I had turned it all over to God, sprayed it with prayer, let it be, and Mason was prompted to solve the problem himself.  Sometimes it can be that easy!
     When I see a rug stain now, I immediately run for the stain remover.  In fact, I've gone through a can and a half in just one week!  My carpets have never looked so good.
     As quickly as I reach for that spray can, I need to reach for God with all the other problems that come my way.  I know God helps those who help themselves, and I can be resourceful.  But God is The Source.  When things are beyond me, they are never beyond Him.  I need to trust Him with all my heart.  I need to lean on His understanding, not on my own.  It may take time, more time that I'm willing to wait, but for the problem to be solved correctly, it has to be solved on His time frame, not mine.  
     So, here's to turning those unsolvable problems over to God, spraying them with prayer, patiently waiting, and having them seemingly solve themselves.  Sometimes it can be that easy!   


Have you had any situations that seemed unsolvable, only to turn them over to God, and, like magic, they were solved?  I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pleasant Places

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places...   Psalm 16:8

     I'm a huge "list person" with lists for the day, week, season and year.  I also created a checklist for my kids to cut down on the chaos of getting ready in the morning.  Their checklist is actually laminated and hangs in the bathroom where they get ready.  It has helped them become more independent, and has completely saved my sanity!  The final item on the list is "hug mommy."  It is a wonderful way to transition from "work" to "free time" before the school bus comes, or before we head out together for the day.
     Although my husband will say that I'm a complicated woman with all my lists, and my many other quirks, I do have very simple pleasures.  I also don't have to travel somewhere tropical or exotic to find "pleasant places."  
     One of the most "pleasant places" for me is in my bedroom, door closed, scented candle lit, Bible open, journal ready, eating hot oatmeal and drinking coffee.  While sitting in the same spot every time, my "prayer seat," I gaze at the cross and find deep peace and connection with God.
     After years of being bogged down with raising little ones, my husband and I have finally found a rhythm that allows each of us to escape and become our own person again.  Saturday mornings he is "on deck" with the kids and I get to retreat to my bedroom sanctuary to pray and write.  Sunday mornings I'm "on deck" with the kids and he goes off on long runs, and then to a coffee shop with his running friends.  
     As a result of my choosing to have my "me time" in the house, rather than at a coffee shop or at the gym, it has taken years to establish the boundary that when "mommy is having her alone time" my kids, or my husband, can't just barge in to tell me whatever is on their minds in that moment.  I recall an actual fight with my husband where I got ugly, screaming that if he didn't help maintain the boundary of my prayer space, I was going to load up the kids in the mini-van on Sunday, find his running route, and stop him at mile seven of his ten mile run, breaking his stride, just to tell him that we were out of batteries.  After that fight my sanctuary was restored, the boundaries were firm, and my prayer time became reverent and fruitful.
     However, recently, that has all changed!  Maybe it was the relaxed nature of summer, I don't know.  But suddenly my kids are barging in to "hug mommy" at the end of their morning checklist.  As sweet as that sounds, it's like a band of screaming banshees charging through a yoga studio in the middle of a meditation class.  It completely shatters my concentration and severs the line of communication I'm having with God in that moment.  It sets me back and I spend the rest of my alone time trying to find that place of peace again, that connection with God.
     So today, when Mason came in to "hug mommy" at the end of his checklist, and sneak in two or three other things he wanted to tell me, I told him firmly that from now on he needed to wait until I came out of my alone time to hug me.  I then asked him to repeat the same message to Zack and Jocelyn so I wouldn't be interrupted two more times.  As he left, I heard him yell down the hallway, "Zack and Jocelyn - Mommy doesn't want to be hugged." I felt like the worst mother in the world!  What mom wants to send the message to her kids that she doesn't want to be hugged?  The remainder of my alone time was spent in guilt, arguing with myself:  Everyone needs alone time to refuel and recharge.  Doing so makes me a better mother, right?  Even Jesus routinely went away by Himself to pray.  So why do I feel so awful?  Why am I so filled with guilt?  What happened to the "pleasant" feeling I had before Mason came in?
     That was it - the word "pleasant" was the key to the answer.  Although "the boundary liness have fallen for me in pleasant places" because my husband is so supportive of my alone time, I didn't define those boundaries "pleasantly" with Mason.  Instead, I was quick with my words because I wanted him to leave as quickly as possible.  
     It is completely fine to establish boundaries, in fact it's the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves, and everyone around us.  However, how we establish those boundaries is critical.  If I'm too quick and stern with my kids, they might maintain the boundaries, but it will be out of fear.  If I'm loosey-goosey and lax with them, which I guess I was over the summer, the boundaries get blurred and my kids get the message that the lines have been changed or no longer exist.
     What I need to do is reestablish those boundaries "pleasantly," lovingly, in terms my kids can understand.  I need to help them understand that we all have different needs, different ways of decompressing and rejuvenating.  I need to make the comparison for them:  Just like they need playdates every Friday to blow off steam, run wild, not have a routine and a schedule after a long week at school, I need alone time to reestablish my center, clear out the chaos of the week, and find that place where I can hear God.  They would completely flip out if I interrupted their playdate to tell them to do homework or some chores.  I would be derailing the story-line of the epic battle they were fighting, or breaking their concentration building the Lego creations they have envisioned in their minds.  Likewise, them charging in interrupts my journaling where I'm working through a problem or an issue, or severs the connection I have with God when I've finally reached my core in prayer.  
     Once I can lovingly help them understand this, I know they will maintain my boundary lines out of respect and love, just as I do theirs.  Then, once again, "the boundary lines will fall for me in pleasant places."   

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Greedy or Grateful?

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some of it and ate from it.                    Genesis 3:6

     I know my kids are only little for a short while.  To capitalize on that, and the fact that they're still happy to hang out with me, we do lots of "adventures" together, especially over the summer.  They have no idea where we are going, or whom it is with.  They just get in the car and off we go.  It has made for wonderful days and fabulous memories.
     The hazard of always trying to make things fun is kids always want more.  So for years now I've heard myself asking them, "greedy or grateful?"  The phrase is my attempt at teaching them to be conscious and appreciative of what we do, and what we have, and not to focus on what we don't do, and what we don't have.  Although it's an ongoing lesson, I do feel that it is slowly sinking in to heart level for them.
     As always, the lessons I'm trying to teach my kids inevitably circle around and become the lessons I need to learn.  Consequently, during our family vacation this year, I fell head first into the greedy well.  
     Due to a medical condition that was recently diagnosed, I am now aware of the fact that I can't hold my arms up over my head for any length of time.  After saving for two years for this vacation, I wasted precious time looking on, green with envy, as people shrieked with nervous excitement riding the zip line, cheered in triumph as they conquered the ropes course, high-fived each other after spiking the volleyball, and smiled with satisfaction doing water aerobics.  All of my energy was focused on what I couldn't do, not on what I could.  Without a doubt, I was greedy, not grateful.  
     So was Eve.  We look at her life in the Garden of Eden and we'd switch with her in a heartbeat!  What we wouldn't give for a life with no pain, no illness, fresh organic fruit at our fingertips, an extremely close relationship with God, and on and on.  Obviously Eve didn't recognize how great she had it or she wouldn't have wanted more, wouldn't have been such an easy target for the tempting snake.
     I know that I am often blind to what I have, and only see the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  I too become an easy target for the tempting snake.  I forget that any third-world mother who is struggling to feed her kids would switch with me in a heartbeat.  I don't think about the woman who has had failed invitro treatments, who, looking at my greener grass, would pay to have my life, medical restrictions and all, just to have any one of my three beautiful children.  I overlook the fact that there are people struggling to make ends meet who will never get to take a week's vacation away with their family.  Although I don't ever want to revel in other people's misfortunes, I do sometimes need to be reminded that there are people facing challenges far greater than my own in order for me to get the right perspective.
     Fortunately God granted me that perspective early on in the vacation so that I could recognize what I was able to do, and be grateful for that.  As my husband and I took a Segway tour together through the Vermont hills, I kept my arms down and thanked God for the cool breeze on my face, the breathtaking green mountains surrounding us, and the most fun I've had as an adult in a very long time!