Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Thought This Would Be Easier

"Moses said to the Lord, 'Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.'" ...[The Lord replied] "I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do."  Exodus 4: 10, 15


A few times a year, my kids, ages 8 and 5, visit with their dad out of state for about a week at a time.  Their adjustment back to regular life always takes time even with their occasional, local visits, but these longer visits so far away are quite trying upon their return.

Right now is one of those times.  They were away last week for Thanksgiving.  Typically when they get home, especially the first few nights are met with crying and not wanting me to leave the room at night.  This time around there hasn't really been crying but there have still been the effects of the separation, especially with my 8 year old special needs son.  He has regressed more than usual this time and has become very clingy, wanting to be by my side every minute and wanting me to help him do everything from putting on his socks to packing his backpack in the morning.  The most noticeable thing, though, are these tics that he has come home with.  He has various tics from time to time but this time, it's been a full body jerking type of movement and it has been very pronounced.  I noticed it the first thing when he got off the plane.  And I've noticed that it's magnified when we talk about daddy or anything from the trip.

It's very difficult for me, as a parent, to see my kids struggling both physically and emotionally.  I want to fix it.  I want to understand the causes and find answers how to help them cope.  At the same time, I know I need to deal with my own anxiety over the situation because they will pick up on that and I don't want it to aggrevate the situation.

As I was thinking about this earlier today, I was reminded of Moses.  He didn't feel equipped for the job that God had called him to because he was not eloquent of speech.  Man, can I relate!  The Lord replied that He would help Moses and teach him. 

I think often times it is easy to make the leap to think that it means the mission would be easy... because the Lord promised to go with him.  But that wasn't the case at all.  There were so many times along the way when Moses wanted to give up.  Things weren't going like he thought they should if God was on his side.  It wasn't easy at all.  But God never went back on His promise to help and to teach.

I don't know why God chose me to be the mother for my two, sweet little boys.  And it definitely isn't easy.  But somehow he saw me fit to do the job and I know that He goes along with me just as He did with Moses.  In a way, I'm thankful for eyes to see the deeper issues beyond the surface of what my boys are dealing with because it motivates me to want to learn all that I can to help them deal with life.  Unfortunately, they are innocent parties of divorce and that is the reality that we are faced with.  It isn't going away, so we have to deal with it the best way that we can.  I don't even want to imagine the struggles ahead of us during puberty (eek!) but I have to believe that God is using these trials now to prepare us to be better able to handle the future and that is a blessing.  I wish the blessing came in a prettier, easier package but this is reality.  And in the midst of it all, is the Lord and all of His unseen armies.

Lord, You know the anxieties I am dealing with right now.  I pray that I would recognize Your peace to calm the innermost parts of my soul.  I pray that I would always remember that You are God and You have promised never to leave me and always to guide me.  I pray that you would place your special wings of protection around my boys and help them to be able to express the things they need to in a healthy way, and that You would allow me the strength to face the unique struggles that come our way.  Thank You for your salvation and Your goodness.  Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

One Minute of Thankfulness

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His love endures forever."  Psalm 107:1

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago as the wellness coordinator for my office.  There were probably 150 coordinators from all around the country that got together for a 3-day course called Energy for Life that focused on physical, mental, and emotional wellness.  I really enjoyed the nutrition part of it and learned a lot that will especially help me today on Thanksgiving with all that delicious food!  The key is to enjoy your food and eat the things you like while being smart about it at the same time.

There was also a section devoted to writing and retelling your "story."  Now a lot of it made me think "this is how people who don't have Jesus try to find happiness and contentment."  But there were also some really great parts, too that I think are great to incorporate into every day life.

One of my favorite activities that we did had to do with being thankful.  The instructor set a timer and for one minute exactly, we had to each sit quietly with our notebooks and write down as many things that we could think of that we were thankful for.  When the one minute was up, we put our pencils down.

I felt so good after this activity.  It's amazing how just a simple task of thanksgiving can make you feel relaxed and peaceful.  And for one minute a day, think of what a difference giving thanks can make.  Surely amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, we can find just one minute to be thankful every day.

So for today, Thanksgiving, here is my one-minute of thankfulness.  It is now 10:07am:

I am thankful for my children.
I am thankful for my parents.
I am thankful for my sister.
I am thankful for a great church.
I am thankful for good friends.
I am thankful for a nice, affordable house to live in.
I am thankful for a job that allows me to use my gifts and talents.
I am thankful for a chance to sit down in quiet and think about thankfulness.

10:08am.  Wow, that one minute went really fast.  I feel like I didn't even get started with my list, past the easy things to be thankful for.  Being thankful makes me not want to stop making my list after just one minute because there is just so much more than that to be thankful for.

Imagine if we sat down and did this more often.  What if we start a list and each day take just one minute to add to it, not repeating anything from the day before.  What a great reminder that would be of God's goodness to us and His provision.  This thought just came to me... what if I put a spiral notebook on my nightstand and each morning before I get up, I take my one minute of thankfulness and then go about my day.  How would that one minute of thankfulness impact the other 1,439 minutes of the day?  Oh the possibilities!

Regardless if you choose to make this a part of your every day, I encourage you to take just one minute today and sit down with a paper and pencil and write down as many things that come to your mind to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shouldn't I Be Over This By Now?

I had some free time this afternoon so I stopped in to see my counselor to catch up and just recharge.  It'd been a little while since I had been in but I always feel so much... lighter I guess you would say, after I go to talk to her.  I love going in there because I can just talk without fear of rejection, shame or criticism.  And she has so many great insights and helps pull things out that have been going on in my head that maybe I didn't realize.

So I told her today that I've had writers block.  For a while, I had been writing several blogs per month... sometimes even several per week.  But that hasn't been the case over the last several months.  I love to write still, but I've just felt... blocked.  I didn't know why.

I also told her that I don't like to go to bed at night.  I'll stay up way too late watching movies or something on TV, or sometimes just mindlessly checking Facebook, email, Pinterest, etc.  Anything to avoid going to bed.  I wondered if it had something to do with a lack of control when you're asleep.  But she wondered if it was more that unconsciously I didn't want my mind to be available to think about things so I was blocking out that time of reflection and waiting until I couldn't keep my eyes open another second before I went to sleep.

That makes a lot of sense.  It's easy to avoid feeling pain when you busy yourself with overactive activities all day/night.

When I told her that it had been a few months since I'd really had anything noteworthy to write about, she asked me a personal question.  When was my ex-husband's new baby with his new wife born?

A few months ago.  And he named her the same name we had picked out together when I was pregnant in the event that we had a girl.  And not only that, the "other" woman during our marriage also just had a baby around the same time. 

I try to act like it doesn't bother me that much.  I mean, it's been five years.  Shouldn't I be over this by now?  There are so many times I want to write about it but then in the back of my mind, I feel like that just makes me look pathetic.  I hear the words that he always used to say to me when I would question things that had happened in the past.  I just needed to "get over it."  After we separated, my church at the time, although somewhat supportive from a safe distance, I felt also wanted me to just "get over it" because it was also a reflection on them.  And in all honesty, I wanted to just "get over it" too, because being in the midst of it all was just too painful.

So I intellectualized and analyzed the whole situation.  If I could figure it all out, logically and psychologically, then I could get over it.  I reminded him of his mother, he couldn't hurt his mother, so he married someone just like his mother and did those things to his wife instead.  There.  Feel better now?  Judging from my constantly clenched teeth, I would say that answer would be "no."  But I sure could act like I was okay.  I've perfected my happy, smiling image pretty well.  When you smile a lot, people think you are okay.

But I can't say that.  It's been five years.  Maybe if I had admitted how much it hurt me a few months into it, people might be a little more forgiving.  That's normal.  Five years later?  Like I said, I thought it just made me pathetic and should never be spoken of.

So my ex-husband has this baby with his new wife, the other woman has a baby with her new husband, and life appears to be wonderful for all of them.  I went eight months through my last pregnancy terribly stressed out from suspicion of this other woman, which I am convinced is what cut that pregnancy short by four weeks and five weeks later, I found myself reeling with the after effects of an unfaithful husband and the resulting separation as well as hormones that were through the roof after childbirth.  This gives me a terrible case of It's-Not-Fair Disease.  Why did I have to go through that and they all just move on like nothing ever happened and start their own new families?  It still feels unfair five years later.

So there.  I said it.  It's been five years and I'm still not over it.  I don't know if I ever will be.

BUT...

I just bought a new car on my own this week.  I negotiated a great price and even got them to throw in some extras.  I wouldn't have been able to do that five years ago.

I now have eyes that can see things that they couldn't see before.  I'm better able now, to see beyond what is said and done, to the motivations behind them.

I never had the confidence to write before.  I didn't think I had anything beneficial to say and if I did, who would want to read it?  But now, I realize that while I may not be a Pulitzer Prize winning author, God has given me this gift to use and I am very thankful for it because it's something that I love doing, regardless if anyone reads it.

I think I react less emotionally now.  Although I still get emotional, I'm better able to feel it first, own it, and then respond to situations more rationally and thoughtfully.

I feel like I'm a stronger mother for my children now and better at modeling life for them than I was five years ago.

Although good has come from the experience, I would give anything to go back and change things so I never had to go through that.  And so I wouldn't still have to feel hurt by it with each and every new little thing that happens to remind me of the past.  I would like to have all of the positive outcomes without any of the painful work to get there.  That would be the perfect antidote for It's-Not-Fair Disease.  But I digress...

I love what Naomi Zacharias said about scars in her book The Scent of Water:

The truth is, scars are an important part of our stories... A scar can remain as a tribute to what happened; it tells us something went wrong, that someone got hurt.  A scar lets us know that she survived.  The tension between flawed and special reveals something about the viewer too.  It weeds out those who only appreciate the kind of beauty that is obvious.  And it affords the opportunity to those with true character to explore beneath the rough edges to uncover an altogether different kind of beauty.  But it's the kind you have to roll up your sleeves to discover.  Then again, if it were not so, it wouldn't be special.

I really needed to read that.  The more I think about it, I think it hurts because I don't see their scars, only my own and I wonder, "Why me, Lord?"  But there are so many things that we don't see... not only in others, but in ourselves as well.  I'm sure there probably are some people who do think I'm pathetic to not be over it.  But then maybe there are people reading this who will be comforted to know they are not alone because they aren't "over it" yet either and that it's okay.  All I know is that this is who God made me and He is helping me work through all of these things as He continues to mold me into His image and for that, I am so thankful even in spite of the sometimes painful journey.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How to be Sure of Heaven

With what I see as the world quickly spiraling down a very troubling path, my heart has been heavy for unsaved friends and family members.  There are many days when I hope the rapture will happen tomorrow and that the Lord would take us out of here.  But immediately after that though, comes the one of my friends and family members who would not be there with me and would be doomed to face a very very dark future and that makes my heart incredibly heavy. 

Below is a great explanation about how to be sure of heaven from my church's website:

The starting point for the answer is determining in what you will rest your faith in. If you place it in the Bible as God's inspired Word, the questions can readily be answered. If you do not accept the claims of the Bible, at all, or in part, or if you believe that the Bible is only a part of God's revelation to man, then your response to the questions will certainly be affected.

For those who accept that the Bible is God's Word, we have the assurance from 1 John 5:13: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life..."

There are many who will say, "I believe in God, so I must be OK." Yet, they live no differently from others who have no God. We must understand that there is a great difference between possessing knowledge about God and a genuine, life changing belief upon him. The Bible speaks of this difference in James 2:19, saying "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." You see, there will be no devils in Heaven although they believe that God's word is true. Genuine saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is reflected in a response to his word. Jesus stated several times. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

What is repentance? The Bible defines it as a change of mind about your sins, resulting from a godly sorrow for your sins, God's Word says it this way: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." (Acts 26:18)

This repentance is the element that many people see no need of. Their reasoning is: "I'm no worse a person than the average, and I live a lot better than many," or "I live better than some of the so-called Christians I've seen." Though these statements may well be true, they are based on the wrong measure; that of people to people. God sets the standard much higher. He said, "Be ye holy, as I am holy."

A careful study of the 10 Commandments alone will reveal to us that we have already broken them in letter or in spirit hundreds and thousands of times! Even if we could somehow live from now on without sinning, we have all the sins of our past to account for. The Bible states in the book of James 2:10, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet, offend in one point, he is guilty of all."

So you see why the Word of God in Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 6:23 tells us, "the wages of sin is death..." Revelation 20:13-15 says, "...death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to his works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Yes, the Law quite rightly condemns us as sinners, but it also points us to the only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The perfect matchless Son of God came to earth 2000 years ago, and fulfilled all the Law's requirements.

The Lord Jesus Christ, at Calvary's cross, took upon himself the penalty which is against us for our sins. Romans 5:8 says, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He died, was buried and rose again on the third day, as history well testifies.

What he tells you to do is simply believe him and receive him as your Saviour. Romans 10:9-10: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Verse 13 says, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Do call upon him now. Pray something like this, "Lord God, I know I'm a sinner, and can't save myself. I see that Jesus Christ died on the cross and gave his blood to pay my sin debt. Now, by faith, I trust him as my own Lord and Saviour. Amen."

If you came to Jesus with a repentant heart, and just now trusted him as your Saviour, nothing can ever change that! You are heaven bound, and are a child of God!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fear of the Future

"For He Himself is our Peace."  Ephesians 2:14

I've had a handful of sleepless nights lately worrying about the future.  I barely watch the news and I only open the newspaper to get the Sunday coupons out, but it's still hard to escape what is happening in our country and our world today.  Still, I can see daily how anything related to God is seen as offensive, mean-spirited, and hateful and how any mention of Him is slowly being pushed out of society.  If God is the offending party, then why are times getting worse and worse the more He is pushed out?  If the Lord is really all that they are saying He is, then shouldn't the world be a more peaceful place without Him?  But it's not.  It's worse and the world is blinded to see the Truth.  Instead, they shout "Crucify Him!"

Dwight L. Moody said, "A great many people are trying to make peace, but that has already been done. God has not left it for us to do; all we have to do is to enter into it."  We say we want "world peace" but the only way to have it is through Christ because He is our Peace.

So I find myself looking at a world that hates Christ and nations rising up against nations and governments controlling every aspect of people's lives and what that has the real potential to lead to, and it sometimes robs me of sleep.  But it also leads me to the Word of God.  I remember when my own personal world was falling apart and it was all I could do even to function and walk through the house, the only thing that gave me any kind of relief was God's Word and His supernatural peace.

That's because only way to combat fear is the Word of God.

I was watching Charles Stanley on TV last night and he did a great message on discernment.  He also reiterated the importance in being in God's Word.  What should we read?  He said it doesn't matter.  "The Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  Hebrews 4:12

I have been reading my Bible a lot more lately and I can testify to the fact that it does give me a peace beyond all understanding in the midst of a world in chaos.  I don't like living in fear.  I feel like having a fear of the future robs me of joy in my today.

I have also been trying to memorize more scripture lately and have also been teaching my kids to memorize scripture.  The way things are looking these days, there may come a day when we are not allowed to carry a Bible, the way things already are in other countries.  However, no one can take away what is already hidden in our hearts.  In fact, that was my kids' Bible verse from church last Sunday... "Thy Word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against Thee."  Psalm 119:11.  We are making preparations now for this "Godless" future.

It really is a scary world out there, capable of inciting crippling fear.  But He is our Peace and clinging to God and His Word is the only way to have peace in a dying world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Facade of Freedom

"The wrath of God is being revealed... therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of the world."  Romans 1: 18, 24

Have you noticed lately that the popular worldview (or at least the media worldview) these days touts Americans as having the freedom to live they way they want to live?  Really?  I find it interesting that a woman should have the choice to do with "her body" what she wants, however she should not have the choice to drink a large soda.

I recently started doing a study on the book of Romans with a friend of mine and we've both been journaling our thoughts on the different chapters and verses after we read.  As I was reading through a few of my notes on Chapter 1 this morning, I just realized again how relevant the words of Romans are to today's postmodern culture.

Verse 18 says that the wrath of God is being revealed.  Verse 24 goes on to say that God gave them over to the sinful desires of the world.  Could it be that the wrath of God is in allowing us to have our own way?  We think true freedom is having our own way.  However, later in Romans it talks about the fact that there is no one righteous.  We are all sinners.  When I look at the way of the world today with all of the violence and hatred and desire to do whatever we want without regard, it's not so much that God is doing this to us, but that we are doing this to ourselves and His wrath is being revealed in the fact that He has not stopped the things that are happening (yet).

We think we have freedom having things our own way.  But our own way is sinful and being allowed to reject God and do things our own way leads to being a slave to sin.  The campaign to choose for ourselves what we want to do with our own bodies, relationships, etc is disguised as freedom but is really an invisible road leading towards slavery.  This disguised freedom is in fact, bondage.  "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (James 1:14 KJV)

God's law is not close-minded and harsh.  It is there to save us from ourselves and protect our freedom through Christ rather than becoming slaves to sin.  His Word tells us how we should live, but we reject that saying it is intolerant and restrictive.  I don't hold my kids' hands in the parking lot because I want to restrict them.  It's because I know they are boys and they like to run around and play and I want to protect them.  I'm not judging them for being boys and I don't hate them for wanting to run and play.  Holding their hands may seem restrictive but I set boundaries for them for their own good because I love them.

We live in a culture that calls good, evil and evil, good.  It calls slavery, freedom and freedom, slavery.

"The wrath of God is being revealed... therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts."

Just something to think about...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kindred Spirits

I just got back from the International 22q Conference in Orlando, FL.  I've mentioned it before that my oldest son has a chromosome disorder called 22q (DiGeorge Syndrome, Velocardiofacial Syndrome).  Basically he is missing genetic information on his twenty-second chromosome which affects him in various ways.  I can't tell  you how it touched my heart to be around hundreds of other parents with a child just like mine.  I usually feel so alone with the syndrome as I usually have to explain it to the professionals who are the ones I had hoped could tell me something.

My eight year old is so much different than other eight year olds.  While other kids his age are running around playing superhero or ninjas or shooting each other with Nerf guns, my child is standing in the closet by himself pushing pretend buttons and saying out loud, "going up" in his best elevator operator voice.  Sometimes the kids will invite him to play along but he continues pushing his imaginary buttons without making eye contact.  It's not easy when your child is different.

Over the past two days I've met some folks from Michigan, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Georgia, and New Jersey.   They all had an elementary school aged child who also had the 22q deletion syndrome.  We compared notes on sphincter pharyngoplasty and the small stature of our kids.  We talked about hypernasal speech and low muscle tone.  We discussed the autistic-like repetative and obsessive behaviors we've noticed in our kids.  Almost all of their children had been held back at least a year in school, just like my son.  I was no longer alone in a big world of typically developing children and doctors who have never heard of the condition before.  For two days, I was among fellow travelers along this journey.  People who understood my frustrations and fears when trying to navigate the medical world because they had been there.  It was so refreshing.

In addition to meeting other parents who've "been there," I also came away with different new bits and pieces of research, techniques, and knowledge to help me be a better mom to my very special little boy.

One of my other favorite parts of the conference was this afternoon just before lunch when I got to talk to that very special little boy on the telephone and also to his equally adorable kid brother.  I told him of all the elevators I had ridden on and filmed for him while I was there.  He asked me what floors I went to, what kinds of elevators they were, and what time it was on my phone... his favorite topics to discuss.  My four year old told me all about his sticky hand toy that he had been playing with and flinging up against the wall just before they had to hang up for lunch.

I love it how when you're feeling overwhelmed by life, God provides an opportunity for relief and a feeing of normalcy in a crazy and sometimes chaotic world.  I always think the same thing when I sit outside in nature and just look up at the clouds and trees blowing in the breeze and I remember the perfect parts of God's creation even while the terribly fallen parts of this world play across the evening news inside on the television.  I think it helps keep me sane.  Thanks, Lord.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Life After Loving a Narcissist

"With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him."  Proverbs 7:21

Right now in Sunday School we're doing a very in depth study of the Proverbs.  It's been quite interesting learning about Hebrew poetry and how the way the Proverbs are written portrays what the scriptures are saying directly as well as poetically. 

I have to admit that today's study of Chapter 7 hit very close to home for me.  Today we met the "strange woman" again.  (Or in my case, it was the strange man).  The strange woman is lovely.  She is enticing.  Her lips drip honey and her words are smooth as oil.  She is charming and has a way with words.  She is a prowess.  In chapter 7, we see her standing on the street corner seeking a young, naive man as her prey.

Reading about this strange woman is very familiar to me because I have been that young, naive (wo)man devoid of understanding (v7) before who has wandered into the path of a charmer.  I have been like the ox led to the slaughter (v22).  There is an interesting phenomenon that happens when you are an idealistically naive person wanting to be loved and you encounter someone such as the narcissist.  It can be difficult not to be pulled in by those honey dripped lips and smooth, carefully crafted words.  From all outward appearances, this person seems to be a perfect match.

However, before you start to feel too sorry for me, let me tell you there were red flags.  I just chose to overlook them because I was "in love."  Honestly, though, I believe that all of us has a bent towards narcissism although not everyone turns out to be a pathological narcissist.  You can see it all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God.  To be honest, I had an unconscious need to be taken care of... to be told I was lovely and that I was loved.  When I found someone who appeared to meet that need, I was able to rationalize the red flags and sometimes flat out ignore them.  Although I didn't realize it at the time, it wasn't that I had fallen in true love but that this person made me feel good and met my own narcissistic need.

This morning we talked about verse 21, "With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him."  Was this only the fault of the strange woman?  Certainly she was guilty and there will be consequences for luring in the youth for her own prowess.  She will not go unpunished.  However, the youth was still responsible for his own actions as well.  Regardless of who was more at fault, they each had their own choices to make.  I believe the youth will bear his own consequences for choosing to overlook the red flags, even if he was enticed.

Identifying with the youth myself, I would probably take his side.  He was not wicked.  He was simply naive and blinded by the appearance of love.  He did not know it would cost him his life (v23).  The strange woman is the true villian.  Maybe, but he still has to deal with his response to her and the consequences of his actions... the overlooked signs, the enabling behavior, the rationalizations... Wait.  Am I still talking about him or am I talking about me?  Hard to say.

So what now?  I'm grateful to say there is life after loving a narcissist if you are able to see your own role in the deception.  If not, you know what they say... if you don't learn from history you are doomed to repeat it.  Looking back, I can say that loving a narcissist did cost me my life.  It cost me my marriage.  It cost me my family.  There's a new spouse.  New children.  Child support issues.  Visitation.  Occassional loneliness. The list goes on.  I am still living with the consequences daily of an unguarded heart. 

The Bible says that we are dust and to dust we will return.  When someone dies, they are typically buried in the ground.  They become part of the dirt.  That was my old life.  The beautiful picture is that in that earthen ground, new trees grow.  When watered and cared for properly, beautiful flowers begin to bud and new life emerges.

Although the consequences of an unguarded heart may be very long lasting, God can and will take a repentent heart and a willing spirit and make it brand new again.  The ultimate new life happens at salvation.  That is the first essential piece to the puzzle before any other type of lasting transformation can take place.  After that, the Lord will continue to transform a life characterized by humility and a willingness to be molded into His image.  That means the willingness to admit failure.  It also means a willingness to recognize our own role in sin and allowing God to purify and fill our own narcissistic needs.  We all have certain and legitimate needs, but looking for someone else to fill them leads to idolatry and vulnerability towards the "strange woman."

There can be life again after loving a narcissist.  Proverbs 8 reminds us that while the strange woman may be crying on the streets, there is also another and her name is Wisdom. 

"For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that one may desire cannot be compared with her."  (Prov 8:11).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Baskets Full of Bread

"And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes."  Matthew 14:19

Sometimes it boggles my mind that what you see is a small little crumb but what God sees is a basket full of bread.

About three weeks ago, the monthly income that I am used to suddenly and unexpectedly decreased substantially.  Hopefully not forever but realistically, I'm not sure how long it will be.  I was very nervous and shaken up by it at first but in those initial moments and days, I kept remembering Philippians 4:19, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."  Regardless of the circumstances, God shall supply.

Since then, I've just been realizing again, God's providence:

Today was the boys' last day at summer daycare for a little while which will save me a month's worth of childcare.  Providence.

About a year ago I started couponing.  Nothing extreme but because of that, I have a big enough stockpile of food that I have only had to spend $50 on groceries over the whole last three weeks.  This is just one small cabinet of the loot I still have stored up.  Providence.

I had also made some larger casseroles and such over the past few months that were more than enough to feed my small family of three.  So I also had several meals in the freezer that I've been able to just pop out and heat up recently.  There are a few more meals left in there as well which will save me another week's worth of grocery shopping.  Providence.

Although I am now debt free, some time back I applied for a credit card from a company that gives you reward points whenever you use it.  I use it now for everyday purchases and then pay it right off.  At the end of each month I rack up in gift cards.  If you are self-controlled enough to use it and not let it build up to where you end up paying interest on it, you can really save a lot of money by getting free gift cards with the rewards.  I've had several gift cards that I've used from that recently as well as gift cards I've gotten from other places.  I've used them for gas, food, and other incidentals.  I still have a couple left and one more on it's way.  Providence.

This afternoon, my son and I had dentist appointments but I wasn't worried about how I would pay for it because I work for a great company with an awesome wellness program.  Over the course of a year, it's possible to earn up to $200 in wellness incentives that can be used on tons of qualified medical expenses.  I also have some left over from last year which means today's appointment for both of us came to a grand total of $0 out of my pocket.  Providence.


This didn't really save me money but it still shows that God uses other people to be a blessing as well.  I had posted on facebook the other day to see if anyone local had some hedge trimmers I could borrow to trim the small tree in my front yard.  I actually don't mind doing that kind of work myself but the very next day, three people showed up to trim it for me!  Unfortunately the first group came while I was gone and couldn't find an outlet to plug in the trimmers but then later in the day, my friend Joy and her husband stopped by with gear in hand to get the job done.  Here is my four year old helping to blow away the leaves and the nicely manicured tree in the background.  Providence.


I could go on and on about how God always provides.  When I run the numbers of what is coming in right now, it doesn't work out.  But somehow God continues to provide.  When I first got the news that part of the payments I receive were stopping, it was on payday from my job.  I sat there trying to figure how I was going to stretch that money.  As I opened up my checkbook I knew that most of that check was going to go towards childcare and that I also had some other bills due to pay.  However, I made a conscious decision.  The first entry after that deposit was for my tithe.  I wasn't sure how everything else was going to get paid after that but I am a firm believer that tithe always comes first because if it weren't for the Lord, I wouldn't even have the first little bit.  He has given me the health and well being to work in the first place to provide for my family.  I knew that if I was faithful to thank God through my tithe even when I didn't know how I was going to do anything else, that God would continue to multiply the bread in my basket somehow.

As I walk around my house, I notice other ways God has provided for me in the past and it is a tangible reminder to me of Philippians 4:19.

This is the entertainment center that a friend of a friend who I had never even met before just gave to me when I first became single again and was trying to furnish my new house.

And here is some of the matching bedroom set that went with it (all given to me).

These things were not necessarily needs but the Lord chose to bless me through the kindness of another anyway.

I am just so grateful.  Life is not just all about what you can see.  It's about remaining faithful to the One who can see the unseen.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Remaining Faithful in the Midst of Fear

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind." 2 Tim 1:7

I had a little bit of a freak-out moment tonight.  It began with an email.  As I read the words, I could feel the blood rushing to my head and my entire body beginning to well up with anger.  It had been a while since something had made me feel this way and it caught me off guard.  I didn't know what to do with it. 

So I called my mom. 

Talking about it helped get it out of me and it helped me to calm down a bit.  After that, I talked to a few more friends about the issue at hand to get some advice on how to proceed and as I did, I could feel my body starting to return to normal as I let it all soak in and allowed my mind time to process rather than making rash decisions. 

While I was very angry about the content of the email, I realized that a big part of that anger came from fear.  The issue at hand has the capability to upset the normal and peaceful life that I have settled into over the past few years.  It threatens to turn everything I have worked so hard for, completely upside down.  In fact, this current crisis will now test every bit of character that God has been forming in me.  And I admit it, part of me is afraid even as I type this.

However, God has not given me a spirit of fear.  Instead, he has given me a spirit of power.  I can do what needs to be done because He has given me the strength and the power to do it.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13).  I think because I am taking the time to process the scenario in order to respond appropriately rather than just reacting to it in the heat of the moment, that God will help me to come to a response that is firm yet loving rather than defensive or harsh.  I am also reminded that He has given me a sound mind that can think and reason and process and make wise decisions.

God has already promised that He will supply all my needs.  It's not a check or another person who supplies my needs.  It's the Lord.  This current crisis did not catch Him off guard.  In His Word, He has already promised to be the Supplier.  Therefore, even if circumstances seem to appear otherwise, I need to keep holding onto that truth and walking boldly forward even in the midst of fear.  The most important thing for me is to remain faithful to God's Word.  It's to not give in because of fear or try to take the reins myself.  I will not allow myself to be bullied into submission but am choosing to remain faithful and trusting in God's promises and submit instead to His will.

Rather than allowing my anger over the situation to tempt me towards sin, instead I choose to let it propel me towards action and righteousness.  In a way, I'm even a little bit grateful for a crisis sometimes because while it is tough and anxiety producing, it also pushes me straight into the arms of Christ to lead me on. 

Right now I'm choosing to remain faithful in the midst of fear, taking one step forward at a time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Hole in the Pancake

"And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living."  Genesis 3:20

My boys and I like to make blueberry pancakes on Saturday mornings.  My four year old likes me to make his pancakes in the shape of a doggie, using cereal for the eyes and strawberries for the mouth or nose.  My seven year old usually likes me to make big numbers.  Last time he wanted me to make a 1,000,000 pancake.  We compromised with a 1,000 shaped pancake instead.

Regardless of what shape my pancakes are, one thing is always the same.  I always have to poke a hole in the middle of it after I flip it over.  Why?  Because that's what my mom always did.  Why?  Because that's what her mom always did.  There may be a real, scientific reason why the pancakes seem to turn out better with a hole poked in them, but the honest reason why we do it?  That's what we learned from mom.

With Mother's Day having just passed, I wondered about Eve.  How did she know how to be a mother when she didn't have a mother to teach and model for her?  The Bible doesn't go into details about her mothering abilities, but as the mother of all living, I imagine she knew the distinct sound of each of her baby's cries.  She may have kissed their boo boos to make them better.  Maybe she worried about them as they went off on their own.

So how did Eve know how to be a mother without a mother to show her what to do?  Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he him."  When we look at the qualities of God the Son, we see Him tenderly calling the little children unto Himself in Matthew 19 and we also see Him fiercely driving out the money changers from the temple in John 2.  Christ personifies characteristics of both male and female, both mother and father, both gentle and compassionate, along with strong and mighty.  Donald Joy states in his book, Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God [1985] that "All this adds up to a magnificently rich portrait of God."

On the other side of the spectrum as a single mom, I often wonder how my boys will grow into manhood without a strong father in their lives who can take them there.  As a woman, I cannot take them there.  However, I do serve a Heavenly Father who promises to be "a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows," (Ps 68:5).  My mission is to remain in Him and lead my children in the way they should go because the Lord embodies all of the qualities I do not possess.  John 15:4 says, "Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."

Eve may not have had an earthly mother, but she knew how to be a mother because she was created in the image of God who is a perfect model to both mother and father.  This is evidenced when the same God who said unto her after the fall, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow in conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children," also made "coats of skins, and clothed" her. (Gen 3:16, 21).  Even though Eve did not have an earthly mother, she did not lack for anything because she was a child of God and He is both Savior and King.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."  As a mother, I may not always do things right or say things right.  However, I hope to pass on a Godly legacy to my children because of all of the traits that my Heavenly Father does possess as both the Lion and the Lamb.

Thank you, Lord for your fullness of mercy, grace, and love and that you are everything that I need.



Monday, May 7, 2012

Finding Rest

"And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done."  Genesis 2:2

It seems a little ironic that I am writing about finding rest at 9:30 at night, when really I should probably be doing that instead of sitting here at my computer.  Ahem, anyway...

Rest seems to be something that is not valued very highly these days.  From sunrise to sunset, life charges at us at lightning pace and there is always something to be done.  We busy ourselves with overactive activites, bouncing from one place to another.  I've heard people remark that there needs to be another 10 hours in the day.  However, if there really was an extra 10 hours in the day, I doubt we'd use that extra time to rest.  We'd probably just find more things to do to fill that time.

My day starts around 5:45am when my alarm goes off.  Or, if I'm more honest, I'd say it really starts around 6:10am after I've hit the snooze at least 5 times!  From there it's rush rush rush to get ready, get the kids ready, and out the door.  After that, I drop them off at school, spend the next eight hours working, pick up the kids, drive home, fix dinner, eat dinner, get the kids dressed for tee ball or karate, rush back out the door for whichever activity is happening that night, drive home, draw baths for the kids, play or read books with the kids, get dressed, brush teeth, say prayers, sing songs, lights out, lights on, kids have to go potty for the third time of the night, lights off again, clean up the kitchen from dinner, throw in a load of laundry, check email, wind down, go to bed.  What was the title of this post again?

Being a single parent can be exhausting, but I would dare to guess that many of my married friends' days don't look much different than my own.  Days like these are why I really enjoy my times of rest.  I have to intentionally carve out time for them from my busy schedule.  There is always something I could be doing.  But rest is a very important part of life.  The Lord set an example for us when he rested after the creation of the world.

I used to feel guilty about resting.  Especially if it came in the form of vegging out on the couch and watching television while the living room was a mess or the laundry was piled high.  If it's not the mess or the laundry, though, it would be something else.  There really aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done.  Maybe that just means that everything doesn't need to be done in a day and that resting is good for not only our bodies, but also our mind and spirit.

Choosing to rest also means learning to say no.  I've been learning that I need to say no sometimes to invitations or added activities if it will infringe on my necessary time to rest and unwind.  There are also days when I purposely avoid making any plans and just stay home and enjoy time with my kids or sit back with a good book.

Another way I intentionally set aside time to rest is through what has been declared in my house as "No Clean up Friday."  In fact, if I forget the rule and tell the boys to clean up before bed, they reply with, "We can't clean up, mommy.  It's No Clean up Friday!!"  On Friday nights we stay in and just play and relax.  It has actually become one of my favorite nights of the week and I find that I really enjoy my time with the kids a lot more when I am relaxed and recharged.

Sundays are our ultimate day of rest as we observe the Sabbath.  I wear a pedometer type tracker on my shoe to count my steps during the day.  Typically I try to get in at least 10,000 steps per day, which is not very difficult with my schedule.  On Sundays, however, I'm lucky if I reach 3,000.

The bottom line is that if even God rested, then what are we saying if we think we don't need it, too?  It is one thing to take resting too far where it becomes laziness, but there is no need to feel guilty for finding time to rest each day or week.  Take some time from your day to kick up your feet and relax, if even just for a few minutes.  I often take a short break during the day just to step outside and go for a 5-10 minute walk in the fresh air.  Even just that little bit of time during the day helps me to clear my mind and helps me to finish out my day and it makes me more productive for all the other work that needs to be done during the day.

Speaking of finding rest, I think I'll do that now... goodnight!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Setting Limits

"And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day..."  Genesis 39:10

We are in a study in church on Sunday mornings right now on the life of Joseph.  This morning's message took place when Joseph was in Egypt, living in Potiphar's household.  Joseph had gained the trust of Potiphar because of his integrity.  That integrity was put to the test when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph into bed with her.  Genesis 39 shows us her persistence when day by day she tried to lure him into her bedroom.

Day by day she spoke to him.

This persistence reminded me of a concept I read in the book Boundaries With Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend.  My kids test me with this type of persistence... especially my four and a half year old.  Our conversations sound something like this:

"Mommy, can I stay up until nine o'clock tonight?"

"Not on a school night.  You can stay up until nine o'clock on Friday night when you don't have school in the morning."

"But mommy, I want to stay up until nine o'clock!!"

"Your bedtime is eight o'clock on school nights."

**insert tantrum**

"Mommy, can I say up until eight thirty?"

And on it goes.  He's quite a stubborn little boy... not that he gets that from his mommy!  I have not always been the greatest at holding my limits in the past but I am working on being more consistent in that area.  Every time I give in, I'm teaching my kids that they don't need to respect the rules set for them.  If they beg long enough, they will get their own way.  I may be stopping the whining, but I am doing nothing for character building by giving in.

Kids need limits.  They may not outwardly be able to express it, but kids actually want limits.  Limits make them feel safe.  It shows them that you are strong enough to take care of them and that you love them.

One thing that I am reminded of from the Boundaries book is that I only have to hold out one more time than the other person does.  Just one more time.  When you look at it that way, it seems a lot more do-able.

By setting limits with my kids, they will begin to build character like that of Joseph.  And you know what?  This is learning experience for me, too.  Our pastor reminded us this morning that Joseph decided long before he was presented with the opportunity to sin.  It's my job as a parent to train up my children to become men of great and Godly character.  It's never too early or too late to start.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Psalm 139 - When the Finger Points Back at You

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Psalm 139:23-24

I read one of my favorite passages tonight.  It reminded me of the first time I remember really reading those verses in Psalm 139 around 2004 or so after my first son was born.  My then-husband and I were dealing with some things and started driving to Harrisburg, PA from our home in Bristow, VA every week or so to meet with a pastor from our denomination there who did counseling.  I remember he had us write out boundaries for each other.  Although, I don't think the pastor/counselor ever really explained to us what a boundary actually was and each of us had drastically different and very skewed ideas of what that term meant.

One of my "boundaries" that I had written out was that I wanted my husband to pray the words of Psalm 139:23-24.  Yes, that's right.  He needed to pray them.  It's kind of like when you sit in church and think of all the other people who would benefit from the sermon being preached and never even consider looking back at the reflection in the mirror.

There are so many things that are difficult to see.  It really takes a lot of vulnerability to pray a prayer like David did in Psalm 139.  There is a reason why we're not always able to deal with our internal messes, and instead cope with them in various ways.  Some things are really painful to see in ourselves.  Things like pride, idols we have allowed into our lives, and grandiose thoughts that we can save anyone or hide from God, among other things.  Keeping those things out of conscious view gives us a sense of safety.  There's nothing (or very little) wrong with me, it's that other person over there who needs help.  However, perhaps by allowing us to see the speck in our friends' eye, God is revealing the bigger plank in our own eye if we choose to see it.

This lack of vulnerability actually creates a false sense of safety.  True safety is found in the way everlasting.  And the way everlasting involves allowing God to search me and know my heart.  It involves God testing me and knowing my anxious thoughts and offensive ways.  That doesn't sound very safe at all, right?  But it is a step towards walking in the freedom that Christ gave us when He died for our sins.

Lord, there are things that I can't or don't want to see in myself sometimes but I pray that You would help me to see and deal with them anyway and lead me in the way everlasting as you did for David.  Help me not to be instantly on the defense but help me to ease into reality gently.  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post

About a month ago, I submitted a guest article to the MOB Society (Mothers of Boys) about raising boys and I was so honored and excited that it was chosen to run during the month of March.

From that guest post, a fellow single mom contacted me and asked if I would write an article about being a single parent for her blog.  Again, I felt honored but also a little nervous.  Normally when I blog, I have some thoughts about what I want to write about as they come to my mind, but I don't typically have a specific subject to start with and work forward from there.  While I do have a few years experience being a single parent, what would I say?  I'm certainly not an expert on the subject and sometimes I feel like I just sort of make it up as I go along, changing and adapting to what works.

Some of the things I thought of writing about were: 

Statistics about single parents.  I heard one on the radio a few months ago that said something like only 2% of children raised in single parent households become Christians when they get older.  Yikes?  Yeah, that's what I said.  Talk about creating anxiety and fear in the heart of a single mother trying the best she can and trusting God to make a way.  Not that trying hard is any guarantee of the choices my kids will make as they grow, but I find it hard to believe that the true percentage is really that low.

Things that people say to single parents.  My seperation and divorce was pretty public since my husband was in ministry.  That was good and bad.  Good because I had a lot of support.  Bad because suddenly my life was on display for all to see.  I found that a lot of people wanted to help... but they didn't really know how or what to say.  They would end up saying things like "Call me if you need anything."  That was really sweet, but I never knew what was okay to ask for or what people were really willing to do and sometimes all I really wanted was just a big hug.  But we don't really know what to do or say in situations like this so we just say, "Call me if you need anything" and go on our way.  Other comments aluded to getting married again or God having a plan, etc.

Neither of those topics seemed quite right though, so I just kind of sat on it and prayed about what I should say.  And then it came to me.  I decided to write about the way I always imagined my life would go.  The way it turned out is quite a contrast to what I had dreamed of growing up.  One thing that I have realized about being a single parent is that if there is to be any success at all, I must learn to accept life as it is as opposed to how I always thought it would be.  As my fingers started typing, they didn't seem to want to stop.  I was actually surprised at how much I had to say about the topic.  It ended up being pretty long, so the post was split up into two parts when it ran this week.  This was the final product:


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Giving Match Part 2: Motivation

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."  Matthew 6:5-6

In my last post, I talked about the annual giving campaign at the office that is going on this month.  Each year when the campaign comes around, employees have the opportunity to donate to any number of non-profit organizations.  Each donation is matched by the company at 15%.  Another 5% is also donated by the company to a third part when donations are given through the campaign.

I mentioned previously that I choose not to participate in the campaign because I am opposed to the organizations that the third party contribution goes to support.  Each year during the campaign, the company strives for 100% participation.  There are awards given and bragging rights honored for offices that reach that coveted level.  When everyone else on the team has given and the lacking percentage points directly to one person as being responsible for not reaching the targeted goal... that one person being me, I begin to feel the pressure.  At this stage, questions are asked around the office to figure out who it is that is holding the entire office back from reaching that 100% goal of giving and the pizza party or jeans day that goes with it.

The trouble is, my situation is not unique. The same scenario also plays out in many other companies, organizations and even churches in Anytown, USA. The bigger question that I believe we need to ask ourselves is this: What is the proper motivation for giving in the first place?

I believe there is humility in genuine giving. When the focus becomes a dollar sign or a particular image we hope to portray because of our giving, who or what is really being exalted? That line seems to be blurred more and more in current society. Outwardly we say, "Give to the needy!" Inwardly we shout, "Look how great I am!"

The pressure to conform bothers me.  Do we really want 100% participation in order that a great number of non-profit organizations are able to provide services to those in need?  Or do we want to be known as the organization who gave all this money to help those less fortunate?  If genuine giving is the true motivation, why do we need to put our name on it at all?  I know there are many people who do choose to give through the campaign because in their hearts, they really want to help those in need.  But when the pressure of a number is added to the scenario, it forces me to consider the true, unspoken motivation behind it.

It's not only companies who I believe have blurred this line between giving and a good reputation.  I see it in churches, which is even more bothersome.  Sometimes the focus in the modern church seems to be bigger is better.  The bigger we can do something, the more fanfare, the more church followers (notice I didn't say Christ followers), the more successful.  But how do you define success?  How does the Bible define success?

I found an interesting answer to this question at http://www.gotquestions.org/.  This was the answer they gave:

When King David was about to die, he gave his son, Solomon, the following advice: “Do what the LORD your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go” (1 Kings 2:3 CEV). Notice that David didn’t tell his son to build up his kingdom with great armies, or to gather wealth from other lands, or to defeat his enemies in battle. Instead, his formula for success was to follow God and obey Him.
(To read more from the commentary, click here).

When I take a deeper look at these motivational issues, I think I feel so passionately about it because of something Oswald Chambers once quoted from a preacher he had heard:  "What any human being has done, any other human being is capable of."  In this fallen world, we have a bent towards self exaltation... on having things our own way.  I think of my own life and I think about my love of writing.  I worry about becoming proud and focusing on wanting others to read what I write, checking stats, etc over writing truly from the heart.  Sometimes the enemy even taunts me with that tempting me to give it up all together.  It is a struggle to fight against that because I know that if God has given me this passion for it, then it is because He wants to use it.  Therefore I press on.  Still, I think the struggle is somewhat of a good accountability.

In the end, I think considering our true motivation is good for anything and anyone.  Sometimes there is more there than what we may perceive.  I pray often for God to give me eyes to see and ears to hear His Truth and I give Him thanks when I recognize His answers to these prayers in my daily life.  As the last days approach, there will be more and more things that look good outwardly, but turn sour in the stomach.  Discernment is growing more and more important given our present circumstances.  I am looking forward to the day when I am face to face with my Lord.  We won't have to worry about whether someone's intentions are true and noble or something that just resembles that. These former things will be gone and all will be made new.  Thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Giving Match Part 1: Compromise

"Has the Lord as great as delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..."  I Samuel 15:22

It's that time of year again... the annual giving campaign at the office.  Each year, my company sponsors a month long campaign of giving to different non-profit organizations along with a company matched percentage.  There are hundreds of worthy causes one can donate to, including the 22q organization which raises awareness and offers education and support for families of children and adults living with DiGeorge Syndrome (22q).  I am one such beneficiary of this organization as my son was diagnosed with the syndrome as an infant.

It would make sense that I would give to the 22q organization through the giving campaign because of the company match to maximize my donation.  The problem is, that while 100% of my contribution goes to the charity of my choice along with the company matched percentage, the company also donates another percentage to a third party which funds organizations I am morally opposed to, when I contribute.  That creates an internal struggle for me.

Each year during the campaign, the company strives for 100% participation.  There are awards given and bragging rights honored for offices that reach that coveted level.  When everyone else on the team has given and the lacking percentage points directly to one person as being responsible for not reaching the targeted goal... that one person being me... it creates another type of struggle.  At this stage, questions are asked around the office to figure out who it is that is holding the entire office back from reaching that 100% goal of giving and the pizza party or jeans day that goes with it.

At this point there are questions that I ask myself as I do love my job as well as the company as a whole.  Do I confess that I am the one who did not contribute?  Do I give in and overlook the small percentage that will go to an organization that directly supports things I am morally opposed to in order to benefit an organization that does a lot of good for families of children with special needs?  Do I hold steady to my convictions and I'll admit, a bit of stubbornness, and decide not to contribute through the campaign?

In I Samuel 15, God told Saul to take his army and completely destroy the Amalekites.  So Saul did as God commanded... except.  Saul chose to destroy everything that was despised and worthless, however "Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them." (v9)

It may have appeared outwardly that Saul had done a good thing.  After all, he claimed to have saved all of the best to sacrifice to God.  But there was a problem.  God's command was to "utterly destroy all that they have." (v3)  This willful choice to disobey God had lasting consequence.  Not only was Saul rejected as king, the lineage of the spared Agag went on to produce one Haman, who plotted to annhialate the Jews during the time of Esther.

The thing is, God doesn't need me in order to accomplish His purposes.  While the Lord does use His servants to do His work, my usefulness is not the standard.  Giving doesn't change God.  The Lord is the sustainer of all life and it is He that supplies all of our needs.  I give as an act of obedience and worship of the One who has given me all that I have.  I John 4:10-11 says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."  In the same way, I can only give anything at all because Christ has first given to me.

Although the pressure is there to conform, whether real or perceived, I must follow my convictions.  Although much good can be done in one area, I cannot ignore my God given conscience even in order to do something that may bring good.  If the campaign did not involve this third party, there would be no issue.  However, since it does, it is something that I cannot overlook.  Instead, I choose to give in other ways as opposed to one being filtered through outside organizations I have chosen not to support.  While my financial contributions may not be matched that way, I know that God desires obedience more than sacrifice so I believe He will honor my decision.  I also know that the Lord is able to multiply my gifts for the work of His kingdom to the infinite degree which is a better giving match than any earthly kingdom could promise.

Therefore... "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart go give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."  I Corinthians 9:7

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Forgiveness

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  Galatians 5:1

Forgiveness.  Such a powerful word.  Forgiveness seems to have so many varying definitions.  The way I view forgiveness now is drastically different than I used to.  Here is just a glimpse of my forgiveness story...

It was almost the end of the summer that year in July of 2003.  My husband and I had taken a group of teenagers on a week long missions trip to the breathtaking state of Alaska.  We were there for about seven days to host week long sessions of Vacation Bible School in several different venues to the boys and girls there.  We had a great group of teens with us to teach the children and learn what it meant to serve others.

As usual, the teens all stayed with host families.  On the first night, as my husband and I dropped off the only two girls of the group at their host house, I felt a little uneasy with the arrangments.  The family had a small camping trailer outside their house, which was where the girls were to stay.  As we pulled away, I just didn't feel good about leaving them there to sleep outside the house of the family in a strange place.  After about ten minutes of driving, we decided to turn around and go pick them up to stay at our host house that week instead.  The girls were relieved when we returned to get them.

Our host family that week was great.  Each night, we all stayed up talking and playing cards until late as the sun didn't set in Anchorage until about 1am during the summer.  One night, however I was feeling a little tired and worn out from the day and decided to head to bed early as the rest of them stayed up.  I don't know what woke me up later that night, but it was late and I noticed my husband had not yet come to bed so I went downstairs to check on him.  As I came down the stairs, I noticed him and one of the girls in an uncomfortable position just "joking around."  It made me uncomfortable.  He came to bed right after that and I asked him about it.  They were just wrestling, he said.  He was a very playful person so while I wanted to accept that, it just made me feel uneasy and I told him it looked totally inappropriate.  He was quickly apologetic and asked me to hold him accountable if I ever noticed anything that appeared to be inappropriate.

When we returned home with the group, I started to notice little flirtations between him and one of the girls.  Since he was always full of energy anyway and he had seemed so sincere about his ignorance to the situation in Alaska, I thought I was just overreacting.  Plus, I was close to the girls in the group there and we all had great relationships with one another.

Shortly after that incident, my husband and I moved out of state to lead another group of teenagers.  It wasn't long before I started noticing the same types of things that I saw in Alaska.  I would mention them to my husband but he always assured me that he simply loved teenagers and wanted to see them grow to be spiritually mature so he took and active role in their lives.  "How could I argue with that?" I thought.

As I noticed more and more situations involving my husband and the teenage girls in our group, I became more and more neurotic.  Each time I talked to my husband about it, and each time he had a response that sounded logical to me and made it difficult for me to reason against.  But I didn't feel right.  It didn't look right.  By this point, other people were noticing the things that I was noticing.  Maybe they felt the same as I did or maybe they were afraid to point a finger at the friendly man that everyone liked because they never said anything.

One day in particular is tattooed into my mind.  I think it is because it is a view of forgiveness that is contrasted to what I believe now about the subject.  It was a regular day just like any other.  My husband and his buddy were out at the local home improvement store picking up some things while I was home feeling completely vulnerable and emotional as my hormones were out of whack after the birth of our son.  Aside from caring for a newborn, my days were consumed with wondering what my husband was up to.  Which girl was he spending time with?  Who was he emailing or texting secretly?  Which family was he becoming chummy with so that he could spend more time with their daughter?  Believe me when I say that it was all consuming for me.  It would be safe to say that it became an obsession that controlled every part of my life.  By this point, I struggled with my own relationships with the girls in the group because I wondered which ones my husband was having an inappropriate relationship with.
One day I couldn't take it anymore.  I couldn't stand feeling so on edge all the time.  The snooping.  The checking up.  The suspicion.  All of it.  I hated feeling the way I was feeling.  This was supposed to be one of the best times of my life and I felt like I was going crazy.

I decided that what I really needed to do was to trust my husband like he had been asking me to do.  To stop looking for evidence of wrongdoing and believe that he really just loved teenagers and wanted to see them grow.  One thing he always used to say was Rules - Relationships = Rebellion.  That made sense to me.  I reasoned that the problem must be me.  I needed to forgive my husband for the incident in Alaska and stop looking for anything that might prove that he was anything other than a loving youth pastor.

On that day that is tatooed into my mind, I can see myself sitting in the tan recliner in the living room that our families purchased for us when I was pregnant.  I reached for my cell phone on the side table and dialed his number.  When he answered, I simply said, "I forgive you."  I could almost hear tears in his eyes and the gratitude from his tone at the sound of those words.  He was so thankful to hear those words, he said.  I felt like we could finally move forward and forget about all of those things I had questioned in the past.  This was going to be our fresh start.  Although it was short-lived, at that moment I felt relief, which I am convinced is the best feeling in the world.

While things seemed happy again for a few weeks, it wasn't long before I started feeling uneasy again.  I still noticed the same type of behavior from my husband and while I kept trying to convince myself that it was okay and I had chosen to forget about the past because of my gesture of forgiveness, I think I knew deep down that it really wasn't okay.  For a time, I just pushed down those feelings of suspicion and jealousy.  I wished I could get past my insecurities.

Sometime later, we moved again, almost entirely due to the fact that parents and also the senior pastor were starting to notice the same things that I was seeing.  My husband didn't go right back into youth ministry when we moved that time.  Instead, he looked for jobs in the secular world.  While he was in the middle of his job search, however, he volunteered a lot of his time during the day at the church we were attending.  He started forming relationships with the staff and congregation there.  He was just a very jovial kind of guy and people instantly liked him.  When the youth leader at that church left, the position was immediately offered to my husband because of the relationships he had formed.  The two of us met with the church board and discussed the ministry and also a little bit of the past on a surface level.  We had been out of ministry for several months and again, I felt like this was our chance for a fresh start.  God is a God of second chances.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  My husband and I accepted the position.

As history might have predicted, everything was still the same.  My husband's behavior was still questionable around the girls and I was still neurotic and suspicious day after day.  I went through the same reasoning as before and decided I needed to stop holding onto the past and really forgive my husband this time so that I could find some relief.  After about a year in ministry at our church, we decided to have another baby.  I felt like it was a good step in our marriage.  If we were both ready to have another child, it was proof that I had forgiven him and that we were in a good place.

There we were.  We had an almost three year old at home and one on the way.  Life was great.  Or it should have been, anyway.  But it wasn't.  My husband was gone all the time... all in the name of servant ministry, of course.  He would get up early and leave the house at 5am in order to go to Starbucks and do his morning devotionals or prepare for his mid-week message away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Who can argue with that?  At this time, we were both working at the church.  He was gone then, too.  He was out getting snacks for the snack shop in the youth room.  He was out visiting people in hospitals.  He was out helping families with odd projects around the house.  He was out visiting some of the teen guys at school that day.  He was out.  There was always a good, spiritual reason.

At this point, I was pretty much sick of it all.  I couldn't take living like this anymore.  After our second child was born and I was home on maternity leave, I expected that he would want to be home with us on his day off.  But there was always something else to do.  I started to realize that maybe all this forgiving I was doing was getting us nowhere.  There had to be more to forgiveness than saying a few words, trying to forget the past, and move forward acting like nothing was wrong.  I knew that we could not live like this anymore.  I could not live like this anymore.

When my second son was five weeks old, I realized that I needed to change my approach.  My husband was feeling no adverse effects from his behavior because I was feeling them for him.  I thought that maybe if I took the kids and went to stay with my parents for a few days, he would miss us and change his ways.  I thought it would get his attention.  Instead, when it came out two days later that he had been having an affair with a student for eight months, I was devestated.

After about a month, people at church told me that I needed to forgive.  I wanted to forgive and I felt guilty that I was still holding onto the pain.  I felt like I was not behaving as a Christian woman should.  But it hurt so much.  I had spent so much time in the years leading up to that point trying to pretend like everything was okay and was going to get better.  All of my forgiveness had not changed my circumstances.  Instead, now I was alone with two young children, living in my parent's house indefinitely.

I started seeing someone whom I am now convinced was a God-sent, Christian therapist.  She taught me that forgiveness is a process.  When everyone else was telling me that I should just forgive and basically get over it, this woman was giving me permission to experience genuine grief and emotion over what was an earth-shattering experience for me.  What happened was not okay and I did not have to pretend like it was anymore.  It was okay for me to be angry.  It was okay for me to feel depressed.  Those feelings were a normal part of the grieving process.

In addition to learning that forgiveness is a process, I've also learned that forgiveness is letting go.  I never have to say what happened was okay.  I don't have to have a good relationship with the people involved.  But I do have to let God deal with them instead of trying to do it myself.  Forgiveness does not mean the circumstances will change.  It does not mean that other people will change.  Instead, I am changed.  I no longer have to carry that burden around like a millstone around my neck.  I am free.

My husband and I eventually divorced about a year later.  Even during that transition time, I still held onto the burden and tried to change him myself.  I would quote scripture to him when we talked.  I would leave things on his car for him to read.  While he never changed, I still don't really regret doing that.  But I realized back then that while I would probably not speak those words to him again... "I forgive you"... that I needed to do just that.  I did not try to fix our relationship anymore.  I did not try to fix him anymore.  Instead, I gave it over to God.  I had to let him go.  I had to stop seeing what he was up to.  I had to stop finding things to give him that might help him.  I had to stop all of it.

It didn't happen instantly.  Maybe that happens for some people, but it didn't happen for me.  For me, true forgiveness was a process.  Honestly, I wonder if that is even humanly possible or if instant forgiveness is really instant denial.  God offers instant forgiveness when we come to him with a broken and contrite spirit, but maybe that is a divine trait.  I had to work through the grief process before I was able to come to acceptance and forgiveness.  I had to go through the shock and denial of the situation... the anger... the depression... the bargaining with God.  I also had to forgive the girls involved.  And I had to forgive myself for my codependency and enabling through a false view of forgiveness.  Sometimes I feel like I'm still in that stage of forgiving myself.  Sometimes I like to hold onto myself instead of dropping my guard and allowing God to mold me.  But He is still faithful and brings circumstances into my lift that force me to do that when I struggle to do it myself.

I don't really know how to end this but I just wanted to share my story.  I think there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way that I used to... that to forgive means that you have to pretend like everything is okay.  That you have to deny yourself and your own God-given feelings and emotions.  That you have to make nice and allow yourself to be mistreated.  That is not the abundant life that God wants for us.  Forgiveness is a process and it is for freedom that He has set us free.