Big Life Stuff

What a week last week was.

It was mishap after mishap, bad luck after bad luck, distressing situation after distressing situation.  Nothing went right last week from about Wednesday on.  And this time it was not just the small and the petty.  It was Big Life Stuff.  I quickly became overwhelmed.  I became depressed and without hope.  I have to say right now to you, I don’t know any other way to be besides real. I so value the authentic and the true.  I am not good at pretending…. and so I’m putting it out there right now.  My truth last week was this:  I felt without hope of any kind and as though God had abandoned me completely.

I could not reconcile the issues I was facing with what I thought I knew about God.  I felt my life fall down in a million pieces and every hard thing that had happened to me in the past several years seemed to hit me right in the face.  I found myself grieving so many different things and feeling so lost, so hurt and so empty.  It was like the events of last week just brought down all the walls and all of the feelings I had not dealt with would no longer be ignored.  I cried an ocean of tears, I had a panic attack, I put my Bible in another room, far away from my hands.  I was overwhelmed in every way-  anger, sadness, grief, isolation, anxiety, hopelessness.  I felt sick at heart.

After a couple of days of refusing to even speak to God, I said this to Him, “I just don’t understand.”  And he gave me two pictures.

This was the first picture.  (Well, not THE picture, but an accurate representation of the picture.)  The table top is my life.  I built my life on lots of different pillars.  Pillars named things like:  my finances, my children, my husband, my material possessions, my hopes for a new pregnancy, Hope Community Church, my house, my car, my health, and many, many other things.  Sure, one of those pillars was named God…but only one.  These pillars have been shaken often over the past few years.  And when the pillars began to erode, break down, fall, get knocked over, even just vanish….the table became more and more unstable.  More and more unsteady.  Some of the broken crumbling pillars took out some of the stable ones.  And soon enough, only one was left.  And that was the pillar marked God.  God is supposed to be enough.  But when you make him just one spindly pillar over in a corner…the table is going to fall down.  And that’s what happened.  The whole thing came crashing down with a resounding boom.

And then God showed me another picture.

And when I took a moment off from feeling sorry for myself, I began to realize that maybe God wanted the whole table to fall to the ground.  Because maybe He wanted me to build it again…this time on the right type of pillar.

So, today, on the Monday after one of the most challenging weeks of my life, I am building a new table and it’s only going to have one pillar.  And that pillar is named God and God alone.

Is everything okay now?  Absolutely not.  But it seems to matter less now that I know why it all happened.  This is the process of refining, of pruning, of transformation.  This is the process of changing the inner me.  This is the process of decreasing so that He can increase.

Part of my gripe to God last week was this:  “I’ve done all that you have said.  I have trusted You.  I am working so hard on fixing myself…on learning to live thankful, on learning to live with hope.  I have tithed, I have served, I have done what You asked.  And all of this happened anyway.”

And God just simply said, “I work all things together for your good.  And it is for YOUR good that you change the way you live.  I am your pillar…the other things may be good things but they are NOT what you stand on.  I am what you stand on.”  And He has to be.  He has to be what I stand on if I want to live and love well.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I know that there is still a lot to sort out and walk through.  I am taking on today and today only.  Today, I will get up, do my work, live thankful, squeeze my babies, sing to the King, bake lemon bars, vacuum carpets, pray.  Today, I step warily out of fear, pain, worry, anxiety, confusion and I rebuild.  I stand on what I know and trust Him to show me what I don’t yet know.

I know that He is real.

I know that He is good.

I know that He loves me.

I know that He causes all things to work together for my good.

I know that His ways are not my ways.

Those are the things I am standing on.  Nothing less.  And…nothing more.  No extra pillars.  Only the God who never changes and never fails.

New Mercy

Yesterday was one of those days.

Do you know what I mean?  A day where all the minor, petty, irritants added up to a sky high heap?  A day where little ones are whining, crying, fighting and fussing.  Where noses are running and the dog keeps getting in the trash and house just keeps getting messier and then you get bills you didn’t expect and responsibilities that this was just not the best day for.  There are toys all over the place and you trip on the boots of teenage girls and you spill your coffee and it’s too hot in here and why is the baby fussing again?  And anyway, you’re not even feeling very well and would kill to lie down for just fifteen minutes.  Naptime seems 100 years away and the dog is whining and barking to go out and the little ones need so many things and you just need to pee and would like to do so without an audience.  You’re so, so tired and so, so frustrated.   You’re cleaning up messes you didn’t make and that no one every should’ve made and it’s only 10am…And then you take a minute to breathe and try and get your head together and someone pours out your Diet Pepsi into your yarn bag.

Days like that are commonplace in my line of work.  Every mom I know except the ones who lie have shared about days like these.  Days like these are kind of soul crushing and draining.  Days like these are decidedly NOT one of the perks of motherhood but they are a reality.

About halfway through the day, I had an epiphany.

I had fallen off the wagon.

Several weeks ago, right before Christmas, I felt God prompting me to work on my attitude.  It started with Kevin Gerald and his podcast series called “Favor Forever”.

I realized in listening to this series that I had the wrong mentality. My “poor me” mentality was stopping me from seeing how “rich” I really was. I was seeing every glass as half empty and not even noting what was in the glass at all. I was missing some of the things God was trying to do and show me. I was seeing the negative first and discounting the positive.

The next step was the negativity fast. I was seeing on friends’ Facebook walls a talk of a negativity fast. I posted about that  a few days ago and it has been very profitable.    I’ve been astounded at how much I had to correct myself on the negativity. How many times I’ve had to catch myself. I had no idea how many thoughts needed to be taken captive until I took the time to look for them.

The next thing was the “1000 Gifts” book and the dare to be thankful.

I have been tracking my blessings, graces, little gifts and big gifts since right after Christmas. I have discovered that my life abounds in beauty, joy and blessing. I have been steadied by this practice. I have been changed by this practice. I am now seeking out things to write in my gratitude journal…I’m reading back over the graces of the day…I’m looking for goodness in this land of the living.

But how quickly it all fell apart. One bad day. One hard day…that really, in the grand scheme of things was just a day of minor drama. I let that string of irritants win…I fell off the wagon. I went on a negativity fueled ungratefulness binge. I complained, I grouched, I even cried self pitying, childish tears, I vented…and you know what? I did not feel better.
The days I’ve studied joy, studied grace, studied happiness and blessing…those are the days I felt better. The days I’ve given the small stuff to God and chosen not to stress over it…those are the days I did better. Wallowing in my own crappy day just made me feel crappy.

So, back on the wagon today.  I ended yesterday with a repentant heart and repentant prayers.  I began today with a hopeful heart and hopeful prayers.  I’ve listed my gifts throughout the morning, I’ve come clean about my attitude and I started over.

Because, His mercies are new every morning.

Every morning.

Not So Still Waters That Run Deep

Lila sometimes asks hard questions.

She is a child who thinks a lot, puzzles things out, works hard to figure out the relationship between things and herself.  She pipes up after long silences with things like, “What if I had one thousand hands?” or “What if my bed was made out of marshmallows?” or “What if you and Daddy were still married?”  You never know what you might get.

Today, we are driving down the road after running errands and talking mostly about macaroni and cheese and she suddenly says, “When am I going to go to heaven?”

“Well,” I am taken aback and a bit unprepared.  I want to answer  really well.  I want to get this right and help form her faith in this moment, not make her fearful.  And five kids in, I still just don’t always know the right answers to these hard questions.  I flip through the catalog of responses I’ve built in nineteen years of mothering…nothing seems to fit.  Because you see, the usual standard answer of ‘when you’re really, really old’ won’t cut it with Lila.  Because she already knows that sometimes people die even when they aren’t very old.  She knows that sometimes young people die and sometimes little kids die and go to heaven and that sometimes other little kids get very sick and life just isn’t the same.  She has not been shielded from death and sickness because death and sickness would not be hidden.

“Usually,” I try to start again.  “People die when they are very, very, very old.”

“Hmm.”  a pause, then, “Like Polly or Paw?”  Two great grandmothers who are very much beloved, but indeed very, very old.

“Yes.”

“My dad is only forty.”  She says.  “And you’re forty five.”

“You’re right, Daddy is only forty.  But actually, I’m thirty nine and Stepdaddy is forty one.”  She always gets this mixed up and makes me older than everyone else.

“You’re not old yet,” she assures me.

“Thank you for that.”

“In heaven, can I watch tv even if I’m grounded?”

“You don’t get grounded in heaven.”

“Wow.  And Stepdaddy said I could play with real elephants in heaven.”  I’d love to know the full context of that conversation.

“That sounds wonderful.”  I say.  “Heaven is where we will go to live with God and all of our loved ones one day.  It’s beautiful and peaceful and perfect.”

“Are you sure I get to go there?”  she asks and my heart stops.

“Do you believe in Jesus?”  I ask and she says yes.  “Do you know why he died on the cross?”

“Yes, for all of our sins.”

“Do you think you have done sinful things?”

“Yes.”  And I think she really does get it, though her sins are so small.  She’s just a little girl.  Temper tantrums, stickers on walls, little lies to get out of trouble…these sins are the sins Jesus took on for her, just like all of our big sins.

“Do you think Jesus died on the cross for you?  Just for you?”  Breath held as she says, “Yes.”

“Well, then you’ll go to heaven one day.”

“Good.  I want to see what God looks like.”  Suddenly she stops and prays, “God, please let me have lots of dogs in heaven.” And then the conversation goes back to macaroni and cheese.

Fast forward half an hour and for whatever reason, the macaroni isn’t right and she is upset with me.  Arms crossed and brow furrowed, she says, “I don’t want to live with you…I just want to go to heaven with God and all of my dogs!”

And I hide my laughter in my coffee cup and let her just be mad about the macaroni.

No, No, Negative

Today, I begin my 40 Day Negativity fast.  I’ve been feeling the need for an attitude adjustment for a little while now.  Beginning with the custody/child support issues of 2009-2010, to financial stress and strain and ultimate bankruptcy, to continued financial stress and strain, to the loss of a much wanted pregnancy and subsequent surgery, to life in general…I have been fighting depression hard for a long time.

And it’s been hard because I believe in my head and heart that I have a good and blessed life.  I have a happy marriage, five children I adore, friends and family who are wonderful and supportive.  Yes, I’ve come through some hard things, but over all, I’ve got it pretty good.  I think it bottom lines to this: the struggle of my life has been the deeply planted root belief that God will save me from my sin and take me to heaven, but because of my unworthiness and the way of the world, He does not promise me good things on earth.  Sometimes they happen, but more often they do not.  This bitter root is the thing, I think, that allows depression a foothold in my life.

It is true that we are promised nothing and we are owed nothing.  But that is not the kind of father that God is.  He doesn’t give bread when His children ask for stones.  I think I lean so far away from the idea that God is a magic genie who will take away every obstacle, hard thing and worry in life and replace them with puppies and rainbows that I miss out on the good gifts He chooses to give in the day to day.  Make sense?

So…I need an attitude adjustment.  I need balance in my belief system.  I need to be accepting of the hard things that come in life but also accepting of the good and the easy.  I’m being pretty honest here, because I believe in the power of transparency.  Bringing things into the light means forcing things to release their grip.  No negativity for me for 40 Days (and hopefully longer!)  I’m amazed at how many thoughts I’ve already had to “fix” this morning!

40 Day Negativity Fast Igniting Faith in 40 Days

What a Negativity Fast is Not:

  1. It is not denying that problems exist

  2. It is not “stuffing things” that are wrong

  3. It is not critical of others who may be struggling

  4. It is not irresponsible concerning things that need to be done

What a Negativity Fast Is:

  1. It is determining to focus more on God’s promises than on problems

  2. It is learning to speak with hope about even the toughest of issues

  3. It is becoming “solution focused” rather than “problem focused”

  4. It is refraining from react giving voice to pessimism, criticism of others,

    self-criticism and other forms of unbelief.

  5. It is speaking about problems to the right people in the right way

  6. It is replacing negative words & thoughts with positive words & thoughts

    based on the promises of God 

Caroline and the Puddle

When Caroline was a puppy, we took her to the Outer Banks for the first time.

She was just about five months old and already loved the water.  Caroline is a Lab.  One of her favorite things in life is to jump in and swim in the creek behind Pappy’s house.  We couldn’t wait to see her reaction to The Sound.

We put Caroline on a leash and began the short walk from the house to the sound.  Caroline loves taking a walk, loves being outside, loves life.  She was practically vibrating with excitement.  About halfway there, Caroline noticed a large rain puddle and went straight for it.  She leapt into this shallow little puddle.  She was splashing around,  having the time of her life.  No amount of calling her name or pulling on the leash would distract her.  She was so happy with that little puddle, when the whole Sound awaited her just minutes away.  We had to literally drag her away  to the real experience we were trying to give her.

John said to her, “Caroline, this puddle is nothing compared to what we want to show you!”

I thought to myself, And this is just how we are with God.

And isn’t it?  I look back over the course of my life and see so many times when I was willing to settle for a puddle while God was trying to give me the Roanoke Sound.  We knew that there was something better for Caroline but she couldn’t see that.  All she could see was the puddle, which was right now and right there and really good enough.

This year, in 2012, I want to stop playing in the puddle and really experience God’s best for me.  I want to look ahead to the finish line, to the outcome I’ve been promised, to the finale.  I want to finally stop thinking I know best.  I want to stop finding my own joy and start seeking out the joy of the Lord.  I want to stop sitting on God’s hands and making my life un-blessable because I’m too busy wallowing in the puddle I found for myself.

I asked the Lord how I could do that.  He said simply, “Love well.”  Two words that can change my life if I will obey.

If I love well, I will love the Lord well.  That means time in the Word, where I will learn more about His character.  That means time in worship where our intimacy will grow.  That means time in prayer where I will see His goodness and His faithfulness.  That means obedience, which sometimes hurts in the short-term but always pays off in the long-term.  I want to love Him well.

If I love well, I will love my husband well.  It’s no big secret that I love my husband to pieces, but I need to practice that love instead of just feeling it.  That means serving him in our home, praying for him, honoring him.  I may even have to watch a boring history documentary with him.  That’s love right there.

If I love well, I will love my children well.  My five treasures are mostly easy to love.  That means that I will respect them as well as adore them.  That means more patience and prayer.  That means asking the Lord about their futures and praying into them.  That means guiding them away from puddles and into the Sound.

If I love well, I will love my extended family and friends well.  More respect, more honor, more service.  These are the people who spice up my life, love me and my family, laugh with me and cry with me.  I want to give more than I take this year.

And as long as we’re talking about it, I will love my enemies well.  I don’t want to do this, but God has called me to it.

Matthew 5:43-48  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

So there you have it.  I have to pray for God to bless those who persecute me.  I have to love my enemies.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow.  Sometimes, okay, oftentimes, in my humanity I don’t even want my enemies to have a mud puddle.  Its time to have honor for my enemies.  God loves my enemies…just like He loves me.  This will be the challenge.

I want this year to mark a change in my life.  I want this year to be the year I run full speed towards the Sound and never even notice the puddle.  I want this year to be the year that I love well.

Christmas Crafts

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This year I had lots of fun (mostly) making different things for Christmas.

It all started because we’re on a strict budget and I discovered Pinterest.  I found some awesome ideas of things I could make for less than the cost of real store-bought gifts.

The first thing I discovered was a hat and poncho set for American Girl Dolls.  Eden and Addy both have these dolls.  I thought I might make three of them, one for each doll.  That didn’t happen, but I did make a poncho, two hats and a scarf.  I forgot to take a picture but looks like Eden and Addy liked them, I saw them on Facebook.

The next thing I discovered were yarn wreaths.  These things came out so well and were actually pretty easy.  You just take a straw wreath, wrap it in yarn and then make felt flowers.  Aside from the hot glue gun burns, these were fun to make and I was pleased with the end result.

And then there were the “family trees”.  This idea I actually swiped from Josh and Katie’s wedding.  John sketched them out, then Julia, John and I each painted one and I wrote all the names on them.  I love each one.  One for Nana Vicki, one for Mom and one for Paw. I was over my head a bit- John has an art degree, Julia is an excellent artist and I’m a crafter.  It was my first painting and it was more like coloring because John drew it and I just painted.  Julia had to do my leaves.  We had a great time painting on December 23rd until 1am!

The last craft I did for this year was my owls!  These are the cutest little things ever.  I just drew a pattern on a piece of card stock, got some fat quarter fabric, some felt and some buttons and voila!  Cute little owl pillows.  Every kid I gave one too just loved them…with the possible exception of Chase.  But maybe he’ll save it and give it to his own kid one day.