Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 4 of 5)

Ah, Lie number 4. It is a doozy: Things will never get better. This is when you take the idea of “things could always be worse” a step beyond being grateful that they aren’t worse and start actively expecting them to get that way.  This is a poisonous path. It can break your heart.

Life is hard sometimes. When you are watching someone you love slowly or quickly deteriorating, it can be difficult to believe things can get better. When there is an obvious pattern of worsening, when you are tired and your loved one is tired and the pain keeps getting worse and there is nothing you can do….it is tempting to think things are never going to get better. It is almost a relief to let go of your hope. Because…why? It’s so exhausting to keep looking for help/cure/treatments, chronic illness is so relentless in its progress, and it takes so much energy to fight it and seems to do no good. And, after a while, it feels like you’ve tried everything already anyway. Why keep praying when the heavens are always silent? Why pay for another MRI when the last four have shown nothing abnormal?  Perhaps accepting the situation is for the best.

This kind of thinking is what I call the Voice of Job’s wife, or the “curse God and die” mentality. And it does us about as much good as she did for Job in his trials. If you know the story of Job and you live with/care give for someone with a chronic illness you are bound to draw a few parallels between Job’s suffering and your loved one’s.

Good old Job.  He was just going along living a righteous life, abounding in God’s favor and blessings and BOOM out of nowhere he loses everything: His livelihood, his children, his health, his peace of mind. He keeps his wife, but that’s not much of a comfort. He keeps his life, the purpose of which now seems only to suffer. He suffers in every way possible short of death. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, he is destroyed. His “friends” show up to preach to him and spout highfalutin sermons. And, repeatedly, his lovely wife looks at his sorry state encourages him to curse God and die already. It’s bad.

But throughout it all Job never completely  gives up. He acknowledges God’s sovereignty. He boldly questions his situation. He even feels sorry for himself. But he never does curse God. And, honestly, that may not sound like much but I have to give Job some kudos for that. That took some real faith.  It is certainty better than I can say for myself and I haven’t endured near what Job did. There is a reason why people say someone has “the patience of Job”.

Of course, eventually Job’s suffering ended.  His faithfulness pays off. Satan loses the cosmic bet and God even comes down and sets Job’s long-winded friends straight, and Job too while He’s there. Then God blesses Job even more richly than he was blessed before. It’s a happy ending for good old Job.  It’s a happy ending for us, believers, too. But right now we are still in the midst of the story.  We are in the mean time. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”.  So, in a “pie in the sky by and by” kind of sense, things will get better. Believing that is part of being a Christian.

But what about in a more immediate sense? People get sick. People get sicker. They suffer. They die. Even though we do and say and and believe all the “right” things. Even though we stay faithful sometimes, more often than not, there is no miracle.  The answer to our prayers is, “No.”  How do you nurture hope and expect the best when you are going through the worst?

The short answer is you CHOOSE.  When Job’s wife’s voice starts to ring in your head and the belief that things will never get better beckons, you CHOOSE to believe God instead.  It is tempting to give up. You are tired, you are hurting, you are filled with grief for your loved one and yourself.  Every day, every moment, every breath you are choosing to believe what you see with your eyes or what God has said in His word.

Things may look bad. Really bad. To others you will look like a fool. But your soul will live. Your loved one’s soul will live, even as their body may fail. And things will get better. Your heart will heal and you will feel joy.  As Rich Mullins wrote in his song, “My Deliverer,”  “…I will never doubt His promise, Though I doubt my heart, Though I doubt my eyes.” The promise is real. The promise is eternal.

Here are few promises to hold on to, every one of them is a lie breaker:

  1.  “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD.  They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 God’s Word Translation).
  2. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:25-28 NIV)
  3. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me.  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 New Living Translation).
  4. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:17-18 NIV)
  5. “…teaching them [new disciples] to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ISV)

(The western sky from my kitchen window.)

Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 1 of 5)

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” (Genesis 2:8) (NET Bible)

1. I AM ALONE

Ah. Lie number ONE. I like to think of this lie as my imaginary isolation chamber. I have spent a lot of time bound up by this lie. Believing that I am alone has brought me nothing but overwhelm and depressed misery.  God never designed us to go through life alone.  We were created to live in communion with others and with Him.

( One lonely flower…)

This lie is a tricky one because it has a grain of truth to it. When you are taking care of someone (or a group of someones), sometimes you are working so hard trying to accomplish everything that needs to be done every day on your own, it is hard to reach out to others to maintain relationships.  It often feels like you are barely getting by and there is just no time left to connect with others. You most definitely FEEL alone.

For example, when you have no energy to entertain company or to make your home look presentable, is very tempting to never invite people over. With this kind of thinking you really can build yourself a kind of isolation chamber life as you slowly cut yourself off from your friends. Believing you are alone causes you to actively make choices that result in making yourself more isolated. If you don’t break the cycle of this lie you can cut yourself off from your whole social support system, which can be disastrous.

The good news is that you can break free of this lie. Here are a few ways to jerk your brain and heart back to the truth:

1. Reach out

Take a moment to reach out to someone (a friend, a neighbor, a family member, whoever). There are so many easy ways to connect: Send a text, make a phone call, write a quick Facebook message, or take a silly SnapChat and share it etc. Even a superficial interaction can break your illusion of isolation and sometimes a quick message turns into a conversation where you can make a real connection with someone, which is often very helpful.

(If you don’t get an instant response try reaching out someone else. You are not really as alone as you feel.)

2. Change Your Script

Realize that the more you tell yourself that you are alone the more alone you will become.  So choose to start telling yourself something different.

For example, instead of telling yourself that the house is too messy to invite a friend over, tell yourself that a real friend won’t care. Then invite a friend over – even if things are a mess. (Maybe they will pitch in and help you. Most likely they will at least talk to you while you go about what needs to be done, which is also very pleasant.)

3. Seek God’s Presence

Make peace with the fact that there will always be moments when the human presence you crave will be impossible to get. God designed human beings to need each other.  But even when you can’t lean on another human, you’re still not alone.  Here is a helpful exercise:

Speak each of the scriptures below out loud:

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) (New Living Translation)

“…God Himself has said, “I will never, never let go your hand: I will never never forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) (Weymouth New Testament)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) (NIV)

Then say them again only this time add, “Thank you, Father/Yeshua/Jesus/Holy Spirit (pick your favorite) that…(insert above scripture)”.  Speaking them out loud is important–not to God, He knows your every thought. Speaking them out loud is important to your brain and your emotions. You need to hear them with your ears. Faith comes by…wait for it…HEARING. By doing this, saying them out loud, you are boosting your faith.

Now that your faith is ramped up, start praising God. You can say things like, “Father I praise You for faithfully keeping all Your promises.” (Or whatever you can think of to praise Him for…running water, your loved ones, your favorite flower. Just pick something.) Alternatively, you can turn on some praise and worship music and sing along, that also works.

After a few minutes of praising God, you will find you are not alone. Jehovah inhabits the praises of His people. When you start praising God, His presence shows up. He is always with you, He is always everywhere…but loneliness calls for presence.

(The same flower, no so alone. Just a small shift in perspective can change everything. )
There are more ways to fight the “I AM ALONE” lie, I am sure. For me, most of my successful outcomes have been variations of the three ways above. Please leave a comment if you have something that has worked well for you when you are fighting feeling isolated, I would love to hear it.
Coming up next in this series:

Lie number two: NO ONE UNDERSTANDS MY REALITY

Forgiving (Part 2)

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 10:22) (New American Standard 1977)

I told you I’d let you know how I progressed with forgiving the woman who swindled me by advertising herself as a doula, taking my payment and then not attending the birth of my son.

Every time she crossed my mind for a few weeks after my post, I prayed for her. It was awkward. My prayers were short. Then one day I transitioned from asking for God give me His forgiveness for her to praying that HE would forgive her. (Like Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him while he hung on the cross). This was a breakthrough for me. I am confident that the Holy Spirit put the idea into my head.

I found a tremendous relief and freedom when I prayed this way. Somehow when I asked God to forgive her, I felt love for her. My heart softened and changed.  I also received a strong impression in my heart that this woman had gone through something awful at a young age.  I am able to pray for her now without hesitation to be forgiven and healed, redeemed, and restored.

Of course, I would not seek her out for doula care again or recommend her to others. But I do hope she finds healing for her wounds, whatever they are. I like to imagine meeting her in heaven someday and embracing her joyfully. That might sound a little crazy but it is absolutely the truth.

Can you believe it? Such a beautiful change in my heart. What wild, crazy, scandalous love God has filled us with! What amazing things we are empowered to do through Christ! God enables His children to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, and hope for the unimaginable.

 

(Tree in a mud puddle–Beauty is everywhere.)

Suffering

A few years ago my heart was breaking. I was struggling so painfully trying to make sense out of a senseless situation. God seemed far away and no one I knew could comfort me. Today I want to tell you the story of how I found peace.


To begin this story I need to back up and begin over 20 years ago…because it took me a long time to figure out the things that made me able to find that peace.
 

When I was 17, I decided that either God was not good or He was not all
powerful. I was angry at many things in my life but mainly I was angry at God. 
My mother tried to woo me back to faith by expressing God’s love for me.
“Why would you care if someone loves you if you think they are a jerk?” That was my response. (I weakened my language out of respect for my Mom.)

I believed in God, that He existed. (Despite great effort I could not bring
myself to believe God was not real. Please believe that I tried. Atheism would have been a sweet relief for my tortured soul.) I still believed in Jesus and sin and our need for forgiveness in order for us to enter Heaven. I still believed in hell. But I did not believe that God was good. 

How could a good God condemn people to hell for eternity? Eternity–we can’t
even wrap our little minds around what that means. Eternal punishment for
temporal sins, committed by people hurt and beat down by life, twisted by their
pain who can’t even conceive of eternity.  How is that good?

How could a good God allow the incredible suffering that is not caused directly by sin? Disease. Famine. Natural disasters. Only He has control over these
things. They are not caused by any human using their free will to hurt another.

How could He promise healing to His people of their afflictions but then not
heal them when they go through all the steps the Bible lays out to receive
healing. For example, innocent children dying from cancer while their parents
cry out in anguish to a silent sky.

What kind of God offers salvation from hell, only to in the next breath demand
that we live in complete obedience and must confess and repent of any sin to
maintain our promise of heaven? (When I was a little girl, every night I would
pray for God to forgive any sin that I might not know or remember I committed. I was afraid if I died unconfessed of my sins in my sleep I might go to hell.) I was taught that God wanted us to become perfect, but I could never seem to find the power to change, no matter how much I begged, cried, studied the scriptures or had others lay on hands and pray for me. 

I refused to fake it. I sat sullen in church. I refused to lay down when the
speaker laid hands on me. If I became offended during church I stood up, walked out of the sanctuary, and sat in the bathroom until the service ended.  

I noticed that my church was full of people faking it. You see a lot when you
stop closing your eyes to pray. They were good people. They wanted to be holy,
their hearts were sincere, but they only seemed to really pull it off while they were at church.

I remember one service where two people came to pray for me. The one on the left prayed compassionately that “a bruised reed He will not break.”
The person on my right seconds later prayed warningly that those who fall
“on that stone [Christ] will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls
will be crushed.” I almost laughed out loud in my frustration. Everyone
who prayed for me prayed that I would cease to be confused.  I was not
feeling confused. I felt like I was waking up.

This church preached heavily against the evils of legalism, but dictated petty rules. For instance, anyone over age 12 could not wear shorts to services and a teenager could not attend the adult Bible study until they were both 18 and graduated from high school. It didn’t matter if the teenager was bored to tears in youth group or that all her (slightly older) friends had moved out to
be with the adults. Rules were rules. I think they were confused about what legalism is. It infuriated me. But it wasn’t my frustration with that specific church that broke my faith. It was the burden of Lordship Salvation that I had carried since childhood.
 

For years I heard messages like: “If you are not hearing from God then there is
sin in your life.” and “If Christ is not the Lord of your life and if you are not obedient in all things you are not saved.” I tried. I tried so hard but I always seemed to fall short. Finally I came to the place where I was a senior in high school and begging God to tell me where to go to college. I did this for months and heard nothing. I finally just decided to go
where I wanted to go.  I quit even trying to hear from God. I decided that I would screw up my life on my own without first wasting my time and energy trying to get guidance from a God who never answered me.

I didn’t stop believing but I stopped trying. I stopped following. I sat down
in my Christian walk and refused to continue onward. I stopped going to my
family’s church. I went to chapel when I was at my Christian college because it
was required. I even went to a Sunday service elsewhere a few times for a
variety of reasons.  But I was always guarded and I never found what I was
looking for. My parents even managed to get me to a service at the Jacksonville
(Florida) Revival that was happening in 1998. I was unmoved in my resolve. I
would have answers or I would not have a relationship with this God. I knew that I could never go back to my old life of trying to stay saved. Obviously, I did not have what it takes to succeed. It seemed to me that if God sent Jesus to save us because we could never be good enough to save ourselves–why was my salvation still dependant on my behavior?  

Until I was about 23 I pushed God away from me as hard as I could. I casually
looked for answers, real answers to my hard questions, but no one who tried to
“save” me could ever explain. I learned to swear like a sailor. I did what I wanted. When it suited my purposes, I dropped my morals like a hot potato.  I stopped calling myself a Christian because I knew my behavior would only hurt and confuse young believers and reinforce the opinions of people already suspicious of Christianity.  I openly expressed my anger at God to whoever wanted to talk to me about such things. I remember one time a Christian lady I was speaking to actually became afraid that God would strike me dead for my extreme irreverence. 

But the Spirit never stopped drawing me to God. I was in constant turmoil under
my anger. Finally, one day as I was driving home I cried out to God,
“I cannot believe that You are who I have been taught You are. Show me
who You really are!”

After that I went on a quest for my answers, a quest for truth. I read some
books, like The Case for Faith (by Lee Strobel) and Mere Christianity (by C.S.
Lewis).  I read dozens of articles on free grace and eternal security. I attended a house church intermittently for a while, the relaxed atmosphere helped me feel safe. Nobody was trying to impress anybody else there. Most importantly I reread the scriptures like a woman obsessed. I wanted to know what they really said versus what had I been taught and blindly accepted as true. I spent sometimes hours a day studying.
I should have been doing this from a much younger age. My blind, lazy trust in the opinions and teachings of others had caused my faith to be weak. My advice to every young Christian is this: “Know why you believe what you believe. You should be able to defend every doctrine you subscribe to with scripture.  Surface faith won’t hold up to real life; platitudes and anecdotes turn to dust. You need to go deep.”

I didn’t find every answer but I found enough to firmly establish in my heart that God is GOOD. I was able to stop living in terror of losing my salvation. I was also able to pray and sing praise and pursue a relationship with God again. It was not perfect, in fact it was very touch and go for a few years. There were things I was doing in my life that I believed were wrong but that I refused to give up. I no longer believed that I would go to hell because of this, but it was a hard place to be. It felt like my soul was burning my insides at times. Even through my inner war I was constantly pulled toward God.

I eventually stumbled upon a book called Truefaced. It helped me tremendously. I was able to start shifting my perspective on what God really wants from me and how the Church is actually supposed to function. (Truefaced was written by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John S. Lynch. )

I also read a wonderful book called the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Somewhere around this time I was able to really start to believe that not only is God good, but He REALLY does love me. He sees all my sin and all my darkness that I try to hide and He still loves me every bit as much as He would if I were perfect.

After I got married, my conscience started resting more easily.  I felt like I was no longer blatantly sinning in any way. I still had guilt issues over my past behaviors, especially during my years of anger. I carry my share of regrets. But then I hit a snag, and I entered into the period of suffering I mentioned at the beginning.
 

 ( A wedding gift that I once found very ironic in the context of our many unanswered prayers.)

My husband is disabled. He has suffered from increasingly debilitating chronic
pain since he was 15 years old. Everything medical has been tried, most things multiple times. Heaven has been silent to the prayers of his parents, pastors, traveling evangelists, people with gifts of healing, and myself. The laying on of hands, the application of anointing oil and the prayers of the elders have failed. Prayer cloths have failed. There is no explanation and seems to be no hope of recovery. He has continued to get worse and our community of faith is baffled.

As I watched my husband’s quality of life steadily diminish, I started to
struggle again with believing that God cared. At first it was a little struggle
I would try to shrug off, but eventually it began to consume me. It was
excruciatingly painful. And you have to acknowledge that it really looks like
God has abandoned us. It looks bad.  The whys that have been asked are
stacked up all the way to Heaven’s gates. The tears that have been cried fill
many bottles. 

As I wrestled with this gap between God’s promises and my reality, I prayed for grace, for understanding, and for help. I didn’t know what to do. I spent
a good deal of my time crying. Finally I realized very suddenly that I had to make a decision. I was driving to work when it became clear to me.  The situation with my husband being in pain all the time and God not seeming to help him or heal him looks terrible to my eyes and feels even worse than it looks. I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. It seems to my human mind to run contrary to the promises of God.  


Throughout the scriptures God says repeatedly that He loves my husband. And God says He is good, kind, merciful, compassionate and faithful. So, I had to
decide. Do I believe my eyes? Do I believe my heart and its pain? Or do I doubt
how things look to me, doubt how I feel and choose to believe what God says
about Himself is true?

The scriptures tell us that faith is believing God, not believing IN God. Going beyond just believing He exists–to believing what He says: about Himself, about the world, about us. You see, things look pretty awful to me but the God who spoke the universe into existence testifies that He is good and His heart toward us is full of love. Who has the more trustworthy perspective?

So, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, I chose and choose to
believe God. After I decided this, I was given a supernatural peace about the
situation. Years of strife and turmoil have evaporated out of my heart. I do not believe that I would have been able to reach this place if I had not alreay cemented in my heart that God is good and that He loves me. My next natural step was to start TRUSTING God, and He graciously enabled me to begin doing that.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. My husband’s suffering and disability has not stopped being hard to live with.
Especially since the birth of our son, my heart breaks that my husband and my
son cannot have a better life.  My husband and my son will probably never
do many things that fathers and sons who adore each other the way they do often enjoy doing. Hunting trips, wrestling, playing catch in the yard–it all seems so out of reach.
 

Of course, there are times that I feel sorry for myself too. I’m human, my situation is difficult, and it does happen. I work, and care for our child, and the house, I pay the bills, I do the shopping, I care for my husband and try to take care of myself. It’s a lot, and sometimes it is too much for me. Something is always
left undone.

But, those times when it is too much, help always shows up in some form.
Sometimes when I have a bad day my husband has one of his better days and can give me extra emotional support or watch TV with our son while I decompress. I am able to lean on my mom, my sister, or my mother-in-law and they have a kind word or even physical help to offer. Whenever I feel ready to break, God by His grace provides for me and I am not broken.

I am not sure why Christians are surprised by the pain and suffering we
encounter in this life.  God has been honest about how it’s going to be.
Pain, suffering, tribulation, persecution, injustice and loss will come into
our lives. Sometimes they stay a long time, sometimes they leave for a while
only to come back to visit again. Jesus was perfect, beloved of the Father,
sinless and He suffered greatly anyway. He was hated, chased, plotted against, betrayed, eventually unfairly tried and condemned to an agonizing death. The lives of the Apostles were also far from being free of suffering.

 The Bible is full of stories of human pain and suffering from the first chapters of Genesis to almost the end of Revelation. Yet we are shocked, surprised, horrified, angry, convinced that a great injustice has taken place every time we hurt. EVERY TIME.


Good old King David went through some really soul crushing low points in his
life. Some of them he brought upon himself and some were completely unjust. In those difficult times, and they will come for us all, David offers a sound
example of how to hold on:  

       “I believe that I shall look upon the
goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong,
and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”(Psalms 27:13-14) (English Standard Version)


I have chosen to wait on God. I choose to trust Him. I believe God will set
every wrong thing right perfectly and at the perfect time. What isn’t set
right in this life will be set right in the next beyond what we can even imagine.
This imperfect world filled with suffering and pain is all we know, but God has
told us this world is not forever.  Believing God gives me strength,
courage, and peace. Because of this even though my circumstances are difficult
I am not miserable, hopeless or bitter. It is as Jesus said: 

“I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
 

(My engagement and wedding rings)

Marching

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”(Philippians 4:8) (KJV2000)

On the first of March I woke up to the sound of buckets of rain being poured over my house and couldn’t go back to sleep. By five thirty in the morning there was a seemingly endless parade of thoughts, to do lists and concerns marching through my mind. I was also listening, on edge, to the rain and the thunder because we were under a tornado watch from late evening until seven a.m. I was running scenarios on how best to get Ethan safely to the basement if the siren went off and what I should or shouldn’t grab on the way. I had left the carseat in the car when I came home sick from work on the 27th of February, so I couldn’t  very well grab that.  (Who has tornado watches in February? Honestly? It doesn’t seem fair.) I was also listening for the sound of an approaching train. I have heard that tornados sound like trains. I was also running scenarios of keeping Ethan safe if there was no siren. I was also thinking about ways to rebuild the house if it got flattened and wondering if there is any way to protect a physical possession–like an old family photo album from wind, flood and fire.

All this was marching through my mind at 5:30 a.m.  (And I wonder why I am tired.) In a few minutes the morning rush would begin again. The child asleep on my chest would wake up and need to be snuggled, dressed and fed. All my morning tasks awaited. I knew that I was weak and I hoped I could complete them as quickly as I normally did. I decided I should take soup for lunch. (After so recently battling a violent stomach virus, I didn’t think my stomach was ready for broccoli.)

The day passed and on the way home from work I took the back roads. It was a gray day, very damp and blustery. I was feeling rather dismal as the wind grew chillier and occasionally smattered my windshield with tiny almost raindrops. My world was bleak. And then on my right appeared acres and acres of beautiful emerald green! It was so beautiful that I actually made an involuntary exclamation. Oh! It was so unexpected I felt like something had physically jarred me.  

(This was taken on a slightly brighter day, but it is the same field.)

Thank God for winter wheat! Where I live, it is the first big green of Spring. In March the little greens will appear, tiny sprouts of daffodils or tulips, but the grass is pale and the deciduous trees are bare.  The beginning of Spring around here usually looks like gray skies and mud until about April. But if I can find a field of winter wheat–my winter weary soul can find new hope.  Winter wheat reminds me Spring is waiting in the wings, the green is spreading, it cannot be delayed forever!

What a difference it makes when we shift our focus from worry to hope. The exact same circumstances can take on a whole new meaning in a moment. My whole experience of March is completely reflective of what I choose to focus on. Around me the sky is gray, the ground is muddy, the wind is cold and mean. Also, around me, the trees are budding, the wheat is growing, and the smell of Spring is swirling. Where will I place my attention? 

Winter is not over but Spring is coming will not be stopped, no matter how many more times it snows. When I focus on the coming of Spring, I feel uplifted and hopeful. Lilacs and roses are coming, along with green grass and softer air. When I focus on what is left of Winter I feel tired, like I am carrying a heavy and cumbersome chain. Winter of itself is not bad, but it is dark and cold and I am weary of it. Both things are true in this moment. The choice is mine.

 

Paul reminds us that we need to focus on the good stuff. Truth. Honesty. Justice. Purity. Loveliness. Good reports. Virtuous things.  Praiseworthy things. He is laying out instructions for the Philippian Christians on how to live in this world and he polishes off his recomendations with an admonition on what to think about.

What we think about is important. What we think about, what we meditate on, determines our mood, our attitude and our actions.  A person might think, “We cannot ignore all the bad stuff in the world and only “think on these things”! Our outrage and negative emotions are what move us to action to make things better!” There is some truth in that.  But when I focus on the good and lovely things I feel more positive, more hopeful, more energized. When I focus on the horrible things and the sad things I start feeling hopeless, helpless and overwhelmed. In which state I am more likely to be kind to others, to lift up those around me or to take any positive action? 

There are so many things going on around us, so many voices screaming for attention. There is so much information, most of it of questionable quality, constantly before us. Where shall we look? The world is filled with war, strife, division, hatred, despair, violence, and loss. The world is also filled with beauty, hope, wonder, kindness, love, generosity and grace. We will see it all but we must “think on these things.” That does not mean we close our eyes to the ugly things because we must see them before we can change them. We can work toward a better world–we must help others and we must stand up for what is right–but to be able to do that we must think on “these things”.  When we think too much on the dark side, when we meditate on the horrible, unimaginable and seemingly hopeless, it fixes nothing and even does damage. We can easily become immobilized in the face of what seems like overwhelming evil.  

So, I am choosing to think about all the wonderful things about March. I love the crazy, wild winds. I love the new green around me. I even love watching the battle between Spring and Winter. (New life will win eventually, of course, but when?)  I choose to lift my eyes from the mud on my boots and look across the fields of wheat. When my eyes are focused on the beautiful, makes it easier to keep marching. 

Breathing

And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7) (Darby Bible Translation )

 Do you remember when you learned to hold your breath? Was it to swim under water? Maybe it was to be absolutely quiet during hide and seek? Could have been an attempt to get rid of a case of the hiccups? Did you ever try to time yourself just to see how long you could do it? Did you ever notice how quickly holding your breath makes breathing the main focus of your attention? Even if you just take tiny, shallow breaths you can easily think about something else, but once you totally stop breathing thinking about something else successfully takes practice and discipline.

Here are a few times my breath has come to my attention:

Unable to Breathe

I don’t suffer from asthma. I have never drowned. My first time of not being able to breathe was probably a little comical to watch. I was in the second grade and I slipped on some ice leaving the school and fell flat on my back. It hurt but I couldn’t breathe to cry to get help.  All I could do was lay where I fell, looking up at the gray, clouded sky and wondering if I was dying. A kind man came  along and stopped to help me.  “You’re okay,” he said. “You just got the wind knocked out of you!” Almost like magic, between realizing that what I was experiencing was something that I had heard people mention before, and my relief at knowing I wasn’t dying,  my body relaxed and my breath came back. My kind stranger helped me up and I was back on my way with my new knowledge of how it felt to have the wind knocked out of me. 

Only Able to Breathe

Sleep paralysis is how I first discovered  the power of breath control. I was about eleven or twelve and I was traveling with my mother and siblings. I fell asleep while mom was driving and woke up and found we had stopped somewhere. I woke up and I couldn’t move, talk or even open my eyes. I could hear everything and I knew I was awake.  I was terrified. What if I was paralyzed  like this forever?  I couldn’t even tell my mom I was awake and I needed help!  I didn’t even really know what sleep paralysis was or that it can happen when you are awake. In my panic I started to frantically search for what I did have control over and realised I had control over my breathing. I tried taking deeper and deeper breaths and as I did this my body woke up and I was able to move. I filed this information away in my brain in case it ever happened to me again!

Breathing Too Fast

In high school I had severe menstrual  cramps.  One time, while hiding in a  stall in the girls bathroom, the pain became so bad that I hyperventilated. I didn’t understand what was happening as I lost control of my hands, my arms and then my legs. When the adults found me there I could not stand or walk. They brought me a paper bag to breathe into and my mom had to push me out to our car in a wheelchair. 

Breathing Through Pain

Because of my severe menstrual  cramps,  my mom taught me a biofeedback relaxation exercise to do while I waited for my pain medication to kick in.  As I breathed, every time I exhaled  I concentrated on relaxing a little bit more of my body until I was relaxing my whole body from head to toe in one exhale. For a long time my mom sat by me and talked me through it. “Relax your toes, your ankles, the backs of your calves…” etc. She was really good at it and it helped me immensely. Eventually I could do it on my own easily. (This was very valuable training, I used the same method of relaxation when I was in labor and it worked amazingly until I hit transition.)

Taking My Breath Back

There have been times in my life when anxiety has hijacked my body. The first time, much like when I got the wind knocked out of me, I was afraid I was dying. I was about twelve and spending the night at a new friend’s house.  I woke up in the night needing to go to the bathroom. As I sat there, on the commode, the only one awake in the unfamiliar house, I was overcome with fear and a longing to go home. My chest started to hurt really badly on the right side.  I convinced myself that I was having a heart attack but I was unable to call for help.  I was too afraid. I prayed for God to help me. I think is was the Spirit of God that whispered to my panicked mind that my heart was on the LEFT side of my chest, therefore what I was feeling was not a heart attack. I was flooded with relief. I relaxed and the pain in my chest faded. I laughed at myself a little, and was able to get up, go back to bed, and fall asleep. Looking back, I think when I got scared I probably started breathing really shallowly and when I was able to relax I started breathing normally, and when I started breathing the pain in my chest got better. 

As an adult, my experience has been different. When anxiety takes over I feel like I can’t take a deep breath or sit still or stop crying. It a miserable disconnect between what is actually happening and how I feel.  It was a common occurrence for a few years in my late twenties and early thirties. I became more practised at seeing an attack coming and found ways of coping with the disruption. But until last week I had managed to go almost three years without an incident and I found I have become really rusty in my coping skills. I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late and I was completely overwhelmed. I forgot that the only way I have found to reclaim my hijacked body is through my breath.  If I can distract my head and control my breath long enough I can get my body back. I may not be able to breathe deeply but I can control the rhythm of the breathing the air in, holding it, and releasing it. I have also learned in the last few years that I can support my body during the reclamation process with essential oils, and they do help. In fact if I manage to notice the anxiety before it gets a real hold on me with my oils I can usually dodge a hijacking completely. But once I pass a certain point, the the oils will help but the controlled breathing HAS to happen.

Remembering to Breathe 

When I was a young woman on a whim I bought an issue of the new Oprah magazine. I liked it. It didn’t make me feel fat and ugly like the other women’s and fashion magazines I had read. Oprah magazine left me feeling empowered and inspired and hopeful. But my very favorite part of the magazine was a two page spread photo of a beautiful landscape or seascape. It was called “Breathing Space”. I loved it because it reminded me to breathe. In my whirlwind of work and school and daily life that was really helpful. I would always stop and take at least one real, intentional and deep breath. I would have bought the magazine just for that. (I kept my old issues for years in boxes. I was unwilling to part  with my breathing spaces and so much good, uplifting and educational content. I really intended to read them all again.) The first time I opened an issue and did not find my breathing space I was really upset! They took out the best part! 

Learning a New Way to Breathe

I was listening to Tony Robbins on YouTube the other day and he mentioned using Breath Walking to change your mental and emotional state. You breathe in through your nose four short breaths, and the out through you mouth in four short puffs. I tried it. I did it wrong but after five minutes my puffs were trying to turn into whistles and I was grinning. Turns out while Breath Walking you are also supposed to match your steps to your breaths, all the while tapping each of your fingertips to your thumb on each hand. I can’t wait to try that, I’ll probably fall off the treadmill because I am a clutz. (I am always knocking into things and tripping. I have come to believe that  this is due to my astounding lack of kinesthetic awareness. (Am I slumping? Are my hands on my hips? Do I still have feet? I don’t know.) This makes it very difficult for me to dance and sometimes for me to walk.  I spend most of my existence so deep in my head that I have no idea what my body is doing. In fact, I have a tendency to basically ignore my body until it screams at me that something has gone wrong.  I am trying to practice better self care and pay attention to my body’s signals before I am in pain.)

The Breathe of Life

We are made to breathe, for a human breathing is essential to life. Every other living creature was spoken, commanded into existence and life at the same time except us, we were breathed alive. God said, “Let us make man,” then sculpted him from the earth and breathed mankind alive with His own breath. Every single other creation, from a star to an ant, with all it’s amazing beauty and complexity, lacks the breath of God. For humans breathing is more than an action of respiration, your breath effects not just your body but also your mind and your emotions. This is a special blessing that comes of being made in the image of God.

The breath of God that was blown into Adam has been passed down through the ages to each of us. It is the spark of God’s Spirit that keeps our bodies, minds and spirit alive. In fact the scripture tells us that when a person dies their piece of the Spirit actaully returns to God. (Ecc. 12:7)

There is a lovely parallel verse to Genesis 2:7 in John. 

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” (John 20:21-22)(NIV)

Here we can see Jesus giving a new breath of life to his disciples. Since the fall of man, mankind had been in desperate need of new life because sin brought spiritual as well as physical  death and separated us from God.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, it was possible to begin spiritually resurrecting mankind. The disciples were standing before a resurrected Jesus, fully believing the He was the Messiah, and trusting His word completely that His work of atonement had provided salvation for their eternal souls. What most Christians must believe by faith alone they were seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears. So Jesus gave them new life, breathing on them and commanding them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is how they became what Paul later calls, “Alive in Christ”. 

This is what many now refer to as Jesus “coming into your heart”.  When you believe in your heart that what Jesus said in John 3:16 is true, you receive as a free gift new spiritual life and the Spirit of God begins to dwell within you. This is different from the coming of the Comforter in Acts 2, which is more equivalent with what is commonly called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Though both gifts can be given at the same time.)

 We all breathe. All day every day and all night every night. Awake. Asleep. There is no need to think about it. (Unless you find something is stopping you from breathing). Breathing keeps us alive. But there is a deeper, spiritual breath that we must breathe to be fully alive; and once you have breathed the Breath of Life, your soul will live forever, even after you breathe with your body for the last time.

 

( Me and Ethan, peaceful easy breathing.)

Momming

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

I started my planning young:  I was going to become a mommy, like my mommy, but better!   It was not that I thought of my life experience so far as bad– but I resolved that I would figure out how to do better for my kids. I honestly believed that it was my job to do that. 

I know I had this plan established by 1985, because that was the Christmas I received my first diary. 

Tangent Warning!

In my childhood that diary divides my childhood memories into before and after like the birth of Christ splits human history.  I remember that I resolved to write my diary for two reasons, for myself as a grown up so I would always remember how I felt as a kid and for my kids so they would know I understood how it is. Almost like they could know the kid me a little bit if they ever wanted to.  (The realization that I could write down all the thoughts and feelings I had that would get me in trouble if I said them out loud with no repercussions and the accompanying relief that I received from this practise came later.)

Me, circa age 7, planning for motherhood and playing with my baby cousin. (I was also already on the lookout for my future husband, but that’s a different post.)

I would write down my thoughts, feelings and things I wanted to always remember. A few times I would need to write the feelings down but then I ripped them out because I didn’t want to remember.

 My powers of expression were limited at first. Case in point, one entry I remember writing with a passionate sense of injustice: “She [makes] good dishuns and bad disthuns and I think this is the wrers distisun she has ever made,”. ( I thought this was a dangerous observation at the time. That my mom could be wrong. Dangerous enough that I thought I had better lock my little diary and hide the key. Looking back, my spelling would have probably been more upsetting to her than my sentiment.)

*End Tangent *

As I grew, in my mind I was keeping a tally sheet of what my mom was doing. What worked (15 minute clean ups), what didn’t (hiding chocolate chips), and what was awesome (family popcorn time) or what was really bad (cream of turkey on toast).

 When my mom got pregnant with my oldest younger brother, I was nine. I started learning about the realities pregnancy, childbirth and the rules of babies. A few of my observations:

Pregnancy– You need someone to tie your shoes for you and you should drink a ton of water.  You also need to get a midwife and learn the Bradley Method.

 Childbirth–Labor is hard and scary and painful and messy. The birth is amazing.  

Babies–Babies can’t have honey until they are a year old. A nursing baby is about the sweetest thing you will ever see.  A baby will eat more bites of yucky veggies if you swap bites with sweet fruit. Always keep the basement door closed at all times.

I soaked it all in. I got a quick review of it all because  my mother became pregnant again when little brother number one was about 15 or 16 months old. (Enter little brother number two.) I was upset about this. This was not the plan. I had been told that little brother number one would be two years old before another sibling would be in the works. Turns out sometimes things don’t go according to plan, even for grown ups!

I played second mommy to my two little brothers for about four years.  It worked out fairly well until I started high school. By then they weren’t babies anymore and I was starting to become consumed with my internalized drama. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to parent them. We became siblings, almost enemies sometimes, not unlike my sister and I had been. Around that same time my sister and I started becoming friends, but I stopped being anyone’s mother. 

In my teen years I lost my temper and screamed at my brothers so many times. I begged God in tears over and over that I would stop losing my temper but it never worked. I developed a fear that I would grow up to be abusive, that if I had kids I would scream at them and maybe even hit them. I decided maybe being a mom wasn’t a good idea for someone like me. From about age  17 to 23 I was convinced I would never want kids. 

Then, when I was about 23, my friends started having babies. I knew I wasn’t ready yet but I knew that I wanted my own kids someday. I started imagining them. Meeting them, getting to know them, teaching them stuff. And watching, like my mother did, for their gifts and aptitudes to emerge so I could make sure to provide the best opportunities for them to develop. 

I had my mind set on my child raising methods. I would not forbid sugar or make sweets a big deal. (Maybe my children could escape my compulsion to empty every candy dish they came accross.) I would train them to obey when they were super little so that I would never need to yell at them or spank them and they would never be brats. My kids would go to public school so they could have normal childhoods and learn how to interact with their peers. I would make sure they read all the good books and heard all the good music. I would take so, so many pictures! I would let them get good and dirty playing outside in the mud. I would make sure they had a dog! When they got to be teenagers I would make our house the best place to be so I knew they were safe. I had a million plans. I also had pretty high expectations that my experiments would turn out well. (Are you laughing yet?)

In my mid to late twenties I worried off and on if my boyfriend/fiancé and I would even be able to have children. Our circumstances certainty lent themselves to putting off first marriage and then children. I married at 30 and finally around my 36th birthday I said to my husband, “Hey, if we are going to attempt to have kids then we had better get started trying,”. He (finally) agreed and I started gearing up. I cut out artificial sweetners from my diet.  I started taking detox baths. I changed to a blood pressure medication that was safer for pregnancy. I went off the hormone based birth control I had been using since I was 20 to give my body a chance to return to ovulation. I figured that would take several months or maybe even a year. I started trying to lose some weight to boost our chances and to give me a better shot at a healthy pregnancy. 

Two months after stopping the birth control I was pregnant. That wasn’t exactly the plan but I was thrilled. And terrified. I was diabetic. My medications were contraindicated for pregnancy  but so is high blood sugar! I stopped my meds and stopped eating simple carbs until I could get an insulin script and some clue of what I should eat. I stopped my anti-depressants as quickly as safely possible.

 I may have been expecting to be a mother most of my life, but now that I was actually expecting my real child I was freaking out. I was worried that my baby would be hurt. I had wanted to be off the medications before I got pregnant and I wasn’t. My sugars weren’t as low as they should have been to start trying to get pregnant. And believe me, trying is not what was happening at that point. In my expectation of struggling to get pregnant I forgot the old wisdom of “it only takes once”.

Along side my terror there was wonder and hope. It felt like God must have just been waiting for the first chance I gave Him to send me this child. That made me feel much better, remembering God was in control. But I also felt strongly that now it was up to me not to mess it up. So I did my best. I am not saying that casually.  I walked the line between perfect and insane.

In my mind there was no other choice. I was going to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of my baby. I knew that if me messing this up harmed my child I could not live with that. Period. Thus followed a period of compliance like I have never dreamed. 

The Dietician said to eat only X carbs per day, divided like so. I did it and I wrote all it down. Every gram of carbs at every meal. Every sugar reading I took.  Every unit of insulin. Every day. EVERY DAY. Until after I gave birth. 

The Endocrinologist said inject this much insulin four times a day and poke yourself to check your sugar seven times a day. Write the result down every time. I did that too. I would set alarms at work to check and at home to wake myself up to check my sugar.

If they asked me to do it, I did. 

I did have a few places that I disagreed with the experts. I never ate a low fat diet. I just made sure the fats I ate were fabulous. (Lots of organic butter and extra virgin olive oil.) I ate more meat and eggs than reccomended. I didn’t have many cravings during my pregnancy but I did have a strong drive to eat red meat. 

I walked on my treadmill but I monitored my heart rate to make sure it didn’t go too high. I avoided possible sources of listeria. I avoided herbal tea, caffiene (except small does of dark chocolate), and MSG. I even avoided stevia. I cut out the essential oils that could possibly put the pregnancy at risk. I cut out hot showers and baths. I took Acetaminofen only once. I drank nothing but filtered or bottled water and plenty of it. 

I showed up for every appointment. GYN, Endocrinologist, Dietician, Health Coach, Specialist GYN, Ultrasounds, labwork, and Case Management Nurse phone calls. It was like having two full time jobs. But I knew I was doing everything I was supposed to to the very best of my ability and that made me feel really good. My doctors marveled at my compliance and my success. I took what was considered a high risk pregnancy and sailed through. My blood sugar levels were nearly perfect throughout the pregnancy and my blood pressures stayed very well controlled. My weight gain stayed right on track. If all you had to look at was numbers you would have never thought my pregnancy was high risk.

I didn’t have morning sickness. I barely had heartburn. My depression faded down to nothing and, though I had some serious worries, my anxiety never overwhelmed and paralyzed me like it did pre-pregnancy. In many ways I had an easy pregnancy experience. 

After I brought my son home, for several reasons, I was a mess. I was a mess like I had never been in my life and I was trying to care for my newborn plus trying to nurse, failing, then pumping and bottle feeding, followed by cleaning all the pump parts by hand (no dishwasher in my house). I repeated this process every three hours around the clock. My baby had jaundice and this three hour cycle was necessary. About day three I caved and weepingly sent my son (with a bottle) to my in-laws to stay so I could sleep a few hours. I was so guilt-riddled for doing this that I actually wasted some of my sleep time that first day crying about it. I felt like I was abandoning him and burdening them.

I could not figure out when to feed myself or shower. During the short period of time time out of every three hour shift when I could have laid him down and done something else, I could not stop baby gazing. All I wanted in life was to sit still and hold and love my baby.  I felt like all the other activities were stealing that from me.

I had trouble both asking for and accepting help.  I felt like I had already asked for too much help. A few examples of the help I was receiving: I had to be driven everywhere I needed to go; my mother-in-law drove me. I couldn’t carry the baby in his carseat when we got there; my mother-in-law toted him. From late afternoon until evening many days she and my father-in-law cared for my baby so I could sleep for a few hours together.  (I was too afraid to sleep unless someone else was awake and watching him.)  I also couldn’t carry my trash out to the road myself so my in-laws did that for me too.

In addition to that issue, when someone kindly offered me their help and asked me what to do, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t think clearly to tell them what to do to help me. I usually responded by staring into space while I tried to give them a task. On top of that I felt that I  could not ask for help with some of my tasks because they had to be done exactly as I did them and I could not trust anyone else to do it right. 

(Let me give you an example of my state of mind:  No one else could wash and dry the pump parts! They did it wrong. I let them try and the flanges and bottles were still greasy when I went to use them. I had to re-wash them and re-dry them before I could start pumping. They also didn’t know to remove the little vinyl flap pieces so I had to take those pieces apart to re-wash and dry those too. If I told them they needed to do it differently they wouldn’t understand. It is better to do it myself.) 

This type of thing, coupled by my inability to express exactly what I needed without sounding insane, effectively limited my sources of help in what they could do for me.  (I feel tired now just remembering my desparation.) Everything had to be done by me and quickly and NOW or I wouldn’t be ready for the next shift. 

So for a while I lived on bottled water and Kashi Granola bars. I was a pale, quavering, starving, germ-obsessed, crazy disaster. When my mom and dad came to meet the baby, they found me in that state. I think my mom might be traumatized for life from seeing me like that. (If you know anyone who just came home from the hospital after giving birth, please consider taking them food. I had plenty of meals stored up. But those first couple of weeks I couldn’t even manage to go to the freezer, get the food out, heat it up and eat it. I could barely manage to eat at all when I was alone with my baby and remembering to grab a granola bar on my way to nurse/pump  was a victory.)

I didn’t know anything about how to handle my situation. I couldn’t even think straight. All my preparation for Momming failed me. I didn’t lean on my parents, I fell on them like a piano dropped by the movers in an old cartoon. They caught me.  For a good while my mom held me up until I was strong enough to get through a whole day on my own again. 

Just as I was starting to feel like I could live, take care of my baby and care for myself half-way decently, it was time to return to work.

It was a brand new position for me and I was working with not a soul I knew. I was also leaving my first child for the first time for nine hours a day.  In addition to learning a new job I was navigating the trecherous waters of pumping at work for the first time. I was not ready for any of that, especially only six weeks after giving birth.

In all my planning I never took into account the physical reality of the post-partum period. Big mistake.  I didn’t account for having to work full time to support my family while also caring for my disabled spouse, my young infant, and myself while running a household. Sometimes you just can’t understand how hard things will really be until you get there. 

In spite of this we survived.  I may not have done it perfectly or even well,  but we all survived those crazy first five months. Since then, managing the tasks of daily life has become, well, more managable. 

Looking back I can see that I thought I was totally prepared to be a mother. Turned out I was wrong and the reality was not pretty. (I don’t think any woman gives birth for the first time and brings home her baby and finds that she was completely prepared.) 

Because God sent the help and love I needed just in time, I survived. I was able to heal and learn and grow strong again. In those post partum moments when things were so very difficult and my world looked so dark, I comforted myself by telling myself that I would never have another child. The only thing that made me feel better was to tell myself that I never would go through this again. 

But what I can also see looking back over my journey to motherhood is this: I had a plan but the Lord directed my steps to my goal. All the way He was faithful, even when finally getting what I dreamed of proved to be more than I could handle on my own. 

My original plan was kids. Plural. As in more than one. Right now the logistics of more than one seem really daunting. I am not sure what I will decide.

If I do ever choose to try to have another child, and if God blesses me with another one, I know a few things now that I didn’t last time. First, I know that the post partum period will not be as dark for me next time. Because now I know how it goes after childbirth. That period ends. It feels eternal but it gets better, a little bit every day. I know that I might lose sight of myself for a while but I will find myself again and be okay. Second, I know to arrange more help for the first four weeks. Much more help. Especially with having a newborn and a pre-existing child. Third, however things go, the Lord will be directing my steps. So I can relax a little bit. I would still do my absolute best, of course. Love for my new baby would demand nothing less. But I know I could relax my controlling, fear driven grip on things a bit and let God show me again that He is always good, loving, and faithful to me, His child.