Self Sabotage

A dictionary defines the word sabotage as to “deliberately destroy, damage or obstruct something”. The German government used sabotage during World War I in an attempt to thwart U.S. trade with Europe. They targeted factories and plants that manufactured goods destined to be shipped to help the Allied troops on the battlefields of Europe. They accomplished this by setting explosive devices near the targeted business which, when detonated, would cause massive fires, destroying not only the goods being made, but in many cases, the entire factory. Those who carried out the commands of the German government were actually operating on U.S. soil. Obviously, these agents did not brazenly walk to an area near the factory and start setting up explosive devices. The operation needed to be carried out in secret if it was going to effectively cripple the manufacturing process.

That’s one thing about sabotage: it is unexpected and often unpreventable. It is only in looking back on the event that officials suddenly see how the sabotage was able to be carried out. Going forward, new policies are put into place to try to prevent a reoccurrence. The formation of the Department of Homeland Security after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, took place is a good example of the attempt to prevent a repeat performance of an undesired action.

The government, private and public businesses, and the military all have to be on guard against sabotage, whether that action would come from secret agents sent to harm or, sometimes, from their own people working against them from the inside.

What about individual people? What does sabotage look like in my life or in yours? Who is responsible when it takes place? Why does it take place?

While it is true that sometimes people are the object of another’s schemes, I have been noticing lately, at least in my own life, that most of the sabotage taking place is self inflicted. You may wonder, “What? Why would anyone intentionally try to deliberately destroy her own life?” I have asked myself that same question over the last week. I have not come up with an answer, but in all my reflecting, I have begun to see patterns of  when and how this sabotage takes place. I’m sure it is different for different people. Just as there are people who love vegetables (my future daughter-in-law comes to mind), there are others who will not put them in their mouths for any reason (this describes me).  Some people love the heat of summer (I don’t understand these people) while a small minority of us love the cold of winter (me again). How one goes about self-sabotaging varies, and maybe for some this isn’t even an issue, but for me, it has and continues to be a struggle.

One way I self-sabotage is letting my thoughts run free. Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with being a free thinker in a general sense. Many people enjoy daydreaming about vacations or a favorite place or a happy memory. They allow their mind to experience the joy those thoughts bring to them and then they go on with the duties of life at hand. Maybe it is just me, but for the most part, I am unable to do this. Instead of thinking about a walk through a quiet wooded area, I began to obsess about why I can’t walk through a quiet wooded area. Instead of dreaming about a life in the country, away from noise and traffic and people, I began to hate the fact that I am constantly around noise and traffic and people. Discontentment sets in, quickly followed by bitterness.

By far, the biggest way I self-sabotage is by comparing myself and my life to those around me. Comparison is a no win game. One person can never attain what all other people around have attained. It doesn’t even make sense to want that, yet that is exactly what I find myself doing. I look at a friend who is in great shape–thin, pretty, youthful–and I began to hate myself for not being those things. I look at someone else who is optimistic and I start to hate the pessimism that permeates my life, which just makes me even more pessimistic. Another has what seems like the perfect family–generations of family together for holidays, birthdays or for no special reason except they enjoy being with each other. My family? Yeah, if we tried that, there may just be jail time involved for several.

How do all these things manifest themselves? This is the crux of my thoughts (and again, I can only speak for myself here): social media. Every day I log into Facebook and am greeted by pictures of people I know enjoying vacation, celebrating with family, moving to a new home, listing an accomplishment, whether it be a personal one such as weight loss or a familial one like the accomplishment of a child. Maybe a picture is posted that has somewhere around 87 “likes” and I think to myself, “I barely have that many Facebook friends!” Whatever the case, for me at least, social media has been and continues to be a very negative thing in my battle against self sabotaging thoughts.

Of course, there are some good sides to social media. A few months ago, after a string of very rough days and nights, and stress over what the outcome of a potentially serious situation might be, I was at the end of my rope. I had tied all the knots I had room to tie and had held on as long as I possibly could. My arms were tired and I just wanted to let go of the rope and be done with it all. I turned to a special community that I had become a part of on Facebook. I had not–nor have I still–met any of these women in person. They were scattered around the country in several states spanning from east to west, yet in one secret Facebook group, we all met and knew it was a safe place to ask for help. If judgment would come, at least I wouldn’t have to look at it face to face. Online anonymity is sometimes the saving grace in tough times. I poured out my heart in that space and was quickly encouraged by women who cared. Some had even been where I was and had experienced some of the exact same issues. Social media has, on more than one occasion, played a positive role in my life.

As I have reflected the last week or so, though, I have sensed a growing problem between me and social media. That problem, as I stated already, is that it feeds the comparison game that goes on in my head. I know there are things I can do to be in better shape. Do I do them? No. Instead, I complain that someone else has the motivation to do them and get results. I know there are things I can do to change my constant pessimism, or at least ease up on it. Do I do that? No. Instead I say, “This is how I’ve always been. It is who I am.” My family? Well, I can’t change that, but I can let go of it. I can give the hurts caused by the situations to God and allow Him to deal with it. I don’t have to let what happened to me define my life. I am reminded of a passage in the Book of Romans where Paul says, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

My pattern of self sabotage can only end when I submit completely to what God wants from me. I have sensed for some time now that God is asking me, for a time, to surrender my “addiction” to Facebook. Yes, it is an addiction for me. And, as I wrote in a prior post, any addiction, anything I HAVE to have that isn’t God, is an addiction–an idol. False idols abound in this world. Yesterday I visited a church while traveling with my husband. The person speaking (not the regular pastor) gave four ways to uncover false gods in our lives:

1. What am I most fearful of losing?

2. How do I describe myself? (do I start with “child of God” or “mom of ______ or CEO of ____)

3. Where are my time, talents, and treasure going? (Look at the checkbook. It tells you.)

4. Where do I find my joy? (What is exciting to me? Vacation? Church? Sunday kickoff?)

I left that auditorium with an OUCH feeling. Had it been my own church, I may have, for the first time, gone down and asked for someone to pray with me about these things. It wasn’t though, so I left knowing that I had much to think about. That’s what all these paragraphs are helping me do…sort through all I have to think about and figure out so I can stop self sabotaging my life–my physical life and my spiritual life.

There are some tough decisions to make as well as some changes that need to occur. Change is never easy but is, sometimes, very necessary. And it is always scary.

 

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Disguised Blessings

As a little girl, I dreamed about getting married. I never doubted that I wanted to meet Mr. Right, get married, and have ten kids. I pictured us living in a log cabin surrounded by woods in which to walk and explore. We would have a swimming pool in our yard–something I had growing up that really defined my childhood. We would have a wonderfully loving marriage, always supporting each other. I remember choosing names for my future children, writing the names on pieces of paper and slipping them into a plastic bank that I was unable to get into. I dreamed of the day I would get married and cut open the bank, using the money in there for a honeymoon to Hawaii and revealing the desired names for our future children. I just knew my future husband would love the names as much as I once did.

You know on cartoon shows when the character is dreaming and someone comes along and POPS the dream bubble? Yeah. That’s kind of what life did to me.

The only thing that came to fruition from the dreams above was that I did get married.  We did not have a wonderfully loving marriage. We did not have a log cabin surrounded by woods or a swimming pool. We did not get a honeymoon in Hawaii. We do not have ten children. In fact, I would dare say that much of what has happened has been the direct opposite of my childhood dream. My marriage was rocky from the start. We argued a lot. My husband had an anger problem that seemed to grow larger each year. For a period of time we separated. I dove head first into deep depression on more than one occasion. I turned to alcohol and quickly became addicted. I tried to take my life. A pregnancy ended in the loss of our sweet baby girl. Financially we hit bottom more than once. We lost a house to foreclosure. We lost family to lies. We were blessed, though, with four gifts from God. (And one in heaven) I no longer remember the names I had written down as a little girl, but I’m certain that none of them match the names we gave our children.

When our first child was born, a boy, we thought we knew what we were doing. I had helped my mom countless times as she watched numerous babies over the years. Confidence was high that we would be good parents. The early days were a bit rough. I didn’t realize just how little babies sleep. That saying, “Sleeping like a baby”? Yeah. Whoever coined that one has never been the parent of a newborn human baby. Once settled into a schedule, though, things went smoothly. He was an easy baby–quiet and able to amuse himself. He would sit for hours on the floor with a bucket of things. One by one he would take things out of the bucket, and one by one he would return them to the bucket. My mom, more than once told me that I had better hope the next one was as easy as him. I suspected nothing to be wrong. I assumed, as my mom had said, I had gotten lucky with an easy baby.

Years ago, the word “autism” was not part of my vocabulary. I had never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. I majored in elementary education and had gone through some special education classes. None of them even brought up those two terms. As the years passed, though, it became more and more apparent that there was something different about this boy. While others in school had friends and interacted, our son sat and did puzzles alone or read a book. His teachers would say things like, “He is well behaved, BUT…” They were stumped as well. At home, it was a different story. The smallest thing would set him off and he would go into fits of rage. These were terrifying for him, for us and for his siblings. He would throw anything near him in the midst of these fits. He refused to do certain things that normal people find no issue with–like wearing jeans. He absolutely refused to wear denim jeans at all. He couldn’t eat certain textures. He couldn’t stand his hands sticky.  It was finally in junior high that a teacher, someone I knew from soccer, encouraged me to get some professional testing done. The waiting list was almost a year. HIs name was added. The date came for him to be evaluated. And I was in disbelief when two professionals sat down with us and gave us the diagnosis. Our son was “labeled” with High Functioning Autism (HFA) with Asperger Syndrome tendencies. I had no idea what that meant and began to find books on the subject to educate myself. As I read, the light bulbs would click over and over. How did I miss the signs? How did I not see that he wasn’t just shy or that the rage that was displayed was not just a normal part of growing up and not always getting your way?

My son is now a young man. Somehow we survived some very trying times. In so many ways I feel as though I have failed him. I didn’t ask God for a son with special needs, yet a son with special needs is who God gave me. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade him for the world. I have watched him struggle to do things that so many others take for granted–learning to drive, getting a job, ordering a pizza even! He has learned to almost be independent. He has a nice, yellow sporty looking car that he makes payments on. He has a full time job. He even applied for a promotion this year. He was turned down the first time. He applied again and was granted the promotion. 

My son is a gift from God. I probably wouldn’t have chosen such a gift if given the choice. After all, don’t we all tend to choose good and perfect things? No one goes into the grocery store and searches the produce for old bananas, yet those are the ones that hold the sweetest taste. Children tend to pass up friendship with those who aren’t just like themselves. It’s a shame because they have no idea the joys and life lessons they are missing out on. Through my son I have learned acceptance, unconditional love, forgiveness, and patience. Okay, I still have a long way to go on the last one, but I can honestly say that I am more patient now than I was twenty-four years ago when a seven pound, eleven ounce baby boy was placed in my arms for the first time.  I thanked God for him then, and I thank God for him now.

Why do I write all of this?

If one does not have experience raising/living with a special needs offspring, there is absolutely NO WAY one can understand the challenges that brings. You will not understand how my heart breaks when I sit in church and see a large group of young adults all sitting together while my son sits with his mom and dad. You cannot understand how our plans always need to consider the impact on our son–even though he is an adult. You cannot understand the angst in wondering if you are doing too much as a parent and stifling independence–or if you aren’t doing enough and stifling independence. In contrast, though, you probably can’t understand the joy it brings to see him accomplish something that may have been very difficult for him to even attempt. You may not understand the pride that comes with seeing him start to take steps to complete independence. They are small steps for sure, but they are steps in the right direction. If you know someone who is the parent of one of these exceptional children, cut them some slack sometimes. Don’t expect that their lives will parallel those of parents whose children all take off and fly when the time expected by society comes for that to happen. Above all, know that each of us is created by a God who proclaims that His creation is good. There are no accidents in God’s plan. His plan unfolds differently for different people. It is what makes us unique. If we were all the same, life would be pretty boring.

I love my son and count him among my greatest blessings…even if that blessing seemed to be disguised for a while.

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Mountains and Valleys

Rollercoasters. Just the word stirs fear in some people. For others it stirs adrenaline. Those in the first category may feel queasy. Suddenly what they ate for lunch isn’t settling all that well.  Those in the second category, on the other hand, may start to smile–almost an evil smile–and they cannot wait to experience the thrill of anticipation as they crest the top of the first peak. The twists and turns are the same for both groups; it is the reaction that is different.

I fall into the second category of people mentioned above. I have yet to meet a roller coaster I didn’t enjoy nor one that I wouldn’t try. I’ve ridden wooden roller coasters–coasters so rickety that the rider was sure the entire apparatus would crumble before the ride ended. I’ve ridden steel coasters that drop the rider at breath taking speeds and terrifying angles of descent. I’ve ridden stand up roller coasters–they even looped. I’ve ridden coasters that the riders all traveled backwards so no one could anticipate the next curve or drop. I’ve ridden free fall coasters. To this day, if given the opportunity, I would try any coaster out there.

Why all the talk about roller coasters?

I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately, and how life is much like a coaster. There are terrifying moments of speed and unanticipated curves that seem certain to throw the rider from the car. Life, like coasters, has peaks and valleys. Until a few years ago, the highest elevation I had achieved was at the top of a roller coaster. Growing up in Western New York, I didn’t have much exposure to mountains. I spent some time in the Alleghany Mountains, but I did not realize that, compared to other places, Alleghany was more like a collection of large hills. I realized that when I was given the opportunity to chaperone a high school marching band trip to Colorado. On one of the days there, our tour bus took us up a winding mountain pass to Rocky Mountain National Park. (For some, the ride itself was as terrifying as any roller coaster!) The temperature in the valley below us when we departed was in the 90’s. The temperature when we stepped off the bus in the park was in the 50’s. There were steps to climb even higher up the mountainside. Of course I had to give it a try. I found that as I ascended, the air was different. Those with more mountain experience than me explained that the air got thinner the higher we climbed. There was snow on our way up. It was July. I had never seen anything more beautiful in nature than the Rocky Mountains. When I reached the top of the steps, (as high as the park would allow climbing) I nearly burst with the invigoration of what had been accomplished and the view before me. As I started the descent back down to where the bus was waiting, I noticed that the closer I got to the bus, the more difficult it became to continue. I’m sure some of it was because I was exhausted from climbing as well as chaperoning over one hundred high school students, but there was something else working against me. The air was thick and seemed to be resisting my walking through it. I noticed it even more after the bus took us back down the mountain pass and we were back at ground level once again. At times it felt as though there were weights in my shoes that kept me from moving forward.

The Christian life has mountains and valleys as well. The mountain tops are amazing! There is a sense of peace knowing that something has been conquered. The valleys, though, are tough. Each step takes concentrated effort and at times, it feels as though one just cannot go on. I know because it seems I am in a valley right now. I look back several months and I remember the peace and excitement of the mountain I was on. I no longer have that peace or excitement. In fact, at one point today, I cried as I sat on the floor of the bedroom, and told God that this was just too hard–I just could NOT DO THIS ANYMORE. There are too many things on my plate–things that keep me awake at night. I wonder how things are going to be worked out in the lives of my kids, in our marriage, in our finances, in our spiritual lives…the list goes on. I look around a house that desperately needs attention yet know that I just am unable to do as much as I used to do. I look inside myself and see emptiness and loneliness as I wonder where I fit in anymore. I long for someone to talk to–someone who has been where I am and understands the depths of what I am feeling. There is no one to be found. The loneliness is accentuated and the pain is almost unbearable. Tears. I picture, once again, Jesus catching all my tears and putting them in a bottle. Perhaps he will pour them out as rain or snow when I finally meet him. Maybe He will simply show me the giant bottle of tears He has collected and reassure me that He did indeed see every one.

Today as I was driving through Wisconsin, I plugged in my MP3 player to listen to some music. The following lyrics met my ears and began to melt my hardened heart:

“Love came down and rescued me,

Love came down and set me free

I am yours. I am forever yours.

Mountain high or valley low,

I sing out and remind my soul,

I am yours, I am forever yours.”

The valley is not fun. The view is dark and the walk is tedious. I miss the mountain. But, even in the valley, I am His. Others may shun me, but Jesus does not. He sees my tears.

And He cares.

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Books

I am a thinker. My mind is constantly pondering something. The subjects range from the deep and profound to the shallow and ridiculous. I have been accused of overthinking things. I will neither confirm nor deny the truth of that statement. I believe much of my thinking stems from the vast number of books I have read in my lifetime.

I have always been a reader. As an elementary school aged kid growing up in the seventies, we did not have the luxury time waster of the internet nor did we have cable television. My hometown was very close to the Canadian border. That meant our television got four local stations and, on a clear day, a few of the stations broadcasting from Canada. That didn’t leave many choices. Not that I would have been a TV watcher anyway. I was a reader. I loved books. Sometimes I would read the encyclopedia set my parents had purchased. I read the Christmas catalogues from Sears and JC Penneys. (My mom wouldn’t throw them away until the new one came. Strange. I know.) I would go to the library as much as possible. My parents had shelves of books. To me, a book was an adventure in which I made up the pictures. Many afternoons found me curled up on my bed with my bedroom door closed, reading a book.

I still love to read. Our home contains several bookshelves, each one overflowing with books of all kinds. Some of the shelves have books stacked upon books. My husband tells people who say they are looking for a certain book to ask me–I probably have it. :) I always have at least one book I am working through; most often, I have two. When I homeschooled my children, I would tell them, “If you learn to read, you can learn anything else you want for learning is nothing more than finding an interest and reading about it.” I think much of what is taught in schools is wasted time. I will use science as an example. Science covers a variety of topics–biology, physics, geology, oceanography, and taxonomy to just name a few. A typical curriculum ascribes each scientific topic to a grade level or a section of a general science textbook. A teacher then stands in front of the class and, essentially, reiterates what the textbook says.  Unless one uses a particular topic regularly, what is taught is soon forgotten. When one of my kids decided to go to public school for high school, it was required that he take chemistry. He is just about done with college now, and he will obtain a degree in Pastoral Studies. I don’t see him balancing equations in his sermons. He disliked science in general and strongly disliked chemistry. I felt it was a waste of his time to have to sit through the class. When my kids were homeschooled, I let their interests often drive our learning. One year, they were all kind of into the Civil War. We spent an entire school YEAR on that topic. We read books, made recipes, colored, discussed and dove head first into the Civil War. They will each tell you to this day how much fun that was.

Reading books is a lost art. Kids now have video games, the internet, and hundreds of TV channels to choose from. All these compete for their time and hold much more appeal than a simple book held in the hands. A book, a modern-day child might say, doesn’t DO anything. Ah, if they could only see that they have been fooled into believing the notion that if something is to be considered good, then it has to have vibrant color, fast action and second grade vocabulary. (Yes, the average television show watched by teens contains vocabulary of a second grade level) Children today, for the most part, do not know how to use their minds or engage their imaginations–the tools that allow a book to be an adventure. Even if kids do find a book that they enjoy, Hollywood soon ruins it by turning it into a movie. I remember reading the comic strip Garfield as a kid. I was so disappointed when they made a movie and gave Garfield a voice–it was not at all what my mind had given him all those years.

I am glad that I grew up in an era that did not have all the dumbed down, time wasting outlets. Reading has taught me so much, the most important being how to think for myself. No commercials enticing me into thinking the way a manufacturer would have me think. If you are a parent of young kids, please show them the joy that reading a book can bring. I started out with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators. Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Agatha Christie soon followed.  Keep searching until you find a genre of literature that is liked. You will be doing them a huge favor.

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Addictions

Before I write what’s on my heart right now, I want to be honest with any who may bother to take the time to read this. If you have never struggled with addiction, you probably won’t understand. In fact, you may even tend to laugh at the thought that anything could have power over a person. I used to think that too. My thought process was something along the line of, “Of course you can stop __________. Just don’t do it anymore. It’s as simple as that.” I found out the hard way, though, that it really isn’t that simple at all. How do I know that? Read on and you’ll understand. This is something I have struggled with in the past and now find myself struggling with again.

In the early years of my life, my dad drank a lot. One of my early memories is not a pleasant one. My dad worked for a company that supplied natural gas to homes and businesses. Each summer the company had their employee picnic at an amusement park located in the same town where we lived. Admission would be free for all employees and their families. Food was provided at the picnic shelter they reserved. Also included was a beer tent. My dad loved beer. While my older siblings and my mom took my brother and me to the rides, my dad and his work buddies hung out in the beer tent. I don’t recall exactly how old I was in this particular year–I would say maybe 3 or 4. It came time to leave and my dad had enough to drink that he probably shouldn’t have been driving. My mom, I believe, said something along those lines to him. He didn’t appreciate his wife telling him what to do and he proceeded to tell her that. Although I didn’t understand the language he used, I knew the tone and decibel level of his voice was one that scared me. His company had given all the kids a helium balloon. Mine was tied to my little wrist so it would not fly away. As I got in the back seat of the car, my dad was yelling at my mom, who in turn, was screaming back at him. I began to cry. My sister, trying not to cry, pulled me close to her and whispered, “Don’t cry, Becky…don’t cry…shhhhh…he’ll get madder…” My little body couldn’t stop the tears that the fear of being in the car with two screaming parents produced. My dad, already sick of my mom’s screams, turned around and with a lit cigarette, popped the balloon that was tied to my wrist. As you can imagine, that did not help me to stop crying. I don’t remember what exactly happened after that. I learned at a young age that alcohol could alter a personality.

Fast forward many years to when I was 17 or 18 years old. My dad had quit drinking by then, but I was just discovering how wonderful a buzz of alcohol could make me feel. The drinking age was 19 at the time. I worked with a guy who was of age. He would buy me various drinks and bring them to me as long as I paid for them. I started light–wine coolers, but quickly moved up to harder liquor. Vodka mixed with anything I could find became a staple for me. I found that social drinking was not possible for me. If I was going to drink at all, I needed to get completely wasted. Any other way didn’t make sense. I remember one night going to a friend’s house for a Halloween party. I was newly married so Dave went with me. We often hung out with this group of people. We knew there would be alcohol there so we stopped to pick up some of our favorites–vodka, orange juice, whiskey and 7-Up. We spent the night downing drink after drink. When midnight rolled around, we figured it was time to head home. The issue was, neither of us were really in any shape to drive. My friend lived in a different town than we did. For us to get home, we would have to make the 15 mile or so drive back to the Island where we lived. Dave said he couldn’t drive and we should just spend the night. I wanted to be in our own bed so I told him I would drive. I didn’t even know how to get to where she lived but got in the car and started driving. I remember going through the toll booth to get over the bridge to the Island and nearly hitting the guardrail separating the booths. I don’t remember anything else about that drive home. Years later, I know God was watching over us that night, even though I could have cared less about God at that point in my life. My alcohol addiction continued well into my mom years. My kids have memories of me walking them down to the liquor store when their dad and I were separated, and sitting them on the sidewalk outside so I could go in and buy liquor. I thought if I didn’t take them in, they wouldn’t see what I was buying. How I stopped drinking is another post in itself, but it was a difficult process that involved hospitalization and medications that would make me deathly ill if any alcohol at all hit my system–including any alcohol found in shampoo or deodorant.

There were many years after I quit drinking alcohol that I struggled with the desire for a drink. There have been times I would have given anything for just a sip of some alcoholic beverage. I knew I couldn’t give in, for just a sip for me would never be enough. I knew, and still know, that if I even taste a small amount of alcohol, I will not be able to stop before I get drunk. I avoid it as much as is reasonably possible. My family and most of my friends know to not order drinks at a restaurant if I am there. I would probably be fine now, but they don’t take that chance.

So if alcohol isn’t a current problem for me, why am I writing about it? I am beginning to believe that once a person struggles with an addiction, that those struggles play out in other areas and in other ways in life. I can walk into a liquor store now and not walk out with vodka. I may think about it and wish I could, but I can stop myself from doing so. What I can’t do is walk into a grocery store and not get a diet Pepsi. I cannot go to a restaurant and order water, even though I know I am drinking way too much diet pop. I have felt the nudge from God to give up diet pop…not because it is a sin, but because, for me, it is an idol. I HAVE to have it. If I don’t, I find myself thinking how good it would taste, even if I’m not really thirsty at the time. Some people find they struggle in this way with sugar or carbohydrates. Things can become idols and addictions even if they aren’t necessarily wrong. Television, internet, and video games also can hold power over those with addictive personalities. There are a host of things that can we can put value on in our lives. If care is not taken, that value, while intended for good maybe originally, becomes an addiction which quickly turns into an idol. One is not enough. A diet Pepsi when I’m thirsty suddenly becomes over 100 ounces a day. (Yes, I often drink over 100 ounces a day)

Lately I have been beating myself up for not being able to cut back or quit altogether my unhealthy habit of drinking diet pop. “Just grab water,” I tell myself. I don’t. Guilt then washes over me as I realize that once again I have failed. I ask God to help and yet I fail over and over. It doesn’t take long for discouragement to set in then. I know I am not the only person who struggles with addiction to something. Diet pop is better than vodka–at least my judgment isn’t impaired if I down a hundred ounces of chemical-filled soda. The issue is one of the heart though. I believe God has been telling me to STOP, yet I don’t. That is disobedience and it isn’t something I’m proud of.

I’m just not sure what to do about it.

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Purpose-less

Almost exactly three years ago, I saw a post in the church group I belonged to on Facebook. A young mom was looking for someone to watch her baby girl because she needed to work. I was done with the bulk of my parenting, having one in high school who I was homeschooling. She was pretty independent in terms of school work and she adored little kids. I concluded that if I could watch this baby girl not only would it help out a young family just starting out, but it would also give my daughter at home the chance to be around a baby every day. I responded to the post, met the little family in our local coffee shop the following Sunday, and started a full time babysitting job the following week. The baby, who I affectionately nicknamed “my little monkey” was 11 months old at the time. She had the softest wisps of blond hair, big brown eyes, and a smile that lit up a room. I loved that little girl every day for five months. She stole my heart and became like one of my own family. Her mom quit work after five months because they were expecting another baby. I was very thankful that even though I was just the babysitter, they allowed me to stay a part of the little monkey’s life like I was family.  A little over a year ago, the family moved to another state for employment reasons. Even then, we found ways to stay in contact. Stickers and cookies sent through the mail kept her from forgetting me. A visit in the summer and again in the fall. My little monkey was 3 by now and her little brother eighteen months. That was almost a year ago. Yesterday, I had the absolute joy of seeing them again. I couldn’t believe how the kids had grown, not only in stature, but in other ways–talking, playing, imagination to name a few. For two and a half hours I felt like life was good as I sat in their living room just soaking in the joys of playing with children.

In between coloring pages and playing catch, I was able to talk with their mom as well. (Dad was at school so we did not get to see him) She talked of how she now works part time nights so their income is supplemented and daddy can take care of the kids. She told of swimming lessons, ballet and tap classes, preschool, church classes, VBS, and the many other activities that young families are involved in that keep them busy. I remember those years. I’ve written about how busy we were over the years our kids were at home. I could almost hear the weariness in her voice at times. I understood it as we walked out and I found myself a little tired from playing on the floor with two preschoolers. When I was living that stage myself, I didn’t think I’d ever miss it. After all, how nice would it be to finally have time to do what I wanted to do?

I have that time now. To be honest, it isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I thought I remembered having lists of things I would accomplish when the kids were grown. Funny thing is, though, I can’t seem to remember what was on those lists. Instead of waking up excited for an empty day to pursue my own agenda, I find myself wondering why I even bother to wake up.  As a stay at home mom, one works themselves out of a job. It doesn’t seem like that will ever happen when in the thick of child rearing, but it seems as though one day I was cutting crusts off sandwiches for toddlers and the next I was wedding dress shopping with this beautiful girl who somehow had grown up before my eyes.

Life doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I used to have a role–a definite purpose each morning when I woke up. There were more tasks than hours in my day. Now, it is just the opposite. I have more hours than tasks and I struggle to know how to fill them some times. Yes, I am still married and have a husband to care for. To be honest, though, his life hasn’t changed just because the kids have grown up. He still has a job to go to and tasks–too many usually–to complete. Work keeps him busy, often seven days a week. He says he needs me, but I wonder if that is really true. I feel like a fish out of water–floundering, trying to breathe in an environment that isn’t where I’m supposed to be. I used to have dreams for my future, but I now see that those dreams were unrealistic and will most likely never come to be, especially given the fact that my dreams do not match up with those of the one who provides the income for our family.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I am thankful for the years I had with my kids. I’m thankful I got to be a stay at home mom and that I homeschooled them. Those memories are precious to me! I love the relationships I have with them now as adults. I’m thankful that my husband has a job and thankful that he made so many sacrifices over the years for the kids and me…and continues to do so in many ways. Yet, there is an ache inside that in all probability will never go away. That ache tells me that I have no purpose anymore, that I have no reason to wake up in the morning. I look in the mirror and see an old lady where once a young mom used to stand. My body and brain don’t always do what I need them to do as disease has taken away some of my abilities. I see others and know I can never compete with them–women who are still young or who are even my age that are still able to do the exercises necessary to keep themselves looking trim and beautiful. The ache throbs more and I wonder again what my purpose may be.

For a few hours last night, though, that ache was forgotten, unable to be heard over the giggles of an adorable little girl who stole my heart three years ago. Just recalling her smiles and hugs and her little face in the window as she blew me kisses goodbye brings a smile to my face…and tears to my eyes.

 

alessia      alessiapreschool

 

 

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Enemies

David, known as a man after God’s own heart, had many enemies. Read through the historical books of the Old Testament, and you will see how often David was on the run or hiding from someone–Saul, Ahab, Abner, Absalom (his own son). The list could go on. In the Book of Psalms, David often refers to his enemies. Look at the following verses, all taken from psalms penned by David:

O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death. (Ps. 9:13)

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will me enemy triumph over me? (Ps. 13:2)

All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me. (Ps. 41:7)

I say to God, my Roc, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” (Ps. 42:9)

My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked. (Ps. 55:2-3)

These are just a few references David makes to his enemies. He had many of them throughout his reign as king, possibly because he chose to follow the laws of God instead of giving into the wants of man. Regardless of why these men hated David, the fact remains that they did. They hated him enough to put him to death if given the opportunity. David’s enemies were real people; people who were part of his life for whatever reason. Some of them he loved, some he respected, and some he hated.

As I was reading Psalms and thinking about David’s enemies and his various pleas to God about their involvement in David’s life, I thought about the enemies in my own life. There is a handful of people who I would consider to be my enemy, but those names and faces were not what came to mind as I pondered the word. Instead, what came to mind were various emotions that I would categorize as my enemies. These emotions hold much power over me. They too often dictate the mood I am in, the decisions I make, and the way I treat those around me. They have names but not faces. They have more power over me than I have over them. They tire me to the point of exhaustion on most days. My enemies, to name a few, are depression, fear, worry, illness, anxiety, anger…the list could go on. At times, their power is so great that I am rendered useless to those around me. Their control is so strong that, once I am caught in the grip of one or more of these enemies, I find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get free. The struggle to do so usually results in a stronger hold by my enemies and I find myself caught in a vicious cycle of downward spiral.

For years, I have battled these faceless and invisible enemies. Sometimes that battle was fought exclusively internally. I could fake a smile and happy countenance really well. At other times, the battle was so intense that it was obvious to those around me that something was amiss. On more than one occasion, I was “forced” to seek help from “professional resources”. Let me say that I am not discounting the value of a team of professionals–doctors, counselors, medication, etc. In my experience, though, all of those things were a temporary fix. They would get me over the worst of it and send me on my way feeling a little better. The enemies would inevitably return, though, and I would find myself in battle all over again…just like the water cycle that plays out on earth, there was no definitive end.

The weariness of battling these enemies is what drove me to the Book of Psalms about a year ago. I spent any time I had pouring over the laments of David as he cried to God for deliverance from his enemies. I would name my enemies as well and cry to God to set me free from them. I believed, and still believe, that God has the power to conquer these enemies. There was no doubt that God is bigger than depression or fear or whatever enemy I could name.

As I read and re-read the Psalms this past week, I noticed something. David didn’t cry to God once and he was free. In fact, in dealing with Saul alone, David cried out to God many times for deliverance. Saul could have been considered David’s thorn. No matter what David did, Saul refused to leave David alone. David wasn’t afraid to be honest with God either. Several times David asks God to slaughter his enemies. Wow. That seems pretty harsh, yet when you think about it, the enemies of David were also the enemies of God. David knew enough about God to know that He is a just God who cannot stand sin. David felt okay in asking God to erase his (and thereby God’s own) enemies from the face of the earth.

Looking at my list of enemies, I can say that they are all also enemies of God.

Depression? David said, “Why so downcast O my soul? Put your hope in God.”

Anxiety? Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Weariness? Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.”

Fear? Moses told the Israelites, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

This morning, as I began to fear a situation we were facing, I picked up my Bible and turned to what has become my favorite book–Psalms of course. As I read, I came to David’s words in Psalm 44: “I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory, but YOU give us victory over our enemies, YOU put your adversaries to shame.” (Ps. 44:6-7) My word for 2014 was “trust”. God is giving me many opportunities to practice living out that word. He can and will, someday forever, wipe out my enemies.

I am very much looking forward to that day!

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Emotions

 I have been struggling much lately with my emotions. Last night, during a bout of frustrating thoughts about my fight with my own emotions, I remembered I bought this book while visiting Chicago and put it away for summer reading. Now that work is over for me, I am able to start tackling my summer reading list. I retrieved the book from the pile and began to read. Three chapters into this book, and I am learning so much about emotions and why I sometimes allow my emotions to control me–and how unhealthy this is not just for me but also for those around me.

As I thought about the things I have read so far and the process of change, a conversation took place with someone I love that made me second guess if the difficulty of changing is really worth it. Let me explain.

For the last twenty-four years I have been a mom. Of course, I am still a mom just as my mom is still a mom even though I am quite old. The job has changed as I have moved from being a mom to infants, then to toddlers, preschoolers, elementary age, junior high years and high school. I am now a mom of young adults. That means, in essence, my job is done. At this point in the lives of my “kids” I no longer have much say in their lives. They make their own choices and decisions. I can offer advice–and I do, even when it is not necessarily wanted–but I cannot make any of them obey it. I understand even more clearly now the old adage that says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”

As I thought about how long I have let my emotions drive me and the reasons behind that action, I realized how difficult it will be to change deeply ingrained patterns of thinking. Don’t misunderstand. I am not afraid of hard work. I chose to be a stay at home mom to four kids born in five years and homeschooled all four of them for a period of several years. That is hard work! What I wondered, though, is if it is worth it to try to change? I have raised these kids and have made more mistakes than I want to think about. Many of those mistakes were probably a result of allowing my emotions to control me. At times, I believe all of them have hated me and wished they had a different mom. I know that being on their own is something that a few have looked forward to a lot…so much that it hurts me some to think of how badly they want to get out of here. Of course, none will admit to this being the reason. And I understand that it is natural for young adults to want to be independent and live their own lives away from mom and dad. I felt that way too. I got married instead of moving out on my own but the driving factor was the same–independence from someone telling me what to do.

As I face a very near reality of being out of a job (as a mom), I know that I have caused damage to these kids that God gave to me. He entrusted them to me and I can’t help but feel as though I messed up more than I got right. Why change now? Who is to benefit? The interesting thing is, that only a few chapters of reading, I was able to see that even those thoughts are driven by my emotions. It is discouraging to read Dr. Stanley’s list of emotions and see that just about all of them are emotions that plague me. The task of controlling them seems insurmountable. It is daunting. It is frightening. It is not, though, impossible. I know that because God says that with Him, nothing is impossible.

I just wonder if the pain, the difficulty of the process, will be worth it. In other words, is it too late to impact the lives of these gifts God has given me?

 

 

 

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The “F” Words

If you read the title and your mind went to a word that is inappropriate, well, I got your attention. That was my goal. Rest assured, though, that this post is not about nor will it contain that word or any other words unfit to come out of the mouth of a Christ follower. The two “F” words bouncing around in my mind today are Family and Forgiveness. Both of these words are ones that have the power to cause within me a crippling fear. It probably isn’t a coincidence that I struggle with these words the most after a conversation with my mom. (Don’t misunderstand if you know me well enough to know my mom too…she is awesome and I love her. It’s just that often in our conversations she will bring up names of family members for whom I do not feel warm fuzzies; in fact, it may be safe to say that my feelings for them border on despise and hatred.)

The word Family, for me, stirs mixed emotions. My own family–my husband, my two sons, my two daughters, and my son-in-law–all have names that if mentioned cause great amounts of love and joy and pride and blessing. Each of them hold a special place in my heart and I would go the lengths of the earth for any one of them if they needed me to do so. I have gladly sacrificed for them and have spent countless hours in prayer for them, at various times, over the last twenty-seven years. (That’s how long I’ve been married. Gosh, that makes me sound so old.)

Of course, the word Family also implies a family of origin. All human beings have parents. Even if a parent had no involvement or influence on one’s life, they would still hold the title of parent. Many humans also have siblings. I am no exception to either of these scenarios. I grew up with two parents and three siblings. One big happy family. Only, not really. To others looking in, the illusion was that all was well. My dad worked hard for his family. He owned his own business and, by the time I came along, was pretty well established in life. I lacked for nothing–food, clothing, space to call my own, entertainment, and most of my wants were always provided. My mom stayed at home as did most moms back then. She did a short stint of work at the local school district serving food in the cafeteria. I think she did that more to keep an eye on my older brother, though, than because the money was actually needed. For many years, we went to church. My mom knew everyone and everyone knew her. My dad drove a bus to pick up kids for Sunday School. I was expected to be involved in everything that took place regardless of whether I wanted to or not–most of the time I did not. I actually hated it, but that is for another post. My mom would have groups of ladies over for ceramic night at our house. We were the “perfect” family from the outside looking in. Of course, no family is really perfect. All families have something or some things they cover up and hide from those around them. Even if that thing is not an earth shattering secret, no family allows others to know every detail. Out of respect for my parents, I don’t intend to reveal those things right now, but we were no exception to the fact that no family is perfect.

So, with all this about family, where does Forgiveness come in?

Well, because no family is perfect, family members get hurt by others in the family. Hurts need to be forgiven. Sometimes that is an easy thing to do. I remember a time when my older brother threw a dog bone at me because I wouldn’t give him the comics. This wasn’t a rawhide bone; this was a bone from a half ham that my mom had given my dog to chew. I ducked, the bone went over my head and hit the table lamp. The lamp crashed to the floor and broke. When my parents came home, he told my mom the dog had knocked the lamp off the table. My poor dog got yelled at. I remember it but I don’t think about it all the time. Even as I typed that, I didn’t harbor unforgiveness or hatred in my heart toward my brother. Something like that is probably common among most siblings.

Some hurts, though, are much harder to forgive. That is where I start to struggle. There are certain family members who I have decided to disown–I no longer consider them family nor do I ever want to see them again. In case you think this makes me a horrible person, they feel the exact same way. I know that doesn’t make it right but it does shed light on the fact that some hurts run much deeper than a small lie that gets a dog yelled at. Some hurts go right to the core of who one is as a person, and they ruin a part of their lives. This is the kind of hurt that has happened in my family. I suspect that these issues will not be resolved this side of heaven. I have actually come to accept that and I look forward to the day they have to answer to God for what they’ve done. (Maybe that makes me a horrible person…I’m not sure) Just hearing their names spoken through the telephone in a conversation with my mom kindles feelings of hate. That causes a spiritual dilemma for me. My spirit is divided. On one hand, I feel I am justified for hating them. On the other hand, I know I am commanded to forgive them.

This disconnect isn’t something I am always struggling with nor am I always entertaining thoughts of hatred toward them. It is just when I hear anyone speak of them, there is a darkness that rises in me that threatens to overpower me. I find that I have to repeatedly go to God and cry all over again–“It isn’t fair, God, that they get away with what they did!” or “God, why don’t you make them admit what they did so there can be justice?” or a host of other cries from my heart. One thing I have learned over the years I have been dealing with this is God doesn’t answer to me. If he did, things would have been resolved a long time ago. God is God. I am human. God commands me to forgive. I find that forgiveness is not a one time deal all the time. I have learned that I don’t have to feel warm fuzzies for them because I have said I forgive them. Some people say if there isn’t reconciliation then there wasn’t true forgiveness. I disagree. In the epistles, Paul instructs that as much as it is possible, live in peace with one another. I believe that not being a part of their lives and not having them a part of mine is living at peace. Not seeing them or hearing their names helps to quench the feelings that arise when those two actions aren’t in place.

I’m not sure how to know if I have truly forgiven them. Someone wrote that if one has truly forgiven, then there will be no ill feelings at the thought of their action(s) . If that is true, I guess I have some forgiveness work to do. I do know that there is no way, in my own strength, I can ever forgive them. God promises, though, to be strength in my weakness. I think this is going to be a lifetime of work for me because…

Some hurts can’t be kissed away or pacified by a band aid. Some require major surgery performed by the only One who has the skills to perform such a procedure. And He isn’t always in a hurry to get the operation over with, for there are lessons to learn through the pain of the operation and the difficulty of the healing that needs to happen afterwards.

In the meantime, my prayer has been and will continue to be that my own family, my husband and four beautiful, adult children, will never stop loving each other. I know God hears the cries of this momma’s heart.

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The Ebb and Flow of Relationships

I am one of those people whose mind never seems to be able to shut down. There is always something running through my mind. I tend to think that something is always important, but in all likelihood it really isn’t. Still, as I struggle to shut my mind down, especially at night, those thoughts grow larger and larger.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about people who have come into my life for whatever reason, and how it comes to be that some people, regardless of geographical location, stay an important part of my life while others, some who live less than a mile away, seem to disappear from my life.

I once saw a quote on Pinterest that went something along the lines of, “Some people come into your life as blessings and some come into your life as lessons. Learn to recognize the difference.” Those words make a lot of sense to me as I look back over the last few years of life.

Eleven years ago, we moved to the city where we currently live. That may not seem like a long time to some of you who have lived in one city your entire life, but for us, eleven years is quite the accomplishment. I am not a person who likes to put down deep roots. Perhaps that came from growing up on an island that really had little to offer–no stores to shop at, no movie theatre, few restaurants, and if one went to any of those places off of our island, it cost a toll to get back home. When one read the local paper, it was unusual to come across an unfamiliar name. I didn’t enjoy that very much, and was not against moving out of state when my husband mentioned that the job prospects would be much better somewhere else. In the 27 years we have been married, we have moved 10 different times. Some of those moves have been within the same city, but still, 10 moves is a lot.

In those 10 different dwellings, we have met a variety of people. Some became friends for a time. I remember when we lived in Niagara Falls. We only had 3 kids at that time. Our neighbors next door were Ron and Cathy. They had older teens who were great kids. On warm summer evenings, we would all gather out front, drink wine coolers and play volleyball. They were great neighbors who we loved dearly. I couldn’t tell you where they are now though. I don’t even remember their last name! In the city we currently live, there have been those who were once considered good friends–our kids got together, we had BBQ’s at each other’s homes, we would get together for holidays or just to chat. Now, some of those people won’t even talk to us. They probably have no idea that our older daughter is married or that our nest is almost empty. They probably don’t care either. How does a relationship that once was so close and fun fall apart like that?

If I really think about all the relationships that we once enjoyed, it can be quite depressing. The opposite of that, of course, is those people who have come into our lives and have, in a sense, replaced those who decided they no longer wanted to be part of our lives.

I guess that is how life works. Just like the tides of the ocean, relationships ebb and flow. Some stay forever. I am thankful for the few who have stuck with us through some difficult times. I am also thankful for those who have chosen to come alongside us as life continues. There is no way to know who will stick it out and who will bail out. Only time will tell that.  

One thing I can rest in, though. There is one who has promised to never leave me, even if I’m not being the happy, laughing person I am expected to be. That’s a promise that brings comfort amidst the pain of rejection.

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