Heavenly Presents

Have you ever been searching for the absolutely perfect gift for someone you love? You thought about it perhaps for months prior to the actual day you would give it. You drove from store to store or from mall to mall in order to find the exact item you just knew would bring a Cheshire cat smile to that loved one’s face. Then, you find it. You find it! You are beyond excited and do not even think twice about pulling out the money to pay for it, regardless of how much it costs! You are almost skipping out to your car as you carefully place the beloved item in the trunk and drive home, the entire drive spent thinking about how to keep your loved one from finding out this special surprise before the intended day. You decide to leave it in the car until a time comes when you can safely bring it inside and conceal its identity with the also absolutely perfect wrapping paper you bought. “This is going to be so much fun!” you think to yourself. You can hardly contain your excitement! Once the gift is safely concealed in the wrapping paper, perhaps adorned with a bow, you know the surprise cannot be spoiled. Now, if you’re like me, you start baiting the recipient. “I found THE perfect gift for you and I can’t wait to give it to you!” you say at dinner that night. Upon going to bed, you say again, “I’m just SO excited to give you your gift! I know you’re going to love it!” Of course this peaks your loved one’s curiosity and perhaps they start asking questions, trying to get enough information to guess what the surprise might be. That just makes you more giddy in anticipation of the day when you give that special gift. When that day finally arrives, all your searching, all your plotting, and all your baiting pay off in a big way. The gift is given, the bow is taken off and placed on the top of the dog’s head, the paper is torn off, the box is opened, and that smile appears just as you knew it would! Indeed, it was the perfect gift!

I’m sure most everyone has been on at least one side of the above scenario. Perhaps you were the gift recipient. You may still remember, years later, what that gift was and the occasion for which it was given. Maybe you were the gift giver, the one who brainstormed for months and hunted every store and drove all over not only your town but every town within a twenty-five mile radius to buy the perfect gift. I suspect many of us have played both roles at one point. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, or, if you’re me, just because I felt like it are all occasions to celebrate with gifts. When choosing gifts for people who hold a special place in the heart, I don’t believe anyone tries to think of a gift that the recipient would not want. We don’t walk into the Dollar Tree and grab the first thing we see and think, “This will do.” There is care and love that goes into gift giving. We desire the recipient of our gift to be happy. Ultimately, it is their happiness with the gift that seals our satisfaction in giving it. If we have carefully planned and thought, and we know well the person on the receiving end, ultimately the gift will be considered good.

Why all the talk about gifts?

This week has been a difficult one for me. Some weeks I have more good days than bad, and other weeks the opposite is true. This week definitely fell into the latter category. Most days found me struggling to even get out of bed. Once that task was accomplished, not much else was. For the majority of the days, I just did not feel well. One advantage–if you want to call it that–of being unable to do much is the time to read, an activity that I not only thoroughly enjoy, but one that is also do-able on bad days. I often spend time in the Psalms on such days, but this week I decided to continue some work I had started in the book of James. I opened my Bible and began reading in Chapter 1 in order to refresh my memory. I have read this chapter several times, but this time, a particular verse struck me. James 1:17 read, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Since gift giving is my love language, I paused and read that verse again.

And again.

And again.

I thought about gifts and how important they are. I thought about the gifts God has given me: a husband who loves me in sickness and in health, four beautiful (all be it often stress inducing) children, a home, vehicles to drive, color, trees for shade in summer and beauty in fall, snow, rain, stars, fireflies…the list could go on and on. As I stopped and thought about these gifts from God, I silently thanked Him for them. He could have made our world black and white. He chose to give us a spectrum of color to beautify our days. He could have made us all the same. He chose to make us different, with different talents. He could have made all men or all women. He chose to create both, allowing us the privilege of marrying and reproducing. But something kept whispering in my mind, and that whisper was a bit unsettling.

“Thank God for the gift of MS.”

What? Did I really just hear that?

“Thank God for the gift of MS.”

Internally, I argued with myself–or perhaps with God. How could I thank God for something that has made my life somewhat miserable? How could I thank God that I’m no longer able to keep the house like I used to be able to and like my husband deserves it to be? How could I thank God that sometimes I can’t drive the vehicle he provided because dizziness would make it quite unsafe to do so? How could I thank God for the fact that I am unable to even walk the dog right now?

“I’m sorry, God. I just don’t know if I can consider this disease a gift.”

Yet, as I continued to think about and argue the issue within myself, I had to admit one thing–the Bible is very clear that God is good and His gifts are good. The verse in James says every gift. Not some. Not most. Not just the ones I like, but every gift, all gifts, are good because they are from God. I then thought of the verse in Matthew where Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount and He asked the people who would give their son a stone if he asked for bread? When my children were younger and asked for new shoes because their current pair was hurting, I did not give them a rock. If they needed shoes, we went and bought shoes. Jesus then said to the people, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11 ESV)

I know I didn’t ask God for MS. I didn’t ask Him for depression. I didn’t ask Him for the financial troubles that have plagued our marriage. On the other hand, I didn’t ask Him for sunsets either. I didn’t ask Him for seasons or any of the other thousands of gifts He has given me. How can I take the good things, the happy things, and proclaim that they are from God, but I take the painful things, the uncomfortable things, and not say they are from God? I can’t. Every good and perfect give is from above and if God is inherently good, then His gifts are good as well. It is my own finiteness–my humanness–that stops me from always seeing how something that is painful or uncomfortable is, in reality, a good gift from God my Father. I am working on learning to thank Him for those gifts not asked for, those sometimes unpleasant surprises that He carefully plans for me. I must thank Him, though, for it is always the right thing to say “Thank you” to someone who gives a gift.

God has carefully planned, He knows us well, so ultimately the gift is good.

Posted in gifts, MS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Collecting Things

I have had some revelations today. They aren’t new to me nor are they groundbreaking, but rather a further reminder of what is really important in life. It is a gorgeous autumn day in Central Minnesota today. As I type this entry, it is 70*, blue skies, and, best of all, no humidity.  I love nature, especially if I can find a great hiking area. A lake or river to sit by serenely is always welcomed as well. Today, though, I am not spending any time outside even though this type of day is perfect for me. Hiking is out of the question for me anyway. It is difficult to hike without the complete use of both legs.

Today I am forcing myself to tackle the mess that we call our downstairs. Specifically, yesterday and today, I am working on going through the room of our younger son. He is now engaged and living several states away. His room, though, still has SO MUCH STUFF! Papers that probably cost 2,657 trees their lives, a stack of three ring binders that could stock a complete shelf at Walmart, clothes hanging in the closet and sitting on the floor, childhood toys, and various memorabilia from high school and college including certificates, sheet music, track shoes, a monster radio controlled Hummer toy, and even a scepter! (He was a homecoming king nominee) I want to be ruthless and throw things away, but the emotions as I sift through years of memories are unbelievable. Each “thing” brings a picture to mind and I wrestle, knowing that he will most likely never inhabit this room again. The flip side of that is the thought that no one person needs THIS MUCH STUFF! And this is just one bedroom within a five bedroom house.

Can we say, “Overwhelmed”??

As I take breaks from the physically exhausting (for me) and emotionally taxing chore that is forefront in my mind lately, I reflect on the things we here in America fill our lives with. While none of these are necessarily sinful (at least not in our home) they do represent several things. They definitely tell a story of how we have spent our money and in a way, they also represent our parenting style. What I’m learning as I  get old(er), though, is that things can be forgotten. I doubt our son even knows all that is in his room. Things also take our time and focus off of other, more important matters.

IT is so easy to fall in love with this world. I have spent many years seeking to gather all the “stuff” I could so I could be like others in my life–drive a nice vehicle, wear name brand clothes, eat out most nights for dinner, buy my kids the things they want but do not necessarily need–all things even many of my Christian friends around me do. How often have I heard the lament from my one of my kids that someone’s parent bought THEM a car…why won’t you buy me one? I know if I could I would buy a nicer one than someone else had just so they would look as good as others, but what would that be teaching them? To fall in love with the things of this world is the lesson derived from such a lifestyle. When we die or Christ returns, whichever comes first, those things will be left behind for the looters to take. They will not be necessary in our real home. Perhaps this is why God sends trials and troubles into our lives…to keep us from falling in love with this temporary dwelling. So, while I am here, I will try to enjoy the gifts given to me…those that cost money as well as those that are free from God–birds, waterfalls, flowers, growing vegetables, rain, sun–and remember that even better things await me when I reach my final destination.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sandcastles

This week has been a tough week. There has been much to process and preliminary decisions needed to be made. I was successful at neither. One of the days this week, and I honestly don’t remember which one, I found myself sitting in front of the television, wishing so much that I could take out my cell phone and call someone–just to talk. I went through a mental list:

my mom? No. She would just worry more and that would snowball into more stress.

my sister? Possibly, but she is dealing with some of her own big problems and certainly didn’t need mine added to the pile. And the worry factor would be there too.

a friend? Maybe, but I think I’ve pretty much exhausted the few friends I have. Like the McDonalds commercial used to say, “You deserve a break today.” I felt they needed a break from me.

a pastor? No. I didn’t have a specific question that could be answered. I just desperately needed to talk to someone.

So my mental list turned up nothing. I know, as I knew then, that God was there. The thing is, sometimes, one just needs to hear a voice–an audible voice that just reassures that even though one may feel alone, that isn’t really the case. I know God is somewhere in this mess of my life. That day I needed to hear words of reassurance. Of course, not having good results with my mental list just reinforced the fact that I was alone.

The problem boiled down to one thing. Dreams. Or, more accurately, the shattering of dreams. Early in the week I had come to the realization that a dream that I had for most of my life and one I thought for SURE would someday be realized would, in fact, never be realized. My heart was broken as I pictured the components of this dream shattering like a window hit by a big rock. I didn’t want someone to pacify me with soothing words like, “It’s going to be okay. God knows what He is doing” or “You don’t know the future–maybe this will happen after all”. I knew both of those things already. What I needed was just someone to say something like, “It is hard to watch things slip away. I’m sorry.” Just someone to validate that my feelings were real and acknowledge them for that.

You may wonder what dream I saw shattered. In short, it is the dream I’ve held of living in the country with some land, a barn, some chickens, and some goats. I pictured myself feeding my animals each day, petting the heads of the goats and watching the funny antics of the chickens as they strutted about. I have always loved animals. My mom used to tell me that when I grew up and got married, I could have a zoo if I wanted. I was allowed a dog as a kid. One. Dog. I pictured myself sitting in the loft of a barn, reading a book while several barn cats snuggled around me. I was drawn to pictures and puzzles of big red barns surrounded by large green, grassy fields and a herd of goats dotting the landscape enclosed within a white fence. I imagined the farmhouse kitchen where there would be plenty of cupboard and counter space for me to cook and bake to my heart’s content. Perhaps there would even be a fruit cellar where I could store the jars of home canned peaches, tomatoes, and apple sauce that I would spend time preparing at harvest.

This past week all of those things disappeared within a two hour conversation we had with someone.  You see, my dream was not my husband’s dream. It isn’t that he hates all of those things mentioned, it is just that none of those things fit with the career he has chosen. He is a white collar professional business man and, as such, his job requires him to live in or within close proximity to a major city. Living in the country makes his commute long, miserable and, in the winter, dangerous. Since his job is the sole provision for our family, we have no choice but to live where it demands. In addition to that, it has become apparent to even me that, most likely, my health would not allow me the luxury of taking care of animals and land. Perhaps it is that fact that really sent me into a tailspin this week.

As we sat and conversed with someone emotionally uninvolved and wise, it became apparent that this person agreed with my husband–moving would be a wise decision. I didn’t speak up at the time, but that fact, to me, felt like someone had stuck a knife in me and twisted the blade. At times this week, I wished someone had actually done that. Moving means much more than the loss of a life-long dream. It also means leaving the somewhat rural community where we have lived for nearly twelve years. It meant that one more loss could be added to the list of people and things I have “lost” this year. My daughter got married in February; my son is engaged and moved 600 miles away; my other daughter moved to her own apartment; my health has deteriorated and I have lost some of the abilities I used to take for granted. Loss. Loss. Loss. It seems everywhere I look I see loss and pain, and now I am being told that moving is wise and needs to happen. Even though I mostly agree with that, it doesn’t make the sting of the loss any lighter. Just to note–I realize that many others around me have lost much more than I have and their loss could be considered more of a real loss. For example, I didn’t completely lose my daughter…she got married and one could say I gained a son-in-law. I understand that. But, I read something this week that helped ease the guilt of feeling like my loss is not worth grieving over. It read, “Saying I shouldn’t be sad because there are others who have it so much worse than me is like saying you shouldn’t be happy because there are others who have it better than me.” Again, feelings are real regardless of whether they are entirely true to how they feel.

Early in the week I sent an e-mail to the person we sat and talked to, explaining how difficult the conversation had been for me and how saddened I am at the realization of these shattered dreams. His words, again, were wise, but still hard to swallow. In essence he said that sometimes we see our dreams come to fruition and other times we need to step back and see that our dreams aren’t always God’s plans for us and trust that God’s plans, in the end, will be even better than our dreams. My week was filled with those words and thoughts, yet the sadness permeated my days. The loneliness just reinforced the sadness and I found myself in a spiral of emotions going in a bad direction. I wish I could say I have completely recovered from that downward spiral, but I cannot say that. What I can say is that I am trying–trying to accept this new reality that I didn’t ask for nor want but, for some unknown reason, God saw fit to give me. The picture that kept forming in my mind was that of sandcastles on a beach. Whether the work of building the sandcastle took a few minutes and was as simple as a bucket turned upside down or a few hours and was as elaborate as any architectural drawing, it only takes one wave to destroy it. One passing of water and, before your eyes, the sand dissolves into a thousand minute grains flattened once again.

This week, my sandcastle was hit by a tidal wave and I have yet to come to terms with that fact completely.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dot to Dot

When I was a child, I had a plethora of toys to choose in order to occupy my time.  My parents owned their own business which kept them occupied almost constantly. If they weren’t AT the business they were doing something FOR the business or talking ABOUT the business. My mom used to joke and say that when she buried my father in the future, she would for sure bury his calculator with him. :) I don’t think she did that, but I could be wrong. Anyway, I had older siblings but two were much older and married before I was even out of elementary school and the sibling just above me, well, we didn’t get along very well. This meant the majority of the time, especially in the winter, I played by myself. Being very much an introvert even back then, I was fine with that. One of my favorite things to do was dot-to-dot pictures. I assume you know what those are…there is a page of black dots, each labeled with a letter or a number. The object was to connect the dots in alphabetical/numerical order in order to see what the finished picture would be. Then, if I so desired, I could color the picture. As I got older, the difficulty level of these pages increased. Interestingly, I recently saw a dot-to-dot book for adults in a local bookstore. Some things are never outgrown.

The concept sounds pretty simple. Find A or 1 and start drawing lines: A to B to C to D or 1 to 2 to 3 to 4…Sometimes, though, my hand would work faster than my mind (some things don’t change in that regard either) and I would mess up. Maybe I would lose count and skip a number or I would think I already touched the #17 dot when in reality I missed it because it was tucked behind another dot or it was clear across the page from where my pencil was. That would always frustrate me. Being the perfectionist that I was am, the lines needed to be in perfect order and the page needed to be free of erasure marks or cross outs. Besides, if the dots weren’t connected in order, the picture at the end wouldn’t make sense.

What does a book of dot-to-dot pages have to do with my life as an adult?

Well, yesterday I spent the day with my daughter. It is a 40 minute drive to get to her apartment. As is always the case, I had a Christian radio station playing as I drove.  A song came on that I had heard hundreds of times over the last several years. In other words, this is not a new song nor is it sung by a new artist. The singer was Steven Curtis Chapman and the song was God is God. I was singing along with it (I have to sing with radio. It’s just a necessary thing for me to do) half paying attention to the words.  Until the chorus played.

“God is God and I am not,

I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting.

God is God and I am man, so I’ll never understand it all,

For only God is God.”

A picture of a dot-to-dot page immediately formed in my head. I imagined God connecting the dots of my life. He began at #1 a little over four decades ago. Each moment is a new dot, each day another line, each year a little more of the picture shows. An unfinished dot-to-dot page resembles nothing–it is just black dots, numbers and a few lines. In an easy version, say one that a seven year old child might do, it’s often easy for an adult to look at the page and know what the finished picture will be. A flower or a puppy is evident to the eye of an adult simply by the placement of the dots. But in a book of these pages designed for adults, all that is seen are hundreds of tiny black dots and very small numbers to designate a connecting order. The human mind can’t always form a picture of the finished product if there is not enough clues given to match our preconceived and pre-learned images.

But God…God’s mind is not like the human mind. The Bible says that God’s ways are not my ways nor God’s thought my thoughts. God looked at my life before I was even born.

He knew when the first dot would begin.

He knows how many dots it will take to complete the picture.

He knows exactly how the finished picture will look.

Me? I only see a part of the picture. It’s no wonder I often look at my life and see the “mess” it is and think to myself, “What in the world is this supposed to be?” To me, it often looks like a mistake was made, had to be scribbled out because it was done in pen instead of pencil, and while the line was corrected, it left an ugly blemish that ruined the picture. At the end, though, once the dots are all connected and the picture colored completely, the mistakes aren’t evident. What’s left is a beautiful picture.

God is connecting the dots of my life–and yours–and my kids’. He is the artist who doesn’t make mistakes although in the process it may seem like He messed up. I struggle so much with this concept. How can abuse fit into a beautiful life picture? How can depression add beauty to a life? How can a chronic and debilitating illness make a life beautiful?

I don’t know. I only see a part of the picture. I’ll never understand it on this earth, for God’s ways are not my ways. He doesn’t require that I understand it. He only requires that I trust Him to finish the picture and find, in the end, the beauty that He knew was there all along.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Climbing Mountains

I have always loved nature. As a child, I would walk home from school. In those days if you lived close enough to the school you attended, you walked…the same neighborhood I lived in is now bussed to the same school I attended. Go figure. Anyway, as soon as I got home, I would change clothes and head outside. On some days my neighborhood friends would meet me and we’d find some thing to occupy us until we were called home for dinner. The season or the weather seldom made a difference. I would head outdoors on the cool autumn afternoons, the cold winter afternoons, and the warm spring afternoons. I had a vivid imagination and, if no one else was around to play with, I was content to be alone, making up some adventure. One of my most favorite pretend excursions was the adventure that I was climbing a mountain–a steep, snowy, windy mountain. The slope would be treacherously angled and I would struggle to make headway up its side, at times, falling back a bit. I would imagine myself so tired from the repeating pattern of step, step, step, fall… step, step, step, fall…

You get the picture.

In my mind, the most important thing was to get back up, no matter how many times I fell.

Sometimes I had the opportunity to live out, all be it in a very mild form, some of my imaginary climbs. Living in Western New York meant the Alleghany Mountain range was just to the south. While the mountains themselves, for the most part, were not climbable, tucked deep inside Alleghany State Park was a place known as Thunder Rocks. These were huge boulders–and when I say “huge”, think of a boulder as big as two story house. There were indentations and jagged edges all around the rocks. If given the chance to visit there, I would be sure to make it known that I needed to go climb the rocks. And just as it played out in my imaginary scenarios at home, often the pattern of step, step, step, fall was a common scene. More than once, though, I managed to reach the top of some of the rocks. What an exhilarating feeling of accomplishment as I stood high above the ground, breath coming hard from the work of the climb. Determination is what caused me to get back up even after a hard fall. It only took one successful accomplishment to stoke the fire of determination to conquer another rock. I vowed, someday, I would climb a real mountain.

Lately, I’ve begun to liken my spiritual journey to the imaginary climbing I did as a child. I see a mountain ahead of me–it varies by time but has been comprised of things such as grief, illness, and change. Sometimes the mountain is small in scale and I begin the climb with anticipation of finishing with ease. Other times, the mountain looms before me and intimidates me before I even take the first step of the climb. Many times I fall. Sometimes I want to just stay there, on the ground, wallowing in my unsuccessful attempt and wondering where God is and why He didn’t help me. After all, I think, He is the one who brought me to that mountain in the first place. The strange thing is, as much as my mind tells me to just give up, I don’t give in to its pleadings. Oh, I have come close in the past. I have stomped my feet in displeasure with God, I have told Him off in no uncertain terms, I have turned my back on Him–I have even tried to end my life on this earth. But here I sit, by God’s grace, still on the journey of life. For some reason, I keep returning to the mountains before me. I take a step, then another, and another…and then I fall. I find myself, sometimes against even my own will, getting up, returning to the base of the mountain, and taking yet another step–another attempt at the mountain that looms over me and taunts me with its difficulty.

What drives me to keep returning? To keep fighting? To keep climbing?

I know that it has very little to do with me. In my own strength I could never get back up time and time again to face a mountain that defeats me time and time again.

Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet who questioned God’s allowance of ongoing evil with seemingly no justice. Ultimately, he realized that God knows what He is doing. We just need to trust. Today I read this verse and it made me realize why I am able to keep attacking the difficult mountains:

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

The mountains in my life are not accidents–I have to keep reminding myself of that every time I fall. A mountain does not mean I stop and camp in the darkness of it. It is, rather, a tool that God can use to build my strength in order to face the next mountain that will be in my path. We all know life is not an easy stroll along a sunny beach day in and day out. We are bound to face mountains of all sizes. And since we are human, we are bound to fall now and then. But to not get back up and attempt the climb?

Well, speaking from my experience on Thunder Rocks, the view when you finally conquer the mountain is nothing short of spectacular. And the feeling of accomplishment goes a long way when digging for strength you don’t think you have.

I need to learn this more than anyone else right now.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dissatisfied

Have you ever felt an uneasiness somewhere deep inside that continually rises to the surface? An uneasiness that is oppressive enough to almost be palpable yet one that you can’t figure out from where it originates?

That feeling is overwhelming me tonight.

Words are bouncing around in my brain. Words such as, “I can’t stand the person I am.” “Why can’t I change?” “Why do so many others seem to get it and I just can’t?”

After church today, my husband and I got together with someone from church to talk. We both consider this person as trustworthy and wise, and we needed someone like that to talk through some things with us. The food was good; the conversation was hard. I came away from the few hours spent with thoughts swirling, my world seemingly turned upside down. There are difficult and emotional decisions that need to be made. The first thing I said to my husband as we got into our car was, “I wish God had made humans without emotions.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one who struggles with things like depression and anxiety would also struggle with emotions.

You see, I want to be a different person. I’m talking about a different person on the inside. Don’t get me wrong–if given the opportunity for a complete body makeover, I would jump at it in a heartbeat. As I’ve noted before, the mirror and I? Yeah. We’re not good friends. But today my desire was to change the inside me–the me that no one can really see. And yet, that me is manifested in whatever I do so most likely the idea that no one can see that is a myth. Regardless, I wish I could change it. The reason I want to change that part of me, though, isn’t because I want people to like me. The reason I want to change the inside me is…

I desire for God to like me.

Now, before you decide to blast me with phrases such as, “God loves you just the way you are” or “God created you to be who you are” please know that I already know that. Most of the time I even believe it. This is different than that. And that is where the uneasiness comes in.

It’s different, but I don’t know quite how. There’s a heaviness about these feelings that make them different than those that are usually associated with the above phrases. Maybe it is because at the core, as much as I may not like it, I am an emotional being. Those emotions allow me to laugh at something funny, but they also cause me to fight back tears when asked in a restaurant over lunch, “How are you doing emotionally?” And I can’t answer because I am desperately trying to hide the emotions bubbling to the surface that I don’t want him to see. I’m trying to hide the fact that I want to cry because I feel like such a failure when the conversation turns to things that need to be done–and I am physically unable to do them right now. I blink hard and look down to avoid eye contact with one who truly cares and desires to help.

“God has a plan. Your life may not look like you thought it would, but God is still there and will use even this.” I hear the words and I so desperately want to take them to heart, to feed on them, and to allow them to soothe the pain inside.

But all I get is uneasiness…and the desire to change and be a better wife, a better mom, a better friend, a better Christian.

Maybe it starts with the desire. Maybe the desire is what God will use to start changing me to be

selfless instead of selfish

content instead of greedy

prayerful instead of neglectful

loving instead of unloving

encouraging instead of discouraging…

restful and at peace instead of uneasy.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Admission

Earlier this week I turned on The Message on my van’s satellite radio. I prefer the music on The Message more than what I can get on our local Christian station and often just listen to that when I am driving. Whenever they play something new, they preface it with the announcement that there is new music coming on. That day they played a song by Tenth Avenue North titled No Man is an Island. The chorus and one of the verses went as such:

“No man is an island, we can be found
No man is an island, let your guard down
You don’t have to fight me, I am for you
We’re not meant to live this life alone.

I see fear in your eyes
There’s no safety here
Oh, my friend, let me in
I will share your tears.”

I’ve done many personality tests through the years. The results were always consistent–I am an introvert. If you know me at all, you probably didn’t need a pencil and paper test to tell you that. It isn’t that I don’t like people. Okay, maybe that’s it a little bit…For the most part, though, it is the fact that being around people too much Stresses. Me. Out. There was a time in my life when carrying on simple conversations with those I didn’t know very well was a terrifying thought to me. I’m sure over the years more than one person has thought that I was either a snob or too stupid to know how to converse. Neither of those statements are really true, though. I’m simply one of those people who do okay without a lot of people in my life. My dad was like this as well.

Dealing with depression and a chronic illness tends to isolate a person anyway. Throw in an introverted personality and you have the perfect combination for long stretches of incredible loneliness. So often I have wanted to reach out to someone yet I haven’t because I know too much of that will just add to the stress I am already feeling. So, I tend to be a loner. I wake up to my three pets, see my son briefly before he leaves to work his second shift job, and am alone all day until my husband gets home from work at dinnertime. If he is traveling, I find myself alone almost 24 hours a day.

As I listened to the song play and let the words sink deep into my heart, I couldn’t help but finally agree with them. As much as I want to be an island, it just won’t work. Right now I realize that I need people in my life–genuine relationships, not just a bunch of people I don’t know. I know enough about myself to know I will never be the person who has fifty friends or loves to throw a big party, but I am learning that the complete opposite of that isn’t very healthy and it’s not the way God intended me to live. For me, letting people in is a scary thought. I was taught to be independent–to not ask for help. I try so hard to go it alone and do all the things that at one time came effortlessly. My life isn’t like that right now, though. Some days, I wish so much I had a friend who I could just call and talk to–and feel like I wasn’t intruding on their day.

I am realizing I cannot be an island. The difficult part isn’t realizing it, though. The difficulty comes in getting off the island and getting to mainland where other people are living and then learning how to coexist with others and share, truthfully, where I am in life. The hard part is letting my guard down. It’s so easy to do with words typed on a screen. That also makes it easy to hide from the reality that God created us to be in relationships.

For years I listened to the call of the island…

I believe the mainland is calling me…I need to decide if I will answer and, if so, how? What does that even look like?

When living on an island is all one has known, the mainland is very intimidating.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Helpful Advice…or Not

I have been debating writing this post for some time. The reasons for that are several, the top one being that the people who I believe need to see it are not on Facebook and are seldom even online. I decided to go ahead with it anyway in hopes that anyone who does read it will get a glimpse into this world I live in and perhaps come out of it with a bit more awareness and education on the matters that exist there.

If you are on Facebook then most certainly your newsfeed has been clogged with videos of people taking the ice bucket challenge for ALS. If you haven’t seen them, (you may want to lift that rock you are under first) they are videos of people pouring a bucket of ice cold water over their head in order to raise awareness for that debilitating disease. I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on this latest notion to sweep social media. I know some who refuse to participate because the research for ALS uses stem cells that have been potentially harvested from aborted babies. I know others who have participated believing that awareness can only be a good thing. Personally, I don’t get involved in internet fads such as that and posting a video of myself while being drenched in ice water seems pointless to me.

I do find it interesting that social media has become a tool for just about every cause known to man. Type a disease or cause in your Facebook search bar and most certainly you’ll get a return of several pages you can “Like” to stay informed of advances in that area. I also find it interesting, and this is where my writing may offend some, that people use social media to advise others of some course of action or obscure “cure” they are certain will work for someone else…even though, in most cases, the majority of those doing the advising have no firsthand experience with the matter.

Before I say anymore, please, PLEASE, do NOT misunderstand what I am saying. Most of the advice given, at least in my case, has come from those who, I believe, genuinely care and want to see the discomfort end. I do not believe that anyone intentionally tries to upset or hurt someone who is already hurting. That said, there are some things that, no matter how strongly you may believe them to be truth, should be kept to yourself when talking to a friend with such an illness.

A chronic illness is not chosen by anyone. While it is true that sometimes one’s choices can result in such an illness, (for example, a person who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day for forty years has a good chance of developing lung cancer) in the majority of cases, the illness just happens. Speaking for myself, I did not ask to be given MS. I did not choose it, nor did I cause it. Logic would then make the reverse of that statement true then–if I did not choose it nor cause it then I cannot UN-choose it or UN-cause it. (Yes, I realize those are not real words, but they fit here in order to make a point.) More times than I can count on two hands I have had a well meaning person say something like, “My second cousin once removed had MS and she started eating gluten free and it just disappeared!” or “I know someone who had MS and they went on a regimen of vitamin supplements and it went away completely!” or “Did you know that ____________ can cause MS and if you stop ___________ then you will be fine.”  (I use MS because it is what I deal with. I do know of people with other illnesses such as cancer or depression that have been told similar things)

Wrong. WRONG!

Refer back to the beginning of the previous paragraph. I did not choose MS. I realize that the food we eat is not as pure as the food my grandparents ate that they grew themselves. I do believe that diet can definitely affect a person’s health. What I have a problem with is when people insinuate that I have brought this on myself because of my dietary choices. That is true for some diseases, but not for all. Celiac disease can usually be controlled by avoiding gluten. Obesity can usually be controlled by exercise and diet combined. Sometimes people change their diet and whatever disease they have seems to lighten or, sometimes, even disappears. How does one explain this?

I don’t have a definite answer, but I have one I’m pretty confident is on the right track.

In a country like the United States, we seldom hear of women dying from childbirth anymore. When the settlers first came to this country, that was not the case. Childbirth came with great risk of death. Modern medicine has made great advances. As great as modern medicine may be, though, it is still limited in some aspects. I have not heard of a doctor who has been able to raise a person from the dead. A friend of mine, several years ago, was in a terrible car accident with her kids. Her son was airlifted to a trauma hospital. When they loaded him in the helicopter he was alive. Several days later, despite the best attempts by the doctors, he passed away. The human body, especially the brain, is a complex system designed by a complex and wonderfully creative God. As good as doctors are, they are limited in their power. They did not create life. Only God creates life. Only God can sustain life.

I believe everything that comes into my life is controlled by Someone higher than me. I can do all the right things–eat only pure, whole foods, exercise an hour a day, take all the right vitamin supplements, avoid drugs and toxic medicines–and still die of a heart attack or cancer or some other disease. Psalm 139 tells us that all our days are numbered before one of them comes to be. I’m not saying I always am happy about the suffering that comes with living with MS. I get angry. I get frustrated. I doubt God’s love more often than I want to admit. In the end, though, I know that He is ultimately in control. He created and therefore does as he wills with His creation.

I know people mean well when they point me to a place that says I can do x, y, or z and my MS will be reversed. The truth is, though, at least for me, they cause more frustration. I think to myself, ” If food was the only cause of all illness, then no one would get cancer or MS or heart disease. Everyone would be healthy.” I do not put blind trust in anything on this earth–foods, vitamins, exercise, or doctors. I DO, though, strive to trust that God knows what He is doing. I did not choose MS, but God chose it for me. I do not understand why, just as I don’t understand why my friend’s sixteen year old son had to die from a car accident. I do not understand why some are healed of diseases such as cancer while others are not and have to endure much pain and suffering. I do not understand how God decides who gets healed and who does not on this earth. God’s ways are not my ways…as frustrating as that sometimes is. I do know that if I could choose my own path, I, like most everyone else, would choose to be healthy, active, and able to walk without assistance. I don’t get to make that choice here on earth, but I do know that someday, I will be able to walk without a cane to lean on. Someday I will not battle depression that threatens almost daily to take my life. Someday, I will understand why MS was chosen for me. In the meantime, if you know someone who lives with a chronic disease, there are some things that are helpful. Chronic illness is often accompanied by depression. Depression results in isolation and loneliness. A phone call to just talk is something that would be welcomed. A visit or invite to meet for coffee (or in my case, hot chocolate :) ) would also be helpful. If you suspect a bad day, a meal is usually a blessing for someone dealing with chronic illness.  For me, at least, by afternoon if dinner isn’t started it probably isn’t going to happen. Fatigue is a side effect of many illnesses and, often, fatigue is at its worst in the afternoon. One time a friend sent me a card–just out of the blue and for no special reason. It was just a card to let me know she cared and that I was being prayed for. It lifted my spirits that day. I still have it. Try to imagine your worst day possible–what would you want or need someone to do for you to just take the edge off some? That’s usually a good start to being helpful to someone who is dealing with something beyond their control.

“One day I’ll stand before you and look back on the life I lived, I can’t wait to enjoy the view and see how all the pieces fit.” (Already There: Casting Crowns)

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Where Feet May Fail

The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. I seriously wonder how much more of this ride I can handle. Two of our four kids have chosen to live far enough away that going to visit requires some planning and a hotel stay. One is only three hours away. Still, to spend any quality time with her and her husband, it takes more than a trip there and back in the same day. The other lives nine hours away. That trip is far less do-able, especially as the season turns to less favorable driving conditions. It was the latter with whom we spent the last few days.

Our trip started early Saturday morning. My husband and other son had loaded the bookshelf our son asked us to bring along with the five boxes of books I had boxed. Several rounds of heavy rain–so heavy that the road was completely obscured–and nine hours later, we arrived at our son’s future in-laws home where we had been invited for pizza. Conversation around the table was sweet as we spent some time with those who will be part of our family as we will be part of theirs. Darkness engulfed and we needed to head back to our hotel. After coming very close to meeting a deer and two raccoons, we arrived at the hotel and collapsed in exhaustion. The next day would be busy as we would move our son into his new apartment.

Sunday in Indiana found the weather to be ridiculously hot and humid. Thankfully, we had few things to move and plenty of hands to help. Moving, shopping for needed items, and dinner took up the rest of that day. Once again we drove back to our hotel exhausted. I also found my emotions becoming raw as I realized that once again, in a few days, I would be driving away and leaving my son behind, this time in the apartment that he and his future wife will share together in seven months. Monday was spent doing more of the same as Sunday with some anger and frustration thrown in–just to make it all that more difficult for me. Now we had two cars as we were bringing home one that we had left with our son for the summer. My husband led the way as I followed behind, struggling to drive due to a combination of physical pain and emotions that were so raw that I literally thought my heart would break in two. Another bout of wickedly heavy rain and we once again collapsed in exhaustion.

Today was spent driving back, my husband leading most of the way. He had the GPS and, more importantly, he tends to not have the heavy foot that I have; a speeding ticket was the last thing we needed. I thought of the weekend and each time I did, fresh tears stung my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. Between the pain of my momma’s heart and the pain of some physical ailments, trying to hold back the tears was as senseless as trying to keep a cat from chasing a mouse. Since I had to make the drive alone, it was too easy to just let my heart break over and over. I had turned on my playlist knowing the majority of songs that would play would be worship songs. I hoped that worship music would ease the pains that plagued me.

At one point, a song that has become quite popular began to play. I have heard this song hundreds of times. We have sung it at church.  The song is titled Oceans. As the words poured from my van speakers into my ears, I heard them in a different way this time. One part in particular struck me. It goes like this:

“You call me out upon the waters,

The great unknown, where feet may fail…

“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior.”

Those words…those words…well, they just described exactly where I was at that moment. I had spent the last few days with my feet failing me. I struggled at times to walk and fought through the pain it caused. I wanted to be the mom I had always been and couldn’t. I had let my son down. Emotions took over and I was sure he was glad to see me leave so he could be free from the emotional mess his mom had brought to Indiana. I cried even more as I struggled with that feeling of failure. I hit the replay button on the song–I needed to hear those words one more time. Really hear them. As I did that, I thought about the waters on which God has called me out. They are scary waters. My feet do fail me–sometimes literally. But then I heard the next line–“That my faith would be made stronger”.

That my faith would be made stronger.

That my faith would be made stronger.

I don’t feel like my faith is being made stronger.

I feel like a failure.

I feel like a disappointment to those around me, especially my family.

I feel like a disappointment to God especially.

But isn’t it deep waters that teach us how to swim? If we can always touch the bottom of the pool, we have no reason to swim. We can walk out of the pool then. But if we find ourselves in a place where we cannot touch the bottom of the pool, we need to put in the effort to swim to reach solid ground.

Perhaps God has really brought me to these deep, scary, uncomfortable waters in order to strengthen my faith.

If so, I can only hope that He also provides the strength to swim these waters. My feet are failing.

File:Ocean waves.jpg

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

True Beauty

This week was our last meeting for the summer Bible study in the book of Esther. I think this is the first Bible study with a group of women that I have actually finished. I did a cover to cover Bible class with Village Schools of the Bible when my friend Pastor Max Frazier taught it in the city where I live. That wasn’t a study, though. That was a school format–Max was teacher and we were students learning from his wisdom and years of his own Bible study. I’ve attempted other Bible studies with women, but for whatever reason, they just didn’t work out for me. This one, though, I am already sad that it is over.  One theme discussed in the book of Esther was beauty. Beauty in Biblical times was quite opposite of what modern day America considers beauty.

Beauty, in Esther’s day, was something you did, not something you possessed. When the king gathered all the girls of the kingdom in order to find a new queen, each girl was given a year of beauty treatments. They were also given choice food because a woman who was thin was not considered beautiful. That is a huge contrast to how beauty is portrayed in our days. As someone who is probably one of the most insecure people on the face of the earth, much of what was contained in this study struck a painful nerve. More times than I can count I was told I was ugly, that I didn’t measure up to someone’s standards, and that I would probably never find someone who would marry me. Words spoken, especially at impressionable ages, sink deep into the heart of a person and shape their ideas about themselves. The old cliché, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a lie.

Where is all this going?

Upon finishing the last video from Beth Moore, the five women present began to discuss some of what was said. Our conversation went in the direction of beauty and how it is focused on in today’s world. All of us have daughters and we discussed what our daughters’ views of beauty might be. In the early years, if you ask a child who he or she thinks is beautiful, most will say mommy or grandma or someone else that they feel close to. At some point in the beginning of the teenage years, that answer would most likely change. Why? Girls are under so much pressure to look a certain way. It seems the age of wearing makeup has gotten much earlier than when I was a young girl. Girls as young as eleven or twelve are coloring their hair, perhaps because someone made a comment about their hair and in desperation a girl feels the need to change what someone else perceived as a flaw. For many, these ideas don’t seem to go away after high school. Commercials tell us that we deserve to be happy and we won’t be happy unless we weigh a certain amount or cover the grey in our hair or get rid of the wrinkles on our face.  We see celebrities on television who spend enormous amounts of money in order to keep from looking old. We desperately try to cover up the fact that we are getting old. It is inevitable of course–everyone ages.

Here’s the interesting thing, though.

One woman in our group said when she thinks of beauty, she thinks of a very old lady from her hometown. She is ninety-five years old and legally blind. She has lost a husband and a son, yet, when she talks to you, she radiates beauty and joy. Her faith is solid and her joy shows in everything she does and says. It does seem as we get older, for many, our idea of beauty changes. No longer do we feel the most beautiful person on earth is someone famous who has spent the money needed to keep her age from showing. For many, instead, we see beauty as something much more than outward appearance. God tells us that man looks at the outward appearance but He looks at the heart. God doesn’t care if a person has the perfect hair and a wrinkle free face and fits into the same size jeans as their teenage daughter. God cares about what is on the inside. The ninety-five year old lady, one that many would look on and dismiss as not needed, is someone beautiful to my friend and to God. Her beauty comes from what is inside. Time has taken her smooth complexion, her perfectly colored hair and her youthful figure, but time cannot take away her joy, her love for others and her faith.

On the drive home that day, I thought hard about the conversation that took place. I’ve never considered myself beautiful. The mirror has never been my best friend. Makeup didn’t really change much and there is grey in my hair now even though on the inside I don’t always feel like I should be this old. It seems like just last week I was running up and down a soccer field. Now, because of age and a sometimes debilitating disease, my days of running with a soccer ball are done. I can’t get back my youth no matter how hard I try. I can color my hair to hide the grey and, if I had tons of money, I could get plastic surgery and injections to improve the way I look. But in the end, God doesn’t look at those things. God looks at my heart. And, I know my heart is not any more beautiful than my outside appearance. How I long to be a person who has the faith to encourage others. How I long to be a person of joy. I so want to be remembered by others as a beautiful woman because of the presence of God in her life. I know I am not anywhere near close to that right now.

God promised, though, to complete the work that He began. I am a work in progress. It may be a slower process than most, but it is a process God promised not to abandon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment