Because I Am Weak, I Can Be Useful: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: Sebastian Anthony Flickr via Compfight cc

I’ve always hated being weak. I spent most of my life as an overachiever. A lot was expected of me at a young age, and mostly appropriately so. I was encouraged in my areas of talent and ability. But it was also a lot to live up to. There is such a fine line between encouraging a child and expecting the best from him or her, and pushing them into overachiever status. I often felt like I needed to be the best, or I would lose the confidence and love of those around me. I liked being depended on by teachers, parents and church leaders. I didn’t want to disappoint. While I was continually reminded about the unconditional love of my heavenly Father, I found myself carrying over this attitude of overachievment into that part of my life as well. Of course God loved me no matter what, but just in case, I needed to make sure I was giving it my full effort; checking off all the boxes.

But of course I was only human and I couldn’t do everything, I was far from perfect. I had a very hard time taking criticism, not because I didn’t want to improve, but because in that criticism I heard my unspoken fear: you aren’t good enough, and if you don’t “fix” your issues you will become useless and unlovable. Now, those things were never overtly stated, and rarely true. But I heard them anyway.

I like to think that I have improved in this area, and in some ways I have.but it still takes continual effort to have a teachable, correctable spirit. My need to impress has kept me from taking risks because I might do it wrong and someone might notice and tell me so. Since having children, it is easy to question myself constantly. It doesn’t help that our social media culture fosters an environment where each person’s choices become public discussion fodder. Gossip has always existed, but the difference between the village rumors and the internet is that now one mom’s apparent failing becomes a public opinion discussion but without the important relationship of community closeness. When the sweet older lady who helps you wrangle your children gives you advice it’s a lot easier to take than when a stranger half way across the world criticizes you on social media. Because correction should always, whenever possible, come from a place of love and relationship.

This past year I have been learning the hard way that God can use us because of our weakness rather than in spite of it. I took on some major responsibilities last year, ones I had been praying about for a while. Then within weeks, life got very crazy. Suddenly being my usual overachieving self was no longer an option. Instead of just delegating, I was forced to really depend on those around me. It was a position of feeling out of control. This was not how I liked to function. I had been raised to be dutiful and responsible. Without meaning to, my personal mantra had become “do it well or don’t do it at all.” (Not quite the same as perfectionism, for which I am not usually plagued, but close enough to get in the way). So as I saw myself handling my public responsibilities at less than full capacity, I felt like a failure.

I vividly remember a conversation I had with God where I mentally uttered the phrase. “This is not how I wanted to do things.” My spirit was quietly reminded of verse from 2 Corinthians. (Which of course I couldn’t remember verbatim which I why I am very grateful for the internet in helping me locate the full versions of verses of which I recall only a small portion.)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

I realized that my weakness was not a barrier to God. If anything, he was forcing me to depend on him. When you are firing on all cylinders it is easy to give in to pride. After all, confidence in your own abilities isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when God uses me, not just despite my frailties but because of them, the credit is his alone. When the children God has given me cause me to come to the end of myself both in public and in private make me accessible and relatable to other moms, his power is being made perfect in my weakness. When we begrudgingly made peace with the idea of renting our house instead of selling it, and now we get random texts from our new tenants telling us how grateful and blessed they feel to be living in our house, his power is being made perfect in my weakness. When I realize that parenting is as much about who I am supposed to become as helping my children become who they are supposed to be, (especially when I have doubts about what either of those things will look like), his power is made perfect in my weakness.

As we look back at our lives, may we be able to say that God, in his mercy, used our weakest places and our deepest failures to do some of his greatest work.

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Our Way of Escape from The Common: Five Minute Friday

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We hate being disappointed. It makes us feel angry, bitter, and fearful. Because met expectations give us a sense of security. We think that if we get what we want in life, it will some how protect us from bad things happening.  But this is an illusion. Firstly because we are dealing with people. People are unpredictable. We may think we know what we are getting, but rarely is this the case. Because leaders are more than the sum of their campaign promises.

This week’s Five Minute Friday prompt was Common. (I’ll say right now that I’m already blowing the 5 minutes out of the water, but please bear with me anyway).

1 Corinthians 10:13 came to mind.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(If you can find the time, I really recommend you read the whole chapter. There is much there that is encouraging in light of much that has gone on in the last week.)

No temptation will befall you except what is common to man. Meaning, what you are feeling is real, and painful but also common. It has happened before and will happen again. The temptation to despair is equally as damaging as the temptation to put our security in the wrong things. Leaders are just people. Flawed people, who will fail us. I don’t care how much you love or hate our current (or future) political leaders, they will at times disappoint and surprise you. The mistake is believing that getting what we want will make things OK. Because it won’t. There was only ever one Messiah, and his name is Jesus. But since then people of all political persuasions, especially in the United States, have made the mistake of putting our faith in systems of government.

I happen to think our system is a pretty good one, with many flaws for sure. I am grateful that I live in a nation where the transition of power can occur peacefully and safely. But the hidden danger is that I can begin to put my faith the governments process and procedures instead of God. At the same time, if my preferred political leaders don’t rise to power as I’d hoped, or do gain power and don’t do what they promised, it is easy to let my disappointment embitter me. Peace is replaced with indignation. Kindness with bitter entitlement. The reverse is also true, optimism can become arrogance, confidence turns to superiority.

I imagine that this problem is likely unique to those of us living under governments where we do have a say and influence. Those who have no security in their governments, do not put faith in a system that they have seen fail them time and time again. While I don’t desire to be in  that situation, I desire their faith and perspective.

If I claim to be a person who puts my faith in God, I cannot put my hope in political machinations. I can be involved in the process, assess the choices and make the best one I can. As a citizen of the United States I am lucky enough to be allowed a say in this process. But to say that if I don’t get my way, all hope is lost, is to say that God’s love and power can be thwarted by the choices of flawed human beings. That is not faith.

If you are still grieving what you see as a defeat, I’m sorry. Not because I owe you an apology for disagreeing with you or because I agree with the words (or actions) you are using to express your grief. But because I know what you are feeling is common to man. I have felt it too at many times in my life.

If you feel positive and optimistic, I encourage you, in the same way, to make sure you don’t put your faith in the wrong thing. We elected a president, not a king. Extend grace to the people who disagree with you. (Whether you have received the same grace in the past or not).

Because kindness, grace and love will win the day, only if we extend them to all, regardless if we agree. It is our way of escape, because God is faithful.

 

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Because It Could Be Any of Us: How Robin Williams’ Suicide Should Affect Us

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So I really didn’t want to write this post. I feel like I’m just hopping on the virtual band wagon with the rest of the blogosphere as the world reels from the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. But, somehow I feel like I need to address a few things. There are bloggers on all ends of the spectrum bandying about words about how depression is a disease and others discussing the responsibilities we each have for our own actions. I know it’s a sore subject for a lot of us. (If you want to read more about my struggles and my husband’s you are welcome to reread some older posts where I talk about own family’s experience with depression. )

Depression is a Disease

However, I think we’re rather missing the point. Yes, depression is a disease, like diabetes. It has to be managed. It isn’t a sign weak will or weak faith. It can be caused by a chemical imbalance or by a series of difficult events. It can be treated using medication, counseling, diet and supplements or prayer. (In my experience, all of the above is the best option, or as many of the above as it takes). Sometimes it is temporary, sometimes it is chronic.

But . . .

Depressed people are not bad people, but sometimes they make bad decisions influenced by their disease. Even within those times of despair we are still responsible for our actions. This is not to say that there isn’t grace for that. Of course there is. Thank God for the grace. I wouldn’t be here without it. But there are still consequences to those actions. I have dear friend whose husband died of a drug overdose. He was a Christian who battled his addiction for years. He made bad choices. His bad choices cost him his life. Did he have a disease? Yes. But that doesn’t absolve him of blame either. A diabetic must learn to manage his or her blood sugar otherwise there will be negative consequences to the body, even death. But at the same time I need to extend grace to those who struggle and love to those left behind. Do I have this all figured out? Nope. But that doesn’t change what needs to be done.

Please hear my Sorrow

This is in no way meant to be callous or unfeeling. I have such great sympathy and empathy for people who struggle with depression. Right now, I’m in a decent place. But both my husband and I know we have to look after ourselves. We watch out for negative influences, lack of sleep, too much busyness and other things that we know wear us down and make us more prone to episodes of depression. Sometimes we go back to counseling again. I need to be very aware of my hormonal cycles so I’m aware of which dips are normal and will resolve in a few days and which are warning flags.

Why All the Conflict?

Depression and other mental illness are some of the least understood. They are complicated because of how the mind works. Did you know that how you think can actually influence your brain chemicals? One of the methods I learned when I was in counseling was called cognitive shifting. Basically through making changes to your thought processes you can alter the way the brain produces chemical and help to regulate your depression and anxiety. It’s not quite as trite as “think happy thoughts” but that definitely helps. So does gratitude. But that isn’t it. Because sometimes it take meditation to regulate the chemicals. Or exercise and diet changes. And just to make it even more confusing, isn’t the same for everyone. There is a spiritual component that I also don’t claim to fully understand but I also know is very real. But for a long time both the church and the medical community misunderstood. They tried to address the symptoms rather than the disease and when their solutions didn’t work they blamed the people suffering. It wasn’t good, I think we can all see that now. But, we should know better now. Instead of looking for where to lay the blame, can’t we just try to love on each other? Instead of giving sermons condemning depression can we be provide encouragement and comfort? Instead of just saying “get some drugs from your doctor and that will fix it” can’t we choose to walk together even through the dark valleys?

Because They All Matter

It is easy to mourn Robin Williams because he was such a likeable public figure. But it grieves me whenever I hear of anyone who chooses to end his or her life. Because while I may understand their desire to end the suffering, the choice still saddens me. No one should have to feel that way. It’s one the really sucky parts of living in a fallen world. (Yes, I said sucky. I could have said something worse, but I refrained. Please try not to be offended or laugh depending on your sensibilities).

I don’t believe that death is the end. But I also know that my God is a just and loving God. How that all works out on the other side, I don’t claim to know for sure. Because when it comes down to it, it isn’t my call to make.

So What Now?

(This post is already way longer than I know most people will read, so bravo if you’ve made it to the end.) So before you like another Facebook page about depression statistics (including the pithy little ones about how depression killed Robin Williams rather than suicide) and share another article about how Jesus is the answer (which he is, but you may not be getting the answer you expect), just think about the people.

Not just the celebrities or other public figures who have committed suicide or overdosed on drugs. The real people around you. The ones you see struggling. The ones you don’t see, but know must be there. Some people suffer in secret and in silence. Others are more public. Both need your prayers rather than your pity. If you are in a position to provide help, do it. Make a meal. Offer to babysit. Provide a listening ear. If you aren’t close enough or comfortable enough to do those things. Pray.

I mean really pray. Fall to your knees and storm heaven. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Don’t stop. The process may do as much for you as the person you pray for. Praying isn’t doing nothing. Sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do. Because the truth is, it could be any of us.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

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Fasting and Unforgiveness: Lent Week 2014 – Holy Week

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Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral via Compfight cc

Last week I fasted desserts and focused on experiencing a new level of joy, especially in my interactions with the world around me, those in and out of the church. This wasn’t as hard as I thought, in part because of something I discovered when talking to some ladies from my MOPS group. I tend to extend grace to strangers better than to my family.

We’ve been having a rough time with my daughter and discipline. She basically refuses to do anything to help around the house. We’ve begun a new system where her screen time is contingent upon fulfilling of the required chores. There has been very little screen time and even fewer chores accomplished. It is instinct for me to be kind to the check-out girl, the mail man or the receptionist at the doctor’s office. Even if inside I’m fuming, I don’t tend to take it out on an unsuspecting stranger, even perhaps if they deserve it.

My family is another story. I definitely found myself irritable at my lack of dessert. When the kids were finally in bed for the evening it was hard not to feel a little disappointed when I remembered that I was fasting dessert and so there would be no chocolate waiting for me. I wish I could say that I didn’t mind or that it was an easy sacrifice. It wasn’t. I pretty much hated every minute of it. It was already a rough week last week and taking dessert out make it harder for sure.

But it does have me thinking a lot about how to depend on God more. I just helped finish choreographing and practicing a dance for eight little girls to Jars of Clay’s I Need Thee Every Hour. So the song has been in my head a lot. I so desperately need Jesus, every hour. Sometimes all I can ask for is the grace to get through the next hour and try not to think about the one after that.

Matthew 6:34 “So do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.” (Amplified Bible)

In the case of a mom, sufficient to the hour is the chaos. I can’t worry about how I will get through today, next week, next month or next year. I need to focus on being here now, for the next hour.

For most Christian traditions, this is a significant week. Holy week. The time we reflect on the last days of Jesus life leading up to the crucifixion. So for this week I’m going to focus on unforgiveness. Christ’s sacrifice extended forgiveness to us; we need to be prepared to do the same to others. What you fast this week doesn’t necessarily matter. Pick something you’ve already fasted or something new. The purpose of the fast is to draw our attention to an area of unforgiveness that needs to be addressed. Is there someone in our lives or in our pasts who we need to forgive? I know we all have them. That one person who you can’t look at without remembering a particular incident? Just being in the same room with them is painful. You find yourself justifying your hostility and anger towards him or her.

It seems easier just to hold onto unforgiveness, especially if the person doesn’t seem particularly sorry. But we need to forgive them anyway, for our own sakes. I know I have a few of these on my heart. It is so much easier sometimes to retreat than to continue to interact with someone that has hurt you, especially if they don’t seem to care or don’t know how they’ve hurt you. But this week I’m going to focus on forgiveness. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how exactly to go about it. I think of it kind of like love. Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s an intentional way of being and acting towards someone. Sometimes the actions actually matter more than the feelings and the feelings will follow. So this week I’m going to focus on behaving in a loving fashion to those who have hurt me, and praying desperately to God for grace to extend.

The past five weeks haven’t been easy ones, and I find myself short of strength and patience. So I must depend even more on Christ. I need his forgiveness, his grace, his love in excess so that I can extend it better to others.

 

Restore My Heart, Thaw My Soul: Lent 2014 Week 1

Learning Intentional Silence and Better Chosen Words: Lent 2014 Week 2

Choosing to Be Present In Real Life: Lent 2014 Week 3

Where Do I Get My Truth? : Lent 2014 Week 4

Fasting From Alternate Intoxications: Lent 2014 Week 5

 

In This I Will Always Be a Child

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My daughter says to me today, “Mommy, you love me even when I do naughty things right?” She says this because I tell her this daily. I remind her as I put her to bed each night that I will always love her, no matter what. She’s in a phase where she says she’s going to run away and not be our Thea anymore. I tell her that isn’t possible. (We also read her the Runaway Bunny and Wherever You Go, My Love Will Find You). She will always be my Thea. Then she smiles and goes back to playing.

Years ago, when I was volunteering at a drug rehab in the UK, one of the women living and working there shared a story. She was running errands and praying as she walked. She said to God, “Father, I really want to know if you are pleased with me? Could you show me somehow?” As she turned the corner a dove landed on the sidewalk in front of her and she heard the verse  Matthew 3:17, paraphrased. “This is my daughter in whom I am well-pleased.”

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Thomas Merton said that we must accept that we will never be more than beginners when it comes to prayer and I think the sentiment applies to all aspects of our journey of faith. I still want my Father’s approval. While I love my earthly parents and part of me still needs their approval, even more I want my heavenly Father’s approval. So much of the time I feel as though I’m just stumbling through life trying to make the right decisions and hoping for the best. I pray and ask for guidance and sometimes receive obvious answers. Other times I just use my common sense, hold my breath and jump.

But most days, I am that little girl, asking if I’m still loved, even when I know I’ve made mistakes. Some days I feel as though I am the chief of sinners. I am impatient, angry, and sometimes an intellectual elitist. I extend judgment before love and justice before mercy. Before anyone jumps in to make me feel better, don’t. I don’t want to feel better. I want to be better. I thought I would be so much further along at this point in my life. But I’m not. I’m struggling like everyone else. I want to be the one to provide answers to others; supporting and comforting. But I’m still slogging through the trenches, feeling left behind as others soar on to new heights.

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I know in my head that I am loved. I know my husband loves me too, but I still like to hear him say it, receive gifts and have him make me feel special. I know that every day is a gift from God, and I have many blessings, but I want affirmation. Is this wrong, proud or selfish? I don’t know. Is it selfish when my daughter asks me if I love her? (Even if I just told her so an hour before). Is it wrong that she wants assurance that she will be always loved even when she disobeys?

I am no different. In my heart I am just asking my Father, tell me you still love me. I know that you do, but some days
I need to hear it again. I know that I make mistakes and that my focus is often on meaningless earthly things. I want to be more like you, but I’m so tired. I’m afraid I can’t do the work, that I can’t make the changes that you are asking of me. Will you help me?

So I hug my daughter again. Tell her she’s loved and I fall into bed praying for grace. Grace for the next minute, the next hour. Grace like oxygen that fills and sustains me, keeps me going, keeps me whole. I need thee every hour..

My 31 Day Financial Challenge – Day 10: Fitting Your Expense Into A Bigger Picture

On Day 10, Trent talks about what to do if you only have 10% of your budget to work towards your dreams with. I wish I had 10% to work with. 40% of our income is just our mortgage; our new, lower refinanced mortgage. But we wouldn’t be doing any better if we were renting. We live in a more expensive part of the country where many people commute multiple hours to work in major cities where the rate of pay is significantly higher, which has skewed the cost of living. Basically, if you work around here, it’s hard to own a home around here. We also contribute a large amount toward our monthly medical insurance. But we usually get our money’s worth each year. Between my daughter’s birth last year and the various doctor’s appointments she has had since them, including two specialists, I can’t imagine where we would be if we had opted out of the medical benefits. But the bright side of realizing all of this is that I am now able to figure out what kind of income we need to attain in order to shoot for our goals. It seems impossible right now, but I still believe in the One for whom all things are possible. If I do what I can do, He will do what He can do.