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What’s Your Number?

What’s Your Number?

My son said something to me recently that stopped me dead in my tracks. I laughed at some funny comment he made, and he threw his arms around me and said “You laughed! You don’t laugh very much anymore.”

Ouch.

I started to protest, but I realized that he’s right. I used to be silly and goofy and joyful with my kids. That has shifted in the last few years, little by little. The incremental change might be imperceptible, but the overall effect is apparently pretty noticeable.

I guess I know why I’ve changed, but knowing doesn’t help. After I had my gallbladder removed in 2010, I developed a condition called “Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction.” I’ll give you a second to giggle at the name…

…okay, ready?

Basically, my digestive fluids are held hostage by this little creeper called the Sphincter of Oddi. He doesn’t let pancreatic juice and bile in and out, and the result is pain, extreme nausea, and fatigue. I’ve had two surgical procedures, 2 endoscopies, 3 colonoscopies and about 2 weeks in the hospital as a result. Imagine having the stomach flu nearly every day to varying degrees.

 

We’ve also had our share of major life events since we’ve been married. You know how you take those quizzes that tell you how stressed you should be based on which life events you’ve experienced? Divorce, marriage, moving/selling your house, death in the family, illness, job changes–it’s a daunting list. Overachievers that we are, we checked a whole bunch off in the span of a few short years.

In all sincerity, I guess I didn’t realize how much I let the weight of my circumstances affect the lightness of my life.

Since my son made that comment, I have made a concerted effort to rid myself of the thoughts and worry that are stealing my joy. It is not easy. I have literally had to tell my friends and family that certain topics are off-limits and replace triggering thoughts with prayer when they try to sneak in. The stomach stuff is a little trickier, but the longer I live with it, the easier it gets to cope with it. Definitely a work in progress.

I’m trying to be present with my family, letting myself laugh and loosen up a little.  I ask the kids every night, on a scale between 1 and 10, what my “Happy Mommy” number is for the day. I joke (in my used-car salesman voice) that “I aim for a 10!” but I want their honest assessment. Since I’ve started consciously trying to find my lost joy and laugh with them the way I used to, I’ve scored pretty high. In fact, I got a unanimous rating of 10 two nights ago. *fist pump*  It’s a silly way to keep tabs on a serious concern, but it’s working, and to my surprise, I’m not faking it. I truly feel lighter and more joyful. It feels good.

 

So what’s your number? Summers can be especially tough with the extra messes, busier schedules and lack of alone time. As you strive to be present and joyful for your family, ask God to remove the triggering thoughts and worries that steal your laughter and to replace them with joy. Praying 10’s for you!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope. –Romans 15:13

The Care and Feeding of Yaks

The Care and Feeding of Yaks

I’ve spoken to a few of you recently about the special kind of torture that is seeing an issue in your children/marriage/blended family/etc, knowing that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and being 100% powerless to do anything about it.  It’s maddening, isn’t it? Here’s this big, hairy problem crashing through your family like a runaway yak, and for a variety of reasons, you are the one person who is least able to intervene and solve it. In the meantime, you are forced to dodge the steaming piles of yak poo this lumbering nuisance leaves behind, while you assess and repair the damage. Talk about adding insult to injury! Not only does it feel like you’re the only one who really wants to stop the yak, you have to clean up after the stupid thing when it goes on a stampede.

If you find yourself in this position for whatever reason, I’d like to share a few suggestions that have helped me. I have to be honest, that some days I am much better at following my own advice than others. I am not immune to stepping right in the poo—believe me.

1) Talking about the yak won’t catch the yak. It will however drive you crazy and distract you from the things running wild in your life that need to be caught before they grow up into yaks. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t breed yaks.

2) Don’t try to reason with a yak. You’ll get kicked right in the face. Did you invite the yak? Are you feeding the yak? No? Then stop trying to analyze its behavior. It won’t stop the stampede, but it will drive you nuts, Yak Whisperer.

3) Let the yak get caught. Hide your valuables, find a comfortable seat a safe distance away, and watch the yak foolishly tire itself out. A yak can’t tell the difference between insanity and perseverance, but it will eventually get its head stuck in a fence. It’s a yak.

4) Give your yak to God. He made you. He knows what you need. Maybe you need this yak in your life for some reason that only He understands. Ask Him to change your heart and bring you peace and stop begging Him to change your yak into a kitten. Seek His comfort, especially when you’re stepping right in the piles. He doesn’t get tired of hearing you ask—even if it’s the same prayer, or just the same word over and over.  Some of my best prayers are incoherent babbles.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked?  I am desperately seeking improvement in my own Yak Management tactics.  I’d love to hear from you.

Don’t Trip Your Teammate

Don’t Trip Your Teammate

I love competition. I loved being part of a track team and I still love beating my own times when I enter a road race (although those new PR’s are hard to come by these days!). For me, track was the best of both worlds: I could compete as an individual, but I could also compete as part of a team. To be honest, the individual competition appealed to me the most. Beating my own records, analyzing my split times, hearing my name called for coming in first–it was exhilarating. Of course I wanted my team to do well, and I was delighted to contribute to the point totals. More than anything though, I loved racing as an individual—even when I ran against people on my own team. Sounds silly, but in my teenage arrogance it was true.

 

I may not be tearing up the track in a polyester singlet any more, but let me tell you—my competitive streak is alive and well. I can turn anything into a competition against myself or someone else. Anything. You’re running on the treadmill next to me at the gym? We’re competing. The GPS says I’ll get to my destination in 3hrs? I’ll do it in 2.5.  Thirty grocery bags to carry in from the car? Bet I can get them in one trip! If you ever have occasion to watch Jeopardy with me, I’ll just apologize now.

Let me tell you where my competitive spirit can get me into a little trouble:

Parenting, especially in a blended family, is not an individual sport. What might seem like Parenting 101 to you may be something your spouse would never do in a million years (and for very valid reasons). When you add in the complexity of remarriage and a new step-parent relationship, things really get tricky. I know exactly two things about teenage boys: they eat a lot and they like video games. My husband, on the other hand, has vast experience with 3 boys and will tell you that raising a daughter is a pink, princess-filled mystery.  What works for my 6 year old daughter will not necessarily work for his 14 year old son. Sometimes I need to tell my competitive spirit, which is constantly screaming “put me in the game!” to zip it, and just let my teammate handle it.

 

I am the strongest player and the weakest player on our team. I’m the coach and the red-shirt freshman. I’m riding the bench one minute and carrying my teammate across the finish line the next. It’s unpredictable, but it’s exciting. It’s the most important competition of our lives, to beat the influences of the world that want to destroy and diminish our children. We can’t afford to lose.

Let us run with perseverance, the race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1

Carry each other when you need to, but keep competing together.

I have to go. There’s a spelling bee on TV.

Are You Running Low on Oil?

Are You Running Low on Oil?

During my devotions this week, one of the passages focused on the widow who used the very last of her oil and flour to make bread for Elijah during a great drought. At first she protested, telling him that she had just enough to make one last meal for her son and herself, after which they planned to wither away and die (a regular Susie Sunshine, eh?). Believing that Elijah was the man of God he said he was, however, she gave up her last meal and chose to trust that God would care for her and her son. To her delight, her oil jar and flour canister never ran out, no matter how many meals she made.

For this is what the Lord says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land—I Kings 17:14

When I read the story of the widow and Elijah, I personally relate it to the energy required to keep my family running. I kid you not, I did 7 loads of laundry yesterday and was all caught up for approximately 17.2 seconds, before I found another pile of dirty underpants and socks hidden in the far recesses of a bedroom. In addition to laundry, I cleaned, cooked, scrubbed dog pee out of the carpet, played the piano at church, went to the pool with the kids, worked on some writing projects, forced the aforementioned kids to bathe, made a campfire, caught up on work for my day job, went to Pilates and did my devotions. It was a slow day.

 

I know I don’t have the market cornered on busy days. I can feel your weariness from here, parents. So how do we keep the energy coming when we need it? We don’t. God does. And coffee. But mostly God. Even when a monkey wrench hits your to-do list squarely in the face, God keeps your energy canister just full enough. If it were solely up to me to get everything done, I would hibernate hard. Like a narcoleptic bear. God gives me (and you) what we need, though, just when we need it. All we have to do is ask. Now all I need to do is work on my attitude while I do it. I detest self-made martyrdom, but was guilty of it yesterday, I am ashamed to admit.

If you are up to your eyeballs in Clorox and carpooling, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the minutia isn’t a ministry. It absolutely is, my weary friends. Even when you feel unappreciated, used up and undone, God sees you and is tickled pink when you serve your family with humility and grace. To be clear, serving doesn’t make you a servant (lest you think you need to let your sweet little cherubs treat you like one), but serving changes you. It brings value to the mundane. (Remind me of this the next time I am picking Play-doh out of the dog’s fur, please.)

Here’s to you, Supermom and Superdad. Fold those socks and wipe those noses. Cut off those crusts and force-feed those vegetables. You are doing important work that only you can do.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. —Romans 12:10-11

Origami Grace

Origami Grace

Ready for a touchy subject? *deep breath* Sometimes Christians get divorced. Divorce is an evil monster, but it is a very real monster, inside and outside the Church. It creates stifling feelings of failure, shame, guilt and unworthiness. I couldn’t even bring myself to check the “divorced” box on forms for a while after my marriage ended. It’s a mean, taunting word and it reeks of stigma.

When you are a Christian, that stigma feels magnified several times over. In addition to feeling like you’ve failed as a spouse, you may feel like you’ve failed as a follower of Jesus. It leaves a scar that never really goes away. You can “move on” and you do heal, but you’re never the same. No matter the cause of your divorce, or who chose to end your marriage, it’s easy to remember every single thing you did wrong that contributed to its demise. Every argument. Every selfish act. Every wrong decision and sin. Every time you sought your own way. You’ve asked forgiveness for those things over and over again, but still…the nagging persists. You know that if you repent of your part in it, Jesus immediately casts that sin as far as the East is from the West, so why can’t you forgive yourself that easily? A better question…

…why does the Church sometimes find it easier to love an adulterer–or even a murderer– than it does someone who gets a divorce?

Let me be very clear. I know that God hates divorce. If you’re divorced, I bet you hate it too. I’m not promoting divorce as an easy-peasy, go-to solution—there’s nothing easy about it. It should be the very last resort, and even then, it’s a horrible one. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Whether or not you chose to end your marriage, and regardless of why it ended, divorce hurts. It’s the enemy of happiness and security. It’s the wrecking ball of your most fundamental dreams. It sideswipes you in a way you can never prepare for and you never forget. What I want to tell you, and what has taken me so long to learn (and I’m still learning it) is that God’s grace doesn’t cover some sins and tragedies in life and skip others. You can’t twist and mold grace into something smaller or more exclusive than what it actually is– it’s not origami. If you believe that God’s grace is big enough to wrap you up and hold you tight because Jesus died for every single one of your sins to make that possible, then stop placing limitations on it when you “sin big.” Go and sin no more, but run from the well and shout it from the rooftops that Jesus knows everything about you and loves you anyway.

Let’s pretend you are the most frivolous person alive and you wake up one day, look over at your wonderful, loving spouse and declare “Meh. I’m done being married. See ya’!” –that would be a foolish mistake, yes? It would be a sin. God’s heart would break. But also consider this: if you are in an emotionally or physically abusive marriage and you finally get brave enough to leave, God’s heart will break just as much when you make that choice to leave as it would for someone who made the decision on a whim. Hang in there with me—I’m going somewhere with this. In both situations, the God who created you and loves you more than you could ever imagine, hates what is about to happen to you, to the covenant you made on your wedding day, and to your children, if you have them. He hates it, but He still loves you.

Maybe your spouse was unfaithful and you choose to leave. God’s heart is still breaking and He still hates it. He hates divorce, but He loves you.

Maybe you thought, in all sincerity, “I am not going to live through this marriage” and you entertained thoughts of getting in an “accident” or just “slipping away” because the pain of your marriage became unbearable. You prayed and grieved and tried to repair your marriage as nothing changed and your thoughts grew darker. Do you think God secretly hoped you would choose suicide over divorce? Of course not. He hates both options, but He loves you.

What I think we fail to grasp sometimes as Christians is why God hates divorce.  Here is what I know to be true:

He hates broken promises. We all do. Have you ever told a lie? Promised to read your Bible every day and quit after the first week? Promised to stop yelling at your kids and lost your cool by dinnertime? A promise is a promise, isn’t it? Is one promise you make to God bigger or better than another?

He hates wasted resources. God’s ultimate goal for your life is not for you to be happy. Sorry. It’s just not. Of course He wants that, but more than anything, He wants you to live your life for Him. If you spend every waking moment focused on a destructive marriage and the subsequent divorce, how are you furthering the Kingdom? Don’t let your circumstances rule your ability to serve or not serve God, and don’t buy into the lie that you are of no use to God post-divorce. He can use you for greater things than you can imagine if you focus and let Him.

He loves children. The Bible is very clear about how God feels about children.  No matter how amicably you co-parent with your ex-spouse, or how young your kids are when it happens, they are still going to hurt in your divorce. I hate that for my children and for my stepchildren, but thankfully, they have parents and stepparents who love them and a heavenly Father to heal and protect them. This is where it hurts the most for me when I lose sight of God’s power to redeem. That redemption isn’t just for me—He loves my children and stepchildren more than I ever could. Not one prayer that I cry over them goes unheard.

He hates Pharisees and can spot them a mile away. God knows (as do you, if you are a divorced Christian…amiright?) that Pharisees are alive and well in 2015. He doesn’t like those guys. He didn’t like it when they picked on His Son, and He doesn’t like it when they pick on you. It’s easy sometimes, when there is a plank in your own eye, to jump up and down and cry “you’re a fraud!” when a fellow Christian stumbles in a way that you haven’t. Divorce feels more like a head-over-heels roll down a steep embankment than a stumble, but we don’t need the Sin Police to rub that in when our hearts are already broken and we’ve already asked for forgiveness. We know it. God knows it. He’s handling it and He doesn’t need the modern day Pharisees to get out their sin-measuring sticks and declare us unworthy. We’re all unworthy already. Don’t listen to Pharisees and for heaven’s sake, don’t be one. Just don’t.

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.– Matthew 6:15

I want to encourage those of you who have ended your marriage for reasons that are between you and God–reasons that you know in your heart-of-hearts are covered by the blood of Jesus and His plan for you and your children. You don’t publicize the pain of your marriage and divorce because it hurts too much and you don’t defend your choices to the Church or to the world. The Pharisees are left hungry for the juicy details that you refuse to give. You know at which point it all fell apart, and you’ve cried out to God to forgive you for your role in it.

Does it ever get better? It absolutely does. It can take a variety of different forms, but it gets better. I am writing this to you as a divorced woman who is remarried to a man I love dearly who loves me back. I have a second chance to further the Kingdom and learn from my mistakes. After my divorce, I was fully prepared and willing to remain alone for the rest of my life. I was content to be a mother and never again a wife, and I had peace about that. God had other plans. Between then and where we are now, believe me, I nearly ruined things time and time again. I went through a really ugly healing process and it got much uglier before it got better. I finally stopped trying to drive and let God take over. He has blessed our marriage beyond what I could have imagined and far beyond what I deserve. We are stronger in our service for Him together than we ever were apart. God made beauty out of our ashes, and I can never thank Him enough for a second chance.

I would love to pray with you and for you if you see yourself in either role– failure or Pharisee. Grace covers both with plenty of room to spare. I would appreciate your prayers too.

If you don’t already have one, I encourage you to find a home church where you’ll be held accountable when you need to be, but you’ll be loved, encouraged and strengthened. I am so thankful for our church family and the love they have for our blended family.

Lastly, if you’ve never trusted Jesus, and you’re trying to go it alone, I would love to tell you how you can change all that.

Thanks for hanging in there on such a difficult topic.  This one has been on my heart for a while.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.– I John 1:9