"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things,
and the God of peace will be with you."
-Philippians 4:9

Friday, December 18, 2009

Northward, Ho, The Wagons!

Okay, so I'm not above piggy-backing on a friend's blog. Especially when it is timely. First, go check out Melanie's blog (and be sure to read her links, too).

Now to how this touched me today. Today is a day that the ability to stop circling the hill country became real. Today, the last string that tied me to the past was cut. Today, our bankruptcy was finalized. Today we rejoiced and turned fully north.

Yes, I said rejoiced. This has been a huge weight in our lives and one that I have not felt free to share. Partly because with all the things I've shocked my friends about on this blog, this was the one I felt may result in some consternation among them. Partly because this financial circumstance has symbolized the combined whole of things that have been the cause of much hurt and bitterness. Partly because I figured that if I shared that I saw the fact of our bankruptcy as a huge, unadulterated, GOD - GIVEN blessing, it would begin a firestorm of reproach and proof that God never desires anyone to go to bankruptcy court; especially not those whom He has called to ministry. *Gasp* To think that the woman would pawn fiscal irresponsibility off as a blessing...just as well they're no longer in a position of religious authority...

However...

Now that's it is finalized - and after reading Mel's blog today - I feel compelled to write. So, reproach as you will; I still believe that God's hand is all over this. Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning have heard much of what led us out of full-time ministry, the personal hurts we faced, and the steps to spiritual and emotional healing that have happened over the last couple of years. What was carefully omitted was the financial effect of the religious position in which we took a net pay cut every year for 7 years, 3 high-risk pregnancies during those years without maternity insurance, a traumatic auto crash which resulted in physical therapy and the purchase of a newer and more expensive vehicle, a move to FL to a lagging job market, and the realities of 4 kids who *will* grow and need food and clothing to accomodate that growth. There were so many points of hurt that stung so much every time I looked at the mounting debt, every time I decided which bill went unpaid this week, every time that my husband came home dead tired but knowing that he couldn't take a day off because we needed that money. Anger boiled at people who had declared their noble commitment to seeing that their minister was cared for, then refused to acknowledge that a family of 3 (which we had been) requires far less to sustain it than a family of 6 (which we became). Disbelief baffled me as I pondered those who suggested that if we weren't making it on the salary, we seriously consider whether we should be having babies at all. Accusations of hypocrisy jumped to my lips when remembering that the student loan debt - required to attain the degree necessary to attain this position as we had no parental assistance in our education - was scoffed at as irresponsible and no concern of the personnel committee's in determining a fair salary. Indignation surfaced as I remembered the dump truck that obliterated our almost-paid-off vehicle and carried no insurance, leaving us with the bill for a new car. Wrong upon wrong was written there in the family financial accounts. And every time I balanced the checkbook, I fought not only a financial battle, but a spiritual one as well. Love keeps no record of wrongs and yet here it was in red all over my checkbook. How I was reminded, week after week, of the sacrifices we had made of our family and our finances. And then the day came.

The day that there simply was no more money. The day that I couldn't decide who would get paid because there wasn't enough to pay anyone. The day that the credit limit was exhausted and there was no more cash to keep moving the debt around. The day that bankruptcy became the only option. It was against everything we'd been taught. A Godly man doesn't default on his debts. A Godly man doesn't give up. A Godly man - if he truly has faith - prays and God WILL ALWAYS open the floodgates of heaven and supply his needs (in exactly the manner he expects and that will be socially acceptable to his peers, of course). We were failures. We must not have had enough faith. We put up with the pay cuts too long; we put the church above our family for too long; we did this, we did that, we...we...we...did exactly what we believed God had asked of us. We stayed in the position exactly until He released us. We came to FL when He said go. We didn't seek revenge. We didn't lash back and quit even as we saw the pay cuts happen. We accepted it; accepted where we were; accepted that God had it... and wound up with no financial options. Could it be that He needed us there? Could it be that we needed to be there? To finally take God completely out of His box and live the reality that He works in ways we don't understand and leads us --- *actually leads us* --- down paths that look like failure, loss, pain, in order to more fully strip us of ourselves and reveal Himself? We couldn't believe we were considering bankruptcy; that God would leave us no other option. Yet here we were.

And here we were with excitement and in agreement with one another. Crazy, huh?

I can call it nothing less than excitement. To have worked through all of the spiritual and emotional issues we'd worked through over the last few years yet have this constant reminder in the form of financial stress was daunting. To have the prospect of a bankruptcy that would remove that last reminder, abolishing the debt accrued in those difficult years and allowing a completely fresh start in even this last area of our lives was exciting. We thanked God for putting the option in front of us (on the same day He had led me to a website and Dan to a friend at work that gently suggested bankruptcy; by the time we were together that night, we were both trying to figure out how to raise the subject with the other). We met with a lawyer. The lawyer thought we were crazy. Why had we waited so long and tried to keep afloat, only getting deeper in? We had been eligible for bankruptcy all the way back in those years in the religious position; a family of our size was able to make twice what we had made at our most affluent and still qualify. Hmmmmm... And we had endured two years of pay at one-third of what we had made in the church, paying for necessities on credit so as to keep our debt payments current, and waiting for that God-dropped cash to fall from the sky. Because we were too proud to admit that we simply couldn't pay the bills. Because asking for our debt to be forgiven was completely ungodly. Did you read that? I'll say it again...catch the nuance: BECAUSE ASKING FOR OUR FINANCIAL DEBT TO BE FORGIVEN WAS COMPLETELY UNGODLY.

Did you catch it? The blatant, self-sufficient, pride-driven lie? Tell me you've never heard it before. Even as we tell others that God forgives the most aggregious sin for the asking, we are also told that to ask for financial forgiveness of debt is nothing less than gross negligence of our duty and unfits one for being seen as quite spiritual enough for leadership. It doesn't matter why the debt accrued; all debt is sinful and all request for complete forgiveness should be disdained. Partial forgiveness may be grudgingly allowed, more lenient terms of repayment arranged, but never full and complete forgiveness. This is the double weight under which we struggled: the debt combined with the inability for it ever to be paid off by us or forgiven by our creditors. It is a heavy load. And yet, through this two years of learning to live with God rather than man's religious ideas of Him, we were set free even in this area. (If you'd like, do some Bible research on the terms "debt", "forgive", and "jubilee"... you may catch some of God's ideas on the subject, too!)

Today is a day of rejoicing. Today, we live in forgiveness of our financial debt. And, I daresay, it inclines us to remember to be more forgiving to those who are indebted to us. Today, we see that our Father provides in ways that are beyond our comprehension and ways which allow us to more clearly see Himself. We have had some wandering in the wilderness because we needed to learn more of Him. It is time to turn north. To not tread the same ground again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It Could've Been a Screenplay...

It had all the elements: action, drama, suspense, conflict, emotional range, heroes, villains, innocent bystanders, and a moral woven throughout. I'm thinkin' God's a pretty good playwright and somebody had it close to dead-on when they said that "All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players."

The Setting:
Field #1 of the Under Armor American Youth Football National Championships.
Game 2 of the series. The semi-finals.
It is a sunny, breezy, beautiful day. The grass is green, families are cheering, the air is filled with the sounds of pads colliding and whistles blowing.

The Cast of Characters:

Kissimmee Kowboys - the long-shot underdogs. They had not made the playoffs in their regional division, but won a wild-card slot at these championship games. It was not known that they would play until 3 days prior to the start of the championships. Every other team has been playing non-stop; our heroes turned in their gear four weeks ago and squeezed in 2 hours of practice prior to their first championship game (which they won against an unbeaten team!). Oh, and did we mention our team has *1* ninth grader (the rest are 8th grade) and made the wild card slot in the ninth grade division?

Osceola Panthers - the odds-on favorites and cross-county rivals of the Kowboys. They made (and won) the regional playoffs, thereby winning a seat in the National games. This team is known for dirty play, punching and kicking when in a pile-up, and deliberately injuring opponents' players that pose a threat. Oh, and did we mention that the coach was recently fired and there was much debate over their eligibility because it was found that they played with 10th- and 11th-graders on their team during the regular season?

Coach Kenny King - deserving of his last name. True follower of Jesus Christ, ex-NFL Europe player, gentleman, teacher...coach.

The Scene:

Both teams arrive at the field and begin their warm-ups. Coach King begins the Kowboys' practice with prayer, encouragement, and a call to clean play. Our cast of characters take the field, toss the coin, and begin play.

Within the first two series, the Panthers live up to their reputation even without the former coach to egg them on. Two of the Kowboys' offensive players wind up on the sidelines, doubled over in pain due to having cleats placed forcefully and effectively in tender locations under the obscuring cover of a pile-up. Tempers already begin to flare as obscenities are thrown and referees ignore the violation. The Kowboys begin to give in to the anger and miss blocks, allowing turnovers and giving the offending Panthers the opportunity to score.

The Panthers score the first touchdown of the game on their second possession. Immediately, the Kowboys drop their heads, anger gives way to discouragement, and they begin to give up. More missed blocks, an interception at the 4 yard line...emotion-driven mistakes lead to further Panther scores. Some of the Kowboys begin to blame teammates; infighting erupts. The center (my own big guy) takes a tackle that injures his leg, resulting in the coach removing him from play and replacing him with the back-up who has not practiced at center in months. More frustration and infighting on the offensive line ensues.

By half-time, Coach Kenny King has had it with the breakdown on his team. It isn't the mistakes that bother him; it's the infighting. He's fought long and hard to make these boys into a team and *will not* tolerate ugliness, blame, disrespect, or attitude on his team. He will not permit his boys to lower themselves to dirty play. As they come off the field at the half, two players begin to make motions of tossing their helmets - he stops them. No temper tantrums on his team. As others on the team begin to cast blame, he stops them as well...they talk back. Not to this coach. The boys are gathered on the bleachers. He lays it on the line for them: "The rules allow me to play with 7 players. Do I still have 7 men willing to play football? I'm not going to put up with quitting or attitude. If you want to play, step across this line, but I'm not going to have any more attitude at all. Move, gentlemen, but only if you mean it." Most of the team rallies to their coach's call...

Two remain sullenly seated. The quarterback and the receiver who is able to catch anything, anywhere, at any time. They think they're invaluable. Coach doesn't really mean what he says. He needs us, but the rest of the team sucks. (the very word used by the receiver about his teammates...to the coach... in front of his teammates.) Sadly, firmly, the coach points to the two and orders them to take off their pads and helmets; they're done. Shock. Disbelief. "Now, gentlemen." And he turns to rally the boys who want to be there; who are willing to dig in and play it out; who want to show character against the odds and maintain integrity on the field in the face of the opponent's obvious lack thereof. The boys who want to succeed as men.

One of the two players continues his ranting, his attitude, throwing his gear to the ground and stomping off. The other removes his gear but desperately wants to be on that field. He approaches Coach King. Please, a second chance? "If you can man up and admit to what you've done wrong and accept your team's forgiveness, you can come back out." NO! That's too much. To stand in front of them...? NO...walks off...wanders around... reconsiders... returns... apologizes... is welcomed back onto the field. In limited capacity, to be sure; sharing his role now with the one who has played back-up all season. But still in the game. And with much learned. A hard lesson in respect, responsibility, and redemption. And I'm sure it will stick with him - and his teammates - longer than the outcome of the game.

The second half continues much as the first: cheap shots by the Panthers, breakdowns in the game of the Kowboys who are playing down one receiver and one starting center, considerable mental distractions, and more scoring by the Panthers. But, in the midst of it all, the Kowboys that remain choose to encourage one another, to back each other up, to play positions they aren't used to playing because the team needs them there. And although they lost the game, they gained so much as young men. They learned that integrity and character are shown not in how you accept a victory but in how you handle a defeat. That attitude is not dependent on circumstance. And one last lesson that cut to my heart...Coach King taught us parents, as well.

In the post-game huddle, all of the above was recapped. Character. Integrity. Manliness. Respect. Fair play. Encouragement. Building up rather than tearing down. Accountability. "And, don't you boys worry. I'm still going to have a talk with ________ (the player that walked out)." *insert mutter from co-coach* Sharp turn of Coach King's head. Quick but obvious consideration followed by the following, "Enough. I don't want to hear another word about him. Don't any of you boys call him. Don't get on him in school. I'm going to talk to him because it's between him and me. And *I'm* going to do it because, this is important boys; are you listening? HE NEEDS TO BE BUILT BACK UP, TOO. HE DOESN'T NEED TO BE TORN DOWN FARTHER THAN HE ALREADY IS. YOU LET ME DO MY JOB AND BUILD HIM BACK UP."

Oh, my. He walked out on you. He would've spat on you if he dared. He let you down. His attitude stunk. He was hateful and ugly to the rest of your boys that you protect like a mama bear...but *he's* one of your boys, too. And you love him enough to see past what he's acting like to what he needs. Redemption in action. Thank you, coach. Thanks for being way more than a football teacher. Thanks for reminding me of what real love for my own kids looks like. Thanks for a great season, a positive attitude, and a living example of the character of Christ.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Balance...

...it's a topic that's been on my mind a lot lately. Probably because I've been feeling particularly UNbalanced!

There have been so many changes in my life in the last two years: changing states, changing employment for hubby, changing from house-dwelling to rv-dwelling, changing financial status, changing views on what is and is not my calling as a wife/mom/homeschooler/Christian... the list goes on. Most of these changes have required a letting-go in some area or another. A relaxing of my grip on the reins of my life and a relinquishing of my illusions of what I can, in fact, control.

It has left me wondering if I've relaxed a little *too* much. Through all the change, I have seen quite clearly that I am in charge of pretty much nothing. I cannot control weather, cannot control circumstances, cannot control whether employment opportunities arise, cannot control what others think of my decisions, cannot control my children...so I stopped trying to control those things. Well, in honesty, I *started trying* to stop trying to control them. Does that make sense? And it has been a different "giving up" than had happened previously; I had thrown up my hands in frustration and depression years back and quit trying in a number of areas -- things like caring for myself, bothering to find outside interests, etc. This is different. It's more of a learning to take what comes and work with it rather than continuously laying plans and trying to squash timelines, circumstances, and people into them. But...

Part of that has involved not planning so much. I used to be a notebook-in-hand, life-by-a-schedule kind of girl. Depression hit and I became a "who cares, anyway" kind of a girl. Worked through that, among other things, and now I'm wondering where the balance lies. I don't want to go back to being bound by the clock, driven by urgent demands (generally placed on myself by myself), and frantically racing through each day to get some arbitrarily set list of tasks completed, barking orders like a drill sergeant with no time to play and teach and enjoy the process, and feeling like a failure when I...well...FAIL. It has become clear, however, that NO planning leads to an equal amount of frustration. Especially when grandparents are around that want to be involved in their grandkids lives but also have schedules of their own to be considered (geez, don't they know the very universe is supposed to revolve around the grandkids??). :P

Seriously, though, I'm trying to find that balance between planning and allowing those plans to have wiggle room. Or room to be blown up altogether at the last minute without me blowing up with them. I'm trying to learn to balance working on my relationship with my husband with working on my relationship with my Jesus and my relationships with my kids and developing relationships with new people (never easy for me). I'm trying to balance freedom in homeschooling and experiential learning with some schedule for the basics to be handled. It would seem that I'm an all-or-nothing kind of gal whether being driven or totally relaxed. Somewhere between the two is a mid-ground. A place where plans are made, but are okay to be broken. Where kids are given the freedom to be who they are, but also guided to responsible handling of time, relationships, possessions, and learning. Where the things of the Spirit are wound all around and through everything that is said and done each day without being forced artificially to the forefront via some prescribed program. Where the marriage is the primary relationship in the home and is given its proper care and nurture, but has room to include the kids gracefully even when "alone" time was expected. Where the family is the primary calling, but has room to include friendships and reaching out to new people.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm trying to let go and allow the Spirit to mold me into who He wants me to be without becoming lazy about my part in that: someone characterized by love first and foremost, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. Discipline without seizing control. Order without heavy-handedness. Instruction without demanding. Love without hypocrisy. Joyful play without neglecting responsibility. Balance. It's an elusive thing...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Friend Said it Better...

...than I ever could have. At least in as few words as she used! :P

So...I'm going to just send you over to Melanie at Seeking Contentment, let you read her blog (and my overly-long comment to it), and enjoy the pics that follow here.

Arriving at Downtown Disney
Our 1920's mobster later found a perfect carnation to add to his ensemble. Thanks, Disney gardeners!


Racing Cars at the Lego Store
All the kids worked on one car as wheels were scarce. So fun to watch them work together, not bicker over who would have the privelege of "launching" it in the race, and then cheer the Jamesmobile on to the finish line.

Super Silliness
Daddy was buying an awesome caramel apple for the parents to share. Much silliness ensued.
We thoroughly enjoyed our First Annual Family "Rock or Treat." It takes its name from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." The Peanuts all go trick-or-treating and at each house, the same scenario is repeated: "I got a chocolate bar"..."I got taffy"..."I got a ROCK!" Good grief, Charlie Brown!
Dan and I were discussing the cons of Halloween with the kids (selfishness, demanding, retaliation, gore, pagan history, etc.) and the pros of the modern celebration forms (dress-up, sharing, creativity, gift-giving, fun, laughter, family togetherness, helping one another, showing thankfulness). We explained that we were, indeed, going to dress up this year and start a new family celebration that parallelled the Halloween celebration forms but was rooted in different values (thanks, early church, for the idea...). Yes, I thoroughly understand that some will see this as justification, compromise, whatever. No, I'm not going to spend time here defending our decision. Suffice it to say that we want our kids to think prayerfully and critically for themselves and determine what they will and will not participate in based on their own convictions rather than the dictates of anyone else. But I digress...
...to continue: it became apparent that the phrase "trick or treat" didn't really fit in with what our family was celebrating. Few phrases so effectively combine threats of malicious intent with demands for gratification as this one. But what could we use that would mean thankfulness, silliness, fun, and gratitude for gifts freely offered (which they were where we took the kids)? The discussion continued throughout breakfast until Michael said, " I know. We can tell people thank you for their gift; we'll accept it if it's candy or rocks. Whatever. We'll say thank you for it all." That was a little long-winded for the purpose, so we began trying to shorten it.
End result: "Rock or Treat" combined with "Thank you!"
***Edit: I know the spacing in the last paragraphs is funky. I can't get blogger to accept line spacing between paragraphs or even indention spacing. I'm sorry. It's driving me nuts!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

*Sigh*

Here's what I'm missing today as I nurse some strange neck injury:


My Big Guy, the Center.

He's Number 57; the guy with his hand on the ball.



My Middle Guy; Defensive Line.

He's Number 27; the small guy with the big heart.
"Let me hit the big guys, Coach!"



My Little Ones; The Entertainment.

As crazy busy as Saturdays are, I love the time to play together, cheer each other on, and visit with both sets of grandparents. We are so blessed to have a family that loves being around each other and I'm sorely missing this today. My neck had better shape up quick; this redhead won't stand for this much longer!

Friday, October 2, 2009

'Tis a Gift to be Simple, 'Tis a Gift to be Free...

Below:The view from our main room, through the kitchen, to the master.
The cabinet on the left houses our dvd/cd collection. Anything that keeps kids from running down the "hallway" while parents are occupied is a great thing. The ill effects of TV overload are nothing compared to the ill effects of two children hurtling in opposite directions at high velocity in an enclosed space.
I know whereof I speak.






Above: Our Bathroom.
It is situated on the right side of the coach, immediately behind the kitchen. Yes, that is a removable showerhead. And, yes, we have had to dry the entire bathroom after certain unnamed children have "forgotten" to close the shower curtain. There has also been a learning curve regarding hot water usage: water on to wet yourself and your soap, water off while scrubbing, water on to rinse. Any other alternative yields VERY COLD rinse water; a 6 gallon water heater only lasts so long!

Below: Our Refrigerator and Wardrobe.
The refrigerator accommodates 2 half-gallons, but not one full gallon. It has taught us to buy fresh, buy only what we will eat, and that just because it's two for the price of one doesn't mean that two need to come home with you.

The wardrobe houses all of the kids' clothing and shoes, the jackets, and the bedding when it isn't in use. Our always-active kids have found that it makes both an ideal hiding place for hide-and-seek (although the pile of shoes in the hallway tends to give you away) and a wonderful alternative to a rock-climbing gym when used in conjunction with the opposite wall.







Above: Our Master Suite.
It spans the rear of the coach, as does the full-size bed. To the left, you will notice our school book/supply storage drawers, as well as the "big people" hanging clothes. In the center is the bed that our dog, Blackie, graciously allows us to use at her discretion. To the right is the improvised shoe rack. The four doors at the ceiling level house all folding clothing for Dan and I.


Last, But not Least: Our Multi-Purpose Main Room
This room is where we spend most of our indoor time. It has many incarnations. Mostly, it is used as a living area, as pictured first. TV time, schoolwork, creating with Hot Wheel track and Imaginext toys, board games, reading, wrestling...you name it; it takes place here.



At mealtimes, or when doing art or written work, it is transformed with the fold-away dining table. There is always discussion about who will sit on the end nearest the TV -- even if the TV is off. And there will always be one child convinced that they can sit precariously on the edge of the passenger seat and still reach the food on the table without sacrificing one bite to the lurking dog.




At night, the couch transforms to a bed for two, the fold-away mattress is laid out for one on the floor, and the drop-down bunk emerges to tempt little monkeys to swing the perimeter of the room using only toy storage, bunk bed, and book storage. This never ends well. Usually, all the kids are settled in and asleep within minutes, and awake in the morning only to put it all away for another day!




So, there you have it.
How 6 people live reasonably peacefully in a 33ft RV.
Simple is good.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm NOT God.

I know. This is a shocker to all of you. But it's true. I'm not. And to prove it, I'm going to show you how little I know.

I was so proud of myself last week. I started on Monday and determined that the whole RV was going to be dust-free, dog-hair-free, and organized if it killed me. We've had a crazy few weeks with football and life in general, and things had gotten to where we were moving things out of the way constantly just to function. This gets old. Fast. So I decided that it was going to end then and there.

I stuck with my plan, with a minor interruption on Tuesday with a Migraine (yes, it deserved a capital letter), and had the whole thing glistening by Wednesday. Aaaaah...peace, tranquility, and cleanliness. For a while, anyways. What a great opportunity to snap some pictures (finally) and show my bloggy friends just how we manage to live with 6 folks in this space. The kids thought I'd lost it when I got out the camera and rolled their eyes as I got into some interesting positions to get whole rooms in the shots. (You have to be a contortionist to get a *good* angle when you're working with long, narrow rooms. No, my children are not permitted to climb on counters just because they saw me do it. Because I'm the Mom, that's why.)

Thursday and Friday arrived as normal, and Saturday was Football Day. Thankfully, Football Day took place in the same county as both sets of grandparents, who graciously offered to take all 4 kiddos so that hubby and I could have a whole day to ourselves. I don't *think* anybody's fingers got caught in the door as we slammed it and ran away...

We spent a portion of that day shopping for a new travel trailer. It has become apparent that we are growing out of our bedding arrangements and more floor space to separate simultaneous activities would be helpful during school time. Not to mention the fact that we're experiencing some "inconveniences" in our well-loved 1982 rig. A flushing toilet would be nice (without having to fill it from the sink before you flush). And a 'fridge that doesn't defrost out the seal on the door and onto the floor. And an engine that can be depended on to start and move without Herculean efforts. She's been a blessing to us, but she's really getting to require a lot more maintenance expense than we're willing to put into her.

Our timeline has been December/January for this, and we were just hoping to be able to browse and ask some questions without the incessant "don't jump on the bunks," "no, you can't push the button to raise the steps," "COME HERE" that happens when we've been out looking with the kids. We met a really nice salesman and found the rig we'd really like to have. He gave us great information on our financing options, etc. It's still not something we were planning on doing right away due to some other circumstances in our lives, but we gained valuable information and felt more assured of the direction we wanted to go when we were able. We went on, enjoyed the rest of our day together, and picked the kids back up.

Then, God stepped in. It's a long, convoluted story that I may share details on later, but suffice it to say that the outcome is that, barring the unforeseen, we will be living in that trailer by the end of next week. I am floored by the people and circumstances that God has used to make this possible and am blessed beyond measure at this gift at this time. It is looking nothing like how we thought it would, is happening when we least expected it, is coming from a source we didn't know existed, and is not at all how WE had planned it. And there you have it: proof that I am not God. I'm so glad. Because I'm having so much fun watching Him do this. And I'm wondering how He's going to allow us to use this blessing in our lives to bless others.

So...are you going to get to see those photos? Sure! Then, when I show you the new rig a few weeks/months/years from now, you'll see what a difference a few feet can make! But I'll put it in a seperate post; too much scrolling is no fun.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rude Awakening

5:20am. It's a full 25 minutes before that annoying alarm is set to jolt me into a new day. My husband saves it the trouble by shaking the whole bed as he startles awake, panic-stricken that he's missed the alarm, and demanding to know what time it is. Um, it's 5:20. *sigh* He dozes right back off, and I'm left, heart pounding, restless, and unable to relax until about 30 seconds before...the stupid alarm does it's job.

As he was showering and I was preparing his work clothes for the day, my attitude stunk. Why is it MY responsibility to keep up with what time it is? (um, because I took it over. Dan's more than happy to have the clock on his side of the bed, but he will let that alarm buzz until he's darn good and ready to shut it off. I smack it after the first buzz so it won't wake all the kids, too!) HE can drift right back off; while he sleeps and tells me to snooze the alarm, I lie there desperately trying to still my mind and body to get that missed rest. Why am I here ironing his stinkin' costume? Why didn't he get it set out and ready last night? Because he, like the kids, knows that if they don't, I'll step in and make it happen. I'll get everyone to practice on time, I'll make sure the pantry is stocked, I'll serve meals and wash clothes, I'll chase runaways and administer discipline, I'll think for everyone so they have what they need when they need it and know where to find it. I don't think anyone really wants me in the family for who I am, but for what I can do for them so they don't have to. Gripe, complain, martyr, poor me. And I just *know* the kids are going to be up early again. (they were)

The more I complained to myself, the more sour my outlook for the rest of the day became. And it hasn't been helped by the previous few days. It's been a bit of a ride around here lately. But, in the back of my mind, something - or Someone - started niggling. Really? You don't like to be taken for granted? You don't like to be just expected to be there at everyone's beck and call?You'd like your service to be a freely offered gift rather than a demanded duty? You'd like to be known for who you are rather than what you can do? You don't want to be ignored until somebody needs something? And you'd like to be appreciated whether you lifted a finger in service or not? Just because you're a person of worth?

I absolutely stopped short. My last post was full of praise for a Lord who answers panicked, crying-out prayer. And He does. But what if His answer had been "lean on Me to survive the tragic death of your baby boy who ran out into traffic." What if it had been "I am still a good and loving Daddy even as your family goes through the storm of a court trial and foster care placement." What if He had said, "I am Sovereign, Almighty God and will watch over MY CHILD even though you have never been able to find him." What if? Would I still praise Him? Would I lift my hands in worship if my worst fears had been realized? Would I love Him for WHO HE IS rather than what He did for me?

The Scripture says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. I've often heard that used to emphasize looking past racial boundaries, cultural differences, dress, hygeine, class or education differences. But it's also about looking past what people do to who they are; past what God does to Who He is. There's a line in the movie Batman Begins that says "It's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you." And it is true that who you are is often manifest in what you do. But man looks on what God does (in our weak and incomplete perception of what He does) and seeks to define Him by what we see Him do rather then by Who He really is. If we don't catch what He's doing, if we don't see the whole plan unfold, if we miss the details and only define Him by our perceptions of His distance, His deafness to our pleas, then we define Him incorrectly. We miss "who He is underneath;" not because He seeks to hide from us, but because our vision is incomplete, imperfect, focused on our own expectations. And we fail to praise Him; sometimes we go so far as reviling and rejecting Him. All because we define Him by what He does rather than Who He is.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Ever have one of those things happen that reinforce how little you have control over anything? That emphasize the loving hands of an Almighty God who really is looking out for you? And that you would *never* live through again if given any choice in the matter?

Today, one of those things happened at our house. I'm alternating between shaking and praising. It was terrifying. Michael ran off.

No big deal, you say. Michael runs off a lot. It's his coping mechanism of choice. And you always know where he's going: the bathhouse. Except for this time. This time it happened while I was in the laundry room, so he specifically avoided the bathhouse because that's where I was. This time, not one of the other kids hollered at him to stop, thereby alerting me that all was not well 30 yards away on our little lot. This time I had no idea where to start looking.

I returned from the laundry room, opened the door, and saw 3 of my 4 kids. "Where's Michael?" ...silence... "We thought he was going to you. He got mad and..." "Which direction did he go?"...silence... "STAY HERE AND LOCK THE DOOR!!!" Off I ran, shouting for him, knowing that he never responds to his name being called but unable to stop the reflex. Barefoot, in my pajamas because my clothes were in the wash, hair unkempt...not caring at all. WHERE ARE YOU, MICHAEL???

Michael was not in the bathhouse. He was not on our lot or the neighbor's. Not on the roof of the rv. Not at the pool or the clubhouse. Not on any of the streets in the complex that I cruised, making a nuisance of myself by shouting out the window for him. Nowhere. Surely he wouldn't...No, it's too scary to think...Did he *leave the rv park?*

I turned the car out onto the main road, shaking at the possibilities. We live a couple of blocks from HWY192, the main drag for tourists, hotels, and the main entrance to Walt Disney World. It's busy. People don't know where they're going. And not everybody is very nice. Surely my baby isn't out here. Except that he was.

I saw the landscaper truck for our complex and our office manager standing by the side of the road. They know Michael; maybe they've seen him. I pull over. "We hoped you'd be here soon. We have Michael." Don't collapse...hold it together..."Thank you so much!"..."We've called the police. They'll be here soon. Michael did good. He knew his name, where he lived, your name. He's very smart."...don't scream at them and demand to know why they didn't just bring him home but involved the police..."Yeah, he's smart. Just doesn't understand that running off isn't an appropriate response to being upset."...O, Lord, what do I do? The cops?? Three parents in the area have had their kids removed and been sent to jail for this exact thing. Kids take off sometimes. He's been gone for all of 10 minutes. LORD????..."Well, we knew it was yours the minute he said his name. You have to keep a better eye on him. He was going to cross 192 because he wanted to go to the store." ...silence. just be thankful he's okay. tears, tears, tears. FEAR! LORD?????

The police arrived after what seemed an eternity. Michael was in my car, the landscapers waited patiently. Officer Campbell walked up and asked what happened. I gave him the short version: laundry room, sibling fight, autistic response, search, found. He walked over and spoke with the landscapers. I couldn't hear their story. He came back and tried to get Michael to look him in the eye. He wouldn't. He sat balled up, rocking and smiling. Finally, the officer asked Michael why he ran. *grin* "'Cause my brother, Ben, made me mad," spoken in his baby voice that he uses when he's having trouble relating. He uses it a lot. Officer Campbell tried to communicate that he scared his mommy and everybody when he ran off, that he can't do that, do you understand? No eye contact, but a brief nod of the head. Is he getting that this is the level of communication with Michael all the time?? That he just has no grasp of the danger?? Please, Lord, give him insight. Please don't let our family be the one featured on the news tonight as being the unfit, unsupervisory homeschooling proof that parents shouldn't have the right to care for their own kids.


After a couple of futile attempts to drive home the seriousness of the situation, Officer Campbell asked for my identification. He ran my license, came back and verified with Michael that I was indeed his mother, handed me my license with a parting, "Michael, remember. Don't leave your house without your mommy," and went his way. No report written or filed. No reprimands to me for not watching out for my child. Thank you, Lord. He didn't ask where the offending sibling was or why he wasn't in school. He apparently understood. Thank you, Lord. You do care and involve Yourself in the daily lives of your children. Just, please, can we not do this ever again? Thanks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Do You Respond to That?

This telephone conversation took place last week but it just keeps running around in my head. So I decided to get it out. Hopefully it will have fun running around in your head, too.

Thrift Store Proprietor: "Hello?"

Customer (Me): "Hi. I was wondering if you have any of those pop-up canopies that are used for sporting events, etc.? " (Yes, I *do* call ahead rather than rummaging through thrift stores while herding cats, er, kids.)

Proprietor: "Yes, I do have one of those."

Me (excited to have finally found one): "Great! How much are you asking for it?"

Proprietor: "Oh. It isn't for sale. I use it for cover when I set up displays out in front of my store. Those things are really handy!"

So...how in the world do you respond to that?? I chose stunned silence followed by a stammered "Thanks." Click.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Another year older. So much has happened in the past year. So many changes, adjustments; so much growing up! Some of those changes were reflected beautifully in my birthday celebration.

When you think birthday gift, what do you think? Be honest. The first thing that popped into your mind was some form of "stuff", wasn't it? Well, we don't have room for more stuff. There's only so much stuff you can stuff into a 33foot RV. We've prioritized our spending to the point that we don't really have the cash to spend on more stuff, either. And, honestly, the less stuff we've had in recent months, the more free we've been, so we desire stuff less and less. Hmmm. If that's the case, what's a hubby to do to celebrate his wife's birthday? We're treading new ground here on what it means to give a gift to someone. And, oh man, if he did this well the first time around, I can't wait to see what the future brings!!

So...what was my hubby's birthday gift to me? You'll have to have some background on our life first. We have 2 boys that play football. It is currently football season. That means 4 nights per week of practice (5:30-7:30pm), and all day Saturday at the football field for games (one plays at 10am, the other at 3pm). This also means that, because darling hubby works mostly nights, I do the shuttling to practice and entertaining the 2 little ones during that time, feeding everyone late, doing bathing and bedtime most nights by myself. And on Fridays, this is compounded with putting together a cooler of drinks/food to make it through Saturday, a bag of toys to entertain little guys for hours on end, making sure laundry is caught up so we have changes of clothes for sweat-drenched kids to change into, gathering football equipment and making sure pads are switched from practice pants to game pants, breakfast is set out and ready at bedtime because Saturday morning is up and running around here...well, you get the point. Fridays are BUSY for me.

My birthday just happened to fall on Friday this year. And Dan was working again. The kids happened to wake up with a bee in their bonnet and it was shaping up to be a battling day. But all that gotta-do list had to get done!! By the time we had to leave for football practice, I was stressing because much of the list had gone by the wayside in favor of intervening in my kids' antics so as to keep all of them alive and my house in one piece. Dan called while we were at practice to see how things were going (sneaky man!) and got an earful of frustration. Little did I know that his gift was already in progress.

Football practice let out early, and we headed home thinking that MAYBE the list could be salvaged since it wasn't horribly late yet. I drove up to find that Dan was home already. That was strange. We opened the door to find the entire list done. No joke. The whole thing. The dog was bathed. The dishes were done. The laundry was in process. The floor (and ceiling - it's carpeted in our RV!) had been vacuumed. The toys were put away. The porch was swept. The bathroom was cleaned. And Dan was just waiting for me to get home so he could go out and do take-out for whatever my heart desired for dinner; there were chicken tenders already cooking for the kids. My sweet man had planned ahead, talked to his boss, and gotten approval to take off early so he could do this for me. What a precious gift!!!! He took the whole burden off of my shoulders. It's not just the *doing* the stuff, but also the *thinking* to be sure that everyone has everything covered for the entire next day because we won't be home at all. He did that just for me! I think I'm likin' this creative, no-stuff, gift-giving thing!! We wound up having a wonderfully relaxing evening, and a great day at football the next day with both sets of grandparents there to cheer on the kids. To steal a phrase, it was a "perfectly perfect" birthday weekend! (oh, and there were French Silk Pie *and* Publix birthday cake. YUM!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Road to Healing - Fin.

The wait is finally over. You can take those worms out of your mouth now. (Sorry - reference to a bad joke from my childhood: "waiting with bated breath". Get it? Bate = bait = worms. I know. It's bad.) Where were we? Oh, yes. The next chapter in the healing story. The one I've been avoiding like the plague. It's one thing to feel the release of living through it and quite another to be willing to share it in print. You're still only going to get a sketch with few details on this one, but much of this involved the marriage relationship, and, well, some of it is just going to remain there.

When last I wrote on this topic, I left us in a new career, a new definition of our walk with Christ, a new understanding of who we are to be as the church, a new focus on our family FIRST as our mission field, and a new seeking of the Lord in how we were to proceed in life rather than in "ministry." And I told you that's when things got tough. As if they hadn't already been a struggle. But this was different.

You see, it was like peeling the onion. I know, cliche, but it works here. All of those other things that God had stripped away, revealed, cleansed, and healed had to do with external influences. Teachers, pastors, church members, false doctrines, wounds inflicted... All of it people and things outside of ourselves. Lies that we had internalized and made our own, to be sure, but the pains and hurts were things we could address together; a united front against our enemies, if you will.

Once this was accomplished, though, we had to look each other in the face. And we realized that there were some really deep wounds we had inflicted on each other, too. Talk about a leap of faith. It's terrifying to get honest enough with your spouse that you've been pretending for and hiding from for years to say, "I'm hurt. Badly. And it's you who did it.Oh, and by the way, I'm angry about it." Shoot, it's terrifying to get honest enough with yourself to admit that's the truth. I had spent so long protecting Dan from the attacks of others and trying not to hurt him with my own criticism that it was almost impossible for me to admit, out loud anyway, that a great deal of my pain DID originate from his choice of the ministry over me and the kids. Partly because I felt complicit in that choice. Partly because I had bought into the same lies that led to that choice. Partly because I knew that if I was hurt by those lies, I must have hurt him deeply, too, and I really didn't want to hear that. But was healing worth the price? Worth the risk?

YES! O, my, a thousand times, YES!!! It took place over weeks and months, but there was a definite opening up of ourselves to one another. A growing willingness to say, "I love you, but there's something between us that I can't let stand if we're going to really do this moving forward together thing." It was excruciatingly painful at times. There were tears, arguments, struggles to learn how to communicate lovingly while detailing just what the pain was and how it had affected multiple facets of our relationship. No area was left untouched. When you're married, supposed to be ONE FLESH, and there are unaddressed wounds and masks that never come off, it poisons everything. We had to talk about parenting, finances, career decisions, dreams and hopes unfulfilled, personal affronts, rejections, disrespect, communication, false perceptions, *gulp* even the marriage bed. Both of us had to really listen. Both of us had to humble ourselves and accept responsibility and correction. Both of us had to forgive. And both of us had to let go of it - all of it - and, saddened as we were about it, we had to agree that guilt and condemnation had no place in our marriage any longer. Not toward each other and not toward ourselves.

Praise be to God, He had laid all of the groundwork for those discussions to take place in a marriage that wasn't seeking to do anything but find the truth and work forward together. We didn't WANT to cast blame. We didn't desire to hurt one another more deeply. We wanted to expose the wound, drain off the poison, and heal this thing once and for all. The gangrene ran deep. Honestly, it almost killed the marriage not so long ago. It is God's grace alone, His perfect timing, that allowed us to come to a place of honesty. Of truly beginning to KNOW one another. Of healing.

And, having experienced this level of oneness with my spouse for the first time, it leaves me in awe of Christ's statement that He and the Father are One, and he desires that we be One with Him in the same way. The bring-you-to-tears, speechless, staggeringly indescribable oneness that can exist when a marriage is healed and becomes what it was designed to be is a mere REFLECTION of what the oneness with our God is to be. Can you even wrap around that? Me neither. But I am so thankful to be in a place to really explore what it means. Together with a spouse I love. And trust *fully*. And am excited to know - and be known by - more and more as we journey together.

Now, all of that said, does healing in this area mean that we now have a blissfully happy, no problems marriage? Nope. But we address the problems as they come. We can know for sure that whatever needs to be said will be heard. And that any rebuke/correction we offer one another will be given in love and accepted in love. And that we really are there to uphold one another and offer partnership and strength in the other's weakness. It, like so many other things, is still a work in progress. I suspect it will be until we die. But we're on firm footing again. Rooted in Love, founded in Christ, and learning to walk in truth. It's a good place to be.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Yet Another Aside...

Okay, so I must be avoiding writing the next chapter of the healing story...


I'll admit to that being somewhat true. I'm going to have to self-edit a *lot* to keep things from being too personal and too lengthy. But, really, I'm finding so many things going along with what I've learned through the healing process and I'm so excited to have affirmation of these things that I'm anxious to share them with y'all.


So, what am I anxious to share today? I came across a real, live, positive news story today in our local paper, The Orlando Sentinel. Yep, they do still write those things occasionally! And it ties in beautifully with the starting point of this humble little blog. Do you remember? It was all about focusing on the "whatsoever things"; those things which are lovely, beautiful, right, true, of good repute, excellent...the "good stuff." The realistic, practical, somewhat-cynical, tell-things-like-they-are side of me never likes to candy-coat things so I have always tended to balk at overly deliberate positive thinking. And yet, I have discovered in scripture that God Himself seems to be pretty positive about what He thinks of us. We are, after all, His handiwork; more than that, we're His chosen children. We are the clay that He has worked into the masterpiece that He sees as already finished. Shoot, He sees us already perfected and seated in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. That's some pretty positive thinking!!!

But what do we hear/feed ourselves daily? Comparison. Judgement. Insecurity. We listen to the whispered lies of the enemy who accuses us daily of being NOT fearfully and wonderfully made; or at least of having totally botched living up to what we were originally made to be. We begin to actively commisserate with the enemy in self-condemnation - weight, hair, teeth, eye color, accomplishments, education, living arrangements, parenting ability, coping ability, having-it-all-together, self-control, habits, past choices, personal style, areas of talent - all of who we are is up for grabs to be compared, contrasted, and condemned. This seems completely out of line with who we are to be as His daughters. We are called to encourage and edify the saints, to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to let no unwholesome word proceed from out of our mouth - that includes in conversation with ourselves!! Why do we participate in the downfall of our own selves?

In the interest of beginning to speak in a Godly, positive, truthful manner to one another (and ourselves) may I recommend that you check out http://www.operationbeautiful.com/? While the precious lady who unintentionally began this simple grassroots movement here in the Orlando area may or may not be a follower of Christ, I venture to say that she is doing more for helping the saints (and those who have yet to choose Christ but whom He loves dearly) to see themselves as their adoptive Daddy sees them than many of the harsh, gossiping, judgemental, sharp tongues in church circles have done in many years. Maybe this is a case of allowing the "profane things of the world to confound the wise" and humbly accept the instruction in truth that is offered here? I will admit that some of the things that are posted do not line up with a Biblical view of ourselves ("You are enough" being the most blatant) but the principle is one that lends itself to consideration and adaptation to Scripture. Let me know what you think...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

**Aside** Knights and Ladies (back to the healing story soon)

Recently my hubby and I went shopping for clothes together. It's been a LONG time since I got new things and I've lost 20 lbs and several inches in the last months (hooray for a more active lifestyle!!). One of his faves is a simple, straightline sundress with a pretty floral print. Today was the first time I'd worn it. He enjoyed seeing me in it this morning, left for work, and the kids and I ran out for some errands.

The following conversation ensued after I ran into the front office of our RV complex, leaving the oldest in charge of the littles outside:

Me: Okay, y'all, onward to the next stop.
5-yr-old son: Mommy, did any of the boys in there kiss you because you look so beautiful?
Me (trying hard not to laugh): No, sweetheart. Nobody kissed me.
5-yr-old: I think some of the boys wanted to kiss you. Did they?
Me: No, honey. Mommy won't let anybody but Daddy kiss me.
5-yr-old: Good. 'Cuz if they did, I'd punch 'em. Then I'd tie them up and step on them.
7-yr-old: Yeah. We'd all get 'em. Like Indiana Jones! I'd get the whip and...
3-yr-old *girl*: NOBODY gets to kiss you but Daddy and us and Grammy and PopPop and Grandma and Grandpa...and Blackie (that's our dog)...
13-yr-old: {rolling eyes and shaking head whole time}

So, I guess that's a vote for "Mom looks good in the sundress"! Who'd'a'thunk a compliment from a Kindergartener could mean so much?? Left me smiling all day. As did the knowledge that I have a whole band of gallant knights (and one feisty princess) ready to come to my rescue if anyone ever dares to impugne my honor! lol

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Road to Healing, Part III

So what now?...


What indeed. Have you ever read Pilgrim's Progress? or Hinds' Feet on High Places? Did you notice that each of the main characters, while on their journey, seemed to be feeling their way along? There were helpers that came and went along the way, there were short-term instructions, there were times that they *knew* they were on the path but couldn't really honestly say they could even see which way they were going and certainly couldn't make sense of WHY their path led this way. (when Pilgrim endured the valley and when the called-out one had Sorrow and Pain for travelling companions) Yet, in neither case, did they ever see the whole way that lay ahead of them. Yeah, it's been a lot like that.

And I've come away with a new perspective on the "Thy Word is a lamp unto my *feet*..." verse. Have you ever noticed what a tiny piece of real estate your feet actually occupy?? I know that the rest of the verse goes on to say " a light unto my path" as well, but the two are together and I wonder if my experience is common: the part of the path that is lit is enough to see the next step. No more, no less. In a way, I've become very thankful for this. I used to see it as a frustration; not knowing the whole game plan has always been a struggle for me. More and more, I see it as God's provision for my safety. He knows I'd try to tamper with the plan; try to come up with a better one. Plus, I *have* to learn to trust Him this way. I either stand still, stamp my little lit up feet (laughing as mental pictures of Tinkerbelle dance in my head...) and demand to see what I want to see, what I understand, until I have all my darkness dispelled, or...I choose to walk in the light that He provides, trusting His goodness and His plan although I have no idea what it is, and actually make some progress towards somewhere.

All that in a long-winded attempt to say: what was next was - and continues to be - a long stretch of trial-and-error, pain, hard climbing, straining to see and hear His voice, a good bit of stamping my feet and throwing a fit, and learning to sacrifice on the altar those things that needed to be left aside in order for me to move forward in what little light I had. And, believe me, when everything you've been doing is called into question, there's a precious small circle of light in which you have confidence.

I was at one of those "square one" points. I knew I couldn't continue to drown under these layers of masks. Those had to come off. (what in the world lay underneath? by this point, even I didn't know...) My marriage needed some serious attention. We were both so lonely and wounded and used to handling certain areas of our lives without each other's help. My kids needed to know that they were loved no matter what Mom and Dad were dealing with. And my relationship with my Savior was, well, strained to say the least. What did I believe? *Did* I believe?
(*gasp* yes, the minister's wife said that. In fact, there was a point at which she stood in the hallway, at the end of her rope, after days of emotional grappling, financial hits, kids disobeying, no sleep for days, and the last straw of a child waking up in the night throwing up *all night* due to the distress caused by how he'd been treated at a new church when she was trying so hard to try again at this trusting-church-people thing and *screamed* at God what a sadistic, cruel, sick sense of humor He had. Praise Him, He's big enough to handle that. And He knew that she didn't really believe that about Him, but *she* needed to hear it before she realized that she didn't really believe it. See...it's all about relationship; do you sometimes need to say things out loud to your spouse before you can dismiss them? And in those times, do you find that the intimacy is sweeter in every area precisely because you could be that gut-level, raw-and-out-there honest with them? Yeah, the Biblical picture of our relationship with Christ is as his *bride*. Just a point that's hit home a lot lately.)

God is so good. He knew that none of this work could be done while I was still trying to keep my mask in place for *anyone*. So, he moved us out of any semblance of a titled ministry position. That had also been a point of growth for Dan and I. We realized, long before we got totally honest about other things, that we could not be the people God had called us to be, do the type of ministry to which we were called (which entails being where hurting people actually are, not demanding that they come to us), as long as we also lived under the responsibilities, expectations, and, yes, power structure and organizational model that comes from holding a church staff position. He led us out of that through a series of steps. Again, just enough light at a time for a baby step in the direction He wanted us to go. First, it was out of a full-time staff position into a non-profit, unpaid youth evangelist position that required a side-job at Disney to pay the bills. Then, it was the non-profit plus a part-time staff position (which, we later learned, was as much to ease that pastor's decision to retire as much as it was provision for our growth - we needed to know *for sure* that we needed to stay off staff; isn't God amazing?!). Next, it was a move to Dan's folks' house (no more funds for rent on this kind of sporadic income...), another job search that wound up back at Disney (*one day* before Dan lost his eligibility to be re-hired without going through all the training again...how God is that?? Oh, and his rehire date was April Fool's Day - read into that what you will; it give us a laugh now, though) and in a job where Dan didn't have to be gone late hours and had guaranteed days off. Can you say step one in learning to put our very own family back on the priority list of mission fields?

During this time,we realized that between sharing a house with in-laws and commuting several hours a day, this was *not* good for our family. Since the good of our own little mission field was now an important focus, that led to the step of seeking living arrangements that would be close to Disney and still fit our seriously slim budget. God gave us an opportunity to house-sit for my parents for a month, giving us the privacy to research some options and come to some decisions without *ahem* "input." We quickly found that neither purchasing nor renting a house were possibilities, apartments required too high a security deposit and were rare in a size that would accomodate us...then, we drove by an RV lot one day. You know it's God when *both* of you get excited about the possibility of cramming a family of 6 into an RV. We found one that fit our bedding requirements *and* fell into a price range that was below what we knew we would receive on our income tax return. We were able to pay cash for our "new home" as well as the lot rent for 6 months. The experiment began...we moved to Kissimmee in our 1982 Holiday Rambler Imperial, 33ft, Class A, dream-home-on-wheels. *grin*

Then, it was a series of trying-to-find-a-church-family-where-we-can-be-part-of-the-body-without-being-pressured-to-run-the-programs...not sure that place exists. It's an area we're still grappling with. We now vehemently disagree that the way we live our faith is by maintaining programs that take place in a given locale ; by being, if you will, "Professional Christians". Jesus, His disciples, and the early believers were fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, carpenters, tent makers... and they continued to be so even as they were "meeting from house to house" and "continuing daily together in the apostles' teaching and prayer" and "preaching the Word." They were out there, using their talents to provide financial support for their families - and their ministries - and ministering with their spiritual giftings "as they were going." I strongly suspect that a fisherman held a sphere of influence in which a doctor would be ineffective, and vice versa. God placed them vocationally in places where they would constantly have opportunity to be salt and light in dark and unsavory places. Sadly, in our experience, vocational church staffers have little opportunity to be salt and light to anyone who is "unreligious" because they're spending all their time in church offices, planning meetings, and church social events. We're hard put to find that the giftings of the spirit (pastor, teacher, etc) were ever meant to be used as vocational titles but rather as *functional* operations as the believers were meeting in one another's homes and working together in the community at large around them. Many of our definitions about "the church" and who we are to be as "followers of Christ" have undergone some modifications - sometimes radical - as we search the Scripture and compare it with how those things are played out in America's religious community. As we begin taking our relationship with our Jesus as our own rather than allowing it be dictated to us by those we deemed "more knowledgeable" than ourselves. Phooey. He said He indwells us; He said that His job was to teach us HIMSELF; He said that if we would seek Him, we'd find Him...that doesn't sound like He only reveals Himself to certain "specially gifted" followers of Him.

So, when we were ( or rather, when HE was) ready to tackle some of the more personal growth points, we were already established in a "secular" job (really don't believe in that label anymore, either; as a living, breathing, walking, talking dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, *any* job is an extension of my spiritual life, but you understand my meaning), living in a place of our own, had stopped attempting to define our walk with Christ by church attendance/leadership and had begun to seek the Lord for ourselves rather than for where He would lead a church program through us.

That's when things got tough...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Road to Healing, Part II

What's a girl to do? Short answer: NOT what I did.

What did I do? I listened to teaching because it was coming from people of note, people of great education. But I failed to double-check it for myself. These were folks that had thriving ministries, were holders of high offices, had endured much in the ministry to which I believed we were called. So I soaked in every bit of advice, every stricture on my personality, every social lesson in "how to support your man by being the kind of wife every church wants to see in it's staff." And I didn't realize the chains that were growing tighter and tighter. I didn't see the lie I was buying. Because I trusted too much in people and not enough in the Holy Spirit that says that he will teach *me*. That if *I* seek Him in His Word, He will reveal Himself directly to *me.* Not once did I question that what I was soaking in was truth. And I was busily squashing down my inherent penchant for debate, practicing keeping my mouth shut in *every* situation rather than using discernment and prayer, increasingly relinquishing my status as full partner in my marriage and becoming the "submissive wife."
(Does this strike anyone else as disturbingly similar to the "grooming", the learning to hide their true selves, that our political figures go through to make themselves and their message more palatable to a constituency? Hmmmm...just a side thought there.)

Where did it get me? Or better yet, where did it get my husband who was counting on me? Well, it left him alone, too. He saw who I was becoming, that I was adhering to the "rules of staffdom" and assumed that I wanted the kind of pastor-husband who would be all of those stereotypical things, too. You know, the guy who gets up at 3am to do Bible study, who holds lengthy theological teaching sessions with his wife to instruct her in godliness, who gathers the kids around after dinner for solemn prayer and edification. He tried. Bless his heart, I was just like Eve handing the fruit of the tree to Adam. And he loves me so much that he ate the fruit, too. He desired to be what he perceived I wanted and expected of him. Just as much as I desired to be the kind of wife that I believed he needed on his arm to uphold him and bring him "honor in the gates."

The problem? We gave up who we were. He *isn't* that guy. He's the guy who reads Scripture, meditates on it, and is so full of vision, so discerning of the Spirit that he finds application all throughout the day. It pops up in the most mundane conversations (and sometimes in some of the most intimate ones, too). He reads when he finds time to, prays without ceasing, and seeks to honor God with his WHOLE day, not some rigidly prescribed time period of it that becomes less relationship and more obligation. He's hilarious, slightly irreverent, not one to stand on ceremony or tradition, speaks truth boldly irrespective of his audience (truly a gifted prophet), has the most random access mind that makes the most amazing connections between things, is highly creative, believes in doing everything with excellence, loves more than he lets on, is almost scary in how accurate his discernment always turns out to be, and has fun with life. But he was so frustrated and feeling like a failure because he wasn't "the pastor guy" that he thought I wanted. And, to be honest, being a person who enjoys a formulaic approach (tell me how to do it right, and I'll do it!), I *wasn't* satisfied that he wasn't being those things. I became more and more critical of him (even as I became more critical of myself) because I saw how he was falling short of the picture painted by those renowned men and women of faith.

Oh, and let's not leave me out. I'm not that demure wallflower person, either. You criticize my husband, the words of defensive anger have to be bit back, and even then I'm no success at hiding my thoughts in my facial expression. You try controlling my life or my kids and I rebel in a heartbeat (once heard it accurately described as "Mama Bear Syndrome"). I see injustice or untruth and I am loathe to leave it unchallenged. I am passionate, opinionated, active, intelligent, capable, organized, and willing to dirty my hands to accomplish something I believe is worthwhile. I also am an introvert who enjoys people but can't handle the intensity of being socially around them for long periods of time. I need my alone time. Part of that is because I do care so deeply about the folks around me; it's one of the reasons I *do* make a good minister's wife. But those traits didn't fit the ever-ready hostess, smiling, cheerful, Good Housekeeping picture of a pastor's wife that *other pastor's wives* painted, either. *sigh*

So, we bought the lies. We believed that how God had created us was something less than "fearfully and wonderfully." That if we were to take on this position in the church we not only needed the burden of the call and a close relationship with our Savior, but we also needed a personality overhaul. We needed to be something other than we were. Now, I'm not talking about continuing to grow in grace and increasing in the fruits of the Spirit - that's totally a Biblical concept with which I have no dispute; I'm talking about denying that the personality God gave to you was a GIFT and seeking to become a cookie cutter image created by man in order to hold some office. And, sadly, the more we were involved in church positions, the more this was reinforced by those for whom we served. That cookie cutter image is expected more often than not and when it's not met folks can be downright cruel.

What did all of this do in our marriage? Well, he was busily hiding his failings from me, I was busily hiding mine from him, he was trying to "help" me be the happy homemaker he believed I wanted to be (cutting me out of any partnership in his ministry partly to better hide himself and partly to allow me time to be at home - resulting in my feeling rejected), and I was trying to encourage him to be the superspiritual guy I thought he wanted to be (um, ladies, make sure that your hubby WANTS suggestions on how/when/where to fit in family/personal/couple devotional times before you bulldoze your way into leadership there...). We were both growing more resentful of the inability to be ourselves and the endless criticism from others as to where we were falling short (as if we didn't already know...). We both were enduring deep hurts that we couldn't admit; that would be failing to trust God. We both were growing in anger and resentment at these false rules that we couldn't escape; it was our livlihood and we *were* called by God to minister (notice that we were called to minister...not to BE A VOCATIONAL minister; we've learned that it's a vital distinction). We knew for sure that just as we really couldn't admit dissatisfaction to one another, we also couldn't seek counsel. In the staff environment, seeking marriage counselling is the same as broadcasting that you don't meet the qualification of "having your house in order" and results in loss of a job even as you're trying to salvage your marriage. So we both wandered off into our loneliness, hiding it from one another (not really, but we thought so), and kept pulling up our bootstraps each day to face the next failure.

Sounds like "life and life more abundant" to me, no?

No. So what now? You finally wake up and realize you've been buying into a horrifically destructive lie. It's not what God has for your life. How do you get out of it? When you've all but given up on thinking for yourself (there are committees who do that for you and who oppose you when you try it), and you don't know the last time you really felt the rush of the Spirit as you read the Word; when you've been angry and despondent so long that just having enough energy to feed, bathe, and clothe everyone is a good day; when you can't remember the last time you had a truly honest discussion with your spouse, how do you begin the long road back? How do you sort out the truth from the lies? How do you have confidence you'll even be able to do that?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Road to Healing (aka the Path of Pain) part I

Hmmmm...I'm finding it harder to blog these days. Not because nothing interesting is happening; more because I'm so busy actually *living* my life rather than lost in depression and reflection about *how* to live it. The last of the walls have crumbled (Praise God!!) and I'm finally free to live the life God has called me to live.


You'll recall that the beginning of this blog was an accountability thing. A tool to get me to consciously focus on the GOOD that God had brought into my life. Unexpectedly, focusing on that also brought a lot of the ugly to the surface. The more I desired to see the good, the more the hurtful was made apparent. The more I didn't want to focus on my pain, the more God nudged me to DEAL WITH IT, ALREADY! You see, I thought that hiding it, pushing it aside, denying it existed *was* dealing with it. It wasn't. It wasn't even being "spiritually mature" as I had so labeled it. God never asks us to "suck it up and press on". Press on, yes; forget what is behind us, yes. Suck it up, NO!!! Go to your brother before you present your sacrifice. Not let the sun go down on your anger. Bear one another's burdens. Cast your burdens on the Lord. Take His yoke upon you. But He never, ever, ever tells us to suck it up and handle it.

And, so, I find myself in a place of healing. A place where I am finally free to be (and rediscover) who it is that He has created me to be. A place where the direction of this blog changes of necessity. And it occurs to me that many in the church culture may be struggling, drowning, in the same "slough of despond" (yes, I love Pilgrim's Progress) in which I found myself for years. So, perhaps, for a little while, I'll share with you some of how I arrived here. Some of the missteps that happened. So that you may avoid them or at least dig out well before I did.

I've become very guarded over the last several years. Time was when I was very open with pretty well everyone. Very trusting. Naively ready to let you know the core of what I thought, what I believed, who I was. Because I really wanted you to know me. And I really wanted to know you. I was willing to debate my opinion with you because I really thought that my opinion was valid. I had confidence in my intelligence, my talents, my assessment of facts and perceptions of people.

Things happened over time that changed that. Wounds became scars. Confidence in my ability to read others and their intents became blunted. Criticism and ostracism took its toll. And my own lack of understanding why it was happening began to cause me to second-guess myself in many areas. Was I competent? Did I have anything to offer to anyone? Was I a fit wife/mom/homeschooler/minister's spouse? And if I was, why was all this mess happening in my life?

I began to create a protective cocoon around myself into which only a very few people were permitted, and then, never fully. It's a lonely place to be. It's a place where you need help but can't ask for it, knowing that if you do it will lead to more criticism for not being strong enough to do it on your own. Not spiritually mature enough to work it out with the Lord yourself. Not whatever enough to please the accuser. And if you do ask for help, you may be put in a position of negatively affecting your helper's view of another person. But you don't want to cause negativity in anyone else, either, so you paste on a smile, soldier on, and gradually lose who you are under all the layers of facade that protect you.

I lost my ability to see myself as I once had. I began to buy the lies others believed about me: about who I was, what my role was "supposed" to be, what my family "ought to" look like, what my personality/spiritual failings were. I began to live as though their expectations were reality. I stopped being who GOD said I was and began trying to be who "they" wanted me to be. I believed that "fighting back" was pointless and feared its repercussions on my husband's position and respect (which, in itself, was attacked on a regular basis). I resented the circumstances that had put me in this place, was aggravated with myself for allowing myself to be silenced and shoved aside, felt helpless to change anything about it. So I did what all good ministers' wives are taught to do (well, at least those that go to the seminary my husband attended): swallow it (it's called "submission" or "perseverence" or "a quiet spirit" - all terribly solemn and mature and taken out of Biblical context), pretend all was well so as not to affect my husband's position, and quietly fall apart in isolation and depression. But above all, DO NOT ASK FOR HELP FROM ANYONE.

Why not? Because ministers and their families aren't really a part of the body of Christ. They are somehow superspiritual and need no assistance from the rest of the body. God and God alone should be sufficient for them. After all, they've reached the pinnacle of Christianity if they're ordained, right? Their needs and frustrations and failings must not be exposed; if they are, how can the laity ever believe in the spiritual authority of their calling? In short: if you want your husband to keep his job and your family to be supported, by golly, you'd better be perfect. And it helps if you can play piano, too. And dress impeccably (but without vanity or materialism). And have beautiful, groomed, well-mannered children. And host open-houses in a spotlessly-kept domicile. And never lose your temper. And float gracefully through all the criticism leveled at your beloved and his methods. And be *pleased* and *grateful* that committees of people who never got to know you decide every aspect of your life and inform you after the fact: where you will live, what salary you will have to work with (subject to alteration without discussion), what colors may be on your walls, and whether you are spending whatever you have been graciously permitted to earn in a manner of which they approve. And attend all the "right" functions - and enjoy them all. And most importantly, cheerfully and graciously allow - nay, welcome - "churchy" needs to interrupt whatever plans you may have had for family or alone time with your husband; after all, his calling to "the church" (which, by the way, is *not* his calling, but that's another story...) is high and lofty and unassailable and takes precedence over his mere covenant with his wife and responsibility as a father...

I'm not and I don't. God just didn't use that cookie cutter on me. What's a girl to do? Short answer: NOT what I did.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Selah

What is there to say? When you've been praying and blogging and struggling...and God just up and lifts the burden? When you've been in pain and it's just...GONE? When life is so sweet you almost can't stand it? When you feel like yourself again - the long-forgotten, joyful, adventurous, smiling, laughing, play-in-the-rain-like-a-kid person you used to be...before all the bondage, hurt, anger, bitterness, expectations, betrayals, YUCK happened in your life and made you feel like you were drowning? When the doors to healing fling wide open and you literally feel the burdens of the past fall from your shoulders? When your marriage is more amazing than ever before? When your kids are truly a blessing and you don't have to squint to see how? When you're interested in exploring and growing and being creative again? What do you say?

You don't. You can't. It just is...and you bask in it. And kneel. And cry. And sing. And dance. And sit in silent wonder. And breathe. For the first time in so long...you can finally just breathe...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Put on Your Dancin' Shoes...

We had a day full of the "whatsoever things" yesterday. And it's proof that God is helping me in this area because there were some definite rough spots. Not little potholes but major construction, sections-of-the-road-missing, type of rough spots. Then I woke up this morning, checked facebook, and one of my new friends had left this gem of a quote, "I believe that no matter what the terrain, our feet can learn to dance." Sigh, smile, tears... Yes. We can choose to dance even when the road seems to be missing under our feet. Yesterday was proof.

Dan had the day off for the first time in over a week. In the mornings all week, we have been spending his before-shift time handling family business. It's been stressful. It's meant dragging kids to office buildings. It's meant rushing to get Dan to work on time after the morning stuff was finished. It's meant begging kids to be quiet so we could handle phone calls. We needed a break. In our family, that means a day at Disney. Not so much because we love it that much but because we can spend a whole day there letting the kids run and nobody cares how wild they are. Oh, yeah, and the fact that it's free helps.

So, up we get in the morning, feed everyone, get everyone dressed, check email...
Bump in the road #1 - an email is there telling me that my Grandmother, who lives in Massachusetts has gone in for surgery and that it didn't go well. They lost her on the table, brought her back, and moved her to ICU with the surgical wound still open and in an induced coma. Quick phone calls to my parents (who are, by the way, on vacation with my other grandparents in North Carolina) to see what's going on, if this is affecting their vacation. Nobody's sure yet...wait and see...

Okay, that gets taken care of. Niggling in the back of the mind but there's nothing I can do at this point, so on we go with our day. Pile everyone in the car and off we go.

We hit Hollywood Studios first. Our 5-year-old loves the stunt car show there, so we went there first. GREAT show, everyone was happy, and on we went to the Jedi Training Academy. Great again. Star Tours ride - awesome. Lunchtime: Dan gets in line, I take the kids to get a seat.
Bump #2: They begin to bicker, they hit each other across the table, it gets loud. I ask them to stop. Please. Nicely. Not-so-nicely. Downright angrily. They don't. My phone beeps that I have a message. It's from my dad. I can't take it right now. My kids are out of control.

Dan arrives with the food and magically (this is Disney, after all) the kids turn their attention to eating rather than fighting. This means that I can inhale my meal, ditch the kids with Dan, and go call my dad back.
Bump #3: In the middle of a Disney day with my family, I learn that my Grandmother (we call her Aunt Millie because she's Grampa's 2nd wife and was 'too young to be a Grandma' when they married...she's a trip...) has passed away. She went in for routine surgery to clear a blockage in her intestine and never woke up again. While my parents are on vacation. This is especially hard because we lost my Grampa in December - again while my parents were on their first-ever vacation to Germany to see my brother. Dad feels like vacation is jinxed. Which is bad because he just retired in February, and he and mom have a LOT of vacation planned. Tears in the middle of Disney feel very out of place.

Okay, off the phone, have to return to the table. Dan knows what has happened from my face. Without even speaking, we agree to hold off on telling the kids. I'd lose it if I tried to speak, anyway. We finish lunch, then head toward the boat that will take us to Epcot.

Once we arrive at Epcot, we decide to see if Soarin' is too long a wait and if everyone is tall enough yet to do it. Yes. We can all ride and the wait is only about 45 minutes. We get in line. Then our Asperger's baby begins to anticipate and get fearful. This could get *really* bad. He's covering his ears and beginning to whimper. Dan snuggles him and talks calmly, he allows me to describe the ride so he knows what's going to happen in advance. Blessedly, he catches hold of the fact that one of the landscapes is a city center. He asks if there are stores. Yes. Are there any that sell Jell-O? I don't know; we'll have to look really closely as we fly over...tragedy averted. He relaxed; we had a great ride.

After that little triumph, the 6-year-old had a bird poop on his foot. While I took him to get cleaned up, Dan kept the others on the walkway. The 5-year-old asked if Daddy had a little money in his wallet to buy ice cream. He can't have ice cream. Dairy and him is a bad combination. A nice grandfather-type overheard the question and asked if my little guy wanted ice cream. After ducking behind Daddy, he quietly answered that he would like ice cream. At which the well-meaning grandpa type handed him $5 and told him to go get ice cream.
Bump #4: We have 4 kids. Five dollars won't buy 4 kids ice cream at Disney, and the one that had the cash can't *have* ice cream.

After allowing the man to have the joy of being generous to our kiddo, we were left to figure out how to manage the consequences. PRAY!!! We fortunately had a little cash with us (unusual for us; we bring our own snacks) and were able to allow each child to choose a treat. And the 3 little guys allowed their choices to be narrowed to the non-dairy items and WERE HAPPY with the swirly-colored popsicle.

Onward to Test Track where we replayed the Soarin' scenario, only with much more vehement whimpering and clinging. He was calmed by going through the pre-show area which features all kinds of test equipment used in vehicle manufacture. The more he became engrossed in the mechanics, the more relaxed he became. Then it came time to board the cars.
Bump #5: Our faster-than-us 5-year-old darted THROUGH the ride car and almost out the other side. Dan got a hand on him, plopped him back in the car, and buckled him in. Have you ever watched faces on other folks as you buckle a tantrumming 5-year-old into a ride because *you* know that he just has to be encouraged past his fear? *You* know that a vital part of your role as parent to this particular child is to help him recognize safe situations and re-wire his thinking to quell the overreactive flight response? Maybe someday I'll become immune to the shaking heads and disapproving whispers. Maybe. He whimpered through the seat-belt check, then had a BLAST on the ride. Came off disappointed because "I didn't even get to drive; the car does everything for you." This morning, he woke up describing his favorite parts of it and is currently building his own test track in the living room.

We ended up the night at Spaceship Earth and actually let the kids play in the futuristic arcade at the end. We never do that.

All through this, the 13-year-old didn't get involved in the parenting or the fight; the 6-year-old went along with NOT going on the ride he asked about; the 5-year-old didn't completely break down beyond our ability to work with him; the 3-year-old WALKED THE WHOLE DAY, and while there were moments of tears, it was also a great family day. It's the first time that the whole family has been able to go on every ride all together. There has always been a problem with height restrictions or meltdowns. Not yesterday.

We found a way to dance over the terrain. It wasn't easy. It took teamwork and shoring up each other's weak spots. There was even some clinging to our partner for dear life. But our feet learned.