The Road to Peace and Calm

My oldest son enlisted in the army. He leaves tomorrow for basic training. Someone asked me how I felt about that. Proud. Hopeful. Scared. Worried. My list of WHAT IFS are pretty long. In the end, I have to believe that God has his hand on my son. Every once in a while though, I forget. Have a little freak out. Then take a deep breath and believe again. 

I had a birthday this week and I’ve been trying to do a little looking back at the last year. A little looking forward. Reflecting. I’m middish forties now. You know, I really had this belief that as you hit your middle years things would kind of calm down. Not pregnant and changing diapers. Not in the buying-a-home stage any more. My husband’s work and career are stable. I’m fully immersed in raising my children. We’ve been at the same church for years and years and love it. Life should be pretty smooth by now, right? 

Instead I am finding that the role of spectator to my adult children’s lives is a lot more tumultuous than I was anticipating. My husband has learned to ask me, “Do you want me to fix this or just listen?” And I find myself now, as a mom, no longer in the fix-it role for my adult kids, and just in the listen and support role. And so I stand on the sidelines and cheer and pray and try really hard not to worry. (Let me add that they are great kids, making good choices, it’s just really easy to worry.)

I will also add that taking on the role of foster mom has done nothing to make our lives peaceful. Probably the hardest part is, again, the fact that as a foster mom you don’t have a lot of control over the situation. Your job is to love and care for the child, but the child’s future is in the hands of lawyers and judges and bio-families. And you really want to fix-it: I’m going to decide what’s best and that is what we will do. But instead you are only called to support from the sidelines while others make the big decisions. 

Maybe the word I’m looking for here is Control. I think maybe I had this perception that as I got older I would have a lot more control over things. Control means no nasty surprises. It means things go the way you planned.  Calm. Smooth. 

Of course, probably not a lot of personal growth when you control everything. Looking back this past year, I can see a lot of pain. But I also see a lot of change and healing. Growth. I was put in a lot of places I didn’t want to be. As a result, I learned a lot more about forgiveness. Patience. Kindness. Grace. Self Control.

So here I am, middish forties. My son is going off to be a soldier. I have no control over this situation at all. But I’m going to learn a lot more about faith and prayer. Fostering. I can’t control the outcome, but I’m learning a lot more about how to love hurt people. Raising children. You want everything to work out perfectly for them, and it doesn’t. But you learn to trust that God loves them even more than you do and he has a plan. 

I want control because that seems like the path to peace and calm. But really, the path to peace and calm is faith in Jesus. My middle years are full of craziness, but I can also testify that my inner life is a lot more peaceful than when I was in my twenties. My faith is stronger. And I guess that’s the kind of peace and calm that I need. 

Sleeping on the Boat

I have a problem with worrying. I latch onto something. Worry it to death, until finally enough time has passed that it is no longer an issue. I take a deep breath of relief. Then I look around and pick up another problem that I can worry about. It has occurred to me that unless something changes, I will be doing this the rest of my life. I can’t relax until this problem is solved. I can’t relax until I know that this is going to be ok. I’ll feel better once I know this problem has been fixed. 

I will never run out of problems to worry about. There will always be another problem waiting patiently for me. There will never be a time when I can just sigh and say, finally, all my problems have disappeared.

Now, in my defense, some of these problems are big whoppers. Giant problems. Anyone else faced with these problems would be just as down and worried as I am. They’re not things I can just shrug off as inconsequential. They are huge. In fact, I’ve got one of those giant worries facing me right now. 

My brain works really hard to fix these things. It plays out every single scenario it can think of. What if it turns out like this? What about that? What about if this happens instead? And I guess that’s probably a form of trying to have control over the situation. If I fully understand every single nuance and variation of the problem, maybe it won’t be so scary and overwhelming? 

I woke up at 5am this morning. My brain instantly focusing onto my problem and worrying it to death. And I could feel myself panicking. And I suddenly remembered a picture my daughter painted.

She called it, sleeping on the boat with Jesus. And I was reminded again. Keep my eyes on Jesus, not the storm. He’s in control. He’s got this. Just focus on him. 

I was thinking about that more this morning and I also remembered the scene from the movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies where the bowman shoots the dragon, using his son’s shoulder as support for his arrow. His son is freaking out and he calms him by reminding him to look at his father, not the dragon or the destruction around him. Look at me. 

I was reminded again how much I and my family are loved by God. He’s got this. He’s in control. Just focus on him. The storm rages around us, but we are safe. 

I know I’ve written about worry before. I learn how to let it go. And then I forget and get right back into the habit again. So, this is my timely reminder. Again. Worry does nothing. Doesn’t fix it. Doesn’t make me feel better. And I’m never going to run out of things to worry about. So, might as well enjoy my day, choose peace. Keep my eyes focused on the only one who has the power to fix the problems that surround me. Trust him. And take a little nap on the boat.

His Terms, Not Ours

Today I’ve been thinking about living life with Jesus on his terms, not mine. I’ve been thinking about the fact that there is no flexibility or compromise when it comes to the Christian walk.

There is a common myth that all roads lead to heaven. All gods are the same god, just called different names, or a good God will take me as I am, no religious affiliation necessary. But Jesus said very differently. 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

No compromise. His terms, not ours. 

In the Lord’s prayer we are taught, by Jesus, to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

God’s will. Not ours. 

I think, as an adult, one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with is watching God not handle things the way I think they should be handled. Even after I pray and lay out to God a perfect way for dealing with a situation and what I think would be a perfect outcome, he keeps not taking my advice and doing it his way instead. Where’s the compromise??? Surely it should be done my way sometimes? But instead I have the whisper of what Jesus prayed in the garden, “Not my will but yours be done…”

Scriptures says, 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, and this is what is pleasing to him. This does not evoke pictures of two businessmen sitting at a conference table hashing out a deal. In fact, it reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents made some pronouncement that my brother and I didn’t like and we said, but This is a Democracy! We have rights! And the answer was, actually, no, this is not a democracy, it is an autocracy. 

Many different places in the Bible God is described as a potter, we his creation. Isaiah 45:9 asks, “ ‘Does the clay say to the Potter, what are you making?’ ” 

As Americans we have little experience with authority and submission. Our society is based on equality. No one is better than the next person. We all make decisions as a group. We have leaders but their job is to do the will of the people, not their own will. It is a sign of weakness to not “be your own person” who is in complete control of your own life and who makes all important decisions for yourself. And then we become Christians and we get confronted with this verse, 

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23

It doesn’t sound like a very balanced power system. It sounds like sacrifice. Submission. Servanthood. Complete Faith. Trust. 

So un-American. So medieval. So repressed. 

But maybe, instead of making this amazing sacrifice of self-autonomy and status, what we are actually doing is leaving the pretend world. The world where God doesn’t exist and we self-created out of the atmosphere and we rule our own destiny. Maybe what we are doing is getting our eyes opened to true reality. The reality that God does exist and has always existed. The reality that God created us. The reality that without him we are nothing. The reality that our destiny and our eternal existence depends completely on him and his mercy and grace. And in this very real world, God is God and we are his creation. Potter-clay. Master-servant. Father-son. And we are called to live life out on his terms, not our own. And when we do, that is when we have peace, joy, love. A life that is truly worth living. 

Daily Battles

“Are we holding on to, or are we held? Are we approaching or are we inside? Is it finished or in process?

I am talking about our position in Christ, because what we believe makes all the difference right now.” 

Sarah Howe

I read these words the other day on a friend’s Facebook. And I found myself almost arguing out loud. Yes. My brain knows that I am held, I am on the inside, the work is finished. I know this with my brain. But, my heart, it still struggles. My emotions still struggle. My sense of security still struggles. 

This morning I was dropping my son off at school. I got a text right as we pulled into the parking lot. I was concerned about answering it, so when I pulled to a stop I quickly grabbed my phone, sent a rushed response, hit send, then looked up. My son had already exited the car and was walking away, it was time to pull out of the parking lot. I forgot to say “Goodbye, I love you, Have a good day!” And I drove away feeling like a failure. Not a good enough mom. 

It also didn’t help that I started off the day with an unpleasant surprise which then made me snap at my husband and start his day off on the wrong foot. Failure. Not a good enough wife. Can’t start the day cheerfully and help everyone else start the day cheerfully. 

And then it just avalanched. Everything I did was put under the filter of Not-Good-Enough and I ended up just sitting here, feeling like a complete failure. There’s no way that God loves me. Or anyone else for that matter. Unworthy. 

It occurs to me again that life is a battle. And I am my own worst enemy. My flesh. The part of me that says, I’d rather just sit here and eat snacks than get up and exercise. The part of me that says, I’m in a bad mood so I have a right to be harsh and snappy with people. The part of me that feels affronted when I have to deal with any kind of hardship or inconvenience, and then I take that out on everyone else with complaining and acting like everyone owes me something. And then, the part of me that feels less-than, unwanted, unworthy. 

As I sit here, wallowing, I remember Paul’s exhortation, 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11

The rest of of that chapter talks about the different parts of the armor of God. I think about the belt of truth buckled around my waist. God is on his throne. Jesus came to save us. I have been chosen by God. I am loved. I think about the breastplate of righteousness. It’s not my goodness that saves me, it’s Jesus’ work on the cross. His righteousness, his goodness, covers me. I think about the helmet of salvation. I am saved! Nothing can separate me from God’s love. I pick up the sword of the spirit, read God’s word. I pick up the shield of faith, I believe what I have read. I strap on the Gospel of peace to my feet, ready to tell the world again, that my God is good, my God saves, he is Love. 

And once again, the day’s battle is won. My brain reminds my heart, my emotions: You are held. You are inside. The work is finished. Go in peace. 

I hit the refresh button on the day. And I start again. 

No Victory

I feel like I have just come out on the other side of a large battle. And I’m exhausted and frazzled, relieved. But not quite rejoicing. 

We went to court today concerning our foster daughter. After three and a half hours of waiting, the actual court appearance was short and to the point. As guardians do you support this petition or will you contest? We contest. Ok. We will set a date for a trial. Here’s the information you need to know to move forward. 

The only words I spoke were, We contest. But, man, the inner battles I had to have in order to say that. 

I had to willingly cause someone else pain by saying those words. I had to say, no, I’m not going to go along in the name of peace, I’m going to fight this. I had to go against someone else’s wishes and opinions and say, No, even though you are telling me I am wrong, I still believe my perspective is right and I will fight for that perspective. I had to willingly take an action that guarantees that I am now hated by a group of people whom I’ve always gotten along with. I had to step out in faith and say, I am not crazy, the reasons I disagree are valid and are worth fighting for. 

About six weeks of mental agony all wrapped up into a little phrase. We contest. 

And while saying those words was an inner victory for me, there is also grief. In juvenile court there are no winners. My victory means someone else’s pain. And I am helpless to alleviate that pain in any way. Families torn apart by their own dysfunction, passed on to them by the previous generation’s dysfunction…there are no victors. Just a lot of hurt people trying to figure out the best way to move forward. 

I hate it. 

And so I am in that weird place where I feel certain I did the right thing. But the right thing hurt someone else and so there is no victory. Just peace, mixed with sadness. 

Walking a Hard Road

We’ve got a meeting at the end of this week to discuss the reunification of our foster daughter with her birth family. 

There are a lot of emotions going on right now. On the one hand, this morning as we drove to school, I prayed for each of our family members and for our foster daughter’s family as well. Which we have been doing for two years. And I had the thought, Why are you surprised that prayers are being answered? Except, if I’m being honest, those prayers were more for the benefit of my foster daughter than because I had any faith. Anger and unforgiveness has kind of made me only able to make a blanket prayer, God be with them. But at the same time, I’m proud of her birth family. It’s been a long hard road and they’ve worked hard to overcome some really big obstacles. 

When I’m dealing with some big tantrums and crazy behavior, I find myself thinking, Well, at least this will no longer be my responsibility. But then sweet moments happen and I think, what is our family going to look like without this child smack in the middle always stirring things up? And I worry about my other kids’ grief that they will have to process. 

And I wonder, how on earth are we going to come up with a smooth transition that will produce the least amount of trauma? How much assistance do I offer to make this easier for my daughter? How much assistance will hinder her bonding back with her family? How do I make sure she knows, beyond all doubt, that I will always love her and I am always going to be her mom, and I’ll always be here for her if she needs me? How do I step back from primary caregiver to friend of the family? 

I don’t know. 

I have no regrets. But I hate this. 

I’m sitting here in my living room while I write this and I looked out the window and saw a bunch of birds swooping through the early morning gray sky. This verse came to mind. 

Matthew 10:29-31  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

This is what I have to cling to in faith. That Jesus loves my foster daughter even more than I do and he has his hand on her life. My job is to say yes to whatever love and care God needs me to offer this child, but I also have to let go when he says it’s time to let go. Though maybe not a complete release, just a loosening of my hold. 

I try to look forward into the future, and fear shows me all the things that could go wrong. But faith requires me to stay in the moment. Right now what am I required to do? I’m required to give her birth family another chance. And I’m required to walk with them through this process. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I know what I have to do today. 

All prayers are appreciated as we walk this road. 

Envy

 Last year my son was in 5th grade. It was a really rough year for him. His class had a lot of violence going on. Fights in the classroom. Fights in the lunchroom. Fights on the playground. I’ve had two other kids go through 5th grade at the same school and they did not have this problem. It seemed to be This Class and This School Year that was having a bad time. The only problem was, all these kids from 5th grade were going to go up to Middle School with my son the next school year and take their problems right along with them. My son was depressed and withdrawn the entire 5th grade school year and we did not see how Middle School was going to help things improve. 

So, here comes the new and improved government Child Tax Credit.  It’s unexpected money. We’ve been living without it, we can continue to live without it. We decided to use a bulk of this money to send our son to a small Christian Private School that is close to our neighborhood, but not IN the neighborhood. 

It has been a night and day difference for him. His academic standards have raised significantly and he is rising to the challenge. He is in a small classroom with kids who behave and are friendly and accept him with all his quirkiness. He has started doing sports and is well liked at the school and has become a happy kid. We are delighted that he is at this new school.

Having him at this new school has opened up a whole new can of worms though. School envy. Discontent. This longing to just pack up ALL my kids and send them to THIS school where they can be safe, happy, well-cared for and they can just thrive in a healthy environment. Apparently though, these kinds of learning environments are only for kids whose parents make a certain amount of money. You can see how it’s really easy to fall into a bad state of mind over this. 

Today I had to stop and take a moment to be thankful for our current income level. It is sufficient to clothe and feed us, give us a home to live in, cars to drive. We even squeeze in low-budget family vacations. If we made more money we probably wouldn’t live where we are. And our location has given us the opportunity to serve people around us in a meaningful way. I know that my kids have been a positive addition to the schools and classrooms that they are in. I know that not having excess money has made us a lot more ready and willing to help others who are living at even lower levels, because we understand where they are coming from. We’ve been there. 

As always, it comes back to faith. Do I have faith that God will provide what each of my children needs? This year he has provided a way for my 6th grader to be in an awesome environment where he is thriving. My 8th grader chose to homeschool and I have been very impressed at his level of self-discipline and scholarship. He’s also been given an opportunity to have an internship at our local Chilren’s Museum which is a perfect fit for his interests and abilities. Each one of my elementary kids have been put in a place where they are getting what they need and are happy. My highschoolers are thriving Despite all the challenges their school is facing. I can’t complain. 

Falling into envy is really easy when I’m not staying in the NOW. When I forget to take stock and be thankful for what I have today. When I get so focused on future worries that I forget that I have everything I need, today. When I spend my time looking at what other people have instead of realizing that, today, I have everything I need. So, here’s to casting off envy and walking forward in a spirit of thankfulness and faith. 

Fat Fridays: Progress and Setting New Goals

Happy Fat Friday, that wonderful time of the week when we ponder on all things weightloss and health. I’m sorry I missed last week. To be honest I thought about writing all day, but my brain was so dead I just couldn’t do it. We were finishing up our last days of quarantining and the stress was buildling up. The school had told me the kids could return that Friday, then on Thursday, after further consultation, they said, sorry, next Tuesday instead. And my heart faltered and I think I mostly just stared into space all day while kids careened around the house crazily and I counted down the hours before we could get back into a good routine again. 

So, kids are finally back in school and I finally got my house back in order and am feeling like I might have my life back in control again. Part of getting my life back in control this week was sorting through all the clothes in my closet. I gave away three garbage bags of clothes this week. All clothes that are now too big for me, or clothes my size that I had been saving, but now that I’m this size, I realize that these clothes simply aren’t flattering. They don’t make me happy. So they’re gone. Yay! My closet feels so much nicer now! And it’s pretty fun to get rid of clothes that are too big. 

I have to say, it was a step of faith to get rid of my summer clothes that I just wore this summer. The nagging thought of, What if you don’t lose weight between now and next summer?  You’ll wish you had these clothes! But I was firm. No. These clothes are NOT going to fit me next summer because I’m going to continue working hard and I’m going to continue to lose weight. No going backwards!! I ditched the clothes. 

I started this weight loss journey somewhere around January 20th of this year. I have now lost 50 pounds. And I had a goal to be a size 16 by my birthday and I’ve hit my goal. So, now it’s time to set some new goals. Small ones that I can reach quickly. I really want to lose another 13 pounds. I’d really love to have that off by Christmas. I’m not sure if I can do it or not, but it’s worth a try. I’d also like to plan to go on a big hike sometime soon. Work on increasing my stamina with my workouts so the hike will be fun instead of grueling. We’ll see. I think the main thing for me is looking forward, having something to hope for. I really need that. 

In the meantime, I will continue on this messy journey called life where nothing is ever perfect, things never quite match up the way you want it, and progress is a series of ups and downs. Talk to you all next week. 

Increase My Faith

We went camping as a family this last weekend. It was a lot of fun. Canoe camping. We drove into a National Park, put into a lake and then paddled over two hours before we got to a creek/small river. We took our canoes out and then had to carry our stuff up the bank, down the trail about the equivalent of a city block to our campsite. We got our tents up, a campfire going, cooked some supper. The kids were running around the woods having a lot of fun. Suddenly my daughter started crying and grabbed her chest. She ran over to me. Mom! My chest hurts! I need my inhaler! Ok. I got this. I went and got my ziploc bag full of all my emergency medicine that I always have with me on these trips. (Be prepared!) I pulled out her inhaler with her spacer, handed it to her, she went to press the button and something was wrong. The actual medicine tube had fallen out of the casing. There was no albuterol. Just the plastic casing. Crap. 

Ok. Take a deep breath. (Me, not the asthmatic kid.) I stood there, holding her in a hug while I rubbed her back. It’s ok. Let’s get you out of this woodsmoke and stop running around. We’ll find a nice quiet place to sit till you feel better. I could tell she was starting to panic. I was trying not to panic. We just stood there quietly for a while. I got a camp chair and moved it away from the smoke. Sat her down. My brain was racing. Ok. People had asthma long before inhalers came around. I took mental stock of what I had. I could pound on her back to help loosen things up? I remembered that in my medicine bag I had some essential oils. We could put some in boiling water and have her breath in the steam with a towel over her head. Ok. We can do this. I stopped and prayed out loud for her and she slowly calmed down. 

It was bedtime. The girls were all going to sleep in their own tent, but this had thrown my daughter off. She asked to sleep in my tent. Sure sweetie. Then it was a domino effect as the other girls decided that they weren’t brave enough to sleep solo if one of the sisters was missing. So then I had three extra kids in my tent. And an empty tent all set up. My husband abandoned ship and took one of the little boys and they went and shared the abandoned tent and I layed down, surrounded by little ones. 

As I lay there in the dark my heart was pounding and I found myself fighting off fear. Yes, my asthmatic child seemed to be doing better. But what if her asthma got worse? I imagined us jumping into a canoe in the middle of the night, paddling for hours, and then driving trying to find a hospital for her. My other daughter said her head was hurting and she had a runny nose. What if it was Covid? What if she suddenly got really sick in the middle of the night, and here we are, out in the middle of nowhere??

And I found myself casting out a desperate prayer, God how do I stop living in so much fear? And he answered me. I lay there and God showed me image after image in my head of how I view Him. My warped understanding of Him. My default worldview that has me thinking of God as someone distant who constantly disapproves of me. I come to him as a slave to a harsh master, crying for mercy, but not sure about getting it. And then he brought to my mind a dream that he had given me back when I was nineteen years old. In college. I didn’t even know what a prophetic dream was back then. I just knew that the dream had been different. I told my roommate, I think God was trying to tell me something in a dream. And after I told her about the dream she said, Yes! God was definitely telling you something! I wrote the dream down. But, I still remember it vividly. 

I won’t go into all the details of the dream. But it was essentially, God loving me as a groom loves his bride. And I thought how different, how much stronger my faith would be, if I could fully grasp how loved I was by God. How my prayers would seem different. Asking for help from your lover is so different from asking for help from a Master. I know that if I asked my husband for something, he would want to do it for me. Just because he loved me. And he would take pleasure in giving it to me. 

We read the story last night of Jesus with his disciples out on a boat in a storm. And the disciples were all freaked out and Jesus stops the storm with his words. And then in Mark 4: 40-41, 

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Do you still have no faith? And then they ask, Who is this? And that seems to be really key to not being afraid. Having a true understanding of who our God is and having faith that he will stay true to his character. Religion and law teach us that God is someone that we are constantly trying to appease by being good, following the rules. Relationship with God is different. It’s understanding that he First Loved Us and then he Made A Way for us to be reconciled to him because of his Great Love for us. 

I feel like I have been on a lifelong journey to move from the position of viewing God through Law to the position of viewing God through Grace. I’m not there yet. But, I feel a lot more like I know how to pray. I know better what needs to change. God, let me understand you better as a God of Love. Let me walk in a fuller understanding of your Grace. Increase my faith. 

Growing My Faith

I got good news this morning. My dad is doing a little better. Clear head. Breathing a bit deeper. Still on oxygen, still has a ways to go, but hopefully we have turned the corner! My mom is slowly gaining her strength at home also. Relief is a small word to describe how I feel. 

This has been a hard week. I feel like I’m living in a overdramatic soap opera that just never stops throwing crazy curveballs at my head. 

This week has been about living with the fear that your loved one might die. And how do you respond? How do you live? I don’t have a pat answer. I know for myself I have spent a lot of time on my face before God. And I have found it to be a place of surrender. A place of trust. God, I don’t want my father to die. Our family needs him. We aren’t ready for this. But at the same time, hands open, not grasping. You love him, you know the plans you have for him. And they are good plans. I trust your plans. 

That sounds like it was something simple. It wasn’t. It was a battle of the mind to be in that place and stay in that place. I’m exhausted. Last night I climbed into bed at seven and checked out for the rest of the evening. 

But this morning I woke up with a praise song running through my head. Hopeful. 

It makes me wonder about faith. The bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Why? (This is not going to be a doctrinal/theologically complete answer, just my thoughts.)

I think about my marriage. How important trust was at the beginning of our relationship. We both felt like we knew the essence of who the other person was. And we trusted that person. When we first got married I did not have the long history and deep knowledge of my husband that I have now. But I chose to trust him. And over our almost twenty-two years of marriage, he has proved to me that yes, he is trustworthy. I didn’t make a mistake to trust him. But at the beginning, I had no way of knowing what the future held. I just trusted him. Because I loved him. And that trust was tangible proof to him of my love for him. 

Maybe it’s the same with God? We sing songs about how much God loves us, but how do we show that we love God? Maybe by trusting him? Saying, I believe you are who the Bible says you are. And I love you. And I prove that to you by trusting you. Having faith. 

I don’t know. It’s a thought. 

I do know that going through these hard situations grows my faith. My trust deepens. And it’s not that I trust that God is going to turn everything out the way I want it. It’s that he proves over and over again that his Presence is enough. His Grace is sufficient. He is truly all that I need.