Failing? Still Loved.

Last night I had one of my music major nightmares, leftover from many years past. In the dream here was a big concert hall, full of people. A large stage, all lit up. A grand piano sitting empty, waiting. And my music teacher from college was standing in the wings, ushering me forward to go and perform my piece. Except I couldn’t remember what piece I was supposed to play and even when I looked at the program and saw the name, I had no memory of ever learning this piece. I was going to be made to perform and I was going to fail. 

This seems to be a theme that haunts me all the time. 

I have really been struggling with depression. All motivation seems to be gone. I do the necessary things that have to be done, but nothing extra. This weekend was really hard. I hit Saturday and just getting myself to eat some breakfast and get dressed felt like a major ordeal. I texted my husband to tell him that my ability to accomplish any tasks seemed to have left me. He suggested I take the day off and just not do anything. Which sounded great. Except it was Easter weekend and I had to get everything ready. Does everyone have an outfit to wear? Easter goodies. Easter dinner. Get the house cleaned up, family are coming. Try to get everyone’s schedules lined up. 

Just a lot to do. 

I ended up going to the store with three children in tow and I managed to get everything on the list, but the trip was really stressful. One kid wandered off and I spent ten minutes looking for him. Another kid was being impossible to please. I went through the self checkout  and then in the middle of all that had my blood sugar bottom out on me, which hasn’t happened in a long time. So I was quickly trying to finish checking out and pay so I could rip open some of the food packages that I had bought and eat something and get my blood sugar back under control. By the time I got home I felt like a failure. Bad attitude. Disorganized. The whole trip felt like a disaster. And my brain was just repeating that word over and over again. Failure. Failure. 

I’m not usually that mean to myself and so I made an effort to fight back. You know what, I went to the store. I didn’t want to go. I just wanted to sit in my chair and do nothing. But I went. And it was really hard, but I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. 

Not a failure. 

And telling myself that I’m not a failure feels like a victory in itself. Yay self-esteem! Yay positive thinking!  But I had an interesting thing happen last week that felt like it took this lesson a little deeper. 

I mentioned in my last blog that Child Services showed up to my house last week. I had done nothing wrong. The Social worker said I did nothing wrong. Case closed. She left. I was shaking, I was so upset. Self-righteous anger running through me. Praying out loud. Jesus, you know I’ve done nothing wrong. And it was true. In this scenario I was innocent. But suddenly I had a flashback of other times I’ve really blown it as a parent. My oldest kids saw me make a lot of mistakes. Not so innocent. And I felt like I heard Jesus whispering, even if you were guilty of anything and everything, I still love you the same. My love doesn’t change based on what you do. 

And that’s the lesson I am trying to grasp. Failure. Not a failure. It doesn’t matter. I am still loved. 

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone. I hope that you have had a wonderful day celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection. 

I woke up early this morning so I could lay out our traditional Easter Breakfast before the kids came downstairs. We don’t do Easter baskets, but I usually buy a little treat and some Easter candy and put it by everyone’s plates to find when they come down for breakfast. 

We had the normal whirlwind of making sure each child was dressed, had their shoes on, had brushed their hair. And then serving a special breakfast and getting everyone to the table at the same time. Finally everyone was sitting and I handed my husband the Bible so he could read the accounting of Jesus rising up from the dead. I make him read because I get all choked up every time and can’t finish. 

He is Risen. Just like he said. Death is conquered. We have been rescued. 

I looked around the table at my children while my husband read. Some of them were listening. The youngest were barely listening. If they were listening at all. Some were focused on what was being said and others looked like they were tuned out a bit. I wasn’t too worried about that. They are young. I am discovering that each year Easter means more to me than the year before. You stack that up over a lifetime and of course my kids aren’t going to react to this story the same way their 40s mom is going to react. But I find that encouraging. It makes me wonder how Easter will affect me even farther down the road. It is a wonderful thing to be in a relationship with Jesus that simply grows deeper and deeper every year. 

This past week was really rough. Children’s Services showed up on my doorstep because someone had called in a complaint about me. The social worker was apologetic. The claim was frivolous and did not merit any attention, but they had to do their job and investigate. They spoke to the child in question and found a happy child who had no complaints. They said I had done nothing wrong, apologized for having to bother me. This was all tied up with our foster child and was over and done with very quickly. Small hiccup. Except that the whole encounter left me shaking for several hours and emotionally numb for several days. Some emails and texts were exchanged with the person who initiated all this and we ended the week on peaceful terms once again. Though I’m still feeling bruised and battered by the whole thing. 

Life is hard. This feels like a cliche and I tell it to my kids all the time. And they shrug and ignore it. But it really is hard. Really Really Hard. And I don’t want to convey to them just how true that saying is because I don’t want to scare them or overwhelm them. I want them to feel hopeful and excited about the future. But it’s hard. 

And what I really need them to know is this life is downright impossible or maybe just pointless without Jesus. I cannot fathom trying to handle everything that has come my way without Jesus by my side giving me strength, peace, wisdom, safety, hope, joy. Without a future with him to look forward to, I would be bogged down with despair. He is a daily, constant presence in my life. My confidante. My best friend who understands everything I go through and knows how to correct and encourage as needed. 

Easter is the best day of the year. The day we celebrate not only Jesus coming back to life, but opening the door to bring us back to life as well. 

But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! Ephesians 2:4-5

Jesus took the punishment for all our sins and made a way for us to be with him forever. And today we celebrate that. 

My prayer is that each year this day will mean a little bit more to my children as they go farther and farther on this journey called life with Jesus by their side. And they learn for themselves about his faithfulness and great love for them. 

Happy Easter everybody! 

Sometimes Perseverance isn’t Best

Have you ever found yourself in a sticky situation where you can either just stop and start all over again, or keep pushing on and see if you can fix it? 

So today I set out to make bread. I’ve been making our bread for the past couple months. It’s cheaper, homemade bread tastes better, I’ve been in the mood to bake. Win win. 

When I bake I do a large double recipe that takes almost an entire five pound bag of flour, maybe a fourth of a cup left in the bag when I’m done. I don’t measure the flour. Just dump it in until the dough is at the right consistency. 

I was just about to start dumping flour in when I remembered that my daughter had made muffins the night before and used four cups of flour. I paused for a second. I didn’t have any other flour in the house that I knew of, but I was only four cups short. All my wet ingredients were already mixed together. I could just add some oatmeal. That should take care of it. 

I dumped in all the flour, let it mix for a while and saw that my dough wasn’t even close to forming a ball. I dumped in some quick oats, let it mix for a while. Still wasn’t forming a ball. Hmm. What should I do? I searched all the cupboards and found some potato flakes. Well, I’d seen a bread recipe that used potato flakes, why not? So I dumped them in. Walked away from my mixer a while then came back when I heard loud noises. What I came back to was dough that was way too thick and way too dry and way too heavy for my mixer to handle. Hmm. Ok. I’ll knead it by hand and add some oil and water. I dumped it on my table and made an attempt at adding a bit more water. It instantly got slimy and gross. Yuck. So then I decided to divide the dough in half and just put half back in the mixer. Do it in smaller batches!

The dough refused to get any softer or malleable. By now my mixer was starting to treat this substance with disdain.

I ended up kneading the two halves by hand and then dumped them in a bowl to rise. Now what?  Should I just throw it away or keep trying? 

Not one to give up, I stuck it in the oven, warmed it up a bit and left it to rise. 

I let it rise for four hours. It didn’t double or anything, but it did get a little puffier. I could not picture any of my family eating this. I knew, from past mistakes and experiments, that this bread was going to be very dense, very dry, and very unpopular. 

So then I got another brilliant idea. I won’t bake the bread, I’ll cook it like it’s an English muffin and fry it on a skillet. Everyone likes English muffins, right? 

Me and the five year old rolled out all the dough like I was making biscuits and used a biscuit cutter and cut out a million circles (two and half large trays worth). Then I put them back in the slightly warm oven to rise again.  I let them rise for another two hours then got out the skillet and started frying. 

And the whole time I’m thinking, why am I doing this? No one is going to eat these. 

I am now the proud owner of three large ziploc bags full of my hockey puck bread creations. As I told my husband, they’re not bad…They’re not amazing…But they’re not bad. Will any of my children eat these? I’m going to guess that one or two might try one, but that’s it. My husband will be loyal and eat one or two, assuring me that it tastes great. But he won’t go back for more. I will eat a couple out of stubbornness. (They remind me of the elven bread in Tolkien’s books). And the rest will sit there on the counter for probably a week or two until I finally give up and throw the silly things away. 

I’m sure this reveals something about my character. Not sure if I want to know what it is though.

Sometimes I’m an awesome cook. And sometimes, I’m not. And usually, when I’m not, it’s cause I was trying to fix something that went wrong.  

Lost Puppy Blog

We have lost our puppy. She went missing on Tuesday afternoon from our yard. She is actually my oldest son’s puppy and I watch her every day at our house while he is at work. Which means, I lost my son’s puppy. A case of too many people, each one thinking someone else was in charge of the puppy at that moment in time. 

I feel like I was standing there, battle-weary from all that life has been throwing at me, and then a giant warrior just ran up to me and kicked me in the stomach. And I’m still laying on the ground, gasping for breath. I wake up in the night, heart pounding, knowing something is wrong, and then I think, the puppy, we’ve got to find the puppy. And that has been the constant state of my nerves, just a frantic feeling of needing to do something to fix this and make it right.

My biggest struggle has been to keep my heart right. When bad things happen, it feels like punishment. It feels like a lack of love. It feels like maybe God isn’t good. The line from the song has been going through my head, “You’re a good, good Father, that’s who you are, that’s who you are, and I am loved by you, that’s who I am, that’s who I am…” And I admit there has been a battle in my mind. God you said in your parable, what father gives his son a snake when he asks for a fish? If human fathers know how to give good gifts, how much more so does God give good gifts?? And I sit here saying, please, we need our puppy back. And I think, surely a good Father would make this happen? 

And I am determined to not sin with my thoughts. God, you are sovereign. You know more than me. I will trust you. And I am clinging to that. I will trust God. And I am reminded that the presence or absence of this puppy does not equal “loved” or “not loved”. That question was already decided on the cross.  I believe this. But, Lord, I need this horrible feeling of desperation to go away. My heart is breaking for ourselves and for my son, and for this little puppy that we all love so much. 

We have checked with the shelter and will continue to do so. We have put her picture out on all kinds of community groups and Facebook groups. We’ve made flyers and walked around the area, leaving them in key places and talking to people who are out walking. The mailman is on the lookout. There is a homeless lady who owns a cat who I see often in the park. I gave her a flyer and she said she’d be looking. There’s a man I see every morning walking his dog all around the area. I stopped him and asked him to keep an eye out. Actually, I’ve asked several different dog walkers who I see regularly. I keep driving the area where she was last seen Tuesday night. Petco has a database for lost pets that I’ve been checking. I don’t know what else to do. 

I know several of my readers live in the same area as me, so I’m going to put a picture on here. Please keep us in your prayers. 

Paradise

I was about to start supper this evening and went to my stove and it was covered in some thick, clear, sticky stuff. I have no idea what it was or how it got there. I was kind of mumbling to myself as I got a rag and started scrubbing on it. And then, while I was scrubbing away, I suddenly thought about the moms in the Ukraine. And I thought, I bet they wish the only thing they had to do right now was clean their stove and make a meal. And I remembered again how, when we are in a stressful/dangerous/hopeless situation, all we want is normal. I just wish I could have a normal day. I wish I could just hang around with my family doing ordinary things. And once again I realize that this ordinary life that I often grumble about, is actually paradise. Living the dream. My family is around me. I have food to eat. A home to live in. A complacency that each day is going to unfold in a familiar fashion. 

I have to admit though, the last couple days my heart rate has been going up as Russia talks about raising their nuclear status. What does that even mean? When someone starts talking nuclear weapons we leave the arena of regional politics and it becomes something that affects our entire planet. And suddenly it feels like my ordinary is being threatened. 

Today my kids had Drill Day at school. They had fire drills and tornado drills and drills where they had to learn how to be silent so a shooter wouldn’t find them and kill them. And my 2nd grader calmly told me how they had to practice because they didn’t want to be shot. And in my head I was yelling NO!! Why are they telling my 2nd grader this??? THIS IS INSANE! But at the same time, I could imagine a frantic teacher trying to protect a room full of children and somehow having to convince these kids that they had to be silent. And I don’t want this to be part of our ordinary. But it is.

The last couple years our ordinary has turned upside down several times. Pandemics, riots, protests, crazy elections, more pandemic. Afghanistan. Now Ukraine. We are all feeling on edge as life just continually refuses to go back to normal. Yes, we have our daily routines that keep on going, but they keep getting shaken up. 

I’ve been reading through the Bible backwards this year (starting at the end of the Old Testament reading through the last book, then the next to last book etc, and the same for the New Testament). Cause I never seem to make it through the Bible when I start at the beginning. This means that I am smack in the middle of all the prophets in the Old Testament. I do not pretend to understand the books of the prophets. At all. But what I do understand from reading them is that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. World events do not surprise him. His faithfulness extends before, during, and after crisis. He is trustworthy in the ordinary, in the extraordinary, in the tragedies, in times of prosperity and times of great loss. 

I am beginning to feel that my life and my children’s lives might not ever have that wonderful thing called ordinary life. But what we can have is Jesus. In us, working through us, surrounding us with his peace and joy. And that is true Paradise. 

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. 

Fat Fridays: Mental Health Check In

Happy Friday everyone. 

It’s 8:45am and I’ve already had a busy morning. Made homemade muffins for the kids for breakfast. I’ve got a big batch of yeast bread started, sitting in a bowl on the mantel to rise. Walked around picking up all the winter clothing that was left on the floor yesterday after we had a small batch of snow (only happens a couple times a year for us). Lit all the candles in the house in an attempt to chase off the gloom from this cold gray morning. I’ve cleaned up several messes from my son’s puppy that we are babysitting during the day while he’s at work. And also let my cats in and out the door about 5,000 times. 

And I’ve been trying really hard to not be snappy at my kids. This is their second snow day home and in my current mood, I’ve found it challenging to have to deal with arguments, fussing, and just a bunch of energetic kids bouncing around the house. (Stop throwing playing cards at my candles, No, we are NOT playing basketball in the house, yes, we ARE going to clean your room, No, we are NOT going to do a science experiment that involves setting paper on fire.) 

I am struggling a lot with depression and irritability. I’ve been working on getting back to healthy eating, cutting out sugar and processed foods again, and my body is in shock and not happy as it is deprived of all it’s junk again. I know I’m making progress, I’m starting to crave healthy food again and I haven’t had a hard time staying away from the bad suff, but it always puts me in a bad mood when I come off sugar and junk. I have a feeling a lot of that is just physical things happening in my body. 

I’m coming off the High of the Holidays and feeling a predictable blah-ness from resuming normal life again. 

The last two years have been pretty traumatic and so I find myself facing this new year with a lot of hesitancy. What craziness is going to happen this year? 

We’ve got an upcoming court date for our foster daughter and I’m having to face a lot of inner-demons as I resolve to make my voice heard instead of staying quiet. 

I imagine everyone has a list of reasons for why their mental health is not doing so great right now. 

What am I doing about it? 

Well, I’ve been really focused on keeping my home in a constant state of tidiness and order and coziness. It is calming to me to sit in a clean room with candles lit and some pretty things to look at. I tend to be very comfortable with clutter and chaos, but lately I’ve been going the opposite direction and needing everything orderly and in its place. 

I’ve gotten back into daily Bible reading. I have a 12 month Read the BIble in Year. Each day has a date and a passage from the Old Testament, the New Testament, a Psalm and a Proverb. I have decided to start in the month of December and work my way backwards, cause that just feels more doable for me. I am finding this reading time to be a time of calm and peace. 

I am working hard on getting our whole family eating healthy again, and one of the things I’m focusing on is baking our own whole-grain bread again. I used to do this a lot, years ago, and then stopped. I find that I need to bake about every two days in order to keep up with the kids. There is something very soothing about making bread. It makes me feel grounded and connected to the earth. Weird? I don’t know. I just know that I am enjoying it and find it soothing. 

The last thing is I am trying to keep life as simple as possible. I’ve had to hit pause on keeping up with community events and concerns, what’s happening in our country, and just focus in on my home. 

And even doing all that, it’s still been a struggle. But, I’m hopeful. My body is going to adjust to the healthier diet again, we’ll get past our court date, spring will come again. Life keeps moving. We just have to take it one day at a time. 

Moving Forward

Happy New Year everyone. I hope it’s going well for you so far. 

I have been fighting a lot of stress and some depression as I’ve moved forward into January. Lots of reasons. 

First of all, let’s just acknowledge the parents/caregivers who take the lead in making Christmas and holidays happen. Kids really are oblivious to the amount of behind-the-scenes work it takes to make a holiday feel special. By the time New Years came and went, I was pretty wiped out. It was a great holiday season: cozy, fun, special. But it took a lot of energy. And after every high, there is usually a low. 

Second, we have a court date set for February concerning our foster daughter. Some things have changed and so this upcoming court date is churning up a lot of stress in my life. A lot. 

And lastly, I am finding it hard to get excited about this new year we are in. My goals have diminished down to “Let’s just survive.” Ok, that’s not exactly true. I have set some new exercise and weight loss goals, and they feel achievable. I am really focusing on getting my whole family into a healthier eating lifestyle. But aside from that, I feel like I am playing defense. Let’s just handle each challenge/catastrophe as it comes. 

Recognizing that I’m in a place of stress, I’ve been working a lot on making my home a cozy, relaxing place to be. I bought some more candles, acquired a new plant, made a new centerpiece on my dining room table. Got most of the Christmas stuff put away, but kept a couple things out like some angel figurines on my mantel. I’ve tried to make my world a little smaller. Keep my focus simply on family and housework. Try to get my mind out of the future and just be in today. (I’m not doing real well with that one, so far, but I’m trying.)

Through it all, I have felt God’s presence with me in a new way I’ve never felt before. Where my thoughts used to wander to anything and everything, I find my thoughts moving back to Jesus over and over again. It feels like grace sitting heavily on me. And while my mind has always equated grace with happy peace and rest, lack of troubles; it’s an interesting experience to be in the midst of troubles and stress and still have peace. I wouldn’t call it happy peace though. It’s more solemn. And more solid. And I am clinging hard to it and moving forward into this new year, one day at a time. 

A Family Christmas Evening

Today is our first day of Christmas break. It started early for me as I had to run my teens on an errand at 8am and then that was followed by grocery shopping with one of my daughters as my helper. Then off to two more stores to finish up my Christmas shopping. 

This afternoon we did “The Great Name Exchange” where all the kids who don’t have their own funds draw one of their siblings names out of hat and I give them $5 to go thrift store shopping and pick a small present. Every year it’s a puzzle to figure out how to get each one into the store and buy a present without the other siblings seeing what they got. But it actually went really smoothly this year. Then home to wrap the presents and make supper. 

After supper we stayed at the table and read our devotions and did our nightly advent reading. The kids wanted to watch a movie, but I vetoed and I suggested that we sing Christmas Carols instead. 

And we had a wonderful Caroling time. 

Now, you are probably imagining all my children lined up neatly around the piano, focused on singing, harmonizing, everything beautiful. 

No. 

I had one daughter who sat on the piano bench with me and sang all the verses of each song with great gusto. My teen boys started a chess game on the chess board which happens to be located on the back of my baby grand piano. They sang along on the chorus most of the time while they played their chess game. The four year old got our glockenspiel out and sat in a corner cheerfully banging away his own accompaniment. The two seven year olds would occasionally join in when they knew the song, but they were also busy throwing a marble back and forth at each other. A couple other people had hot drinks sitting on the couches and I heard their voices occasionally. Then a couple kids pulled out a puzzle on the coffee table and sang along while they pieced together the puzzle. The marble-chasing kids were running around, making noise. My oldest son popped in for a couple minutes. A couple arguments broke out. And then got resolved. My voice finally gave out and we turned on some Christmas music, including Straight No Chaser’s “The 12 Day of Christmas” which is just hilarious. (I just have to add that the fire is going in the fireplace and the tree is sparkling in the corner!)

It has been a wonderful family evening. 

People always say “Enjoy it now! They’ll grow up fast!” And it’s true. I’ve got a twenty-one year old off living her own life, my twelve and fourteen year old boys are taller than both their parents now. My youngest is about to turn five. And so, I write this down so I can enjoy this evening for years to come. A peaceful Heneise Family Christmas evening. 

I am feeling especially thankful.