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. 

What Can We Do?

This week I rolled out of bed when my alarm went off, grabbed my phone, scrolled through email, Facebook and the news (my version of a shot of caffeine for jerking myself awake). And then read that Ukraine had been invaded by Russia. I woke my husband up to tell him the news. And then sat there feeling numb. 

Now what? What does this mean for all the people in Ukraine? What does this mean for Russia? What does this mean for our country and the whole world? 

War. The ugliest word in human language. 

I have been trying to keep up with the news. I’ve been praying a lot. I’m starting to see ads pop up asking for money donations to help the coming refugees who are fleeing the war. And my cynicism pokes through. How many of these sites are legitimate? Who do I trust? Yes, I can send a little bit of money, but who do I send it to? 

I’ve seen videos of protests, people singing the Ukrainian national anthem. Most of this is taking place in Europe. Understandably. And I’m starting to see a bit of the guilt-throwing starting to happen. All you happy people sitting by, doing nothing, while others are suffering. Shame on you. 

And I wonder, what can we do? I have lost all hope that my government is interested in hearing my opinion. And I feel like I am just helplessly sitting by, waiting for the people with power to figure out what to do. 

I wish there was a checklist. This is the human response required when war breaks out in the world. 

  1. Do x
  2. Do y
  3. Do z

And then we would all know what we are supposed to be doing and we could go about doing it. But it doesn’t exist. And so we each have to figure out what we are required to do. The people in Ukraine have a totally different set of tasks they have to do as compared to people in the nieghboring countries, as compared to people in Russia, as compared to people in authority, as compared to people far away with no authority. 

And so, as with all things, we each have to figure out for ourselves, what we can do to help. And pray for those who have more power or opportunities to help. 

If I had the power to stop this war, I would. If I was close at hand and had any opportunity to help those in need, I would. As it is, I have a little money I can send to help refugees. I can pray. And I can continue to keep my eyes and ears open to see if there is anything else I can do. 

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,

Let me once know.

I sought thee in a secret cave,

And ask’d, if Peace were there,

A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:

Go seek elsewhere …

George Herbert “Peace”

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. 

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. 

And Peace on Earth

It is early in the morning. I am the only one awake. I’m sitting out in my living room, all the lights off except my Christmas Tree which is glowing softly. I had been lying in bed, wide awake, my mind fretting on a million things, so I finally decided to just get up. 

Right now I have one of the pieces from Handel’s Messiah running through my head. “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God in the Highest…….And Peace, On earth……Good will toward men, toward men, Good will toward men, toward men…” which of course comes straight from Luke 2:14. 

Thinking back, this year has been insane. We have weathered some really hard things. I think about the violence our neighborhood and schools have seen this year. I think about the crazy ups and downs we’ve had with our foster daughter. I think about the stressful medical situations we’ve gone through with different family members. Loved ones who passed away. A lot of uncertainty in our country and the news always blasting gloom and hopelessness. 

It’s been a hard year. 

1 Thessolonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

This verse talks about grieving death. But I think it is appropriate to say that we don’t grieve, in general, without hope. Whether it is over the death of a loved one, over loss, over enduring trauma, or anything else that hits us hard. We don’t grieve without hope. 

The next verses in Thessolonians 4 go on to say that Jesus died on the cross for us and he will return one day and take all of us up to be with him. And so we know that this time on earth is just a chapter. Not the final credits. The story is just beginning. We look forward to eternity with Jesus. And that is our hope. 

And this brings me back to the angels singing Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth, Good will toward men. 

It’s been a hard year. I’m sitting up early because my mind is worried about a lot of things. But, I don’t worry or grieve or live life as someone without hope. I know that I am at peace with God. Jesus made the way for me to be at peace with God. Before Jesus, all my sins made it impossible for me to come close to God at all. After Jesus, well here I am. I’ve endured a crazy year. I am looking at more craziness right now. But I have peace. I feel God’s good will toward me. I feel surrounded by his blessings and mercy. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. 

I’m not sure how to spell this out clearly enough. I could make you a giant list of things I’m worried about. Legitimate things. Legal issues we have to look into concerning our foster child. Problems with the inner city schools our children are attending. Financial worries. The normal worries of, “Are my kids going to turn out ok??” The everyday worries, “This family is eating way too much junk over the holidays, how do we get back to eating healthy again??” Nagging worries like, “It’s only ten days to Christmas and I haven’t bought any Christmas gifts yet.” So many things that try to steal our peace. And yet, I am at peace. And Jesus is the one that did that for me. 

And so I sit up early and hum to myself, “Glory to God in the Highest”, and I hand my worries back over to God, get ready for another busy day, and know that I have Peace. 

The Relief of Giving In

I am a bookworm. I have gone through many phases of favorite kinds of books. Historical fiction. Christian Romance. Mystery. Spy thrillers. World War 2. John Grisham. American frontier stories. Books about different people groups. And, probably one of my favorites, Post-Apocalypitical. 

I was thinking about this genre lately. I also enjoy post-apocalypitcal movies, but I find that I have a hard time getting through them nowadays as they mess with my emotions too much. I start the movie and get about ten minutes in and then turn it off. Nope. Can’t do it. Even though it looks wonderfully interesting. But, what I was thinking about recently was the theme of the Traitor. Every book always ends up with the Masses who are all doing one thing, and then a small group that is fighting to do something different. The Masses are always the “bad guy” and the small group are always the “heroes”. And there is almost always one person in the small group who turns traitor and joins the masses, betraying the small group in some extravagant way. 

What hit me was that when that person turned traitor there was a sense of relief and peace. A relaxing. Ah yes. I have finally stopped fighting and just accepted what the masses want me to accept. It’s so peaceful. No more fighting. No more striving. I can just live a “normal” life like everyone else in this mass of humanity. I won’t stick out. I won’t draw any attention to myself. I will be liked and accepted. Wheww. That feels so good. No more hardship. No more sacrifice. It’s the normal life for me. 

And of course, as the reader or viewer, we are appalled. How could you! You traitor! Can’t you see the masses are on a road to self-destruction?? Can’t you see the rigthness of the small group’s cause??? How could you??

And really, that’s not very fair on our part. Being in the small minority is never easy. It’s a struggle. It’s a constant battle of self-doubt. Am I really in the right? All these masses seem to think otherwise? You believe in your cause, but you don’t have much support for that cause, if any. It’s very much a solo struggle. 

Of course, all the books and movies (dare I say history as well?) prove to us that the fight is worth it. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many people agree with the masses, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. And you have to stand up for right, no matter how difficult. And, at least in the stories, right always prevails in the end. 

I think about times that I have turned traitor to my own convictions. The time I was really convicted that my kids needed less screen time and more books and imaginary play. But they were driving me crazy, and I just wanted some peace and quiet. So I turned the tv on. And it felt peaceful at first. Ah. Relief. Except later, I had kids even more addicted to screens and learning balance and self control in this area became even harder. 

There are times when I am trying to heal my body of the effects of too much sugar, fat, calories. And I determine that I will only eat certain foods that are going to help me be stronger. But someone offers me a dessert. And I could be awkward and say no thank you, and be the only one not eating it or I can just, sure, why not, just this once? Ah the relief of eating that wonderful dessert. Except later, I find I have taken ten steps backwards in achieving my health goals and it’s even harder to move forward again than it was before. 

I feel very strongly that in the days to come we are going to be more and more in a situation where you are called to go along with the masses, against your moral convictions and beliefs, and the group of people who are fighting for right is going to get smaller and smaller. Our culture is pushing more and more for Full Acceptance of the status quo or face harsher and harsher consequences. This is the time to fully examine what you believe and what you stand for. Own your beliefs. Don’t believe things because it’s what your family or culture believes. Don’t believe things because it’s what mainstream media teaches you. Don’t believe things because it’s what your favorite political party is preaching. Do your research. Do your due diligence. If we can learn anything from books/movies/history it’s that being in the majority does not automatically make you right. There is a great relief in being in the majority. But in the end, that relief leads to death. Not life. Know what you believe and then be ready to stand firm in that belief. 

Urgent Prayer Need

My parents have covid. My dad has the covid pneumonia and has been put into a Covid Unit. My mom is not as sick and is recuperating at home. 

I need to write. My emotions are hitting all four points of the compass and I think several parts of my brain have just shut down temporarily. 

Please pray for our family. 

Right now I need to be in three different places at once and the levels of priority are slight and nuanced and so there is no clear path to figure out where I should be. At this very minute in time, my oldest son is staying with his grandmother to take care of her. My father is holding steady. And so I am doing what is in front of me. Unpacking after vacation. Getting kids ready for school which starts in a week. Buying groceries, school supplies, school clothes. One foot in front of the other. Texting a million people. Talking to nurses. Checking in with everybody often. 

I’m clinging hard to Jesus. Clinging to his promises. I know my father is saved and whenever his life ends here on earth, he will be with Jesus in eternity. I know that God knows we’re not ready for that to happen yet. I know that my Mom is in God’s hands. But I hate seeing her suffer. I know that sickness is not a punishment, just part of living in this fallen world. But I also know God can heal. I know that God is good. I know that I am loved and not alone. But my adrenaline is pumping hard and I feel like it’s me versus Covid as I try to make everything better for my parents. Long to make everything better. 

I need wisdom. The doctors need wisdom. My whole family needs wisdom. And Peace. Please pray that we can keep our eyes focused on Jesus as we navigate this horrible time. 

“Ravished”

Several years ago my older kids learned a dance to a song called “Ravished” by Jesse Cline and Ashleigh Brison.  It’s from the album “Breathe Ultimate Call”. I love this song. Every time I hear it I cry. I remember watching my children worship as they performed this song and it was like a foreshadowing of heaven. Watching your children worship Jesus is the ultimate goal for parenthood. 

Now, as I interact with my adult children and other people in the same age range, fresh, just starting out into the world, I feel like this song says everything that I want them to know. 

These are the words from the Bridge: 

Bridge 1

Whеn I was broken

When I was wounded

Like a hero, You saved the day

Your love has rescued me

But now that I’m made new

I found new life in You

And I’m never going back

Oh, You have my heart

You have my heart

And I found it all in You

And I’m sitting here crying because I want everyone to know this. Jesus is the answer. That’s it. There is no other way to get through this life. There aren’t any shortcuts. There aren’t any other paths that lead in the same direction. Jesus. That’s it. Accepted on his terms. He is Lord. He is Savior. Give your life to him. Surrender completely. It’s the only way to have happiness in this life. The only way to peace. The only way to Joy. How do you make it through this crazy thing called life? Jesus. How do you survive anxiety and depression? Jesus. How do you figure out what to do with your life? Follow Jesus, he’ll show you. How do you fix the brokenness in your life? Jesus. How do you become the best version of you possible? Jesus. 

I don’t know how to convince people of this except to say, Look. Here is my life. Here is how I’m getting through. Jesus. Everything I do, He is the only way that I’m doing it. And I would never do it a different way. I have found everything I need in him. 

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

And my heart sings, “I found it all in you.” And I want everyone to have this same peace and confidence. Jesus. He is the answer. 

Unneeded Distractions

I haven’t written in a week. Which is weird for me. Not a sign of good mental health. Writing = thinking and processing. When I don’t write, it usually means I am avoiding thinking and processing. Now, some of this week was busy with seeing out-of-town family, and that was a great break. But, the past four days, I’ve kept thinking, I should sit down and write, and then I don’t. Instead my brain has been grasping for distractions. Let’s read a book. Let’s get in some extra exercise. Let’s zone out on social media. I’ve even found myself re-visiting old stories I used to play out in my head for entertainment. And I found myself faced with this question. What are you looking for? What is it that you are so desperately seeking in all these distractions? 

Good question. 

What am I looking for? 

Validation. I’m not just an invisible maid and caretaker that keeps the house running and keeps the kids alive and happy. I’m an individual whose feelings matter and who brings value to the table. 

Recognition. I want to be seen. I want to have people in my life who seek me out and find my presence to be important to them. 

Security.  I want to feel safe and cared for. To not feel like my existence and lifestyle is in any way fragile. 

Purpose. I want to feel like my daily actions have meaning. What I’m doing counts. 

Achievement. I want to feel like I am heading towards a goal and every day I am getting closer. 

Peace. I want to feel like no matter what happens, I’m good. Nothing’s going to rock my boat. 

Joy. I want each day to be a celebration of life and creation. A journey of thankfulness. 

I’m not wanting too much, am I? 

Here’s the thing. I think I have most of those things already. Perhaps not in a steady stream. But, if I look back at even just the last couple months, I can say, yes, there have been moments where I have had each of those things at different times. Sometimes all at once, sometimes just one or another. But they’ve been there. 

I think awareness is my problem. Life starts to get overwhelming and my vision gets really narrow. All I can see are the problems in front of me. The exhaustion I’m feeling. The weariness. And my eyes just sit and focus on what is wrong. This is wrong. And that is wrong. And here, let me make you a list of everything that is wrong and hard in my life right now. And all those good things, all those things on my list that I want and HAVE, they just kind of fade into the background. I forget they are there. And eventually, focusing on the bad stuff robs me of hope and energy and I just kind of melt into a useless puddle. 

So what am I going to do about it? 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

These are not simple platitudes. They are more like death-defying challenges. Can you rejoice always??? Pray continually?? GIVE THANKS IN ALL THINGS??? Not an easy path to choose. Which is why it’s a good thing we have the Holy Spirit as our helper. 

John 14:26  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.

It’s a battle. A daily battle. In Christ, we already have all that we need. There is no reason to go searching for fulfilment in empty distractions. But it’s really easy to forget. When we focus on rejoicing, praying, thankfulness; we quickly get our vision back. 

Now, I’m going to go put on some worship music and try practicing what I preach. 

The Great Summer Transition

For the first time since I started writing this blog I have been struggling, the last couple weeks, to find a time to sit down and write. Usually my days have a fairly slow rhythm and I can fit in whatever extra thing I need to do pretty easily. But since summer has started I feel like my personal treadmill suddenly sped up from easy walk to fast run. 

I’m pretty sure that any mom out there that suddenly has her kids home from school will understand. Transitioning to new schedules is not easy. Not easy on the mom, not easy on the kids. And if you have any kids with special needs, that transition is even harder. Routine is a strong glue that holds a lot of people together. Usually I am a little more prepared, but for whatever reason, this summer I’ve been floundering a bit. 

I went out and bought a big dry-erase calendar board that has a “notes” section on the side. Then I realized that wasn’t enough space to get everything written down, so I went and bought another smaller dry-erase board and put it underneath that one. Now, I think I need at least ONE more dry-erase board to really have EVERYTHING written down. (Because writing everything down on a dry-erase board will somehow make everything better!)

This summer I have different children leaving for different camps almost every single week. It’s unnerving. When you have a lot of kids there’s always a bit of an inner panic that you’re going to forget someone somewhere and now the routine is all shaken up and I have to count kids up differently. We’re missing someone!! Oh, right, they’re at camp. And that one is at summer school, and that one is at work, and that one is playing at the neighbors…you can see how it gets a bit unnerving. Like, could everyone just sit still so I know where you are.

I”ve had other unnerving things happen too. Like I had to get a root canal yesterday. Very unnerving. I hate pain. I hate dental pain. I really dislike dental work. 

I’m going on a women’s retreat this weekend. I’ll be gone from the family. That is very unnerving. Not that I can’t be alone without my family. Not that I won’t greatly enjoy being alone for a couple days. But it’s different. It’s not normal, and I have a hard time relaxing into “not normal” things. 

So, here I am, flying along on this fast-paced “new” schedule that hasn’t become a comfortable routine yet. My kids are all off in different directions. I’m doing something different this weekend. The end result is that I’m battling with some anxiety and panic. And in the middle of all this chaos, God has been downloading his goodness to me. And I want everything else to just hit pause so I can just soak it all in, but instead I just find myself dwelling on it in bits and pieces when a quiet moment arrives. 

My teens went to a church youth camp and when they came back, some things had shifted spiritually for some of them. And I can see a difference. And I just want to cry because really, the only important thing in my entire life is that my children follow after God, and when you see them taking ownership of that relationship and becoming independent in that area, there aren’t any words to describe your joy. 

Another thing, a friend of mine has been posting Bible devotions/research that she has been doing about Jesus as the Groom and God has been shining a spotlight on the intimacy of his relationship with me. And it makes me feel cherished and special. It’s an overwhelming answer to that lifelong question, “Do I have any worth? Am I lovable?”

So, here I am, waffling back and forth from a spiritual high to anxiety. It’s a weird place to be. Writing this down helps me get it all sorted out in my mind though. God loves me. I can be at peace knowing he’ll help me figure out this summer.