Posted in Faith, Mental health

The Running Shoes That Could

I found my New Balance shoes at a used clothing giveaway at church. In all my favorite colors, they caught my eye. They were nearly new – only a few pebbles in the treads, and a little tear in the mesh of the toe. On the inner soles they read, “Running”. An ambitious claim, I thought, if I were to be the one to take them. I had gotten into a routine of walking regularly, but the pain in my knees had prevented me from running very much, if at all. I used to jog in my teens and early twenties. But there had been two babies, about 25 pounds of weight gain, and over a decade of aging since then. Not to mention, arthritis runs in my family. Three out of four of my immediate family members have had joint replacements.

As I examined the shoes, however, I noticed they were in my size. I put them on, and they fit like a dream. So comfortable. Could it be? Were they a gift – maybe, from God? I had needed a pair of shoes for the treadmill. Feeling frivolous, I put them in my basket. I wouldn’t have permitted myself to buy a pair of shoes like that.

Over the next few months I continued my walks, sometimes on the treadmill, and outside, if the weather was nice. And whenever I put those shoes on, I read that word – “Running” – on the insides of the soles. It beckoned me, optimistically. Was God prompting me to try jogging again?

I attempted it, in small spurts. But the day after a jog, my knees would ache, and they would crackle when I went up and down the stairs. Sometimes, my hips would act up as well. They were especially sore as I laid in bed at night. So I would need to take a few days off from jogging or sometimes from exercise altogether, until my joints felt better. And when they did, I’d try again.

The treadmill was easier on my knees than the pavement, so I did most of my jogging there. When the weather was too beautiful to resist, I ran on the grass along the edge of the sidewalks, to soften the blows. Perhaps the other pedestrians thought I was physically distancing.

Sometimes, I felt like giving up. I wondered if I was doing more harm than good to my body. I was tired at the end of the day, and didn’t think I had the strength to go out. But the fresh air, and the feeling of overall wellness after a run, enticed me.

One day, however, a man out for a walk with his family imitated my running in a mocking way as I approached them. (I jog slowly and carefully, to lessen the impact on my legs.) I was shocked to see a grown man behave that way, and felt the way I did when I was teased back in middle school: hurt, and ashamed. He may as well have thrown me to the ground and squashed me with his foot. But then again, maybe he was right. Who did I think I was, anyway? What kind of a pointless exercise was this? I must look ridiculous. A mom out in her raggedy exercise clothes, huffing and puffing away.

But the shoes said I could do it. They were “Running” shoes, after all. That’s what they were for. And God Himself, it seemed to me, had said I could do it. He had given me the shoes. He had asked me to run. Or, at the very least, to try. So I kept going. Pounding out my anxieties and frustrations, through the bottoms of my feet. Praying about everything on my mind. Asking God to strengthen me, in body and spirit. And to empower me for whatever lay ahead in my life.

A week or two later, I was going by a house that I passed regularly, where two adolescent kids (likely a brother and sister) often hung out on their front step. Unexpectedly, I heard the girl call to me from behind.

“You go girl!” she cheered, clapping her hands. “You’re winning!”

I raised both my hands in the air and kept on going. That she was sincere, I can only hope. Whatever the case, her encouragement put a spring in my step. I thought about the power of our words, and our interactions with people. How easily can they build or destroy!

It’s been about a year since I first picked up that pair of shoes. It’s autumn again – dark and cool in the evenings when I run. The streets are quiet, and yellow light spills from the windows of houses.

Just down the street from the house with the cheering girl.

The other night, I had planned to walk rather than jog. I was too tired, I thought, to do anything more. But when the evening breeze hit me, walking wasn’t enough.

And along with the breeze, I was hit with a realization: I was no longer pushing myself to jog. I had to jog. I needed it. I craved it.

I also realized that I had lengthened my route, and was still completing it with ease. My knees and hips were doing a lot better. They hardly gave me any trouble anymore, even after jogging on two or more sequential days.

And perhaps most significantly, one change had happened so gradually and unconsciously that I almost forgot to notice.

I was running on the pavement! Without even thinking about it. And my knees felt great.

As I finished off my route with a short sprint, the way I always do, I was filled with thankfulness. For the increased strength that jogging has given me. For the progress I’ve made in a year. For something that is within my ability to change that affects my health and confidence in a positive way, in a world that has become so uncertain and threatening. That an ordinary, every day mom from nowhere in particular can still improve herself, accomplish something, and feel powerful, though the rest of life can sometimes make her feel ignored and devalued.

I sped up. But I knew I could increase my speed even more. So I quickened my pace, again. And then, I did it again. Cruising over the bike-lane markers that I use as a finish line, I thought about God, and the shoes He had given me.

You know, I’ve had some disappointments. I’ve been knocked down. Doors have closed. Sometimes I just can’t seem to find my place.

But my Father sees me. He believes in me. He spurs me on.

He said I could run.

He was right.

What makes you feel strong? Is there anything God is prompting you to do, to better yourself or your situation? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Parenting

It’s the First Day of School…and I Think I Need a Tylenol

I literally sit here with a coffee, a water, and a Tylenol after sending my 10 year-old off for his first day of school. My 5 year-old only starts on Friday, so it’s TV time for him right now. Mama needs a little breather. A bit of processing time.

I was up for several hours last night, fretting. Thankfully, I’m more worried than my kids are. They seem totally fine. I’ve micro-managed every detail within my power. What’s for breakfast, lunch, and supper, for the next week and a half? What’s the best deal, on every last marker and pencil crayon I can find? Does my older boy know the way to his new school? Has he practiced the route about twenty times? For the things I can’t control, like friendships, I’ve been on my knees praying. And both of my kids have a close friend in their class to sit beside. Even my Kindergartener, for whom I couldn’t make a classmate request. God arranged a girl he went to preschool with this last year to be in his class, sharing his locker, sitting next to him in school, and, if you can believe it, her family has even moved in next door. All of this by “fluke” – the teacher didn’t know they knew each other or were neighbors, when she made the seating and locker arrangements.

And although my 10 year-old lost a three year-long friendship last year, which devastated him, God provided another friendship for him to step right into. He’s seen this boy several times over the summer, both by arrangement and “coincidentally.” Come to think of it, we’ve bumped into his family several times over the past few years – at the town fireworks, at the grocery store, at church, at the museum’s summer festival. We chose the same 10-minute block for an appointment with the teacher yesterday. Also by happenstance. I’m not even surprised when we bump into them anymore. Well, of course they’re here too! I suppose I’m getting the point, God.

God’s done this with me in the past, and I’m grateful. Because I’m a little dense when it comes to this idea of “community.” I know I need people, but I’m a bit of a loner so it can be difficult for me to make friends. I’ve asked Him to build a loving community around my family. And He’s doing it, little by little. It began about three years ago, when my husband and I felt led to move away from a place that we had intended to stay, until we were old. As it turns out we were only there for five years. In a process that went very quickly, during the summer of 2018, we had sold and moved to a place we never intended to live.

No, it has not been perfect. But I see God’s hand in shaping our lives, and providing the things our kids need as they grow. Many times, this happens through the people around us. The volunteers at church who took care of them when they were little and still greet them by name whenever we see them. The schools and teachers, of course. A great street full of people. Friends for our boys, who knock on the door and ask them out to play. Other moms for me to talk to. Neighbors who are careful as they drive slowly by, waving at the children playing on the street. Who also greet my boys by name and even give them things – like hockey sticks; scooters; basketball hoops; baseball pants. As I write this, it sounds almost idyllic. It’s exactly the kind of life I prayed for, although it has happened so gradually that I sometimes take it for granted.

It has not happened over night. It’s taken patience, and persistence, but I’m starting to feel like we’re putting down roots. And that’s important.

In the midst of this, I may be sensing an identity crisis coming on. I’ve heard an older mom mention something of the sort, after her kids were all in school. It’s a feeling that, perhaps, many mothers experience – first, when they have children and say goodbye to portions of their former lives; their old ways of doing things. What was important before is no longer so crucial, because of the new little lives under their care. But eventually – though it seems, some days, like it will never happen – those little ones are packing their own bags, riding their own bikes to school, and spreading their very own wings. And then it’s time for the mother to begin to find herself again. But now, she has changed. It’s just not the same anymore. She can’t drift back into her old life. Her priorities have shifted. Her values have been altered. She may have lost some abilities or connections. But she has also gained new ones. And more importantly, she’s gained a perspective, that she didn’t have before.

Lord, I ask for a blessing over every mother that reads this, and over her children, as they begin a new school year – whether at home or away. Please provide everything that the kids need for a happy, healthy, and successful year. And please encourage and bless the mothers. Show them what and who they are to be this year, and give them the ability to fill those roles. Help them to also be able to take some time for themselves – to stay rested, healthy, and replenished. Thank you for our many blessings. May we never stop counting them.

What does the new school year look like for you and your kids? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health

The Vaccine Requirement

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

Titus 3:1-2 NIV

The above scriptures came up during my devotions this morning. I place them at the top of this post to help me to choose my words carefully. For only after soaking in their direction, am I able to responsibly pen the following post.

Let me sum it up for you briefly: I’m disappointed, and a little surprised. Maybe we are all tired of hearing and talking about COVID, and vaccines. But I would like to chime in as a quiet voice. A voice that does not often come through in the news.

I feel that I’m being painted as a villain, and excluded from some facets of normal life. Because I am not confident enough in the new vaccine to get the jab. I’m not alone, there are others. I am not against vaccines. My children have their routine shots. But I am taking a calculated risk. Would I rather risk potentially unknown side effects of a vaccine? Or a highly survivable virus? I would rather get the virus and allow my body to fight it off naturally.

I do my best to keep myself and my family healthy. We don’t get flu shots either. Again, it’s a calculated risk. If one of us had a chronic condition that increased our risk of not surviving a virus, I may reconsider. If it were a more deadly virus, I may reconsider.

And up until now, I’ve been free to make that choice. Flu shots were offered, and recommended, but not forced. All of that seems to be changing now.

We are told that the vaccine is safe, but the truth is that we don’t hear of adverse effects until after they have happened. Everybody is learning. What would the effect be on my body, 10 years from now? 20 years? Many scientists and medical professionals may say: No effect. There will be no effect.

But the truth is, they do not know. They did not predict the adverse effects or even deaths that have occurred in some people after getting the shot. They are smart, but they are not all-knowing. If they knew that a person would experience terrible side effects or even die in response to the vaccine, they would not have given it to them. I should hope not, anyway. But that is exactly what has happened, in some cases.

It has been a long year and a half of not being able to have regular family celebrations, or attend services and groups at my church. Of no extra-curricular activities being available to my children. I name those things because they are the most important ones to me. And now, these things are finally becoming available again. I was looking forward to having my kids mentored at church by adults other than myself; to attending a weekly women’s group that has been crucial for my mental health over the years; to getting my kids caught up on their swimming lessons. Maybe I would even find a place at church to serve. Sing in the choir, or reach out to people with additional needs. I was hoping to get a part-time job.

But last week, the Manitoba government announced that they were “expanding the benefits” of those who were fully vaccinated. Well…that’s a fine choice of words. A not-so-subtly manipulative slant. Because they are not expanding benefits for anyone. They are adding further restrictions, but only for those who don’t want the needle. In addition, they are creating divisions between people. So that those who have been vaccinated can flash their passports and be granted VIP access to things like swimming lessons. While we, presumably thoughtless, unvaccinated people remain safely outside the doors. We are not even permitted to work in many places, unless we get the vaccine.

One thing I’m grateful for, is that places of worship do not have vaccine requirements. Yet. I sure hope they don’t add that requirement but I realize it’s a possibility. I wonder what kind of disarray that would cause. Further divisions between people who used to be like family. All based on a personal choice of something so minor as a needle.

And what will I do, if that happens? I know what the leaders want. They say that these measures are intended to further encourage people to get the vaccine. Can I make this clearer? I don’t want the vaccine. I am not confident in it. No, I don’t have questions to ask you so you can put my mind at ease. You cannot answer my questions. Only time and the course of events will answer my questions.

And I have lost some of my confidence in you. You are taking things away from me that are necessary for good mental health. You are preventing me from getting a job. You are taking opportunities away from my children. You are forcing me to do something that goes against my self-protective instincts. Either vaccinate, or lose your sanity. Vaccinate, or deal with the sadness and loneliness of having your hands tied, your mouth taped shut, and your doors locked.

I will wear a mask, stay home when I’m sick, and physically distance from others. But being forced to line up for a vaccine that may not be necessary, and may even be harmful? Or else I can’t work? Something about that picture is frightening to me.

What about you? Are vaccinated and unvaccinated people being treated differently, where you live? How do you feel about the issue? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. However, abusive comments will not be tolerated on this blog.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

“Let Your Heart Smile”

It’s been a hard year. I think many of us are in a place where we could agree with that statement. For me personally, it hasn’t been a bad year, but yes, it’s been hard. The shock of when I first read those two words – “global pandemic.” The uncertainty of what this virus actually was. Would it hurt me, or my loved ones?

The adjustment to schooling my children at home. Which I welcomed, in fact…because I was afraid. And I wanted nothing more than to hide them under my wing, here at home. But eventually, that initial comfort turned into the daily frustrations of coping with my children’s boredom, and their resistance to doing the schoolwork that was important, but at times frustrating. I felt my mental health declining under the strain of their constant demands, the lack of alone time, and the sense of disorder and chaos within my home. As the school year and then the summer finally drew to a close, I welcomed the chance to send them to school and preschool again…though warily, because…how would they cope with all the new restrictions? The masks? The constant sanitizing? Being chained to a desk? Or, being prevented from something as natural and normal as interacting in close proximity to their peers?

Whatever the case, it didn’t last long. A few months later, and they were back at home again, and everything was shut down. There was nowhere we could go. Some days, I felt as if my mind was literally slipping away. I watched frontline and essential workers become celebrated heroes (and rightly so), but felt nameless and faceless at home with my kids, doing and doing and doing, without recognition, while politicians scolded us from our screens for questioning their methods. Money was thrown around to people who already had plenty. I began to worry about economics. How would our country pay off so many irresponsible expenditures? Why were wealthy people profiting even more from pandemic handouts?

Then my church split, and my heart broke. It wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but was complicated by it. I felt anger, at times, rise up within me like some unfamiliar, wild beast. I didn’t know I was capable of such. But the divisive issues that I saw everywhere brought out the worst in me, as they also did in others.

As the new year began, we kept putting our feet in front of each other, but our pace had decidedly slowed. Promises of normal gatherings and celebrations that had been dangled in front of us like carrots were pulled further and further away. I began to wonder what was more deadly – the virus itself, or the toll of trying to avoid it?

Finding myself, now, halfway (!) into the year, my province is in the midst of a ‘third wave.’ (I wonder how long they will keep numbering the waves.) The weather is gorgeous, my children are happy and healthy and laughing, the seeds are sprouting, the trees are green, and the flowers are blooming.

And yet, I seem to be stuck, in this rut of sullenness. I don’t blame COVID, necessarily. I blame habit. And I blame my own focus. My own gaze.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

I ask myself the question: Where am I looking? Am I looking only at the things that infuriate and depress me? Am I fixated on areas of lack, want, and trouble?

In the midst of this, I have heard a simple phrase, whispered gently to me beneath the mental clamour of my own complaints: Let your heart smile. Perhaps, because the Lord knows I am tired of cliché sayings such as “look at the bright side,” “be thankful,” and “practice gratitude,” He has provided an alternative wording which speaks directly to the condition of my heart – which seems to be operating from a misguided, twisted sense of duty. As if I must remain upset about the world’s problems, or as though I will change them by continuing to sulk about them. But in doing so, I am turning away from the joyful things that surround me. And in doing so, I am refusing to let my heart smile.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Luke 12:25-26 NIV

So when I look out my window and see a beautiful June day; as I watch my children run, giggling, through the sprinkler; as I see the faces of women on a video call who want to interact and pray; I have begun to allow myself to be filled with joy. There is no use fighting it. God has given reasons for my heart to smile. No, it’s not something I can muster up. It’s a gift that God is offering, that I need to stop throwing back at him. As a tree does not grimace or strain to overflow with fruit, so the fruits of God’s Spirit are not produced by my efforts.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

I thank you, Lord, for the fruit you produce in our lives, that we cannot bring forth on our own. I thank you, Lord, that we may leave all the solutions to the world’s problems up to you. I accept the peace, and joy, that you want to give to me. I will allow my heart to smile. And maybe, even my face as well.

How are you doing, and what are you smiling about today? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Work, Trade, and Purpose

In the evenings, my husband and I usually watch TV shows together. We’ve gone through “The Office” a few times; we’ve watched lots of “Star Trek”; we I watched “Anne With an E” (my husband distracted himself with his phone during this one); we’ve watched all of “This is Us”; and recently, we attempted “Grey’s Anatomy” but gave up on it when we got tired of fast-forwarding nearly entire episodes to avoid the sexual content. Anyway, the show we are watching now is “The Chosen.” You may have heard of it – it tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of surrounding characters. It preserves the biblical account, but with lots of artistic imagination about how the events may have interacted and worked themselves out. One thing I love about the show is how it reminds me that the people of the Bible were real people. They joked around; they got into trouble. Jesus camped. (For some reason, that’s something I hadn’t thought of before.) You know all that time He spent travelling, or in the wilderness? Don’t you think He would have set up a tent and made a fire?

In an episode we watched recently, Jesus is on one such “camping” excursion, when He is discovered by a group of children, who (quite expectedly) cannot keep themselves away from this fascinating, funny, kind, and wise man. As they gather around Him, chatting and listening to His words, He gets them to help with His work. He is making things out of wood – spoons, locks, toys, and who knows what – and they help with whatever menial tasks they can do. He explains to them that He has a “trade,” but He also has a job much bigger than His trade. He doesn’t really say what it is, but we now know that He became the sacrifice to pay for all sin. So that God can be reconciled to humans, so that we can be part of His family. That was His over-arching purpose.

Nonetheless, I was perplexed at how happily and busily Jesus and the children worked with their hands, while discussing all sorts of other things. It got me thinking about this idea of a “trade,” one’s “work,” and how it relates to one’s overall “purpose.” It is something that has always been of dear importance to me, since I was a child, and was one of the most troubling things about making the decision to stay home with my kids. What is my trade? What is my purpose? There was a time when I thought the answer to both of those questions was “music therapy.” Now, I usually don’t know what to think.

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Maybe, because it discusses in depth these very same issues. So I went back to re-read it this morning, and the following two verses stopped me:

“My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV

In these verses, Solomon says that all of his work – though it felt rewarding for him to do – was meaningless, and nothing was gained by it. I’m sure we have all, at some point, reached the end of a long work day and thought something similar. Perhaps this realization is even more distressing when we’re under the belief that work is the main part of life. Which is what I thought for a long time, until having children taught me the opposite. Because if my kids are not distracting me from the work I think I should be doing, they are creating all kinds of additional work that I didn’t originally want. And yet, they, and all of my time that they use up, are of immense importance. I know it in my bones.

Because although my trade may be homemaking, writing, music therapy, or teaching piano; I also have a job – a mission, if you will – that is much larger. It’s simple, because it’s the same one Jesus had; the same one we’re all supposed to have. Like Jesus, my over-arching purpose is family. My own nuclear family, and the wider family of God. To love them; to serve them; to figure out how to be (and stay) in healthy relationships with them. This must be why Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

But what of the “trade”? Is it unimportant or bad? If it were, why would Jesus have worked as a carpenter? Why would Paul have made tents?

Is this a good mantra for life?

We need our trade. Work is a basic human need, right up there alongside food, which is why I think Paul cautioned that “[t]he one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV).

In light of all of this, here are the observations that I glean about the nature of our “trade” during our lives here on earth:

  1. My trade is not the main part of my life. Without an over-arching purpose to go along with it, the work of my trade is meaningless.
  2. My trade is still important. It is a gift of God, and a privilege by His grace, to fill my basic human needs. It is also rewarding, in and of itself.
  3. My trade is enough. I doubt that, as Jesus worked as a carpenter, He beat Himself up about why He wasn’t building something larger or more important. I doubt that either He or Paul lamented having to work with their hands when they were actually gifted teachers. “All in good time,” as they say, or, more accurately – “All in God’s time.” We absolutely will fulfill our over-arching purpose in our lifetime, if only our hearts are willing. The results, however, are up to God.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for getting this whole idea of work wrong. I love that you have given me both a trade, and an over-arching purpose, and I thank you for them both. I ask that you would enable me to be both content with, and dedicated to, the things that you have given me to do. May I not become lazy or negative, in neglect of my trade. And, may I not neglect my true purpose, which is family – both mine and yours – in favor of my trade. Amen.

How do you understand the nature of work, trade, and/or purpose? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

It’s Easier to Be Angry

It has felt like my prayers are “bouncing off the ceiling,” as they say. My journal, normally filled with long, sprawling, written prayers and copied Bible verses, has only been sparsely notated – dutiful entries, sometimes only one line, containing the date and a reference to the scripture passage I read. I’ve felt lonely during my times with the Lord. The times that are normally my water…have felt kind of empty and dry.

What’s going on? The scriptures hold a key.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:25 NIV

“‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Matthew 6:12-15 NIV

I’ve lost a friend, and it feels a bit like a bad break-up. Day after day, my bitterness and anger linger. They fester, and grow. I dwell on all the negatives; the hurtful things she has said and done. Meanwhile, the good memories from before – from when I thought she was like a sister – fade and almost disappear. Eventually I convince myself that surely, I was wrong about her. Surely, our latest interactions prove who she really is. Who she really was, all along.

I know that God requires me to forgive her. I’ve asked Him to help me do this, but haven’t made much progress. There’s a song by the Dixie Chicks that could have been written about me in times like these:

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time
To go ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is
You think I should

“Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks

Truth be told, though, I don’t want to stay here. I can’t. So I asked the Lord one evening: What is holding me back? Why can I not forgive?

A perplexing thought immediately came to mind: It’s easier to hang on to the anger.

Easier? Easier than what?

Than remembering the good times.

Why?

Because you must face your grief. You must mourn what you have lost.

The tears flowed, and they flow again even as I write this. Yes, facing the hurt and loss and mourning that things may never be the same between us again, is harder than rehashing the things I am angry about. Sometimes we think that anger is strong. But in actuality, it requires more strength to turn from anger than it does to remain in it.

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

Psalm 37:8 NIV

“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV

And yet, that is what I must do. I must remember her for the laughter. The times we prayed for each other. Brought each other food. Watched and loved each other’s kids. All of that was real. Those memories can soften my heart, temper my harsh feelings, and allow me to view her in a balanced way.

In all relationships, you will eventually see both the good and the bad of a person. To be accepted in the fullness of yourself – in all of the good, and all of the bad – is an act of grace. If you have experienced this yourself, you know how great it feels. If you truly know Christ, you have experienced this grace. And He expects you to extend it to others.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

James 3:9-10 NIV

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV

At church recently, my pastor reminded us from the pulpit that our forgiveness of others is one way we show the world what Jesus is like. Is Jesus full of anger, resentment, and offense? Does He never let go of our sins? That hasn’t been my experience of Him. And as His follower, I desire to show others that He is someone they would want to get to know.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:8-12 NIV

Maybe things have permanently changed between my friend and I, and we need to go our separate ways. Maybe things will never be the same. Then again, maybe they will be someday. She’s still my sister in Christ, so perhaps when we get to Heaven, God will sit us both down (the two unruly daughters that we are), and talk us through our rivalry. Whatever the case, for the time being, I can love her from afar, and remain open to the possibility of reconciliation. It’s what I hope she will do for me.

What do you do when you experience divisions within the family of Christ? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

On Coming Home

Recently, my family and I attended church. At church. For the first time in a year. As we entered the building, there was a sign with a picture of a house on it. On the bottom it read: “Welcome Home.”

There’s nothing like a world-wide pandemic to make you miss what you’ve never really had before. Amidst all the cries of faith-filled people that I have heard, wishing to gather with their church families, my voice has been, for the most part, silent. I am not quiet out of dissension, but from a place of what I would attempt to describe as perplexed shame.

Home. Has the church ever been home to me, in all these years? To some degree, yes. But in order for a place to be truly home, one needs to move in. And in order to move in, one must unpack. All of the boxes, bags, and containers. The new, exciting things. The old, worn-out things. The mementos. The things you love. The special items, and the mundane. Some things you should have gotten rid of years ago. And yes, even the dirty laundry you wish you had washed before you got there.

By unpacking, you bring your entire self into the environment. The things that you unpack reveal who you are. The good, the bad, the ugly. A true home must be home to your fullest self.

And once you have moved in, the work begins. You clean, maintain, and fix. You organize, arrange, plan, and make the place fit and welcoming for habitation and use. This work never stops, and many hands are needed. If you want to live there, you contribute. You don’t complain about menial or lowly tasks. And you learn to work together with the people who share the space.

You get hungry, and thirsty. You all do. So you share a meal. You pray over the bread, and break it. You eat together. You digest. You have a drink to wash it down. You’re thankful. It’s too good to keep to yourselves, so you invite guests in to share. The food and drink have a never-ending supply. Often, the guests decide to move in permanently. And you welcome them.

Sometimes, you play. You get to know your family better. There are young people, old people, and people from all kinds of backgrounds and lives. You learn to appreciate them all, because this family is formed by adoption. Dad wants lots of kids. And He likes variety.

When you get tired, home is a good place to rest. Dad says, that’s what He’s there for. And for recovery, when the outside gets to be too much. His arms are always open, and He says that ours should be too.

No home is perfect, and neither is the church. Even there, the rules meant to protect us get broken. Families fight, and people get hurt. The doors get busted in, and things are stolen. But when we pray: “Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven” – I think that what we’re really asking for, is home. And the Church is the place that home begins.

So maybe it’s time to move in. To work, and eat, and play, and rest. Maybe it’s been too many years of ducking in and out of the family gatherings, sitting in the back, and taking all my stuff with me when I go. Maybe it’s time to unpack, and settle in for good. (I wonder what that would look like.)

Have you gone back to church yet? What was it like? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Parenting

Making the Home a Haven

As September 2019 approached, I remember asking God for a direction that I should focus on in the year that was to come. I got the distinct sense that I was to put my efforts into making our home more of a haven. This was going to involve household organization, cleaning, decluttering, and making sure I regularly had time and energy for things like cooking, doing dishes, and doing laundry. It was also going to involve being emotionally present for the people in my family – as simple, sometimes, as sitting quietly around the table with them after their long days at work and school, ready to listen and respond.

The message on the pot is self-explanatory. The plant, however, is plastic. 😉

At this point I had been a mother for 8 1/2 years, and with the progression of time, God had been steadily and stealthily peeling my clammy grip from education and career pursuits – one tightly wound finger at a time. However, choosing the home as my over-arching focus for the foreseeable future, was still not my natural bent.

And as the beginning of 2020 brought with it the commencement of a small music therapy contract, and a speaking opportunity scheduled for the upcoming fall, I began to wonder if I had heard wrong. Maybe, I would soon transition back to working outside the home.

Nonetheless, March 2020 happened. God had known that it would. Our lives outside the walls of home ground to a halt. Even my son’s schooling moved to the dining room table – and stayed there for the majority of the year. My inbox was inundated with cancellation messages. There would be no music therapy sessions to lead, no piano lessons to teach, and no speaking engagement in the fall.

The realization that God had been preparing me for that very moment filled me with gratitude and joy. I also came to understand that making the home a haven was not only important for my family – it was important for me. As a bit of what they call an “HSP” (highly sensitive person), my surrounding environment has a large effect on my mental state. When the chores get done, the laundry and dishes are put away, and there is a place for everything, with everything in its place, I am a much happier person. These things affect my husband and kids too, but probably not to such a large extent. After all, I am the one who spends the most time within these walls. I think that by directing me to take care of the home in advance, God was protecting my mental health at a time that would stretch it to the brink and back, time and time again.

If having kids has put a damper on my love for candles, electricity and batteries have renewed it! These little candle holders are from a past music therapy client, and they remind me of ice blocks. The wax warmer was a gift from my husband, and fills our home with wonderful scents.

Progress has been slow, and my home still isn’t perfectly put together. I don’t know if it ever will be. But I’ve made a lot of progress! Pandemic or not, home is important. Much time is spent there. So, it may as well be a place that you want to be.

Here are some of the ways I have been working on making our home a haven:

  • As I’ve alluded to in the past – decluttering. There is much more to say on this topic, so it will probably be its own post at some point. I’m very proud of the amount of things I’ve gotten rid of, and have been enjoying the results.
  • Decor. A few carefully chosen knick-knacks that bring me joy, an artificial plant or candle here and there, and beautiful pictures on the wall, give my eyes a place to rest; while the calm, blank spaces in between provide room for my imagination to wander.
  • Recruiting help. Should a stay-at-home-mom require the assistance of her family members to complete all of the household tasks? I won’t even begin to argue a stance on this highly controversial issue, but I will say that doing everything alone was really not working for me. So Saturdays have become housecleaning day, and everyone pitches in to get the bathrooms cleaned, mess put away, and floors vacuumed. Many hands make work light, and we are usually finished by 11 am. During the week, then, I am free to focus on other cleaning/organizing tasks, dishes, laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, taking care of the kids, and (if needed) my son’s remote learning.
  • Organization. Something as simple as $2 bins from the dollar store, to conceal my office supplies, which are all sorted into recycled jars inside the bins, has relieved much of the anxiety I used to feel about my haphazard desk area.

No home is perfect, and neither are the lives within its walls. I could regale you with stories of struggle and hardship, as anyone could. But a home can be a soft place to land, at the end of it all. It can cushion the inevitable fights and heartaches. It can bring rest to minds that are weary of chaos and unpredictability. I pray that my home would be a sacred space of peace and order, filled with the presence and protection of God. And I pray the same for yours.

How do you feel about your home? Let me know in the comments below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health, Parenting

Decluttering, Prayer & Fasting, and Emotional Wounds: A January Update

It’s been a long time since I just wrote about what’s been happening in my life. And honestly, I am not feeling very inspired when it comes to writing blog posts! I don’t have any big ideas to share, and the things that I would want to write about, I wonder if anyone would be interested in except myself. (Maybe I’ll end up writing about them anyway.)

A big focus for me lately has been decluttering my home. This is one of the things I may write about in a future blog post. It’s been a slow process, because I get sentimental about objects and agonize over each thing that I try to get rid of. But between selling things online, donating them, and using the trash bin once in a while I am gradually getting the house to where I want it to be. The exciting part, for me, is seeing a space that was previously cluttered with junk now open and available, and making it pretty with objects that I actually want to look at each day. My husband got me an Ikea gift card for Christmas, so I am planning to use that to buy some fake plants or a new piece of furniture as a sort of reward for getting rid of so much stuff.

My church is having its annual prayer and fasting month, a topic that I wrote about more in-depth last year. It’s been quite meaningful for me thus far, and I’ve been keeping track of insights and how the Lord is guiding me in my journal. One of my main personal prayer requests is a direction for my career in the future. But in response to all my petitions God has really pressed upon my heart the huge value of making my boys my priority right now, loving on them as much as I can while I have the chance. I get a very heavy impression that this time in their lives is pivotal in the spiritual sense and will impact their futures in countless ways. This realization has renewed my strength, focus, and dedication to be what they need in a mom. It is still difficult some days, as I often wrestle with inner struggles, fatigue, boredom, and frustration.

To expand on that last word – frustration – we have reached nearly two months here in Manitoba of being under extreme restrictions due to the pandemic. I haven’t been able to see family or friends, even during Christmas, aside from a few brief curbside visits; large portions of stores are completely blocked off so that we only buy essential items; and pretty much everything else is closed. I could go on but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I am holding out for the day that I am able to go out and buy a “non-essential” 2021 calendar! I love paper calendars, I hate using the one on my phone, and I need to keep track of meals and other events somehow. I’m running out of space on the bottom of the December 2020 page…

My messy meal plan

Moving back to prayer and fasting – another topic that has come up (somewhat unexpectedly) is relationship struggles. I feel that God has shown me I have a severe wound of rejection that hinders me from being able to connect with people the way that I desire to. This wound has come from a variety of situations throughout my life. If not for God, it would have been a fatal wound. The picture that comes to mind is of several swords in my mid-section, which is cut completely open. I’m sorry if this is a disturbing image but quite honestly, I have had great peace in this realization. God is like that. He sees not only my mistakes and sins, but the pain that lies behind them, and He desires to heal me.

And if there ever were a time to practice not taking things personally, not bearing grudges, and behaving decently despite differences of opinion – it would be now!

I know there is a very real possibility of things continuing to shift and change in 2021, both worldwide and in my personal life. This sometimes causes me to fear. However, I am encouraged by another picture that came to mind during my prayer and fasting time: an earthquake, causing fractures along fault lines that were actually all there in the first place, though we may have been unaware of them. I think this has been a time of adjusting, exposing, breaking, shaking away excess, and re-considering. I know that some not-so-nice areas of myself have been revealed lately, and shown for what they are. Now, I can fight them off through prayer with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I pray that you will stay strong in the Lord this year, and I look forward to reading the posts of all my favorite bloggers as I am able to do so in the coming months.

With warmest wishes and love,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Crying at the Rink

They came, finally. The tears. Yesterday, in a flood… releasing the overwhelm, frustration, and confusion that had consumed me for weeks. It felt good. My boys looked at me questioningly, as I puttered about with laundry and dishes, sobbing in between loads.

“I’m fine,” I told them, “just a little bit upset.” They nodded knowingly, with endearing concern in their eyes, before continuing on with their games and chatter.

This second lockdown has got me feeling like I am losing my mind. In addition, my church is experiencing conflicts that are dividing the congregation and resulting in hurt feelings on both sides. I have felt exhausted, emotional, invisible, and value-less.

And I finally told somebody.

“Some days are good,” I had typed in the email to her, “but I’ve had more bad days lately than I’d like to admit. Maybe you can pray for me.”

“Yes, I get it,” came the reply. “I would LOVE to pray for you.”

Was it her simple acknowledgment that my feelings were valid? The immediate effect of her prayers? Or the fact that I am learning to be more vocal about my concerns, whatever the outcome, as opposed to veiling them in some kind of ridiculous, prideful, even fearful – stoicism?

Whatever the case, I felt as though I had put down about seven suitcases full of bricks.

But I was still sad. Once the tears began, they didn’t want to stop.

“Are you coming skating?” My nine year old asked, his hope unhindered by my sorry state.

“I don’t think so,” I said deeply, through my stuffed up nose. My body and mind were weary. And the neighbors might see my tears.

“Ok,” he replied, and was off.

“Mo-om,” my youngest pleaded, “I want to go-oh.”

His persistence brought a smile to my lips. “Oh, alright,” I conceded, “let’s go.”

Ski pants. Boots. Gloves, coats, hats. Boy and skates in the wagon. Skate trainer in hand. Stepping onto the street, we squinted against the sun, and made our way to the rink.

A short time later, gliding over the ice, the cold air dried my tears, and freshened my lungs. A neighbor came to stand beside the rink and chat. Discretely, he held a cigarette between his fingers, not wanting my children to see. He was the one who had set up the rink for the community.

“I’ve seen you out here,” he said to my oldest. “I’ve seen your red jacket out here a lot.” Then, to me – “The last thing you want is to set something like this up, and have no one use it.”

A few minutes after he had returned to his house, a woman came by, walking her dog. “Having a nice skate?” she called. My boys engaged her conversation, in their typically nonchalant way.

“Can I pet your dog?”

“If you like dogs, you can pet her,” and she released the animal from its leash. We learned she was a therapy dog, and that her name was “Claire Bear”. The woman said she didn’t have children (other than Claire). She was on a walk to deliver a gift to a friend. She held a small gift bag in one hand. Later, I wondered if she lived alone (aside from Claire). What kind of loneliness must that be, at a time like this?

The skate was over too soon, even though I hadn’t wanted to come. “Let’s go home. I have to make supper.”

“What are you making?” (The daily, suspense-laden question.)

“Spaghetti.” Cheers, all around.

On the short walk home, I thought about our community. The rink. The Christmas lights. The people. My boys, and their unfettered positivity.

I felt better. All divisive issues aside, we need each other. The woman who prayed for me, the man who set up the rink, the woman with the sweet dog. Where do they stand on everything? Who knows. Who cares. One thing is for certain: we’re all in this together.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Mother Teresa

A simple question for today: How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.

Warm wishes,

Lisa