Posted in Faith, Parenting

The Beauty of Inadequacy

I jog for a lot of reasons.  For the health benefits, and the feeling of well being it gives me.  For the hope that it will tone my legs (besides doing a number on my knees), and maybe even shrink the roll of baby fat that uncomfortably spills over my waist band.  For the cool, crisp evening air; and the refreshing guzzle of lemon-tinged ice water to follow.

But perhaps, the greatest benefit is the release of my nervous energy at the end of a day.  With each steady, plodding fall of foot upon pavement, my sneakers pound the questions that I’ve grown tired of asking.  Many of them have to do with parenting.  Questions like:

How can I do right by my kids, in every situation?  Are my husband and I steering them in the proper direction?  Are we giving them what they need – always, infallibly, with no developmental area neglected?

One area that I struggle with, for whatever reason, is team sports.  I wasn’t very good at sports growing up, and always felt bad about it.  Therefore, my intention with my own kids was to involve them in it early, so they could develop the abilities I never had.  However, after one and one half seasons of enduring mini soccer alongside my first child, I realized he had little to no interest – and surely did not see sports as implicit to his sense of self-worth, as I had as a child.

On the other hand, he has always loved water and enjoys swimming lessons whenever I’m able to send him.  He also loves to be with friends – goofing off, running around, and playing games – so the kid’s club at church was a win.  I think that this is all great.  But I still worry that I’m shortchanging him, especially when I hear other parents talk about kids who are heavily involved in sports.

As I thought about these things while jogging one evening, and my angsty trudging finally gave way to exhaustion, breathlessness, and its requisite calm, I remembered the Lord. “Please,” I prayed, “let there be nothing neglected.  May there be no inadequacies in the upbringing of our kids.”

His reply came as swiftly as the words left my mind.

“But it is in the inadequacies that I do my greatest work.”

At once, my mind flashed images from my life.  A collage – not of my proudest moments, but those of failure, weakness, lack, and disadvantage.  And I knew in a moment…

My inadequacies, though disappointing, have taught me humility in the place of pride.  They have caused me to refrain from drivenness and instead, to embrace contentment.  They have helped me to develop compassion and mercy, where I would have otherwise been critical and judgmental.

Character is of great value, to Him.  And the way that we treat others.  Can we love them?  Are we even capable?

Give up the selfish ambition.  Then, maybe.  Discover a sense of worth beyond achievements and accomplishments.  Then…perhaps.

If so, that is the best possible outcome.  For myself, and for my kids.

I will close with some of the passages of scripture I could stand to read every day.  And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Philippians 2:1‭-‬4 NIV

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
James 3:13‭-‬18 NIV

Posted in Faith

Ask, Seek, Knock

I’ve been looking at my phone more than ever lately.  Times of upheaval and change call for desperate measures.  Like reading news stories, compulsively searching job ads, grasping at deals on local used items, and researching government programs.

I’m kidding, of course.  But those are precisely the things I’ve found myself doing.  I feel a course adjustment in the works but I don’t know which direction to take, or where it will lead us.  And I’m afraid.

And the words ring through my mind: “ask, seek, knock.” Ask…Google?  Seek…the guidance of website, after website, after website.  Knock on the screen of my phone.  Tink, tink, tink.

But nobody’s listening.  There’s no one there.  There are no answers, no solutions.  (I guess Google just doesn’t get me.)

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“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:10 NIV

In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus is teaching about prayer.  He describes two vignettes.  One is of a person knocking on his friend’s door late at night, asking for food to help feed an unexpected house guest.  His friend, at first, declines to help.  But because the person keeps knocking, he gives in and helps the poor guy out.

The second example is of a father with his child.  Jesus explains that even earthly fathers will normally feed their children when they are hungry.  A good father will not give his child something damaging, like a snake, or pointless, like a rock, when what the child needs is good, wholesome food.

In the past when I have read the first scenario, the message seemed to be: if you’re really annoying and keep begging God for what you want, eventually, He’ll give in.  At least, that is the impression given by the New International Version:

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
Luke 11:5‭-‬8 NIV

I do believe that persistent prayer is of value for the purposes of developing and nurturing a relationship with God, and allowing Him to shape me and my requests.  Maybe sometimes, there are even forces at play in the spiritual realm, that I need to persist in praying through.  But…really?  Does He give in out of annoyance?  Is He waiting for me to impress Him?  To beg, or show off, or ask a certain number of times?  There must be more to the picture than that.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

So let’s imagine Jesus with us.  Let’s put ourselves in that little circle of disciples, hungry for His guidance on prayer.  And let us listen to how He begins His sentence.  First, the King James version:

“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?”
Luke 11:5‭-‬6 KJV

And then, the English Standard Version:

“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?”
Luke 11:5‭-‬7 ESV

Do you see the question mark at the end of the passage, that was removed in the NIV version?  Notice, that Jesus is phrasing the scenario as a question.  He says, “Which of you?” Or in other words, who has this ever happened to?  Who has a friend like this, who wouldn’t even get out of bed to help?  If even he will finally help if you keep asking, imagine how your Father in Heaven will respond!  Will He give you snakes and stones to eat?  No, no…He’s better than all of that.

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Photo by Patricia McCarty from Pexels

This is where I had a little help from an online commentary on the passage.  Elisabeth Johnson of workingpreacher.org writes:

“Hearers today might empathize with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship.  But in the culture of the biblical world, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly.  The ability of his friend to provide hospitality, and thus his honor, is at stake.”

She goes on to say:

“Jesus’ parable implies that if it is so among friends with their mixed motives and self-interest, how much more so with God who wants to give us what is good and life-giving, and who is invested in keeping God’s name holy.”

How much more so.  How much more so!  With God, than with human friends, who may be unreliable.  Or even than with a human father, who may disappoint, ignore, or hurt his children.  How much more so, will our loving God hear, and answer, and fill our prayers.  The first time.  The second time.  The third, the fourth, the fifth, AND the sixth.

Every.  Single.  Time.  He’s not waiting until we get to 100 repetitions in order to listen.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13 ESV

I don’t know about you.  But I can’t spend hours praying about each item on my list.  (Sometimes, I do.)  But other times, it’s just a quick sentence under my breath.  Or even, a thought.  What my pastor calls “dart prayers”:  “Lord, I give this to you.”  “I put this in your hands.”  “Lord, please bring resolution.”  “Oh God…HELP!” 

“Dart prayers” such as these may not cultivate a rich, fulfilling prayer life.  But I don’t think that God listens to them any less.

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Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

In summation, I believe that the thrust of Jesus’ teaching in this passage from Luke is:

Rest assured.

When you hear no answers, rest assured.  You are heard.  The Lord is better than a sleepy friend or an imperfect parent.  If you ask, seek, and knock…you will receive, find, and walk through.  Maybe it will take longer than you like.  Maybe what you’re asking for is no better for you than a rock or a snake, and one day you’ll be glad the answer was no.  Maybe, there’s an angle to your story that He sees, that you cannot.  Maybe, He’s helping you get down to the heart of your needs, and it’s different than what you are aware of on the surface.  But whatever the case, you can trust Him.

And maybe, I’ll still ask Google.  But I know who can really help me.  In fact, He’s the only One who can.

What are your thoughts on this passage from Luke?  How do you understand it?  As always, I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Those Prevailing Gates (Thoughts on the Pandemic and the Church)

Trigger warning: this post contains mention of suicide.

Recently, an old friend from high school contacted me.  We hadn’t been in touch for a number of years.  I’m still shuddering in disbelief and shock at the news she delivered: 3 suicides in the past 7 months – all people we went to school with.

I wasn’t particularly close to these people, but I have specific memories of two of them.  The first, I will refer to as T.

He was popular, and athletic; I was quiet, and book-smart.  We never spoke unless it was out of necessity.  Except that one time, at his graduation.  He was drunk.  (Which probably explains why he approached me.)  We were talking about his girlfriend.

“You’ve been together a long time,” I said.  “Do you think you’ll get married?”

“I hope so,” he replied.

I remembered this conversation, a day or two before I heard about his suicide.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Except that, otherwise, I would have no reason to think of them.  A woman walked by me at a campground who reminded me of his girlfriend.

Wonder if they ever got married?  I thought to myself, smiling inwardly.  They were together for such a long time.  Popular in school; and confident and smart enough to probably land good jobs and have a few kids, by now.

As I know now, he never married her, but married another woman and had 3 boys.  Apparently, his father had committed suicide when he was young, also leaving 3 young boys – he and his brothers.  Man, the things you don’t know about a person.

The second guy – C – had left school for a while, and then came back to attend Grade 12 the same year I was.  He wore cowboy boots, and a stern expression, and you could always hear the steady beat of his feet as he walked staunchly up and down the halls.  I was afraid of him.  Until, he joined our class and I realized his temperament wasn’t as harsh as his appearance.  He chose our graduation motto – “Well Worth the Wait,” from the song “Long Time Running” by The Tragically Hip.  He was quoted in the local paper, talking about how great it felt to finish high school and how glad he was that he had come back.

 

However, a couple of months before grad, just as the winter was lifting, there had been a tragedy in our town.  Three local guys were involved in a car crash that took their lives.  Two of them were supposed to have graduated with us.

To my surprise, the principal of our school asked me to read a few verses of scripture at the funeral.  I accepted, feeling as though I had been handed something sacred.  As I stood behind the podium of that small Catholic church, overlooking two coffins, I read the weighty words of apostle Paul, and struggled to comprehend them:

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:53‭-‬57 NIV

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I wasn’t sure what those verses would mean to anyone until one day, after the funeral, C approached me outside the gymnasium at school.  He cried.  He thanked me for reading at the funeral, and hugged me, and talked about how the words had encouraged him.  He said something about death and how the reading had made him realize how little power it had.

Honestly, I didn’t quite get it yet, myself.  But I was glad that he did.

And all in all, I thought that, probably, he’d be ok.

I struggle to reconcile, in my mind, my recollection of C those years ago – hope-filled, and somewhat at peace – with the knowledge that he has now taken his life.  Or how T – who from outward appearances, checked the boxes we use to predict a successful life – would find himself in such a pit that he would leave his sons in the same way his father left him.  Though I barely knew these men, it brings tears to my eyes.  Was there something I could have done?  Something I could have said?  I feel an urge to go back to my hometown, and do something about this epidemic of despair.  But what could I do?

And I think about the church.  I think about how a pandemic has closed its doors.  I think about the congregation, the individual people.  Those of us whose faith has, perhaps, cooled off…being lulled away down a nonchalant path of apathy, self-service, and disconnect.

I see the normalization of substance use and abuse.  The churches must shut down.  But liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries remain open, because people rely on them to cope.  May I remind you: 3 suicides in 7 months, in a tiny, alcohol and drug-saturated town.  How well are we coping?

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Picture taken from https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/10/17/health/canada-legalizes-recreational-marijuana/index.html

A culture that also normalizes, or even glorifies, killing and dying, while diminishing the sacrilege of human life.  Where defenseless, unborn children, unhesitatingly and unblinkingly, have their lives taken away.  (And no, the pandemic hasn’t slowed that down, either.)  Where resources that could have gone to improving palliative care are diverted to legalize assisted dying, and the aged or ill can choose to end their lives rather than live out the remainder of their allotted days with friends and families.

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Picture taken from https://www.babycentre.co.uk/8-weeks-pregnant

Where children are regularly fed images of death and darkness: skulls, zombies, vampires, ghosts, demons, and themes of being possessed by evil.  (Just watch the cartoons.)

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I don’t want to point fingers, or shame anyone.  I write this to myself as much as anyone.  But please, let’s awake to the fact that evil has not slowed down.  Let’s not become so enclosed in our self-isolating bubbles that we forget the role of the church in offering hope to the people who may be grappling for it.  Could we, perhaps, seek them out?  Could we find them?

No, I don’t quite know how to, either.  But what is the church, besides a body of people who love the Lord and love other people?  Is the church a building, whose doors are nailed shut?  A system, vulnerable to breakdown and financial collapse?

Or is it individuals, banded together in hope and love?  If you love the Lord, He has undoubtedly saved, healed, or dragged you through something.  Was it despair, that He delivered you from?  Depression?  Illness?  Abuse?  Death?  Addiction?  Suicide?  Divorce?  Tell someone.  They may be scrambling to find the hope that you now have.

Who reached out to you?  Which member or members of the church body held out their hands, their Bibles, their homes, their hearts?  Remember them.  Do not despise or diminish the power of the church.

The church is an essential service.  Undoubtedly so, more than ever.  You can close the building.  But you can’t shut down the church.

Let us not forget, to be the church.

 

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:18‭-‬19 NIV

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Revelation 1:18 NIV

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Proverbs 18:21 NIV

How do you think the church’s role has changed because of the world wide pandemic?  What are our responsibilities, as Christians, in light of the present situation?  How may we reach out to others?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

You’re His Favorite

Sometimes, tears come quickly, while words come slowly.  That’s what it has been like for me, the first part of this summer.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been enjoying the glorious weather, warm waters to swim in, camping, and being with friends and family.

But in addition to these pleasantries, it was like some kind of switch flipped in my brain, and I was suddenly swamped with memories.  Both good and bad.  Forget memory lane – this was a vast network – hundreds of winding, meandering paths.

I realized a few things.  They came together, began to make sense, and were shed with new light.

I speak often of God, the Holy Spirit; His comfort, and His healing.  I honestly didn’t intend for this blog to be so full of spiritual themes.  But I can’t help it.

He has been with me in a special way, lately.  I sense His love, and His kindness.  He loves me in a way that no one else has ever been able to match.  He knows what I need, at every moment.

He gently prods away at my past, helping me to understand it.  I feel His compassion.  He cares too much about my hurts, to let them lie buried forever.  He reminds me of them and is showing me how to heal.

And perhaps most importantly, He tells me that I am enough.  He sees my innermost thoughts and feelings as worthy of respect and love.  He reminds me to be careful, who I allow in.

I know that opinions are divided on the book/movie “The Shack,” even among Christians.  However, there is one thing that I think the story got right.  In several instances, God is quoted as saying: “I’m particularly fond of him,” “I’m particularly fond of her,” etc., until the main character comes to realize that this God is “particularly fond” of every person.

Lately, this truth has gotten down into my heart.  I feel like I am His favorite.  Like His entire attention is on me.  And if there is one message I would like you to take from this post, let it be:

God is particularly fond of you.  You are His favorite.  His entire attention, is on you.

His way of relating to you may be different from what I have described here, just as I relate in different ways to each of my two sons.  One is an energetic chatterbox who tells me everything that is on his mind at every moment.  He wants me to listen to his stories and loves it when I do activities of all kinds with him.  My other son talks less, but has a sly sense of humor, and has been cracking me up ever since he could string two words together.  He likes it when I tickle him, and he’ll often just come and lean up against me, or climb onto my lap and lounge there.  They are so different, and I delight in them both.

So it is, I believe, with God.  All of His children are so very different.  And He delights in each one.

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If you’re hurting, He wants to bring you healing and freedom.  If you have been abused, or are being abused, He can show you how to get free.  If you hate yourself, He can reveal the goodness inside you that He created and knows so well.  If you are stricken by fear, He can become your safe place – the one place where you can rest.

I will leave you with a song that has become my summer anthem.  I feel as though it is the cry of my own heart, through the mouths and instruments of other people…as if I could have written it myself.

It’s hard to believe in the goodness of God, until you have experienced it yourself, or, until you hear the stories of people who have encountered Him.  People who have tasted, and seen, and invite you to do the same.  This is the strength of our stories.  Our testimonies.  Share yours.  Listen to those of others.  It’s all just too good to miss.  

And remember: you’re His favorite.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Psalms 34:8 NIV

 

Posted in Faith, Mental health

5 Small Ways to Stand (On Your Own Two Feet)

Feeling bullied?  Beaten up?  Beaten down?  All of the above?

Sometimes it’s the world that does it to us.  Sometimes it’s specific people.  Sometimes, we have ourselves to blame.

Whatever the case, it’s never too late to get back up again.  Because when it comes to your personhood – your God-given value as a human being – the very nature of you – nobody is able to take that away.

Every human being is created with purpose, and intent, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalms 57:2; Psalms 139:13-16).  This does not give us free reign to do whatever we want (Romans 7:15-25; Romans 6).  However, there is a clear biblical basis for the protection of one’s personhood.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV

I find it interesting that even though Jesus willingly and sacrificially laid down His life, He never compromised on who He truly was: the Son of God (Luke 22:66-71), the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), and a friend to sinners (Luke 23:39-43).  Although people surrounded Him, spat on Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and even killed Him, they could not remove this core truth of His innermost being.  He had come to save the world.  And, save the world is what He did.

With a similar boldness, there are some simple ways that we may stand on our own two feet, assert our confidence, and say: I am who I am, and who I am is good.  Not because I say so, but because my Creator does.

To certain individuals, the following list will seem odd or unimpressive.  And to others, it will make sense, because they too have become inhibited or shamed in some of these areas.  Keep in mind that what is commonplace to some, may feel nearly impossible to others.

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5 Small Ways to Assert Your Confidence in Who You Are

  1. Try a new hairstyle.  You know that short cut you’ve been wanting to try?  Maybe now is the time.  Whether it looks good or not, you will still be you, and you will have some fun experimenting with your appearance.  I did this – read about it by clicking here.
  2. Learn a new skill.  This can even be something small.  Sometimes, we have never done a task simply because others have always done it for us.  After a while, we can begin to feel dependent on that help, even though we aren’t.  It can be very empowering to take the step of doing it for ourselves.  For example, I recently set up our tent trailer on my own.  Usually, this is something I would have relied upon my husband to do.  But I found it gratifying to know I could do it myself if I had to or wanted to.
  3. Refuse to be mocked.  Being open to feedback or constructive criticism that is delivered in a kind and thoughtful way, is one thing.  Intentional mocking, however, with the explicit intent of hurting your feelings, tears down your personhood and is not something that you should be subjected to on a regular basis.  Is there someone in your life who repeatedly mocks you?  Perhaps it is time to calmly set a boundary with them.  For example, you could say, “If you speak that way to me again, I will end the conversation until you are willing to treat me with respect.” Remember to also be kind and respectful towards your offender.  Don’t join them in the destructive game.
  4. Don’t berate yourself.  Perhaps, you are your own mocker.  If so, it’s time to have a little talk with yourself!  No person is perfect.  Ask for forgiveness if you have let someone down.  Then move on, treat mistakes as opportunities to learn, and be the best you that you can be.
  5. Set and work towards a goal.  Giving up says, “I’m not important and will never achieve my goals.” Standing up says, “Even if my dreams don’t fully come true, they may, and I’m allowed to have them. What is one small way I can work towards them today?” It feels hopeless to never permit yourself to dream.  Hold your dreams with an open hand, and be willing to be flexible, because…life happens.  However, so does growth, and achievement – and it will happen to you as well, if you allow it.

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It seems to me that there is very little separating those who stand up from those who lie down, beyond their inner attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs.  The mind, will, and emotions are powerful tools that can be harnessed for the good of ourselves and others.

Do you feel like parts of you have been beaten down?  What are your best ways to get back up and reclaim your personhood?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

And if this post resonated with you, check out some of my other posts related to self-awareness, self concept, boundaries, and generally living in your own skin:

Hey Young Mom, Your Feelings Matter Too!

Mom Fail Number 99

Moms are People Too!

This Shame Problem

Forced to Look

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

Warm wishes,

Lisa

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Psalms 139:13‭-‬16 NIV

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

A few years ago, in a small group at my church, I was sharing prayer requests with two other ladies. I told them about my feelings of loneliness, and that I was often too afraid to approach people, which was a necessary step if I was going to make any friends.  One woman’s eyes got wide, and she said emphatically, “I know exactly what you mean!  I feel the same way.”  The other woman looked puzzled and asked us quite genuinely, “Why?  What are you afraid of?”

I learned two things from this exchange.  First, I wasn’t the only one – there were others who had the same problem.  And second, there were people who did not fear social situations at all, and in fact, found it difficult to understand why we would.

The second woman’s question was difficult for us to answer.  What were we afraid of?  Everything.  Nothing.  I don’t know.  Maybe it was, what others would think of us.  Or whether we would offend them.  Or that we didn’t know how to make conversation, or what to do if the situation got awkward.  All we knew for sure was: it was terrifying.  And debilitating.

Early Experiences

My first memory of being intensely socially anxious occurred in Grade 5.  On a beautiful spring day, it had been postulated that our class “may” go outside at some point and join an older grade for a game of football.  In my mind, there were several problems with this idea.  I was smaller than the other kids, and feared getting pummeled.  I had never played football before, didn’t know the rules, and would surely end up looking like a fool.  Being around older kids, especially in a competitive, sometimes aggressive situation like team sports, struck fear into every part of me.  And finally, I would surely be the last one picked for teams. Even if the picking were randomized, I was fairly certain no one would want me on theirs.  I would feel like the biggest loser in the world.

Thankfully, the proposed game of football never occurred, but its very possibility had ruined my entire day.  I remember sitting on my plastic school chair, heart pounding.  Slightly faint.  Slightly nauseous.  Willing the day to be over, and praying with all my might that we would just stay inside.

I could share other examples similar to these of the fears that I experienced during my school days.  Unstructured recess times when I didn’t know what to do or whom to hang out with. Confrontations with other children when I felt intimidated and afraid.  Now, as an adult, I believe there could have been some proactive measures taken to create a more positive social environment at my school.  My stress may not have been eliminated, but it could have been helped.

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Naming the Struggle

Although I do not claim my anxiety to be at the level of a disorder, I believe that there is value in naming the struggle for what it is.

Social anxiety.  I have social anxiety.

It has become cliche, but is true about so many things, that admitting you have a problem is the first step in becoming able to deal with it.  For many years, I didn’t recognize what I was experiencing.  Usually, I have had at least one or two friends.  I am a functioning member of society.  I have completed schooling, gotten jobs, and worked with some success as an entrepreneur.  Growing up, I often played piano in front of rooms full of people.  I can public speak – I’ve delivered several verbal presentations and even taught a class of university students.

However, there are many commonplace things that cause me undue fear:

  • Talking to salespeople about products that I am unfamiliar with (for me, these would be things like machinery, vehicles, soil and gravel, etc.).
  • Placing restaurant orders over the phone.
  • Eating meals with co-workers.
  • Asking clients for payment.
  • Approaching superiors at work.
  • Attending large parties or social events, especially where I have to dress up.
  • Visiting my husband’s places of work.
  • Trying to understand people with very strong accents.
  • Singing in front of others (a particularly challenging one, for someone who has chosen music therapy as a career!).
  • Having groups of people come into my home.

Again, there are other examples I could share.  But the simple act of admitting to myself that these situations make me anxious, has increased my ability to deal with them.  In doing so, I am acknowledging and validating my own feelings.  It is the difference between telling myself, “I feel fear, and that is ok,” versus “What is wrong with me??  I suck.”  (A pretty big difference, right?)

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Strategies to Cope

Yes, I’m socially anxious.  And if I own up to it, I can make a plan of how to survive the situation.  I can take a deep breath and say, “It’s ok.  I’m ok.”  I can develop thought patterns that prepare me to interact in a more relaxed way.  For example, I have come to think of other people as my “brothers and sisters.”  Not only is this biblically accurate, but it postures me to converse in a comfortable, familiar, and kind way, because I’m thinking of them as my siblings!

Other strategies that I have used include thinking ahead about things to say, or questions to ask a person, in case a conversation grows stagnant.  Allowing myself to become curious about another person is a great way to think of discussion topics.

When a get-together is planned at my house, I prepare as much food as I can in advance, and my husband helps with cooking on the day of, so I have less to think about while entertaining guests.

And perhaps, the most powerful step that I have taken to deal with my social anxiety, is striving to accept myself for who I am.  There are entire books that could be written on this topic (and probably have been), but for myself I will simply affirm: I am who I am, and who I am is perfectly fine.  One of the first times that I felt the Holy Spirit speak clearly to me, do you know what He said?

He said, “It’s ok to be you.”

Obviously, this was (and is) something that I needed to get into my bones.  Because my fears do not stem from disdain for others, or for being with them.  To the contrary!  I, like any other human being, long for genuine connections with others.  My fears are based in a (faulty, nagging, festering) belief that I will fall short.  That I will be found, sorely, lacking.

And whatever coping strategies I may learn, or use – it is only a restorative work of God, in the deepest part of my soul, that will ultimately bring me healing.

What kind of social situations, if any, cause you anxiety?  What’s your earliest memory of this?  Do you have pointers to share on how to cope?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Floods of Gratitude

Early in our marriage, my husband and I invested in an older camper trailer.  Although we thought we had inspected it well before we bought it, inexperience and oversight got the best of us when we forgot to peek beneath the welcome mat that was laid over the vinyl floor at the entrance.  When we got the camper home and happened to move the mat, we saw that the floor underneath it was black.  As it turns out, water had come in through a hole that had been made to attach an awning to the outside of the camper, and caused extensive damage.  Thankfully, my husband is very handy, but what ensued was a fairly involved process of dismantling and replacing the majority of the camper’s floor.

I remember being stressed about finances at that time.  Not only had we borrowed money to buy the camper, but our computer had recently broken down, and we needed to buy a new one.  My twenty-something year old brain swam with numbers, struggling to make sense of whether we could pay for it all.  I didn’t have a good sense of what things cost, or the value of money.  (Was that $1,000 – or, $10,000?)  Sure, I had done well in high school math classes, but real-life numbers were harder to comprehend.

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We lived in a century-old home, that we had purchased for cheap, in a rough neighborhood.  The roof leaked, and so did the basement.  When it rained, we ran for buckets, and towels, and wondered what kind of damage lurked behind the plaster and lath walls.

The bathroom of that home stank of urine, no matter how much I cleaned it.  I think it had permeated the walls, and the floors, somehow.  As I tried to scrub it clean, I wondered what the previous inhabitants had done in there for it to get so bad.  (Although I’m sure I would never actually want to know.)  And Joyce Meyer’s words would ring through my head.  She said to be grateful for the house you had, and clean it with joy – rather than complaining about everything you didn’t have.  To be thankful that you had a toilet to sit on every morning.

I learned to be thankful for that bathroom, but I also prayed for a better one.  A few years later, we would tear it down to the studs and have professionals come in to rebuild it from scratch.  We got right into the guts of that house, and in some ways it got right inside of us too.  I still have dreams about it.  In the end, the bathroom, and the entire home, was beautiful.  And although I don’t live there anymore, I’ve had very nice bathrooms ever since.  When I clean them, I’m always thankful that they smell good afterwards, and that they don’t forever smell of urine.

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This is not my bathroom – just a Pixabay photo.  But the slant in the roof reminds me of the bathroom in what used to be our century-old home.

Besides Joyce Meyer’s teachings, which just resonated with me during that season of life, I practiced a few other mantras to keep myself sane.  When our bicycles were stolen, I tried to think of it as a “community donation.”  When unexpected fees, tickets, and expenses drained our meager bank account, I reminded myself: “It’s all God’s money.”  His resources were unlimited, and our situation could turn on a dime at any moment.  We were where He wanted us.  We were learning.

And sure enough, as the years passed, we eventually moved into a time of plenty.  We bought land in the country.  We built a lovely home.  Generosity came easily, because we had a lot to spare.  I didn’t worry about the grocery budget, either.  Though I’ve never been a frivolous spender, I was able to go out and buy whatever we needed or wanted that month, and the money was there.

Nonetheless, as our monetary accounts grew, our spiritual and relational tanks were running dry.  Unexpectedly, change came again.  It was time to take care of what was most important.  The pendulum had swung from one extreme, almost all the way to the other – and now, was settling somewhere in the middle.

That is precisely where I find myself today.  Although we didn’t expect to leave our country home, after working so hard to get there, I would not go back to that life if I were given the option.

A couple of weeks ago, we bought a camper, for the second time in our lives.  This one is cheaper – a pop-up tent trailer.  I endeavored to be very wise about looking for water damage.  I searched every inch of that floor, felt the wood, opened every cupboard, inspected the plumbing, looked under every mattress, and had my sniffer on full duty to detect the smells of dampness.  But although I try, I’m just not very smart about these things.  Turns out, in pop-ups, it’s common for the roof to become water damaged.  (Why did I not think to check the roof?)  So this evening, as my husband was redoing some of the seals, he noticed that the boards at the front and back are water-logged, soft, and one of them is even growing mushrooms.  How gross is that?!

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Someone else’s water damaged camper roof.  Ours looks similar.  (But with more mushrooms.)

As I laid in my bath tonight, pondering the situation, the following verses came to my mind:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21

Isn’t it funny how quickly, a person can forget such a hard-won realization?  The memories of the early days came flooding back.  (No pun intended.)  The water-logged camper floor, the leaking roof and basement, the urine-soaked walls and floor.  My treasure isn’t here.  My heart isn’t here.  My heart is held by the Savior of my soul, who keeps my real treasures secure.

I didn’t know a leaky, damaged camper roof could become such a precious reminder.  Do I call the previous owners, complain, and ask them to help fund the repair, or do I call and thank them for the timely object lesson?

Realistically, I will not be calling them at all.  But I will be thanking God for the life that I have.  The toilet to sit on.  The leaky camper roof.  And, more importantly: my long-suffering, indelibly handy, husband.

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Forced to Look

I got a haircut last week, for the first time in about 9 months.  Usually, I wear my hair long and wavy.  Or, more precisely, tied back in some version of a classic housewife-style ponytail or bun.

This time, I was up for a change.  Here is the picture I showed my stylist:

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The model’s waves, I thought, are similar to mine, so maybe this style would work for me.

The hairdresser gave it a quick look and proceeded with the cut.  She decided to straighten my hair prior to cutting it, to make sure she got it even on both sides.  And she cut it a little shorter in the front than in the picture I had showed her.  So, although I got a nice cut, rather than looking like the model above, I left the salon looking more like the aged Mandy Moore on “This is Us.”

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The next morning, after seeing the new ‘do for the first time, my nine year-old told me I looked “kind of like Grandma.”

Now, I believe that my mother has beautiful features, but that’s not exactly what I was going for.

It all reminded me of what a seasoned hairdresser once told me.  She said that she had often endured being sworn at or abused by customers.  I was shocked, and asked her why.

“People are so broken,” she explained, “they hate themselves so much, and have so much pain, and they want me to fix them.  To make them feel better about themselves.  But I can’t.  Only God can do that.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a haircut and felt a little disappointed that I didn’t come out looking more like the model in the picture.  And if you’ve experienced this too – (be honest…I think many of us women have) – you will know that the pain it uncovers is extremely real.  It’s more than just shallow vanity.  This is a deep-cutting, heart-rending kind of pain, that has less to do with our hair than it does with something that runs far, far deeper.

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James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote in what became a part of our Bible (James 1:22-24) about a person who looks at himself in a mirror, goes away, and then immediately forgets what he looks like.  He is using this metaphor to describe a person who reads the law, but doesn’t remember it or follow it.  I think I get what he’s saying.  If you are one to study the Bible, you will understand that it can be like a mirror – revealing who you truly are.  And that, truthfully, can be uncomfortable, just like coming to terms with your reflection in a physical mirror.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:12‭-‬13 NIV

How many times have you looked in the mirror, but not really looked?  I don’t always want to see that latest pimple (yes, I still get them), crease, or grey hair.  I don’t want to accept that my skin has loosened and softened after the birth of my children, or that I have a few more inches sticking to me here or there.

It’s easier to take a quick glance, just long enough to sweep my hair back, give my face a quick wash, and then go on my way.  Maybe, in my mind, I look like Jessica Alba.  Or Charlize Theron.

But the truth is, I don’t.  I’m not a model, or an actress.  And in the process of fixating on what I’m not, I may walk away from the mirror and forget all of the things that I am.  

I am: a wife and mother, who often messes up, but is working hard to do what’s right.  I am: no longer a youth; no longer a woman in her 20’s.  I am: a woman in her mid-30s who has learned a few things, and also has a lot left to learn.  I am: able to make sacrifices and put the needs and wants of others ahead of my own.  I am: endowed with a limited measure of intelligence, creativity, and abilities, that I can use to improve the lives of those around me.  I am: looking more like my older sister and my mother as I age.  I am: dependant on Jesus for strength, guidance, acceptance, and forgiveness, every single day.

I am who I am, and no, I don’t need to look in the mirror only to look quickly away, because my reflection doesn’t comply with some fleeting combination of features and qualities that I wish I had.

And so, although I dislike posting pictures of myself online, here I am with my new haircut.  (For the record, I never said make-up and soft-focus lenses were out of bounds!) 😉

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I don’t look like the model I showed the stylist, or the aged Mandy Moore, or Jessica or Charlize or even the lizard I used as the featured image for this post.  I look like me.  No hairstylist, however talented, will ever be able to change that.  And that is actually ok.

Do you need a haircut?  How do you like to wear your hair?  Do you have any “I am” statements to make?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

Praying the Psalms – Psalm 2: The World

The Psalms is a book of prayers.  It covers a wide range of human emotions and can be a catalyst for when you don’t know what to say to God!  Join me as I pray through the Psalms.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

A prayer inspired by Psalm 2:

Lord, we look to our leaders, our rulers, our politicians – as if they are in control.  You have anointed them, but I know that you are the only one who can truly help us.  Please guide them and give them strength and wisdom, to do their jobs well.

Thank you for your direction, laws, and wisdom, which you have provided in order to protect us.  Help us to value and trust in your words.

We look forward to your return to Earth – something that is difficult for us to imagine right now.  However, the Bible says, and our Christian faith hinges on this belief: you are the risen Lord.  One day, you will return, and put an end to the tyranny, evil, and pain that we constantly see all over the news.  Lord, we rely on this hope, and ask that you would hasten your return, and strengthen our faith.  (“Lord, I believe – help my unbelief!”)

I pray for our leaders and decision makers.  I thank you for them.  Please keep their intentions pure, and their focus clear.  Give them the ideas, resources, and abilities they need to help the people of the world.  Take care of them, Lord.  Help them to know you, and understand your character and heart; your intentions for the nations.  May they be humble, and honest in their dealings.

Lord, we take our refuge in you, and assert in faith: you are the only one who can truly help us.  May you bless us, and forgive us for the countless sins and travesties that have been committed over the years.  Only you can renew our world.  Amen.

Posted in Faith, Mental health, Parenting

5 Little Pick-me-ups for Tired, Introvert Moms

(Yawn.)  “I’m tired!”

I say it so much, I’m tired of hearing myself say it.  And everyone around me probably is too!

Being tired is often just the normal state of being a parent.  If you’re also an introvert, parenthood can be particularly exhausting.  You need quiet, alone time to recharge your batteries.  But your children (especially the younger ones) may need to be around you basically from sun-up until sun-down.

In the past few weeks, I’ve really enjoyed the slower pace of not having to rush to the bus stop and preschool in the mornings.  I’ve enjoyed lazy mornings around the breakfast table with my boys, and countless walks and bike rides.  However, I have missed the few hours of alone time I would usually get during the week when school and preschool are in session.  Nonetheless, there are some simple strategies that I have been using to keep myself going as best as I can.

Sleep

Umm…duh, right?  But hang on there, just a second.  Like me, you may feel guilty for grabbing a cat nap in the middle of the day if your kids are sleeping or away at school.  But, does that nap leave you feeling replenished and in a better mood?  Are you still able to sleep the following night?  If you let yourself, could you fall asleep right now?

If your answer was yes to these questions, and you are an otherwise healthy person, could it be that you are functioning in a state of sleep deprivation?

I was shocked, when I became a mom, at how much sleep I had to sacrifice.  And not only for the first three months, as I was led to believe.  For years after children are sleeping through the night, parents are awoken for a plethora of reasons such as bad dreams, potty breaks, bed wetting, sicknesses, and random bumps in the night that snap you awake and into “parent mode” for no good reason at all.

Eventually, it takes its toll.  There’s a lot of catching up to do.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given regarding motherhood was: “If you can take a break, then do.” You can’t take a break, nearly always.  Your kids need you, and you want to be there for them.  But when the house miraculously falls silent, and there is a pause in the constant demands on you, by all means – take it.

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Rest

This point may seem redundant, but it flows from my previous one.  Sleep is great when you have that luxury, but for some kids the napping stage does not last long.  Which means that your napping opportunities are cut short as well.  And even if you have one child who naps, chances are, you have another one who doesn’t or who naps at a different time.

Even if you cannot sleep, there may be a chance for you to sit down during the day and close your eyes for a moment or two.  I use screen time very deliberately with my kids.  Most weekdays, I will turn on the TV for them after lunch for about an hour (which is the time of day that I find myself hitting a wall).  After finding a safe show for them to watch, I’ll sit down somewhere and close my eyes.  Closing your eyes is key here – put away the devices, reading material, and whatever else you may want to occupy yourself with, and close your eyes.  You don’t have to sleep, but chances are you may drift into a slight doze.  I find that even 15 or 20 minutes of this will leave me feeling more refreshed than I was before.

If you don’t want to place your children in front of screens, you can be opportunistic about those moments during the day when they become preoccupied with something for a while, and take a breather then.  If my children are playing nicely in the other room, I may lie down on the couch for a while.  Or if they’ve gone outside to the backyard, I’ll sit down with a cup of tea.  It’s easy for a mom’s day to stretch to the length of 12 hours or more, in addition to being wakened at night, with no days off in between.  Don’t feel like you need to spend the entirety of those hours on your feet.

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Exercise

Ok, I don’t think there’s a better way to get a tired person want to kick you in the teeth, than to tell them they should exercise more.  At least, that’s how I feel when someone tells me so!  However, as difficult as it may be to get going on this one, there is truth to it – as long as, like I mentioned before, you are otherwise a healthy person.  It’s like a little magic bullet.  Add fresh air to the mix for bonus points.  And take your kids with you, to wear them out as well!

Since doing school at home with my son these past few weeks, I have joined in on his Phys-Ed workouts when I can.  From him I’ve learned  how to do a “burpee” and a “squat.”  I’ve braved the wild world of a push-up, and realized how much easier it was to jump rope when I was 9 than it is now.  I’ve cycled against the wind.  I’ve repeatedly chased my 3 year old around our bay on his balance bike.  Each time, it has been a lovely jolt to my system, like some kind of wonderful drug.  “Just do it,” as Nike would have you believe.  And in my unqualified opinion – the more vigorous the exercise, the better the payout.  If you try it, let me know if you agree.

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Get Creative

A writer I follow named Deanne Welsh dropped a thought into my inbox last week that caught my eye.  Its heading was: “Is creativity sustaining you?”  And I would even ask, is creativity nurturing you?  For those who love to be creative (you know who you are), it can be incredibly life-giving to have some kind of free-flowing project on the go.  However, I would caution that if you impose burdens and restrictions on yourself for the outcome of said project, you can rob yourself of the joy it would have otherwise brought.

For example, my main creative outlet is this blog.  However, if I start to worry about all the problems or weaknesses in my blog – not adhering to a consistent schedule, drifting from niche to niche, low stats, etc. – I feel discouraged and my blog becomes a burden, instead of a joy.  Now, those things can be important for bloggers who want to grow their following.  However, what I am encouraging is to not let the outcome of your endeavors (even if they flop) steal the positive effects of creativity on your mental health.  As a music therapist, I am a firm believer in “process over product.”  That is, the experience of creating something can be just as important (if not more so) than the end product itself.

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Pray

My days begin with prayer; my days end with prayer; and I sandwich it in between whenever I can.  No, I’m not on some kind of strict, religious schedule.  Prayer gives me life.  It is my connection to the One who cares for me more than anybody else.  The only One who fully knows and understands who I am and what makes me tick.

I think prayer would be awfully boring if it were a one way street – talking to someone who never speaks back.  Thankfully, that is not the case.

“…his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” John 10:4b‭-‬5 NIV

The thoughts, feelings, pictures, memories, and impressions that the Lord gives to me as I pray or read my Bible are sometimes the only things keeping me calm and behaving as a halfway decent human being.  And even if I don’t really hear Him respond, I know that He is always listening.  Intently.

I have become convinced that God has a soft spot for moms.  This topic could probably comprise a blog post all by itself, but for now, I will leave you with one of my favorite verses.  It reminds me that I am not alone in parenting my kids!

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my father in heaven.”  Matthew 18:10 NIV

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So, there they are – sleep, rest, exercise, creativity, and prayer – 5 things helping me survive (and sometimes even thrive) as an introvert mom.

Are you an introvert mom?  Do you have tricks or ideas to share?  Let me know in the comments section below!

Warm wishes,

Lisa