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 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

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 Poems

Water of Life

“Healing waters”

So it has been written

Warmly lapping around my arms

Rocking, lulling

Steady, decisive

Knowledge whispered

Covering wounds

A paper thin layer

The waves are small

To not reopen

The damage

 

“Be mindful, to whom you open the door

Lest you invite further strikes.

Who you are is good.

Who you are is good.”

 

It’s time to stop

Slashing myself

With insults, with thoughts

His words are

Life to me

Like water for

A shrinking soul

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”

Psalms 46:4 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

Dead Time – Guest Post on Boondock Ramblings

“Have you ever had that sense of: “You’re done here.” – before you were actually done? A feeling of finality. Like a premonition: the book is going to close. You’re in the last few chapters. Maybe even the final pages. And you know in your bones, it’s going to end, and you will be starting another book. But first, you have to finish this one.”

To read the rest of my guest post, please visit Lisa R. Howeler’s awesome blog “Boondock Ramblings”!  Many thanks to Lisa for hosting me as a guest on her blog.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Fasting for Spiritual Reasons, Part 1: My First Fast

At the church I attend, January of each year is a month of prayer and fasting.  This was new to me a few years ago, but thanks to the teaching and direction the church has provided, it has become something that I look forward to.  There’s still a lot about fasting that I don’t understand.  But today, and in the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and experiences on the topic.

First, I’ll tell you about what I believe was my very first fast.  It may not be what you think, because it had nothing to do with food.  It was a fast from shopping.  Some may find this laughable, but it highlights one of the points I am trying to emphasize: fasting is a personal thing, and takes many different forms.  There aren’t ‘rules,’ and you certainly can’t judge the quality or value of another person’s fast because it may seem ‘easy’ to you.  A fast from shopping, at the time, was hard for me and helped me to grow in my character.  On the other hand, a fast from video games or alcohol would have been a breeze – I don’t really use those things anyway.  But that kind of fast may be difficult for others.

In the same way, one person may fast from food for one or two meals, and another may fast for three or more days.  They are all valid.  Each person knows what will stretch them and cause them to lean on God for strength, and the Holy Spirit will lead you into the type of fast He knows that you need.

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I didn’t actually call it a ‘fast’ when I quit shopping.  I was in my early 20s, and I loved clothes.  I did my best to keep up with the latest trends.  But they come and go very quickly, and if you’re going to stay current, you’ll spend a lot of time and money doing so.  If you purchase the top, you’ll need the pants to go with it.  Which need the shoes, which need the jacket, which need the purse, which need the necklace.  It’s never-ending.  The wardrobe will never be complete!  It’s a brilliant business strategy on the part of clothing designers, isn’t it?

Since I was newly married, and we lived on a miniscule income, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue like this.  I also didn’t like the way I never felt satisfied with what I had, even though I had lots of clothes.  I thought about clothes more often than I should have, and wondered if it was becoming an obsession.  I knew that the only way to stop my constant craving for material things, would be to avoid going to malls altogether – for a time.  I didn’t know how long it would take, but I made an inner commitment to stay away from them until I felt some freedom from my impulsive wants.

Looking back, I now realize that this was a form of a fast.  1 Corinthians 6:12 says: “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything.”

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Fasting can be a way to wean ourselves from the otherwise good things in our lives, that we have come to rely on too heavily.  They monopolize too much of our thoughts, time, or efforts, and they stand in the way of God’s work within us.  This is a form of idolatry.  An idol is anything taking a place that rightfully belongs to God.  When we put limits on these things, or even cut them out entirely, we free up much-needed breathing room in our schedules and often-distracted thoughts.  This may leave a void at first, but if we give our emptiness to the Holy Spirit, pressing into Him through activities such as meditation on scripture, prayer, or worship, we will sharpen our awareness of His movements and His words.  He may even free us from wanting so badly the things that we desired before.

I would say that my shopping fast was successful because, after a few months of avoiding shopping malls, they weren’t such a draw for me any more.  Now, I select clothes very carefully based on my actual needs.  I still want them to look nice and be current, but I choose practical items that suit the way I live, and I don’t spend more than I should on them.  I don’t worry about trying to follow every trend that I see.  What a relief!  This frees up much-needed energy that I can now spend on other things.

I’ve heard of people fasting from all kinds of things besides food.  Social media is a big one – which I’m planning to talk about in an upcoming post.  Anything that occupies a large space in your life can become something to fast from: TV, perhaps, or video games, or other hobbies (like blogging!).  Some people, who really love to exercise, have even fasted from that.  (This wouldn’t be relevant for me…haha!)

If you want to fast from something other than food, you may ask yourself: Is there anything that has a stronger hold on me than I would like it to?  The first thing that pops into your head, may very well be the answer.  How much time, energy, or perhaps even money would be saved by giving it up for a time?  And what would you like to do with the surplus?

Have you ever fasted from something other than food?  What was it?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Until next time, warm wishes, and happy fasting, if you choose to do so!

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Parenting

Making Peace with the Messy

I had all kinds of thoughts about publishing a post this week with pictures of the pretty Christmas things around my home – the tree, the wreath on the door, our little penguin collection, and the advent calendar that our kids love.  Maybe I would get a batch of cookies baked and take a picture of them, too.

But first, I would have to adjust the tree ornaments the kids have moved around.  Pick up the ones that have dropped on the floor.  Smooth out the tree skirt.  Clean up the mish-mash of blankets, pillows, and teddy bears surrounding the tree.  Push aside the dirty dishes to reveal the advent calendar sitting on the counter behind them.  Glue together the decorations that have broken.  And so on, and so on.

Which got me to thinking about something more interesting, to me, than those picture-perfect Christmas displays: the messes.  Not awful kinds of messes, but the big, beautiful ones that come along with lives being lived.  The messes that you see when you enter the home of a family that has young children.  Gravel on the entrance floor.  Dishes on the counter, and maybe the remnants of lunch.  Toys scattered about.  Small people dashing from room to room.  Half-way completed craft projects shoved into corners.  Pieces of laundry to trip over.

I get embarrassed when my house looks like that, if anyone unexpectedly drops by.  However, if I walk into another person’s house, and it looks like that, I breathe a sigh of relief.  Ah…they, too, are normal.  I don’t think about how they should have picked up the mess before I dropped by.  I marvel at the messes – at the stories the messes tell.  The kinds of foods their children like (or don’t like), and the dishes they eat (or don’t eat) out of.  The creativity displayed by their projects on-the-go.  The powdering of flour and icing sugar on the floor, and the smell of cookies hanging in the air.  What they had been doing outside, before their wet mittens and boots were hurriedly deposited at the door.

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My son attends a weekly kids’ club at our church.  I feel a little overwhelmed, when I walk into that room to pick him up.  8 year-old boys hardly ever stop moving, so the entire place seems to shift ceaselessly, like an anthill.  The air is saturated with the smell of laundry soap and fabric softener, because the kids keep so busy that their bodies heat up and release the fragrances of their clothes.  There are, er…other smells too – some not so pleasant.

And in the midst of it all, are the volunteer leaders.  Adults in the mix of children, a couple at each table.  They smile, and chat with the kids, and make sure they’re not causing too much trouble or getting hurt.  They seem relaxed – tired, perhaps – but at home within the big, beautiful mess.

It makes me think of God.  Isn’t that kind of how He is, in-amongst the big, beautiful mess of people He has created?  Read through the Bible, and you will find things in there that would make most Sunday school teachers cringe.  It is messy business, this thing He is doing.  But He’s committed!  So much so, that He made His home within the mess that we all are.

It’s not always pretty, or clean, or orderly.  But it’s real, and amazing.  It’s Christmas!

With the warmest of wishes for a big, messy, beautiful Christmas –

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

I Asked God for a Friend

It came like a jab in the face, as it often does – when God speaks unexpectedly.  Though not as dramatic or life-altering as Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus, I was, as he likely was, not looking for a word from God right at that moment.  God does things that way, once in a while.  Perhaps to remind us that our ability to hear Him is not a result of all our straining to listen, but it is of grace: undeserved, and impossible to earn.

Something my husband said, in passing, as I sat at the table with him after dinner one day.  I cannot even remember the topic of discussion, or the words that were spoken.  But in an instant God had seized them, launched them like little pointy arrows, and used them to pierce me with a deep longing.  A yearning, aching one, that had been folded up and tucked away, along with other childish, impossible things.  It rang in my ears, and vibrated in my chest, like the startled feeling you have after the shattering of glass.

I wanted a friend.

Not just any friend.  But the kind that, for someone like me, only comes around once or twice in a lifetime.  If that.  A ‘kindred spirit,’ as Anne would say.

The acknowledgement of this longing came with an invitation – I believe, from God Himself – to pray for its fulfillment.  It had the feel, to me, of a promise.  Like something He already had.  Something that He was eagerly waiting to give to me.

My eyes stung with tears, as my husband continued to talk.  I blinked them back, swallowed the lump in my throat, and discretely put the rush of emotion aside to be dealt with later on.  (I’m getting better at that sort of thing.  Though I’m not sure if I am fooling anyone.)

How long has it been, since I have had a friend like that?  Someone who gets me.  Who truly loves me and doesn’t hang out with me because she feels like she has to, or out of pity, or even Christian servanthood.  Somebody I can waste hours with, and it feels like no time at all.  A person with whom conversation and laughter flow, like water.

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I’ve been blessed to have at least two friendships like that, in my lifetime.  The one ended as swiftly and unexpectedly as it began.  I still don’t know why she dropped me.  It was a bit like a summer fling, but without the element of romance.

The other has been longer lasting, but geography and circumstances have kept us apart for several years.  She lives on another continent.  And although people can, to a degree, keep in touch electronically, it’s just not the same as sharing life together.

Although I’m sad when friendships end or grow apart, I treasure the memories that I have from them.  I’m thankful for the joy I was able to share with these people.

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve become a little hardened.  Not wanting to feel the pain of loss or rejection again, I close myself off.  I’m friendly, but I hold others at an arm’s length.

And at my age, is anyone even still looking for friends?  It seems to me that the women I meet are already quite well-connected, and not looking for more friendships than what they already have.

I’ve also noticed that other people are quicker and more adept at forming true and lasting bonds than I am.  I can know women for just as long as they know each other, and watch them grow into very close friends, while I remain on the outside.

I’m not sure why this is.  My introverted nature probably has something to do with it.  I ask myself on a regular basis: am I being nice enough?  Do others see me as grouchy or down in the dumps?  Do they not know what to do with me, because of my intense emotional reactions to things?  If my personality were funnier, or bubblier, or happier…would they like me then?

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Whatever the case, I think that becoming aware that I actually do want and need a close friend, is progress in and of itself.  And now, I have a word.  A promise.  An acknowledgement: God sees my pain.  I don’t think He wants me to shelve my desire for true friendship or bury it in some kind of broken-dream-graveyard.  He wants this for me.  He has it for me.  And I just need to wait, and watch.

How about you?  Is it easy for you to make friends, or difficult?  Have you ever had a best friend?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa