Friday, January 29, 2016

Saying Good-Bye . . .

I have a memory of my friend Laurie . . . We are sitting on a set of bleachers together, warm sunshine pouring down on us. She tells me the story of her husband proposing. He’s out there in front of us, playing softball on the same team as my fiancĂ©. I notice her engagement ring. I’m noticing everyone’s engagement rings these days because mine is so new. We are both full of light and love. We are young. So young.

I knew her first as a fellow church member and friend. She and her husband went hiking with us. They came to our wedding. I went to her baby shower when she was expecting her son.

Months later, I told her it looked like she’d lost the baby weight and she turned around and whispered, “I’m pregnant again!”

I saw how thrilled she was to have a baby girl then—someone with whom to do her nails and shop for bling.

A few years after that, she sat in front of us in church and said she loved the baby noises my infant girl made during the service.

She was full of New England sass and never ran out of words. Words of wisdom and humor. She never ran out of love either.

I watched her become our pastor. And lead us closer to Jesus. Fearlessly. Rallying her people and pushing us to be everything He was asking us to be. Drawing us closer in the safety of shared community.

It was the summer of 2012 and she’d been given a death sentence.

Stage Four Cancer. We cried and prayed.

Somehow, miraculously, by the Grace of God, the cancer receded. She claimed the healing she knew He’d worked in her body. We breathed a sigh of relief. Pastor Laurie moved on to bigger and better things and our community splintered apart. Not completely. We all still loved each other, but we weren’t together every Wednesday night as we had been. And Pastor Laurie was busy. She was redeeming her time. And it turned out to be short.

I found out early this month that she was in the hospital. Someone said the cancer was back. But we didn’t know much more than that. It sounded like they were still expecting the best. I texted her, sending her love and prayers. I didn’t want to be a nuisance. I heard she came home and I signed up to take her a meal. I bought the ingredients, got an aluminum pan to use for the stuffed shells. I thought the last thing she needed to worry about was returning a dish to me.

I finally delivered that meal this past Tuesday night. The date I’d signed up for ended up being the day of her funeral.

We went to the viewing. We went to the funeral, the cemetery, the funeral dinner. But nothing tore my heart out like taking that meal to her husband and children. Standing in her kitchen, looking at those three faces and knowing that nothing I say or do will make it better. Saying nothing because what is there left to say?

Here is dinner. Please be well. Now I’m going to run away and cry all the way home.

I know Pastor Laurie is okay. She’s better than she ever was here. But the pain and the ache and the absence . . . the gaping hole she left behind is so vacant. I can’t imagine what could fill it. Her presence was so large and so unique. Only a good God, who loves us and has reasons we can’t begin to comprehend, can fill the emptiness.

So I just keep praying. Not for myself. Though I miss her, I know this cross is so much greater for her family. I pray for them. That somehow, the ache will ease, hearts will heal, and the sun will shine again.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Fresh Start

The beginning of a new year is always a little anticlimactic for me. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. The season I perceive as our busiest comes to a close. I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s relaxing, reading, hanging out with family. We don’t have an externally imposed structure to our days. I get the added bonus of having my birthday that week, so I feel kind of entitled to the break. As I look ahead to the New Year, I think it’s going to be different. I see myself becoming more organized, fitting more into my days, suddenly being able to pull off things I’ve struggled with for years.

This year, I told myself I was not going to make resolutions at all. I was going to choose one word for 2016. I knew what that word was because my sister-in-law had used it to describe her husband, my brother. We were talking about finding time to read and she said my brother is very intentional about reading (and about other things, too).

“That’s it,” I thought. “I’m going to be intentional with my time this year.”

Enter 2016. I lay on the couch, practically asleep, as 2015 drew to a close. I kept thinking I should go to bed, but I didn’t. My two big kids stayed up to ring in the New Year for the first time ever. And I watched the ball drop wishing I were cozy in bed already. Does that sound intentional?

Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

My intention for this year, however, was not being unable to control my anxiety. I had my doubts about letting the kids stay up to watch Times Square, partly because I was a nervous about something horrible happening on live television. I’ve pretty much been expecting something horrible to happen every day for the past few weeks. 

I’ve also been wrestling with my blog, not knowing what to write about. I have plenty of ideas, but when I try to put them on the computer screen, the words fizzle out before I even get started.

Yesterday morning it hit me. I could write about my battle with anxiety. That’s what has me in this blogging rut. That’s what’s muddling my mind. Spoiling my best intentions. I could make a clean start by coming clean.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. It’s always worse after big life events. Marriage. The birth of each of my children. I wrote about it a little bit in Evangeline’s birth story because that pregnancy in particular was fraught with anxiety. I finally turned (back) to medication when Eva was a baby. It helped. But last spring I weaned off Zoloft because I was concerned about the side effects. I seemed to be doing well without it. But since November, since global events have triggered our collective adrenaline, I’ve found my fight-or-flight response consistently at the ready. I think the distraction of our Christmas celebration kept it under wraps for a while.

But now . . . it’s been a rough two weeks. I’m scared. I am very afraid quite often. And it sucks because I am so blessed. I have three beautiful, healthy children. A husband most women would kill for. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I know we’ll be warm this winter, no matter how low the mercury drops. My life is good. Really, really good.

But I am riddled with fear that disaster lies around the next bend.

I don’t want to paint the picture bleaker than it is. I am not constantly afraid. I am handling it. Jesus is my lifeline. Perhaps that’s why I’m allowed this thorn for now. I am relying on God. I cling to scripture. Yesterday my worship station on Pandora played all. day. long.

I’m going to be more intentional about self-care. I’m doing the “Go-to-Bed Challenge” with Beth Ricci. I’m realizing I don’t need to keep up with all the “breaking news.” In my situation, it may be better if I don’t. Also, in the past year, I read three novels set during World War II. (Two of them in the past month!) Although they were good books, and we ought never to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, I’m not sure spending all that time in that era helped my state of mind. I’m going to find something more uplifting to read next.

So, if anyone is still reading my blog, there’s the scoop. I don’t want to live this way. I want to have the joy and peace we’re supposed to have in Christ. Lately, the moments I’ve grasped them have been fleeting. If you’ve had similar issues, let me know in the comments. If you have suggestions for dealing with it, please share.

And by all means, say a prayer.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Take on the Global Crisis

I’m not a political writer. I hate politics. I hate debates. I can’t think on my feet and I mostly just want to ignore the kind of political fights I see on Facebook.

But more than that, I hate so much of what I see in our world today. I hate that ISIS is killing and terrorizing people. I hate that tens of thousands of people have been fleeing their homes as a result. I hate that we, as Christians, have succumbed to fear to the point that we actually think twice about helping in a worldwide crisis such as this.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in political science. I know government officials need to do a better job protecting our country. In fact, I think that our leaders ought to, on the one hand, retaliate against and even preclude terrorism, and with the other hand, offer refuge to those running from it.

I hate politics, but I love Jesus. And so when I’m faced with the kind of situations we see in our world right now, I try to focus on Him and ask what next step He wants me to take. I’m not a government official and I don’t envy the job of deciding how to help the global situation and how to vet the refugees. But I can ask how God wants me to respond in my every day life. The answer I’ve been getting?

It doesn’t involve safety and living the American dream. I’m not sure it even involves remodeling the kitchen next year, as we planned. It may involve giving all my money to the poor, but only if I do it out of love (1Corinthians 13).

The answer I've been hearing is something like this, from Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my        Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

I’ve been reading about missionaries who put aside the comforts of this world to bring good news to the lost. There wasn’t much safety and ease in the lives of the Livingstones and the Judsons.

I’ve been thinking about how hard this all is. It’s easy to say what we should do. It’s not so easy to put it into practice. It’s hard and it’s scary and I, for one, would rather be raising my kids during the Cold War than during this crazy global crisis. I realize that’s probably because I can see from here that most

Americans survived the 80’s just fine and I can’t see the future for our children now.

I’ve been, sometimes, feeling very fearful. I try to combat that with praise. I’m so thankful for Pandora and K-LOVE in those moments. I also remember that perfect love casts out fear, which pushes me to read this in 1 John 4:

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

It’s easy, in a sense, to love the refugees, who are not here (yet). It’s harder, at the moment, to love our fellow believers. And so I’m letting this particular crisis drive me to live out the whole gospel better here, in the US, today, with my fellow believers, with the least of these that He puts right in front of me.

What a hypocrite I would be if I said, “We should love the Syrian refugees and let them into our country!”

And then I turned around and said, “No, I can’t bring a meal to that family in need. I can’t listen to their pain. I can only help the people I like spending time with. I can’t go serve at the Soup Kitchen. I’m too busy. It’s too hard.”

I want my kids to see me loving people. I want to love with abandon. I want to follow Him. Even when it’s hard. I’d rather it were easy and safe. But that’s not what we were called to. So I pray for the strength to do whatever He puts in front of me, whether it’s hugging my own child or providing a home for a stranger.

Let me see His face in the least of these, my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kick that Guilty Habit!

She arrived home from school and the badgering began.

“When are you going to send that form in? There are only two other people in my class who haven’t sent it in yet. You have to do it by Friday, Mom!”

“Honey, it’s only Tuesday. I’ll get to it.”

We went back and forth for a minute or two. Me, just needing five minutes of quiet to sit down and think about the order form (in my view, the least important of the thousand things calling for five minutes of my time). Her, wanting to be heard, wanting me to see how crucial this was. To not be the last one. To not be the one whose mom doesn’t care. And then she said it.

“I really don’t think you love me!”

There it is.

I’ve failed. Again.

There are many, many things I love about being a mother. I love middle of the night nursing and newborn snuggles. I love little arms around my neck and sloppy kisses on my cheeks. I love reading books and singing songs. Looking deep into my children’s eyes as they share what’s important to them. I love watching their talents blossom right in front of me. Seeing them express themselves and become individuals. The kid who’s always loved to sing in front of a crowd gets the lead part in the musical? I love that! The budding artist learning to sketch from a photograph? I love that, too! Truth be told, I really love sitting with another mom and drinking coffee while our kids tear the house apart. I even love a good challenge—when I have to discipline and I ask for wisdom and He delivers. So many facets to this life. Full and messy and good.

But when I launched into motherhood nine years ago, I did not know I would have a dark, slinky companion with me most of the time. And I do not love him. In fact, I hate him. I hate Guilt.

I’m only one paltry human being, trying to do the best I can. My sinful nature gets the upper hand so often. I’m selfish. I get mad. Or I want to be alone. And then Guilt shows up, right by my elbow . . . it seems he’s the height of a child. And Guilt reminds me how I’ve failed. He whispers that I’m too broken for this, I have my priorities all wrong, my kids don’t feel my love, they’d be better off without me. He tells me that when they grow up, they won’t want to be around me, they won’t forgive my shortcomings, they’ll need years of therapy to undo the damage I’ve done.

You know what? I’m sick of Guilt. I don’t want to listen to his lies anymore.

I can’t see the future. Maybe my kids will need therapy, but that’s not the end of the world. (You could probably use therapy, too, by the way.) I pray the good I do outweighs the damage. I hope they grow into wonderful adults who can see me as the whole, imperfect person I am and love me still. I can’t mother perfectly because I am broken, but my brokenness is covered by the blood of the Lamb. If I lay it at His feet, an unthinkable thing happens. He uses it. I can roll up my sleeves, do this job, and trust Him to redeem my failures.

So let’s send Guilt back where he belongs and let’s live out our redemption. Not perfect mothers, any of us. But sanctified. Empowered.  

Somehow, I didn’t fall apart when she said that to me. (I waited until I wrote this post for that.) I did let her know that being the last one to hand in a form does not mean your mother doesn’t love you. Maybe all she needed was a hug and for me to listen for a while without being distracted. Most of the time, that’s all she’s asking for. I want to give my children what they need. But when I don’t, I need to remember that grace is big enough to pick up my slack.

And that dark companion, Guilt, isn’t allowed to slink around me anymore.

Photo Credit: April Olivia Roskos