An Epidemic of Stuckness

We have two high school aged boys, one is a senior and the other a freshman. Our senior is almost 18 and has almost completed his transition to adulthood and the freshman is just beginning. This whole raising adults thing is tough, much more than I expected. As I have struggled in my own parenting of my boys, I have looked around at other kids in my sons generation and noticed an alarming trend of stuckness. It seems like many older teens these days are getting to high school graduation and then they freeze and have no idea what to do, they seem like deer stuck in headlights. This seems to be a new thing, I don’t remember it being a problem when I was there age. So, the question is why and how do we fix it? (Disclaimer: it’s about to get real over here. I’m going to tell you my experiences good and bad, hopefully my kids don’t kill me. And I’m going to give suggestions from my observations, which may not be comfortable to hear. If I step on toes, I apologize, but I think we need some self reflection here as parents, so be open minded.)

This past year has been a rough one, for everyone really, but specifically I have learned, and am continuing to learn, a lot about myself as a parent and how to be better. As my oldest son was growing up, I saw him a certain way based on his likes and dislikes and behavior. I pegged him as serious, particular and studious. He was very smart and seemed to do well in math. So, I had a assumed path for his life. It’s not that I was trying to put him a box on purpose but unknowingly I did. I suggested careers during high school that dealt with math, like accounting, or science, like medicine. I was trying hard to help him find his path, but I was failing at it. Last summer he was stuck in a big way. His mental health was suffering and physically he had some issues as well. I didn’t understand where I went wrong. Turns out it was my perspective. I was still seeing him as the 8 year old who did well in math and liked things just so, but he had changed with my realizing it. He had grown up and he was now beginning to show who he really was as he sought to come out from under our influence as parents. It’s a completely normal process for teens to go through. They must assert themselves as people and become their own person. That person often times looks different than they were as children. As a parent trying to survive our own life crisis that I won’t get into right now, I missed the change. I also think I may have missed it even without the external stress because parents are often too close to see their kids grow. This is where trusted friends and family can be so helpful in a teens life. They are far enough away from the situation to see the teen for who he or she really is in a way a parent cannot. Thankfully in our situation some friends, family, counselors and youth ministers came around us and supported us as we sought to better understand this teenager we had. Turns out my son, who I thought loved math, science and order, really has a passion for art and music. It is still something we are navigating as we are seeking to better understand and support him for who he is becoming and not who WE thought he was.

So, why are kids stuck? Two things that come to mind as I have looked around and tried to understand this issue better:

  1. Social media is so immersive and our kids are terrified to make any kind of wrong moves because the whole world is watching, so to speak. So, they just sit down and do nothing. That’s not something my generation had to deal with growing up and it’s a heavy weight on this one. Mental health is skyrocketing, it’s certainly tied to this pandemic, but also social media has allowed bullying and people just saying whatever they think and speaking into our kids lives all the time good or bad. Our kids feel scrutinized all the time, so we as parents have to be careful not to add to that.
  2. We are majorly overparenting. As a reaction to all this and probably other factors in our own pasts, we are trying so hard to shelter our kids, in a good way, to protect them and help them find their way that we are paralyzing them. We are controlling every little aspect of their lives and not allowing them to fail and learn they will be okay if they do. I am talking to myself here as well for sure. I have controlling tendencies and want to keep my kids from harm. Honestly, after you lose a child you tend to struggle all the more with these things. I fear their harm as much as any parent, but I have to fight against that and allow them to make their own choices and respect those choices. Our goal as parents has to be to launch our kids into the world with the tools they need to be successful, but they can never gain those tools unless we allow them to practice using them at home. They have to be allowed to make their own choices about even the smallest things and then the larger ones. I’ll give you an example with my kids. We have chosen for our kids to not have a curfew. We ask them to let us know generally when they will be home and to make good choices about what they are doing. If they want to go out with friends and they change locations then I expect them to make good choices and safety but I have stopped requiring that they tell me every place they go. Obviously, if they did something that was unsafe or made poor choices then we might have to revisit that, but particularly with my 17 year old, he is almost an adult and I really have very little say about what he does. If he chooses to make a bad choice such as going to a party where drugs are being used and uses those drugs and then gets arrested, he would have to deal with his own consequences of then being in jail. It doesn’t even require my parenting adjustment. It’s a mental shift for sure, but it starts with allowing them to choose small things like bedtimes or how often they shower, so if my teens smell, just know I’m allowing them the freedom to choose that. lol Honestly, overparenting wears you out as a parent, so give yourself a break and find a hobby to immerse yourself in and give your kids some freedom to make choices.

One thing I have realized is that I must untangle my own self worth from my kids successes and failures. I can’t make their choices for them so whether they make good choices or bad ones that’s not up to me. I can neither claim the credit or the failure for that. As a mom this is so easy to do. Society makes me think that my kids success or failure is a direct reflection on me. Is my kids throwing a tantrum in the store? I’m a bad parent. Did my child make the A honor roll? I’m a good parent. Did my kid get a scholarship to Harvard and become a successful doctor? Good parent. Is my child in prison? bad parent. In reality it’s not that black and white there are many things we as parent cannot control. I can’t control my three year old and his emotions and really he has to have tantrums to express his displeasure until he learns that doesn’t accomplish what he wants. All these things good or bad are the choice of my child and not my own. I have realized that I put too much stock in apparent success or failure of my child to find my self worth. I ‘m working to change that. First by acknowledge it and then by living my own life apart from my kids. It’s one of the reasons I am choosing to pursue a degree in counseling. Now, I absolutely don’t think you need to pursue a career outside the home as a mom in order to live your own life. The point is that you should pursue your own interests and find your self worth in yourself and not those around you. It’s about knowing the boundary where my kids stop and I begin. This helps your child become his own person and you be yours. If your child feels the weight of your self esteem riding on their success or failure they will have an unfair weight of expectation on them.

We certainly don’t have this all figured out, but we are growing. As a parent you have to be willing to acknowledge when you haven’t quite hit the mark and then ask for forgiveness and take different path. How can we expect our kids to acknowledge shortcomings and find a new path if we refuse to. Let’s focus on raising adults and not raising children.

What are you telling yourself?

Glenn recently went to a conference about educational leadership. The core of it was knowing yourself better to be able to lead better. He learned that we all have mantras that we tell ourselves and that directs how we think and act. We discussed his and I began to think about mine. Often times this is something you came up with in your early childhood from experiences you had or didn’t, and your underdeveloped brain told you things about the world that may or may not have been true. For me, my parents got divorced when I was six and I went from being best buds with my dad to practically never seeing him. This led me to create a mantra that I need to be self sufficient because depending on others is not safe. The way this has played out in my life is both good and bad. It has made me independent and a go getter to achieve and stand on my own two feet. It has made me strong, but it has also made me not trust others and struggle to bring down walls enough to let them in. I really don’t deal with rejection well at all. If I sense someone doesn’t like me or even hints at walking away from me, I will leave faster. I will shut you out and run. I spent much of our early marriage wondering when Glenn would leave. 20 years later I am beginning to believe he’s staying. lol. I joke but it’s true. I know these things about myself and I’m now trying hard to do the work of trusting and letting people in.

I had a silly example of this lately. While Glenn was gone for three days my car needed air in one of the tires. So, I went to the gas station and put air in it. However, when it was finished the air was less than when I started. I called Glenn and he said maybe I didn’t do it right. He said he would look at it when he got home. It really bothered me that I seemed to not be able to do such a simple task and that I needed some man to come rescue me. Turns out the tire had a nail in it so it wasn’t me. Whew. But it was a real moment of reflection on why this bothered me so much. If I let myself need someone and then they leave, what will happen then? My mom and I depended on my dad and he not only left us emotionally and physically, but he also ruined the business they had built and put us in a very difficult financial situation. One can understand why I struggle to want to depend on people.

God didn’t make us to be islands. He made us to need others and be in relationship and you cannot do that without letting others in and trusting. This does not mean I don’t have boundaries with others but it does mean I need to learn to trust. Boundaries actually promote trust. If I depended on Glenn to do everything for me and was uncapable of doing anything for myself, then that is an unhealthy dependence and I lack boundaries of where he ends and I begin. But if I maintain a balance of doing things for myself but also asking for help and trusting him to do what he says he will do, then that promotes trust between us. This is most obvious with kids. My oldest son is 17 and a senior this year. We are making lots of decisions about his future right now. It’s a big year. We were doing college applications yesterday. I made him sit down and actually fill them out but I was there to help. If I had filled them out then that promotes unhealthy boundaries because he needs to see he can do that on his own and he needs to own the decisions to do it. I am there to help him when he needs help but he needs to ultimately separate from me doing everything for him, like when he was a child, and becoming his own adult person. If that doesn’t happen then what? That’s when you see these parents going to college with their child and talking to professors for them and managers at their jobs. They have crippled their child by now allowing the child to set boundaries and become an adult. It’s hard as a parent because you don’t want your child to experience hardship or pain but without that they cannot grow. When baby birds are hatching they struggle to get out of the egg. If you help them then they will not be strong enough to survive and will die after hatching. That struggle is necessary to make them strong enough to live.

In learning more about myself, I have discovered I’m a very empathetic person. Sometimes to a fault because I feel what everyone around me feels and it can be exhausting. I think I am this way because I was taught you must put others first and never be selfish. That is what the bible says right? While it is true you should put others before yourself, you can take that to an extreme and never think of oneself at all. People who are selfish or self promoting bother me. I see it in my kids and get overly frustrated with them. I see it in those around me and put up walls to not allow that person in because I’m afraid they will hurt me. It’s stuff from my past. I have a mantra in my mind that selfish people will ultimately hurt you, but my definition of selfish is skewed. I see it as anyone who thinks about themselves. It’s not healthy to never think about yourself because if you did that then you never able to express your needs to others or to take time to care for yourself. Both are things I am not good at. And our culture says that moms and wives are to be unselfish and think only about others at all times. We are to deny our needs in favor of our kids and everyone else at all times. And we wonder why we are burned out. It’s exhausting to keep that up. I’m learning to not see asking for what I need as selfish. It’s hard but I’m working on it. I’m also learning to have grace with others when I see self promotion or selfishness because maybe I’m seeing it through my own lens.

What mantras do you tell yourself? How does that affect your relationships with others? How would becoming aware of those mantras help you as you interact with others?

Scarcity

Scarcity is an idea from a book by Brene Brown. The idea is that you are living your life out of lack instead of out of abundance. It’s not about what you actually have but about your attitude and the messages you are telling yourself. For example, when you get up in the morning and you think, “Oh man, I only got six hours sleep.” and then you go to the kitchen and say, “oh, I ran out of cheerios, I really don’t like raisin bran.” Then you take your kids to school and say, “man, this car line takes forever, I really hate doing it, it’s such a waste of time”. Then you look in the mirror and say, “I’m too _______ or not ________enough!”

All that is living out of scarcity. It’s focusing on what’s wrong versus what’s right, what you lack instead of what you have been blessed with. So, instead of saying to yourself how little sleep you got you could say, “I am so blessed to wake up this morning.” “I will try raisin bran today and maybe Ill find I like it” “this car line gives me the chance to spend quality time with my child I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.” And, “I may not weigh what I want to yet, but I am making progress.”

It’s a mindset. It’s the way we talk to ourselves and what we focus on. Will you focus on blessings or what you don’t have that you want? Will you focus on your aliments or on your strengths?

So, when I read this concept it really hit me between the eyes. I’m in a season of babies and toddlers and I’m tired. ALL THE TIME. It can really just make you in a perpetual bad mood because you find yourself focusing on what you don’t have: time, sleep, showers, etc. instead of what you do have. I’m trying really hard to focus on the good parts of having little ones. The time I get to spend with them and these are moments I will miss as they grow older and more independent. This is not my natural focus. I tend toward what I like to call “realism”. It’s not pessimism (okay, maybe optimists would probably classify it as that), it’s just focusing on the reality of a situation and not the rose colored glasses of optimism. Needless to say I don’t always see the positive. I would tell you it better prepares me for disappointment, which might be true, but it also never allows me to fully be hopeful or joyful. Those are hard for me. I’m trying really hard to pay attention to the things I say to myself and turn them to a more positive, abundant focus. I also try to think of what I’m grateful for each day. Focusing on blessings helps put into perspective when things don’t go as you wish the would. Don’t live out of scarcity, live out of abundance. Those around you will notice your new outlook and thank you for it.

A witness to grief

The other day I was talking with my counselor. She asked me about my relationship with my dad and began to tell her the story of my life. I started to cry, not just a little, hard. She asked me why I was crying and I said I didn’t know. I truly didn’t. It had been years since my father passed away, 17 actually, so why was I crying? After thinking and praying, God brought me to a podcast about grief. I realized that I think my tears are because I never got closure after my dad’s passing. There was no funeral and he has no grave for me to visit. (I’ll give the full story on that later) Because of that I don’t think I was ever allowed to grieve his loss well. Grief needs a witness. It needs others around you to witness your pain and acknowledge the good and bad in your relationship with your loved one. That is why we have funerals. We need others to witness our grief. If you don’t have those rights of passage then you have a difficult time fully grieving. So, I realized I need to find a way to have that closure. I’ll tell you how I plan to do that, but first let me give you the story of my dad and my relationship, the good the bad and the ugly.

My parents met and married in six weeks. They were in their upper 30’s when they married and my mom had never been married but my dad was divorced. They were married for a few years when they decided to adopt me. My dad was a good dad to me. He spent lots of time reading to me and playing with me. But our happy family wasn’t as happy as I thought. My mom told me later that he had been having affairs since they first were married and that continued throughout their relationship. When I was six they separated and divorced a couple years later. Shortly before their divorce, my dad moved out of state and my mom was left to run the home health agency they had started together. One day the IRS showed up at her door and took over her business stating that employee taxes had not been paid for a number of years. After a lengthy investigation and threatening her with prison, the IRS discovered she did not know about any of the tax evasion and it was all my dad’s doing. Unfortunately, they could not find him, so they ordered my mom to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. The business was sold and most of what we owned was sold or repossessed. We almost lost our house and my mom had no income from making six figures just days before. She also discovered my dad had taken all that money from the taxes and started his own business with his girlfriend. He was an elder in our church and he told the church that he and my mom were divorcing because she was an alcoholic, which of course wasn’t true, but they all believed him and came to my mom trying to do an intervention.

During this period I would see him periodically. He would bring me large expensive gifts to make up for not being there or not paying his child support. My mom was good about not talking negatively about him even though there was plenty to say. I still knew what was going on for the most part because that sort of thing is hard to hide when it effects your whole life. Over the years we stopped seeing each other, and he would call on Father’s Day each year which was painful because it’s just days after my birthday. When I was in college he started calling me drunk and talking bad about my mom. I finally wrote him a letter and told him I loved him but I wouldn’t be talking to him until he was sober. He and I didn’t talk for five years, during which time he missed my wedding. Finally when I got pregnant with my oldest son I called him to tell him. We had a wonderful conversation and he told me he was sober and had started attending church again. We talked frequently for about a year. He apologized for all he had done. We made plans to go see him in Pennsylvania where he was living. I was able to say all the things I wanted to say. Then one day his sister called and talked to Glenn while I was at work and told him my dad had passed away suddenly. They didn’t do a funeral because he didn’t have any money, so they had cremated him and spread his ashes somewhere and would I pay for the cremation. (You can see that his family was very messed up and that led to some of his issues).

I was sad, but truthfully part of me was also relieved. It had been an emotional rollercoaster and I was glad it was over, if that makes sense. But I was also sad that we never got the chance to have a relationship that I wanted and hoped we could have. At the same time, as a new parent, I was relieved on some level that he wouldn’t have the chance to get to know my precious son. I knew from experience that he was good sometimes but there was also his unreliable nature that I just didn’t quite trust with my child. I know God can redeem those things but I wasn’t ready to trust that just yet as a parent. So, I entered counseling shortly after that for the first time as a adult and tried to deal with his loss the best I could. But as I reflect on it now I think I didn’t really grieve it properly because I didn’t have that proper ceremony. So, I have decided to do that for myself. I decided to write a letter to him about all the good things about him and also all those things I wish I didn’t expereince, the hurts he caused. I will write that letter and then burn it. But there is also one symbolic thing I must do. The dollhouse.

Once I asked my mom why she told me they were getting divorced on my sixth birthday. She told me that they didn’t do that, they would never ruin my day. It was on that day that I realized something was wrong. They weren’t separated yet but they were distant. He spent most of the day inside and not outside where the party was. I got a dollhouse for my big gift at that party. It was unfinished solid wood. He and I started painting it pink but never finished it before he moved out. It has sat unfinished for all these years. I played with it all the time as a child and I said I would someday finish it and give it to my daughter. I never did. I have dragged it around for 35 years and my husband has lovingly stored it in garages and attics, I’m sure wondering when I would just get rid of this heavy thing. Well, I realized that this thing is carrying unfinished emotional business from my dad and it needs to go. I’m letting go of a hope of an earthly relationship with him that will never be. I’m letting go of memories of that day when my world ended. I’m letting go of memories of unfinished tasks and I’m also letting go of the dream of having a daughter to somehow make this thing right with. Lots of emotional stuff in this doll house. But when I let it go I will be letting go of all that and stepping into healing and wholeness. I will be stepping into freedom from pain, loss and anger. I will be getting rid of the albatross around my neck of these complicated relationships both with my dad and my daughter. Neither one lived up to the expectations I had set forth. Both were flawed and hurt from their own messy pasts and caused me pain in the process. BUT, in heaven all that will be no more. They are both whole and I can have that relationship I wanted with them there. For now, I need to let go of things that will never be and pain I’ve been holding on to, so that I can step into the future with an open, healed, heart. So, I will do that hard thing and have that ceremony.

What ceremonies might you need to have in your life? Is there a hurt in your past that needs to be let go of? Choose to let it go with a ceremony that you can mark the end of that pain and the beginning of healing.

Anonymous

Currently, I’m reading a book called “Anonymous”. It’s about the hidden years of Jesus, which is most of his life. We know nothing about his life from age 12 till age 30. That’s a long time. We can assume he was just doing the carpenter thing with his father, although it would appear his father passed away at some point during those years since he is not mentioned after Jesus begins his ministry. He apparently didn’t do anything particularly notable during that time because no one in his home town had any idea he was the Messiah. So, what was he up to? Why did God allow that time in his life?

Have you ever been in a season like that? One you thought was nothing special? It’s the in between. Maybe you are preparing for something big like marriage, or expecting a baby. Maybe graduation or moving. Maybe you are just a stay at home mom cleaning up poop and dishes (hopefully not at the same time) each day and taking care of young kids. You feel unseen and unimportant. What could this season of anonymity possibly be for?

I find myself in that place. I have been a stay at home mom for 17 years now. I have been homeschooling for the last 8 years but most of my kids started traditional school this week for the first time. I now have two teens and two toddlers at home. My teenagers are self sufficient in doing their schoolwork or are taking college classes online. They are technically homeschooling but require very little from me. So I am left with a one year old and soon to be three year old. It’s a thankless job most days. I am not particularly fond of the toddler years and especially not at 41 lol. I’ve pretty much had a toddler for the last 17 years and wouldn’t mind that season of life to come to an end.

I find myself in an transition. In three years, when my youngest is 4 and starts preschool, I will be starting school myself, grad school. I will be getting my counseling degree. I asked God why he told me that was the plan three years before it happened. That’s very unlike Him. He’s usually a last minute sort of guy. I think it’s for preparation. I am using this time to prepare for the next season of life, just as Jesus did in his unseen years. I am sure he didn’t just walk up to get baptized and start his ministry without thinking it through and doing some preparation. We don’t get to read about that in the Bible but I’m sure it happened. God was preparing his heart for what he was about to do. I find in this season I need to learn to rest. I am not good at sitting still. Go, go, go. Sitting still requires work for me, but it’s vital to be able to sit still a find rest. If you cannot find rest, you cannot heal and prepare.

The last ten years have been full of trials and loss. We as a family need healing from that. We are working through it with counselors and amongst ourselves, but like all things, it takes time. We need time to learn to rest and let grace have it’s perfect work. So many times I think we just plow through a tough season of life and keep going like nothing happened. If we sit still and examine ourselves we might have to deal with the pain. It’s tough. I don’t like counseling. I don’t like dealing with my issues, it hurts. But if I don’t do that then I will carry them with me into the next season of life. I cannot do the work God has for me to do as a counselor if I don’t do the hard work of preparation and healing in this season.

Maybe you find yourself in a season of waiting. Maybe you think there’s nothing good that could come from it. Maybe you are afraid to sit still and rest because you might not like the feelings the you find and have to deal with. I get it. I’m right there too. But if you want to grow into what God has for you in the next season, you must walk through the stuff of this season. You have to do the work and prepare. You have to learn to rest and listen to what He is saying. You have to heal your heart.

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua 3:5

Love lives on

41 years ago today I was placed in the arms of my adoptive mom by my birth mom. It was equal parts love and loss. My mom told me she looked across the room at my birth mom and felt the pain at the same time she was feeling the joy. I had a very similar experience with Josh’s birth mom. Even though both birth moms had their challenges, I believe they both loved their babies and wanted the best for them. And family around them convinced them of the best path being adoption and I’m forever grateful for that choice for both of us.

As I reflect on today, a day we called family day growing up, a thought comes to mind that I realized recently. I was thinking about my mom, and how she passed on to heaven three years ago. At first I felt like the word “orphan” defined this period of my life. With both my parents no longer with me, that is how it felt. However, recently I realized that just because my daughter has passed on does not make me any less of her mother. The same is with my mom. I am no less a daughter to her just because she is in heaven because her memory lives on in me. I also realized that I can still love her and still be in a relationship with her even though she’s not here. Now don’t loose me here. I’m not talking about anything weird, I just mean love doesn’t end just because you aren’t with a person anymore. Think about it this way. Let’s say a loved one or friend goes on an extended trip. Do you stop loving them or being their friend just because they are gone? No. You continue that relationship even if you cannot talk with them. That relationship lives on in you. You are forever connected. And when you see that person again it’s just as if they never left, in most cases. It might even be that the relationship is stronger because of having been apart and both people realizing how much they really missed one another and mean to each other. Hurts might have been forgiven and love may have grown. So it is with those in heaven.

Maybe your loved one or friend passed away and you never got to say things you wanted to say to them. Maybe you weren’t on the best terms. Maybe you had unresolved things. I have found, after experiencing many losses, that you will inevitably have unresolved things with people who pass away particularly those you were close to. It’s just how it is with human relationships. There are things left unsaid or undone. After my mom passed I realized I had some things I wanted to say but never got the chance. So, I went to her grave and I talked. I realized that she probably couldn’t hear me but I needed to say them for myself. I have done the same with my daughter and my dad. Relationships are complicated and none are perfect and if you live with regret of unsaid things I would encourage you to write your loved one a letter or go to their grave and talk to them. It really helps.

I thought that was it. I thought the relationship had to be exactly where we left it when they passed until I saw them again in heaven, but it’s not true. It’s not true because I can change. I can evolve my feelings and grow in my relationship with them as I wait to see them again, just like I would if there were just gone on a trip.

Love lives on in me for them, and love lives on in heaven with them. They are still my mom, dad, and daughter even though they are in heaven. Now don’t freak out on me about theology, I realize some people believe we won’t have relationship like mom/daughter in heaven. I won’t argue that with you if that’s what you believe because frankly I don’t know enough to really argue the point. I have not been to seminary, but I happen to believe that we will know each other and be connected in relationship as we were here in some way. So, when I get to heaven I will see my mom and we will know and love each other and continue our relationship there for eternity, but it’ll be better because there is no sin, so there is no pain or tears. No arguing or hurt feelings. Just love. Perfect love. I think that is how they see me now. Mom doesn’t see unsaid words or hurt feelings, she only sees love. So when she sees me she will see love, and all the regrets I may have will be forgotten. So, I should live as though they are forgotten here. Living with regret is only hurtful to me because all is forgiven in heaven.

I don’t know if that makes sense. To me it was a huge revelation. I have many regrets with my daughter in particular. We have a very difficult relationship because of her past and mine. We never got to that loving mom/daughter bond I wanted and of course I have regrets. Was there anything else we could have done? But you know what? It doesn’t matter anymore. She is made whole and has no pain or regret. She sees me only through love. When we meet again all will be resurrected and there will be only perfect love. I don’t have to live with regret here because I can move forward knowing all is made new and I can continue to have that relationship with her now, while I’m here, looking forward to the day when we will meet again. I hope this helps others. I know there are others out there holding hurt and regret from loved ones who have passed on. Let it go. In heaven there is only love.

What if

About a month ago I went to a regular checkup at my doctor. I waited for a long time because the doctor was running late. I didn’t mind. I had no kids with me and I had a book, I could’ve sat there all day. I had no idea what was coming. It’s funny how you have those moments looking back. The moments before the moment that changed things. You aren’t thinking about anything, everything is fine and then BAM things change. You get a call that there has been an accident and your loved one is in the hospital, you watch the news and a pandemic is quickly shutting everything down, or you sit in a doctor’s office and they say, “there’s something suspicious, we need a biopsy, it’s probably nothing but it could be….”

I’ve had all those moments in the last year or so, but most recently at the doctor they found something. The doctor was talking to me and saying things but, I couldn’t hear. All I was hearing was my mind racing and fear gripping me. I expected to go in there and everything would be fine, check that off my to do list, but then it wasn’t. I went back the next week for a biopsy and then I waited…and waited,… and waited for what felt like an eternity. All the while I wish I could say I was praying and had tons of peace and didn’t worry at all, but that would be a lie. At first I consulted Dr. Google, always a dangerous thing. I was convinced I had cancer and the outcome would be terrible. I did okay during the day, being rational and praying and finding peace, but those hours I was up during the night, feeding my 11 month old and freaking out. How could I go through cancer treatment when I barely have time to shower most days? Would this break us financially? Would I leave my family without a wife and mom? So many questions that loop in your mind at 3am.

During that week I went to church and of course I had my pastor pray for me. Some very lovely surrogate moms that I love with all my heart, gathered around me and prayed and loved me. I felt so much better. I had peace that no matter what it would be okay and God has this in His hand. But I still had moments. Moments when I let fear get the better of me. I’m a fixer by nature and I’ve learned to advocate (aka annoy the mess out of) with doctors for my special needs kids. So that’s what I did. I sent a million messages to my doctor’s office until they finally felt sorry for me (or got ticked off) and called me to say everything was fine. No cancer. Obviously it was a huge relief. Then I started to ask myself why did God allow this in my life? Was He trying to teach me something?

I was listening to a podcast recently and the pastor was saying that often we blame things on God that He had nothing to do with. It was Satan who was to blame. It got me thinking. Just a couple weeks before this happened I had finally, after much prayer and thought, decided to go back to grad school and get my degree in counseling. I won’t start for three years, Gavin needs to get a bit older, but it’s what I think God is calling me to. I find it curious that I had no sooner decided that then this whole cancer scare happens. Was Satan trying to derail me? I don’t know, but I can say that the experience gave me clarity. One of my first thoughts when I thought I might have cancer was that I might not be able to be a counselor and that made me sad. God was using this to give me clarity and show me I was headed in the right direction. My own counselor pointed out that it can also give me some understanding of what people who face a real cancer diagnosis might go through if I ever came across someone facing that in my counseling practice. There is much to be learned from this experience.

Are there experiences, things you wish had never happened, times you wonder why God is allowing something or what He’s up to? When you come to the hard left turns of life, those moments you don’t see coming that change everything, ask yourself what God might be trying to say? Is he using this moment to teach you something or clarify a calling in your life? Sometimes you cannot make sense of a situation and you may never understand and that’s okay. We all have those times in our lives. But there are moments when in the chaos of something unexpected we can whisper to God “what are you trying to say through this?” And you just might get an answer.

Approved

I came across something curious recently in Bible study. It’s this verse:

Luke 3:21-22

After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

It’s the account of Jesus being baptized. The story is that John the Baptist was out baptizing people and telling people he was not the Messiah they were waiting for but that He was coming soon. Jesus gets at the back of the line to be baptized. After it’s over the Holy Spirit literally comes down and lands on him in the form of a dove and God speaks audibly and says: “you’re my kid and I love you and I’m proud of you”. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. So far his life was not very interesting. He was a carpenter from a small town, and not a very notable small town either. He had done nothing worthy of praise in the eyes of men. In fact, he was a child of scandalous origins since Mary claimed to be a virgin and got pregnant before getting married. Everyone saw him as a fatherless child or a child of questionable heritage who Joseph, Mary’s husband and the man who was acting as Jesus’ father, had agreed to raise and not ask questions. The whole thing was very questionable. Jesus was probably somewhat an outcast in his social circles. So, he goes to get baptized and people are probably thinking “well good because he could certainly use some sanctification from those origins”.

Then a crazy thing happens. A dove comes down and lands on his shoulder. Interestingly the dove is a symbol of peace and purification in the bible. People used doves as a sacrifice to purify themselves of sin. A dove was used to find land and salvation for Noah. The Holy Spirit took a form of a dove perhaps saying that Jesus was pure and was to be our sacrifice as a type and shadow.

Then God says to Jesus “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life”.

That whole phrase is very interesting. First because after that the Bible goes on to give Jesus’s lineage and show how he is God’s son. God is telling everyone that Jesus is His son. There is no scandal about him. God claims him. Then God goes on to say how proud He is of Jesus and that he loves him. This is interesting because to this point Jesus hasn’t begun his ministry. He has done nothing really. No miracles, no disciples, but God is proud. God is proud of WHO he is not what he DOES.

Why would God choose to tell Jesus this? Does Jesus need to hear it? God knows Jesus is just beginning his ministry and will be tested. He knows he will be dealing with haters and people saying all kinds of things about him and Jesus needs to hear He is proud. Maybe. I think it’s there for us. I think God wants us to know He is proud of us because we are His children. It’s not about what we DO but WHO we are. He is pleased with us. We are his sons and daughters and nothing we do or don’t do can change that fact. We don’t have to do anything to convince God to love us or gain HIs approval. He loves to no matter what.

Secular or ministry?

Modern Christianity has this idea that there is a hierarchy of vocations in the world. There are missionaries, ministers and the rest of us. It’s a shame because you don’t see that in the bible. God calls all sorts of people to do all sorts of things and doesn’t say one is more valuable than the other. I think it leads to guilt in people who aren’t missionaries or ministers that maybe we are second rate Christians or not doing enough for God or maybe we are ignoring God’s calling on our lives. It’s so untrue. God places each one of us in certain situations and places in life for His purpose and we cannot know what that is most of the time. I think it also leads to everyone who is not called to be a missionary or minister to feel as though they are off the hook for ministering to God’s people which is also not true. God has something for each of us to do. It might be something we humans see as “big” like starting a worldwide ministry or “small” like cleaning toilets but God doesn’t see things in these categories, that’s a made up human thing. We are all needed in the body of Christ whether you have a very public “seen” job or a “unseen” job. None could function without the others. We gotta stop categorizing jobs and callings in Christianity. Let me tell you about my own life as an example.

Growing up I always felt like I would be a counselor. I went to school and got a degree in psychology and met my husband who was getting a degree in Spanish. His direction in life, he felt at the time, was to be a missionary in Mexico so studying Spanish seemed logical. When we met I knew we were called to be together and he was my person but the calling of missionary wasn’t something I had ever considered. I prayed and God assured me He had a plan and just to trust. We both graduated and continued working at our families florist. We knew he needed to make more money to support us as we pursued missionary training and he needed summers off so we decided he would go get his teaching certificate to teach Spanish. Before I made my application to graduate school to pursue counseling we found out we were expecting our first baby. Shortly before I had Sam we met with the elders and ministers at our church to discuss our desire to go on the mission field that summer. It was then we got an answer we didn’t expect. No. They felt like it wasn’t the right time for us. We were shocked by that but we spent a long time in prayer and discovered it was what God was saying. They asked Glenn if he could do anything else what would it be and he said to get his masters degree and teach Spanish in college. So, he applied to grad school while we tried to figure out what God was up to.

Having to tell people around us that we decided not to pursue being missionaries was very difficult. It wasn’t well received. We felt shame and guilt over what people thought because we believed and had been taught that not being a missionary was somehow less valuable to God. Maybe He didn’t think we were ready or able to do it so maybe He had demoted us. Now I was “just” a stay at home mom and Glenn was “just” a Spanish teacher who was pursuing a secular masters degree (horrors). We felt judged and it wasn’t comfortable. We judged ourselves as well. Were we taking the easy way out? We felt certain we were doing what God was leading us to but how could He lead you away from being a missionary? Wasn’t that the calling for all good Christians?

Years went by and now we find ourselves looking back on things. Since that time we can see where God was leading us each step to where we are. There have certainly been hard times and God has led us through and continues to, but I can see that our life here, doing what we are doing is what we are called to and what God has for us in this moment. We have had seven beautiful boys and I have had the privilege to be at home with. Glenn has gone from being a teacher to an administrator to now, as of a few months ago, being an executive director at his school. That’s not a place we would have ever expected. We have done various ministries at our church from youth pastors, to prayer team to nursery. We have adopted two special needs kids. What I know now is that every single thing we have done has been what God has called us to. All of it. And all of it is important and none greater than the rest. Glenn has such a mission to those families and teachers he serves at his school. I can’t imagine a larger platform for people to see God through someone than his job. I joke and say he’s a secular pastor because it’s his responsibility to care for those people at his school every day and their families and he takes that calling very seriously.

I have no idea what the future holds. We are praying about many things and what God would have us to do next but whatever it is, it is important whether big or small. Please, please hear that whatever you are doing and wherever you are, if you are listening and obeying God, you are on a mission. You are where God wants you to be, doing something really important for him. There are no top tier jobs in God’s kingdom. If God calls you to something unexpected that isn’t what others deem valuable, ignore them. They aren’t God. Only He can say what is your calling. Be brave and step out into whatever He is calling you to.

“In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

6-8 If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.”

Romans 12:4-8

I love this passage in Romans about us all being part of one body. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.

Rejoice

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” Romans 12:15

This is one of my favorite verses, which I think I’ve mentioned before. It’s a hard one to actually do and it challenges me. I honestly don’t know which is harder the weeping with others or the rejoicing. You would think it would be the weeping but I’m not sure. The weeping is hard because no one wants to be sad and our culture is very uncomfortable with “negative” emotions: saddness, anger, etc. But the rejoicing is also hard. People like to be happy and you would probably say it’s easy to be happy for people but only in certain circumstances.

Everyone can be happy for someone whose cancer is in remission because we all agree that no one should have cancer. It’s easy to be happy for someone when they avoid pain like that, but what about when they get something you wanted? What about when they get something you don’t think they deserved? ouch

Your friend gets a new house and you have been saving and praying for a new house but it’s just not possible financially.

Your coworker gets the promotion you thought you should get.

Someone has an unplanned pregnancy and you are going through fertility treatments.

Someone does the hard work to get themselves to a better place physically and you wish you could do that but you don’t have time or whatever.

Someone gets married and you are still looking for that perfect person.

So many times we face situations where we hope and pray for something for so long but someone else gets it. It’s hard! Those are the times it’s so hard to be happy for someone.

What about when someone has been unkind or just plain annoying and gets something you wanted. That’s hard!

In the bible there is the story of Joseph. Not Jesus’s earthly dad Joseph, but the one with all the brothers and the coat. Joseph had a bunch of brothers and he was the youngest. His father loved him more than the others and they knew it and Joseph made bad reports to his father about his brothers. He also told them all he had dreams that they would all bow down to him. Sounds like an obnoxious younger brother tattle tale to me. They were so jealous of him and annoyed by him that they plotted to kill him but instead sold him to their enemies as a slave. Yikes! That’s some serious sibling rivalry. In the end he was appointed overseer over Egypt and saved his whole country from famine but they, of course, couldn’t see that at the time.

It would be hard to like someone like that. Of course God had plans that they couldn’t understand. He was working to benefit them all but all they saw was jealousy and his bad attitude.

Most of the time when I find it hard to be happy for someone else and rejoice with them, it’s because of jealousy or pride. I think either I deserved what they have or maybe they didn’t deserve it. It’s a dangerous idea to think you deserve something because in reality we are sinful people and we don’t want what we really deserve. But sometimes in my pride I think I have been pretty good lately and deserve something. It’s how the world works but not how God works. God hates pride and jealousy. Sometimes I think God gives others blessings around us for their benefit but also to see how we will react and point out our pride to us.

I want to be the kind of person who is genuinely happy for those around me who get blessings that I may have wanted ,in the same way I wanted to be the kind of person who is willing to step into grief with someone who is grieving and be uncomfortable.