Hold the Dam!

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“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”

Early in my marriage, I underlined this gem from Proverbs 17 and wrote “TRISTA!!” out in the margin.  I confess that I was often more interested in making myself heard than in truly resolving conflict.  As a matter of fact, I often created conflict just to make my point.  Looking back now, I wonder what in the world I was thinking.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking at all.  I was feeling.  I was feeling unheard, unjustified and unloved.  My emotions railroaded what my mind knew to be true.  My husband loved me.  He did not think I was a moron.  His most fervent wish was not to ruin my life.  In truth, he was not my enemy.

But, boy!  It sure felt like it at times!

Recently, that same husband (the most patient man in the world) and I were walking through a nearby high school to attend a seminar.  As is often the case, the halls were lined with encouraging pep talk-type signs for the athletic and academic teams.  One of them said, “Don’t Think.  Just Feel.”

Wow.  Really?

Is this what we’re teaching the next generation?  Don’t use your reasoning powers.  Don’t think through the situation.  Don’t examine your options and make an informed decision.

Just let your emotions call the shots.  If you’re mad, act on it.  If you’re hurt, act on it.  If you don’t get your way and life feels unfair, act on it.  Immediately.  Forget the consequences and act like a three-year-old.  Totally go with your feelings.

Like I said before:  Wow.

The fact of the matter is that feelings can be incredibly deceiving.  We all know this…if we actually think about it.  Healthy emotions can be a thermometer in our lives, but they can never be a thermostat.  In other words, emotions may reveal how the experiences of our lives are affecting us, but how we respond to said experiences should never be predominantly determined by our emotions.

People often say that, out of all of the things they could wish for in this life, they wish their kids to be happy.  It may sound strange, but I guess I don’t really want that for my crew.  I personally can be up and down from happy thirteen times in any given day.  I want my kids to have something much deeper and more lasting than happiness–the joy and peace that come from living for Jesus Christ in spite of our circumstances.  I want them to respond to their emotions with thoughtfulness and wisdom.  I want them to be able to discern what is true and what is not.  I want them to think more than feel.

When I relied so heavily on my emotions all those years ago, I essentially nullified my own voice.  My husband, who reasons better than he emotes, was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my feelings that he eventually kind of shut down.  I breached so many dams on the soapbox of my emotions that, no matter how valid some of my points were, he learned to tune me out.  Looking back, I think I probably sounded a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wa-wah”.  Yeah, not what I had in mind.

When I finally started to reign it in and rule over my emotions, focusing on what was true and right, I had a steep hill to climb.  Not only did I have to re-train myself,  I had to re-train my husband.  It was my turn to be patient as I worked on re-building his trust in what I communicated to him.  It was a rough road.  And, the re-building took much, much longer than the breaching.  Yuck.  Maybe some of you have been there, too.

That same chapter in Proverbs tells us that he who covers over an offense promotes love.  In this life, I don’t want to be remembered as a dam-breacher.  As we’ve seen in the footage from hurricanes, a breached dam is a horrible tragedy with far-reaching consequences.  Instead, even if it means that I don’t feel like I’m heard, I want to leave the legacy of love.

 

 

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Frostbite

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We had a very heavy frost, possibly an actual freeze, a couple of days ago.  We lost both our sweet and sour cherry crops as well as most of our peaches, which is pretty sad for our family.  Fortunately, we had not yet planted much in our garden that would result in total crop failure.

Our potatoes sustained some frostbite, so I spent some time this morning cutting back the dead, damaged leaves so that the healthy parts of the plant can keep on growing.  We had mulched them pretty heavily the day before the forecasted frost, but we hadn’t completely covered everything.  Our broccoli plants and sugar snap pea seedlings still look a little rough, but I think they’ll rebound okay, too.

One of the things I respect about gardening is the reality that I am really not in control.  There are often certain things I can do to protect my various endeavors, but there is always an element that is completely beyond my grasp.  In my opinion, this is a healthy, humbling realization.  No matter what resources I have at my disposal and what energies I invest in all that I hope to accomplish, my ability to control every aspect is an illusion.  In order to have peace of mind, I’ve got to be okay with that.  I have to know when to keep working and when to let go.

Relationships have the same limitations.  We can only do what we can do.  Love.  Forgive.  Pray.  Repent.  Not every relationship is going to work perfectly.  Not every season is going to be an easy one.  At some point, we’ve got to be okay with that if we want to maintain peace of mind.  We can only do what we can do, and then we can ask God’s grace to cover over our mistakes.  That’s where the peace comes in.  We do what God calls us to do.  We work on the dead, damaged places in our own hearts, giving room for God to grow the healthy places into something living and productive.  We also have to allow for others to work on their own lives…or not.  We must relinquish the illusion of control.

I confess that this is a difficult concept for me–one that I struggle to learn time after time.  I can only do what I can do.  Love. Forgive. Pray. Repent.  Fortunately, if I shift my focus to these things, there is always more than enough to keep me well-occupied.

 

 

Reconciliation

I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, but our family has occasional disagreements…constantly.  It really wears on me more than it does my husband, but I think it’s because I’m with the kids kind of all of the time.  Plus, I tend to take my children’s attitudes personally–like they’re a reflection of my parenting or something.  Which they can be, I guess, but I need to not be so emotionally involved in pretty much everything.
I’m working on it.
I understand that moodiness and argumentativeness are normal among teenagers–and among people in general.  I truly do get that.  However, I am also a firm believer in the fact that just because something is normal does not mean it’s acceptable.  So, there is this dance that I attempt to perform as a mother of older children.  It’s called the yes-I-get-that-you-feel-this-way-and-it’s-totally-normal-but-it-is-not-okay-for-you-to-say-and-do-whatever-you-feel-like-saying-and-doing-and-please-know-that-I-am-holding-myself-to-the-same-standard-or-you-would-be-at-the-end-of-the-driveway-with-a-Free-to-Good-Home-sign-around-your-neck dance.  It’s a tough step to master because the tune is always changing.  Plus, the music is just so loud.
I have been trying to communicate to my kids that there is freedom in treating others the way we would like to be treated and that Jesus should be the standard for our behavior and that we are only responsible for our own actions…but I don’t think they’re buying it.  And, to be honest, that whole concept is a hard sell for me on some days even though I have experienced its truth time after time.  I surely am a slow learner on some days.  (Lord, pleeeease help my kids learn Your truths more quickly than their mother did!)
Anyway, I ran across a quote from Rick Warren this morning that I have printed out and hung in our dining room.  He beautifully articulates the importance of right priorities.
“Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution.  It is unrealistic to expect everyone to agree about everything.  Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem.  When we focus on reconciliation, the problem loses significance and often become irrelevant.”
I wish we lived in a world in which we saw every person as greater than any one of their opinions, preferences, personality traits or beliefs.  But we don’t.  We have begun to treat people as irrelevant while deeming certain issues as the most important thing.  This is a tragedy.
Lord, please help me to model the importance of loving Your people both inside and outside the walls of my home.  And, may my children come to understand the significance of right priorities in a way that proclaims Your Truth and shines Your Light even in the darkest of situations.

Listening to Forgiveness

rosesSometimes the mistakes of my past shout to me.  I have learned that even I am not loud enough to drown them out on my own.  Instead, I need the quiet whisper of the Word of God.

Today, in spite of my failures, my past sins, the downright ugly that sometimes resides in my heart, I hear His Truth.

I am forgiven.

I sought Him.  I repented.  He forgave.

I claim this as true.

I go forward, knowing that I am wholly and completely loved.

“If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness; therefore, You are feared (revered, worshiped, respected).”

Psalm 130:3-4. Parentheses mine.

The Mysterious Marta

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Meet Marta.  She is the lone Buff Orpington that survived out of the six babies I ordered just over a year ago.  Her companions succumbed to a variety of mishaps–disease, predators, drowning and more disease.  It was a rough year.  Marta alone has survived.

And not happily.

The Black Sexlinks we ordered in with her inexplicably turned on her earlier this year, venting all of their cooped up anxieties upon her.  The pecking order is real, folks.

The back of Marta’s head and neck were bald from abuse, and the flock eventually drew blood.  My son had been telling me how brutal the sexlinks had become.  I kind of blew him off, telling him that nature revolves around survival of the fittest and that Marta would be okay as long as she stayed out of their way.  Generally, the hens that are lowest in the pecking order eat last, drink last and basically need to give the powers that be a wide berth to avoid conflict.  Things don’t usually get that bad with hens of the same age.

While on the riding mower, I witnessed the exceptional brutality of this particular flock.  As Marta exited the coop to get a drink, the flock of five black-and-white birds raced up from the other end of the run and charged at her, piling on while Marta hunkered down and took their abuse.  The flock went at her, pecking until her comb was partially detached from her scalp.  I got to her as quickly as I could and scooped her up, resisting the urge to bully the bullies.  I pulled Marta out of the chicken run and released her into the yard.  She stumbled in slow circles for a time before eventually kind of flopping down onto a pile of cut grass.  She looked completely beaten.

I told the kids we would just leave Marta out during the day and put her in the coop each evening after the others had gone to roost for the night.  Chickens are practically comatose in sleep, so I was sure she would be safe as long as we put her in late and got her out early.  We did that for two nights before Marta wandered off onto the back part of our property.

She did not come home that night.

I do not usually get emotionally invested in my chickens.  Their purpose is to feed us–either directly or indirectly.  I have little room for sentimental attachments to my food.  The problem with Marta was that she reminded me of someone.  In the hopelessness of her situation, I was reminded of the ugliness of humanity.  How many times have I seen vulnerable, broken people all but destroyed by their peers?

Far too many.

Why do we do that to one another?  Why do we single out the one who is alone, who is different, who is already wounded and peck, peck, peck at them until they seemingly give up on ever getting something better?  We steal the hope from their hearts and the light from their eyes all in the name of…what?  Power?  Boredom?  Insecurity?  Fun?

Two days passed and one afternoon our puppies started barking like crazy.  I looked out, and there was Marta, strolling into the yard from the back pasture.  I thought she must need water or food or something, so I took some out to her.  But, no.  She was just checking in.  She looked happy (for a chicken).  Healthy.  The time away had done her some good.

I was ready to tuck her back into the coop again during the night, but she disappeared again at dusk.  I honestly have no idea where she went, and considering that we’ve trapped 11 raccoons in our barn in the past few weeks, I was not optimistic that she would continue to survive in the wilderness.  But, at least she wasn’t being terrorized by her own, right?

That was two days ago, and Marta made an appearance in the yard again today.  She came up to say “hello” and to peck up a few tasty bugs here and there.  When I looked out an hour so later, she was again nowhere to be found.

I am well aware of how ridiculous it sounds for someone like me to wax poetic about a hen-pecked hen…but I cannot help but feel that surely there is a lesson to be learned from Marta.

Surely qualities like compassion, forgiveness and mercy are not for the birds.

Money and Marriage

It is true that I did not marry for money.  However, there were days when I could have divorced over it.

I’m kind of not kidding.

Money was a hot topic in our household in those early years of marriage.  We had some serious knock-down, drag-outs over money.  For instance, there was the time in Year 2 when Dave told me that there wasn’t enough money for certain feminine essentials and that I’d have to figure out something else.  (Excuse me?!)  There was also that time in Year 6 when I held the tax refund check hostage, refusing to let him know that we had received it…for weeks.  (Not my brightest move.)

Here we are in Year 21, and I’m pretty embarrassed by the way we let money take center stage so many times in our relationship.  To be honest, the real problem was that we each wanted control over the same thing:  Cash.  Heaven knows there wasn’t enough of it to actually share that control!  I don’t know that there would have ever been enough money to share in those years.   There was too much self-centeredness—especially in me.

I remember the first time I felt like maybe Dave had my best interests at heart when it came to money.  It was after a couple of years of me practicing the gentle art of thinking before speaking.  Because I could not be trusted to speak the truth in love when I was even slightly annoyed, I was fairly quiet when certain topics arose that, historically speaking, were tense in nature.  As a result, Dave had a lot more opportunity to speak without getting verbally accosted.  I think he liked it.

Anyway, I remember him coming to me some years ago and asking if I would be in a good place to go over some financial things the following evening.  Even though our marriage was fairly solid at this time, I still felt a twinge of dread.  Fortunately, the whole thinking-before-speaking thing had pretty much taken root by then, so I agreed to the discussion.  I then determined to pray for this particular exchange…and committed myself to silence until I could be trusted to speak only the truth in love.

The next evening, I watched Dave spread his paperwork out on the surface of our dining room table and, with the kids playing in the background, he began sharing his assessment of our current financial situation.  Occasionally, he would look at me to be assured of my understanding of a certain issue or to ask my input on a particular point.  For the most part, though, he did the talking.  I just listened.  And, the more I listened, the more he shared.  Dave went on to share his financial goals of being debt-free and growing most of our own food.  He talked about how much he would like us to take a month-long vacation with the kids to the West Coast, camping at national parks along the way and seeing the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean.  He shared that he would like to eventually offer part of our home to missionaries on furlough and to maybe even some day visit the child we sponsor through a relief organization.  I enjoyed listening to his goals and dreams, and I realized how many of them centered on Christ and on our family.  Not one of them seemed self-centered to me.

I had been seeing Dave’s financial goals through the wrong set of lenses.  For years, I had seen Dave’s perspective on money as a personal vendetta against me enjoying life’s little pleasures.  With this new perspective, I realized that they were a protection for our family and a reflection of the priorities we claimed to share.

I’m ashamed of the time I lost due to my pride.  I wasted a lot of years trying to get the upper hand in a battle that my heart had no business waging.  I was like an exhausted child fighting against a loving parent who just announced that it was bedtime.  I did not have the maturity and wisdom to see what was truly best for me.

After that particular discussion with Dave, God gave me a picture of my husband’s role in our marriage.  I was standing in a thunderstorm with Dave standing over me.  His arms were outspread with a blanket as he tried to keep the rain off of me.  Standing over Dave in a similar stance was Jesus, keeping the rain off of both of us.  When I moved to look out and see what I was missing, Dave couldn’t keep me covered; I got pelted with rain drops and blasted by wind.  When I stayed under Dave’s leadership, I was doubly protected—by my husband and by Christ.  If Dave messed up, Jesus was still there as my ultimate refuge.  However, when I relaxed and trusted Dave in his leadership, he was able to keep me dry as an extension of God Almighty.  It was a beautiful picture, and I still carry it in my heart.

Here’s the other thing:  Dave is willing to take responsibility for our financial successes as well as our failures.  This is the ultimate protection for me!  Because of this, I am completely off the hook.  If we go broke, it is totally not my fault.  (Heeheehee!)

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This article was originally written for and published in HER magazine, a product of The Courier-Times, New Castle, Indiana.

Holidays that Hurt

thrutreesSometimes, holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day are salt rubbed in open wounds for some of us. Perhaps our circumstances do not permit us to spend time with these special people, or perhaps these relationships are not as open to celebration as they should be.
 
Even if these are your plight, I hope you will consider taking these holidays as opportunities to bless someone out of your abundance. Maybe you have been loved on by someone who has invested their time, energy and talents in you. Maybe you have seen a single mom or dad busting their behinds to provide a safe, structured home against some pretty steep odds. Maybe you’ve seen parents struggle to train their children in what is right, saying “no” to their own personal comfort for this season of their lives. Some of you may even know parents who feel like they have failed because of the tough choices their children have made. And, maybe it’s time to give the gift of forgiveness to a parent who made some mistakes in their parenting–even though they’ve never asked to be forgiven.
 
It doesn’t have to be much–maybe a thank-you card, a handwritten note, a couple of hours of free babysitting, a gift card for a coffee shop or even an invitation for a home-cooked meal.
 
We have all been blessed by SOMEone, and focusing on those blessings will go a long way in taking the sting out of some of the heartache.