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.

Journey of Abundance, Day 3

leafycreekFor the Day 1 challenge, I looked my oldest daughter in the eye and told her that I loved her while listing some of the reasons.  She held my gaze the entire time.  The teenagerish thing that had been going on in her attitude that morning dissolved, and she smiled a sweet, satisfied smile when I finished loving on her with my words.  I probably average telling my children that I love them two or three times a day.  I hug them multiple times throughout the day, and I know they know that I love them.  I think it was worth repeating…with some specifics attached.  I need to do that more often.

I am so thankful to be able to stay home with my kids.  I know that not every momma wants to, and some women may be really glad they get to go away to work every day. I am also grateful that my hubby and I are on the same page with this.  I have talked to a lot of women whose husbands do not support their desire to be a full-time parent, and I think it could create resentment and tension in a marriage.  My husband and I also agree on living frugally in order to make this arrangement work, and we have a fairly similar idea of what that looks like.  Another reason to be grateful.

There are a few things in my life for which I am not especially grateful right now.  I have some tough relationships that chafe at my heart.  There are some financial situations that I would like to have resolved.  I’ve identified some character issues in my children that I’m trying to address.  For Heaven’s sake, there are some decades-old character issues in me that I want someone to miraculously fix!

Regardless of my frustrations, there are many things in my life for which I can easily give thanks.  And, whether I want to or not, and whether or not it seems to make sense, God asks me to give thanks in ALL circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18).  It isn’t that God needs my gratitude.  He knows that I need to be grateful.  I am a kinder, gentler, more-patient-and-forgiving person when I am giving thanks.  I have walked with God long enough to know that He will waste nothing–no heartache, no addiction, no ugly moment–if we will let Him use it.  These experiences create empathy, humility and compassion.

Today’s Challenge:  Make a list of 25 things for which you are thankful.  Include 5 things for which you have rarely, if ever, given thanks (like eyelashes…can you imagine how uncomfortable life would be without eyelashes???) and 2 things that are just plain hard (like a hurting relationship, a bad habit that you’re trying to break or even an illness that you’re fighting).

I am praying for you today!

Passing the Ball

I’ve been thinking about forgiving people who don’t give one whit that they’ve wronged us. It’s a tough thing! I’ve learned, though, that forgiveness is crucial in the quest of holding joy in one’s heart. It may not be easy, but the premise is simple: Choosing forgiveness brings freedom for one’s self.
 
Years ago, I went to a family counselor for help with some anger management issues.  I was struggling with rage, and it was destroying my marriage.  I recognized that I was seriously overreacting to issues within our marriage, but my efforts at reigning in my poor behavior were borderline futile…which fed my frustration and feelings of worthlessness.  It was pretty ugly.  
Anyway, the counselor helped me realize that I had some significant baggage from unforgiveness.  The bitterness I was harboring was poisoning my marriage, and it would be sure to seep into my relationships with the precious family we were starting.  The frustrating thing was that I had been trying to forgive, and I thought I had, at times, been successful.  I would feel so revived and hopeful for a short time…but then, upon the slightest provocation, the feelings of bitterness and resentment would creep back into my heart, and I would be right back where I began.
As I shared these feelings with this wise man, he said, “Trista, choosing to forgive is like passing a basketball.  You may go days without having anyone throw you the ball, but then you might have that ball passed to you eight, ten, twelve times in one day.  Regardless of how many times you find yourself holding that ball, it is your job to pass it off.”
I finally understood.  Forgiving–even forgiving one person for one offense–must happen time and time again.  Forgiveness is a repeated commitment to let go of the blechy-ness of anger, resentment, bitterness and keeping score.  It is freedom.
 
“Harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die! Unforgiveness poisons anyone who holds it, causing him to become bitter. And it is impossible to be bitter and get better at the same time!”
 
–Joyce Meyer
 
“I think the first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It’s a gift you give yourself.”
 
–T.D. Jakes