Monday Morning Prayer

Worn out.  Flat.  Empty.  Unwanted.  This is what I feel some days.

Lord, help me to focus on You and what is true.  When I fix my eyes more on who You are, I less concerned with how I feel.

Please show me today a glimpse of who You are.  Open my eyes so I can see Your glory and open my heart so I can become more like You.downtree

 

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Commit

Twenty years ago, I was in a miserable marriage.  We fought constantly.  There was verbal and emotional abuse.  There was mistrust, misbehavior and a strong belief on my part that our marriage had been a big mistake.

Eventually, I decided to leave him.  I was over the heartache and the sorrow and the unrealized expectations.  Aside from my mom and one other little old lady in my life, I came up against almost no opposition.  On the contrary, my break from this miserable circumstance was greeted with celebration!  My actions were justified by my right to be happy, to live independently and to look out for myself.  It was such a tremendous relief to me.  After doing battle with my husband for 2 1/2 years, I had no desire to do battle with anyone else.

I reveled in my newly-found freedom.  Having married young, I had never lived on my own.  I loved almost everything about it, and I embraced the opportunity to “find myself” and to live for me for a change.  It was wonderful!  I found a lawyer and filed the paperwork.  I would soon be free from one of the biggest mistakes I’d ever made.  My relief was practically palpable.

In the months that followed, I initially pretty much did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  Six months later, the freedom and excitement I had initially felt began to fade, and I started to feel something different:  bondage and regret.  I had already been angry with my husband–consistently and violently so.  I had heaped a mountain of blame at his feet, and I had no problem hurling accusations at him.  He had not been honest.  He had not been kind.  He had not been who he’d led me to believe he was.  Eventually, though, my anger found a new target; I became angry with myself.  Interestingly, this turn of events just renewed my attack on my husband.  If I was at all to blame, it was obviously because of him!  At this point, I was almost completely fueled by my emotions.  I had honestly allowed myself to stop thinking and just feel my way through life.  It was a vulnerable, chaotic season.

Enter God’s grace.  During this time of brokenness, He did a few things for me that changed the course of my heart.

  1. He helped me to feel the consequences of my actions.  I began to see how the divorce would affect my relationships with my extended family, my in-laws and friends.  It was one of the most painful revelations of my life.
  2. He allowed me to go to Alaska and spend 3 weeks with a dear friend and her parents.  Not only did this remove me from some negative influences, it put me in the direct line of the very positive influence of a couple who had been married 30 years and was still very much in love.  I began to yearn for that kind of love.
  3. He allowed some very unhealthy relationships to fall apart.
  4. After my time in Alaska, I went to sign the divorce papers that I had filed.  As I stared at my husband’s signature, my heart broke a little bit more.  I felt a sorrow deeper than any I’d ever felt.  I told my lawyer that I’d never imagined myself in this position.  She looked at me with compassion in her eyes and replied, “Trista, if you ask me, Indiana has more than its share of divorces.  You don’t have to do this”.

Fortunately, my husband had been brought to a place of brokenness and repentance before me.  He was ready to put the pieces of our marriage back together.  He willingly forgave things a husband should never have to forgive.  He lovingly welcomed his very broken wife back into the protection of his arms.  It was a humbling time for me, one that I still cannot remember without tears of shame and sorrow.

Rebuilding and reconnecting was not easy.  It was sheer determination in our commitment to one another and our faith in God that brought us through.  I learned that marriage was not about me being happy or in my needs being met.  It was about me becoming who God wanted me to be for my spouse.  As I learned to die to my own “needs”, God provided all of my needs.  It was a strange paradox.

God never said He wanted me to be happy.  God did say that He wanted me to have His peace and His joy.  These latter qualities are deep-seated and lasting–strong enough to withstand the valleys of sorrow.  I have often said that I don’t pray that my kids will be happy.  I pray that they will choose the joy and peace that come from Christ.  Anything else is just not good enough.

Next month, my husband and I will celebrate 22 years of marriage.  Has it always been easy?  Um, not even close.  Has it been worth it?  Rewarding?  Exciting?  Challenging?  Fulfilling?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!  If given the opportunity, I would marry him all over again.  (Although I hope I would do those first three years very differently!)

When I go to bridal showers, I am often asked to share my best marital advice for the bride-to-be.  I see the women cringe when my advice is read aloud, because, well, it’s just a little too…direct for that kind of setting.  However, it’s what I believe to be true.  Without the awkwardness of 15 other women listening to our conversation, I will share it with you now:  To truly make your marriage last, commit to it.  Build your foundation, set your course and grit your teeth through all of the tough days…because there will be tough days–days when you can’t stand the sight of each other.  Determine to stay married.  Resolve to stand firm.  Refuse to give in.  Commit.

 

 

Free Labor

Not long ago, I was met with an interesting proposal.  A friend asked me if she could send her teenaged son out to my house to work.  For free.

Apparently, this young man had gotten a little bit too used to Mom and Dad paying for the things he wanted to do.  A youth event at their church was advertised, and the teen assumed that his parents had the money and were more than happy to hand it over so that he could participate.  I’m not sure of the specifics, but I can probably surmise the particulars of the conversation.  It is all too familiar to those of us who have children.

These wise parents recognized a trait in their son that they were not willing to encourage, and they decided to do something about it.  Instead of shaking their heads and muttering something about “Kids these days!”, they decided to act under their own convictions.  They want their son to work for the privilege of attending this retreat.  These parents realize that his levels of gratitude and understanding will increase with his level of personal investment.  Smart!  Since these folks don’t have the same opportunities for physical labor at their place as we do at ours, my friend decided to ask for my help.  Would I please allow him the opportunity to work hard for 3 hours on our little farm in exchange for a sewing class for my daughters?  They will be the ones to actually pay him; I just need to provide him with an opportunity to earn it.

Ummm…yes!

I made the stipulations that he and my son could have time to just hang out and play afterwards, and I wanted to be sure that I got to feed him a good meal for his time.  I told my son, Isaac, that he could order up whatever he thought they’d like for supper.   He will be working alongside his friend, honing his skills as an instructor and encourager.  (Well, theoretically, anyway.)

I admit that I am a bit uncomfortable making out a To Do List for someone else’s child, but I confess that I am super impressed with these parents.  Counselor Dave says that entitlement is one of the biggest issues that keeps today’s young adults from living healthy, effective lives.  My friend and her husband are recognizing the issue early on and addressing it in a proactive, intentional way.  They are taking direct steps in protecting their kiddos from the selfish habit of expecting a free ride in this world.  How admirable!

I was telling another friend about this situation.  She is a young mom with three daughters and a son.  Her immediate response was, “Wow!  I’d like you to keep this young man in mind for me!  When my nine-year-old daughter is looking for a husband, this kid may be a good option.  His parents are raising him up right!”.

Parenting is tough.  Good parenting oftentimes makes waves with our kids and raises eyebrows among our peers.  There is no step-by-step manual for every situation that arises.  And, even more frustrating, what works with one kid will often not work for another.  Positive parenting is this remarkable balance of firmness and grace–always on the watch, continually challenging the norm, firmly established in love.

I’m thankful for other parents who make these tough decisions.  I’m thankful for the ones who are willing to make themselves vulnerable and to ask for help.  I’m thankful for the ones who listen without judgment and share from their experiences.  What is so difficult for us now may make things easier for someone else later.  We were never meant to live our lives on an island of our own making.

So, thank you, sweet friend, for trusting me to walk alongside you in your parenting journey.  Thank you for loving your son enough that you are willing to make him uncomfortable for his own good.  Thank you for the example you are setting for my own children.  And, most of all, thank you for making yourself vulnerable to me; I now know that you are a safe place for me during my own challenging seasons of motherhood.

Into the Light

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Do you feel like the things you have loved most in this life have been stolen from you?

Do you feel like parts of your soul have died from abuse and neglect?

Do you feel like there is destruction all around you?

Stolen happiness.  Dead dreams.  Destroyed relationships.

Yeah…I’ve felt like that, too.

Guess what, though?  There’s Hope.

There’s Life–full, abundant, Life.

In Jesus.

He doesn’t ask much.  He just wants you.  All of you.  Broken, battered, incomplete you.

That’s seriously all He wants.

In return, He will breathe His perfection into your weakness and His joy into your heartache.  He will shine His Light through the cracks in your heart.  He will bring healing.  Restoration.  Full, abundant life.

It’s time to move on, dear one.  The promise is there.  You’ve just got to claim it.  One step at a time:  Walk out of the darkness and into the Light.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  –Jesus, Book of John, 10:10

 

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.

 

 

Distractification

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Distractification.  This pretty much sums up my life these days.  My mind has been in overdrive, and I am continually trying to redirect my thoughts to whatever I actually need to be thinking about.  It’s been a losing battle.

(By the way, did you know that Charles Dickens made up words to more accurately convey his thoughts?  He also lived long enough to experience celebrity status from his writing.  Definite perk for him.)

I digress.  The point is that my mind has been so easily inundated with the mundane that I’ve had a tough time focusing on my true priorities.  I’ll be working outside in the yard, and a blog idea comes to mind.  I’ll basically be writing it in my head, re-working the language in my mind, kind of getting excited about it…until I notice that my zinnias are on their way out for the summer and I decide to cut one last beautiful bouquet to enjoy indoors.  By the time I make it into the house, bouquet in hand, I’ve lost the flow of whatever I was so looking forward to writing!

(If you want to save seeds from zinnias, all you need to do is cut off the blooms and allow them to fully dry.  Then, over a paper bag, gently rub the heads between your fingers until the seeds separate.  Label the bag so you don’t forget what’s in it and plant the seeds next June.)

Anyway, my focus is all wonky.  My mind is just too busy.

It occurs to me that I need to re-train my brain.  It feels like, at almost 43 years of age, I shouldn’t need a whole lot of re-training, but I am finding that this is just not the case.  I am regularly finding myself in need of re-training on skills and behaviors that should already be tucked safely in my life’s tool belt.

(I went to work on crocheting an unfinished granny square the other day and realized that I needed to get my directions out again.  I’d already crocheted a few dozen of those goofy things, yet, here I was, in need of a refresher.  Ugh!)

Anywho, I’m distracted.  Desperately.

During my quiet time this morning, I realized that I can’t really blame my crazy mental state on anyone but myself.  It is up to me to claim peace in my mind.  I read Colossians 3:2, which says, set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  This verse kind of makes what I think about seem like a choice, doesn’t it.  It almost sounds like I can choose what I noodle.  Huh.

I knew immediately what “earthly things” were, because they rule the roost in my noggin.  It’s all the stuff of life–commitments, concerns, calendars; the unchecked chaos of these things is what has been crowding my brain.  But, what were the “things above”?

In the quiet of the morning, I considered this question.  The first word that came to my mind was peace.

Peace.

I let it play over and over in my mind, actually feeling its presence, basking in its truth.

I then heard the word hope.  Thank You, Jesus, for hope.

Hope was followed by joy.  And joy was followed by mercy.

With the thought of mercy, my eyes filled with tears, and I thanked God for His mercy–the mercy that brings freedom to my life.  The mercy that allows my mind to bask in His peace, hope and joy.

The mercy that allows me to choose.

 

Evident Gentleness

I am not a gentle person by nature.  Many of my high school peers and even my youth sponsors from that season of life can attest to this.  I tend to be a bit of a bulldozer–both physically as well as verbally.  I wish that weren’t the case, but it is.  The last 20 years of yielding to the Holy Spirit in this area has definitely helped, but let’s just say it’s still not a sure bet.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t usually beat up on people any more.  (Although I did let loose on an unsuspecting man last Friday.  I think he’s fully recovered, though.)  I just say things in a not-so-gentle way.  And, if those words don’t actually come out of my mouth, they kind of come out in my attitude, which I think might be just as bad.  I once had a preacher tell me that he could tell what I was thinking from the pulpit.  This is very inconvenient at times…especially when I’m thinking about lunch.

I have a precious friend in the same boat.  She and I work really hard to not always say what we think…or to at least to say what we think in a kind, productive way IF it needs to be said at all.  She has remarked on more than one occasion that, after her husband (one of those naturally gentle types) or someone else kind of scolds her for not speaking gently–especially if she’s been practically biting her tongue until it bleeds–she wants to defend herself with, “If only you knew all of the things that I thought and did NOT say!!”.  I feel the say way.  If I’m gonna get dinged for not speaking gently, I want to get points for all of the times I edit my words for gentleness before they come out of my mouth!  This same friend also lamented that, even when she successfully filters her words, her expression gives her thoughts away.  She says she and I need face filters.  Too true.

Anyway, one of the easy ways I have learned to be gentler with my words is to just not speak them right away.  I had to walk away from my email last week before I responded to something someone said.  I went through my morning as usual, occasionally formulating a reply in my mind, until I came up with one that was respectful and true.  There are times I don’t do that and I wish I had.

Social media is the worst for this.  It is amazing how emotionally-charged some of those threads are.  I learned this the hard way in my first couple years of Facebook-dom.  The fact is that not many people really care about my opinion on social media, and I am not doing them any favors by posting it–especially on their thread.  It would almost be like a friend inviting me into her home and offering me a cup of coffee…and me pouring my coffee on her floor and leaving.

Facebook offers us a remarkable trust–a look into the thoughts and feelings of the people we call friends.  It gives us opportunity to pray specifically for them, reach out to them when we wouldn’t otherwise know they’re hurting and to better understand their perspective.  We don’t have to agree with them (and it’s sometimes best if we un-follow them), but we can still stand on common ground with them.  Whether they’re grade school friends, high school teammates, extended family, past co-workers or whoever, they’re people who have had a place in our lives and deserve our respect.

(Yes, there are those people who are toxic and crazy and who would love to drain the very lifeblood from our limbs.  These are the folks whom we can feel free to un-friend in order to be healthier.  However, we can still do so respectfully.)

Let your gentleness be evident to all.  This is what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:5.  Paul was not a gentle man.  He spoke harshly and sometimes acted harshly.  I bet he could’ve even used a face filter.  His gentleness came from knowing Jesus and submitting his natural tendencies to the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Many of us Christians are not very good at being gentle.  We’re either “gentle” to the point of weak-minded (which isn’t at all what Paul is talking about here) or we scream the Truth of Jesus Christ in such a harsh, abrasive and judgmental way that we turn people off to Who Jesus really was on this earth.  Jesus was gentle.  He was meek.  He had tremendous power/authority/integrity, and His very life proved it.  He lived in humility and meekness, serving the under-served.  He didn’t scream His point-of-view on the street corners.  He lived His point-of-view for decades before beginning to speak out.

I wonder what Jesus would’ve posted on Facebook.

As a Christian, my job is to be a light that draws others to Jesus–a warm, inviting light that represents safety and security.  My job is not to be a spotlight–harsh and painful and repelling.  Once people give their lives to Christ, He can shine the spotlight of His Holy Spirit on their sins as He is compelled to do.  Our job is to gently speak the Truth in love.  His job is change people’s lives.

It’s time to focus more on showing how God has changed us and less on what needs changed in others.