Gimme A Break

I think I’d been living under the delusion that I should not need a break.  I mean, really:  How can a strong, capable woman need a break from her amazing life?

Well, she can get tired.

I’m tired.

I truly have almost everything I have ever wanted in this life.  I have Jesus in my heart.  I have a husband who is 100% committed to me.  I have three healthy, gifted children.  We have a nice home, a supportive extended family, solid friendships, fulfilling ministries and on and on and on.  I really do have it all.

But, man!  I’m tired!

When I had three children under the age of five, I was physically wiped out by 4:00 almost every afternoon.  My kids were fun little preschoolers!  They were energetic and creative and well-mannered and energetic and smart and, well, energetic.  I didn’t sleep well in those years.  My senses were on high alert through every night.  Did the baby need fed? Was someone getting sick?  Did I hear crying?  I mostly catnapped my way through those years, always ready for the solid sleep of the dead that my husband managed to enjoy almost every single stinkin’ night.  (What was up with that?!)

Now, I have three teenagers.  They are amazing.  Remarkable.  So very gifted.  They can be so much fun, and they can make me laugh hard enough to shoot my drink through my nose.  I love, love, love my time with them!  While there have been uncertain moments, never in my life has a day gone by when I have regretted any financial and career “sacrifices” we have made for me to stay home with them.  I love them to the very core of my being, and there is no other way I’d rather spend my days than as their momma.

But I’m still tired.

While my parenting game used to be primarily physical, it is now more mental, emotional and spiritual.  Childhood misbehavior was so black-and-white.  Toys were not picked up.  Siblings were pinched.  Lies were told.  Rules were clearly broken.  Consequences were quickly dealt.  The expectations were clear on both ends.

Snuggles, cuddles, made-up songs and silly games were acceptable forms of communication, and public displays of affection were perfectly acceptable.

Things are just different.  Not better.  Not worse.  Just different.  I’ve found that while they are adjusting to all of the internal and external changes they’ve got going on, I am adjusting as well.  I’m learning new likes, new dislikes, figuring out more effective ways to communicate, adapting to their more adult-ish personalities while still allowing for them to be kids.

People used to warn me about the teenage years with a “You just wait…!” mentality.  I resented that.  I refused to anticipate that my kids were going to be trouble just because they were teens.  I didn’t think it was fair to the kids.  I still don’t.  The uncertainty that affects most teens is normal.  They are often just insecure with so much.  Perfectly capable young people doubt the value of their own existence during this season of their lives.  I think the danger during this season of parenting is to take it personally.  It’s easy to do, because it seems so personal.  I mean, we are the ones who see the good, the bad and the ugly, right?  We are the safe place for them to let those insecurities fly in whatever form seems right at the time.  Is their behavior normal?  Yes.  Always acceptable?  Um, no.

The truth is, neither is mine.  When my kids were little, and I was so irrationally exhausted that I could (and would) cry (and quite possibly scream) over spilled milk, my kids gave me an awful lot of grace.  Their sweet faces still smiled, their soft lips still offered kisses, and their chubby arms still wrapped my neck in hugs.  Although I strove to teach them grace back then, they naturally modeled the concept much more clearly and easily than I did.  The purity of a child’s love is a miraculous thing.

This is why it’s so important now for me to take a break.  I need time every day to bask in the love of my Heavenly Father so that I can call on His unconditional love.  I need wisdom.  I need clarity.  I need Truth.  I need strength.  He makes all of these things–and so much more–available to me as I seek them.

And, sometimes I need a change in scenery–a walk outside, coffee with a friend, lunch with my siblings or an overnight with my mom.  The fact is that this parenting journey is an exhausting one.  I believe that it is a spiritual battle, one in which the stakes are high.  I need to do whatever I need to do to stay the course.  I am not called to be a friend to my kids.  I am called to be their momma.  And parenting takes a special kind of commitment.

Lord, thank You for equipping us to do the job You’ve called us to do.  Even more, thank You for giving us the privilege of helping to raise these extraordinary children.

 

 

 

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Homeschool Headlines

As a homeschool mom, I am deeply disturbed by any news of abuse within the homeschool community.  Fortunately, over the course of the 13 years our family has opted to home educate, incidents of proven abuse have been exceedingly rare.  Of course, that does not discount the terrible experiences of those children who have endured horrible neglect and misuse under the banner of home education.  They have suffered at the hands of those who have been ordained to be their greatest advocates.

I am fairly well-immersed in the homeschool community, and, to a person, the parents I know who have opted to home educate have made that decision out of love for their children.  They sacrifice financially, invest wholeheartedly and live resourcefully to see their kids thrive.  Just like all loving parents, regardless of education-based decisions, they do what they truly believe is best.  Unfortunately, there are parents on both ends of this spectrum who don’t deserve the children with whom they’ve been entrusted.

In today’s society, one of the common refrains that results from any great tragedy is for increased legislation and regulation.  This concerns me.  We are more heavily regulated and more expensively legislated than we have ever been as a country…and yet the value of human life and the standard of common decency seem to be at an all-time low.  We call our society progressive…but to what are we progressing?  Families are disengaged.  Prisons are full.  Elementary-aged children are suffering from anxiety attacks.  Junior high children are eating laundry detergent.  Lifetime prescriptions of medication are commonplace. Credit cards are maxed out.  We have regulation.  We have legislation.

We have a broken society.

The horrible truth is that abuse and neglect can often be hidden in plain sight. No matter how the government tries to regulate abuse, people will still abuse. The sex trade is a perfect example of this. There are truckloads of children being shipped across America–right alongside our own minivans–and I can guarantee that there are people on both sides of the law taking advantage of them.

The government offers foster homes for at-risk children, and there are documented occasions of those poor kids going from the frying pan into the fire–and few things are more highly-regulated than foster homes. When people are sick in their spirits, they hurt other people. When evil people can profit from someone else’s pain, they will. No regulation can stop that.

The most effective ways to combat this hell is for each of us to choose to do what is right and to watch out for the well-being of people around us. Invest in people’s hearts. We’ve all heard stories of abused children whose lives were changed because someone went out of their way to love them. We, as a community, MUST be diligent in this. We cannot be so distracted by our own busyness/personal comfort that we overlook our greatest potential for impacting others.

It’s not about home education or public school.  It’s not about regulation and legislation.  It’s not even always about knowing the difference between right and wrong.  It’s about doing what is right–choosing to put others before ourselves, opting to leave a legacy of love and peace and life to the people around us.

One of my most often-repeated prayers for my children is that God gives them the courage and the self-control to do what is right instead of what is easy.  I ask the same thing for my community.  The choice is ours.

The Problem with Pride

Our pastor is in the middle of a sermon series that addresses the “mayhem” in our lives.  Some of this mayhem just happens–death, disease, accidents, having to watch other people experience heartache, and so on.  Much of the mayhem, though, is something we choose–often while acting like it is our only option.

Yesterday’s sermon specifically focused on what happens when our lives get out of balance due to our own pride.  This message really hit home for me, and I wanted to share an acrostic that was used–PRIDE–which illustrates how we often make the busyness in our life all about us.

People Pleasers–We are busy, busy, busy to win the approval of others.  We can’t say “no” because of what so-and-so will think.  We do the right things for the wrong reasons.  We will look over our shoulders while serving in order to see who is watching.  We love those pats on our backs, and we are highly motivated by the praise of the people around us.

Run after Respect–We are continually trying to prove something to someone else.  Our ambition is fueled by hopes of personal glory and approval from others.  This was something that I struggled with in my younger years–until I finally decided to own that God, my Heavenly Father, loved me no matter what.  I didn’t have to earn His love; I had it forever just because.  I recall a friend, a self-proclaimed People Pleaser, sharing that she remembered the precise moment when she realized that God could not possibly love her any more than He did at that moment.  She has been trying to walk in that freedom ever since.

Indispensable Syndrome–We all want to feel needed, and we sometimes allow this desire to morph into something that sucks the life out of us, out of the people around us, and oftentimes out of the well-being of the organizations/systems/ministries which we so adamantly say we want to support.  In essence, we overestimate our own importance.  There always comes a time when we need to make changes in order to become more effective.  And, frequently, there is often a time to just move on.  This is incredibly difficult for many of us to realize, and many of us fight it tooth and nail because we have become possessive of something that is not really ours.  I saw this principle in action firsthand last year when I watched my mom and stepdad downsize from a 3,000 square foot home and 20 acres to a 1,600 square foot home on a city lot.  It was difficult decision for them to make, but they had the courage to make it when the time came, saving their children and grandchildren the heartache of having to make it for them some day.  Their old house/property/stuff was not indispensable to who my mom and stepdad are to their families.  If they had continued to hold on to the way it had always been, there would have eventually been a cost that could not have been paid by them.  Life goes on…still full of good things…still with purpose.  Different?  Yes.  Lesser?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes, changes brings greater things.

Desires go Haywire–We fall into the trap that more stuff equals a better life.  We trust in our belongings/status/accomplishments to make us happy instead of trusting in Jesus to make us whole.  I have only owned one brand-new car in my life, and I remember driving it home from the dealership thinking, “I bet I have the newest car on this road right now”.  For some strange reason, I took great satisfaction in that thought at the time.  Ironically, I now drive, by far, two of the oldest, most-used vehicles in America.  I confess to being slightly embarrassed when a friend opens her door to get in and a part actually falls off, but I love not finding my identity in what I drive.  And, I love that my hard-working husband is willing to drive crummy vehicles to allow me to stay home with our children.  It has been one of the ways he has honored me and proven his commitment to our family.

Enjoy Pity–I live with a Marriage and Family Therapist (talk about needing pity!!), so I mostly broke the habit of throwing pity parties a long time ago.  I get zero pity from my husband.  Ever.  (But, sometimes I miss them enough to just go to my room, close the door and throw one for myself.)  Social media, though, gives us the opportunity to witness all kinds of folks seeking pity.  There are an awful lot of memes out there that start with something like, “I bet I won’t get even one person to like this status…”  Pity party.  Most of us love company when we are in misery.  Why is that?  Why don’t we just shut up when we’re miserable?  Instead, we spew our yuck onto anyone who will listen.  And we wonder why we feel alone.  If some of us worked half as hard at encouraging the people around us as we do at sucking people into our negative, draining, self-absorbed, habitual pity parties, we could certainly make the world a safer, more beautiful place.

Obviously, there are some of these that I struggle with more than others.  The fact, though, is that I’ve given into them all at one point or another.  Pride is a sneaky, vindictive quality.  It seeks to remain subtle while going for the throat.  It snatches peace from our hearts, steals joy from our relationships and muddles the truth of our purpose in life–all while whispering to us that we are not the problem.

“If you think you are not conceited, you are very conceited indeed.”  –C.S. Lewis

Thank you, Paul Gearhardt, for sharing what was on your heart (and for hopefully being okay with me passing it along with my own two cents thrown in from time to time).

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Love Bank

Years ago, when my husband and I were still trying to put the pieces of our broken marriage back together, I read a book called “His Needs, Her Needs” by Dr. Harley.  This was the height of my marital self-help book era, and I can honestly say that I gleaned at least one nugget of truth from every book I read.  This book was no exception.

Dr. Harley likens a marriage to a bank.  We make love deposits and love withdrawals with our spouse, and they do the same with us.  When we serve them, praise them, hug them–whatever–those are seen as deposits.  When we mouth off, blow off, take off–those are definitely withdrawals.  This concept can be applied to any relationship, and a thriving relationship will show a healthy balance of give-and-take.

I hadn’t thought about this concept for a long time.  Fortunately, my husband and I have developed much better habits in our marriage, and we don’t have to be quite so pointedly intentional about making deposits these days.  However, this Love Bank metaphor was recently brought to my mind during a conversation with a friend, and then with my children, and then with another friend.  And today, with yet another friend.  It seems as though there’s been a lot of withdrawing going on.

Every person, in every relationship, needs to be on both the receiving and giving ends.  Relationships thrive when both parties love well and feel well-loved.  That’s just the way it is.  Sometimes, there are seasons when one person does more giving than the other.  Maybe there’s an illness, a job change or some other life crisis in which one person just cannot make the deposits they usually make.  During this time, the primary giver can still rest solidly on the store of deposits that had previously been made by the currently not-so-available party.  This is normal–for a season.  However, most relationships are not built to withstand this kind of one-sided investing for long.

Then there are times when someone feels like they have carried the weight of the relationship on their shoulders for too long.  This can happen for a number of reasons, many of which may seem valid.  The fact remains, though, that relationships suffer when there is no balance of give and take.

Perhaps one person feels like they are the sole initiator of time together.  Or, maybe one friend feels like they are valued in the relationship more for what they can give than for who they are.  Sometimes one spouse seems to be the only one working toward better communication.  Whatever the situation, chances are good that most of us have been on either end of these scenarios at different times in our lives.

Of course, there’s also the whole issue of perception.  Sometimes we just feel like we’re the only one giving when we really aren’t.  Maybe we’re distracted or overly-emotional or we’ve fallen victim to our own unrealistic expectations.  Whatever it is that skews our perspective, we must be very careful to examine the situation with wisdom and discernment so that we can come to a true understanding of the situation.  Many perfectly good relationships have bitten the dust because of pent-up, untamed emotion.  This is a tragedy.

One of the endless lessons my husband and I try to teach our children is that they are only responsible for themselves.  As much as they would like to manage the people around them (primarily their siblings), they cannot.  They can communicate respectfully and in love toward any changes they would like to see made by their peers, but they are only able to truly alter their own behavior.  They may be able to shame, bully or barter to get results for a short time, but the new behavior will not stick, and the relationship will suffer.

So, the question is:  What is to be done with the people who take more than they give?  I really don’t know.  There are too many variables for a one-response-fits-all kind of answer.  I do know this:  God’s grace is complete.  We are called to love in Truth.  Relationships don’t benefit from shoving the Truth under the rug.

I have been a record-keeper in the past, and I gave that to Jesus a long time ago.  I asked for freedom from keeping score, and He helped me get it.  I don’t want to give out of obligation, and I don’t want to remember every offense.  I want to serve where God calls me to serve, loving as I want to be loved.  Having said that, I’m okay saying “no” when people try to take too much.  I’m also more than happy to give myself some space from the folks who try to suck me dry.  This is actually one really big reason that I don’t have a smartphone.  I don’t want to be on call for other people all of the time.  There’s a big difference in giving generously and in giving constantly.  This is one of the healthy boundaries my husband and I have set.

I wish relationships were easier, but sometimes they just aren’t.  I wish I was more selfless, less overly-sensitive, more patient.  I can work toward these things, but the fact of the matter is that I will never be perfect.  I do know, though, that I want to give more than I take.  And, when people out-give me, I want them to know how incredibly, completely, totally grateful I am.  I want them to know that I know I’ve been out-given and that I super-duper appreciate their selflessness.  I don’t want them to ever think I take them for granted.  Then, I want to pay that kind of generosity forward–in my own way with my own gifts and in God’s good time.

In a way, I think gratitude may be one of the biggest deposits we can make in the people around.  We all want to feel like what we give has value.  An appreciative spirit is a giving spirit; it communicates that we understand the investment that others have made in us.  Sincere and intentional gratitude can make even the biggest over-givers among us happy to keep on giving.  When we feel appreciated, we feel loved.

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.