Monday, November 24, 2014

Why I Weep

There's an old hymn called "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" that popped into my head this morning. The refrain that goes "I sing because i'm happy; I sing because i'm free" was the part that i was reminded of. Not because i was singing it or humming it, not because i had heard it recently somewhere. It popped into my head because i found myself weeping at the Christmas Story once again. And i wondered to to myself, why am i crying over this every year?

And as i let that question marinade in my heart, an answer was given in the depths of my being....

i weep because i know.
i know what it is like to wait for God to send help.
And i know what it is like to doubt that He ever will.
i know what it is like to know the pure joy of finally receiving that help.
i know what it is like to face persecution.
i know what it is like to suffer trials.

And God sent His Son to us so that all of that might not be in vain! He sent us Jesus so that all of the hardships of this life don't have to steal our joy or derail us from an eternity in Heaven.

So i weep.
Because my Savior suffered. For me.
Because Mary, long ago, delivered a son she would have to watch suffer and die. For me.
Because i am a sinner who needed a Savior to stand the gap. For me.
And because i never want to take it for granted.

So. I weep. Often. And without shame. Because Jesus has my whole heart, and He has done so much for me already (before i even drew my first breath, He has suffered and died for me!).

Maybe i'll write a hymn. :)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Their Name is Today (Book Review)

At the beginning of this month, I received a new book from Plough Publishing House to read and review. I was super excited about this book because it was by Johann Christoph Arnold, who authored Rich In Years, which I loved! This book is entitled Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.

By the title, I thought this was going to focus primarily on our fears in today's society: child abductions, terrorism, and the child sex trade. That's what I get for getting so excited about Arnold's name in the author line that I didn't read the blurb about the book. ;)
However, as I began reading it, my soul often cried out "YES!" as he spoke passionately about all of the many ways our world has become hostile to children. Ways we may not think of as being "hostile" per se. Standardized testing and mass educational systems that meet no child's real educational needs (and certainly not their psychological or physical ones), as well as the over-stimulation, materialism, and busyness of today's children and families, not to mention technology's impact!

At times, I felt the book take on a slightly liberal feel about how we should help the world's children, but it wasn't anything glaring or offensive. I think that people who are passionate about children have a tendency toward the "it takes a village" mentality, and certainly many of the people Arnold quotes and references in the book seem to be of that mindset. I do not feel this was a fault, though, because it is difficult to take on the issue of a generation of children's best interests (and how we are failing them in so many, many ways) without getting a little overreaching in our methods. I have often struggled with this as I feel very passionate about children, too!

The more I read about the failings of today's methods of raising children, from the poor assessment and teaching methods of our public schools to the behavioral after-effects of the all of our too-high expectations on children, the more grateful I was that I was able to provide an alternative to my children by homeschooling and maintaining a somewhat laid-back schedule. However, we have a long way to go in the materialism piece of the argument as a fairly well-to-do American family. :(

It is absolutely a book a would recommend if you have any interest at all in how to help your child or the children around you. If you are a parent, educator, childcare worker, or anyone who is passionate about or works with children, I suggest reading this very eye-opening book. Some of it you will likely expect to read, but I would hazard a guess that much of what the author outlines in his book will be very enlightening, even if it is just a different spin on an issue you are already aware of.

*Note: This review is my own opinion. I was given a free copy of the book from Handlebar and Plough Publishing House in order to read and review it. There was no expectation that the review would be positive, only that it be honest.

Monday, October 27, 2014

When it's easier...

Over the past few weeks, i have learned a lot about myself and about the cycle of domestic violence. I have learned that no matter how knowledgeable i thought i was, there were always warning signs and evidence of abuse that i didn't consider or wasn't aware of. Little things and bigger things. Daily things and occasional things.

One of the really profound things i learned was how often i ignored the inner voice that cried out for kind regard. The check in my spirit that whispered, "what about me?" Or the ache in my heart from words that struck deep and were never forgotten. But those whispers were always countered by the louder voice of my husband telling me what a "good wife" or a "Christian" wife was supposed to be. Or the church, without intending harm, exclaiming that a truly submission wife would not be treated badly by her husband. Or the well-meaning women who asked if there was truth to my husband's accusations about my laziness, my disrespect, my emotional imbalance, or my failures as a wife and mother.

And it really just became easier to tell myself they were all right.
Because the only person i can control is myself. And i can change myself to fit whatever mold others say i should fit into. But i cannot change my circumstances or my husband or my church or my friends... so i worked diligently on changing me.

So when my husband accused me of not being affectionate enough after our baby was born because she was always touching me and i was begging for some solitude, i tried to be what he needed. Because it was easier to change what i needed than to feel unheard.

And when my husband refused to walk the living room with our colicky son for even 15 minutes so that i could take a shower - because he "couldn't handle it" - i tried to not need him as much. Because it was easier to figure out how to change my schedule to accommodate my most basic needs during that difficult season of working full-time and caring for two children alone than it was to feel unimportant.

As the anger bouts came out in full force against me and the children, i tried to change any behaviors or the situations that might be triggering them. Because it was easier to keep the peace than to fear for our safety.

When my husband made room for his things but not mine, took food off of my plate after he finished his own, cared for his laundry but no one else's, cleaned his bathroom sink but not mine, helped his sister with her child but not me with ours, bought his favorite things at the store but didn't ask what i might like, or took the only towel rod in the bathroom for his towel, i tried to remind myself to be more self-sacrificing. Because it was easier to ignore his little actions that put me last than it was to feel unloved.

And when my husband filed for divorce last month, those same inclinations came flooding back. Because it would be easier to bend myself to his will and continue in this farce of a marriage so that my children do not have to be pulled away from the only life they have known. It would be easier to submit myself to the evils of my husband's self-serving demands than to walk this road of uncertainty and chaos.

But....
i have been learning a lot in the past few weeks.
About myself and about the cycle of domestic violence and abuse.
And one of the things that i learned is that it is sometimes easier to stay in a situation that is absolutely killing you than it is to fight your way out of it.

And when it is easier, it is generally not the right path. Because i have always believe that the easy roads are not the ones that challenge us, and when we are not challenged, we don't grow, and if we don't grow, we cannot flourish! Oh, how i long to flourish!

So i am choosing to walk this very hard road with my husband. A road toward independence. A road toward separateness. A road that will take me out of the firing line of some really dreadful behaviors. And i choose to believe that we will be okay, my children and i. God walks with me. He has this tiny circular beam of light that He is shining on my next steps, but He is also putting wise counsel in path, words of truth in my ears, and peace within my soul.

It isn't easy.
But i trust that it will be worth it. :)

~Angie

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Leaking

This month, my pastor has been talking to us about the Holy Spirit. He is teaching us about being filled with the Spirit and getting our power from the Spirit. He made an interesting point the first week, and reiterated it the second: he said our problem with being filled with the Spirit is that "we leak."

It got me thinking quite a bit. We tend to ask for help in times of trouble. No brainer, there. And that causes us to have a pretty heavy reliance upon the Holy Spirit to just get through the tough days. But we don't hold onto that. Life stabilizes, as it tends to do, and the bad things either get resolved or we learn to adjust and the pain eases a bit over time. When this happens, we lose sight of what we were heavily focused on before: the presence and strength of God given to us through the Holy Spirit.

I've also been thinking about how we tend to react poorly in times of stress. We lose our tempers, raise our voices, make poor decisions that we later regret, act impulsively, or damage a relationship because we didn't pause and allow the Holy Spirit to act through us.

So... yeah, we leak.

We leak the goodness of the Spirit.
We lose sight of the strength of the Spirit.
We leak the strength of the Spirit.
We forget the grace given by God because of Christ.
We leak holy love for our neighbor.

And when we leak, we need to be refilled, my pastor says. Constantly, at times. But that takes awareness to our emptiness, our weakness, doesn't it? And i'm just not sure most people have that sort of personal awareness. Which is frustrating. And unfortunate. And really sad.

This week, i encountered someone who was reacting to a situation with fear. She was overreacting, in my opinion, based on her small viewpoint, and was being not-so-kind to others who didn't share her opinion. In the moment, my blood pressure began to rise and my indignation took root... and then, a still, small voice spoke to me, reminding me to extend grace. And i was able to reign in my anger and frustration, give her the benefit of the doubt, and act in love and grace.

That wasn't me. I leak.
But the Holy Spirit, who resides in me, has been my daily portion lately, so i was not so easily distracted from His prompting as i might have normally been if my situation wasn't so difficult right now. And, frankly, that was pretty cool. :)

I've never been angry with God about suffering. Not saying i'm special for that, just saying... it isn't in me. I understand that suffering is a very unpleasant but undeniable part of life this side of heaven. But it seems like every time He guides me through another valley, He shows me another side benefit of our pain. And i truly hope that i learned well enough during this season just how wonderful the constant presence of the Holy Spirit is! I know i'll still leak, but i want to always stay aware of my need to be refilled. Moment to moment, He is my comforter and my guide, and i need Him.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ashes Have Purpose

Much like the ashes under my charcoal grill tend to swirl and lift with the sweeping breeze to be carried off to replenish the earth, i am aware that the ashes of my life are carried away for a greater purpose than i can imagine. Did you know that routine burning of plant life is a necessary component to a fertile soil? The ashes allow nutrients that would otherwise not enter the soil become available for new growth.

In the same way, our lives have experiences that must be renewed... by the burning of what was so that we can establish newer, healthier growth. I am in a season of letting go of the old and watching it burn. It isn't comfortable and it isn't always easy, but i recognize it for what it is: opportunity.

God uses everything, yes, everything, to stretch us into His image and manifest in us a purpose we often cannot see. And since we cannot see what He sees, it is easy to get discouraged. But He has a plan for that failed business venture, that project that you bombed, and that relationship that ended badly. We cannot always see His plan in the midst of our struggle, but that is why it is so important to have faith.

My faith tells me that God is still looking out for me. It reminds me that He is allowing this season for a purpose far greater than whatever it seems in the moment. And it centers me to remember. Because my life is bigger than my piles of ashes along the way. My ashes are merely a necessary component to the growth of who i am becoming.

It is often said that "hindsight is 20/20" and i believe that is true. Mostly, i think it is true because we can see the good that comes after the experience is over. During the trial, we are too busy fighting for the next breath, struggling toward the next moment, and reaching for the finish line. But later, when we are down the road a ways, we can often look back on the struggle and understand it's value. The job we wouldn't have gotten if we hadn't had the failure, the opportunity that arose because we were in the right place at the right time solely because of the trial putting us there, or the self-awareness and new-found strength that came out of that bad relationship.

So, i can say with confidence, from my position in the battle, "count it all joy," my friends! Because if you must suffer the burning, let it not be for nothing - watch for the beauty that will come from the ashes. :)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Addictions

Some people are addicted to alcohol.
Some people are addicted to cigarettes.
Some people are addicted to prescription medications.
Some people are addicted to illegal drugs.
Some people are addicted to pornography.
Some people are addicted to love (or at least, the idea of it).
I do not struggle with any of those addictions, though i have compassion for those who do.

Specifically, i battle a nearly constant urge to defend myself.
To defend myself against unfair accusations.
Against lies.
Against misunderstandings and miscommunication.

God is working on my heart in this area, and i know He wants me to remain in my peace with what i know about myself, but sometimes, the urge to defend is so strong! And i have to bite my lip. If the person i would be speaking to on the matter is not open to my side, no words will penetrate anyway.

Sometimes, people have to cling to their flawed views of things in order to remain in their own reality. Other times, they are believing a lie themselves and have not yet had their eyes opened to the truth. Mostly, though, i believe that people just don't want to take responsibility for their own mistakes, errors in judgment, or lack of efforts to try something new.

Whatever the underlying cause, i can only change ME, and i have a limited amount of energy each day. So, i'm learning to let go of the things - and people - that attempt to drag me into unhealthy cycles. I am learning that my reputation in Christ is the only thing i have any rights to boast about, and everything else i am is broken, mistaken, and sinful. And if i cannot boast in who i am - other than who i am in Christ - then what is the point of defending myself, really?

So... i will try to say less, turning the other cheek and letting God be my defender. Wanting the truth to be known, while a noble goal, is outside of my realm of control anyway.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Your Friends Pray You Fat

Earlier this week, i noticed a frightening side-effect of my current stress: rapid weight loss. Scary weight loss. I knew my appetite was reduced, but i didn't expect to become my 15-year-old self's weight so quickly (i hadn't finished growing the last time i saw that number on the scale!)! Since i have an auto-immune condition that is barely restrained - which is easily triggered by stress - and adrenal fatigue - which is exacerbated by stress - i understandably became concerned.

Fear of regressing into a full Hashimoto's Thyroiditis "flare" in the midst of divorce and dealing with the kids drove me to my friends on Facebook, where i asked for prayer regarding my stress levels and my weight loss.

In typical "Be Careful What You Wish For" fashion, in less than a day, i am back up to a reasonable weight. Seriously? Since i didn't notice eating differently, don't remember feeling any difference in my stress levels, and didn't burn any additional calories that i am aware of, the only explanation is that my friends are praying me fat! (Um, gals, you can back off a little now... ya know, so i don't need a new wardrobe.) ;^)

I'd challenge anyone to tell me that God doesn't care about the minutia of our lives. I have experienced His hand in so many little things that i might laugh at you! So if you don't believe that God cares about the small stuff you deal with, ask your friends for prayer... but be careful: they might pray you fat! :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jesus in My Friends

A week ago today, i received a reality check in the form of divorce papers, delivered by a complete stranger as a surprise to me in front of my children. Somehow, i managed to keep this secret from them and continue our schooling... that day and all of the days since.

In the past week, i have experienced shock, anger, and fear, and not always just one of them at a time. Looking back on the past several days, i have to acknowledge the presence of God in my life. When i was in shock, the Holy Spirit moved my feet to "just do the next right thing." When anger rose up to choke me, the calming words of a friend brought me back to acceptance. Any time fear haunted me, God calmed my soul and whispered His words of truth to my heart.

There is no explanation for the peace that comes in the midst of trials. It really is a peace that passes all understanding. But there is also no substitute for godly friends in your life. When you are facing an uncertain future, a difficult time, or a terrible loss, it is the Holy Spirit within each of your earthly friends that will encourage you, even as the Holy Spirit within you shores up your defenses and strengthens you for the road you're on.

Take the time to connect with a friend today. You really never know when you will need them or they will need you, and it is the time and energy spent building those relationships that has the greatest returns - as we bear one another's burdens, in Christ, for Christ, until the day comes when all hardship will come to an end and we will have joy everlasting.

"It Is Well With My Soul"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Depths

Lately, life has been hard. I'm not going to lie about that. But God keeps showing me that it is within the depths of the deepest oceans of our lives that He lives - to strengthen us, to accompany us, to challenge us, and to grow us. I've listened a lot to the song, "Oceans," by Hillsong United, and it is my mantra these days: He has never failed, and He's not going to start now; my fears may give me pause, but my faith is greater than my fears; i am God's and anything He calls me to will build my faith because i will not go alone.

If you haven't heard this song, have a listen. But don't pray this prayer unless you really want to walk upon the waters of the ocean's depths... because it is in the depths that we find the strength of God and the test of our own faith, but that is best learned through trials of this life.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United.

This morning, church was hard. It's complicated, but just when i felt beaten down and disconnected from my church family, God had the worship team sing "Oceans," which is not a common worship song at our church. I felt God reaching down to hug me, and i spent the rest of worship smiling so big i almost felt foolish! :)

Does music reach you that way? Does it touch your heart in ways the spoken words cannot? God has always ministered to me through music. There's another song that has touched me this week. It's called "Hope in Front of Me," and it is by Danny Gokey. Click here for a YouTube link to that one.

And this one: "Greater" by Mercy Me.

Above all, i'm resting on God's promises that He is working all things together for my good, even if it doesn't feel good today, because i have faith in a hope and a future, and because my hope is not in the things of this world, but in Christ Jesus, who has overcome the world so that when my time here is up, i get to spend eternity with my Father in Heaven.

Keeping my eye on the prize . . . .

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Out With the Old, In With the New?

Somewhere along the way, my generation lost respect for older people. Maybe we never had it. We were a spoiled generation, full of our own worth and so many complaints of the injustices of our "station" (as the youth of the day). We spent our youth scoffing at the wisdom of those who raised us, fighting against the restrictions of what was simply good sense, and creating our own reality as victims of our circumstances and our determination to overcome them.

How arrogant! And now, we aren't youth anymore. And we still don't value older people. We don't include them in our lives, we tolerate them. We don't ask about their experiences, we roll our eyes when they tell "another of their stories." We don't sit at their feet and soak in their wisdom, we turn away with confidence that we have this whole thing figured out.

Is this normal? Is this just us, or does every generation go through this? Will we come back around to understanding the value of those who've gone before us on the journey?

Because if we don't, i shudder to think how our children will ever mature well! We are like spoiled teenagers playing at adulthood. Here we are, parents, responsible for the future adults our children will be, but so sure that we have this whole thing figured out that we shut down anyone who attempts to speak words into our lives that are different from our beliefs. We've nothing to glean from one another because we know it all already.

I get it that each generation has new information. And we are responsible for that information once we have it. But along the way, i have needed, no, craved, the precious wisdom of someone past my stage of life. Someone to tell me what i might not be seeing, what i might be doing wrong, how i could improve, what they learned... because once upon a time, those older people walked in shoes that looked a lot like mine. And they fought many of the same battles. Why, then, should i reinvent the wheel? How arrogant i would be if i was unwilling to learn from others and from history!

{sigh} Maybe i'm tired. Maybe it's years of living apart from family and wondering if every visit will be the last time i see my grandparents. Maybe it's age. Whatever it is, it makes me sad that we treat our wise older relatives and friends like we can totally live without them. Well, maybe we can live without them. But can we thrive?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Trenches

There's a lot going on in our world today.
There are a lot of reasons not to turn on the news. Because, quite simply, there are things you just cannot unsee.
And we are heartbroken for the many experiencing Genocide. No question.
But i'm beginning to wonder...

I've been in the trenches with Jesus. Nothing like Genocide, you understand, but in the muck that the evils of life enjoy dishing out. And i've learned something really important: i'd rather be in the trenches with Jesus than in a beautiful resort with the devil. Or even all alone.

You see, unless you have experienced the soul-connecting, Spirit-filled encounter with Christ that comes in the midst of trials, you will always think, "i could never...." And, absolutely, you are right. You could never. But God.

God is with those who suffer for Him.
God is with those who suffer for their faith.
God is with those who are persecuted because of Him.

And while there is undeniably an astounding suffering happening amongst people who absolutely do not deserve it, we must also understand that God is with them. In a way we almost cannot wrap our minds around. And i sense some of them, if not all of them, have found their way to grasp that inner peace that overpowers the fear of an unknown (or known) evil.

So, certainly, let's pray.
Let's pray for help. For the terror to end. For the bad guys to stop.
But let's also pray for the peace and strength and comfort of our Abba Father to wrap around and inside the ones in the trenches today. May they find joy in their suffering and relief in Christ Jesus. And may they be rescued besides.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back to School = SUCCESS!

This week, we had our first week of school after taking the summer off. Since i fired the teacher this summer and rehired myself as the mom, it was a nail-biting weekend of preparations, wondering if the Little Darlings would revolt against "the institution" and refuse to get out of bed or cling lovingly to the schedule of normalcy and productivity. (Yeah, right!)

Well, i am happy to report that on Day 1, they had a successful day of positive attitudes, brain-stretching lessons, and completed assignments. Wahoo! They even asked if we could do that every.day. Um, say wha..?

Yeah, so, i didn't hold my breath, but i squinted my face a little in fear as i tackled Tuesday... then Wednesday... and by Thursday, i thought, "we're in the home stretch! Will it really be this easy?" And Friday was no different. Lessons learned, books utilized, brains engaged, attitudes improved. Golly, i love homeschooling!

So, i am here to tell you that it really is okay to take the summer off sometimes. Go ahead, fire your kids' teacher and just be the mom every once in awhile. The kids will do just fine. In fact, if mine are anything to go by, they'll thrive!

Christmas break is gonna rock this year!