Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Lenten Pilgrimage

"Lent is a journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the 'bright sadness' of Lent, we see - far away - the destination. It is the joy of Easter; it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is the vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent's sadness bright and our Lenten effort a 'spiritual spring.' "
                              --Fr. Alexander Schememann, Great Lent

This quote I found  this morning in one of the many books I have going right now. ( A Monastic Year: Reflections From A Monastery by Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette. ) It sounds so...HOPEFUL. So...not me.

I am having a difficult Lent. That's an understatement. I am having a humanly impossible Lent. Of course, that's the idea. It's supposed to be humanly impossible. Everything comes from God; what we partake of, what we abstain from, the courage and perseverance to do both....

I have bipolar disorder. For a month now I have been in a semi-hypomanic state. I'm much more "comfortable" with a depressive state; it's what I'm used to - it's familiar - I get to sleep! The state I'm experiencing sleep, but no bursts of energy that generally comes with hypomania. High anxiety, irritability; my language has deteriorated to the point where growling swear words is the height of conversation. My poor family. I struggle against spending my husband's hard-earned money. Yet there's no non-stop flow of creativity that usually comes in a manic state. All the pains - none of the "perks". And it's lasting FOREVER! My body generally can't sustain mania for more than a week. It is exhausting.

But it is Lent. And I never know where the disease ends and plain old sin begins. So I spend time in the confessional - wishing it had a revolving door. And I beg forgiveness from my Beloved and our children - glad they have short memories and long mercies.

Lent this year is an endless sand dune; the Easter destination a blurry mirage. Even sundays do not bring an oasis to my soul. I am dry, arid, parched. With every step I climb the shifting sands throw me back. But we're half-way there somehow. I am crawling on hands and knees... forward...the only direction I care to go. God will surely bless the efforts. I will arrive at Easter a dessicated pilgrim with grit under her nails; but I will ARRIVE!

Please pray for my Spiritual spring as I pray for yours.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I'll Get By...

I am an insecure person who compares her own accomplishments, children, and house to others. I'm a shy introvert who usually waits for others to approach me to initiate conversation, plans, friendship. So Jill's chapter entitled "No More Perfect Friends" had much to teach me.

Every mom needs a community of mothers around her. I know this. In my last home, while nursing my second baby, I struggled with the temptation to kill myself. I was suffering post-partum depression, something people with bipolar disorder are prone to, but I was unaware of both conditions. It would be another few years before a diagnosis and medication would bring some blessed relief. Adding to the suicidal notions was lack of sleep (as all mothers of newborns can attest) and ISOLATION. I had no friends. My husband had to go to work daily. My parents lived in another state. "No one" understood me. A mothering community would have helped so much.

Where I now live, I joined a Mom's Group as it was forming. What a blessing it has been! These ladies have saved my life, figuratively AND literally. I made incredible friends. When I had surgery, they brought meals for my family. When I was going through a depression around Easter one year, they got together and brought baskets for my kids with great papers in some of the eggs..."Mommy loves you"..."Let's snuggle"..."Let's Play a Game".... It "forced" me to spend time with the reasons I was struggling against ending it all. They also brought visitors for me - not caring I was in my bathrobe with stringy hair. They have brought extra Christmas gifts for my kids in lean years. Through the grace of God I've been able to reciprocate some gifts.

I am a "here I am" person, waiting for people to come to me. Since reading this chapter I'm trying to be a "there you are!" person. Friendships need to be nurtured to be sustainable with an investment of time and energy. But friends are human. If you expect imperfection, you won't be disappointed when it shows up; you'll be a more grace-filled, loving friend. My insecurity says I'm not worth someone's time and energy, but confidence (who I am in God) says I am valuable and have something to offer to a friendship. I am not perfect, but I am in the process of being perfected. Same with my friends.

One of my friends was brought to tears recently when things didn't go so well at the IEP meeting at her son's school. She came to me. What a gift! But at first I didn't treat it as a gift - I treated it as though she came to me for advice. Another friend and I sort of ganged up on her, telling her what she should do. Fortunately, I came to my senses, apologized, hugged her, asked if I could email her later. Yes. In the email, I apologized again and encouraged her where she was, reminding her she already knew what was best for her family, and assuring her of my prayers. She was very gracious in forgiving me and the encouragement was just what she needed. I have much to learn to be a good friend.

Grace happens when we allow another person to be human. Encourage one another even as we make different choices in our personal lives. Now excuse me, I need to decide which friend to get in touch with today....

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our Legacy

In Mom's Group several years ago we made a legacy box. It's a recipe box with index cards of questions for us moms to answer  concerning childhood, courtship, marriage, motherhood, and spirituality. I've finally gotten around to answering the questions in this box. Today's question: How are your children the same? How are they different?

A little background; when we bless our children we say, "(child's name), my beloved son/daughter, you are a joy and a delight and I thank God for you. May Almighty God bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Primo is delightful, with a quirky sense of humor and a ready smile or laugh. He is teaching himself to respond appropriately to the emotions of others which, because of the Aspergers, is one of his weak points. This shows resiliency and courage.

Secunda is a delight, loving and patient, with my own sarcastic wit (only nicer). She does get overwhelmed easily if she is rushed and so must learn to manage her time wisely.

Tertio is a delight - exuberant, boisterous, and "all boy". He must learn to breathe; well and deeply, when faced with an uncertain situation and CALMLY ask questions.

Quarta is delightful; she is graceful, charming, just a bit shy. She will have to put herself forward more as she matures, so people outside the family can appreciate her gifts.

Quinta is a delight, sweet with a ready laugh. Willing to help. She needs to overcome intransigence about everything else, learn to manage her emotions, so she can feel more self-assured.

Our children are joys and delights and we thank God for each one of them. They each have challenges to face to become all God intends. They are beloved.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Beg To Differ...Oh, Wait.

"There Are No Perfect Marriages." Well, I beg to differ. MY marriage is perfect; MY man is perfect; I have NO complaints. Although...he does leave the cabinet doors open.  He doesn't tell me when he spends money so our checkbook is always in arears. Our libidos don't match. He...oh...wait.

Expectations really get us into trouble in the marriage arena, especially if we're fed a steady diet of fairy tale romances (or trashy romances). "Expectations are preconceived resentments." When I married I naively thought all men were innately like my dad; able to do all household and car repairs in an afternoon. That is not where my husband's strengths lie. And I'm sure I am not at ALL what he expected.

We have faced incredible struggles together: six hard, stressful pregnancies that sometimes held dangers for both Mom and baby; the loss of a precious baby girl; poverty (only by America's standard's); grueling medical bills; discouraging diagnoses of us and our children; my mental illness and trying to find the right mix of medications to treat it. In marriage, we are stronger than ever. We determined to take a sacramental approach to our marriage - it would be life-long. The word "divorce" would never be mentioned. Love is not a feeling, but a daily (sometimes grinding) choice. We simply choose to love each other.

Gary Thomas asks this question in his book Sacred Marriage: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Exactly. Marriage should prompt us to pursue holiness. In Ephesians 5:33 we're told, "Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." Earlier in the chapter wives are told to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. We're addressed in our general weaknesses here. Women (for the most part) like to take control and have trouble submitting, but respecting her husband will bring out his manly qualities. Men (in a general sense) are not relational by nature and often will take care of practical matters before "loving". However, when a man takes the time to truly love his wife she will SHINE! Marriage is a path to make us more like Christ.

So, my marriage isn't perfect. But that's because my husband and I are not perfect. It is an excellent marriage, because we both encourage the other to growth. To be better mates, parents, Christ-followers. My husband. Next to that cross he is the greatest gift God has given me. He loves me more than life itself. And he loves God more than that. There are no perfect marriages, but some of them (happy sigh!) can get fairly close.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What's Wrong With Me!...No More Perfect Bodies

Fibromyalgia, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, an ulcer, a knee-replacement, bipolar disorder, migraines, kidney stones, and dozens of minor issues I deal with on a daily basis. That's what's wrong with me. Looked at in one clump like that it could be a little depressing. But praise God, this litany of ails does not define me. He does.

I tend to selfishness, to laziness. I think God allowed me to have these pain conditions knowing they would make or break me spiritually.  They definitely draw me nearer to Him! When the Great Physician looks at me, He does not see a bundle of ailments; He sees my heart. Thoughts, emotions, motives, HEART.  That's all about Him: loving, knowing, serving Him in this world and spending eternity with Him in the next.

In "No More Perfect Bodies" Jill reminds us we were "bought at a price" (cf 1 Cor 6:19-20). Our bodies belong to God. They are the home of the Holy Spirit. It is a stewardship issue to take care of them. This is a message I needed to hear.  I hear "lose weight and exercise" from so many different avenues that I just greet it with an eye roll now. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Eat less. Move more. Got it. Yawn.  But stewardship?  Actually managing my body like I manage my time, my money, my children's faith  formation? Hhhmmm. That's a concept of truth and I have some explaining to do.

It also occurs to me this body stewardship has other applications as well. You don't go into it to get to the ideal weight or to look a certain way for a certain person, but to get as healthy as you can be. In this manner you will be prepared for the next task God will call you to. Whatever mission He has in mind for you - you can go. I went on a mission trip to Haiti as a teenager; spent the first few days in a mountain village. Walked back down into St. Marc in my skirt in the heat, with my fat thighs rubbing together the whole way. Eight miles. I was in agony. Couldn't move on to the next village in my itinerary; had to stay in the orphanage that served as our home base. Had I been in better shape it wouldn't have happened. A stewardship issue determines whether you continue to serve where you are (which is good) or serve where you're called (which is better).

When God sees us through eyes of grace, He sees possibilities not liabilities. Tend to the heart before you tend to the body when you want to make a change because anything done without God is done in vain. He wants me to enjoy the gift of my body and take care of it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

He's Autistic - There Are No Perfect Kids

"He's autistic." I said it twice, once to the orthodontist, once to the dental technician trying to put spacers between the the teeth of my overgrown 11 yr old writhing in the chair, yelling "It hurts! What are you doing? Stop!" I said it not in explanation, but in apology. Then I felt shamed by my reaction. Because my children's imperfections are not a reflection of me and I don't ever want my sweet boy to be ashamed of how he was created because I treat his differences as "imperfections".

I know he feels pain differently; I know he needs things explained thoroughly before they're gone through. The failure was in my expectation that he was listening when the orthodontist was explaining. "We need to adjust our expectations to anticipate mistakes and even foresee misbehavior." (p.49) My embarrassment put a tone in my voice that could make my child feel "less than" for something over which he has no control. We should not let anger or embarrassment decide their punishment when they've done wrong, either; keep your emotions in check when handing out consequences (I need to try to keep my emotions in check at all times, given my own challenges).

Another area where I need work is being a "yes" mom. Too often I say "no" because of my own sense of selfishness or inconvenience. I now emphatically say "yes" to many things my children ask - the emphasis reminds me I'm helping them grow and yet allowing them to be children. "YES, you may play outside; bundle up." "YES, we'll play a board game; YOU must put it away when we're done." "YES, you can take up the entire downstairs to build a Lego city." (Okay, I didn't say "yes" to that one because they didn't ask before they did it - but I let them keep it there far longer than was safe for our feet!)

Some other things that caught my attention in this chapter:
Maturity of the brain doesn't happen until around age 25 (!). Making mistakes, trying, failing and trying again, is how the brain optimally grows. I often expect maturity from my kids before their brain is at that age and stage of development. Institute realistic expectations.
A child's desire to be independent is not personal to me as a parent. I'm supposed to be working toward that and out of my parenting job, right?
When my dreams for my children clash with reality I adjust my expectations and love my children unconditionally. This child is made uniquely by God - s/he can't be compared to anyone else.

Only God loves perfectly. But we are called to mirror His love that makes it safe to fail, safe to be who one is made to be. "Love is the language that needs to be spoken between imperfect mom and imperfect child." (p.66)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Send In The Replacements!

So now we move on to the antidote to the perfection infection. Pride, fear, insecurity, and judging keep us infected. Send in the replacements!

Pride is "cleverly costumed" in our lives - because it LOOKS like confidence. However, it is self-centered, self-focused, self-preserving. Jesus wants us to die to self. So replace pride with humility. The Latin humilitas means grounded or low. Grounded means one is not easily swayed. A grounded person isn't looking for recognition because she is at peace with her worth in the eyes of God.

Replace fear with courage. FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real. This is one I struggle with: I'm afraid of what people will think, I worry others will judge me, I fear rejection. Courageous women are still fearful; they just don't allow fear to stop them. Courage comes from knowing God is with me - to the very end of the age. He is my strength and salvation; of whom can I possibly be afraid? He loves me unconditionally. Because of that, I can love myself and others the same way.

Insecurity happens when the voices tell us we aren't enough. This is another of my challenge areas. The negative soundtrack that plays in my head keeps me feeling "less than". Less than others. Less than my best self. It paralyzes me from living out any potential; because I tell myself "I can't do it right, so I'd best not start". This statement can apply to anything from beginning a ministry at church to cleaning the toilet. As Jill says in her book, "Perfectionism is the best friend to procrastination." (I'm blogging instead of washing the breakfast dishes...and last night's supper dishes!) SO...replace insecurity with confidence. True confidence is really God-confidence. It's not necessarily believing in myself, but believing in what God can do through me. Even the dishes.

Replace judging with grace. We more often criticize others (even if only in our minds) than we give them the benefit of the doubt. Judgement is so divisive, demanding, ugly. It's very prideful and keeps us blinded to our own shortcomings. Grace is granting mercy; allowing someone else to make human errors without harsh critique.

Unrealistic expectations keep us from enjoying the real here-and-now lives we have. Simply change them, don't lower them. Replace them with realistic expectations. Humility, courage, confidence, and grace will help us be more realistic.

The Word of the Year...Authenticity!

I'm blogging through Jill Savage's latest release; No More Perfect Moms. And if you order it through the 9th, Moody publishing and Hearts at Home have teamed up to give you some great FREE resources. What a deal! What a Book!

I'm blogging about chapter 1 today; "The Perfection Infection". We all have it. It's ingrained in us. Even the very first humans thought, after listening to the serpent, there was something better than Paradise and broke the only rule they were given. Nowadays, that comparison game is perpetuated by television, advertising, and social media. But those images are all carefully cleaned up, presented beautifully, decidedly unrealistic. When we compare our messy real lives to those images we set ourselves up for failure, because we're comparing apples to oranges. We've no idea what's going on behind the scenes.

Even worse, we compare ourselves to each other. Again, we've no idea what goes on behind the scenes. I once heard a sermon illustration that illustrates this well:
"Oh, Lord, this cross is just too heavy for me. I cannot carry it any longer."
"Very well, my child. I will take it from you and put it in this room full of crosses. Now you choose which one you would like to carry."
The room was full of crosses, old and gnarled, fresh and still green. All large and heavy. Finally, in a corner, tucked away, I found one that seemed smaller than the rest. "This one, Lord. I think I can manage this one."
"But, my child, that's the one you came in with."
We all have challenges. None of us are alone, though we may feel isolated in our walk. Other women face the same struggles and challenges. the same social media that can increase our comparison games can give us access to support and strength from moms in and through the trenches we face.

Finally, we are all "contaminated" with perfection infection, but freedom can be found in authenticity. See, we are called to holiness - to be like Christ out of love for Christ. However, the perfection Jill is talking about is the one we strive for to be seen by men; to make people think better of us. We often wear masks to accomplish that - cleaning up our outsides so no one can see our frail humanness, our brokenness. But all it takes is honesty about the struggle, the challenge, the love and joy found through the challenges and struggles. One person is honest and that gives the next person courage to share some of their messiness. That humility brings us closer to holiness.

New Year's Resolutions don't last long, usually. By March, they've petered out. So I've joined the bandwagon of those who advocate a word for the year. Instead of grandiose plans for change that concupiscence overcomes, it distills your goals down to one word. Easily remembered. A focus. My word for this year? Authenticity. Keeping it real. Really for Him.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'm REALLY Imperfect - Buy This Book Now

There are no perfect moms. I'm more imperfect than most. I have faulty genes; also known as bipolar disorder NOS. My challenging  mental condition is usually controlled quite well by the medication I take. However, this week has been a rough one - full of rage and tears. My poor children have borne the brunt of these emotional excesses. They don't understand the disorder; but they understand me. My eldest daughter has read up on my illness and we've all spoken about it when I'm calm; she's able to remind them it's not personal when I lash out or when I piteously sob and can't tell them why because I don't know why. But it still hurts. I know. I've been there. The tendency is hereditary and I know precisely where it came from and after a week like this there's always crushing guilt that maybe I, too, have passed it on to one or more of my beautiful ones. And they gather round me with open arms and brimming eyes, ever ready to extend mercy and incredible love.

From the introduction of No More Perfect Moms: "While we're pursuing perfection, we're missing out on the most precious parts of life: the laughter of silliness, the joy of spontaneity, the lessons found in failure, and the freedom found in grace." (Italics mine.)

On a brighter note...this is the week! Buy this wonderful book this week. Why?  Moody Publishing and Hearts at Home have teamed up to provide you with over $100 of free resources! Six presentations in Mp3 format (can't wait to hear Jennifer Rothschild, and as a homeschooling mama "Multiple Intelligences" presented by Dr. Kathy Koch will be invaluable, I'm thinking!); some inspirational printables; and three (3!) e-books! Who doesn't need to live free, have more grateful kids, and read another offering by Jill Savage? And that's not all! You'll also be entered into a drawing to win hotel accommodations and two Hearts at Home Conference registrations for you and a friend. Too cool! Can I use any more exclamation points!!!

I am registered for the conference; I have a ride lined up with two wonderful Mom's Group friends; I'm looking forward to the recharging of my Mission. In the meantime, there is calming breaths. There is the arms of my family. Their whispered love. There is grace. Thank God.