06/8/16

In the Face of Life

He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How. 

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Over the weekend I read a good portion of Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. This is, of course, a classic work, detailing Frankl’s survival against all odds in a Nazi concentration camp. The basic premise is that Frankl and others like him were able to attach meaning to their lives. Survival was more likely, though far from certain, among those who found a reason to live. The horrific numbers tell the story of those who did not survive, but even among the victims, those with meaning were able to face death with courage.

At one point, Frankl quotes Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” Frankl grasped his why with both hands, and this helped him to survive the how of the concentration camp. His story is noble and inspiring as are the stories of many others who have shown courage in the face of suffering and death.

I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who have lived or are living these stories of courage, but these stories are not mine.

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I am living in a comfortable house in a peaceful neighborhood.  I have three beautiful children and a husband who loves me. My why and my how are all right here, and yet I find it hard to have courage even in the face of life. I feel so ungrateful and alone. I read about all these brave and noble people, and I wonder, where are the stories about people like me?

This morning I was making gluten-free, sugar-free, apple cider pancakes for the “whys” in my life. It is my own special recipe. The “how” of it is not difficult for me; and yet, as I was standing at the kitchen counter measuring all the different gluten free flours, I experienced the familiar dread of anxiety welling up inside of me. I willed myself to go on, not even caring that the toddler was throwing rice from his sensory bin all over the kitchen floor. At least he was not whining….

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I was listening to my Pandora station, trying to perhaps suppress my anxiety with the distraction of music, and “Her Morning Elegance” by Oren Lavie started playing. I stirred the flours, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon as I listened:

And she fights for her life as she puts on her coat.  And she fights for her life on the train.  She looks at the rain as it pours.  And she fights for her life as she goes in the store.  With a thought she has caught by a thread.  She pays for the bread and she goes.  Nobody knows…

This is my story. Here is a perfectly ordinary woman: she has flowers, she has a cello, she has a job, she has money for bread, but still she is fighting for her life.  (I only just watched the video today when I was looking for a link, and I don’t have any comment except that apparently a woman can be gorgeous and still “fighting for her life.” It was the music and the lyrics that appealed to me.) Her life seems so pleasant, and yet inside there is a hidden torment that nobody sees.

I never thought I’d find consolation in a pop song. It is not a song about courage in the face of death. It is a song about continuing on in the face of life. It tells a story to which I can relate. I don’t take the train to work.  I stay home, change diapers, cook meals, and correct math problems, but that hidden torment is still there. I don’t know why I am so anxious, so lonely, so depressed, but I am.

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I am not doing anything noteworthy or courageous; I am just here fighting for my one little life. I am playing the piano, taking walks with the baby, saying my prayers, teaching the boys, and some days it is so hard. Not many people know or understand that it is hard, but there are a few who do, and they do their best to support me. One of my steadfast supporters sent me this quote from Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I suppose it is true.  If I believe in God, and I do, then it must be true. I think of it in terms of the words of St. Paul:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

All shall be well because God is in charge. He is working all things, even my depression and anxiety, for the good.

Today the good is that I have connected with a song and a story. I finish listening, and I sweep up the rice on the floor. As I cook the pancakes, instead of washing dishes, I snap pictures and write these words in my head. The exercise attaches some purpose to my anxiety, if only for today, and as I continue the composition in my head, the tension dissipates, perhaps just a little.

I will keep fighting for my one little life. I may not be brave, but I will continue on in the face of this life that God has given me. In truth, my life is full of blessing. I may not be aware of any grand meaning, but I do know that I have a family to love, and I will trust God to take care of the rest. For today, I have a story to share. I have found that I am not alone, and if you are reading, perhaps you have found that you are not alone either.

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05/11/16

Present vs. Efficient

From toddler to teen, my children are teaching me what it means to be present.

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Toddlers, especially, are good at teaching this lesson. For the past few nights, Walter has been overtired, and his bedtime routine has looked rather like a crash and burn event. We have been necessarily efficient, but that is usually not the case. Ordinarily bedtime looks more like a gradual unwinding of the day.  We put all the lids away, and then I go with him to his bedroom. We close the door, and he plays for a bit while I watch. Only after this playtime do we get to putting on pajamas, nursing, reading books, singing lullabies, and saying our prayers. It’s a long process, as anyone with a toddler knows. During this process, it’s my job not to rush, but to be present for each step before Walter finally puts his head on his pillow, ready to sleep. It’s not very efficient.

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It’s also not very efficient to linger on the river bank for a half an hour looking for what may or may not be “sea glass.” (It looked a little more like regular glass to me, but again, this was a lesson in presence, not correct terminology, so I let it be sea glass.) A brisk walk without pause would have been much more efficient, and I probably would have gotten more exercise. But what we would have missed! I love the river, and I love these two boys.  There was no better way for us to spend that time than by being present together.

With teenagers, being present sometimes looks more like holding a space. A few weeks ago, Thomas had to make a rather large decision.  At least five adults were waiting on his answer so that we could move on with our plans, and it was tempting to rush the process. It would have been more efficient just to make the decision for him, but instead, we gave him counsel, and then let him alone for a whole day. We let him putter around in his workshop, giving him space while he processed, and by the next morning he had made a mature decision suited to his needs.

Our family lifestyle lends itself to this kind of presence. We have time to put Walter to bed slowly, we have time to spend down by the river, and we have time to let our kids putter and process and decide for themselves. Homeschooling plays a large part in affording us this time. We have whole days to spend together. We don’t have to rush, and we don’t have to structure our time to meet an institutional agenda. I think it would be more efficient to put my school age children on a big yellow bus and have them sit in class with their same age peers, but efficiency is not one of my goals for their childhood or for their education.

There are plenty of parents who do send their children to school and are still present for them when class is dismissed. Some might even find that being present is easier this way. The theory of quality versus quantity comes into play here. Perhaps it is actually easier to be present for your children if you haven’t been dealing with their noise and their messes all day long. As someone who sometimes checks out or at least takes a break, I can understand how this might be the case. It is also possible to not be present even if you are homeschooling. Pushing through curricula, scheduling too many activities, and parental burnout all come to mind here.

Presence is ultimately a state of being. Homeschooling parents can be present, or not. Parents who send their kids to school can be present, or not. Presence is also a bit of a balancing act, because efficiency is not essentially bad. Indeed, there are times when efficiency is helpful and even necessary.  If we want to get to a scheduled activity on time, we may have to be efficient in our preparations.  If the toddler is whining because he is hungry, we may want to be efficient in getting food on the table. A degree of efficiency is a good thing, and how much of a degree depends largely on the situation and the people involved. There are some people who would be driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household. In fact, I think I am sometimes driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household! It’s all about finding the right balance.

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I am learning to hold the balance between presence and efficiency. My particular balance leans more towards presence because this is what works for me and my family. I am taking my cues from my children. They are good teachers.

 

05/3/16

April in Review

“April is the cruelest month.”  Someone lent me an anthology of poems this month, and therein, I found these words penned by T. S. Elliot.  The entire poem is very long and difficult, and my attention span being what it is, I honestly did not read the whole thing.  I do, however, tend to agree with that first line.

April is a bit of a tease.   I get excited by a day or two of warm weather, and then it snows.  I feel relief that the boys’ hockey season has ended, but then I remember there are still taxes to pay, home school reports to write, and a violin to take to the repair shop.  (It’s funny how the poets never write about taking kids to hockey practice.)  I feel hopeful that blue skies and sunshine will lift my spirits, and then I find myself stuck in the kitchen, overwhelmed by all there is to do and struggling with the tyranny of the urgent.  It was a tough month, at least for me, but enough about that.

My boys continue to learn and grow, and for that I am grateful.  It’s been awhile since I’ve done updates about them, but I am hoping to make it a monthly post.

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Walter turned 18 months old on April 2.  His walking is starting to look more like running, and it is so cute.  His favorite “toys” are the four lids from the kitchen.  He twirls these like tops and watches them over and over.  His favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and we have read it over and over.  He likes to put his finger or my finger in all the holes that the caterpillar eats.  At church, Walter likes to be blessed.  When it is almost his turn, he puts his hand on his head in anticipation.

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Jack is ten, and has been ten for quite some time.  In true middle child fashion, he had a rather quiet April, and so I had to cheat a bit and use some photos from March.  Jack was quite prolific during March, writing stories, drawing pictures, and even recording the events of Holy Week with sidewalk chalk.  During the month of April he started his own blog for the purpose of sharing his stories.  You can read the first chapter of Jonathan Marden: The Boy Who Saved EpicJetMan1780’s Kingdom on Jack’s website, EpicJetMan1780.  (Did I mention, he’s ten?  His subject matter is very ten-year-old-boy!)  Hopefully chapter two of these epic adventures will be coming soon.

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Thomas is officially a teenager!  He turned thirteen on April 25.  The day itself turned out to be rather low key, but I think thirteen is still a big number for Thomas.  He is working hard at growing up, and we are proud of him.  He spent his birthday day in his basement workshop setting up his computer, which we finally let him move downstairs, and installing a new graphics card.  I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have been much happier.  Aside from his techie aspirations, Thomas has become quite the topic of conversation at church.  Nearly every weekend this  past month people have mentioned Thomas.  They tell me about his contributions at Bible class, comment on his violin music, or thank me for his help with the spring clean-up.  They don’t seem to mind his backwards baseball cap and long hair, and that’s a good thing!

Perhaps April was not so cruel after all.  Despite the weather, and the taxes, and my general disposition, I have three wonderful boys.  They are my sunshine and blue skies, and I might even take them to hockey practice again next season!

 

 

04/12/16

Too Boring for a Bullet Journal?

Have you seen all the posts and pins about bullet journals? These journals are the newest system for planning and reflecting all in one, and they are everywhere I look on the internet. Some of them are colorful and well-organized, while others are even quite artistic, and I must admit they have caught my eye. For months I have been on the sidelines, merely looking at other people’s journals but not really keeping one of my own. I mean really, do I need a lovely decorated page in a notebook to tell me that on Monday I’m going to roast two chickens, do a load of laundry, and pay the bills? The simple answer is, no I do not. All of these things are foregone conclusions, and I will probably get them done whether I write them down or not. I guess I’m just not much of a planner, and there’s really not that much going on in my life that I need to plan. I think that really, I am just too boring to keep a bullet journal.

I may or may not be boring, but regardless, the siren call of the internet is too hard to resist, and so I have started a new journal.  I don’t think what I have started can truly be called a bullet journal because I am terrible at following anyone else’s directions for doing pretty much anything. (I rarely follow lesson plans when I teach or recipes when I cook.) I prefer to think of my new notebook as “bullet journal inspired.” It’s basically a place to keep anything I need to record, complete with a handy index.

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I’ve been using my journal as a calendar and a place for things like the boys’ spelling lists since January, but this month I’m adding another element that I call my “Daily Pages.”  I have a place to list tasks (like roasting the chickens), a place to keep track of my anxiety triggers, a place to keep track of joys and thanksgivings, and a place for general reflection.  These four items cover a two-page spread each day.  In the end, I don’t think the question will be whether I need to remind myself in writing to roast the chickens, but rather whether writing about my day helps me to be more intentional and fulfilled, or whether it instead makes me hopelessly narcissistic.

It’s too soon to answer that question, but I do know what is helpful: making the “Daily Pages” my habit for April is helping me to actually get them done.  Thomas and Jack are completing the “Daily Pages” habit with me.  This is the second month we have worked on a habit together.  There are numerous books on habit out there, but I read (most of) this short little volume from Charlotte Mason and decided to give it at try.  During the month of March we worked on the habit of cleaning up after ourselves.  Our efforts made me wonder if Charlotte Mason ever encountered boys like mine, but in the end I think we did get a little neater!  The April “Daily Pages” habit has been somewhat easier to enforce.

The boys’ pages are different from mine.  On one side of their two page spread they have a task/assignment list written by me that they need to follow.  On the other side, they are to write a paragraph about the events of their day.   I am hoping this will help us incorporate a little more structure and accountability in our home school days.  My inspiration for their “Daily Pages” came from this post on spiral notebooks, and also from this article about Montessori journals for elementary students.  I have long aspired to follow the Montessori principle of “freedom with responsibility,”  but this is not always easy to do.  We did try to follow the Montessori idea of recording times and activities completed in list fashion, but it did not work for us because our loosely structured home school day does not really have a definite beginning or end.  If my kids are “learning all the time,” it would follow that they would be listing activities all day long, and that gets a bit tedious.  Instead, we’re just catching the highlights with a paragraph at the end of the day.  So far, our combination of task list and summary paragraph seems to be working well.

Flowers from Trader Joe's. Another internet idea I couldn't resist!

Flowers from Trader Joe’s. Another internet idea I couldn’t resist!

We’ll keep up our “Daily Pages” habit for the month of April and see how it goes.  If we really like it, I may report back with an update.  For now, I can check “blog post” off my daily task list.  The next thing on my list is the laundry….

 

 

 

04/4/16

Easter Celebration

easterboys1This evening as I write, it is snowing outside.  Honestly, I doubt that many of us in Western New York are surprised. We were more surprised, and quite delighted, with the gorgeous warm weather of Easter Sunday.  Our family had planned a nice Easter dinner, but after the events of the morning, we were quite exhausted.  Instead, we scrapped our dinner plans and spent the afternoon napping and then playing outside.  The big boys hid eggs for Walter, and once he figured out there were little cookies inside, he quite enjoyed his first Easter egg hunt!  We discovered that he does not like to walk on the grass because it is too bumpy for him and makes him feel unstable.  We consequently had to move all the eggs to the edge of the sidewalk.  I guess the activity could be more accurately labeled “Easter egg gathering” rather than “Easter egg hunting.”

After gathering eggs and eating cookies, Walter enjoyed a ride in the stroller as we walked around the neighborhood, and Thomas and Jack ran off to play with their friends.  The entire neighborhood was ringing with children’s happy voices.  It was lovely.

And for dinner?  We ordered pizza!  It was one of the best decisions we made the entire day.  We still set the table with nice plates, and even candles.  We traditionally give up lighting candles for Lent.  Back when David and I were young newlyweds we would give up Doritos and Coke.  Now we are a bit more health conscious, and needless to say, there really aren’t any Doritos or Cokes to give up! (Or caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, at least for me. It’s like my whole life is Lent.)  So we give up candles.  It’s kind of like giving up the “Alleluia” in church.  Everything is a bit more somber until Easter Sunday arrives.  Then we light the candles again because Jesus, the Light of the World, has risen from the dead!

We ate our candlelight pizza, and we talked about what it was like for the disciples that first Easter evening.  I don’t have any pictures because we were too busy enjoying one another’s company.  After supper, everyone stayed together in the living room and just played until Walter’s bedtime.  We were not somber.  On the contrary, I’m sure that Walter banged all his lids, and there may have even been a party horn involved.  Throw the balls!  Bang the lids!  Blow your party horn!  Jesus is alive!

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04/3/16

Easter Sunday: Resurrection, Music, and Psychology

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.  John 20:11-18

The story of Mary Magdalene is comforting to me.  She was tormented by all those demons, and it must have made her crazy, but Jesus loved her in spite of all that.  He loved her enough to rescue her from the demons, to die for her sins, and then, like icing on the cake, to appear to her personally after His resurrection.  I am tormented sometimes by anxiety and depression, and sometimes it makes me crazy, but Jesus loves me too.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Matthew 5:8

I don’t really think that “crazy” and “pure in heart” are the same thing, but through His death and resurrection, Jesus purifies my heart, and some day I will see Him face to face just like Mary Magdalene.

I’m sure Mary Magdalene was in my subconscious as Easter approached.  She was there along with many other thoughts, some of which make me very anxious each time a holiday approaches.

I attended both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and kept my composure, which I view as a small victory. Easter Sunday arrived, and I was anxious, but still everything was pretty much under control.  Thomas and Jack were playing for the service, and that always makes a mother a little nervous, but they were well prepared, and there was really no reason for concern.

We had prepared two pieces of pre-service music.  Jack was to go first, and Thomas was to follow.  The instruments were all tuned, and the boys were in their places.  About thirty seconds before Jack was to begin, another young boy entered the sanctuary.  He was high on the excitement of life, chocolate, the Easter Bunny, and perhaps even the Tooth Fairy, and he came running across the front of the church smack dab into Jack’s cello.  The cello fell with a clatter onto its bridge.  In an instant, my carefully guarded composure disappeared.

The tension that was simmering under the surface welled up into panic.  I started to scold.  “Jack!  I told you to hold onto your cello!”

“Deborah.”  I turned around, and there was my pastor all in his white alb and chasuble.  He said something to the effect that it wasn’t Jack’s fault.  Thomas re-tuned the cello, and really the worst of the outcome was that we started five minutes late.  Still, I was shaken.  By the time we got home from the service, I was exhausted.

Wednesday afternoon found me in my  therapist’s office for a regularly scheduled appointment.  I recounted the events of Easter Sunday, and I mused that it was really a bit of a relief to panic out in the open.  If the cello had not clattered to the floor, no one would have seen my anxiety simmering below the surface.  I would have been left to wrestle with it alone.  Instead it was witnessed by someone who cared.

I told my therapist how comforting it was to hear my name.  Thinking back on the service I cannot even recall the Gospel account. (It wasn’t from John).  What I remember the most is the sound of my name being spoken.  “It’s really kind of silly,” I admitted.

“No, it’s not silly,” my therapist countered.  He explained that what I had experienced was called anchoring.  When I was upset before church, the sound of my name spoken in a caring manner served to anchor me.

Mary was upset in the garden on that first Easter morning.  Then she heard Jesus speak her name, “Mary.”  In that moment, I think she must have felt anchored.  I know John wrote the account as a witness to the resurrection and not as a psychology lesson, but really, who could anchor someone more than Jesus?

 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

Jesus has redeemed me, and through my baptism, He calls me by name.  I am anchored in my place as a child of God.  It is a true blessing when God sends people to care for me, but even when I am alone and tormented, I can rest secure in the knowledge of my baptism.  As Martin Luther states in his Large Catechism:

When our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.

My pastor is not always standing behind me, and my therapist will soon be retiring, but I am anchored in my baptism.  I have the promise of life and salvation, and that promise is always and forever.


 

 

 

 

 

03/23/16

Crucified with Christ

My husband, the Biblical scholar, told me that I hate God.

I didn’t want to believe him, but the evidence was quite clear:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45

My words, from the abundance of my heart, had been hateful.  Worry and despair had filled its chambers, leaving little room for hope or gratitude.  I tried to hope.  I prayed, asking for peace, for joy, and for the ability to trust.  I went to Bible study every Tuesday, seeking for solace, for something to slow the panicked rhythm of my heart.  My pastor handed out little prayer cards with a picture of Jesus on the front.  One of the lines of the prayer is, “Thank you for my life.”  I do not pray that line.  I am thankful that I am alive and healthy so that I can take care of my family, but there are many days when depression and anxiety make me wish I had never been born.

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I may not have said, “I hate God,”  but I have certainly said “I hate myself,” and I also have said, “I wish I were dead.” I have effectively said that I hate what God has made and what He has given me.  And when my rage boils over, I can find hateful words for my family as well.  I cannot be filled with such anger and loathing and think that I don’t hate God, my Creator and the One who sustains my very existence.

Of course, I have always known that I am a sinner.  I could even, if hard pressed, say that I am an “enemy of God.”

 While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. Romans 5:8

For if, when we were God’s enemies……Romans 5:10

It’s just easier to think of these things in the abstract, especially come Good Friday.  Come Good Friday, it’s okay to think of myself as one of the women looking on.  I especially love Mary Magdalene.  Her Lord had saved her from seven demons, and now she is watching, heartbroken, as He dies for her sins.   If not Mary Magdalene,then perhaps one of the disciples.  The disciples fall asleep when they should stay awake, they desert Jesus when they should stick by his side, and deny Him after claiming to be brave.  The disciples are sinful, and Jesus dies for them too.  Yet, somehow their failings seem understandable from my human point of view.  At least they weren’t part of the angry mob, the ones who rage against God, crying “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  But this is exactly where I find myself.  I find myself bloodthirsty and hateful, calling out for the death of God, wishing that I didn’t exist and that He didn’t either.

How can I live with myself, knowing this is where I belong in the story?  How can I come to God in prayer after thirsting for His blood?  My husband tells me that it all for a purpose, not that it is okay, but that it is for a purpose.  But what purpose could be served by my bloodthirsty rage?

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  Galatians 2:20

I don’t have to wish I were dead!  My sinful self with all its worry and despair has already been put to death.  I do not consider myself to be suicidal, but as someone who has at least entertained thoughts of my own death, I find this so comforting.*  When I cry out for the death of God, I also cry out for the death of my own wretchedness, and God, in His mercy, delivers me!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  2 Corinthians 5:17

My worry, my despair, my rage, have all passed away.  It will not be realized in full on this side of heaven, but even here on earth, I am a new creation.

And what of my bloodthirsty cry?  God uses that too.  He gives me the gift of His body and blood, and every time I eat and drink, I know the promise of sins forgiven.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks My blood remains in me, and I in them.  John 6:56

My sins are great.  My mental health is a contributing factor, but it is not an excuse.  I decide to confess.  Private confession is not a common practice at my church, but it is offered, and so I go.  I hear that I am forgiven, and I hear that I am not alone.  I decide I need to write so that perhaps someone else will know she is not alone either.

The days here on earth will always have darkness.  As long as we are here, we will always have one foot in Good Friday.  But we also have a claim on Easter Sunday.  Jesus has already risen.  We cry for His death, but He gives us new life.  We are in Him, and He is in us, and He will help us get through this Good Friday world.   We are already a new creation.  And when we get to heaven, it will always be Easter Sunday.  Our cries will not be of rage and despair, but of love and praise for the One who created and redeemed us, and we will celebrate the new creation in full.

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*Disclaimer:  I am not a mental health professional. I wrote that I did not want others to feel alone.  I also wrote that I do not consider myself suicidal.  If you do feel alone, and if you do feel suicidal, please get help.  Please call your therapist, or your doctor, or a friend, or your pastor, or a crisis hotline.  If need be, go to the emergency room.  You are not alone, and I hope my words give you hope.

 

12/10/15

Broken for Grace

“How would your life be different without Jesus?”  This was the question put to us at our Tuesday morning Bible study.  I was not in a good mood, feeling anxious and a bit recalcitrant as I thought glumly, if it weren’t for Jesus, I could be a pharmacist and making a lot of money by now.  Such a profane answer was not expected, I was certain, and so I sat quietly, keeping my thoughts to myself.

It made me angry that I would have such an answer.  I was angry at myself for thinking such things in the middle of Bible study.  And I was just a little angry with God for not leading me to choose the path of a well-paid pharmacist in the first place.

Other people had more appropriate answers.  Growing up in Michigan, the person sitting next to me had been a sullen child and a failure in school.  Participation in church was the one bright spot for this troubled child, and it literally became a saving grace.  I may have grown up in Michigan too, but just 100 miles to the north, my childhood and adolescence played out quite differently.  Except for that A- in algebra, I was a straight A student, and I was a good girl, too.  I knew the rules, and I played by them.  I didn’t need the saving grace of the Church.  Of course, I went to church.  (That was one of the rules, after all.)  Of course, I knew that I was a sinner and saved solely by God’s grace and Jesus’ death on the cross.  Beyond that, I was pretty self-sufficient.  I trust in God, but I still need to study.  That was my motto, as I was all about those marks on my report card, and I must say, it seemed to serve me quite well.

I became proud.  I didn’t see it in myself, but my friend did.  She would become so exasperated with me that we wouldn’t speak for months.  Now I understand why.

1988

trophies

Throughout my high school years, I continued to worship at the altar of perfectionism, and when graduation came, I had a variety of options available to me.  My mom wanted me to become a pharmacist.  Perhaps this was a sensible choice, but all of those chapel services during my parochial grade school years had left an impression.  I had become convinced that I needed to tell children about Jesus, and so I became a parochial school teacher.  Not only did I become a parochial teacher, but I also married a seminarian-would-be-pastor.  Surely a good girl like myself would make a fine pastor’s wife.

My husband and I embarked on our journey into adulthood with all the idealism of youth.  I’m pretty sure I felt that I was doing God a favor with the path I had chosen, but that path was not without its challenges.  I found my job as a teacher to be very stressful, but I soldiered on, still relying on my own self-sufficiency.  I had no grace for myself and no grace for my husband.  I was relieved when he took a position at a church and I could become a stay-home mom.

Relief was short-lived.  A life built on perfectionism and self-sufficiency can easily crumble, and that’s exactly what happened.  In 2005, my second son was born with a birth defect.  His tethered spinal cord was surgically corrected, but my emotions had come undone.  During this time, my husband was also struggling in his ministry.  We began to unravel, and I began a steep descent into depression and anxiety.  I felt as though I were drowning.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah 43:2

I was not burned, but I was broken.  My facade of perfectionism and self-sufficiency shattered to pieces.

brokenpieces

 I went to the hospital for a total of four weeks in the course of eight months, and other people took care of my children.  Recovery was not complete, nor was it immediate, but I believe God used those years in the waters and fire to refine me.  He used those years to humble me, and to make me trust in Him for more than an A on a test.

candle

I come to Tuesday morning Bible study not as one doing God a favor, but as one begging for grace, hoping to learn to better trust in the One who gives it.  How would your life be different without Jesus?  All at once I am thinking back to my days of perfectionism, wishing to be self-sufficient, rather than praying for a posture of humility and trust.

I am still broken.

There is a little more discussion, and then we prepare to take the Lord’s Supper.  The pastor travels around our little circle offering us Christ’s body and blood.  “The body of Christ, broken for you.”  His body, broken for me.  God knew that I was broken, that I would be broken, that I am broken, and He gave his Son to be broken for me.  By His brokenness I am made whole.

cross

Without Jesus, I would still be relying on myself.  With Him, I can rely upon grace.  It is not easy to humbly trust, and I do not do it well, but the grace is there.  God is always there, even in my weakness, ready to bless me with His undeserved love.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

As I am leaving to go home, I am stopped by another member of the group.  She gives me a Christmas card.  Inside there is a check to use for my family just because “God placed me on her heart.”  As if Jesus’ very body and blood were not enough, I am now reminded that God is taking care of my earthly needs as well.  I have more than enough.  I have been given grace upon grace.  I never really wanted to be a pharmacist anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11/20/15

Autumn Again

walterleaves

About this time last year, I wrote a post about autumn in Delaware Park.  Walter was still a newborn; I typed with one hand, and held him with the other.  Several posts were completed in this fashion.  Then the holidays arrived, and with them came the arrival of “real life” once more.  I kept meaning to get back to this page.  Here I am, a year later!

Autumn has been good to us again this year.  Winter was interminable, spring was rather short, summer was just so-so, but autumn has been good.   Think of that statement as a comparison rather than a complaint.  Truthfully, all the seasons have been good and filled with blessing, but autumn seems especially so.

This autumn, Walter turned one.  He is the delight of the family.  He is cruising, but not yet walking; babbling, but not yet saying words; sleeping well, but not yet sleeping through the night; getting bigger, but not really growing hair.  He loves to eat, he loves his brothers, and his newest source of pleasure is flopping down on his tummy to go down the slide at the playground

walterballoon

waltertunnel

jackpumpkin

tompumpkin

Thomas and Jack have been delightful in their own ways.  They have been busy with music and hockey, and have kept us busy as chauffeurs.  Oddly, I usually don’t mind all the hockey runs.  It takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of food to keep Walter occupied, but it’s nice to get out of the house!

The weather has been beautiful so we try to get out of the house on a regular basis.  We enjoy the once colorful and now fallen leaves, the deep blue skies, and the golden sunlight.  We come in, drink apple cider, and munch on corn chips while feeding Walter his yogurt.  We turn on the white Christmas lights and light a candle as the sun goes down on these ever-shortening days.  The house is cozy, but not quiet.  There is a perpetual undercurrent of activity as the five of us and the cat share our days and nights together.

ivespark

threepumpkins

That is my autumn update.  I feel like I’ve written a Christmas letter!  Perhaps I’ll write again sometime, and perhaps next time I won’t wait an entire year!

 

11/17/14

Fourteen Days and Delaware Park: 10/31-11/13

underbridge

Thomas:

  • Scored his first hockey goal of the season.
  • Backed-up my old, dying laptop and set up my new one.  Thanks, Thomas!
  • Was not too old to enjoy our afternoon with friends at the park.

tomwillow2

bluecapewillow2

Jack

  • Went trick-or-treating dressed up as “Everything Man.”
  • Finished watching Liberty’s Kids, and immediately incorporated what he learned in his dramatic play.
  • Was the only child at the playground wearing a blue cape.

jackwillow2

boyswillow2

Walter

  • Spent a lot of time hanging out on the kitchen table.
  • Seemed to gain more control of his hands.  His movements may be unconscious, but even so, he bats at his toys and moves his pacifier in the general direction of his mouth.
  • Marked the one month anniversary of his birth.
  • Weighed in at the pediatrician’s office at seven pounds, twelve ounces.
  • Went on his first outing to Delaware Park.

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