Thursday, October 30, 2014

Living in the Moment

They say you learn something new every day.

Well, let me share something I learned yesterday. First of all, let me share where I learned it.

I learned it in therapy.

Hey, at least now the title of my blog makes sense again. I haven't been in therapy since before Al's stroke. So, it was about time that I sought some kind of counseling again since I've been through just a little bit of trial and trauma in the past four years.

Without even mentioning the stroke and the myriad of appointments and interventions and therapies for my husband, I can compile quite a list of stressors that have invaded my life:  depression, anxiety, PTSD, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, sleep deprivation, a nervous breakdown, multiple changes in jobs and insurance, and now, for the first time since the stroke, both my husband and I are unemployed, which means we're living just above the federal poverty level.

Oh, and did I mention that three of our children have been violently plunged into puberty, and one of them is currently learning to operate a motor vehicle?

You would think I'd have a therapist on speed dial.

But no, sadly, I haven't made time for therapy since the onset of these tremendous changes in our life almost four years ago.

This will be a story for another time, but I was unexpectedly thrust back into therapy yesterday. And I've already learned a lot.

You might think I should have known this already since I'm very well acquainted with depression and anxiety. But here's the wonderful little nugget of wisdom I learned today and I want to remember this, putting it into practice as much as I can:

Depression is dwelling on the past; 
Anxiety is dwelling on the future; 
Contentment is living in the moment.

Well, that seems easy, doesn't it? I suspect it will be harder to put a plan into practice according to this truth than simply absorbing the profound realization of that statement.

But it makes so much sense, doesn't it? When I get depressed about my life, it's almost always about my mistakes and seeming lack of ability to deal with all that life has thrown at me. However, Scripture tells me:
Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

God is always, always doing something new. And He is never surprised about our situations, our reactions, or our disobedience. He is always one step ahead of us (or maybe a thousand steps?), working it all together for our good and for His glory.

And if anxiety is worrying about the future, then what is my problem, exactly? Really? Okay, so I really do want some things in our life to change. And it is really scary to think about the lack of definition for our future when neither Al nor I have jobs. 

Of course, the answer to my anxiety is in God's Word as well:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 4:6-7

So now, as I accumulate the proper tools, I will work on cultivating contentment.



Living in the Moment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hardest Thing God Will Ever Ask You To Do

Do you ever wonder what God will ask you to do if you really say yes to letting Him be the Lord of your life?

I think I've held back all of my life because I'm afraid of what He'll tell me to do if I let go of all control. What if He asks me to do something really scary like going to a war-torn country to help fugitives escape? Or what if he asks me to approach a complete stranger to tell them about Jesus? (I don't know about you, but I might actually choose the war-torn country over trying to evangelize a complete stranger.)

What if God wants me to give up something I really love? What if he wants me to give up coffee as a sacrifice, to fast for someone's salvation?

This is me without coffee. Seriously.

The thing is, we've all heard stories where God asks people to give up beloved habits or possessions - or even people - or where He has asked them to do difficult things.

At the retreat I attended this past weekend, one woman shared that, when she was a newlywed, she and her husband were asked to open their home to have some young single people live with them...during their first year of marriage. She said it was one of the hardest years of her life. When God asked her to consider a second year, her automatic reaction was NO!!! But her husband asked her to reconsider (i.e. pray about it some more), she was able to say yes to the Lord and she felt much more peaceful about entering a second year of the situation that had been so stressful the first time around.

This past year, a dear friend's father had an unfortunate accident and fell into a coma. His wife, while praying for God's hand to be upon her husband, ultimately said to the Lord, "your will be done." Her husband died a few days after the accident. Of course, she went through the normal grief of losing someone so suddenly. But she had peace to accept God's will, and grace to see her through a very difficult time.

Neither of those situations is fun or easy, but God will always, always, always meet us with grace when we say yes and accept His will.

God really drove this point home for me this weekend:

The hardest thing that God will ever ask you to do is to say, "yes."

As soon as you say yes, His grace flows in and gives you what you need to handle what he places before you. Saying yes doesn't mean it won't hurt, or it won't be difficult, but saying yes opens your heart to allow all of the grace God has for you to get through the circumstance to which he has called you. Life is so much harder when you're struggling against God's will, against what He has put before you in your life.

Sometimes, when God asks us to do something for Him, we can say no. He gave us the free will to do that. But sometimes, God simply allows something to happen to us without asking us first - I mean, He is God, after all - and then asks us to say yes anyway, to peacefully accept what has come to us and not try to run away from it and not try to fight against it.

Another friend of mine has a mantra that I love to remember. When going through a hard time, she says, "Lean into it." Instead of pulling the other way, as in a tug of war, lean into the direction God is leading you, and trust that He will be enough to pull you through.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Boundary Lines

Many years ago, I had an inspiration to claim Psalm 16 as my "Life Psalm," the psalm that would define, dictate, and comfort throughout my life. (In retrospect, I should have chosen 2 Chronicles 9:13, "Every year King Solomon received over twenty-five tons of gold." I'm just kidding, of course, because the Bible is always quick to tell us that money is the root of all kinds of evil. But I wouldn't mind finding out for myself!)

About six months ago, I had a revelation. For all of my life, I had thought I really trusted God. Probably because my life was relatively easy until then - no major health issues, I had a decent education, I got to do a little traveling before getting married and having kids. I found a good husband and had some pretty cute kids. Sure, I got all hot and bothered when they were little, thinking that I was failing as a mom and not trusting that God was using me to my full potential. But now, I can see better in hindsight, that God has given my children grace to grow in spite of my failings and my weaknesses. 

I usually trust God with money and material things, too. I just know that He knows our needs and the money usually shows up when we need it. I'm not saying I'm perfect in my trust for this area, but even when I get myself to worrying about it, I'm usually soon reminded of all the ways that God has been faithful in the past.

After Al's stroke, almost four years ago now, I felt the presence of God like I had at no other time in my life. He literally carried me through the darkest time in my life; when I felt I could hardly get out of bed because the weight of life was so heavy upon me, God gave me the grace to get up and go to work for yet another day, when some days, I honestly just wanted to give up and die. Somehow, over the past four years, my trust in God began to wane, and I blame that in large part on self-pity, when I started thinking, "Woe is me, God has left me to do this on my own." I felt very much alone, raising a family, paying the bills, working outside the home, with limited help from my husband due to the physical and mental damage done by the stroke. Basically, I felt like God promised me something, a happy life, an ideal family, and always enough to make ends meet, with maybe a few run-of-the-mill challenges thrown in to make me stronger or to help me train my children. But, as my priest once said to me, I felt like I'd been the victim of a bait and switch, and I felt like I had the right to be angry with God. And that's where my trust began to fail. God didn't give me what I thought He promised; he didn't live up to His end of the bargain, so why should I trust Him?

This past weekend, I went on a women's retreat, where I experienced a lot of grace to deal with this junk. Now, God is always giving us grace, but we aren't always in a position to receive it. For example, when I was folding my arms and stomping my foot like a little child, there wasn't a lot of room for me to receive His grace. So I repented. A lot. And then I asked God to just come in and do an overhaul in my heart. I felt like I had strayed so far from Him that I wasn't even sure how to get back, so I need Him to tug on my leash to bring me back to where I could at least hear his voice. (and yes, I did just compare myself to a dog.)

During a personal time of prayer, I was reminded of Psalm 16, my "Life Psalm." I began to read. I was stopped at verse 2: "I said to the Lord, 'You are my Lord, apart from you, I have no good thing.'" And again at verse 4: "The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods."

There was my grave mistake: not living and acting as if God is enough. Not letting God be enough. I get impatient very easily, and I didn't want to wait for God to act anymore. So I just started taking matters into my own hands. The problem was that I didn't really know how to run my own life, and I certainly didn't know how to do it better than the Lord, so instead of living, I just escaped. I escaped into writing, surfing the web, reading, sleeping. I was trying to live an imaginary life vicariously through stories instead of trying to live the life God wanted me to, and being the woman He created me to be.

Verses 5 and 6 brought me to weeping: "Lord, you have assigned my my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places."

The heart of the matter was that I didn't like where the boundary lines had fallen. It sure didn't seem "pleasant" to me that I was trapped in struggling family, with both my husband and myself out of work and barely living from paycheck to paycheck, neither of us having any peace or direction for our future. I kept saying to myself, "Lord, this is not what I signed up for."

But while I was on retreat, God gave me the grace to accept the boundary lines. I also came to the realization that, as I've gone through periods of grief where God has gently forced me to come face to face with the pain, I've actually gotten through it, and now, hallelujah, I've arrived at the final stage of grief, the stage of acceptance. This is where He has planted me and expects me to serve. And He wants me to serve joyfully, peacefully, with a willing heart, not grudgingly. And here's the wonderful thing about the Lord - when He gives you grace to do something (and when you open yourself to actually receive the grace), He gives you the peace to do it as well. 

So, now the game has changed. Instead of grudging the fact that I realistically have to do more to carry our family along than most wives would have to do, I am choosing to trust that God is giving me what I need to do it, and that He is also giving my husband what he needs as well. My tasks won't be any different. My service to my husband and family will be the same. But hopefully, they will be done better and more cheerfully than it had been done before. Because I have made peace with living inside of my boundary lines. I have accepted my portion and my cup.

Verse 11 says, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

This is the path that God has set me upon, the place where He deemed fit for me to serve and to grow in holiness. 

This is the boundary outline of my childhood home, 
where my parents still live. This place is the epitome of peace for me. 
My prayer is that I will grow to find the Lord's boundary lines
 for my life to be just even more delightful than this place.