Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries.  The word itself seems to carry a negative connotation.  Whenever we bring up the issue of boundaries it is because someone has crossed them.  Rarely do you hang out with some friends, sip coffee, and have a lighthearted, enjoyable conversation about boundaries.  Over the last several years, though, I’ve learned that boundaries are really good, healthy, and keep relationships and priorities in order.  A life without boundaries promises to be a life of misery and chaos.  

There are lots of people who, for various reasons, struggle to establish and maintain boundaries.  Boundaries have always been a difficult for me.  I remember being in a youth group in high school and sharing things about myself that no one else would have dared to mention.  What everyone else viewed as so incredibly personal was, to me, no big deal. As a child I remember telling random adults whom I’d just met, “I’m Kristin.  My parents got divorced when I was 5,” as if that’s some kind of really great small talk, conversation starter. (For the record, I think I was actually 6 when it was finalized…).  It was more like an introduction at a support group than with a stranger.  

As I grew up I felt out of control of my life, frustrated, and guilty.  I felt like I was always working to make everyone else happy or at least not hurt anyone else’s feelings.  It felt pretty miserable, to tell you the truth.  What I really wanted, but didn’t know, was a clear set of boundaries. 

I’ve been reading through the book, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  I have, admittedly, only gotten through certain sections so far, but plan to really go in-depth once I get enough free time.  I have to say, though, that what I’ve read in the last couple of months is information I could have used a long time ago!  A LONG time ago!

The book starts off with a look into the life of a woman who doesn’t have boundaries.  I can see myself so clearly in this fictional story.  This woman is so afraid of the consequences of saying, “no,” that she just says, “yes,” to everyone…and she is miserable.  Now, I don’t usually struggle to say, “no,” in the same way she does.  Not these days, anyway, but I sure did as a teenager and college student.  If someone needed help I was always saying, “I’ll help,” or “I’ll work for you,” or, “sure, I’ll join your club.”  It made my life incredibly busy and burning out was just a matter of time.  But not learning to establish boundaries at the beginning set me up for a lack of boundaries as an adult.  

When I went off to college, for example, I looked forward to the separation from my family. Not because I didn’t love them, but because I looked forward to becoming an adult and was excited to become my own person.  I attempted to establish boundaries by explaining a future limit of communication.  I wasn’t going to answer every phone call or email.  I needed time to make friends and be independent.  I definitely got quite a bit of push back and spent a lot of time trying to repair damages and explain myself.  When I became pregnant with Emery I was asked by many friends and family members, “how did that happen?  Weren’t you using protection?  Why weren’t you on birth control?  What are you going to do?”  I could have anticipated those questions, but it didn’t make them any less awkward or uncomfortable. I chose to answer the questions, even though they made me feel uncomfortable, because I was worried about how saying, “That’s none of your business” would make someone else feel. When I attempted to establish boundaries before Emery was born, it was met with an incredible amount of resistance…resistance I wasn’t prepared for and I spent a lot more time trying to negotiate and explain myself than I probably should have.  

The tales could go on and on and on of times when boundaries were crossed and I walked away feeling out of control of my life and like I needed to attempt to cater to the needs of other people by allowing them access into my life even when I didn’t want it, or by answering questions even when I didn’t think I should.  

So, enter the suggestion of reading this incredible book.  Wow.  I can already see that these suggestions are going to be life-altering.  There’s an entire chapter in the book entitled “Resistance to Boundaries.” Resistance can take the form of anger, guilt, and even physical resistance.   

“The most common resistance one gets from the outside is anger.  People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem.  Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort.  They see others as extensions of themselves.

When they hear no, they have the same reaction as a two-year-old has when deprived of something: ‘Bad Mommy!’  They feel as though the one who deprives them of their wishes is ‘bad,’ and they become angry.  They are not righteously angry at a real offense.  Nothing has been done ‘to them’ at all. Someone will not do something ‘for them.’  Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or respect others’ freedom (Prov. 19:19).” (Boundaries, pg. 241)

So why am I sharing all if this is?  Isn’t it almost crossing my own boundaries to reveal these personal struggles?  Yes and no.  This is certainly not like one of my normal blog posts. I am, however, hoping to encourage anyone else who is struggling with boundaries.  I have found that, for me, the most difficult boundaries to establish are with parents.  Why?  Because I love them and they love me.  It’s easy to think, “they’re just trying to help.”  That may be true!  But there is still a point when adult children are not required to “obey” their parents or share private information.  “How can you call yourself a Christian?  Doesn’t the Bible say ‘Honor your parents?'” (Boundaries pg. 244). It may be ok for parents to give advice to adult children or to even offer to help financially or with babysitting grandchildren, etc., but when offering advice, financial assistance, or help with babysitting turns into an expectation of obedience, then it isn’t help but manipulation.  And I believe that it is, often, unintentional. (This can go the opposite way too, folks. Kids can try to push parents into doing things for them by pulling out the, “but I’m your kid. Don’t you love me?” card.)  

A friend shared a story with me about her wedding and how a close family member had offered to pay for the cake.  It became clear, though, that with the offer of paying for the cake came some strings that had not been negotiated into the deal.  My friend, because she’s amazing, strong, and clear with her boundaries, had to ask directly, “ok.  Is this a gift or not?”  

So maybe mom and dad have offered to watch your kids for free so you can get a job.  Now mom and dad are giving you parenting advice, taking over school projects, field trips, and giving you diet suggestions.  You’re not thrilled with all the new advice.  You’re still the parent, right?  But you’re afraid that if you ask them to stop that they’ll stop watching the kids.  Maybe they will.  Establishing boundaries often has consequences.  

It reminds me of the 13 colonies before the American Revolution.  The colonial years are like birth through high school.  War sets in during college years when you’re fighting for your independence.  The war ends when boundaries are set and the sovereignty of your own person is recognized and respected.  The consequences may be hurt feelings, financial withdrawal, lots of resistance, and a bit of uncertainty, but is necessary for a healthy relationship between parents and children.

Certainly boundaries with parents aren’t the only difficult boundaries to establish, but I do think they’re the most difficult because the most is at stake. You may have a difficult boss who expects you to come early and stay late at the last minute, friends who push their beliefs about food or medicine on you, or a church leader who tries to make you feel guilty when you can’t volunteer to lead the children’s choir.  What have learned from this book is that my boundaries are my responsibility.  No one can make you feel guilty.

“…you must view anger realistically.  Anger is only a feeling inside the other person.  It cannot jump across the room and hurt you.  It cannot ‘get inside’ you unless you allow it…do not let anger be a cue for you to do something.  People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others.  They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves.  There is great power in inactivity…Keep a loving stance while ‘speaking the truth in love.'” (Boundaries pg. 242)

“If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs.  Realize where the real problem is: inside.  Then you will be able to deal with the outside correctly, with love and limits.  If you continue to blame other people for ‘making’ you feel guilty, they still have power over you, and you are saying that you will only feel good when they stop doing that.  You are giving them control over your life. Stop blaming other people.” (Boundaries pg. 245)

Isn’t that incredibly empowering?!  Are you willing to accept the consequences of establishing healthy boundaries?  To say, “I don’t have to answer that question,” or, “thank you for sharing what has worked for your family, but my husband and I have a different way we want to handle this situation,” or, “that activity sounds like something you’ll really enjoy.  I hope you have fun, but it’s just not something that interests me,” and not allow yourself to feel unnecessary guilt or pressure?  I know I am!  Because I finally can see and know that my boundary issues are my own.  

Disclaime:r I have great parents and wholeheartedly believe that every parent-child relationship has its struggles and seasons of establishing new boundaries.  I don’t look forward to the day when I realize that I have crossed the line with my adult children and need to step back.  I don’t look forward to the day when they move out and no longer need me in the way they do now.  This post is in no way to guilt or shame my parents or any other parent.  It is purely to encourage others, my parents included, to establish healthy boundaries with friends, family, co-workers…etc. and to read the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.

Like a bird from prison bars has flown…

We just returned home from Disney World on Easter Sunday, as many of you already know. Our trip was an incredible blessing. This last year has been quite a bit of a whirlwind, and the upcoming year is likely to be just as crazy and filled with surprises. We needed to take this vacation. Not needed like we need to breathe or something. But needed to prove that this isn’t over yet. My life isn’t going to be limited from doing fun things with my family. I can be away from home for an extended period of time, in a hotel, eating somewhere that isn’t my kitchen with many facets being out of my control and I can still enjoy myself.

I’ve been terrified to do anything away from home because I was scared I would have an episode. My very first episode began in a restaurant far away from home. The last time I’d stayed in a hotel was when I first started having symptoms back in August. I was so incredibly miserable and there was a big part of me that was afraid to be very far from home and eat out for every meal for a week. When I visited a friend for a weekend back in October I felt sick the entire time. I tried really hard to cover it up as much as possible, but every moment I thought I was going to pass out or throw up…or both. So, when I visited my family in Wisconsin back in March and did pretty well, I thought I could try to step it up and do something even further from my comfort zone…something I’ve always wanted to do and, a year ago, would have been losing sleep for days due to my excitement rather than anxiety.

Two days before our trip I started to feel pretty panicky. I’d been having a lot of headaches and dizziness that week and thought, “this was a bad idea. I should cancel. Wait…I can’t. The boys are so excited. I can’t do this to them. I can’t let this stupid disease ruin this for them. I have to do this. But wait, what if this is God putting it in my heart that I’m going to regret this whole trip? What should I do? I can’t go. I have to go. We are going. It’s too late. We can’t change our minds now. I’m just going to have to live with it. It’s only a week. If I’m miserable, I will get through it somehow. We will figure it out.” I was freaking out in my mind.

On top of that I’d been feeling pretty frustrated with myself. I’ve been reading through the Gospels (if you’ve never done it, Christian or not, I highly recommend it. They’re easy to read and are kind of like a story. Get through the genealogy in Matthew, which is fascinating if you know any of the Old Testament or anything about Jewish culture, and you’ll swing right into stories. Even if you don’t believe in God, I guarantee that reading those books will change the way you view the world and view Christianity…) and there are so many accounts of Jesus healing people. In Matthew 9:35 it says that Jesus went through the cities and villages and healed every disease. EVERY disease. He brought people back from the dead. He even healed people who had absolutely no commitment to him just because they asked. The 10 lepers, for example, were all healed (Luke 17) and only one of them returned to him to thank him for being healed. The rest all went off to their lives and we have no clue what became of them. But Jesus healed them. He cast out demons, rebuked the storms, gave sight to the blind, sound to the deaf, a voice to the mute, strength to the paralytic, hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry, love to the unloveable, forgiveness to the unforgivable, grace and mercy to the sinner, and life to the dead. He sent out his disciples, empowering them to do the very same things. Even Paul, who never followed Jesus during his 3 year ministry but met him later on the road to Damascus after the persecution of Christians had already begun, had healed the sick and brought a dead man to life.

So I asked myself, “why not me?” How many times have I read Jesus’ words, “your faith has made you well,” and here I am still sick. Why can’t I get rid of this on my own? What is wrong with my faith that it hasn’t made me well? What am I doing wrong?? I went to sleep Saturday night on my knees praying and begging God to take this away…to somehow bring me some comfort through this frustrating time. And he did. But not in the way I had expected.

That Sunday morning our pastor spoke about sickness and disease. It was as if God had spoken through our pastor directly to me. He emphasized what I’ve been having to repeatedly remind myself every day, that not everything Jesus won for us on the cross is meant for this lifetime. Someday, in heaven, my body will be healed and perfect. But not right now. Not while I live in a fallen world. Does He choose to heal some? Yes! Yes he does! I think of one of the many blind men whom Jesus healed (John 9). He had been born blind and had lived his whole life up to this point blind. How many years must he have wondered what he’d done wrong or been doing wrong. It didn’t help that in Jewish culture diseases, infirmities, even infertility were often attributed to some kind of sin. The idea was that it was a consequence of something you’d done so you deserved this disease or impairment. Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “It was not because of anyone’s sin, but that God might be glorified,” and Jesus gave him sight. (Reader’s digest version…).

I think about Job who, because of his faith and devotion to God, was allowed to be tested. That book has always been extraordinary to me. Job had done nothing to deserve the suffering that took place in his life. It is easier to read when you know the ending and when it isn’t happening to you. But I imagine being in Job’s position…to lose everything and then to have your friends ask you what sin you have not repented from to deserve what you’re getting. Good friends, right?? But God was glorified through his affliction. God gives the most amazing speech ever written in the book of Job and it is a constant reminder to me of who God is and who I am in comparison. It makes the wisdom and knowledge of this world seem like absolute rubbish in comparison to what God has done. My understanding is so limited…so small…so insignificant compared to the complete understanding God has. And yet, in that same speech, He tells of his knowledge down to every single detail. He knows when the mountain goat gives birth. He knows when it learns to walk and leaves its home. He knows about every little detail of every creature on earth. He knows how many hairs are on my head. No wonder David writes in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

I remember the pastor of the church I attended in college giving an amazing sermon about the knowledge of God compared to the knowledge of man and he said that he had a smart dog. She knew when to come in, when to go out, could follow basic commands…etc. But no matter how much he tries to teach her calculus, she’s never going to understand it. Just because she cannot understand it, does it make calculus not true? No. It is true regardless of the dog’s understanding. The dog’s mind is limited. So is mine. My mind is limited here on earth. There are so many things that I cannot understand (calculus included…) and it doesn’t make truth any less true. God is still God. God is still good. God still loves me even though I cannot understand this disease and why it is happening.

Every other time of difficulty has been given an ending point for me. The pains of pregnancy and labor cannot last forever. You breathe knowing that at any moment the baby will come and the pain will end. The newborn phase is exhausting but you know they don’t stay small for long. A cold is no fun, but you know it will go away in a few days or weeks. The stomach bug is like death, but it lasts for a day or two. There has always been a definitive ending in sight. This is different because my definitive ending may or may not come in this lifetime.

So why was I given this disease? Somehow God is going to be glorified through it. Whether it is through my healing or not, I don’t know. I may wake up one day with completely normal blood work, no pain, no anxiety, no frustration…and never feel another ache again. Or, God may give me the grace, as he gave Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9), to live this life with disease and perfect His strength in me.

What I do know is that, because of the cross, the battle is already won. “It is finished!” He already took my sin, suffering, pain, disease, and rebelliousness upon himself at the cross. One day I will wake up whole…even if that isn’t until I wake up on distant shores, surrounded by the glory of God, and basking in the light of His presence. That is the hope that will not disappoint. That is the confidence I have in Christ.

It’s been a while…

Back in December I wrote a blog post about being diagnosed with scleroderma/systemic sclerosis. I wanted to just write a very brief update on what has been going on with all of that.

Last week I had an appointment with my mom’s rheumatologist in Wisconsin. He had graciously read my labs and offered to meet with me to discuss the results, perform a few more tests, and work with me after. I was so thankful for his offer and happily met with him!  

He sat and spoke with me for quite some time about my previous labs, the onset of my symptoms back in August, my current meds, and all the questions I had.  He informed me that my labs were not especially convincing to him and he wasn’t sure why certain labs were never performed. He offered to re-run some tests and do a few new ones. Of course I was willing!

Well, my labs came back with flying colors…just not really in the direction we were hoping.  A couple of the results were greater than or equal to the highest possible number. So that was discouraging. Then two other labs came back low that are usually associated with lupus. 

While the labs didn’t come out as I had hoped, I was thankful for more clarity. He did say that he didn’t feel comfortable giving me an official diagnosis. While my labs seem to strongly indicate an auto-immune disease (specifically Scleroderma) I have none of the clinical signs/symptoms…just very general symptoms that tend to show up in people of all auto immune diseases (chronic pain, digestive complaints, joint pain…etc).  So I will meet with him again in the summer and will likely keep him has my rheumy for future follow ups as long as it’s possible for me to make the treks to Wi.

So what’s the good news?

First and foremost, I have hope. While there is no cure for auto immune diseases and I may go through this for the rest of my life, this isn’t forever. I was talking to Josh and reflecting on how long 9 months of pregnancy felt and how the pain of labor felt unbearable. But the labor pains encouraged me that a new and better season was on its way. This auto immune disease may cause me some problems and may limit me…but the pain reminds me that Heaven is my true home and this season will pass away eventually and will be nothing but a memory and I’ll be able to say, “that was tough! It felt like it was going to never end but it did! Glad that’s over!”

I don’t have any clinical symptoms. While I know my numbers are high, it doesn’t have to mean that my disease will be more severe. A loved one told me that she has friends whose labs are just like mine and yet they rarely experience symptoms aside from a little pain here and there. That may very well end up being my story. 

I have a great support system. I have friends and family who genuinely care for me. I am so lucky to have that. I think about people who go through these illnesses alone or as a single parent and how much more difficult it would be. 

I also feel vindicated. I had plenty of people tell me that I was crazy and it was all in my head. That was pretty annoying and difficult to manage. The one benefit of really telling labs is that I can point to something and say, “see! I knew something didn’t seem right! I kept my nose to the ground and didn’t stop until I found some answers!” How freeing it feels to not have to listen to those who would only bring you down!

I have some wonderful prescriptions that are helping to manage my symptoms! I told my doctor just this week how thankful I am for one in particular. I had lost so much weight during such a short time. I cried and looked in the mirror recognizing I was just a shell of the person I had once been.  I felt weak and frail. In that moment I promised myself that I’d never complain or call myself fat again if I could just get healthy and keep food in my body. I am happy to report that I have gained almost 20 pounds from last summer/fall…over half of that being in just the last few months. You know you needed to gain weight when you put on 20lbs and don’t need a new wardrobe!! My pants are a little more snug, of course, but they button up fine so I’m satisfied! 

We could still use your prayers. I have my very bad days when I cry as I imagine what could become of my body should this disease really get a foothold. I’ve seen the pictures and it can be scary…and there’s no cure.  The signs are visible. My disease would be out in the open for everyone to see.  There’s not a treatment for scleroderma…just a constant attempt to manage symptoms. I think about taking pictures at my boys’ weddings someday and having my disease as a constant reminder to them in a photograph. I think about if this disease should attack the wrong organ or body system and should I die and leave the boys behind… What would happen to them? How would they handle it?  There are many worst-case scenarios that can plague my mind. So we need your prayers.  Pray for the boys, for me, for Josh, for my family and friends, and doctors. 

The Bible tells us to take every thought captive…it tells us to renew our minds. The Bible says to only think on things that are pure and noble. We don’t need to worry. So please pray that God would help me to take control of my thoughts…and make Himself the commander of all that goes in and out. 

Pray for my mom. I know how hard it is to watch my kids battle so much as a cold. I hate watching Emery struggle with CVS and I am constantly on the hunt for how I can help him. I also think of the guilt I’d experience if the boys were to ever develop an auto-immune disease. I would feel like it was somehow my fault and my crummy genes. But those things aren’t true. There’s nothing like the love of a mother and I know she would take this on herself if she could. I know it kills her to watch this happen. So pray for her and the rest of my loved ones who watch on helplessly as they manage both my symptoms as well as their own illnesses. 

Finally, pray for a cure! What a happier world we would live in if we could truly find a cure for the many diseases that plague us from cancer, tumors, auto-immune diseases…or even the common cold! What if there were a vaccination that could take these away or keep the symptoms as mild as possible. 

Working for the Enemy

Last week I wrote a post about remembering who the real enemy is.  I’ve been thinking about that concept so much lately…about how we bicker and fight amongst ourselves so often that we end up doing the enemy’s work for him.

The other day, though, I was reading through my Bible and I came across a passage that I’m sure I’ve read a hundred times before, but this time it touched me differently.  Matthew 9:9  “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”

So, let’s set the scene here…Jesus has just finished a long stint of healing people.  He has healed people with leprosy, paralytics, the possessed, and  calms a storm.  Then we get a little blurb about Jesus running into Matthew and asking him to follow him.  He goes on to eat dinner at Matthew’s house with other tax collectors and sinners.  The Pharisees are, once again, irritated that Jesus isn’t behaving the way they’d like.  Jesus, per the norm, puts them in their place and tells them that the sick are the ones who need the doctors, not the ones who are well.

Now, if the Pharisees had been honest with themselves, they would have seen themselves as sick and needing a doctor too…But we will save that for another day.

Jesus calls Matthew.

I’ve read it a hundred times.  I’ve passed by this little bit of the Bible so many times and, for whatever reason, it hit me like a ton of bricks this week.

Matthew.  The tax collector.  I mean, I’ve heard before that the tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth.  They were usually cheating people out of their money and so on and so forth. I mean, no one likes the guy who works for the IRS, right?  But it occurred to me this week to look into who Matthew was working for.  According to Wikipedia (because it is the ultimate source for all things reliable…), Matthew would have been collecting taxes for Herod Antipas.  Herod Antipas would have been the son of Herod the Great (the one who lied to the wise men and killed all the boys 2 and under in Bethlehem…yeah, the nut job).  Herod Antipas was the one whom Pilate sent Jesus to when he didn’t want blood on his hands.  Herod was a tetrarch (which is the name given to some who ruled Roman provinces).  Matthew was a Jewish guy working for the Romans…the enemy.  And Jesus called him.

Think about that for a second.  Let that sink in.

Matthew.  A Jewish man.  Working for the Romans.  And Jesus calls him.

That just blows my mind.  It already amazed me that Jesus would call the tax collectors because I’ve heard so much nasty stuff about them…but then when I really sat to think about it, it was so much more than people cheating other people out of money.

Put yourself in the picture.  Let’s say some big strong group comes in and takes over the country.  They’re taking our money, ruining our land, killing our people…And they offer you a job to collect taxes for them.  Do you sell out?  Or do you decide to do something else like become a carpenter or fisherman?  Matthew was a sell out.  He was a Jew working for the Romans…and he made money off of it.  He’s like the guy in all the movies that you just hope dies.  He’s like Saruman working for Sauron.  He’s like Snape when you think he’s working for Voldemort.  He’s the guy you would think should be a good guy but isn’t!  He’s a traitor!

And I am just like Matthew.

I have worked for the enemy.  I have called myself a “Christian” so many times only to go off and do the enemy’s work for him.  I have done what was easy and comfortable.  I have been one thing on the outside and another on the inside.  I have sat and preached one thing…and gone off and done the opposite.  When everything is stripped away, I am totally the sinner who does not “deserve” to be called by Christ.  I don’t deserve for Jesus to ask me to follow him.  I never have.  But He did anyway.  Isn’t that amazing?  He did anyway!  It had nothing to do with me.  He called me, in my sin…even though I was a sell out…

Being a “good Christian girl” was pretty easy in high school.  There were lots of people around watching.  I had church twice a week, I read my Bible and journaled my prayers every night…and I had a reputation to uphold.  I had incentives to be “good.”  Then college came.  Rome invaded.  I had to learn to fend for myself.  I still called myself a Christian, but it was a whole lot easier to get on by without doing all the Christian stuff for a while.  After all, I had no one to impress, I wanted to fit in…changing sides was just easier.  And that’s where Jesus called me.  In my darkest, deepest, most lonely time in my life is when Jesus came to me and made himself real to me.  When everything else fell apart, He remained.

See, in high school I was more like the Pharisees.  I was a whitewashed tomb.  I thought I had it all together.  I knew the difference between right and wrong and worked really hard to do all of those things.  I was a “good kid.”  I got good grades and didn’t get into trouble in school.  I worked hard and did what I was supposed to do.  And I was such a brat in my heart.

I very distinctly remember one day at the beginning of my senior year sitting in my car (after doing an outreach of all things) and being angry with God because everything seemed to be going so well for a friend of mine and nothing was going my way.  This friend of mine had done everything wrong.  I had done everything right.  She ended up getting everything she wanted…and I didn’t.  It wasn’t fair!  Sure, she was a Christian and she was remorseful about the stuff she had done, but still!  I hadn’t done those things!  I had to work hard to not do what she had done and lost friends and boyfriends for putting my foot down about my beliefs and standards.  And here she is, the girl who did everything I said I’d never do…and she’s happy.

Man, it’s so embarrassing even admitting I felt that way.  I was such a snot.  I was a spoiled little Pharisee.  I was just like the Pharisees in Matthew’s story.  I sat there and said, “What is Jesus doing with her?  She’s a sinner.”  Had I really known my own heart I would have seen how depraved I was.  I was arrogant and unteachable…I was so wrong.

It wasn’t until I could finally see the sickness inside myself that I realized I really needed the Great Physician.

So in some ways I’m like Matthew.  I’m the Christian girl on the outside who has taken the easy route and works for the enemy.  I’m doing the devil’s work and have switched sides.  And in others I’m like the Pharisee.  I’m all good on the outside…doing everything I’m supposed to be doing but missing all the heart and soul.  I am so glad that Jesus came for people like me.  He came for the lost and broken.  He came for the sick.  He didn’t come to make us feel guilty, but to show us truth, love, grace and to give us a hope.  It is his kindness that leads to repentance.  My prayer is that I never forget my need for Jesus.  Not so I can sit and mourn my sinful soul for all of eternity, but so I can truly see the love of God and his grace that pours out.

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

I love the Hunger Games trilogy. I loved the books and I enjoy the movies. Just yesterday I put Catching Fire on while I was folding the laundry. One of my favorite lines comes up when Katniss and Haymitch are talking about keeping Peeta alive. Haymitch says, “Katniss, when you’re in the arena, remember who the real enemy is.”

Katniss has never been especially good at making friends and she is quick to judge a situation, declare it as she sees it, and react. There was a much bigger plan that Katniss couldn’t see, and because she didn’t know about it she became a bit of a risk. Haymitch needed to remind her that the enemy wasn’t the other tributes. She needed to stay alive, but she also needed to trust some of the other victors to make this plan really work.

In Ephesians 6 Paul urges the church to prepare for battle. Before he gets into the specifics of which weapons they will need, he reminds them who the real enemy is. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We are so much like Katniss. We can be so quick to defend ourselves and come up with strategy. Some seek out trouble to get rid of like a hunter stalking his prey. We like to list all of the rules and all the kinds of people we shouldn’t be friends with. We become argumentative instead of loving. But Paul says, “Christians, when you’re in the world, remember who the real enemy is.”

We feel threatened by someone and say, “that’s the enemy!” We have decided to wage war against those who are not like us. They don’t believe what I believe and, therefore, they’re our enemy. We don’t follow Jesus’ advice and love our “enemies” and pray for them. Instead we write long blog posts, post controversial subjects online. We have gathered up all of our armor: truth, righteousness, and readiness…And we use those things to defend ourselves against other people.

Our real enemy isn’t the pro-choice camp. Our real enemy isn’t against those who choose to or not to vaccinate their children. My enemy is not the person who things I’m an idiot for believing in God. My true enemy isn’t the president or congress. My enemy isn’t my teacher, neighbor, or the alcoholic next door. And yet, we act like they are.

I’ve been criticized by a few people for being ambiguous about my stance on various social or political issues. I choose 99.9% of the time to NOT post things on Facebook or write blogs about things that are going to ultimately hurt my relationships. Some people might view this as cowardice. They may accuse me of being afraid of what someone might think of me. And I would be lying if I said that I don’t value other peoples’ opinions of me. I do value that. It does matter to me if someone thinks I’m a jerk. But it is much more than that.

In Matthew 22:15-22 the pharisees challenge Jesus about taxes. They ask him flat out if it was lawful to pay taxes or not. They wanted to catch him in some kind of lie. They were searching for a way to discredit him. Jesus knew this and responded by saying, “give Caesar what is due Caesar. Give God what is due God.” Jesus really didn’t answer their question. And he really didn’t answer it in the way they’d hope. He knew they were trying to trap him and alienate him from those to whom he was ministering. They saw Rome as an oppressive force that needed to be destroyed. But Jesus didn’t say, “do off with Rome,” even though he knew it wouldn’t be long before he was hanging on a Roman cross. Instead he called the Pharisees hypocrites.

After being tortured and taunted, Jesus hung on a cross. He could have said, “curse you all!” He could have made them all blind with a word. He could have caused them to all feel the pain he was feeling at that moment. He could have chosen that time to go through scriptures about why he is the messiah and why they are all crazy. He could have chosen to defend himself….instead, he simply said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” If anyone was an enemy, you’d think it would be those who literally hung him up on that cross. But Jesus knew that they were not the true enemy.

There are so many people who hate the church because it’s filled with a bunch of self-righteous snobs. That’s how they feel. Now, I go to church and I know that isn’t true. I know that there are people in the church who turn people away. I also know that the church is filled with kind, loving, generous people. Sadly, however, many people have not had the same experience.

So here’s the thing. I refuse to sit and post a public stance about what I believe so that I am trapped. I refuse to do away with friends because we disagree on a topic. I believe it is far more valuable to be a friend than it is to create enemies. I believe I can pray for people with whom I disagree. I can love them. And maybe, just maybe, someday they with be in a place when they’re ready to consider Christ and I will not have hindered them by my words or actions. I don’t want to be the reason someone says they won’t even consider believing in God. I don’t want someone to say, “Well, if Kristin is a picture of what a Christian is, then I don’t want to be one.”

Those people are not my enemies. I choose to not respond to every offensive Facebook post. I choose to not play the victim. I believe that the Bible is true, pure, and reliable. I believe what it says. I choose not to stand in the town square holding up signs and saying, like the Pharisee, “thank you, God, that I’m not like so-and-so…” I wage war NOT against other people…but against my self, and against the Devil and his schemes. Just like the rebels in the Hunger Games, God has a bigger plan at work. He knows that we are a reactive kind of people. He knows that we are quick to try to defeat our enemies. So he has warned us, through Paul, to remember who the real enemy is.

The Best Job I Never Knew I Wanted

I have never really been good with kids. When I was in high school I volunteered to help out with VBS because it was required in order to go on mission trips. I really liked the kids. I thought they were so cute and I enjoyed being around them, but I never really felt like they liked me back. I just wasn’t a kid-magnet. You know the kid-magnets, right? It’s the guy who is as animated and loud and funny as a cartoon character. Is the woman who isn’t afraid to look silly or foolish. Kids just seem to love them. It doesn’t matter what they wear or what they look like. Their personalities just attract the little ones like moths to a flame. And that was never me.

I remember once asking a man in our church how he did it. Kids FLOCKED to him. Little kids, teenage kids…It didn’t matter. They ALL loved Dan. I loved Dan. What did he have? His response was, “I love them. You just gotta love them.”

Fast-forward a few years to when I was in college. I really enjoyed working with high schoolers. I loved volunteering in our church’s youth group. I thought of how I was as a teenager…and it’s hard. I wanted to become a safe sounding board for these students. I wanted them to feel like they could talk to me and get a non-judgmental ear. I know how hard it is to be a teenager…to do the boyfriend thing…to be confused about life…and to get frustrated with my parents. I was old enough to know that parents are usually right about things, but young enough to remember that it doesn’t always feel that way. I also knew that a lot of kids were coming from dysfunctional families and maybe didn’t have a mom or dad who was actively involved in their lives. I wanted to be able to be an adult role model for these teenagers. That was my sweet spot. I still love teenagers.

When I imagined my life in the future, I never imagined being a stay-at-home-mom. (no, this post isn’t going to be all about being a stay-at-home-mom). I never believed I had the patience. I don’t like snot and puke and anything that’s sticky or germ-infested…and little ones always have at least one of those things going on. When I imagined being a stay-at-home-mom I figured that my kids probably wouldn’t like me. I probably wouldn’t be any fun. Besides, I think I had one single friend whose mother stayed home. So I didn’t really have an example of what that might look like.

Instead, I wanted to be a baseball player…then I wanted to be a secretary. My mom was a secretary and I thought it was the coolest job EVER. First of all, she got as much red fruit punch from the hospital cafeteria as she could handle (I only knew this because she took me with her on Take Your Daughter to Work Day…and clearly, that’s what she had to have been doing every day…that’s what I wanted when I went there…). Secondly, she sounded so professional when I would call her…”Physical Therapy, this is Julie,” or “Education, this is Julie,” or “Clerical Services, this is Julie,” or “Administration, this is Julie.” She got to have a cool answering machine message, “You’ve reached the desk of Julie Larson. I’m either on another line, or away from my desk…” But why I really REALLY wanted to be a secretary was because my mom got to wear cool clapping shoes (pumps) complete with toe cleavage! It was AWESOME! I wanted to be like that. In fact, I wanted to have a boy and a girl. I would name them Steve and Julie…because those are my parents’ names.

None of those things happened. And I may have 1 pair of shoes I wear every once in a while that have toe cleavage.

Then I became a mom. And that changes everything.

The moment Big Man was born, I knew in my heart that I could just never leave him. I could never go off to a job and work with 80 teenagers while I paid someone else to take care of my son. God had changed my heart. I desperately believed that I wanted to stay home and I would do whatever it took to make that happen. I didn’t care about his poop or puke or boogers. It no longer mattered.

Even so, I still wasn’t too keen on being with other people’s kids. Again, I just didn’t think they really liked me. I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as my kindergarten teacher friends. They were so soft and sweet and I was…well, not. I have even been known to say (in previous churches), “don’t even ask me to volunteer in the nursery. I can’t do it unless it is an emergency. Find some other way I can help or get involved. Just not elementary kids…PLEASE!” I didn’t believe I was cool enough. I didn’t believe I had the patience.

Then something happened. Someone said, “you are so patient with your boys. Even too patient.” Now, I never thought I was patient with them because I knew what I was thinking…and my thoughts did not reflect patience. It was amazing, though, hearing those words. Then someone told me that I was a good mom. I never thought I was an especially good mom. I mean, I love my kids…but I am not doing all of those cool Pinterest crafts. I don’t make play dough or paint out of shaving cream or microwave a bar of Ivory soap just to show my kids what it does. How could I be a good mom if I didn’t do those things?

So I started watching my friends kids periodically so they could go to doctor appointments. I started watching a 4-year old on a regular basis…and, miraculously, I loved it. It was hard work, but I loved it. I loved the sweet smiling faces. I loved listening to their imaginations run wild. I loved watching them run around and scream and giggle. The sound of happy children would flood my backyard and bring me so much joy.

But that was ONE kid. I could never do more than ONE kid.

So I started working at our Mom’s Morning Out program at our church. And loved it. I called my mother-in-law after one of my mornings with the kiddos and said, “I totally see why you love elementary kids! They are SO CUTE! They are SO FUNNY!” Now I look forward to seeing the kids when I help out in the Sunday school class or Mom’s Morning Out. I look forward to drawing pictures, creating crafts, building towers of blocks, becoming a spy, playing with toy farms, and braiding hair. I love hearing what the kids did over the weekend…even when I have no clue what they’re talking about. I love listening to them tell me stories. I love holding their hands as we walk to the bathroom or water fountain. I love bringing home beautiful masterpieces that they draw for me. I LOVE these kids.

So here I am…in a place I never imagined I’d be…something I never wanted…and I love it. And I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful that God changed my heart and mind. I’m so thankful that God blessed me with these little ones. I have the best job in the whole world. I get to, not only talk to these kids about Jesus, but show them the love of Jesus. I get to do it every day at home with my kids. And now I get to do it for other children.

Of course I have my bad days…even bad weeks. It’s easy to burn out when you’re constantly pouring into other people, but don’t take care of the spring coming into your own life. You can give and give and give…and, eventually, you run out. So I have my days or weeks when it is clear that I’m running on empty…and I need to fill up. But who doesn’t, right? We ALL have those moments. I just never believed I was allowed to need to be filled too.

My hope and prayer for these children is that the love of God would fill them up. That His love would be made clear to them and they would, someday, choose Him for themselves. And, to me, there’s no greater job in the world.

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There was a spy in Sunday School today. Apparently he had gotten a hold of a crystal emerald and a crystal diamond. In the wrong hands it would make the world go “boom boom” (complete with flashing hand motion). In the right hands, it turns into an amusement park. My vote was for Disneyland.

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This is what I look like to a 7-year old girl…:) She noticed my pink hair. I always knew the other side of me had awesome lips like Angelina…

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This would be me if I had been born a different race, apparently. :)

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A couple of angels a little girl colored for me.

2014–A Reflection

I can’t believe we are already in the final hours of 2014. This year has had plenty of ups and downs, highs and lows, roses and thorns…and whatever other little phrase you may have. We have experienced great joy at the births of babies, trips to Disneyland, and wonderful times with friends and family. We have also met great sorrow at the loss of babies, friends, and family, with illness, and struggle emotionally, relationally, financially, and otherwise. We have lived…and we have learned.

So, I thought it would be fun to think about 10 things I’ve learned this year…so, here goes nothin’…

1. I’ve often heard it said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I have found that to be true in many cases…but even more true, I’ve found that struggle can make us stronger…relationally, I mean. When storms come you can either choose to come together and take it on together or you can choose to become angry, bitter and distant. As for Josh and me, this year has been full of struggles. We had to actively remind each other that we are on the same team here. We are a partnership. We go hand-in-hand and need to work in tandem. A canoe can steer a lot better when it has two oars. With just one, you’ll just spin in circles. We are better together and there’s nothing like high winds and rocky seas to give us a real workout so we can come out victorious.

2. My problem is me. Yep. I said it. My problem is ME. It isn’t where I live, how much money I make, my parents, kids, friends, or boss. My problem is me. Just like in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, “the chains aren’t what’s holding you back, Quasimodo.” Financially, we make more money now than we have ever made…and we are also in more debt than we’ve ever been. How is that even possible, right? Me. It’s me. It’s my attitude and my choices. My issues living in California were me. Sure, I’m not a fan of hot weather or traffic, and those things can’t be changed, but it’s all about my attitude. What do I choose to focus on? The good? The bad? When I was a little girl my mom would say, “Make it a good day…” It wasn’t “have a good day” as if it would be handed to me. “MAKE it a good day,” implies some control over my circumstances.

3. I’ve learned that relationships mean more than anything else. I could not have gotten through this year without the people I care about…and who care about me. Getting notes of encouragement or a hug on a bad day can change everything. Having a simple game night with friends can be better than going out to a fancy dinner or a movie. The time spent laughing and enjoying each other’s company is life bringing…and it isn’t worth it to trade it in for any other worldly convenience or comfort.

4. You don’t know until you know. Plain and simple. There is so much I don’t know…and I don’t even know I don’t know until I am made aware by someone who does know…or until I’m forced into learning. I’ve watched people struggle through chronic illness and, while I had compassion on them, I could not really understand what they were going through and the exhaustion of the day-to-day struggles. Likewise, you can’t know the loss of a child until you’ve experienced it for yourself. You can’t know the pain of losing a loved one until you walk in those shoes. You can’t know the weight of debt until you find yourself under it. This applies to joyful things as well, of course, but I think we are all far more inclined to offer advice or chime in with our opinions when someone is struggling. We like to tell the mother who has just found out that there’s no longer a heartbeat in her womb that “everything happens for a reason…” We like to tell a daughter who has just lost her father, “Things will get back to normal soon.” We like to tell a friend who is struggling with addiction, “just stop. You need to just stop.” We love to offer up suggestions for diet, exercise, medicine (or lack thereof). We know all the answers…except we don’t. Even if I was qualified to offer advice or answer a question about why these things happen, it isn’t helpful…and people don’t want advice…unless they ask for it and even then they will rarely follow it. It’s better to approach suffering with a listening ear, a humble heart, and sincere love.

5. God created me because He loved me. (And you too!). I’ve often wondered why God would even bother making people if He knew that we would be so destructive. If He knew we would suffer, then why not just skip over humanity in the first place? But it occurred to me one day that I did the same thing. When we chose to have our children I was fully aware that they would hate me at some point (or many points) in their lives. I was fully aware that they would get sick, get hurt, experience pain. I chose to have them, though. I chose them because I love them. I loved them before they were born. I knew they wouldn’t be able to support me or help me or contribute to our family for quite some time…and that they would be a lot of work…but I loved them. So it was worth it. Likewise, God loves me. He knew I would suffer. He knew that things would be difficult and that I would make bad choices. He chose to create me anyway because He could see the big picture…and he decided it was worth it.

6. There are a lot of hurting people…and you can make a difference for them. The next time you go out to the store, the park, church, or work look around you. Chances are that you’re interacting with someone who is hurting. Your smile, extra tip, or random act of kindness can mean the world to someone who is in pain. I was listening to the radio this Christmas and was so happy to hear about people going into Toys R Us and paying off layaway bills for complete strangers. You know, a lot of those moms and dads were working hard to make Christmas special for their children. And in a world of Santa Claus and Elves bringing the rich kids computers and bicycles…and the poor kids a book or a used jacket, I applaud those who go out of their way to help those who need an extra nudge. We were the recipients of wonderful kindness and generosity this year…and we also gave random gifts to unsuspecting individuals. It brought us great joy to give…and it restored something inside of us when we received.

7. I can do this. Every time I approach a new mountain that I think I cannot possibly climb, I find myself on the other side and am surprised at how I was able to overcome. I remember when middle-man was a baby and I just wasn’t sure I could survive those first few months. I was so tired, worn, and felt like I was surely going to die. I was broken. Here I am 3 years later and I survived (middle-man did too). Heck. We even decided at some point it was worth the risk of possibly going through postpartum depression again and had another! So, now I’m facing a new mountain. There are days when I tell myself, “I can’t live like this! How long can I endure?!” And dawn always comes. I make it another day. God sustains me. I can do this with Him by my side.

8. People change. Thank God, right? I mean, I am so thankful that I’m not who I was ten years ago. And I have many downfalls that I’ve thought I would be stuck with forever…but then I remember that I’ve changed before…and I can change again. I’m not stuck with my flaws. It takes work. But I can change. So can you. Of course, sometimes people don’t change for the better…or they don’t change as quickly as you’d like. But, while people do change, it isn’t YOUR responsibility to change them. Just don’t give up on them…and don’t give up on yourself.

9. Time changes everything. Time can heal wounds. Time can bring people closer together. Time changes your perspective…provides a better vantage point. We need time to grow up and to learn more about ourselves and others. Even with the struggles I’m facing now, I can feel confident that this struggle will be different in 10 years.

10. God has my back. Through thick and thin. God is FOR me. He knows me better than I know myself. He know what I need and He provides it all. The world may crumble down around me. My friends and family may turn their backs on me…but God will be there. His love is perfect and enduring. I can keep my confidence that He will not leave me… He won’t leave me when I make horrible decisions. Instead, He will teach me through it and provide a safety net to catch me when I fall.

So, there ya have it. 10 things I learned this year. Of course, I learned more than that, but I can’t fit it all in…that would be silly. I’ll save it for next year.

Here is to a new year! 2015, here we come!