Forgiveness.  It’s a word tossed around in Christian circles left and right.  We usually speak about forgiveness in terms of our relationship with God.  “Forgive us our trespasses…” “I’m not perfect.  Just forgiven.”  We know that, in a general sense, we all are messed up and need to be forgiven from time to time for things we do that aren’t very nice.

Teaching children about forgiveness can be quite the challenge.  We often don’t model asking for forgiveness very well or offering it when someone apologizes.  I think forgiveness is hard to extend because we have learned to equate it with “it’s OK.” How many times do you hear, “I’m sorry.”  “It’s OK.”?????  But sometimes it’s not OK.  Sometimes the hurt that has been inflicted is so deep and so painful that it is impossible to say, “It’s OK.”  That’s why we’ve tried teaching our kids to say, “I forgive you.”

We are trying to teach our children that forgiveness is not saying that what the person did to you was no big deal.  Instead, it’s saying, “I’m not going to hold this over your head.  I’m not going to drag your name through the mud.  I’m not going to bring it up to you all the time.  I’m releasing you and I’m releasing myself from the grip of the hurt.  There may still be consequences.  There may not be.  But I am choosing to wish the best for you regardless of what you’ve done to me.”

Every single day we have issues in our house with behavior and forgiveness.  The boys get sassy and rude.  They hit, kick, and push.  Someone always ends up in tears.  And it is really frustrating.  Just tonight Middle Man was really sassy when we finished playing a game together as a family.  He wanted to play another but we said it was time to go to bed.  His response was to scream and kick me.  We have been trying hard to teach him for the last four years that kicking and screaming is not the best way to get what you want, but it is a sure way to get yourself in a bit of trouble.  He ended up in his bed in tears.  As I was getting ready for bed I heard him calling my name.  I finally walked back into the bedroom and sat down at his bed and we had a conversation about what happened and I asked him to apologize.  We hugged and kissed, cuddled, and sang a song.  We ended our evening on a happy, loving note.  But it isn’t always that easy.  There are days when I want to ignore his crying for me.  There are days when I want to really drill it in that his behavior isn’t acceptable…that he has pushed the limits for the last time. (he is my sassiest one, after all…).  There are days when I want to slam the door with all the lights off and just walk away.

But then I think about God.  God has never left me to scream and cry on my own when I’m reaping the consequences of my own wrongdoing.  He doesn’t say, “It’s OK.”  He says, “I forgive you.”  If I robbed a bank tomorrow I wouldn’t be let off the hook even if I sincerely apologized.  I’d still end up with jail time.  Negative consequences are always eventually a natural result of negative behavior.  And it’s important to recognize the wrong and change it…just like we ask our kids to.  But it’s just as important to model forgiveness.  I want my kids to know that, no matter what wrong they’ve done, I am still their mother.  I love them unconditionally.  There won’t be a time when I will say, “You’ve worn me out.  I will begin to withhold my love from you from this moment forward because of what you’ve done.”  I want them to know that my arms are always available.  My hugs and kisses are always going to be there for them even when they’re having to deal with the consequences of their behavior.  My love for them will not run out just like God’s love for us has not run out.

Earlier today I was surrounded by ten rowdy two-year olds.  I don’t know if someone was sneaking espresso into their sippy cups, but they were all pretty much bouncing off the walls all morning.  It was a lot of fun to play with them, but as most people can imagine, ten rowdy two-year olds can get out of hand pretty quickly.  Finally it came to a head when one sweet baby came up to me and grabbed my leg as I was trying to help another child with her craft.  This sweet guy was really trying to get my attention and, “Just a second” wasn’t working.  In his excitement he bit my leg really hard.  I mean hard.  Like, broke the skin slightly and left a welt through my jeans hard.  It took a second for me to process what was happening and as I began to feel this horrible stinging sensation I let out a loud, “OWOWOWOWOWOW!”  The room went from being at volume 10 to volume 2.  My eyes began to fill up with water and I looked at the sweet guy who immediately knew what he had done.  I said very calmly trying not to think about how much my leg hurt, “Biting is not OK.  I need you to go sit down over there for a time out.”  His sweet little eyes began to water.  I finished helping the little girl with her project and came back to him, knelt down and asked, “do you know why you’re in a time out?”  He nodded, “because I bited.”  “Yeah.  And biting really really hurts people.  That really hurt me.  Biting is wrong and we are not supposed to do that to our friends, are we?”  He shook his head.  I asked, “What do you think you should say right now?”  He looked at me, eyes filled with little tears, “I’m sorry.”  I looked back at his sweet face, “I forgive you buddy.”  Then we gave a big hug and went on with the rest of our morning as usual.

I could have just ignored the bite and pretended like it didn’t happen, but he would not have learned that there are consequences to that behavior.  I could have said, “it’s OK.  I should have given you my attention immediately when you asked for it because, if I had, you wouldn’t have bitten me.”  Alternately, I could have screamed at him and punished him for the rest of the morning and said, “No. You don’t get to do that because you bit me.”  I could have withheld every good thing from him like snacks and the swings outside.  I could have tattled on him to all the adults and passed the word around that he’s a biter so everyone had better watch out.  I could have withheld my affection from him for the rest of the day…heck, for the rest of our lives.  He hurt me.  But would either of those things have been helpful?

I remember talking to someone about seven years ago who was sharing with me some painful memories of his father from their past.  The son grew up in a home with an alcoholic father.  He was mean and cruel to the children and to his mother.  When the son was in college the father was finally about to lose everything he cared about. This forced him to get his act together.  He went to A.A. and turned his life around.  He helped others in the AA program and became a completely different person.  Loving.  Kind.  But the son struggled with forgiving his father because he had 18 years worth of horrible memories.  He didn’t understand how his mother could stay with him…he didn’t deserve it.  While I couldn’t speak to the pain he felt as the son, I considered the feelings of the father.  He knew he had screwed up and sought reconciliation with all those he had hurt.  You can never take back the words you’ve spoken or the physical pain you’ve caused someone.  But you can ask for forgiveness and change your life.  The knowledge of the hurt you’ve caused toward others can eat you alive.  My response was, “What motivation does someone have to turn his life around if he knows that everyone he loves will push him away?”  The hope of forgiveness can be a strong motivator for those who live with guilt.  Which is all of us at one point or another, right?

This idea of forgiveness has been going around in my brain for the last week or two. I realized that I have held onto things that have deeply hurt me for far too long.  I’ve said I’ve forgiven, but I haven’t really.  How do I know?  Because I will still find words coming out of my mouth that repeat the wrong someone has done to me.  Because I will hear the words come out of my mouth, “Well, just wait until he/she ends up in my shoes…”  Instead of extending my forgiveness in my heart, I will pay lip service.  I want to sound like I’m playing nice and fair, but in reality I hold onto those hurts and I pull them out when it is most convenient for me.  I hold it over the “trespasser’s” head and say, “Well, you did…”  Even if not in those words.  I’ve allowed myself to dwell on and repeat to others constantly the hurt that has weighed me down for so many years.  Sometimes I even think to myself,  “Why am I telling them this????” as the words continue to flow from my mouth.  This is not OK.  This is not forgiveness.  How would I feel if I found out that someone whom I’ve hurt in the past was still telling others about what I did to them?  How would I feel if I knew that others were telling stories about me with the intended purpose of making me look bad and making themselves look good…or like a martyr?

Forgiveness is a lot easier to offer when we realize how much we have been forgiven.  Just this week I had to ask God for forgiveness for my unforgiving spirit.  As I was praying with Josh in the evening I asked God to reveal anything in me that was keeping me from Him and the words just came flowing out of my mouth: Please forgive me for holding onto these hurts…for choosing to have petty arguments and silly fights instead of choosing to be at peace…  Unforgiveness can cause more damage than we could ever imagine.  This is something I’m working on…something I will probably always need to work on.  There may be days when an old hurt will come back in my mind and I will have to dismiss that thought and say, “No.  That’s over.  That was in the past.  I have dealt with and moved on from that hurt.  I have done what I am able, in my power, to do about that.  It is finished.”

Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you need to spend some time in prayer asking God, “Who do I need to forgive?  Who have I been treating differently because I’ve held onto this hurt?  Who have I hurt?  Who do I need to ask to forgive me?”  Maybe you need to call someone or send an email asking for forgiveness.  Maybe that’s a road you can’t safely walk down so you need to just acknowledge it in your heart between you and God.  What I know is that the moment I realized this sin in my life I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.  I felt like I could breathe more deeply and rest more soundly. The weight of unforgiveness can make you sick…literally and figuratively.   Today I am thankful for forgiveness.

See Y’all Real Soon

Just over one year ago we moved to a small town in North Carolina.  We had never even visited and came knowing 2 souls.  Our plan was to stay here for a little while and eventually migrate to a larger city like Greenville, Charlotte, or Asheville.  We arrived during a hot, humid August.  I had forgotten what humidity felt like.  I had forgotten what it was like to get a little rain almost every day.  I had forgotten the havoc a teeny tiny little blood sucking bug can wreak on your body.  We came full of hope, wonder, and anticipation.  We came with dreams of making our own path.  What would God have in store for us?

When we learned that we would be moving to North Carolina we prayed for our future church and friends.  We prayed that God would place people in our lives whose hearts were prepared to make new friends.  We prayed that God would lead us to a church where He was the focus and where we could be welcomed into the ministry.  I was hoping for a smaller, intimate church with maybe only a hundred or two people where it would be easy to get connected.  But I prayed, above that, that God would lead us where HE wanted us and that He would help me to not be so focused on finding a copy of what we had before.

It took just two Sundays to find our church home.  The church was in a transitional phase and we weren’t really sure what was coming up next, but we were both convinced that this was the place God intended for us.  These were our friends.  This was our church family.  We quickly joined a Sunday school class and Wednesday night Bible Study.  After a couple months I joined the choir and experienced such joy sitting down to read music again…to sing in a Christmas worship concert again.  The men and women I met were so loving and so kind.  Due to many health issues and expenses, we were on a tight budget for Christmas and a new friend purchased an amazing gift for my boys that I could never repay, Levi’s preschool offered us a scholarship so he could attend 5 days a week.  Friends, family, and teachers brought food, prayed for us, and really invested in us with their time, talents, and love.  They even provided extra work opportunities for Josh and his graphic design.  I began to babysit and fell in love with the children.  The church also offered me a position working in the nursery for Mom’s Morning Out and Sunday morning child care.  Every time we turned around God was opening doors and showing us the generosity of His people.

Two weeks ago we found out that we will be moving back to Southern California.  This news was met with both excitement and sadness.  We are so excited to be back with those we love on the West Coast.  We have so many friends and family members to return to.  We know we will be met at church with open arms.  We know that the boys will get to spend time with their aunt, uncle, cousins, and another set of grandparents.  We will be closer to Josh’s work so he can have some face time with his co-workers.  They’re more than co-workers….they are our friends…our family.  It took me so long to make friends in Southern California that the ones I do have are true and deep.  We return with questions of how God will provide for certain needs, but we trust Him because He has always provided for us and has promised to give us what we need.  We are eager to continue the ministries we had been involved in before and return having learned so much and grown to hopefully be able to serve in a new capacity.

But we are sad at the same time.  We have made some amazing friends.  The love I have for these people maybe new, but it is real.  I know that, for many, our time here will have been so fleeting that we may be just a passing memory.  We may or may not have left a lasting or life-changing impact.  We may be the couple that someone says in the future, “Oh…do you remember??”  I, on the other hand, have been changed by the people I’ve met here.  Each and every child in the nursery, every parent, each choir member…  I’ve had the privilege of standing up in front of this group of amazing people and watching them worship God wholly.  I see the smiles on their faces each week…hands that are lifted and voices singing united to the God we all love and adore.  I’ve made some unexpected friendships and have seen some who give their all each and every single week for the glory of Christ.  I have met women who have taken care of babies week after week for two decades.  They have devoted so much of their lives to loving these children.  I’ve watched them shed tears when the babies graduate on to the next classroom.  I’ve listened to them say, “I love this baby so much,” week after week after week.  The smiles on their faces when they welcome these precious children assures me that they’re genuine.  I’ve never seen so many loved children all in one place.  I’ve never seen so many people who were this passionate about a children’s ministry.  I came hoping to make a difference in the lives of those I’ve encountered…and I’m the one leaving filled up.  I leave with a new love and awareness for just how much a child wants to be loved and held…even if it is just for an hour or two in the nursery each week.  I’m leaving with a new passion for the ministry of music.  To blend the traditional with the contemporary…to have people of every age joined together in one song…all hearts lifted up.  I’m leaving with a new sense of sacrifice as I’ve watched others give of themselves endlessly.  I leave having heard a preacher speak the truth full of love and grace…but truth.  I leave having experienced how a church with thousands of attendees can feel like an intimate family.  I leave having made friends who meet you and say, “we should hang out sometime,” and actually follow through with it!  We have met those who would literally give us the clothes off their backs if they thought for one moment that we needed it…who have sacrificed Saturdays and Sundays to help us out.  My family and I have been so well loved and embraced that it is beyond words…and we are so THANKFUL.

We have been asked if we regret moving out here.  No.  We don’t.  Not for one second would we want to give up all those we’ve met and all that we have learned here. It was so worth it.

So, as we embark on this exciting new(ish) journey, we ask for your prayers.  We ask for peace and a smooth transition.  We ask that the boys would adjust well as we return to the place where they had spent most of their lives so far.  We pray that we would return and be able to serve in a new way and that we would be able to love others as well as we have been loved.  We pray for my dad and step-mom as they will, no doubt, experience deep sadness and grief when we leave…again.  We pray that the relationships we have made here would continue on since we have the amazing technology to do so.

There’s no way I can say “Goodbye” to Hendersonville.  So, instead, I’ll see y’all real soon.

Good Enough

This week I was having one of my little sob-fests.  It’s been an emotional week and I decided it was time for me to have a time to cry and get over it.  What was my final trigger?  Disney’s Pirate Fairy.  Yep.  One year ago we bought that movie by accident because I forgot to decline it with our Disney Movie Club membership.  When I opened the package I laughed, “Pirate Fairy???  With three boys??  Yeah…maybe I’ll give it away.”  Well, we ended up watching it and it was really good.  The boys loved it.  I loved it.  We watched it over and over and over and over…

It was early May.  My lemon tree was blooming.  The mornings were cool and crisp.  The air smelled amazing.  We had just begun to discuss moving across the country.  Hope was in the air.  New beginnings were on the horizon.  Life was good.  It was exciting.  And we watched A LOT of the Pirate Fairy.

Fast-forward to this week…

I haven’t slept for days.  I have showered one time in a week.  I can’t drive.  I can’t breathe.  This week…this year has been a real challenge.  Hearing the intro to Pirate Fairy was just more than I could handle.  I began to sob.  Hearing that song transported me to a time before my surgery, before Little Man’s surgeries, before prescriptions, before tests…to a time of hope.  I was packing for our move to that song.  I was playing games with good friends to that movie.  I was making delicious lattes and having coffee with friends to that movie.  I was listening to little boys run in the sprinklers to that movie.  It brings back so many happy memories.

Then it hit me that this was the same issue I had this last Christmas.  Every time I’d hear the music that plays during the DVD menu for Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns it would transport me to December of 2010.  I was pregnant with Middle Man.  Big Man had just turned 2.  We had just moved into a great, new apartment that we LOVED and I unpacked while he played with his toys and that movie ran.  Big Man loved Frosty.  Instead of feeling happy, it made me feel a little depressed.

As I began to sob I unloaded 5 1/2 years worth of memories onto Josh.  I cried about how Big Man and I had so much one-on-one time.  I remembered how we would sit down at the pool at our first apartment in Riverside…just the two of us.  He was only Little Man’s age and his legs are just the same!  I remembered really fun times playing Nintendo with good friends in one of our apartments.  I dumped out all of the wonderful memories of our home in Rancho.  Our lemon tree, friends we made, church, game nights, Bible Study, nightly neighborhood walks.  And NO DISEASE!

One particular memory I had was that of two close friends of ours.  I remember the first time I saw them.  “They were, like, the ‘cool kids,'” I sobbed to Josh, “I mean, they led a Bible Study!  I didn’t think they’d want to be our friends.  They were so good at everything and knew everyone.  But they became our friends!  They will never know how thankful I am that they became our friends!”  I just kept crying…and then I started laughing at how ridiculous that sounded.  Now that I’ve been friends with them for a few years I know that they’re not “too cool” for anyone.  They’re some of the most kind and welcoming people I’ve ever met and I’ve enjoyed our friendship so much!

All of this led me to a great realization.  I have been living the grand majority of my life feeling like I’m not “good enough.”  I don’t mean in some spiritual way…but in a tangible way.  I’m not smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, funny enough… I’m not enough.  If I’ve ever come across as confident then I must be good at one thing: pretending.  Inside, I am terrified.

I’m terrified of being judged.  I’m terrified of not being liked.  I’m afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and accidentally hurting someone’s feelings.  I’m afraid of getting in trouble.  When I get a phone call or text from my boss, I’m afraid I’m going to be fired.  I’m afraid of screwing up my kids.  I’m afraid that I’m going to disappoint my family.  I’m so afraid.  I’m afraid that I will let everyone down.

In school I knew I wasn’t as good as everyone else.  I wasn’t the best athlete, musician, student… I wasn’t as smart as my classmates.  I felt like an idiot all the time.  I wanted to have fun and to be silly, but I felt like everyone thought I was a total airhead.  I was just easily excited!  So at some point, I stopped.  I thought I needed to be smarter…calmer…more thoughtful.  Then in college I felt like I didn’t know who I was.  I wanted to fit in.  I watched the “cool kids” and saw only differences between them and myself.  They were funnier.  They were better looking.  They were more confident.  They knew all the right things to say.  I mean, they even took pretty “ugly” pictures.  I cannot do that.  I told myself that I wasn’t good enough to fit in.  I needed to either change, or just accept that I wasn’t going to fit.  I eventually found friends that I blended well with.  I felt loved, accepted, and encouraged.  We were all flawed.  It was amazing.  But it was only with them.  If I met new people, I retreat into myself.

Then I moved across the country…twice.  “I’m not good enough to be her friend.  I have absolutely nothing to offer.  She will spend time with me and I will bore her.  She will think I’m stupid…or a know-it-all…or we just won’t click.  I’m going to talk too much…or not enough…or just say the wrong thing.”   Looking back I probably appeared stand-offish to other people…but it wasn’t because I was stuck up or snobby…but because I was afraid of not being accepted.

That’s the sticking point.

I have been so afraid that I may be pushing other people away.  I have been so afraid of being not good enough, that I haven’t befriended the person who maybe needed someone the most.  I’ve been so scared of being rejected, talked about behind my back, disliked, and unwanted that I have probably made others feel exactly what I was afraid of feeling.  (How could you be so stupid?!  Is what naturally goes through my brain at that moment…)

In some ways it has been helpful to me.  I remember being a freshman in high school and there was one senior guy in particular who would harass me during my gym class.  I’m sure he did it to a lot of girls.  When he asked me to come to his house for lunch sometime I laughed.  Yeah right.  I’m not a complete moron.  I know that there’s no way on this planet that you’re actually interested in me.  I know that you’re just trying to humiliate me.  See?  That was beneficial!

Why am I like this?  I’d love to be able to say something profound.  I’d love to have some amazing insight…but I don’t.  I don’t know why I’m like this.  I doubt I was born this way…but life happens, ya know?  I don’t know when it started or how.  Maybe it was gradually over time.  In fact, I’m sure that it was.  How do I change it??  Well, I don’t know that either.  Over the last several months a woman, with whom I’ve become close, has said so many wonderful and encouraging things to me.  She has complimented my heart, my brain, my spirit.  She has told me all of these good things about myself and I’ve really had a hard time believing her…accepting what she says to be true.  I appreciate her compliments, but when she says, “you’re such a quick learner!  You really absorb information!”  I think, “No I’m not. You should meet so-and-so.  She’s a lot smarter than I am…”  When she asked me if I’d ever consider going back to school and pursuing my doctorate like I’d originally intended I thought, “I can’t do that now.  I’d never be accepted.”

I don’t think the answer is showering me with compliments.  I think that is ridiculous.  But I would appreciate some prayer…and I’m going to begin to pray and ask God what He would like to teach me through this.  I’d like to tell Him that I often feel like Moses– “but I’m not a good speaker…I can’t do it.  Aaron would be way better than I would be at this job…I’m not qualified.”  I’d like to ask him to strengthen those areas which need strengthening…not with false arrogance and showy confidence.  But the confidence that I know I was created by a God who doesn’t make mistakes…by a God who started a good work in me and will be faithful to complete it.

In My Backyard

This is one of those posts that I have to write, but I’m not going to enjoy it. It isn’t going to make me feel good and it isn’t probably going to make you feel good either. It isn’t full of warm fuzzies, puppies, kittens, and rainbows. It’s one of those things that I need to write. If I don’t, my heart will die just a little bit. My soul will begin to shrivel up. My conscience will become like a flower trampled under a thousand feet and left praying for a moment of peace and sunlight. I will have denied everything I know to be true and done the opposite of what I know is right and encourage my children to do. Am I being serious enough for you yet?

This afternoon I went to my son’s elementary school for the book fair. I was planning to stay for just a few minutes so I could redeem a gift card he had won by reading a ridiculous amount of books back in March. I went in and began perusing the books and games and located the librarian to enquire about the gift certificate. She told me that my son’s teacher probably had it in the classroom. I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time. I was on a schedule and had some babies at home that I really wanted to get back to (my husband was home-they weren’t alone) so I quickly went to the classroom to get the paper. My son excitedly showed me all the literacy stations in his classroom and the others nearby. We spent at least 15 minutes there and I told him that we really needed to go.

When I was about halfway down the hall I heard the voice of another teacher say, “I just heard something that made me ill.” I turned around and my son’s assistant teacher and another teacher with whom I’m not especially familiar, were standing there looking at us. She touched her forehead jokingly and repeated, “I just heard something that made me ill.” I was pretty sure that she was referring to our son switching schools next year. I said, “Oh, is it about Kitty-Cat Elementary?” (I changed the name of the school for privacy and so we could have a few puppies and kittens). “Yes,” she replied as they walked toward me. I turned to face them. Smiling, I said, “Well, we moved mid-year and having to pick Emery up has been a challenge for us. We have only one car and we are in the district for Kitty-Cat Elementary. They will be able to bus him to our house and that will be a lot easier for us.” She responded, “Well, have you looked into maybe going to Puppy-Dog Elementary instead?” I’m new to the area so I’m not especially familiar with each school in the district, but I have heard of Puppy-Dog, but we aren’t in that district so I said, “Oh? Would they bus him to our house from Puppy-Dog?” “Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s just that Kitty-Cat isn’t a very good school. He is up here,” as she put her hand up to eye level, “and they are down here,” as she put her hand by her waist, “He is just beyond those kids.” “Oh really?” was all I could get out still thinking about the time. “You know, they cater to the lower eschelon kids…you know,” and here it came…she turned her face toward the side, as if she was about to tell me that they teach sorcery and witchcraft, “hispanics and blacks.” Her face looked irritated, disgusted, and full of disdain.

I can’t imagine that the look of surprise on my face could be missed. I wasn’t even sure if I had just heard what I thought I did. Could the woman who had been assisting my son’s class actually feel that way about “hispanics and blacks?” Could someone who had loved my son for the last 9 months, showered him with praise, and made him so happy really be this ignorant? I had no idea what to even say, “Oh really? Well, I have a good friend who teaches at Kitty-Cat so I’m sure I will just talk to her about what the school is like.” “I think that would be a good idea,” she said, nodding arrogantly.

And I walked away feeling as if someone had just punched me in the stomach. A million thoughts were flying through my head, but none of them were clear. Do I report her? Do I say something? If I do say something, will it affect how she treats my son for the rest of the year? What if it really is a bad school? What if he really doesn’t like it there? She obviously doesn’t know that I am part Mexican or I don’t think she would have included “hispanics” in her list of naughty words.

I left that conversation feeling so frustrated, hurt, confused, angry, sad…every negative emotion you can think of. It would have been different if she had said, “I don’t recommend Kitty-Cat because the test scores are quite low,” or “I don’t recommend kitty-cat because the funding is low and they aren’t able to offer programs that I think your son really enjoys,” or “there have been many reports at Kitty-Cat of gang violence, head lice, or bad breath.” I mean…ANYTHING else but what she said.

And as I walked out to my car, my mind reeling, the word popped into my head…the word I hate to use because it is, in my mind, often overused. A word that carries with it so much pain, suffering, and hatred that I avoid using it at all costs because it implies something intentional and vindictive…something violent, even if only in the heart of man: Racism. This woman was racist. She is ignorant. She is foolish.

As I mentioned, I’m not normally one to pull out that word. I think that the label of racist needs to be reserved for only the select few who truly are complete and total a-holes. It is reserved for people like Hilly Holbrook from The Help. And maybe that’s not fair of me to reserve it only for those people, but I do. Maybe I’ve been so fortunate to be in a family who believes that all men and women are created equal that I had hoped that this kind of private racism didn’t exist anymore…at least not where I live…or with anyone I know.

I don’t know if Kitty-Cat is a good school or not. I don’t know if they have a great budget, wonderful programs, high test scores, and the best playground equipment. As long as it doesn’t have a “white” drinking fountain and a “black” drinking fountain, I really don’t care. Why is a school not “good enough” for my son just because he’s a white boy? If it isn’t “good enough” for my son, then it isn’t “good enough” for anyone else’s. These are children, after all. Don’t we want each and every single child to be provided with the same opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive? Don’t we want every single child to believe in himself? Don’t we want every single child to feel loved, cared for, and nurtured?

As I unlocked my car door and put the children in the van I thought that I need to do something…say something. But what? When? How? Who do I tell?

I put the keys in the ignition and started the van. “It’s all God’s children singing Glory Glory! Hallelujah! He reigns! He reigns!” In the midst of my chaos and frustration, God stepped in. Through the perfect song on the radio He reminded me that every single one is HIS child. He created all of us. He created the beauty that is seen in the diversity of our skin. He himself said to go out and share the good news with EVERYONE. EVERY tribe. EVERY tongue. EVERY nation.

Now I am praying for Kitty-Cat. I’m praying that the hearts of the community are opened. I’m praying that my son’s heart is nurtured. I’m praying for the friends we will surely meet. And I’m praying for that teacher. I’m praying that she will realize the error of her thoughts…that her heart would be soften and her mind would be renewed.

So. My son is going to Kitty-Cat elementary next year…

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.