31 March 2009

Killing Pride

Ok, this dumb image really struck me. Sorry. You think they would have made it something other than ice cream, which melts pretty quickly. 'Unending' isn't really a word I would associate with ice cream... but still, I put it up here, didn't I? So it must work somehow.

Well, I wanted to give a little history beyond the bare, cold, merciless facts. Before James got out of the Air Force,everything seemed good/normal to me. It was at the end of his time in the service and moving back to Texas that things fell apart. During our time in Seguin I was pretty much a raving lunatic, trying to force James to meet all my needs. I didn't make any friends, I was in a state of panic about our finances, I was lying to everyone about the state of things.

I was probably hormonal (I was pregnant) I was alone in a roach-y house where any trip to the kitchen at night could have a rat jumping out from behind the microwave. (One night, I am not joking, I thought I was going to go into labor right there I was so startled, I levitated onto a stool eight inches away)

I eventually saw that my demanding insanity was driving James out of the house. He knew about all the things I was harping on and was worried about them himself. He felt bad for the state things were in, and me freaking out each evening definitely wasn't a welcoming thought when he was driving home from work; so he'd go to friends' houses. It just became a pattern.

Then, I got a mailing from a holy, kind, biblical teacher named Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Check her out! In the mailing was a card that said

"Be Joyful in Hope, Patient in Affliction, Faithful in Prayer." Romans 12:12.

I put it on the mirror in my bedroom. Months later, when newborn Lily was sick in the NICU and I gave James a list of things to bring me to the hospital, including that card from the mirror. It went on Lily's incubator. It brought me such peace to reflect on it. It summed up everything I needed: to hope for the best, to put my hope in God and not (a) man, to be patient in times of trial and not demand an end to them from James or God, and to be faithful in intercession for all things instead of mulling them over, worrying them like a dog on a bone, harping on them, and having them run through my head a hundred miles an hour.

And so, a year into my adventure with the Lord who uses my husband as a tool to refine me, I finally turned to Him. I began the walk to... what? Have God meet my needs. To separate myself from James as my own person. To stop the worrying. To break my pride. To become a better wife. To learn about sacrifice for no reason other than to bring God pleasure. To soften my heart for broken families, single mothers, the divorced, the secretly hurting. To teach me how to make friends. To give me the gift of godly friendships. That's just for starters.

30 March 2009

Background, Again

Well. So I came back. Where did I leave off... oh, bankruptcy and repossession and foreclosure! That's right. (Sorry.)

So when Lily was born sick, my parents watched Jackson and Claire because James had to work. I was at the hospital with Lily for ten days, James was at work, and the kids were really suffering being left for the first time with my parents for so long.

It was when James couldn't help the older kids that I saw more clearly. I was able to step back a little and look into our life. Before this moment, I thought that he and I had been struggling in our marriage. I thought that he could get angry at me, but that he would always do anything for the kids. When he couldn't make himself help them, I started to think maybe something was wrong with him (as opposed to us having difficulties).

Then, in January of 2006, my cousin came to visit. I completely expected James to 'play house' with me during her visit. Instead, he continued his routine of sleeping till 1 or 2 in the afternoon, then leaving until 4 or 5 in the morning. I was so mortified that my cousin could see this. By the time she went home, I had decided I would stop faking for everyone that everything was fine, that, oh, James just 'happened' to be busy every time they came over or called.

It had finally come to the point where I would rather be honest and embarrassed about the state of my marriage than continue to fake it any longer. James and I talked, and he agreed that I should go to Round Rock, north of Austin, and stay with my parents for six weeks while he figured out a few things. This stretched into 9 weeks before we heard from him.

Because the house was foreclosing and the car was repo'ed, he had nowhere to live and no way of getting there. He wasn't working so he had no phone or resources. He didn't take ownership for any of these things, they all were due to someone or something else. He had a lot of growing up to do!

We saw each other some during the summer of 2006 but it was always charged and full of drama. We disagreed fundamentally on a lot of behaviors. He didn't come to counseling. He didn't pay for any of our needs. He filled every one of the 'qualifying behaviors' for bi-polar disorder-- he would be completely over-energized, running around with a million tasks and plans swimming around in his head, then he would sleep for 10 days. He would cycle like this, 6 weeks manic and 10 days checked out.

By the time Thanksgiving 2006 rolled around, our baby was year old, the kids and I were still with my parents. James' mother came from Louisiana to stage an intervention. We hadn't heard from him in over a month. He did come to Thanksgiving dinner, and I told him that if he healed and started acting like a husband and father, then I was overjoyed to be married to him. However, I planned on filing for separation because just being physically separated seemed to have no affect on him. Losing us didn't encourage him to earn us back. I felt stuck in a kind of limbo. He said he had gotten a phone and truck, that he was renting a room from a friend. Would I give him until New Year's to find a job? I said of course.

From then on we began to work on reuniting. He worked for six months and in August 2007, we moved into a house all together and had a period of adjustment. He was unemployed for a few months. He went to church with us. He got a job again. I had psychological anniversaries of bad times or on holidays. I had knee-jerk reactions to things even though our situation was different. Nathan was born in December 2007. James felt like he went from a father of two in the Air Force, to father of four with just a long blur in between.

So that is just the facts. Whew, I'm tired again!

28 March 2009

Further Introduction and Background

So now I am feeling more comfortable being transparent with y'all, my invisible yet present audience. My step-mother-in-law asked why did I decide to do a blog instead of a Facebook page? I answered that I wanted to write as if no one was reading. If I knew the people who were reading, or saw them everyday, I would be tempted to alter what I was writing. You know how some conversations are tweaked for the audience? I also tend to see things more clearly when I say them out loud, so part of this blog-writing is for me, so I can more easily see how I've reacted to things, how I can do better, how God has been with me, what he's teaching (trying to teach?) me.

So here's a little more introduction to me and my story. In January of 2005, my husband got out of the Air Force. We moved from Ft. Meade, Maryland to Seguin, Texas. From the beltway between Baltimore and D.C., to rural Texas. Did I say small-town Texas? Go to the grocery store or the library small town? Not know anyone, why did we move here town? Yes. Looking back, I know why we moved there. It was FEAR. We said to each other, 'How will we get a home loan when we just got out of the AF?' We did not say, 'God will provide.' We did not listen to Godly counsel. We just said, 'Gee, we sure miss Texas!' And off we went.

James had a job lined up an hour south of Seguin in San Antonio using his AF security clearance. This fell through and he got a job in south Austin, one hour northeast of Seguin. The drive and the dry cleaning wasn't working with the pay, so he got a part-time job 45 minutes east of Seguin in a little town called Gruene. And all this time I was staying home, pregnant, with the two kids under four.

Our house was a 2bed/1bath, no AC, no insulation, with a rat and cockroach problem... one rat and frequent roaches is a considered a problem to me. I didn't grow up watching my parents struggle with the bills, and I didn't know how to choose between the mortgage and the utilities, the credit card and the car payment, food and gas.

James was working his butt off, and making about half of what we needed for the bills, and I was a raving, demanding, insane lunatic whenever he got home from work and his drive (exhausted, dozing on long, monotonous Texas highways). We were surviving off our WIC food and I was six months pregnant and hadn't been to the doctor yet when my step-mother-in-law said I could probably get food stamps and Medicaid. (I was so glad to get on food stamps that I brought the Health and Human Resources office muffins and orange juice the next day. They were confused.) We filed for bankruptcy and lost our Passat. When the baby, Lillian, was born, she was very sick. Ok, I'm tired of recalling all this so we'll have to continue tomorrow.

25 March 2009

Trust to the Point of Rashness

I was reading more of No Greater Love. It was a portion that I'll copy here, which was profound enough on a general scale, 'just' a "Christian being an example to the lost" kind of passage... I've read this book at least 3 or 4 times, and passages like this other places, and it was great but not revolutionary-- then I reread it in terms of me to my husband-- and I was much more affected.

"We shall instruct by the power of the example of our lives lived entirely in and with Jesus Christ our Lord, bearing witness to the truth of the gospel by our single-minded devotion to and burning love of Christ and His Church, and also by verbal proclamation of the Word of God fearlessly, openly, and clearly... whenever the opportunity offers. We shall sustain the tempted by our prayer...and understanding love, and when opportunity offers, also by enlightening and encouraging words... We shall bear wrongs patiently by offering no resistance to the wicked. If anyone hits us on the right cheek we shall turn the left also; if anyone takes away anything from us, we shall not try to get it back. We shall forgive injuries by seeking no revenge but by returning good for evil, by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us and blessing those who curse us."
Whew! What an order to fill. Its a good thing that we have supernatural power available to us through the Holy Spirit. Mother Teresa continues (my emphasis):

"The path of loving trust means:
... an absolute, unconditional, and unwavering confidence in God our loving Father, even when everything seems to be a total failure.
...to look to Him alone as our help and protector.
...to stop doubting and being discouraged, casting all our worries and cares on the Lord, and to walk in total freedom.
... to be daring and absolutely fearless of any obstacle, knowing that nothing is impossible with God.
... total reliance on our Heavenly Father with the spontaneous abandonment of little children, totally convinced of our utter nothingness but trusting to the point of rashness with courageous confidence in His fatherly goodness."

If you have a child, you know what it feels like when your child leaps into your arms from a high surface (be it top of the dresser, a tree branch, the side of the pool). They have spontaneous abandonment and they trust to the point of rashness that you will catch them, that you will let nothing hurt them. That we could cultivate such a trust with the Lord!

24 March 2009

No Greater Love

Yesterday I touched on sacrifice... giving up our selfish desires in order to serve our husbands. I want to share with you a portion of a book written by Mother Teresa, called No Greater Love. (remember the one about laying down your life for a friend?) she says:
"Don't be afraid. There must be the cross, there must be suffering, a clear sign that Jesus has drawn you so close to His heart that He can share His suffering with you. Without God we can spread only pain and suffering around us." Remember the plaque on the wall, 'if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?' I sure am able to quench the Holy Spirit and spread pain and suffering around my house, unfortunately.
She continues: "We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him right now, to be happy with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him now means loving like He loves, helping like he helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him twenty-four hours a day, touching Him in His distressing disguise." I know that I feel, in my self-righteousness and pride, that my husband is hiding in a very distressing disguise. But as Mother Teresa was called by God to be with the severely alone and poor of India's streets, I am called to minister to my husband as he is in this moment, not withholding love or respect until he tidies up. "for when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5:8.

23 March 2009

Uncertainty to Joy pt 2

Today I wanted to talk about what hit me when I read The Legend of the Bluebonnet. It's about how it ended-- how She-Who-Is-Alone became "known by another name-- One-Who-Dearly-Loved-Her-People."

Sometimes I feel (or my mother tells me) like I've lost who I am... was... in the ten years of being married and almost eight of being a mother. When I feel like She-Who-Is-Alone against the tide of the world, or in my own marriage, the last thing I want to do is give up the pieces of me that are left from 'me before.' Yet the Bible clearly tells us, and we see in this children's book, that when we give up, when we sacrifice, we become One-Who-Dearly-Loved-Her-People. Do you see Christ in that title? Do you see God? "He so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16-17

I remember the first sacrifice I gave God. It's so silly. Of course, I had given things up before, but this was one of the first times that GOD SPOKE to me, and I actually sacrificed what I wanted for him. Ok, here it is. As I leaned over to pick up two of James' dirty, balled-up, long, black Air Force socks I was absolutely consumed with anger at him. I remember thinking "Five inches! WHY can't he simply put them five inches to the left?! What is the big deal?! Is it soo hard to simply move them five inches to the left?! " (five inches to the left was the dirty clothes hamper) And right on top of that last exasperated, angry 'left?' was God's voice saying simply, 'if its so easy, why don't you move them five inches to the left?'

Gulp. And after that it was suddenly alot easier for me to just do many of the cleaning up after James that before had angered me. What was the big deal? Really, it was that I was a proud woman who, although I had the entire day to move some socks around, or hang up a jacket, or whatever, I thought I was too good to pick up after a man who worked a 12-hour shift. Why on earth was I staying home, if not to be his helper?

My point is, we should be mirroring Christ to a lost world. Christ sacrificed for us- to the point of death (Eph. 2:8). We are instructed to be a "living sacrifice"(Rom.12:1), which I take to mean this: Continue to live our lives, but sacrifice that which is not Christ-like. The things we shed for His sake are our living sacrifices.

Matthew Henry commentary on Romans 12:1,2 says this: "Let us render ourselves; all we are, all w have, all we can do... The progress of sanctification, dying to sin more and more, and living to righteousness more and more, is the carrying on this renewing work, till it is perfected in glory... The work of the Holy Ghost first begins in the understanding, and is carried onto the will, affectations, and conversation, till there is a change of the whole man into the likeness of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Thus, to be godly, is to give up ourselves to God."
Although The Legend of the Bluebonnet says the girl has loved her people, I am hoping to be known as She-Who-Loved-Her God.

From Uncertainty to Joy pt 1

One of my favorite artists when I was younger, and still today, is Tomie DePaola. He retells and illustrates alot of different legends- Native American, Irish and Italian off the top of my head.

One that suddenly jumped out at me last week was The Legend of the Bluebonnet. The tale focuses on a young Comanche girl, named She-Who-Is-Alone because she was orphaned by a famine in infancy. The famine has continued to the time of the story, when she is 7? 10? years old. The only personal belonging she has is a remnant of the family she never knew-- a warrior doll, which her mother made for her. Her father contributed blue jay feathers to adorn the warrior doll. Anywho, the shaman of the tribe learns from the Great Spirits that the people have become too selfish and in order for the famine and drought to cease, "We must make a burnt offering of the most valued possession among us."
Everyone in the village is confident that their most valued possession is surely not what the Great Spirits desire... and She-Who-Is-Alone knows instantly that it is her precious doll. In the dark of that night, she creeps out to the top of the hill to sacrifice her "...warrior doll. "It is the only thing I have from my family who died in this famine. It is my most valued possession. Please accept it"... She thought of ... her mother and father and all the People-- their suffering, their hunger. And before she could change her mind, she thrust the doll into the fire." She-Who-Is-Alone falls asleep on the hilltop, surely from heartbreak and uncertainty, and then awakens to the sight of flowers, "as blue and the feathers in the hair of the doll."

22 March 2009

This Husband Never Fails

I struggle with embarrassment- It's hard to have dirty laundry in front of people, even those who love you. Then the feeling spreads to other things that are unrelated and suddenly it feels like shame. You know the old saying, "the cobbler's kids go un-shod, the doctor's kids are always sick?" Well the same is true for "the landscaper's yard goes unplanted." My neighbor lacks in the tact department and seems, to me (in my vulnerability), to use every passing on the driveway to point out some deficiency in my yard. He goes from this opening to commentary on my parenting or marriage. God brings conviction, but the devil brings shame. So I try to fight it whether its from the neighbor, the world, or the voices in my head. Read Isaiah 54:4-7 & 10 with me:

" 'Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame, Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of you widowhood. For your Maker is your husband-- the Lord Almighty is his name--the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit-- a wife who married young, only to be rejected,' says your God. 'For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you."

This scripture seems, like so many, to be written just for me. Praise God for the continuing truth of his word!

20 March 2009

I Found my Mission!

I was looking over Living Proof Ministries' website, where The Most Excellent Teacher, Beth Moore 'resides.' Their blog has the most striking entry for March 12th. I am somewhat dumbstruck; it perfectly expresses how I feel about this blog I've started. I said I wanted to make monuments to what I've learned from God these past four years... I've copied this lengthy quote over from the LPM blog. It's taken from an article published in Calvin Theological Journal 2001 by a man named Nicholas Wolterstorff. It is entitled "If God is Good and Sovereign, Why Lament?" He states the goal of my heart so clearly:

To use Wolterstorff’s explanation “The lament, at its heart, is giving voice to the suffering that accompanies deep loss, whatever that loss may be. Lament is not about suffering. Lament is not concerning suffering. Lament does not count the stages and try to identify the stage in which one finds oneself. Lament is the language of suffering, the voicing of suffering. Behind lament are tears over loss. Lament goes beyond the tears to voice the suffering. To voice suffering, one must name it- identify it. Sometimes that is difficult, even impossible. The memories are repressed so that the suffering is screened from view. Or one is aware of it, in a way, but in naming it, identifying it for what it is, would be too painful, too embarrassing. So one resists. Then, one cannot lament. One suffers without being able to lament. Lament is an achievement. Lament is more, though, than the voicing of suffering. The mere voicing of one’s suffering is complaint, not lament. Lament is a cry to God. This presupposes, of course, that lament is the action of a believer” (42-43).
"In the Bible, which we believe is God's Word, such that we find in it is what God wished to be there, there is plenty of lament, protest, anger, and baffled questions. The point we should notice (possibly to our surprise) is that it is all hurled at God, not by his enemies but by those who loved and trusted him most. It seems, indeed, that it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain and protest to God- without fear or reproach. Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled for us in abundance. God seems to want to give us many words with which to fill in our complaint forms as to write out thank-you notes. Perhaps this is because whatever amount of lament the world causes us to express is a drop in the ocean compared to the grief in the heart of God himself at the totality of suffering that only God can comprehend” (50-51)

I don't know what I can say, seeing as I have been trying to lament and not complain for so long. I feel comforted and loved to know that I am allowed and encouraged to feel my loss and pain. I remember so clearly trying to figure out what stage of grief I was in so I could 'tell' how much longer I would be miserable. I can sort of smile at that now, but in the thick of it I was really trying to tell. I guess I am here trying to name my grief without embarrassment, to glorify the Lord who carries me through the flames. I can see the parts of me that He's melted off down there on the floor. Things are still so painful but the pain is almost a familiar weight-- I must have worked up some callouses spiritually.

19 March 2009

Thank God- He Never Slumbers

Sometimes I watch the kids sleep, when I know I won't wake them up! Especially if bedtime was hard, I go back to apologize to their little (now)innocent faces and pray for patience and kindness. Over the course of the near-eight years that I have been a mother, I have spent alot of time watching my babies sleep. Whether they fell asleep nursing, or I am checking on them when they don't feel well, or just loving them while they are at rest... I have stared at their little facial features and been in awe of the similarities they have from James and I now, and from our baby and childhood pictures. I love it when a few of them are asleep in the same bed and I can compare their faces and features to each other. (This is Nathan, my baby, about this time last year. Time flies!)
Sometimes I fall asleep alone for some reason or another. James is late, or watching the UFC fight, or off on some adventure. I can hear the baby breathing. I hear the magnolia leaves outside my windows clattering against each other. I know James isn't home, because of all the signs: the A/C is off, the room-darkening curtains are open, maybe there are a few kids in the bed with me. One night I was wishing that someone would stare at me while I slept. That someone would memorize my features, that they would listen to my breathing, that they would pray over me and whisper apologies in my ear unaware. I wished that I was important enough and cherished enough for someone to stay awake over me and just enjoy me-- when I was doing nothing to be appealing, not interacting in any way. And the Lord spoke to me-- 'I do. I watch over you. I love to watch you sleep. I love to give you a breath and listen to it go in and out while you rest. I have counted the tears on your pillow. I am beside you and I love you. I never slumber. I have watched over you for thirty years and I know your every thought and I love you still.' I am so thankful for His presence and His reassurance!

17 March 2009

The Ones I am Raising Up

These are the four children I have. Right now they are 7, 5, 3, and 1. Claire is the oldest, and very dramatic. She can be incredibly nuturing and so we say her superpower is love. She is learning how to appropriately exhibit her power. Jackson is next, lover of Legos and an excellent technical artist. He is practicing using the strength God gave him for good and not evil purposes (ie., assisting his sisters and not shoving them). Lillian (Lily) is my baby girl who we call Cactus Flower, as she is frequently more prickly than flowery. She is into princesses and having her own way. She is working on staying calm while we figure out what kind of assistance she needs. Beautiful rays of gentleness and care are becoming more and more frequent. And the baby is Nathan, which means 'gift.' He is full of laughter and to see him rush after the others is so wonderful. He doesn't sleep through the night and is a member of B.A. (Breastfeeders Anonymous). He totally abuses his power as Last Biological Baby.

The One I Share a Life With

This is my husband, James. We got married at the ages of 19 and 20 one year after I graduated high school. We had known each other a little under three years. We had a beautiful wedding in Austin, Texas, and a fun adventure honeymoon in Costa Rica.

James grew up in a Christian household, and I grew up in a Catholic one. James' parents were hippies; my father spent 23 years in the Army National Guard and my mother worked in Post Office management for over 20 years. I have 2 younger siblings; James has one sister who was born when he was 13. James attended public schools here in Texas; I attended private school in Maryland until we moved to Texas. I am a Yankee with my extended family in Pennsylvania and NY/NJ; James is a 5th-generation Texan with family in Louisiana, Florida and Texas. (I had never eaten grits until AF basic training in San Antonio, TX, and then I put honey and raisens on top. "What weird Cream-of-Wheat" I thought.) Do you see any differences?

However, the Lord knew what he was doing(!) when he brought us together. James says it best when he explains it this way: "You met Christ through me and then took off, learning and applying what you found. I knew the basics and you hold me to the ground so I don't drift too far away."

Our Goal in Meeting Here

So, what is our goal for meeting here? Why should you read this blog? What will you learn or relate to that you should spend a few moments of your day with me? I am writing a blog so that I can organize my own thoughts, so that I can make a monument to the things the Lord is teaching me. I hope that anyone traveling down the same road with me can find comfort and fellowship with me and those who may join us. So what road are we traveling? I am traveling a hard road it seems sometimes, and at on other days it isn't so tough. But the days that are miserable sometimes overwhelm the good ones.

One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 12:12. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer."
I want to be patient in affliction but it is hard to. I want to be joyful in hope, but it seems like things will always be the same. And as the mother of four young children, I use the excuse that I am too tired to be faithful in prayer. But God hears our excuses, and he knows what season of life we are in, and he calls us to obey. He tells us that he is faithful, even if our situation in the moment isn't what we would have chosen. He provides us with the supernatural power of his holy Spirit to equip us to do that which seems impossible or undesirable.