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Posted on Jul 20, 2017 in Devotional, Health, Love, Parenting, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 14 comments

Peace

Peace

***This post is a continuation of my previous post, Fear, about the birth of my recent child who had severe medical complications and Down Syndrome. To read more about Redmond and our story about him, you can see my public Facebook posts beginning March 1, 2017, and click here.***

 

In the middle of my struggle with fear surrounding Redmond’s birth and the first couple months of his life, there were pockets of peace too. Although fear threatened to swallow me up, I didn’t have panic attacks. I didn’t come undone. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and I used the tools at my disposal to get to peace.

From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Redmond, a sense of dread and unrest came over me. I spent the first two weeks after that positive pregnancy test praying desperately for God to intervene in whatever was wrong. I gave Him my permission (as if He needed it) to take the baby if there was something terribly wrong. I waited for a miscarriage. I could not shake the sense of dread.

After two weeks of crying out to God, I felt His presence one morning like a soothing balm pour over me. My hands flew to my belly and the words that came to me were, “Life and health, joy and peace.” Peace came with those words. Every time the fear and dread tried to return, I comforted myself with those words.

The morning of our 20-week ultrasound, which was an extra-fancy one for high risk pregnancies, I felt like I was trying to walk in mud. My feet simply wouldn’t go. I was stuck. It was everything I could do to lift them up and move them forward, so afraid of what I might find out that day. After the hour-long ultrasound, we were ushered into the grim-looking doctor’s office. As she launched into a lecture about managing gestational diabetes, I struggled to comprehend what she said.

Finally, I stopped her and asked bluntly, “Is my baby okay?”

“Hmmm?” She looked up from her paper, confused.

“Is. My. Baby. Okay?”

“Oh, your baby is fine. It looks perfectly healthy. Were you worried?” Clueless doctor.

“No Down Syndrome?” I remember that I specifically asked about that. They measure EVERYTHING in this ultrasound. A friend told me how she was warned that her daughter had a shortened nasal bone, which is a soft marker for Down Syndrome, but her baby was born just fine.

The doctor explained to me that they can’t tell for sure without several more tests, and even then they can only tell you something like if there’s a one in four chance that the baby has DS, but she’d be happy to run them if we wanted them. At the point where we were, she felt confident that there was only a slight chance that the baby had DS.

Relieved that the extensive ultrasound had shown no markers for DS or other birth defects, we again declined further testing. We agreed that we would love and accept any child God gave us, and there was little point worrying ourselves to pieces about it before we could know 100%.

I spent the remainder of the pregnancy feeling harassed and annoyed by the management of gestational diabetes and hyperemesis gravidarium (which included extreme motion sickness, making me sick even when I walked). Pregnancy is a real challenge for some of us, but I determined that 9 months of difficulty was worth the lifetime of joy that a child brings.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, I received weekly ultrasounds and non-stress tests. The baby’s heart never did what it was supposed to during the NSTs. It was supposed to go up 15 beats per minute for 15 seconds, but it never did. So I’d get another ultrasound, which would confirm that everything was okay, and we’d go on another week. We also knew that I had high amniotic fluid and the baby had a small amount of water around the kidneys. Both of those can be indicators of DS, but DS babies typically measure small, especially their heads. Redmond topped out in the 98th percentile with an average head size.

There were multiple tests and concerns from the doctors with my previous pregnancies and everything worked out just fine. I kept reminding myself of that, repeating the words, “Life and health, joy and peace“, and doing my best not to worry.

On the morning Redmond was born, I watched a YouTube video by a naturopath about managing anxiety. I’d seen it before and was looking for it to send to a friend. During a time when I should’ve been the most anxious, I was fairly calm. When Rick came back that morning, I firmly told him we had to get to the hospital. I was very concerned about the baby, but I wasn’t freaking out. When the nurse told me that the midwife was coming to break my water, I stayed calm. When they told me that the baby was in distress and I was headed toward a c-section, I handled it well. The words of the doctor replayed in my mind. I had a choice how I would handle the situation. God had promised me “Life and health, joy and peace.”

As I stumbled through those first few days of Redmond’s life, I found it hard to comprehend the things the doctors said. The words they used were terrible, and they definitely brought fear with them, but I also had a sense of peace. My baby would be okay. He didn’t have Down Syndrome. It may look like that, but the test would come back clear. Wouldn’t it?

I had to sort through what was numb denial, what was actually happening, and what might happen in the future. God might have promised me life and health, joy and peace, but at that moment I was facing sickness, fear, and sadness.

At my command, Rick left my side to be with Redmond and calmly talked to him and held his hand so our baby would sense something familiar in all the chaos. When I squeaked out the words “Down Syndrome” and “sickest baby in the NICU” to my sister, barely able to make my mouth form the words, she dropped everything and flew to my side. When the doctors determined that Redmond needed the last-resort heart and lung bypass (ECMO), my mom came to be with us. My dad, who was working and couldn’t take time off, hit his knees. For that first week of my son’s life, my dad fasted and prayed. He barely slept, waking every few hours to get back on his knees and pray some more. He prayed for Redmond, but he also prayed for me and the rest of our family.

When fear tried to take me over, I had a husband like a rock, standing firm and telling me it was all going to be okay, I had a sister and mother helping me laugh and letting me cry. I had a daddy interceding for me. He reminded me that I found strength and felt God’s presence in music. Thanks to his prompting, I turned on the praise music and sang my heart out.

Every morning while I got ready to go to the hospital, I sang. When I went to the pump room for 20 minutes every three hours, I listened to praise music and sang. I sang over my son. I sang praise to God. I couldn’t concentrate to read the Bible much. I barely had words to pray. But I sang and sang and sang. Phrases that stand out to me from that time…

The waves and wind still know His name
It is well with my soul
This mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well.

When I listened to the words of the doctors and nurses, when I got my eyes off Jesus, fear snuck in. I’d often find myself staring at objects, trying to figure out if I was crazy for believing that my baby would be okay, if I needed to accept reality and stop living in denial. But I had this peace that he’d make it through. We’d take this precious boy home with us. He wouldn’t need heart surgery. Surely by the time we left, he’d be off oxygen and his feeding tube.

During my pregnancy, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, pour out our praise…” were song lyrics that swept over my heart. I’d think of the baby growing inside me and pray for his lungs. Another song that ministered to my heart said, “Your love is like radiant diamonds, bursting inside us, we cannot contain… God of mercy, sweet love of mine, I have surrendered to Your design. May this offering stretch across the sky, these hallelujahs be multiplied.” I’d think of the cells inside me, dividing and growing (bursting!), only able to be contained for about 9 months. I’d think about my “offering”, submitting to another difficult pregnancy and trying so hard to be gracious and patient through it, and beg God to honor my sacrifice. As I sang those songs, there was no medical evidence that he had any issues at all.

My main problem finding peace during the storm was not questioning God, but questioning myself. Was I sane to believe Redmond would be okay? Was the peace I felt actually shock and denial or a gift from God? Or both?

Much of my fear stemmed from the knowledge that God is running the universe. He has very seldom seemed to take my wants or desires into account as He does, so I braced myself for the gut punch of disappointment, the disbelief that what I had hoped for was gone. My brain played tricks on me. Strong medication taken for pain from surgery affected me. I felt acid rising in my throat, burning me when I tried to pray for God to save Redmond’s life and heal him. Hope and peace were mingled with fear and dread. Surely God would do what was ultimately best for us, but how much was I going to hurt in the process?

I submitted myself to His will and waited to see what He would do. I asked my friends to pray because I couldn’t. I allowed the Holy Spirit to intercede for me with those groans I hear so much about.

Romans 8:26 – 27 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the word of God.” (NKJV)

Please save my son, Lord. But not my will but Thine be done.

I kept hearing the words, “He spared not His own son.” I had no guarantee that He would spare mine.

Please hear this point before you close your computer and shut out these horrific thoughts… Please understand me. I knew that if God did not spare my son, He would give me the grace to get through the horrific loss. I had no doubt that if my son didn’t make it out of that place alive, God was indeed running the universe and it was somehow in His perfect will for my life to take Redmond home so early. The thought horrified me, but even in the worst moments, I knew that God would walk me through it all. I was not alone.

Knowing so well that God owes me nothing, that any loss I face is nothing compared with the trauma of His own son’s death, I relish even more, savor, and bask in the beautiful YES that He gave me.

My precious baby boy, a cuddly bundle of smiles and love, sleeps soundly in my arms. This baby who came so close to death, who should be terribly delayed and have all kinds of problems as a result of the very medical interventions that were used to save his life, appears to be doing just fine. He coos and “talks”, sings with me. He actively rolls from back to front and back again, chewing on his thumb and reaching for toys. He laughs out loud, startling himself with the sound. He’s growing like a weed, wearing nine-month sleepers at 4.5 months old. He sighs deeply when he sleeps, burying his face in my neck, and tries yet again to pull the oxygen tube out of his nose.

He’s still on a feeding tube, still needs supplemental oxygen, which I wish away many times every day. But after all he’s been through, what are these little annoyances? I adjust my attitude to thanking God for these tools that I have to keep Redmond healthy, thriving, and growing. He should’ve had hearing loss, but he hears perfectly. He should’ve needed heart surgery, but the holes in his heart are closing. Pulmonary hypertension is GONE. He’s active, alert, and cheerful. He sleeps through the night like a little champ.

The chromosome test for Down Syndrome came back positive, and it took us a while to deal with that. He has an extra chromosome, which was present at conception and not a result of the complications of pregnancy or the medical treatment he needed early on. With it comes low muscle tone and the possibility of many other physical and intellectual handicaps. I have prayed over this child though, emboldened by God’s miracles in his life so far. I pray that he has the mind of Christ, that his eyes see truth, and so on. I pray that he is ABLE, not disabled.

A few days ago, I whispered to God during a rare moment of quiet, “And please God, would you heal him from Down Syndrome?” Very swiftly and firmly, I heard a voice whisper back, “It’s a gift.”

My heart lurched.

Many parents of children with DS report that they feel very lucky to have a child with DS, and Rick and I have shaken our heads in confusion. Why are we lucky to have a child with physical and intellectual impairments? Is low muscle tone and a congenital heart defect a gift?

But this God I serve, He works in mysterious ways. What is mystery to us is great glory to Him. And so, although I cannot claim to understand at this point, I have decided to embrace this gift in the same way I embrace the God I do not understand.

My child, the one with the extra chromosome I so greatly feared, is Life and Health, Joy and Peace to me. He is Life and Health, Joy and Peace to the entire world. The fact that he has a chromosomal abnormality is not a burden, but a gift.

I will still pray for him to be completely healthy and whole, to have perfect vision and a strong body. I will still pray for him to be able to walk and talk with ease, to be able to comprehend all that he needs to understand in this world. This child, and his amazing siblings who have embraced him with all their hearts, will drive me to my knees more than anything else ever has. I will pray for all three of them with all my heart. But Down Syndrome is off my prayer list. I write this with a thankful heart, full of peace: It is our mysterious gift.

Photo credit: the beautiful, blue, professional ones are all by ErikaMarie Photography. The rest are me.

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Posted on Oct 17, 2016 in Devotional, Love, My Crazy Family, Parenting, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 3 comments

A Good Father?

A Good Father?

When I was a senior in high school, I got caught with beer in my car at after prom. Seriously. Me. Beer. Did I drink beer? Nope. I still don’t. Nasty stuff. How anyone can stand it, I don’t know. But nevertheless, it was my car, my friends, and beer. I knew about it, allowed it, and got caught. The principal had to call my parents in the middle of the night. I was pretty sure death would result from my sin. Either that or every single privilege I enjoyed, including the car and the beach trip I was planning with those friends after graduation, would be taken away from me.

Shaking in fear, I walked into my dark house that night, wondering what punishment was waiting for me. I expected all the lights to be on, my parents furiously pacing the floor.

Instead, they were quietly laying in bed, just like always. As I tiptoed in their room, wondering what type of new torture this was, I saw my dad’s arm go out and beckon me toward him. Slowly, I walked toward that arm. He pulled me in closer. Then he pulled me down onto the bed. Instead of yelling (or killing me), he just hugged me tight. As my fear melted away, I began to cry. Somehow I managed to blubbler out the story: I’d agreed to let my friends bring beer because I wanted them to have fun. They’d said they were unable to let loose, dance, and have fun without it. It had never occurred to me that I could get in trouble for it. I wasn’t drinking and driving. I wasn’t drinking at all.

My mind often goes back to that night. My parents taught me a valuable lesson in the middle of what must have been very frightening to them. They said that a person shouldn’t be dependent on alcohol to have fun. If a person can’t have fun without alcohol, they have a problem. I’ve always remembered that lesson. A nice glass of wine with a fine meal is a different thing than the inability to enjoy oneself without it.

Beyond the alcohol though, another issue strikes me. I learned a lot about a father’s love. He could have raged at me, punished me extensively, or demanded that I stop hanging out with those friends. He didn’t though. He trusted that I’d learned my lesson (I certainly had) and let it go. He treated me tenderly, and he treated my friends tenderly too.

There’s a worship song that’s very popular right now, “You’re a Good, Good Father.” The first verse says,

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love
In the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father.

Like my dad, my husband is a good, good father. He is the one who scrambles out of bed in the middle of the night at the slightest cry of a child. He answers their cries tenderly, holding them, rocking them back to sleep, and sometimes really irritating me. Why does he have to be such a softy? Can’t he command them to go back to sleep? But he doesn’t.

Not everyone has such a good father. Many fathers are callous, hard, and ready to pounce on their children at the least provocation. They yell and issue commands, not taking the time to listen and understand. And some fathers simply abandon their children altogether, or are so evil that the child would be better off if they did. Into the mess of this world, we have this beautiful song about our Heavenly Father. HE is a good Father, no matter what our earthly fathers are like.

So why is it that so many of us, myself included, run from this good Father when we sin? Why is it that we avoid God when we are ashamed of ourselves? We have a good Father who loves us fully.

He beckons us with open arms, welcoming us into His embrace, even when we have sinned woefully. He wants to hug us, talk to us about what happened, and help us learn something from it. He wants to deepen our relationship, not push us away.

I see it at times in my own life. When I feel deeply disappointed by the way things have turned out, so different than what I thought God had in mind, I struggle to embrace Him. I feel a little like an angry teenager, arms crossed, back turned to God. I haven’t left Him by any means. I’m still leaning against His throne, and I don’t want to leave. But I am so hurt and disappointed, I don’t think I can crawl into His lap right now either. Constant questions plague my mind. Did I do the wrong thing? Is this somehow my sin? Am I missing something? And I’m facing outward, away from Him, because I’m watching so expectantly to see what He will do next.

I have a good, good Father. Surely He has sent an answer, an unforeseen blessing, and it’s making its way up the road to me now. But I’m very near-sighted, and I can’t make it out yet. But I’m watching.

2016-03-27-11-52-05How much better could I watch from the perch of His lap? If, like my tiny daughter does so freely with her daddy, I could crawl up there, grab hold of his shirt and snuggle down, knowing without question the comfort and security I would find there, wouldn’t life be so much better?

What if we started running toward God when we sin? What if we cry into His arms, pour out our sorrow, share our frustration and disappointment openly? Our good Father can handle our pain, and He knows exactly what to do with it.

A good, good Father is exactly who we have. No matter who our earthly fathers were, or are, we can rest in the embrace of God.

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Posted on Aug 25, 2016 in Fertility, Health, Love, Marriage | 11 comments

Baby Wyse #3

Baby Wyse #3

Rick and I are so happy to let you know that Baby Wyse #3 is on the way! The baby is due to be born on March 16, 2017. We are soon to be out-numbered!

After Charlie was born, I decided there would be no more pregnancies for me. Pregnancy and I didn’t get along very well, and I had my son and daughter. My hands were incredibly full with a 15-month old and a newborn, so the idea of another baby made me feel like suffocating.

But the kids are now 3 1/2 and 2, much more self-sufficient and getting along great. I considered returning to work, but the options in our rural area are limited. After exploring those options without success, Rick and I decided that another baby might be a good thing. I was still terrified of pregnancy from my two previous experiences, so I began exploring alternative health options to see if I could have a different experience in the future.

I found a wonderful chiropractor who helped with the energy deficiency I couldn’t seem to shake. She introduced me to a local naturopath who ran some tests and provided hope that I could get some deep-seated health issues resolved and have a better experience. I had excruciating pain in my knees, in spite of having lost 20 pounds and following a diabetic diet to keep my blood sugar healthy. My primary care physician, chiropractor, naturopath, and the massage therapist I’ve been working with for several years all told me the same things: 1) This is a reaction to stress. Go on vacation and get your mind off your recent disappointments. 2) You need an anti-inflammatory diet. Meat, vegetables, fruit. No more bread and sugar.

I heeded their advice. I began taking the remedy the naturopath gave me (one bottle, not hundreds of dollars in various supplements). Our family rented a beautiful cabin in the mountains of Gatlinburg, and we brought our babysitter along. For the first time in about four years, Rick and I slept through the night without interruption for 8 nights in a row. I cannot minimize how much that helped me. A lack of sleep for that many years had really affected me. During that vacation, I took a complete break from social media and things came back into perspective. I have been so blessed with a wonderful family, and I simply enjoyed them.

Following that vacation, I started The Whole30, which I’ve written about before. I used that eating plan to help find a good balance for my body, and while I’m not where I want to be yet, I am confident that I’m headed in the right direction. As my diet changed, anxiety fell off me. My knee pain all but disappeared. I lost more weight. I began exercising again, and as summer came around, I began enjoying gardening and the warm, fresh air.

Strange things began happening, like instead of falling asleep after over-eating, my body screamed at me to MOVE. I started jogging a little, doing jumping jacks, and even (shock…) craving vegetables! I began to have healthy, normal responses to hunger and satisfaction. My hormones balanced out and the naturopath could find NO vitamin/nutrient deficiencies when she tested me.

Baby Wyse 3As I worked on my health, Rick and I decided to let nature take it’s course to see if we might conceive, but nothing happened. We thought it was possible that we had reached the end of our biological clocks and were okay with that. We are so content and blessed with our precious children. But I’m not very good at “going with the flow”, so after almost a year of seeing what might happen, I got serious. I began tracking and testing and was very pleasantly surprised to find that IT WORKED! The first month! Whoa.

Within an hour of getting that positive pregnancy test, I went to work. I made a list with the title, “Preparation for Armageddon”. I listed all the things I needed to do in the next one to two weeks to prepare for the sickness I’d had with the other two. I cooked up a storm and filled our freezer to the brim. I organized and planned and prepared. I had boundless energy and I used it!

When week five hit (the first time I threw up with Eliana), I still felt great. Relieved, I scurried around more, doing fun things with the kids while I could, making lists, and working in the yard and garden. I was intent on meeting my “step goals” on my fitness tracker and did so every single day that week.

When week six hit (when I really got sick with both kids), low-level nausea made it’s appearance. It was no big deal. I didn’t throw up, I wasn’t couch-bound, I even felt a little better if I went for a walk! So I walked and gardened and kept on cooking. One day we had a family fun event and I was pretty tired of feeling nauseated, so I took some anti-nausea medication. The rest of the day was great and I had no issues at all.

The days since then have been a combination of feeling pretty good (except for very, very tired) and feeling yucky/nauseated. I haven’t thrown up. On the days when I’m extra-tired, I take a nap with the kids. My energy comes back within a few days and I make up for the days before. I’ve been spending more time indoors and not getting many steps in, but I’m giving myself grace for that.

So far, this pregnancy is pretty normal. I remind myself that nausea isn’t that big of a deal and repeat out loud how grateful I am that I’m not throwing up. I can go for walks (with Eliana, extreme motion sickness made walking impossible), work in the garden, pick peaches with my husband, and cook meals. My meals aren’t spectacular right now, but they’re often hot and nutritious.

We’ve decided to wait until the baby is born to find out the gender. Once the baby gets here and is big enough to sleep in a crib in his or her own room, we’ll evaluate where the older two are with their maturity level and decide how to arrange the kids’ bedrooms. We have lots of ideas, but no solutions right now, and are hoping it becomes obvious to us when we need to decide.

I’d like to have a different birthing experience this time. The epidurals didn’t fully take either time before, and last time led to a horrific spinal headache that negatively impacted Charlie’s birth and my health for a while afterward. I’m planning to fully educate myself on non-epidural pain-relief methods, utilize a local midwife, and plan for a midwife-attended hospital birth. I take medicine for a headache, so I see no reason to go through labor and delivery completely un-medicated. However, the epidural is off the table. Thankfully, with the last two, the birthing process was actually the “easy” part. Not really, but so much easier than the pregnancies themselves.

We’ve told Eliana and Charlie and they’re thrilled. They have all kinds of fun and interesting questions. I have an app on my phone that shows an illustration of the size of the baby each week. Eliana LOVES to look at it and asks me almost every day to show her how big the baby is right now. Some questions I’ve had so far include:

“When the baby gets big enough to come out, will your belly just POP?” (A basic anatomy lesson followed that question and seemed to satisfy her concerns.)

“Do I have a baby in MY belly?”
“No, sweetheart. You’re too little to have a baby in your belly. That won’t happen until you’re more grown up.”
“Like Kristina?” (our 18-year old babysitter)
“Well, yes. You have to be at least as grown up as Kristina to have a baby in your belly.”

One day when I was particularly nauseated and tired and laid on the couch most of the day…
“Is the baby in your belly still sick?”
“No, Charlie, the baby isn’t sick. But because the baby is in Mommy’s belly, Mommy’s belly is a little upset today.”
“Oh, okay. Can you walk?” (Well, shoot. I guess I’ve been particularly lazy today. After that, I got up, took a Zofran, and got some things done.)

“If you throw up, Mommy, will you throw up the baby?”

****************

I’ve always wanted a large family. Maybe we’ll stop after three and call that “large enough.” Maybe we’ll test nature a little more and see if four is possible. Rick looks at me like I’m crazy when I say that, but these kids will keep us young! 🙂 Our babysitter’s mom told me she had four more after she was my age, so it’s possible that if I keep myself healthy, I have plenty of time left…

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Posted on Jan 20, 2016 in Devotional, Love, Marriage, Spiritual Life, Wisdom | 4 comments

Marriage Mahem

Marriage Mahem

2016-01-20 21.15.13Marriage is hard.

I married a wonderful man. He’s sweet and kind. He helps out around the house. He changes diapers and gets up with fussy babies in the night so I can sleep. He is an excellent provider with a great sense of humor. There are times when I look at him and cannot believe how lucky I am. He would die of embarrassment if I told you all the things about him that I find attractive and exciting. I believe with all my heart that he is God’s gift to me and we are a great compliment to one another. We grew up with similar values and beliefs. We have a lot of fun together. I could go on and on about the magnitude of his magnificence.

And still I am writing that MARRIAGE IS HARD.

I love him with all my heart, but we are two very different people with very different ideas about things – trying to build a home together. We have to deal with one another every minute of every day. There is NEVER a break. There is NEVER a moment where what I do doesn’t mean something to him. There is no point in which I can say, “Well, these past four years have been fun, but I’m a little tired right now so I’m going on vacation. I’ll see you in three months.” This commitment I made is FOR LIFE.

“Well, of course it is,” you might think. Duh. What’s her problem? But if you’ve ever had issues with anxiety, I bet you hear the panic in my tone. The trapped, claustrophobic feeling. I bet you aren’t judging me for admitting these unspeakable truths.

I was warned that marriage is hard, many times by many people before I got married. I was told to enjoy the freedom of my singleness and be grateful that I can spend $100 without having to explain myself to anyone. These words were not lost on me. I heard them, I tried to absorb and understand them, but I simply couldn’t hear it because my aching need for all the benefits of marriage was screaming so loudly. How do you tell a starving woman that there will come a day when there’s so much food around her that she feels physically ill and wants to go on a fast? It’s ridiculous.

And of course I don’t really want to be without him. The idea of losing him, of grieving that loss and then starting the whole process over, exhausts me. I’ve adjusted to his help, his strength, his support, and not having him besides me would devestate me.

But the day in and day out of marriage can feel a little overwhelming at times. This person, this life, forever and ever, amen. This conflict we’re in, we HAVE to work it out. There’s no escape. There’s no other option. We simply have to work it out or one of us is going to spend the rest of our life angry with a side of disconnection.

Part of what I’ve been doing is looking at myself. How have I disappointed him? How have I created a situation where he is sad or hurt? How can I behave differently, adjust my expectations, compromise? Truthfully, it’s part of my decision to BE AWESOME. My mediocrity is hard on this precious man.

Part of what I’ve been doing is giving myself permission to have an opinion and insist on it. What??? As a Christian who wants to honor God, I may have gotten a little confused on the whole “submission” thing. It doesn’t help our relationship when I die a little inside every day because I’m so unhappy trying to fit into a mold not made for me. I can smile brightly and try with all my heart to fit for a while, but eventually the truth comes out. I’m giving myself permission to say what does and doesn’t work for me.

The most important thing I’ve been doing is PRAYING. Desperately praying for God to give us unity in our hearts. We are such different people that at times it feels like we’ll never be unified. We’ll both always find ourselves compromising, but not terribly happy about it. Why should we live like that? God has ordained this marriage and blessed us with children. It’s understandable that we should be in agreement, 100%, on some of the very important things in our lives.

I admit that the day that prayer came to my mind, the audacity of it nearly knocked me over. I felt like I asked God to turn apples and oranges into pears. It was ridiculous. But God is a miracle worker! He loves it when we bring our big, audacious prayers to Him. He loves it when we believe strongly enough in the power and might of GOD to trust that miracles can actually happen. And what a beautiful prayer! In hindsight it’s seems silly that I was afraid to pray it, but it was wild.

I’m not writing that I think married couples should agree on everything all the time. We are individuals for a reason and it’s good to have some diversity. But there are some big issues that it’s really helpful to agree on. For example, basic parenting practices, what church to attend, and how much time to spend with your extended family.

I’ve come to believe that unity is possible. It doesn’t mean one person gives up everything so they can pretend to agree with the other person. It’s possible for God to so radically change each one of our hearts that we truly, in the very core of our beings, want the same things. At the very heart of who each of us is, we can desire the same things.

A friend of mine married a man who seemed like a good fit for her in every way, only to discover such tremendous differences after marriage that she was despondent and afraid. Over the last 10+ years, I’ve seen that couple become unified. When I spend time with them, I hear the same ideas coming from him as I do from her. Their expectations have changed, their habits and plans have changed. They’ve truly become united in their hearts. It’s been a really neat thing to see. And they’ve told me it’s been really, really hard.

I’ve seen other good friends do the exact opposite. I’ve seen them marry with grand ideas that they’re perfect for one another and want very similar things in life, only to gradually move away from one another. I’ve seen couples with tremendous chemistry and nearly identical values turn on one another in fury and attack, tearing one another to shreds. I’ve seen the shock on their faces as they emotionally limp away, trying to figure out what just happened. I’ve witnessed the devastation of divorce much too close up, heard the wails of hurt and anger. I’ve seen the stunned children whose worlds have been ripped apart while their parents struggle just to survive. It has ripped my heart to shreds too. This horror is one that I never want to experience again. If you are considering divorce and want someone to coddle you and tell you it’s okay to leave, don’t call me. You don’t want to hear what I have to say.

Divorce is not an option. I believe when we take divorce completely off the table, remove even the remote possibility of it from our minds and vocabulary, we can truly learn how to love. (There are some extreme cases where I’d advise differently, but they are too horrible to even put into words. Use your imagination, if you must.) When we allow that slightly claustrophobic, anxiety-producing realization that there is NO ESCAPE, that we are in this thing for the rest of our lives, it forces us to find a way to make it work.

No matter how mad I ever get at Rick, no matter how hurt or betrayed, unless there is some kind of true, unrepentant evil involved, we are in this together. Forever. Because we have the rest of our lives to work it out, we don’t have to have all the answers today. We don’t actually have to come to an agreement before we go to sleep tonight. Sometimes a little sleep allows us to reset and puts things back into perspective. Because we cherish our children and want to give them the best possible lives, we will work it out. We will find a way to make it through.

Marriage is hard, but we can do it.

My friend with the unified marriage didn’t sail through the first ten years with ease. She did hard, aching work to build the marriage she knew she wanted. She allowed her husband to try and fail. She humbled herself over and over again, suffering things in silence that no one speaks of openly. She went back over and over again, opening herself up to hurt and frustration because she believed in her marriage. Maybe one day she’ll allow me to tell her story from my perspective. It’s a story of God’s faithfulness to a disciplined and determined woman who wouldn’t give up.

If you’ve been through a divorce, my heart hurts for you. I’m not standing in judgment. I repeat: Marriage is Hard. When I hear the word “divorce”, I hear heart break, betrayal, and devastation. Even in the worst of situations, God can heal, restore, and make whole again. I pray that God will heal your heart and restore back to you everything that’s been taken. You are precious and loved.

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Posted on Nov 10, 2014 in Devotional, Love, Marriage, Parenting | 14 comments

Goals for Motherhood

Goals for Motherhood

I used to scream at my family a lot.  Frustration and anger overwhelmed me and I made sure everyone heard it.  I was just a kid though.  When I was an older teen, I became convicted of my bad behavior and prayed desperately for God to help me change.

Overnight God answered my prayer.  I stopped screaming and instead became very, very quiet when I got angry.  In nearly 20 years I can only think of one time that I screamed at a family member, and that was when I was on a diet and very hungry.

Then I got married.  Learning to live together and dealing with a significant amount of change in my life caused me to temporarily forget my resolve.  Screaming makes me really not like myself though, and I didn’t want my new husband to regret marrying me.  I stopped again.  No more yelling.

Then I had kids.  Sleep-deprivation and the pull of these precious children is a constant part of my life.  Dealing with a strong-willed toddler is a never-ending battle.  And let me take a moment to admit that I’m unsure about the best way to parent her, so my uncertainty probably doesn’t help.  I’m working on that.

The other morning we were trying to get ready for church and it was not going well.  We needed to be there early because I was singing a special, but despite laying everything out the night before, getting up super-early, and being as prepared as I could think to be, we were running late.  I’d actually fixed my hair for once and had makeup on, but I was sweating and about to ruin all my hard work.  We should’ve walked out the door five minutes earlier, but Rick had some last-minute delay and I hadn’t even had time to run through the song that morning.

Eliana wasn’t listening to her daddy and ran away as we were finally trying to get in the car.  My frustration was through the roof, thinking of how unprofessional it was to show up late when I needed to do a sound check and make it to the pre-worship meeting.  Eliana received the brunt of my frustration as I opened my mouth and made sure wherever she had run off to, she HEARD me call her back.  My voice rose to new levels as I screamed at her to get back here.  She’d never heard me yell like that and I achieved my goal as she ran into the room with a startled look on her face.

Immediately I regretted it.  That look on her face crushed me inside.  I switched gears fast, praising her for coming when I called and reminding her to come when mommy or daddy call.  Still shocked, she obediently nodded at me and got in the car.

I’d screamed so loud that my throat was sore and gravelly – right before I was supposed to sing.  Nice.

I shocked Rick too.  He couldn’t believe I’d yelled at our daughter like that.  I wanted to sob.  I explained to him how important it is for me to be on time when I’m responsible for something and others are waiting on me.  I apologized for yelling and told him I know that’s not the right way to handle my frustration.

Eliana moved on quickly and was happily chattering away in the back, but I felt awful.  I kept thinking about the words to the song I was about to sing, blessing the name of God, in contrast to my angry outburst.  [Big sigh.]

I spent the morning apologizing to Eliana, hugging her, and trying to make up for it.  I begged God for forgiveness as I drank hot beverages to try to soothe my throat.  I felt the sting of what I’d done as I tried to deliver a smooth, beautiful song in spite of my scratchy vocal chords.

As a result of my outburst, I started working on a list of goals for motherhood.  I’m sure the list will be grow and change as the children grow and change, as I grow and change.  But here’s the first draft.

  1. Speak quietly and calmly, responding to situations rather than reacting. If I do react negatively, calm myself quickly and apologize.
  2. Read the Bible regularly and pray.  Keeping my eyes on Jesus helps me to meet my other goals.
  3. Greet my children with a smile – even if it’s in the middle of the night and I’m exhausted and they haven’t been sleeping. Let them know they light up my life!
  4. Kiss my children and tell them I love them when they wake up in the morning and before they go to bed. Kiss them many other times throughout the day too.
  5. Love their daddy and let them see it. Tell him I love him in front of them, and let them see my love for him in my eyes and actions.
  6. Speak highly of their daddy to my children. Tell them how handsome, successful, wise, and strong he is.  Tell them they should be like him if they can.
  7. Take care of myself – go to the bathroom when I need to (seriously), brush my teeth, eat healthy meals, exercise, shower, etc.  Don’t let the everyday needs of the children keep me from taking care of MY everyday needs.
  8. Speak highly of our family:  grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to my children. Facilitate a love-relationship between them. They need all the love they can get.  Who else will take care of them if I’m not around?
  9. Encourage my children to be one another’s best friends. Teach them to work out problems and be kind.  Deal with fighting and meanness swiftly and strongly.
  10. Keep it simple. When they get new toys, put away an equal number of old toys.  Give away or sell extras.  Don’t let a bunch of crap accumulate and junk everything up.  Rotate toys and books out of circulation and bring them back later. This keeps the mess at bay and keeps things interesting for them.

That’s what I have for now.  I know it sounds a little nuts to make it a goal to go to the bathroom, but you wouldn’t believe how busy you get as a mom.  You can forget that your child won’t suffer if you put him or her down for a few minutes and let them fuss so you don’t overtax your bladder!  And even my children appreciate it when I don’t take time to brush my teeth and put on some deodorant!

I’d love to hear your goals for motherhood/parenting!  What do you struggle with?  Share them in the comments section below.  Maybe it’ll inspire me to modify my list.

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Posted on Oct 10, 2014 in Devotional, Love, Marriage | 2 comments

The Secret of the Successful Marriage?

The Secret of the Successful Marriage?

 

She was lovely – younger than her years with a glowing complexion, athletic build, and stylish outfit.  Her smile was warm and genuine.  But she was troubled.  I was on staff as the church’s women’s pastor and although I was significantly younger than her and never married, she shared her heart with me.  She’d been married a long time.  She’d raised a family, been active with her husband in church, and trusted the life they’d built together.  Her world was rocked when she discovered he’d betrayed their covenant.  Reconciliation was not possible.  It was beyond shocking – to her, her children, and the community.

Several years had passed since the divorce and she had done some hard work to heal her torn and battered soul.  She had taken the tatters that remained and allowed God to stitch her life into something beautiful.  She became a minister to others. A broken healer.

She wanted to know if she might marry again, find that something she’d been missing all her life.  She longed for a companion to share her golden years with.  As we spoke about it, she said something that has stuck with me ever since.  It was one of those nuggets that I wanted seared into my brain.  I never want to forget her words.

Her marriage had not been perfect.  It had, in fact, been wrought with pain and disappointment.  She shared a few painful details, ways he’d hurt her beyond imagination in their younger years.  As I heard her tales, I thought about how the person you commit your life to has such power to cause pain, to destroy confidence, to emotionally crush.

I wondered aloud how a person can continue to open themselves up to someone whose insecurities can cause so much burning pain. 

She told me she’d shut down.  She’d made a decision to maintain some emotional safety while continuing to go through the motions of a life together.  Cruel words had driven her into the shadows of their marriage, withdrawing and building walls around her heart.

But that hadn’t kept her safe.  She’d dreamed he would notice the distance and pursue her heart; try to make it right.  He didn’t.  He responded to her retreat by retreating further from her.  His distance led to even more distance from her.  At the end of their marriage they’d become little more than mildly combative roommates.  As an objective outsider I could see that the whole mess was caused by fear.

She quietly choked out the words:  “He deserved my withdrawal, but I think I should’ve found a way to forgive him and move past it.”

I was stunned by her humility.

I’ve never forgotten it

As I move closer to my third year of marriage, I can tell you that even if you marry the nicest, kindest, most giving person in the world – that person will still hurt you.  It’s most often unintentional, but when you allow someone that close to your heart, the pressure can become so great that it becomes pain.  Rick and I have hurt one another.  Even with the best of intentions.  Often with eyes wide in shock that the other person reacts in such a way to what we have said or done.  And a few times we may have even caused a little pain on purpose.

I can be sensitive and emotional.  He can say things that are insensitive.  I can be sharp and demanding.  He can be naïve and critical.  We are far from perfect.  There have been times when I’ve battled my emotions, feeling my spirit try to curl up into a tight ball inside, trying to protect the tender places.

Her words have come back to me.
            Find a way to move past it.  Forgive, forgive, forgive. 

Not only forgive, but force the tight ball to uncurl.  Go so far as to expose the tender places again, knowing you may feel searing pain again.

Expose them anyway.

I’ve struggled with that concept.  What do I do with the pain, Lord?  And what do I do if it happens again and again and again?  Is there a limit?

God answered me:
IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO PROTECT YOURSELF.
Give it to ME.
I’m your protector.
If you hide your heart in Mine, I will keep your heart safe.
I will heal you.

Has God allowed those tender places to be exposed because He needs me to toughen up?  Maybe He has things for me to do outside this home and family that I can’t handle if I don’t build some muscle where the soft belly of need currently is.

I don’t know the answer, but I’m trying to figure it out.

I suspect that the most successful marriages are the ones where people decide to stay open, to keep their tender places exposed, to risk the pain.  The most successful couples pursue one another when the other draws away.  They challenge their fear and intentionally seek out the love they want from their spouse.

Happy MarriageHere’s the question that drives the point home for me:
            What does curling up inside accomplish anyway? 

In my mind I see the lovely woman who lost her dreams and is finding herself again.  How many times would she have had to forgive her husband and try again?  Possibly hundreds, thousands even.

He may have changed as a result of her example and cherished her more for it.

He may have had an affair anyway.

Even if he had thrown her love away, the end could have been the same.  God was waiting ~ either way ~ to stitch her back together again into something exquisitely beautiful.  

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