Sunday, February 27, 2011

Choosing Contentment

In just a little over a day, another month will have passed us by and a new one will begin. My statement and hope about November being "new beginings" didn't quite turn out ANYTHING like I expected.  With that in mind, I am a bit hesitant to think about the coming month in terms of new beginnings.  I'm not even one that jumps on the bandwagon of making New Year's resolutions.  I've been bit.  I've been stung. I don't want my hopes dashed and I don't want disappointments. 

However, as much as I am trying to push the thought of "new beginnings" out of my mind since that brings up painful memories, I keep coming back to it.  I am ready.  I am ready to be vulnerable and ask God for those new beginnings again.  I am looking forward to March being "our" month----our month for fresh starts. 

Hopefully, (can you hear the begging and pleading in my voice!!!!) the weather will begin to improve and winter will begin to slip into the background and spring will bloom in it's place.  We've probably had less than 10 days in the last 3 months that we didn't have significant snow on the ground.  The sun shining has been at a premium and on those days I've literally had mesh marks imprinted on my forehead from pressing my face against the back door screen soaking it in. 

With the hope of spring comes the feeling of renewal.  I am so past being ready for that physically, emotionally, and most importantly spiritually.  There is no doubt that our list of difficulties and heartbreak has been overwhelming.  Unfortunately, we are not alone.  Some of my dearest friends are battling hard times, but they TOO are pressing onward. 

The common thread?  CONTENTMENT.  Contentment is a CHOICE.  It's waking up every morning and truly thanking God for the blessings He has provided.  It's looking far beyond what we see that is lacking and focusing on what we do have.  It's about looking beyond the circumstances and looking inward.

Contentment is often robbed by unmet expectations, dashed dreams or unfulfilled hopes. Yet, contentment is our choice. Do we focus on our circumstances or on God?

I KNOW how easy it is to focus on those unmet expectations and unfilfilled hopes.  On my worst days, the ones that depression creeps back in and wants to make my heart and mind it's home, the commonality is the fact that I've focused my eyes on circumstances instead of God.  It's easy to do.  As a matter of fact, it IS the EASY thing to do.   Those are the days that EVERYTHING falls apart.  Murphy's Law takes over.

The days that are the best, the ones that my heart feels most complete are the ones that I've kept my focus TRULY on Christ.  My eyes are connected to His and I'm not looking down at the water to see if I'm going to sink.    Even after all this time, that is STILL hard to do.  Even though EVERYTHING in me KNOWS that without a doubt----I still lose that focus. 

Perhaps, March would be better suited to be a month of "new growth".  Isn't that what new beginnings REALLY are?  We are praying that March brings answers to some tough decisions we are trying to make----ones that have no clear cut answer.   We are seeking to reconnect our battered faith and connecting to each other in more powerful ways.   We are puposely seeking to stop comparing ourselves to others and being CONTENT with what we have and what we are blessed with.  We are seeking to proactively work together to heal wounds, build bridges, and break down walls.   We, together as a family and individually, are trying to retrain our minds to focus our eyes on God in EVERY circumstance. 

Many days I've told the kids that today may not be a good day in regards to the fact that I'm physically struggling or that my heart was really broken but that I was CHOOSING to move forward.  I want them to see that though I am struggling in their eyes, that I am relying on God to carrying me through until my feet are on solid ground again.  What better tool could they learn first hand?   If we are constantly surrounded by good circumstances, how would our faith ever grow?  Hopefully we are learning together that contentment comes from our faith in God and not by our circumstances. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

B90 Challenge Update: Perspective Changes Everything

Last summer I participated in the Bible in 90 Days Challenge and I've said many times on this blog that it was truly life changing.  Today marks the half-way point of doing it the second time around (started the first week of January).

Going into the challenge this time, I wasn't for sure what to expect.  Would it be life-changing again?  Would it be boring?  Would my attitude be "been there, done that" or "let's just get it over with"?  Remember, I promised honesty when I started blogging!  Those were some of my thoughts. 

Now that I'm officially half-way and have stayed on track this time, I can answer that question.  It has been worth every minute I have spent.  Last time, it was about finishing the challenge for the first time.  It was about doing something I had never done....reading the Bible cover to cover, in order.  This time around, it has been less of a struggle.  I know generally what is coming next since I've already done it and it has been fairly recent.  I'm not sitting back wondering if I'm actually going to get it done or if I'll quit since I already know it's possible to accomplish.  I already knew what changes I would have to make to my daily schedule/daily life to make sure that the reading got completed.  "Those" issues and concerns were out of the way. 

What I have discovered is that I now CRAVE those words.  I am finding more excitement to dig into God's word EVERY day.  It has been a soothing comfort to a heart that has been so broken.  My perspective about SO many things has changed dramatically.  Not only because of the many losses we've experienced (Dad's death, the loss of our unborn child, financial loss, loss of family relationships, loss of "security" and trust in others and other huge dings to our faith), but just because I'm seeing the world in a different way.  Right now, it's not a secret that I'm still in that questioning stage of why things happen, what God needs us to learn, and where he is asking us to go from here.  Because my heart is so deep in that asking stage, the answers are POPPING off the page. 

Today those of us that began this challenge together are finishing up Psalm.  The last several days of reading through Psalm has been truly eye-opening for me.  I have read those words MANY times through the years, but it as if I've been reading them for the first time.  I'm finding "myself" in the words more than EVER.  There are constant words of comfort.  Many times I feel as if I could have written a particular chapter myself.  So many times David felt alone, abandoned, heart broken, deep in despair.  YET HE PRAISED GOD!  I have carried that same attitude through all of our trials and will continue to do so, EVEN WHEN IT IS HARD!  It is also comforting to see when the authors were angry and lashed out.  It was also a unique experience to be feeling so many of the same raw emotions of Job when reading through that book. 

Perspective changes everything.  God's word never changes.  Those same truths were there many years ago and will still be there in the years to come.  It's when our hearts change that we begin to see things differently.  We all have the choice to let horrible situations harden our hearts or we can choose to fight the building up of walls.  I want to curl up in my little hole in the corner of the world many days and throw my hands up and say this fight isn't worth fighting.  However, I made the choice to keep on trusting God no matter how many curve balls have been thrown at my faith. 

Perspective is just a matter of being where you are at the moment.  Today the kids and I were talking about the weather.  We are jumping up and down with excitement to be in the upper 40s.  Even though snow is EVERYWHERE and still deep in places, we have the windows open!  It feels that warm to us right now!  We are embracing it.  A few months ago as summer was ending, these temps would have sent us back in the door scrambling to find coats!  Perspective.  

I originally decided to rejoin this challenge to just give me something specific to focus on every day.  I originally just needed SOMETHING stable, something normal to do.   I just wanted to be faithful and consistent when very little in my life falls into that category right now.  God has taken that act of faith and obedience and is using it to reshape me into the mother, wife, friend, and servant that He has designed.  I'm not sure where that will lead me or how that person will look in the end, but I'm willing to be along for the ride.  So far, the journey has been worth it.  Change is never easy.  Reshaping is usually never without effort or even pain.  Most often, the results are well worth it. 

The words of Mercy Me's song Word of God Speak (which is one of the songs that plays on this blog), says my thoughts so much better than I ever could.

I'm finding myself at a loss for words

And the funny thing is it's okay

The last thing I need is to be heard

But to hear what You would say

Word of God speak

Would You pour down like rain

Washing my eyes to see

Your majesty

To be still and know

That You're in this place

Please let me stay and rest

In Your holiness

Word of God speak

I'm finding myself in the midst of You

Beyond the music, beyond the noise

All that I need is to be with You

And in the quiet hear Your voice

Thankful today for the times that I have been unable to speak, but yet have finally been finding myself again by being in the midst of Him.  In the quiet, I've been hearing his voice again and it's been a beautiful, welcomed sound. 

"My Girls"

My precious husband gave me a treasured gift on Valentine's day.  We typically don't exchange gifts on this particular holiday beyond a well chosen card.  Originally, I guess the tradition came from not being able to spare any money from the budget.  Eventually it became the realization that we normally do so well expressing our love on every other day that we didn't need to fall into the consumer trap of "spend".  I've always encouraged him to NEVER buy flowers on any holiday.  Why pay triple the price for something, EVER?  We SURE learned that lesson when making the mistake of "blindly" ordering a dozen pink roses to celebrate the birth of Adriana.  It just so happened to be that she was born ON Mother's Day and that bill shocked me WAY more than the hospital bill! 

This gift he gave me is priceless.  It's something that will quickly become one of my "treasures".  I'm VERY sentimental and though I know better than to get attached to physical items, I still do.  I am one of those that still cries at most every Hallmark commercial and have been known to have tears pouring down my face just shopping for cards. 

Unfortunately, when he gave me this gift, my reaction was FAR from what he expected.  To be honest, it wasn't the reaction I was expecting.   Instead of hugs and kisses, he was met with a much different response.  He was the recipient of outrage, heart break, and a breakdown of epic proportions.  Though I didn't throw myself down on the ground kicking and screaming like a 2 year old having been told "no" in a toy store, the result was the same.  It was embarrassing to say the least.  NOT my most glorious moment for sure!

The gift he gave was so completely out of the box.  It wasn't anything like a typical Valentine's Day gift.  When he came home with that Hallmark bag, I was pretty giddy with anticipation.  I mean, could he EVER go wrong with ANYTHING in Hallmark? 

The gift:

It is a beautiful gift.  The heart that gave it to me is even more treasured.  Unfortunately, neither one of was prepared for the outpouring of emotions it would bring.  I know that Kevin chose it for me with such love and pride. 

Loss.  It's an ugly 4 letter word.  It creates emotions that just can't be contained at times.  Seeing his gift and my brain expecting something "romantic" in the traditional sense, but instead it screamed "LOSS".  Grief.  It's an unspeakable journey, especially when it's deepened with so many other layers that we are having to deal with outside the normal. 

This particular Willow Tree is entitled "MY GIRLS:  Looking at you, I see wonder, joy, strength".  For anyone that has read my post specifically about Dad or anyone that has talked to me about his final hours, knows that my most treasured memory is how he held my sister's and my hands to his chest and kept saying "my girls" in his final hours.  Kevin saw this gift and KNEW he had to buy it so I would have a physical reminder of that beautiful moment.  Bless his heart, he REALLY did buy me an unbelievable treasure and I love him so much for the thoughtfulness.  I just SO wish I could turn back time and give him a different reaction.  I know he did NOT plan on it being a moment that brought me such pain.  Grief does that.  You just never know when "those" moments are going to come.

This beautiful depiction of a Dad looking down at his two daughters and the girls looking up at him is beautiful.   I searched to see what the artist had written or said about the making of the piece.  I wanted to know the background.  Though Kevin didn't know the story when he bought it beyond the fact that he knew it would mean so much to me, he couldn't have bought anything anymore PERFECT!  She said in her description of creating that piece that her goal was to show the DUALITY of the roles.  She wanted it to depict a sentiment that could be read from either perspective---father to daughters or daughters to father.  She wanted to show that the girls looked to him for his strength and stability, but yet wanted it to show how he looked to them as his great source of joy.  She wanted it to show "my Dad can do anything" attitude of the girls and to show the reassuring love he had to give. 

Thank you Kevin.  Thank you for such a treasure.  Thank you for something that I will forever hold close to my heart.  Thank you for such a beautiful physical reminder of what an amazing father I had.  Though initially it reminded me of all I had lost and brought about such raw more time goes on I will see the blessing of it more and more.  For now, it's an emptiness that can't be filled.  With time, my perspective will change and I will always have this reminder of not only that precious memory of his last loving gesture, but also of the entire life he gave me.  Thank you for showing me such love and thoughtfulness.  You are a TRUE treasure! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Blank Canvas

Back  in this post  at the end of November, I talked about how at the start of the month we had embraced the month of November and were expecting it to be an amazing month for our family.  I talked about how we had a large dry erase board beside the entry to our garage.  On that board, I had left a message to Kevin about that excitement of November being "our month" for new beginnings after the losses we had experienced.  It was just a few short days later that we had our world turned further upside down with the shocking diagnosis that Dad had advanced cancer.  It also was filled with notes of love, encouragement, and the day to day scheduling of "life". 

As the days went on, I chose to keep that reminder on our wall.  I just couldn't bring myself to erase it.  Part of me was afraid that if I did, it would signal anger at God or even that I had given up hope that he would be healed.  Then after his death, I just couldn't do it.   To erase it felt like I was erasing that part of my life.

Last Wednesday I had another one of those "breakdowns", just generally speaking a very hard day.  Kevin and I usually lead the 3rd graders at 607 (our church mid-week program).  Knowing I just wasn't emotionally ready to be with 25+ 9 year olds, I stayed home and Kevin took care of the class.  In that quiet, solitude with no one around, I did it.  I erased it all.  It was emotional.  It was hard.  Yet, it was peaceful. 

Now we have this....
It's a blank slate.  Ready to be filled.  Waiting for life to continue on, just in a different direction.  Our notes of love, encouragement, crazy--goofiness, busy schedules.....everything can fill it back up again.  The question is will our lives be different?  Yes.  The question is how will our lives fill up that space in a PROFOUND way.  There is normally a header at the top that says:  Live, Love, Laugh, SIMPLIFY.  That was MY reminder to take a deep breath each day and to soak it in.  Moments are fleeting.  I ALREADY knew that, but NOW I know it in a much more powerful way.  I have yet to decide what the header will be now.  Maybe it will be our word for the year:  Purpose.  We are attempting to make EACH and EVERY action we take purposeful.  Maybe it will be faith and family.  Those two words speak volumes about the way we live our lives.  I don't know yet what will fill our blank canvas, but I pray that we always stop to take the time to make sure that each and everything that we do lifts each other up, binds our family together, builds our faith, and is a purposeful action.  Putting all those things together will transform a blank canvas into a beautiful work of art. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Clinging to the Rock

Hello?  Blog world, are you still there? 

I can't possibly count all the times I've intended to write a blog, sat down to blog and the words didn't come, or the times that I attempted to blog and someone needed something else at the moment. 

I'll be the first to admit, I'm also just not "myself" these days.  I've been following a blog over the last two weeks of a man that has just experienced the most unspeakable pain of loss.  Though many things he has said have touched me so deeply, it was these words that seem to resonate with me the most. 

"This house already feels like a shell, an empty reflection of what it once was. I've had this same feeling every time I looked at myself in a mirror over the past 3 days. I just didn't recognize the man who was looking back. He seemed familiar, but not quite the same as what it felt like he should look like."

I think that is where I am.  I'm still moving forward and doing my best to keep the train from derailing and keeping our family on track as much as possible.  However, when I look in the mirror I just don't recognize the reflection looking back.  She, too, seems familiar, but just not quite what I am expecting to see.  There is still such a disconnect with who I am at this moment and who I expected to be.  There is such a gap between what I am and what people see.  There is still this unbelievable turmoil of what I am feeling and what I think I should be feeling.

Anyone that really knows me, KNOWS I love to write and I'm not short with words.  Many have been recipients of the short note that turned into a novel.  Blogging has been an incredible outlet of expression over the last year.  However, right now.....the words are still trapped in my head.  Many more words are ready to be written, but because I feel like I have to censor them or tweak them to sound "acceptable"....they just stay where they are.  They continue to be stuck in the brain of someone that is notorious for over thinking and they are so jumbled together that it's going to take some major unraveling and sorting to get them free-flowing again.

Though I LOVE and cherish ALL THINGS related to family, homeschooling, crafting, and everything related to keeping our family going....that is not what I intended for my blog to be.  I LOVE to read those type of blogs, it just not what I set out to write.  My last several blogs have been "fluff" in my opinion.  That is as far as I could get......

You see...I'm changed.  My view of the world has changed.  My heart is changed.  I'm still not recognizing the reflection in the mirror. 

I haven't blogged also out of the fact that the world has moved on.  No one really wants to hear about Dad anymore.  There are few that are truly concerned about where we are in this journey.  I accept that and that is OK.  However, the journey is still VERY real for us.  In many ways, it's truly just beginning the hard parts.  Many normal/average days have passed on the calendar without "real" holidays, but those same days have held some very tough "firsts" or "anniversaries" of huge things to us, but insignificant to most. 

Some of you know that the changes in me and turmoil have come from many other directions than JUST the emotions and grief from Dad's illness and death.  That in itself is enough to break a person, but when you add all the many other layers of situations that we are dealing with it becomes easy to understand why many days I just beg for MERCY! 

The main thing to know is that though I am still trying to reconnect the reflection I see in the mirror with the reality of who I really I am. I'm still here.  I'm still hanging on.  I still believe and trust in God above all else.  Yes, I spend many sleepless nights and have some very real breakdowns begging Him to explain MANY things.  I admit my faith has been shaken very hard, but it's not gone.  Right now, I'm just looking through grief filled eyes.  I'm struggling with finally having to deal with garbage from growing up and weeding through what is truth, what God expects of me, and where I have to let go and let him.  All we've been through in recent months has reopened some wounds that left deep scars and trusting in God to heal those is hard when your faith isn't as strong as it was.  However, that faith is there.  It's still carrying me.  God's word and His promises are sustaining.  Truth drowns out lies and darkness.  It just takes a little longer to truly penetrate. 

Many, especially those that know all the things we are battling, have still said they can't believe how I'm keeping it all together.  I admit, I'm tired of being strong.  I'd give anything for someone else to have to be the strong one and let me just collapse.  However, because of the role I'm in as a can't just do it.  You can't just lay down and let the world go by.  Teresa and I talked during the first week after we had Dad's full diagnosis and the news of the reality of how big of a battle we had to face, about how for years we had talked the talk and now we had to walk the walk.  We talked about how eyes were going to be on us  to see how we handled such a heavy burden.  Those eyes would be innocent eyes of our children or even eyes of those struggling to find their own paths with Christ.  Because those type eyes were watching us, we were going to have to keep our eyes FULLY focused on the ONLY one that could CARRY us when we could no longer walk, breathe, or talk.  THAT focus has been the only thread of ANY of the sanity I've had.  When I lose that focus, I fall....and I fall hard.  When I maintain that focus, I may slip...but HE always catches me. 

So for now, I retreat again.  I retreat back inward while I once again try to regain my focus on the ONE that matters.  THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER of MY FAITH.  He still has chapters left to write and though I'm having to go back and reread some painful ones that I thought I would never have to, it's OK.  He knows the beginning, the middle, and the end.  He knows all of the edits and rewrites.  He knows the chapters that got written and ripped out of the book...but he KNOWS the finished project.  HE will get me through to the ending and will give me a story worth reading. 

Chad, the author of the blog I mentioned earlier also wrote some powerful words about having no choice but to make the only choice that matters.  I, too, am making the choice that matters.  CLINGING to GOD when I don't feel like I have an ounce of energy left.  Clinging to Him when I can't even form words in prayer or when I can't even unjumble my own thoughts.  Clinging to Him when everything seems too uncertain and painful. 

"What you've seen in me over the past few days has little to do with being a strong and vibrant Man of Faith.   I am a man who feels like all this world held for him has been stripped away, leaving him standing cold and naked, with two choices:  cling to the Rock or let go.  I have no choice.  I must cling to the Rock.  All else is misery, selfish humanity, and destructive despair."

I feel that same stripping away.  I'm cold and exposed.  I choose to cling to the rock as well.  There is NO other choice.