Sunday, October 27, 2013

For His Goodness

Earlier this year, my best friend moved from our very northern state to the most southern state.  I didn't feel too abandoned.  After all, we were the first to leave our small town.  We just didn't move so far.

In our many conversations about moving, she looked to me for advice and encouragement.  I often felt inadequate to give either one, at least positive advice or encouragement. After all, we had moved in part because of necessity, but certainly at the call of God to go.  They were going out of desire.  They were choosing this move with arms wide open.  Paradise was calling.  And as I looked around at my life a year and a half after our move, it seemed anything but paradise.

It was loneliness.

It was discouragement.

It was the daily wondering, "Why are we here?".

I wanted to be of value to her during this exciting time, but I felt too disillusioned by my own experience to count for anything.

But this is one thing I remember saying, truth from the very depths of my own experience, my own walk with God over the past 15 years.

There are times when God blesses you so much.  You're so overwhelmed by his goodness, how he pulls everything together, making a beautiful picture puzzle of all the details.  You get that desire of your heart.  You're pinching yourself because things are too good to be true.  Enjoy those moments fully.  Praise him because he is being so good to you.

But then there are the times when none of the puzzle pieces seem to fit.  The details of life don't lend themselves to the big picture you imagined.  Every day is just hard.  Or just monotonous.  Or just confusing.  The desires of your heart are seemingly beyond reach.  Or maybe you've even forgotten what they are.  Even in these times, God is still good.  Even these times are his perfect love toward us.  These are the times our roots go down deep and make us stronger, even when our leaves seem to be withering like the last days of autumn.  Even in these times, we praise Him because he is good.  We praise him as we walk by faith.

And it's those hard times that make the good times so much better.

I remember how faithful and good God was when he fit all the pieces together for us to move.  Our house sold.  Our new house, he saved for us til we could buy it.  There were so many steps along the way that showed his hand in our lives and in the great change we were going through.  Six months later, reality set in.  I knew it would.  It was over a year before we made our first real, close friends.  So many things have not been easy or fallen into place.

But there have been the glorious moments of God's goodness among the more subtle ones.  Right now, we embrace one of those moments.  We try to live fully in the day we are given as we go to places we've never gone and see faces we've missed.   We embrace these moments even as we pray to embrace the ones we will return to. The ones not so sunny, not so exciting, yet still full of the goodness and love of God.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Strengthen Your Arms

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was at the point of wanting to quit homeschooling.  I reserved the rest of the story for another blog post. This blog post.

I've been able to reflect on some of the factors that brought me to that place where I just wanted to quit. Deep inside, I didn't want to give up. I love that I get to homeschool my kids.  I even knew I wouldn't give up.  I can't fathom placing my children in any other kind of school at this time.  It would just be wrong.  For no other reason than this: God has called me to do it.  It's not just something I do when it's fun and I'm seeing how it benefits us.  It's obedience to the mission and ministry God has given me.  To not do this would be wrong.

That's why it felt so much worse, so desperate a situation.  My will to do it was diminishing.  When I looked toward the future, I dreaded doing it day after day after day. I feared that every one of those days would be like the ones I had been experiencing lately.

There were some decidedly selfish and immature attitudes going on.  There was fighting.  Tempers got lost, including my own.  Tears were shed.  Everything, everyone felt like a lost cause.

But this was just the way it all manifested itself.  Here were some of the deeper issues going on inside me:

The two-year "anniversary" of our move had arrived.  And along with it came the discouragement, loneliness, confusion, depression, and lots of other tough feelings to swallow.  What are we doing here?

It was the weekend and Josh had to work, so I was alone a lot.

I hadn't exercised in a few days and I was eating way too much of the food my body doesn't like.

My blood sugar would spike, then drop.  No doubt some hormones were involved in this whole mess.

I wondered, do I need some medication to help me?  Because nothing seems good right now. Nothing.

Monday was just an awful day of school.  It was then that I began to vocalize that I just had no will to do this anymore.  I don't want my relationship with my children to be signified by this angst we have about math or by fighting with them to get their school work done.  I start to see all the ways I'd be a better mom and have a better relationship with my children if we weren't together all the time.  I'd get to greet them with cookies after school and let the teachers deal with their bad attitudes and laziness.  It sounded heavenly.

And yet, so wrong.

When I finally had the chance to get it all out with Josh, I was feeling a little calmer, a little more rational.  But I still went to bed depressed.

Things got better the next few days, probably because Josh was home and  helping to share the load. And things are just right when he's here.  It gave me some breathing room and time to come down from my ledge.

One of the major factors in this whole situation was that I wasn't taking care of myself.  I had skipped some days of exercise. I was eating too much carbohydrate, which makes me feel tired, cranky, and frustrated with myself when the effects on my blood sugar hit.  My time on the treadmill is decompression time. It's my time to either zone out to some great music, or pound out all the thoughts in my head and make sense of them.  Many of my blog posts are sorted out and "written" while I run.  It's where God so often speaks to me and makes things clear.  If I'm feeling "off" emotionally, and I can't figure out why, I usually have by the time I'm off the treadmill.  The exercise is just as much for my mental health as my physical.

I'm alone a lot. I'm an introvert, so I'm recharged by being alone, but I also need people.  I need other women in my life- sometimes to bare my soul, sometimes just for a good laugh and a cup of coffee.  When too many days go by and I haven't connected with someone, I start bearing more burdens than I'm meant to. Fellowship helps me unload the stuff that's too heavy to carry alone or at all.

It is really, really hard to prioritize taking care of yourself.  First, who has the time to exercise and plan a healthy menu?  And then, who has the money to buy all the special foods you need on all these new diets?  And, isn't it selfish?  Isn't me-time pretty much taboo?  Die to yourself, mama.  Your life is not your own.  Don't grow weary in doing good.  Don't let that candle go out at night and rise up early to take care of your household.

I get up every morning and all I want is a cup of coffee and my Bible.  I groan at the thought of putting on my sneakers and exercising.  It's tough, but when I get up really early and have a house full of peace and quiet, it is so worth it.  I get the recharging I need for a new day because I'm alone and uninterrupted.  I warm up to the idea of working out and feel that I have plenty of time to do it before school begins.  I feel fantastic by the time I hit the shower because I have taken care of me AND I'm running on schedule, ready to take care of my family for the rest of the day.

But then there are the days I sleep in a little and I have my coffee and my time with the Lord and I look at the clock and I just don't think I have enough time to exercise.  I'm running behind and I like to run on schedule.  Type A? I don't know, what am I?  My husband says I'm an ISTJ.  So I always ask him which letter of my personality is operating when I'm ticked off because we're not on schedule.

But the bottom line is that I need to take care of myself and it needs to be a priority.  Perhaps it's wrong that so much of my mental well-being rides on my diet and physical activity.  But taking care of myself pays huge dividends when it comes to my outlook on life and my ability to care for the ones God has given me.  I take care of me by reading my Bible and praying each day.  But let me be honest, it doesn't make my day better.  It doesn't make the kids stop fighting or the dishwasher snap out of it's funk of not working when I want it to.  It doesn't change the reality of life spent at home and the ensuing mess, chaos, and crumbs!  I do this every morning because it slowly, imperceptibly changes me.  And I am a weak and weary mama most days who's only strength comes by the grace of God, building me up line upon line, precept upon precept.

I've been exercising faithfully for over six months now.  Let me debunk a few myths.  You don't have more energy when you start exercising.  Not right away.  It took several months for my energy levels to rise.  One day I realized I wasn't completely exhausted in the afternoon.  At first, you'll probably feel terrible.  You'll be so tired it won't seem worth it. You'll especially be tired if you're limiting your calories too much or eating the wrong foods (you figure out what those are for your body.  It's different for each of us).  I've lost some weight and lost some love handles, but I've found that eating too little has it's disadvantages.  I need fuel to get through every day without crashing.

When I began working out, I was part of challenge group, and one of our assignments was to figure out our "why" for  eating better and working out and share a picture that represented it.  That was a tough one for me.  There wasn't a celebrity body I wanted to look like.  I didn't want to run a 5K.  I just wanted the energy and strength to do what God had called me to do.  The verse from Proverbs 31: 17 came to mind. I love all the versions of it:

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.  NiV

She is energetic and strong; a hard worker.  NLT

She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.  NASB

She draws on her strength and reveals that her arms are strong.  Holman

The Proverbs 31 woman is an elusive ideal, but the heart of this woman is that she did well the things  God called her to do.  Taking care of her family, servants, and property required strength, in more ways than one.  She took the time to make her arms strong. She had strength to draw on.

I need that too. That is why I exercise and make the attempts I do to eat well.  It benefits my family, and that's not selfish.

I've discovered in the past few months that taking care of myself is something only I can do.  It can't wait til tomorrow, my husband can't do it for me.  It's my responsibility alone.  When I neglect to, I find myself spiralling down an emotional black hole, with Oreos and Cheez-Its my only companions.

So the purpose of sharing this is several-fold.  

To tell you I'm weak.  I'm frail.  I'm desperate most days.  Maybe you are too.

And it's okay to be.

That's why you've got to take care of yourself, Mama.  Mrs.  Miss.  You've got to.

There are people who love you and need you and they'll probably be thrilled to see you take some time and a little money to strengthen your own arms.  They can't do it for you, so you must do it yourself.

When you want to quit what God has called you to do, don't.   Wait. Perspective will come.  If you can, let Calgon take you away to wherever it is you'd like to go to get that perspective.  Call a friend or your sister.
Put a movie on for those crazy kids and don't feel guilty about it.  Get your hair cut (step away from the scissors! Don't do it yourself!)  Research workout videos and get one.  Just do it for a few weeks and don't worry about eating less, just better.  Chuck your schedule (if called into question, I never, ever actually said that) and steal whatever time you can to do something you enjoy. Carve out some time every day. Trust that it's doing something good.

Don't believe the myths that say a good Christian woman shouldn't need anything but Jesus.  In principle, yes, it's true.  He is your all-in-all. But discover the Jesus who feasted, celebrated, laughed with his friends, climbed mountains, took time off to pray, considered the lilies and the rest of creation, and travelled the country.  And if there was coffee back then, a million bucks says he drank it.  With delight.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31