Friday, May 18, 2018

"But what if you can't hear God's answer?"



Last night, I was putting my 8-year-old to bed when she stopped me in my tracks with her questions. She was nearly naked, wearing only her underwear, her typical bedtime attire, that and an oversized square of stretchy cotton fabric that she sometimes wraps around herself. I was on night one of three of single parenting, my husband deep in the bowels of Canada, attending a men’s retreat with our church.

We’d swapped the dinner hour that evening for T-ball practice (a concept I have yet to wrap my mind around now that I am parenting olders) which is why we found ourselves “eating out” at the Costco Food Court at 7:45 PM. We had come just to buy fruit but somehow, I’d succumbed to $170 of other “essentials” that my assistants had deposited in our cart, as is prone to happen every time we visit the place. These essentials included swimwear (for the girls), dresses for a wedding we are attending TOMORROW (also for the girls - nothing like 11th hour shopping) and wine (for mama). Of course, we couldn’t try on any of the clothing there, so I was 97% positive the items would be deemed unacceptable for my eldest, who struggles with sensory challenges, upon our arrival home. Even when able to try things on before buying, 80% of them end up returned or unworn so I’ve gotten used to this routine. I was confident the dress she’d selected would be rejected as soon as it touched her body, but I bought it anyway and prayed this would be the time I would be proven wrong.

Not so.

She’d slipped into the dress a mere seconds after we walked through our door; I knew it was a no-go when I heard the sobs coming down the stairs before I’d even finished putting away our purchases. It looked adorable on her, a soft cotton number with narrow black and white stripes, cut shorter in the front with a small train in the back. She had wanted so badly for it to work but the little triangle of lace detail in the bodice was more than she could handle.

I went upstairs and assessed the situation, offered comfort and helped her transition to bed. It was getting late and we’d agreed that she had some other dress options she could wear to the wedding. I was about to leave her room after tucking her into bed when she let her frustration show. “Mom, why do I have to have sensory issues? I just want to be normal! Why does it have to be so hard to wear clothes?”

Her discouragement was palpable, and I didn’t have a great answer for her. I began rambling on about how there is really no such thing as “normal,” how we all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us unique. But she wasn’t buying it. So, I stopped for a minute to gather my thoughts before I went on.

“Well,” I told her. “Those seem like good questions to ask God. He wants to know how we are feeling and it’s okay to ask him why.”

I was feeling proud of my diplomatic and spiritual answer when she fired back at me, her frustrated tone now rising, But what if you can’t hear God’s answer?”

Gulp.

Her words hung in the air, poignant and personal, the very question with which I had been wrestling. Dang.

She stared out her bedroom window while my mind raced, searching for an answer that would satisfy her and I alike. I started talking, hoping something good would come out if I just began moving my lips. I shared with her that I often wonder the same thing – how do we really hear God? I told her that, though I’d often wished I could, I had never heard his voice audibly. Then I told her about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers, how he moves within us and can bring thoughts and words to our mind. I told her that it’s sometimes through these thoughts and words that we “hear” from God, provided we can be quiet and still long enough to listen. Then I reminded her how we have the Bible, God’s written words to us, His promises.

Her lips cracked into a tiny smile. I could tell she’d never really thought of the Bible as God’s way of speaking to us in the present before. I saw her frustration dissipate as I told her that she is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God “knit her together” in my womb. We talked about how much work knitting is and how it takes great intentionality. I reminded her that God doesn’t make mistakes and I think what I saw was a flicker of hope flashing across her face.

“What would happen if everything about us was perfect?” I asked.

She looked at me, puzzled, so I went on.

“If we didn’t face struggles and challenges, do you think we would remember to turn to God and ask for help?”

I could tell she was starting to follow my line of thought.

“As painful as it can be,” I told her, “sometimes it’s these very struggles that remind us of how much we need God.”

She had settled into her pillow and I could see her body visibly relaxing as she pondered what I had said. I prayed over her and kissed her goodnight and left her room. 

With each tidbit I had shared, I felt a small internal sting. I was saying all the "right" things but each one I uttered left me twinging with a tiny string of doubt. I gave her my head knowledge, but what is it that I actually believed in my heart? 

As I reflect on all the words that came out of my mouth last night, I realize how easy it was to tell my daughter that we don’t often receive the direct answers we long for. It was simple and straight forward to tell her to read the Bible and pray and listen. That her struggles were intended to work as a means of drawing her back to God. The words rolled off my tongue, but now I am pressed with the challenge: can I let them be true for me as well? Can I sit in my own current season where my list of questions for God feels endless, and claim His goodness? Can I be okay with persisting alongside my struggles as a means of keeping me mindful of my need for Him? I may have sounded confident and convincing last night, but the reality is that I was preaching to the choir. I, too, wonder what happens if I can't hear God's answer. What do I do when I ask and all I hear is silence?

We may not always get to “hear” an answer from God in the way we hope. In the seasons where God feels distant and silent, I pray we continue to ask and seek. I believe we are to continually bring everything before Him and wrestle in His presence. Because it’s in this simple act of coming before Him that we are reminded of our greatest need - our need for a Savior.

I still struggle immensely in the "silence." How can a God who loves me not answer immediately in a way that is audible and clear? But what He is teaching me is that if we never ask, how can we expect an answer? I have seen Him more clearly in my wrestling of late than in all the times where I presented myself as buttoned up and A-okay from the outside. 

So, don't be afraid to ask. He can handle the doubt. And don't let the fear of silence stop you. He will meet you where you are, in the most unexpected and gracious of ways. 

Our God is good this is the truth I'm choosing to cling to today.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Bravery like birds


I hug her one last time, kiss her cheek, and whisper in her ear that she’s brave. In her eyes, old tears dried at the corners, I see fear, and it pains me. I bite my lip, send up yet another silent prayer, and turn my back and walk away. I feel like a mother bird, pushing her young offspring out of the nest, wishing, hoping and praying that she will open her wings and realize she can fly.

They, the ubiquitous “they,” always say that having kids is like watching your heart walk around outside of your body and I had never understood exactly what they meant until recently. In so many ways, she’s my mini-me. We think alike, we view the world the same way, we share similar struggles. I know the feelings of fear and dread that knot in her stomach this morning, all the emotions raging within, her mind that spins with tormenting thoughts, distracting, wholly consuming.

Her goal today is to get in trouble at school. There are many things we say and do in parenting that we never anticipated. Please take that rock out of your nose. Stop licking your brother’s toes. But asking my child to break a rule? This is unchartered territory, not the advice I’m accustomed to reading in the pages of parenting books. Specifically, we’ve instructed her to disregard her classroom rules and get up, walk over to the pencil sharpener and begin sharpening her pencils during a time when her classmates are seated on the floor and listening to a lesson. She is to stand there, toying with the pencil sharpener and creating a ruckus until her teacher calls her back. This is our baby step toward facing her fear of “getting in trouble.”

It’s counterintuitive and baffling, especially for me, a fellow rule-follower to the Nth degree. She and I, we care so much about what other people think. We’ve lived our lives boxed in on all sides by the opinions of others, desiring perfection, wanting to be found satisfactory. Because alas, on most days, we catch ourselves assessing our worth as based upon what we do, what we have, and what other people think of us.

It is these chains that we are trying to break today, in days past, and in the many days to come. We are undertaking what those in the psychotherapy world would term “exposures,” instances where we intentionally face situations that make us feel most anxious. And then, equipped with “coping thoughts” and strategies, we ride the waves of emotion with the goal of coming out okay on the other side, braver, stronger, relieved and very much still alive. These exercises are a part of a new approach we are taking, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a practice that is believed to help individuals overcome anxiety, which is our obvious long-term goal.

All morning, I’ve watched her. I know exactly how she is feeling. It’s written all over her face. I know she will think of nothing else until the triggering deed is complete. I know how it will consume her, how she will think, rethink, overthink and then begin the cycle again. She will obsess over how and when she should approach the pencil sharpener. Should she jump up and run to it right away after her classmates are settled on the carpet? Should she wait until five minutes into the lesson? What if her teacher asks them to bring pencils to the carpet? What if it makes sense to go and sharpen her pencil during that time frame? Will the exposure be void? What if her teacher never asks them to go to the carpet? What if she can’t get the pencil sharpener to work? What if her teacher never calls her back from the sharpener and she stands there sharpening for 15 minutes? What will others think of her?

We rehearse and discuss all morning long. She is plagued. She cannot fathom how this pencil sharpening ordeal will go down without an eternal stamp of embarrassment tattooed across her forehead. She can’t get outside of the situation and see it for what it is. It feels so life-altering.

Experience tells me this is how the morning will go down: she will walk over to the pencil sharpener and her teacher will say a simple “Hey, can you please join us at the carpet?” And then it will be over. All this anxiety over a situation that lasted a grand total of three seconds. No “behavior slip” with her name on it. No trips to the principal’s office. Her permanent record with remain unmarred. Her teacher will still like her. She will not lose any friendships over this. Her friends probably won’t even notice that she was missing at the carpet and they most certainly won’t remember the situation in two minute’s time.

It’s easy being the outsider looking in, but to be the one experiencing it? I’ve been there countless times before and I know it’s the pits. I can hardly stand it, knowing I am pushing my child to do this. Yet I know it is for her best. How often have I obsessed over similar circumstances?

We have been attending an anxiety group “for our daughter” and meanwhile, I catch myself frantically taking notes for me. Everything they present applies to my struggles. They are highlighting all MY behaviors. They are giving voice to the way I view so many situations.
I’m like a schoolgirl on her first day of class, absorbing, inhaling information. I’ve been doing my own therapy too and it’s like all my worlds are colliding in perfect synchrony, pieces coming together and building upon each other. We learn about our inner critics, these voices that tell us we are failures, not good enough, voices that convince us everyone is paying attention and judging. We learn about positive self-talk, our own inner voice that is to replace all the negative ones. We need to create new pathways in our brains. We need to reroute our thoughts onto detours, with the goal of those detours one day becoming the new main thoroughfare. All this is taught at a child’s level, which is apparently just the level I need.

I feel EVERYTHING. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see it more clearly before. I’m mortified that it took hearing the information presented at a class intended for my child to obtain a full grasp on it. I feel entirely overwhelmed. There is so much work to do. She’s been on this earth for less than a decade and I’ve been here for over three and here we find ourselves, on the same page. I mourn the fact that I didn’t have the tools I needed earlier to combat my anxiety, that for so long I have allowed what other people think of me to govern my life. I feel responsible. It stings knowing my daughter shares my DNA, that she struggles because I struggle. I know genetics are not my fault, but it doesn’t erase how this knowledge pains me.

At the same time, I celebrate our progress. I celebrate the ways God is working in our home and family. The Holy Spirit is moving and empowering and filling our minds and teaching us the way HE views us. More than ever before, we are learning to view ourselves as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are countering our negative thoughts about ourselves. We are replacing them with words of worth. We are learning to let go of the opinions of those around us. We are breaking the rules. We are living on the edge a little. Well. The “edge” for us anyways.

And, by the grace of God, we are being pushed from the nest and realizing, Hey. We might just have wings to fly.

This, my friends, is bravery.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Too Spicy!"


It’s safe to say I might have left a few of you hanging, promising to do a blog series on feeding kids, pumping out one post and then falling radio silent on the topic. For anyone who has been waiting, thank you for hanging in there.

I set up the framework for my approach to feeding kids by outlining the Division of Responsibility in a recent post here. If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will go back and read it.

Before we get any further, I want to level the playing field. I want to assure you that I struggle with feeding my kids too. I don’t have perfect little eaters. For a brief, conceited blip in time, I thought I did (ha! keep reading), but the reality is, none of us do. Please be assured that I don’t come at this from a place of having it all together. But I certainly hope you will find my tricks and tips and insight helpful as we journey this together.

I remember my first year as a mom. I couldn’t wait for the six-month milestone to arrive so that we could dust off the high chair I’d been storing in the closet of our condo, the very first baby item I’d purchased, mere months into our pregnancy. Of course that would the first baby-related “necessity” I would come home with, despite the fact that it wouldn’t be needed for an entire year. That high chair joined our clan on one of those hormonally-charged-we-must-get-everything-ready-RIGHT-NOW days that every woman who has ever been pregnant knows well. Somehow buying a high chair, the bump around my middle barely visible, satisfied my nesting urges that day.

We welcomed our daughter, survived the sleepless nights that made up that first half-year and then it was finally time. I was eager to venture into the world of solid foods, bound and determined to raise a super eater. I was sure she was going to like everything, never complain and jump at the opportunity to try new things.

Puffy with pride and confident in my background as a dietitian, I forged ahead in feeding her. I made baby food from scratch. I seasoned her purees with cumin, chili powder, even cayenne pepper, hoping “make” my daughter like spice and heat. Regarding all those parents I heard complaining about their picky kids, well, they were obviously just doing it wrong, I thought to myself.

I must confess that in those early months, I honestly believed I was on to something. My daughter did in fact consume her spicy purees without issue. She tried everything I gave her. People complimented me on having “such a good little eater” and I took full credit for all our successes.

That is, until we hit 18 months, and everything changed.

“Too spicy!” my verbal child would suddenly wail. She began refusing foods, and not just the spicy ones. The girl who, just days prior, was eating me out of house and home, was now turning things down right and left. I immediately grew concerned. What happened? What went wrong? I felt embarrassed and ashamed that my child, the daughter of a dietitian, was showing signs of pickiness, while an audience looked on.

As it turns out, nothing went wrong with her eating. Simply put, toddlerhood happened. My daughter was merely transitioning into a new developmental phase that was completely normal, yet it caught me totally by surprise because I was unprepared.

Alas, my pride bubble burst and I was quick to learn that in fact it wasn’t my “stellar feeding skills” that landed me with such a compliant eater during that glorious first year. It was the developmental phase she was in and her personality to which I owed the credit. This second year of life brought with it new surprises and my daughter became just like all the other “picky eaters” I’d been hearing about. The only difference being that she had a cuckoo mother who was spiking her food with chiles.

Most of our “parental feeding worries” stem from incomplete or inaccurate information regarding the normal nutritional stages that our kids go through as they develop. It’s easy to get our panties in a wad, stress out, and take it as a personal failure when our kids aren’t eating the way WE think they should.
  
Have you had a similar experience with a child who suddenly grows skeptical over a previously-accepted food? Would you call your child a “picky eater?” Does your child ever get stuck on one particular food item and ask for that same one, over and over again? Does your child’s appetite seem erratic? Is he or she easily influenced by what those around him or him are eating? Does your child have a strong affinity for sweets?

Well, guess what. I have great news for you:

YOUR CHILD IS NORMAL!!!

You can breathe a sigh of relief now. Though learning that your child’s eating behaviors are normal doesn’t make them any less frustrating, I hope it will allow you to let your stress level drop a couple notches. Your child is not “too far gone” in their eating patterns. In fact, they may just be passing through a normal nutritional phase, some taking their sweet time on a more scenic route.
Be encouraged, the feeding challenges of today won’t last forever. You are just passing through.
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Stay tuned for my next post where I will dive into some normal nutritional phases in greater detail...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Eleven years



Eleven years ago, I married the man for me. Looking back now, I remember very little about our first few years together, aside from a handful of struggles that no newlywed would ever forget. There are times where I wonder, what was it that we wrestled with in the day-to-day, during that season when life seemed simpler?

It appears the size of our challenges grow as each year passes, doesn’t it? We have more responsibility now, more influence, more resources, more offspring who have joined the party. Suddenly more humans are impacted by each choice we make. For us, it’s these three adorable people that he and I created.

But it isn’t just the struggles that have increased in size. Our hearts have grown too. Hindsight reveals just how little we knew each other when we were first wed. We were just babies in love, with hardly a care in the world when we said, “I do.” Now we’ve covered more ground. We’ve seen more sides to each other. We’ve peaked at the dark nooks and the crannies and have tasted the things we’d once kept hidden. Years together will do that to you, revealing the inevitable that can only be kept concealed in the short term. The more surface area exposed, the more space there is to love and embrace one another for all that each of us are. As our struggles grow and change, so does our love for each other.

I’ve spoken into his life and helped certain areas thrive and he’s done the same for me. Pieces of us have shrunk and others have expanded. We’ve changed shape as a unit. It’s this dance that we do, an extra give here and then some take there. Sometimes we are coordinated and sway in rhythm, but oft times, even with years of experience under our belts, we are clumsy and step on each other’s toes.  

When I first envisioned marriage, I thought there would be a lot more uninterrupted, leisurely conversations and a lot less bickering over half-finished projects, who cleaned the toilets last, and whether it makes logical sense to put an area rug under our dining room table. (What, to sop up the milk spills? I’ll let you take a wild guess who stands where on that one). I pictured a lot more walks on the beach together, more romance, and that we would have the energy to pursue each other well without planning three weeks in advance. I assumed our relationship would deepen without effort, that we would grow closer naturally and not further away. I anticipated weekly date nights over weekly evenings spent in therapy. 

No, this place we find ourselves, it doesn’t look the way we imagined. It never does. But do you know what else I never foresaw? The beauty and affirmation that arrives wrapped within the embrace that follows a moment of raw vulnerability. Or the joy the stems from having a built-in best friend. Or the privilege of being my person’s number one cheerleader. The pride that comes along with having an automatic front row seat as I applaud him in his accomplishments. The immeasurable connection experienced when there is physical intimacy. Or the glow I feel, knowing I am absolutely adored. And finally, the security of commitment, of choosing to love one another, faults, shortcomings, failures and all, every single day.

These are the rich, rich gifts I never knew I would receive in marriage. 

Happy 11 years, Graham. To God be the glory! 

May our love grow evermore. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Permission Granted


Hey Girl.

Yes, You, Dear Reader.  I’m talking to You.  I have something that I want to say, a message that has been bubbling from deep within, informed by my own experience and etched upon my soul.  I tried to write about something else, but I couldn’t get You off my mind.

You are tired. So very, very weary and you can no longer keep up with all the things. You have been showing up at the appointed times. You have been checking the boxes.  Life is unfolding around you, yet you feel like you are missing it entirely. Like a spider in a toilet bowl, discarded for disposal, you are flailing frantically, a last-ditch effort to keep your head above the surface.  Any moment now, the waters will come rushing forth, swirling and spinning, and you know you won’t be able to hang on against the force.  It’s only a matter of time before you find yourself washed down, down, down.  Down to who knows where.

“Is this it?  Is this life now?”

These are the words you find yourself whispering as hope and joy feel all but a distant aspiration.  You long to experience life’s pleasures, to be present, maybe to be a little less angry.  You are frustrated by hardship, defeated by exhaustion and you just don’t want to do any of it anymore.

You’ve been showing up to all the things, saying “yes” to all the requests asked of you and now you feel bitter and unseen and overlooked.  Has anyone noticed your efforts?  Has anyone even paid attention to how many things you crossed off your list today?  You are doing-doing-doing and achieving and attempting to please all those around you but have never felt emptier.

You may not recognize it yet, but you have lived your life a prisoner to your mind.  Your mind, which tends to don a jersey in the opposing team’s color, is doing everything in its power to take you down all day long.  Thoughts torment you, telling you all the ways you aren’t measuring up.  They tell you if you don’t earn an “A” grade, you are not worthy of love.  They tell you approval is something you must work for.  They pile guilt upon guilt, eventually miles high, the gasoline that fuels you to keep on trudging ahead and doing the things that leave you bitter and weary.  They say if life isn’t hurting, then you obviously aren’t doing it right.  

I am so blessed, and I really should be thankful for all that I have,” you tell yourself, conjuring up pictures in your mind of orphans in third world countries, just as you’ve been taught.  But these words taste as sharp as acid in your mouth, ingenuine and forced.  Deep down, you are far from grateful and this feels like an unholy ugliness, something you must keep hidden.  How dare you not appreciate all the good in your life?!  And so along with a checklist of other things you “should be” feeling, you swallow your emotions, don a smile and forge on ahead. 

Each time you find yourself with a moment of quiet in your typically-chaotic days, you feel incredibly guilty.

“You really should do something productive,” the voices tell you.

“No one else is getting a break, so why should you?”

“You don’t deserve this,” they say.

Well I’m here to tell you it’s time to SHUT THOSE VOICES DOWN.  

We cannot continue to guilt ourselves out of enjoying the pleasures of life.  Some of us (and you know who you are), in the name of “hard work ethic,” have been ignoring our body’s cues, begging that we slow down and rest.  We wear our stress like badges of honor and are quick to judge those who aren’t over-worked and under-rested.  We see people around us setting boundaries to preserve their well-being and jealousy and envy turn us sour.

“Lazy,” we call them, accusingly, only because it makes us feel better about ourselves and justifies our overtaxed natures.

More recently, God has taken my former mode of operation and turned it on its head.  With outside help, I have begun to recognize that my over-committed, no-margin lifestyle wasn’t doing anyone any favors.  And the girl who once said yes to everything now, on occasion, says no.  The one who believes her measure of worth is directly correlated with her level of productivity is slowly fading.  The one who once viewed rest for the “weak and lazy” is now fighting to create moments of peaceful quiet nearly every day for the sake of her own sanity.  I am working to overcome my feelings of undeservedness because, the more I read scripture, the more I realize that the God I believe in longs for us to enjoy and experience pleasure in his good, good gifts.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-14 says “So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”

Some of you need to hear this word today. Some of you need to lower the bar for yourself at least seven notches.  Some of you need the permission to STOP.  You’ve been spending every spare moment or all the preschool hours doing and accomplishing, and your weary spirit is barely hanging on.  You’ve lost the ability to feel real joy.  You don’t know what brings you pleasure anymore.  Each time you try and do something “for yourself,” your mind races through all the things you “should” be doing instead and you end up more drained than you were to begin with.

You have permission to stop.  You have permission to pick up a book and read all afternoon long.  You have permission to not accomplish a blessed thing during every single nap time this week.  Heck!  You have permission to be the one taking the nap if sleep is what you need!  You have permission to put your feet up this weekend and let the laundry mountain grow.  Your soul is weary, and you aren’t going to make it at this pace.  It doesn’t matter what everyone else in the culture around you is doing.

You need to do what YOUR soul, mind and body are crying out for. 

And for you, the act of resting, truly resting, takes far more strength than getting anything crossed off on that list ever would.  So, rest, my friend.  Permission granted.