Sometimes 470,000 words just aren’t enough

I love words. As an avid reader, I love when just the right words are put together to perfectly describe an emotion, place, or situation — putting you right in the midst. I love stretching myself as a writer to try new or unusual words to really paint a unique picture for my reader.  But more than that, I respect the power of words. Words can inspire, they can heal, they can uplift and they can make us laugh. They can also wound, harm, and break-down.

When Noah Webster compiled his first edition of the American Dictionary he listed and defined 70,000 words. Today Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged Version) has roughly 470,000 words. Wow! With that many words to choose from you’d think we would never be at a loss for what to say. However, there are moments in life that knock the wind — and words — right out of me, leaving me stunned into silence.  And it’s this loss of words, or my inability to find the right words, that causes me to lie awake at night.

Last week I witnessed two dear friends experience hurt, pain, loss and struggles that no person should ever have to face. I lost many hours of sleep worrying, praying, and crying for these friends. In my heart of hearts I wanted to find some nugget of hope or advice, some bit of comfort or healing I could offer. I prayed for God to deliver the right words to me that would give them a tiny bit of peace. But in the end their situations were just too big for my words. I felt anything I might say would be, at best, empty noise and, at worst, trite and cliche.

Not knowing what to say left me unsatisfied, so I turned to scripture for some insight. I was struck by the story of Lazarus’s death. There are a couple of very key moments in this story that helped me to see my role as friend of the grieving in a different way.

First, scripture says that Jesus loved Lazarus. He was not just an acquaintance or the brother of Mary and Martha, he was a very dear friend to Jesus (John 11: 3, 5). Second, Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to die and be raised again. In John chapter 11, verse 4 Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Later Jesus specifically tells His disciples that Lazarus has died. Yet, despite Jesus knowing how it was going to turn out, we are told that when He saw Mary and her friends weeping for Lazarus, Jesus was so moved that He, too, wept (John 11:35).

Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew the happy ending to this story. But that did not lessen the grief He felt when He saw his dear friends hurting. He did not come up to Mary and offer her words of comfort. He did not say, “time will heal your wounds” or “God has a plan, it will all be OK in the end.” No, He wept. Because sometimes the hurt is just too much and all you can do is weep.

Of course, in the end Lazarus was raised from the dead. Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to overturn my friends’ grief. But that’s not really the point. This is not about me or what I can do. It’s about God and what He will do.

Like Jesus knew about Lazarus, I know that this is not the end of the story for my friends. I believe in my heart that God will bring healing and restore happiness to their lives one day. Because “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” (Pslam 34:18). I don’t know exactly when or how it will happen, but it will happen.

Until then, I will offer my love, my arms to embrace them, my shoulders to cry on, my ears to listen. I will not worry about words or saying the “right thing” to bring comfort. Because sometimes even 470,000 words just aren’t enough. Sometimes, the most we can do is stand beside our friends and weep along side of them.

The universal truth about parenting, or why you should never read another HuffPost parenting article again

There seems to be an explosion of parenting advise being dished out in precise “top ten” style lists lately. Have you seen them, too? “10 things every father should tell his daughters”, “Five things every little girl must know”, “Top 15 things every parent should add to their bedtime routine,” etc., etc.

I see these constantly, and you know what? I’m really over it. Because the thing is these lists are a lie.

At best they are oversimplifying the very complex job that is parenthood, and at worst they are creating feelings of anxiety and inadequacy by those of us who read them and worry that because we’re only doing items 2, 7 and 9 we must be short-changing our children. The worst part is when I read these articles and look at who has written them, they are just regular ol’ mom and dad bloggers! They don’t have a child behavior psychology degree, they aren’t pediatricians or social workers. Heck most of them don’t even have grown children! So what makes them experts? Well, we do.

That’s right, in this HuffPost-Facebook-Tumblr-Reddit world of ours we are granting expert status to Joe Blogs and Jane Tweeter. Your neighbor down the street can write a list of “must do’s” for raising well-rounded girls and the next thing you know it’s gotten 10,000 shares, 1 million likes, been featured on Huffington Post, and  we’re all sharing and liking and tweeting and pinning that stuff like it’s gospel.

But here’s the thing. There really is only one universal truth when it comes to parenting. One undeniable tidbit of wisdom that all parents must know. Today. Are you ready for it?

It’s this: There is no secret formula to parenting. There’s no handbook, there’s no top ten list of things that you can check-off to ensure your precious darlings grow-up to be happy, healthy, well-rounded adults. Because every child is different.

Let me say that one again. Every. Child. Is. Different.

Lego Men
Every. Child. Is. Different.

When our first child was born she was a very easy baby. She slept well, she ate well, she was always happy. She had no medical conditions or major illnesses. She developed pretty much on track, if not somewhat ahead of “schedule”.

Early on my husband and I implemented a  method of discipline that consisted of stating the expectations/rules, the consequences of breaking them, and then always being consistent with the follow-through. This worked extremely well for our little toddler. We could take her anywhere and she generally did well.

And I admit it…I became a bit prideful. I would look with dismay at the children screaming “no” at their parents, hitting them, displaying full-on defiance, or even just generally ignoring any rules. While I never said anything out loud I would think to myself, “if only that parent would implement the same type of structure and discipline we have with our daughter, they could be so much better behaved/happier/successful/you-fill-in-the-blank.

Then we had our second and third children — twins — a boy and a girl. My son was active, silly and rambunctious from the word go. At first we chalked it up to him being a boy. Then he started pre-school and I soon got a huge, heaping slice of humble pie.

“There’s no top ten list of things that you can check-off to ensure your precious darlings grow-up to be happy, healthy, well-rounded adults.”

 

When he was three, my son spit at a teacher and called her a name. I was mortified and wanted to hide in the deepest cave on the furthest edge of the world. By the time he was four we knew we had a real problem. His teacher sent home little notes almost every single day about how our son had acted up and misbehaved. It became clear very quickly that she didn’t like our son, which just broke my heart, and that in fact most of the kids didn’t want to play with him because he was so disruptive and prone to horrible outbursts. He spent time in the pre-school director’s office; my husband and I spent time in the pre-school director’s office. We tried different discipline strategies. Reward and affirmation strategies. Punishments. Love, logic and everything in between. We prayed. We sought counsel. We even had him moved to a different class, but after one week that teacher asked to have him moved back to the original class! I kid you not.

We were totally ill-equipped and at a loss for what to do. Nothing that had worked so perfectly with my daughter seemed to work with my son. I cried with my son and for my son so much that year.

Then kindergarten came. We were blessed with the most amazing teacher. She and I had met before school started so I could discuss our challenges. I knew she was going to be good for us/him when she was telling me about her different methods of discipline in the classroom and ended with, “And then, I just pray for them because often that’s the best thing I can do.”

Within a few months she recommended we have him tested for ADHD and other learning disabilities. This did not surprise me and I was happy to find a local child psychologist who would test for everything so we could take comfort knowing we were getting the most accurate diagnosis. The psychologist told us that we had a gifted son with an extremely severe case of ADHD. She walked us through the medical science behind that diagnosis and the treatment options. We were fortunate to find one that worked for our son rather quickly and he ended the year on a more positive note.

Today he’s in the third grade and getting ready to turn 9. We still have very difficult moments, but overall he’s a happy, healthy, honor roll student with lots of wonderful friends. In short, he’s thriving.

But that isn’t the end of the story. You see last year, while my son was having the best year of his young life, my eldest — that easy, happy, never-a-problem child I mentioned earlier? Well she decided to have a rebellious streak. My straight-A student started handing in assignments late or not at all and her grades dropped. She started lying to us, being sneaky, and even ran-away from school one day.

Again, I found myself completely ill-equipped and unsure what to do. I thought I knew how to parent and guide and discipline this child and it seemed overnight she changed all the rules. I had well-meaning friends who did things like lecture her in front of me, or share their thoughts about how she just needed more positive influences in her life. I know they meant well, but with each bit of unsolicited advice or comparison to what their child was or wasn’t doing, I felt worse and worse about my child and my ability to parent her.

So, my husband and I did the only thing we knew to do. We talked to God. We talked to her and to her teachers. We reinforced boundaries and took things away. We told her we loved her and re-stated our expectations. Some of this seemed to work, some of it didn’t. But we continued to pray and do what we thought best, just like we did with our son. And over the summer I saw a shift in her. A new maturity and self-awareness. She’s in the 6th grade this year and having a great year so far. The worst seems to be behind us.

For now.

If I have learned one thing in my 11.5 years as a parent it’s this: just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something will change. I have three children who are individuals with different personalities. They are growing and evolving and exposed to 100’s of external influences every week. The parenting tactic that worked today may not work tomorrow. And what works for us may not work for our friends down the street. Because every child is different.

Three angels
My three little angels. Aren’t they precious?

So before you are quick to judge that mom with the pre-schooler throwing a tantrum in Target. Before you dole out that unsolicited advise to your best friend who is struggling with a rebellious child. Before you read and “like” and share that “top ten things every parent must do” article, I ask you to stop. Stop and remind yourself that every child is unique. Every parent’s struggle different from yours for the simple reason that they and their family are different from yours. Today’s little angel may be tomorrow’s phone call from the principal.

And you: mom or dad reading this who just got off the phone with said principal, or just got done grounding your child for the umpteenth time. Be kind to yourself! Take a deep breath. Pray for guidance. But whatever you do, don’t read another article that will try and neatly package the essence of good-parenting in 1,000 words or less. Because this parenting gig is a messy, complicated, exhausting marathon and it looks different on each one of us.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m just a blogger.

 

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week that really wasn’t

It’s not been a pretty week. In fact it’s been a down-right hairy-warts, black teeth, and yellow eyes kind of ugly.

Some of you might not know this, but my day job entails managing a large network of websites for a global IT company. This past weekend we had a major deployment to the site. I’ve been through a number of these in my career and I’m here to tell you managing online systems is not for the faint of heart. Something always goes wrong! You just pray and hope it’s not something major and it can be fixed quickly.

My team had a whole weekend of fixing and testing and sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seats waiting. But finally, on Sunday afternoon it looked like the major issues were resolved and we wouldn’t have to roll back before New Zealand started their Monday in a few hours. My team and our IT engineers had been working nights and weekends preparing and most of them hadn’t slept at all in the last 48 hours. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that everyone was sent off to bed to rest up for the next morning.

Monday came and all felt good. The deployment was a success and I was beyond thrilled for myself and my team because we really wanted needed this one. You see, last year we had a crazy big project where we essentially re-did the entire website from the ground up (I don’t recommend this. Ever). To say it didn’t go well would be a huge understatement. We dealt with the fall-out for months afterwards and it almost sent me to the hospital. Seriously, I would feel sick every morning before I logged on to my computer, dreading what emails would come my way with complaints, rants, and new issues that cropped up over-night. I was a complete ball of stress and anxiety and it manifested into physical illness multiple times.

So when I say we needed this one to go well, let me tell you we really needed it. Monday felt good. I sent out emails proudly announcing the successful deployment. And except for a small handful of people (haters gonna hate) the response from colleagues was encouraging and positive.

Then Tuesday morning came and things were not good. The site was loading at a snail’s pace and crashing every few hours. Registration forms were not loading or they had error messages, and the dreaded emails started to roll in.

Thankfully I work with the best team in the world. Seriously. They are the smartest, hardest working, most dedicated group of people I’ve ever seen. Our engineers immediately started working with our developers to sort out the issues. Unfortunately, every time they thought they’d gotten to the bottom of it, the site would crash again.

I will skip past all of the details and reasons, as even I don’t fully understand all of the technical stuff and this isn’t a blog about website development. But let’s just say that it was Friday before the site was stabilized and that’s mostly due to temporary measures put into place. We still don’t have a solution for the root cause. And of course, I was in damage control mode as the angry emails from frustrated stakeholders flooded our in-boxes.

But.

Here’s the thing:

I did not breakdown and cry or worry myself sick, or cower under my covers and fear starting my workday. I didn’t attach myself to the laptop monitoring every email and update at all hours of the day and night or go into hiding from my family so I could focus only on work. In fact, I did the opposite. I smiled. I laughed and shook my head at some of the angry notes. I thanked our engineers for their unending dedication to resolve the issue. I slept. I sat on my porch and read a book. I watched my son perform his “bike show” he’d been rehearsing for a week in our cul de sac. I ate dinner with my kids every evening and cuddled in bed with them every night.

But most of all, I stayed close to God. I studied the word and prayed every day. And this. This is what made the difference, because I was able to maintain perspective. Instead of getting swallowed up in the worry and stress and making it all about me, I was reminded that it’s all about Him. Life is so much bigger, so much more important than some problems at work. I have little people I need to care for and nurture and love on. I have to care for and nurture myself, too. Because that ball of stress and anxiety I was last year? She was not pretty or much fun to be around. She was overwhelmed and a bit lost. And I don’t really care to meet her again.

Psalm 18: 1-2

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I’m not saying I have this all figured out. There were still moments this week when I felt stress and worry. I got annoyed at my husband for something he did or didn’t do and let it flow into a full-blown argument. And I’m sure I yelled at my kids once or twice (sometimes I’m not sure if I’m yelling or my natural volume when speaking to my kids has just gotten that loud). But, for the most part I was able to keep things in perspective and know that it was all going to be OK.

So, as it turns out. This ugly, horrible, no good, very bad week…well it really wasn’t.

This was my prayer this week. If you want to write it down and use it next time you’re having a rough day or week, or even a rough season, please do.

Father in heaven, thank you so much for loving me and being with me this week. Lord, life is not always easy, and sometimes it’s just down-right ugly. But I take comfort in knowing that you are bigger than any of the stress, worry or ugliness that may come my way. Help me to remember this when I start to make it all about me. Remind me to give it over to you and lean on you when I need strength. You are my rock and my shield, always faithful even when I am not. Thank you, thank you. Amen.

Release to receive 31 day challenge

OK my friends, are you ready to go on a little journey with me? It won’t be easy. We’re going to have to give up some things. But I think the reward will be so worth it.

Here’s the deal. I’ve  been reading Lysa TerKeurst’s new book The Best Yes, which is all about filtering through the endless demands of life and listening to God in order to discern what to say “yes” to. Last night while reading I had a bit of an “ah-ha” moment. Lysa wrote about how in order to receive the best things — the things God truly wants for us — sometimes we have to release the unhealthy things we’re holding on to.

Think about that room or closet in your house. You know the one. That room you don’t allow visitors to see? It’s crammed full of stuff you’re holding on to that you probably don’t use, but you’re sure you will need some day. Maybe it even has boxes that haven’t been unpacked since your last move. That room or closet totally bothers you because you can’t use it properly, nor can you find anything that’s in there when you actually need it. Yet, you put off cleaning it out and getting rid of things because it’s easier to just hold on to it. So instead you are missing out on being able to use that room or closet for something better.

My messy closet
My scary closet prior to a recent cleaning. Amazing how when my closet is in order it filters into other parts of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, a cluttered room is pretty prosaic and commonplace. But I bet you have more significant areas of your life that are begging to be released of something so you can receive the blessings God has in store for you. I know I have a few.

So, here’s what I’m doing. Tomorrow starts a new month so it’s the perfect opportunity to start initiating some change. I have identified two areas of my life where I need to release in order to receive. Both of which, I believe, are contributing to my constant fatigue.

The first thing I’m going to release is evening TV. Every night it’s the same story. I finally get the kids in bed and collapse on the couch about 9 or 9:30 p.m. The TV comes on so I can try to decompress from the day. But instead of just watching for an hour and then getting to bed at a decent time I end up staying up way too late because one show never seems like enough or I am too busy multi-tasking and lose track of time.  And when you start your work-day at 6 a.m., going to bed at midnight is not a healthy habit. Inevitably I’m tired the next day, which can make me cranky, short-tempered, and unmotivated.

The second thing I’m going to release is late-night snacking. A regular companion of the evening TV is the late-night snacking, usually on something  unhealthy. Not only does this work to sabotage my healthy eating goals, it also interrupts my sleep and/or makes me feel bad in the morning.

So starting tomorrow, and for every day in October I plan to find a better way to spend my evenings. Instead of TV I’ll read, talk to my husband, work on my blog, or even clean out a closet or two! And if I crave something to eat I’ll have a piece of fruit or green smoothie instead.

Romans 12:2

I don’t know yet what will happen by releasing these bad habits. But I am open to receiving whatever good things God has in store for me.  And I have a feeling that by the time October 31 rolls around I will be feeling a bit more rested and restored. Of course, I’ll keep you updated along the way.

So who wants to join me? Are there things in your life you could release in order to make room to receive God’s blessings? I encourage you to pray about what areas of your life could use some release. If you do decide to join me and feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear from you!

 

My biggest fear

This past Sunday and again last night in our Bible study, the topic was fear. I’ve never felt embarrassed to admit that I am afraid of a lot of things. From the mundane like heights and snakes, to the irrational like swallowing a spider in my sleep (I don’t care what Snopes says about this, ever since I read that made-up statistic I am afraid of spiders crawling in my mouth).

I regularly share with my friends and husband my fears and worries about this whole parenting gig. Fearful that  I’m too strict, not strict enough. That I keep them too sheltered, that I give them too much freedom. And mostly, that in the end I really have very little control over their life decisions.

I have even written or spoken publicly about some of my real-life moments of fear, like the canoe trip I took this summer with my family, or following God’s calling to write, and even being molested as a child.

I talk about my fears because it helps me face the irrational ones, process the past, and glean a little perspective.  I do it to help others know they’re not alone and because it provides a sense of camaraderie.

But, there is one fear I never talk about, not even with my best friend or husband. My deepest fear that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. The one that I’m embarrassed to admit. Afraid to say out loud to people, lest they confirm it’s true.

My biggest fear is not being loved.

Maybe a more accurate way of putting it is that I’m afraid of not being loved enough. That I love people in my life more than they love me. I don’t know how long I’ve had this fear, but I know it started when I was a child. I’ve been through enough counseling in my life to be able to identify some of the events of my childhood that probably contributed to the start of this fear. I’ve also been through enough counseling to know that it’s an irrational and unhealthy fear! But for me, it’s real.

afraid of not being loved

The worst part is that I know that this fear has actually created situations that have almost led to a self-fulfilling prophesy. I recall once planning a girl’s weekend with a group of close friends and in the weeks before it was scheduled to take place several friends either backed out or said they weren’t sure they could make it. My immediate first thought was “this friendship must mean more to me than it does to them. I knew it! I knew they didn’t really care that much about me. They just agreed to go on this trip because I pushed it.” Then I sent a rather unkind email to my friends letting them know just what I thought of their behavior. Ouch! Not a great way to strengthen a friendship in love. Thank goodness these friends do in fact love me, forgave my little rant, and we’ve had several girls’ weekends since that incident.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have been jealous of my friends’ other friendships. Worried over un-returned phone calls or emails. Replayed conversations in my head, over and over again. Been hurt by invitations that weren’t extended. And actually gotten myself so worked up I didn’t attend social functions because I was sure no one there would want to talk to me. All because I have this nagging voice in my head that tells me I am not loved. Not loved enough. Not lovable.

Then 9 years ago my marriage almost ended. It sent me down a dark rabbit hole of fear. While I was brave enough to make it known to my husband what I needed in order to save our marriage, inside I was terrified that I was not enough, not worth the hard work and effort. That I loved him more than he loved me. I struggled between wanting him to love me (and prove it) and pushing him away because I was sure in the end he’d leave anyway, so better get it over with now rather than drag things out a few more years. It was such a desperate time filled with fear and anxiety. In my brokenness I did the only thing I could do and went to my heavenly Father. I curled up in His lap like a little child, sobbing, begging for guidance and answers, and for it all to be over with already.

And God, He is so merciful. He held me and comforted me. He calmed my fears, changed my perspective when needed, gave me strength, and sometimes, just helped me fall asleep, knowing that a new day can bring with it hope.

It was during this point in my life that I really started to get a hold of this fear. Or at least I learned that when I feel afraid of not being loved, or when I start to feel the anxiety that I’m not loveable or loved “enough”, I need to turn to the source of ultimate L-O-V-E. Because, really, could there be anyone more in love with us than the Lord (said in my best Chandler Bing voice)?

And we have it in writing!

I mentioned the book of Isaiah in my post last week, and how it reads like a passionate love letter from God to His people. In the book of John Jesus tells us just how much God loves us, foretelling His death as the ultimate sacrifice of love.

In Romans chapter 8, there is my favorite verse of all time. A reminder that we are loved beyond all means, above all failures and obstacles. I especially love this translation from the Living Bible: “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.” (verses 38-39)

And then, there is 1 John chapter 4. I only just discovered this verse when studying the word this week, but oh my! I’m pretty sure this was written just for me. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (verses 16 and 18)

1 John 4:.16

Um, yeah. So there you have it.

Thankfully, some things do get better with age. While I still struggle from time to time with this deeply rooted fear of not being loved, it has slowly eroded over the last several years. It rears its ugly head less often than before and is replaced with confidence that God loves me. Not just in a “yeah, you’re alright, but most days you’re not my favorite child” kind of way. But in a desperately seeking, all-consuming, nothing can stop it kind of way.

If He can love me like that, how can I possibly be afraid of not being loved enough? And this is how I face my deepest fear.

Romans 8:38-39