Safe Haven and Surrender

Safe Haven and Surrender

Lately I feel a deeper level of surrender to God. I hear His voice guiding me. I know He is with me. I’m less scared. More confident. Ready for whatever He has in store for me next.

One of the reasons is because of a book I just read. It’s called Safe Haven, by Mandy Imlay. Mandy wrote it in six days and then took a Sabbath rest on the seventh day, because she felt compelled to do so by the Holy Spirit. It’s a beautiful, poetic, imperfect, spiritual story about a woman’s journey as she grows closer to Jesus. The imagery invokes the lovers’ book of the Bible – Song of Songs. It truly makes you feel what it would be like to be with Jesus – to have Him hold you, comfort you, cleanse you and call you His Beloved.

This book was given to me as a gift by none other than the author. We travelled to England on a church choir tour, and we went to the Imlay’s house for lunch. We gave our hostess a cookbook, and she in turn gave us copies of her book. Of course, being a writer, I felt an immediate bond with Mandy and knew this was no coincidence. Sure enough, we have kept in touch, and it is also because of her example and encouragement that I am feeling so close to God. I long to be as utterly surrendered to the Holy Spirit as Mandy Imlay.

Ironically, it’s only through true surrender to God that we can be set free. I might find fleeting moments of happiness while still holding on to my independence, but I don’t experience pure joy unless I let go and give it all to Him.

So, just how do I go about surrendering to God?

Well, first, I have to make time for Him, and not in the ways I used to think. I have to connect to Jesus on a personal level so that I can hear His voice guiding me. Going to church and praying occasionally just isn’t enough for me to make this level of connection. I went to church for years and still didn’t really get what it was all about. I have to spend time doing the specific things that bring me into that state of being where I can feel God’s presence and hear His voice.

How each of us gets in touch with the Holy Spirt is extremely personal. Some of the ways that work for me are journaling (with an actual pen and paper), reading books like Mandy’s, and picturing myself with Jesus. Some people connect with God through exercise. Others have to spend a certain amount of time every day meditating. God didn’t create a one-size-fits-all way for us to connect to Him, because He didn’t create us all the same. We are beautifully and breathtakingly different from each other, in an infinite number of ways, and there are an infinite number of ways to connect to Jesus.

The second step to surrender is actually acting on God’s voice once I start to hear it. This is almost always easier than I think it is going to be, because the steps I take to get to the point where I hear His voice are actually what prepare me to be able to follow it.

For example, tonight, before I started writing this blog post, I wasn’t hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice. I’d been asking God what I should write about, but I wasn’t getting any answers. So I wrote an entry in my personal journal. I thanked God for Mandy and her book and asked Him to show me what to do with this gift, which I know is really a gift from Him. Just physically writing that much was enough to hear His voice again. His voice said to just accept the gift.

That’s all. Just accept it.

Well, that unleashed a wave of tears over the realization that I had been asking God what to do with His gift from a place of feeling like I needed to do something to earn it, something to make it all make sense that He would give me a gift in the first place.

I hadn’t realized it before, but I was full of guilt and shame. Of course, none of what I was beating myself up over was earth-shattering – I had spent a little too long playing a game on my phone and felt that  perhaps I could have been more present. I forgot that I don’t have to be perfect.

After writing in my journal and really feeling the icky feelings I’d been trying to escape from, I was able to let them go, and ask for and feel God’s forgiveness and healing. Only then could I accept His gift, because only then was I able to accept that I am so, so loved. That of course, God would give me a gift like Mandy Imlay and her book. I am His precious child, His beloved, His most special one.

By the time I heard the voice of the Holy Spirt calling me to write this blog, there was no difficulty in following through with it. I was no longer worried about having to be perfect or pleasing anyone.  All of my energy came from a place of love and overflowing fullness. In Mandy’s words, it was anointed.

Advertisements

Exercise, Depression and my Inner Hulk

I went to a therapist this week. The first session was more of a “meet and greet” than anything else, but I can already tell that she means business. I know from past experience I need a therapist who means business. At the next session, she says we are going to talk about the 5 big things that help with depression. So, of course, I have been Googling “5 things that help with depression” on a regular basis to try to figure out what she might say. Patience isn’t exactly my strong suit.

As you might have guessed, there’s one thing that’s on EVERY “Top 5” list – Exercise. This makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Obviously, I don’t mean I want to go to the gym so I can get muscles like the Hulk. That would actually be a productive reaction. No, I literally picture myself screaming in agony and transforming into the Hulk. Of course, since I am depressed, my frustration does not come out in any real way. I just switch my Google searches to alternative ways to deal with anger that don’t involve so much physical energy.

In all seriousness, I see the writing on the wall. I get it. Exercise is like, super important and necessary when it comes to depression. Somehow, I’ve got to figure out a way to incorporate it into my life.

Before I do though, let me just spend ONE more millisecond being sarcastic and snarly. I apologize in advance to the well-intentioned bloggers out there who published Top 5 lists of remedies for depression. It’s really not you. It’s me. And to the particularly ambitious blogger who had a daily “brisk 15-30 minute walk” in your Top 5, thank you for giving me that kind of credit. The truth is, right now, I’m not capable of physically doing anything that even comes close to being near the realm of 30 minutes a day.

It seems like a grand idea to take a 15-30 minute walk every day doesn’t it? I mean, obviously I HAVE 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day. Otherwise, how could I write this blog post?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. One activity can’t so easily be substituted for another. A blog post can be written in bed. It does not require the individual to brush her teeth. Or take a shower. These things, which are non-negotiable morning routines for most people, typically happen 15 minutes before I have to leave my house to pick up my kids. Now, you might be thinking that I should just start brushing my teeth and taking a shower earlier in the day. Isn’t that a simple change?

Again, it’s not quite that simple. Just thinking about exercise makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Now you’re asking me to somehow motivate myself to shower and brush my teeth earlier in the day too? I have been around this block enough times to know that only something external, like having to go pick up kids or go to work, will motivate me to do these basic necessities. If you throw on top of this whole exercise thing that I must also internally motivate myself to get ready in any way, shape or form, I promise, I will give up before I’ve even started.

Another flaw with the “brisk 15-30 minute walk” idea is that it requires me to actually go out IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD by myself. I have no desire to do anything alone right now where I will also be in full view of others. I don’t really know how else to explain this particular issue (ahem, excuse), but I just felt like it deserved mention.

And yes, I realize how ridiculous all of my excuses are. But I am not quite ready to let go of them just yet. What I AM willing to do (praise God) is give this dreaded exercise concept a chance. But it will be on my own terms and with my own “Top 5” list, thank you very much. I even made my Top 5 an acrostic poem so it would be extra special and fun. And if you think that is a cool thing, then I am being totally serious and sincere with the whole acronym thing. If you are rolling your eyes like I would be, then I am being totally cheesy on purpose in a super cool rebellious and sarcastic way.

Without further ado, to actually start to exercise, I am making exercise the ultimate SELFY.

S = Simple
E = Every Day
L = Little
F = Fun
Y = You Do You

First, I am keeping it so unbelievably SIMPLE there is no way I can find an excuse not to do it. Going to the gym … way too complicated. Going outside … way too complicated. Putting on exercise shoes … way too complicated. Believe it or not, I do not own a pair of exercise shoes. I do, however, own tap shoes.

Second, I am striving to do it EVERY DAY, or at least every day of the work week. Otherwise, I know I will just procrastinate until later in the week and set myself up to fail. If I just take it one day at a time, like with everything else, I think I will have better success.

Third, I am starting LITTLE. (Yes, I realize it would sound better to say I am starting “small” but little works better with the acronym, alright?) 30 minutes a day just isn’t realistic for me. Who am I kidding? 15 minutes a day isn’t realistic for me. I am starting with 5 MINUTES every day. 5 minutes is a long time. I will be so super proud if I exercise for 5 minutes a day. I will throw myself a party if I exercise for 5 minutes a day for a week. I don’t care that most of my friends work out for an hour or more at a time. 5 MINUTES is my definition of success right now, and I am not ashamed.

Fourth, I am doing something that I think is FUN. Every time I try to exercise, I do something I have never done before or that I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy running so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to go to Zumba class at the gym. My butt will never move the way the instructor’s does, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror trying to shake it like she does for an hour. My body will never bend the way yoga-lovers’ bodies do. I’m okay with that. I don’t have to do yoga. I am really good at and really like tap dancing. And did I mention that I have tap shoes?

Finally, my mantra will be YOU DO YOU! As if tap dancing in my own home for 5 minutes a day isn’t uniquely ME enough, I am going to do this as only I can. I am going to blog about it just because I know it will help ME. I am going to try to be funny and self-deprecating about it just because I think that is who I am supposed to be and it makes ME feel good. I am going to give it to God and try to use it to help others in any way I can, because that is ME being ME.

Alright, well, there you have it, that is my “Top 5” list. It has already motivated me to exercise 2 days in a row. If anyone else is coming to this exercise table kicking and screaming because of depression, I’d love to hear how you have motivated yourself. Thanks for reading!

When the Fog is Thicker than Normal

I have a history of depression.

Lately it’s been more of a current event.

Some people wonder what it means to have depression. How is it different from just a “normal” bad mood? Doesn’t everyone go through low points? Is it really a medical diagnosis? Sometimes I even ask myself these questions, even though I should know better. My brain knows how to internalize even the slightest hint of disapproval or questioning in another person’s eyes or tone of voice. Sometimes everything seems to point to the fact that “depression” is obviously just a fancy word that someone came up with to shut those of us up who can’t accept that we are really just melodramatic, overly sensitive and lazy.

When my sanity returns, I remember that I don’t have to win a philosophical argument on psychiatry or defend the vocabulary of mental illness to speak about my personal experience. And speaking up is important, not only for my own mental health, but because there are so many others out there who think they are alone and need to hear a word of encouragement and hope from a fellow sufferer.

Depression is a hard thing for me to open up about. I’ve been burned before for revealing too much. I’ve realized the hard way that some things are better shared with more private audiences than on a public forum. Even in a safe, private setting, I often struggle to summon the humility to discuss where I’m at openly and honestly. It all feels like something I should be over by now. It certainly wasn’t on my life roadmap to call the doctor complaining about fatigue and other symptoms I thought must be hormonal and have HIM be the one to suggest that perhaps we should switch my antidepressant. I mean, for years now, any adjustment to medication has been at MY suggestion, not the doctor’s. I thought I was the expert on this thing, but somehow, this time, I missed the key signs.

For me, the biggest clue should have been the apathy. Nothing is really that important when I get depressed. Lots of things start to slip because, you know, who cares. And then, all of a sudden, my normally manageable tendency to procrastinate turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being good enough. I try to tell myself that I AM good enough even though a lot of my behavior is not really my best. Or that I’m not good enough, but it’s okay. I mean, that’s why we need Jesus, right? It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect, right?

These affirmations fall flat, because at the end of the day, things are not okay when you’re depressed. And coming out of depression requires you to admit that first.

Yes, I need Jesus. We all do. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t have to be. But depression isn’t about making good or bad choices. Depression removes your power to choose and clouds your judgment. It becomes a fog that is impossible to see through without help.

Help for depression involves doctors and therapists, because mental illnesses really are medical conditions. I’m not sure there really is a “normal,” but I do know depression is more than just a bad mood. And while everyone may go through low points, and everyone certainly has her own burden in life, not everyone’s lows qualify as depression and not everyone’s burden is mental illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine, but it is.

Even though it can still creep up on me when I’m least expecting it, today I know I don’t have to walk through depression alone. God is with me always, even in my lowest points. Even when I doubt Him, He is there. I just have to keep trying to seek and strive for God in honest and real ways. Sometimes that means turning my prayers upside down.

Instead of asking to be filled with the knowledge that everything’s okay, sometimes I need to cry out to God that everything is NOT okay. This admission of powerlessness and acceptance is often exactly what I need to start to see God again through the fog. Sometimes I see Him through the people He puts in my life exactly when I need them. Other times, it’s through moments of clarity He gives me deep inside my soul. It is in those moments that I have come to realize that none of us are ever truly alone.

If you’re struggling with depression, know that there is a healthy way out. You are not alone. Things might not be okay right now, but you can still just put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing, no matter how hard that is. And trust me, I’m not going to suggest that the next right thing for you to do is to exercise! Even though that seems to be a popular recommendation for depression, for me, it usually has to start much, much smaller!

Like, with getting out of bed.

Sometimes it’s just getting one FOOT out of the bed. Maybe even just one TOE!! It might be brushing your teeth. Or taking a shower. Or making an appointment. Or reaching out and texting a friend. Or a million other baby steps that feel like they might as well be giant leaps between two mountains. Things might not be okay right now, but if you just keep trudging along, reaching out and looking up, things will be okay.

I have a history of depression. And lately it’s been more of a current event. But having depression also means I have a history of incredible spiritual awakening and renewal, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. My depression can create a pretty thick fog in my little corner of the universe, but when I do see the light shining through, it is all the brighter in contrast to the darkness. No matter what, by God’s grace, the future looks bright.

Humbled at McDonald’s in Canada

We are currently on vacation in my husband’s home country of Canada. And even though I’ve been here many times, there are still a few things that catch me off guard on every visit. For one thing, the Great Lakes are really, very great. How foolish I must have sounded when I asked my then-boyfriend if he had ever been to the beach, and then presumed to tell him it didn’t count because it wasn’t the ocean! The little island we went to on this trip had a sandy beach facing Lake Ontario. As I looked out at the endless water and watched the waves roll in, I was just as serene as I was last summer when we went to a “real” beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

This isn’t the only thing about Canada that humbles me. Every time I do the dishes here, I remember how most people do not have garbage disposals. It’s just not an appliance that has ever caught on here. People could afford them; they just don’t see the need. New homes don’t come with them installed. Apartments and townhouses don’t have them. But back when I was a know-it-all, twenty-something-year-old who discounted her boyfriend’s beach experiences, I also refused to accept the reality about garbage disposals and Canada. Surely, there was some sort of mistake, I thought. Maybe I just needed to say the right word – it’s “garburator” in Canadian, not “garbage disposal,” after all. And so, when I moved to Canada, I insisted we call every apartment complex remotely close to Toronto and ask if they had a unit for rent with a garburator. As you probably guessed, the answer was always the same. Flushing my cereal down the toilet and scraping plates into the trash weren’t totally new to me. I’d been to many countries before and even lived in France. I just had it in my head that the differences between Canada and the United States were not quite as big as this. As it turns out, the differences between our two incredible countries aren’t so big. Shockingly, a garbage disposal really isn’t an absolute necessity.

I’m not sure how something so small ended up becoming a catalyst for me to open my mind to new things and different ideas more readily, but it did. For years, if someone said something to me that seemed odd or different or unthinkable, I would just remember that life without a garbage disposal used to seem odd and different and unthinkable. Then I lived without one for three years and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. My husband used to think it odd and different and unreasonable to insist, like I had, that a garburator hold the same level of importance as a refrigerator. Now that he has lived in the US for twelve years, he finds it odd and different and unreasonable for someone to live without one.

The truth is most things are only odd or different or unreasonable when they are foreign. Once you get closer, you see a bigger picture that almost always changes your perspective. You realize you’ve been looking through a mirror like the one on your car that says “objects are closer than they appear.” Life in Canada seemed so familiar I just assumed I fully understood it, but the truth is I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought. We make judgments all the time based on a warped view of the world. Things, or people, or races, or religions, seem just familiar enough that we think we can judge the differences we seem to perceive. But when we stop to listen to each other and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we see that so much lies beneath the surface.

Back to our visit in Canada, as always, we went to McDonald’s for lunch one day. Before we went, we talked about how McDonald’s is different in other countries. I didn’t want the kids to overreact when they saw, for example, that in Canada, apple slices still have skin on them. But just when I was patting myself on the back for how enlightened and open-minded I am, five dreaded words betrayed me. They just spilled out before I could do anything about it. It was like I was in slow motion. I recognized what was about to happen but could do nothing to stop it. I meant to ask the cashier what came with a happy meal. Or what kind of kids’ meals they had. Or if the happy meals came with a burger, fries and a side like in the United States. But, no, instead, I said “Do you have normal happy meals?”

I was embarrassed before I finished the question. How could I have asked if the happy meals were “normal”!? I cannot identify any part of me that thinks in any way that anything is less “normal” in Canada than in the US, and yet, those words came out of my mouth! Of course, I had to make it worse by explaining that we were from the States. As if the sweet teenager taking our order hadn’t figured that out. What a great way for me to reinforce stereotypes that Canadians have of Americans! Of course I would think our way of doing things is “normal” and everyone else’s is “abnormal,” right?

After I got over my embarrassment, I laughed and lightened up and realized (again) that we are all just flawed human beings. The best thing we can do is listen to each other respectfully and then cut each other some slack. I sure hope that cashier does not honestly think I am so arrogant that I really consider only my experience to be “normal.” I hope she gave me the benefit of the doubt and realized I was just thinking about what is “normal” to me and didn’t mean the question the way it sounded.

As a society, we are so often and easily offended by innocent words that are not meant to injure but just represent a different perspective.

Words matter.
But more than words, intentions matter.
And more than anything, grace matters.

We have to extend each other grace to blunder and bludgeon through each day, because we also must rely on grace. We are all imperfect creatures in need of God’s perfect love and the grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this amazing grace, I am often humbled but never humiliated. Even as an American in Canada!

(As it turns out, in Trenton, Ontario, a “normal” happy meal comes with only one side. You get fries or apples, but not both. Also, the fountain drink cup is significantly smaller than the one you would get if you were to order a “normal” happy meal from a McDonald’s in Plano, Texas.)

Confessions of a Sporadic Church Going Jesus Freak

I have a confession to make.

Until this past Sunday, I hadn’t been to church in a while. Like, since April.

I love God. I love Jesus. I pray many times every day. I just took an unplanned, extended leave of absence from church.

And that’s not even what I need to confess!

What I need to confess is that I really worry what you think about it.

Even though I have worked hard to shake this whole people-pleasing character defect, I still really feel the need to please you. And so, I have to come out publicly (or at least on this blog) about my sporadic church attendance. I need to risk your disapproval so I can remember I only need God’s approval.

It all started with Love Lives Here Plano – you may remember I had a mental breakdown via blog post about this (https://seeingthroughthefog.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/love-lives-here/).

Well, the event turned out beautifully. Don’t get me wrong. None of our difficulties magically disappeared. The biggest room in the building we rented, where we had originally planned to have our evening program, ended up closed off due to low attendance. And we still haven’t figured out how to fully reconcile the budget, although God has worked some pretty awesome miracles in that area.

The bottom line though is that Love Lives Here Plano was perfectly imperfect and just what it was supposed to be. Even though a few of the workshops had to be cancelled, those that did go on as planned exceeded expectations. One workshop leader even thanked me for allowing her to participate in such a special event. She made a point to tell me how amazed she was at the honesty and transparency in her small group. The attendees echoed the speaker and shared that the workshops had a deep impact on their lives. I wonder if I would have these kinds of observations if each workshop had 30-40 women instead of 10-15.

Despite an ad on a major radio station, our vendors did not see hundreds and hundreds of women, but they were all (well, almost all) happy to be there. About half way through my obligatory purchase and apology to each proprietor, I realized it really wasn’t necessary. They understood you don’t always get the turnout you expect, and they all made sales. Even if it wasn’t what they’d hoped for, when I got out of my own way, I saw that they really were happy to be there. Most of them made significant connections with other vendors and participants that have continued to thrive and contribute to their business and personal growth well past the event.

The evening program was honestly one of the highlights of my life. Around eighty-five women total came, fifteen with free tickets we gave to a local crisis center. Serving these women was an unexpected blessing. As the keynote speaker, I delivered a twenty-minute speech and then led the participants in an interactive activity where everyone wrote at least one thing she wanted to let go of on a paper heart. Each table then ripped up their paper hearts and taped them onto a large puzzle piece. Volunteers gathered the puzzle pieces, and we fit them together on a large poster board at the front of the room. The end result was a picture of a large heart with a cross in the middle – a powerful visual that showed that when we give God our hearts, even when they are in broken pieces, He uses them to create something more beautiful and incredible than we can imagine.

When I gave my speech, I had one of those moments when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I knew it was good. I knew God was there. It was confirmed in my heart that speaking is one of my gifts. Afterwards, I got nothing but positive feedback – everyone said I was funny and had a good sense of timing. Many people came up to me in tears. Several of the aforementioned vendors, many of whom originally intended to come to Love Lives Here only to sell a product, were among the most moved. One woman just kept repeating the word “phenomenal.” I knew in that moment this would not be the last time I would stand up in front of a group and say similar words of encouragement, and I have already had the opportunity to speak part of the speech again.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with my break from church. Well, even though Love Lives Here came off beautifully, it still left me exhausted. And while that’s not an excuse to skip church, it is the first domino in a chain of events, emotions and thoughts that led me to where I am right now.

There were many things in my life that needed attention after being somewhat or a lot neglected while I had put on this event. I felt like I had been living a pretend life. Then, the week after the event, we got the call from my son’s teacher that turned our world upside down. All of a sudden, I went from event manager, public speaker and writer to mom of a “special needs” child. I thought this was God’s way of telling me to just let go of this dream. I couldn’t possibly have this extracurricular passion in addition to a full time job, marriage and children, especially now that one of those kids had to be carted around regularly to therapists and specialists. I couldn’t possibly spend time writing and speaking when clearly, I needed to spend any free time I had becoming an expert on neurological issues in children.

I now realize that God is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Of course, He would not put it in my heart to write and speak if I couldn’t somehow manage it along with everything else. In fact, He usually picks people who seem least able to do what He asks so that all the credit and glory goes to Him!

Nonetheless, for a while, I got lost. I fell into a depression that impacted more than just my church-going. If you read my blog regularly, you would have noticed there was a big gap in original posts between April and July.

I am excited to report that I went to church this past Sunday, and that I will be a regular attendee next year, as the Fifth Grade small group leader. I know that I belong in regular worship with a community of believers. We are not meant to do this thing called life and faith by ourselves. I have not been convicted that my sporadic church attendance qualifies as “sin,” but nonetheless I have asked for God’s forgiveness and am back in the habit. What God has convicted me of is that I really need to work on my continued obsession with how you perceive me. I was starting to feel like I had a dirty, little secret from my Christian friends, and I’ve learned the hard way that secrets are bad.

In closing, I really want to ask you to please not judge me, but well, that would just be perpetuating the problem. So please judge me all you want. I need to learn that your judgment is not what matters. I’m wearing a shirt I got at Love Lives Here that says “He Loves Me,” and that is all that matters.

Progress Not Perfection

Someone asked me a couple days ago if my son was getting “better,” and I couldn’t articulate an answer. My first thought was no, but then I realized that I had completely forgotten (again) a fundamental truth – success is best measured in terms of “progress not perfection.”

Will’s biggest issue right now is that he is afraid to be alone.  All I have to do to know if there is progress in this area is to look at his “experience points.”

Daddy came up with the brilliant idea of experience points. Will earns them when he does things by himself. To be clear about what this means, I need to explain a bit more what Will is and is not afraid of. He doesn’t fear being left alone nor does he have “separation anxiety.” He is actually quite comfortable in a sea of strangers and even has a tendency to wander off in public. Like those few terrifying moments we lost sight of him at Disneyworld. Or like when he was four and we were paged at the airport. Or like last week, when I almost had to page him at Walmart until running around like a crazy person screaming his name finally did the trick. We are always very emotional over these experiences, but Will is usually just startled and confused as to what all the fuss is about.

I asked him last week how he could be so far away from me at a store but can’t leave my side at home. He explained matter-of-factly that he could see other people at the store, but at home, he can’t see anyone. This was a big “aha” moment for me. Will’s fear isn’t being away from a familiar face, it’s being away from any face. Or any voice, come to think of it. He can stay calm if he can’t see me as long as I talk or sing non-stop. I guess that’s the only way he absolutely knows I’m still near.

Basically, my almost-seven year old is terrified of being physically in a space where he cannot see or hear another human being. Even if he knows someone is just in the next room, that knowledge isn’t enough to provide the comfort he needs to face his phobia. And without that comfort, all hell breaks loose.

When Will gets in a place where his fear takes over, he completely loses it. He sobs uncontrollably. He screams as if he’s trapped in a container with spiders, or snakes, or something equally terrifying. Eventually, he turns red and hyperventilates. I ask him what he is afraid of and he doesn’t know. When he calms down, I try to talk to him about why he got so afraid, but he just says “Mommy, you know I’m afraid to be alone” like he’s telling me something that everyone in the world knows about Minecraft. He owns his fear without any shame.

In his therapy sessions, he talks about how the toilet overflowed once. About how the Xbox overheated and make a loud noise a few months ago. This seems to imply he is afraid there will not be an adult around to help him if there is a big problem.

But why would he not be comfortable when he knows that I am literally 20 feet away? Just because he can’t see or hear me, why would he think that he might end up unable to call on me for help?

We have never left him alone in the house. We have never given him any reason to think for one second that we might leave him alone in the house. We have never been unreachable in the house for a long period of time. Or for any period of time. We have never played hide and seek and hid in a really hard place. I just don’t get it.

After we saw a couple of his epic meltdowns, we gave in to his requests for someone to be with him. We hoped his anxiety was a phase that would pass, and that seemed to be the case last year when we got a brief reprieve. All of a sudden, he had no issue going to the bathroom by himself or playing upstairs by himself. Even sleeping by himself wasn’t a consistent issue.

But then, for some unknown reason, it all came back with a vengeance. Now we don’t indulge his every request. If he has to go to the bathroom, he will do the “pee pee dance” for hours just so he doesn’t have to go by himself. When someone happens to walk the same way as the bathroom, he takes the opportunity to go, hoping it means that person will stay close while he does his business.

We’ve been working really hard to get him to sleep in his own bed. Right now we are on “phase 3,” which means someone stays in his room until he’s all the way asleep but doesn’t spend the night. It’s not quite going how I thought it would. Every night, Will wakes up screaming bloody murder because he’s alone. Every night, he wakes up his sister with his cries, she becomes beyond irritated, and we are all up well before Will finally busts into our room and climbs into our bed. I think it’d almost be better if there was a monster in his room, because then at least he would have someone in there with him.

Back to the experience points, Will has been earning them for about three weeks now. Going to the bathroom when Mommy is in the kitchen earns 1,000 points. Going upstairs to get something while everyone else is downstairs earns 2,000. You get the idea. He now has 27,000 experience points.

So even though some things are not going exactly as I had envisioned them, there IS progress. What’s more, this weekend we were all outside swimming when I looked up and saw Will coming outside with a drink. He had gone inside all by himself and gotten a drink, without even batting an eyelash. That is HUGE progress!

So often I forget to look for progress and only focus on perfection. I’m grateful today to be reminded once again that, at least while we’re here on earth, progress is all there is and all that matters. Sometimes progress is slow, but it’s still progress.

I pray regularly for Will, for God to relieve his fear and give him a spirit of strength instead. But I have to remember to thank God for the progress. And I have to remember that God’s timing isn’t always my timing. Most importantly, I have to remember that God doesn’t always completely remove all of our fears, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My fears give me depth, and they help me relate to and help others. Most importantly, my fears and insecurities bring me to my knees on a regular basis where I always find God waiting for me. And that in and of itself is a beautiful thing. Will might just have a similar journey.

So from now on, here is my prayer for Will:

God,

Thank you for my sweet son. Thank you for how much he has grown. May his steps today be part of the journey you have set before him. May he make progress in facing his fears at your perfect pace.

As his mother, show me how best to guide him. Show me when to listen and comfort and then give me the strength to trust my gut. Show me when to push and be stern and then give me the strength to follow through. Above all, Thy will be done.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

Thoughts after the Dallas Shootings

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been reminded this past week how much one voice can matter. And so I add my voice. I started by sharing some of this post in a prayer on Facebook. Now it’s time to go deeper.

With every shooting that has rocked our world, I have felt horrible talking about my own feelings. Even given how close to home the Dallas shootings a week ago were, I still felt like anything I said would just seem shallow. Any expression of horror, grief, shock or sadness seemed like it would just be an insult to those who were truly grieving the loss of loved ones and reeling from unspeakable injustices. Any message about faith seemed even more offensive somehow. After all, in Proverbs 25:20, it says that “singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking away someone’s coat in cold weather.” So I stayed silent, except for the occasional “Pray for fill-in-the-blank” temporary Facebook profile picture or status share.

But I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of just sharing things other people have said. I’m tired of empty words. I’m tired of trying to process a day’s news of people dying in shootings in this country only to turn on the news and see another shooting has occurred. I’m tired of living in a country where we have all come to accept that horrific, almost daily shootings are the status quo. I’m tired of seeing my symbol of freedom and equal opportunity diminished – honestly, it surprises me more to see an American flag that is NOT at half mast these days.

We live in a world where it’s sometimes hard to speak up. Whatever you say is permanently memorialized on the internet. Anything that shows any remote insensitivity or lack of understanding of all the complex nuances behind an issue is exploited. Words are twisted. Taken out of context. Instead of assuming the best in people, we so often assume the worst. Instead of listening to each other, we talk over each other. Contempt prior to investigation becomes our modus operandi. I admit that I am as guilty as the next person.

But just because something is hard doesn’t make it unworthy. Right now, more than ever, I believe we all have to speak up, no matter how difficult it is. ALL of our voices matter. Black. White. Police. Civilian. Christian. Muslim. Man. Woman. Victim. Observer. Republican. Democrat. Independent. We must speak our truths with each other in a loving, honest way and then listen to each other to break down the walls and self-imposed divisions that would seem to separate us. We all have a role to play in driving out this darkness.

As people of faith, our voices are especially critical. We can drown out the angry, hateful voices with words that show love and forgiveness instead of hate and revenge. We saw that happen in Charleston. We are seeing it now in Dallas. Two thousand years ago, we saw the ultimate example of it when Jesus Christ suffered violence and death on a cross. Instead of repaying the injustice done to him with more violence, He responded with forgiveness and love. As His children, we must do the same. We cannot afford to stay out of the fray in fear that we will risk offending someone or politicizing our faith. We must not stay completely silent out of fear that we won’t have the perfectly right words.

It really doesn’t have to be so complicated. My aunt published a story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul” many years ago where she said the best thing we can say to each other in times of sorrow is often just a simple “I love you.” Dallas Police Chief David Brown sure understood this when he recited all of the lyrics from Stevie Wonder’s “I’ll Be Loving You Always” as his address to the families of the slain police officers. President Obama understood it when he asked us all to pray for God to give us new hearts to replace our hearts of stone.

We don’t have to perfectly understand every person’s mourning to say “I love you.” We don’t have to agree with every word our neighbor says to love him. Love is not the same as acceptance. To love someone is just to recognize that he or she is lovable. And in that way, we are all the same.We are all lovable. ALL of us. Even ISIS terrorists. Even the murderer of the five police officers in Dallas. While that may sound shocking, if we as Christians believe what we say we do, it is the truth.

Jesus didn’t just die for the “good” people. If anyone comes to Him and repents of his sins, He will redeem that person and flood him with His love. Just look at the writer of much of the New Testament. Paul, formerly known as Saul, started out his life as a mass murderer. The Bible says he went from home to home, dragging out Christians to be executed. He may not have been the person who actually pulled the trigger, but he was more than an accomplice. He was a terrorist. A bigot. But God sought him anyway. God loved him anyway. God saw that he was lovable and redeemed him with His grace. If God saw a Christian-killer as lovable, who are we to see anything less in each other?

This doesn’t mean that I think we shouldn’t pursue justice or that we shouldn’t protect ourselves. There is evil in this world. It would be naïve to think otherwise. But it is also naïve to think that we are somehow made different by the color of our skin, our religious upbringing or our political affiliation. We are not. We are all the same. We are ALL flawed. We are all human. And yet somehow, we are all  lovable.

To let someone know that he is lovable is a powerful thing. I know from personal experience. A couple nights ago, when I was putting my almost ten-year-old daughter to bed, she commented on how much I had said things lately that mirrored her thoughts. She remarked how alike we were. I said that I hoped we were, because I loved how her mind worked and that it would be a huge compliment to me if we were the same.

She then said “Well, I am clumsy.”

Ouch. I asked her if “clumsy” was the adjective that came to mind as the best word to describe me. And that’s when she said it. She said the word she would use to best describe me is “lovable.”

She caught me by complete surprise with that word, and in that moment, I felt incredible. If I have a moment of self-doubt, I think back to her saying those words and then I repeat them. They are everything. I’m lovable. I’m lovable. I’m lovable.

Lovable is a word that I would never have thought of to describe myself, or really anyone. And yet it’s the perfect word. It’s the word we need right now, at this point in our history.

Like so many others in my community and around the world, my heart is broken for the five police officers who died last Thursday. More than that, my heart is broken for our broken world.

And yet I honestly have hope for the first time in a long time because of what I see happening around me. I’ve never been prouder of my city. From the mayor to the police chief to the doctors at Parkland, the list of people who are not only speaking but demonstrating barrier-breaking love and humility goes on and on and on. Through their actions, I see the truth, and I have hope. My prayer is that we continue to see and express this unbelievable truth.

We are all lovable.