Rest in What You Know: God

Stress can snowball. As soon as my mind starts whirling with “should’ves,” “would’ves” and “could’ves,” I intentionally stop my thoughts and worries in their tracks. As soon as I’m tempted to slip into a place of self-pity, anxiety or anything less than gratitude, I (try to) hit my mental pause button. Then, I purposefully redirect my thoughts back to where they need to be: off of me and back on Him. I remember a favorite Scripture about God’s sovereignty. I talk with Him through prayer or journaling. And sometimes I quite literally just sit and rest, choosing to actively accept the Lord’s exquisitely simple yet profound invitation.

His invitation is always there. We may RSVP with good intentions, but do we actually show up with our actions?

I’m not gonna lie. This isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be a bit like trying to stop a freight train. Many of us—myself included—have much more experience with worry and letting our own thoughts run away with us than not. But like anything else, it can be changed, and practice can help us make progress in the right direction. When we do so, we’re better able to intentionally choose God’s blissful rest instead of our own exhausting worry.

Here’s some simple steps that will help:

Choose to let God be your Rock. Refuse to let your feelings and emotions rock you.
No matter how we suffer, we can know that we’re held by the Beginning and the End Himself (Job 12:10, Revelation 22:13). Purpose to replace doubt, worry and fear with God’s truth: He works all things for good (Romans 8:28). He is always in control (Isaiah 45:7). He is our light when we sit in darkness (Micah 7:8).

Practice pausing to make room for change.
Be intentional about choosing to respond rather than react. Jesus Himself demonstrated this when He stooped down to write in the sand when confronted by the Pharisees for an answer on the spot (John 8:1-11). Follow His example and take yourself off the stopwatch. Rarely is an immediate response required. Instead, practice giving yourself the time you need to be thoughtful and purposeful, even in your own self-talk.

Remember that experiencing His rest requires effort on our part.
God’s graciously offered us rest and He’s provided all the guidance and instructions we need to experience it. But it’s up to us to act on it.  Jesus couldn’t have been more clear: “Take my yoke upon you…learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Experiencing His peace and rest comes after we follow His instructions. In other words, taking action on His words is what enables us to be still when suffering threatens to rock us.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Anger Turned to Prayer-Filled Action

Thankfully, it’s finally nearing the end of the school year. But that’s exactly what made the email I received just a few days ago that much more disturbing.

It was an email asking the various teachers, specialists and aides who supervise and interact with Mark throughout the day to email us (his parents) should he show any “unusual” behavior.

This should be a given for any child. It should be standard practice. But especially so for a child with extensive medical concerns and special needs such as Mark. That’s exactly why I’ve been requesting this back and forth communication since the beginning of the school year.

Yet this email directive just went out—literally 12 days before school is out. So, yeah. Talk about far too little done way too late.

As I felt my cheeks start to burn red with anger, I tried to temper it quickly. After all, I was grateful that we’d managed to avoid any major health crises or behavioral issues. On the other hand, I felt my anger (and frustration) was justified. I didn’t—and I still don’t—think that open lines of communication is too much to ask for.

But there’s nothing to be done about it now other than prepare to absolutely demand it next school year.

But in the middle of my anger, I heard a holy reminder, too: Don’t make God wait to hear from me, either. And as I ate a big ol’ piece of humble pie, the color—and heat—from my cheeks began to slowly fade away.

It’s a fact for me. When I’m suffering, stressed out or challenged in some way, I almost always spend more time in prayer and pouring over Scripture than when I’m not. And while this is a personal tendency, it shouldn’t be. God deserves my time, heart and attention at all times—not just when I feel I need Him because the truth is I always need Him.

I’m not proud of this, but I get busy. I get caught up in the day-to-day rush of running a household, working and parenting two boys. But I (honestly) don’t want to be too busy for God. Nor do I want to simply try to “fit” Him in. I recognize the (desperate) need for change. That’s half the battle, right?

But I don’t want to leave this change to chance. Change doesn’t just happen. It takes work, work I’m willing to put in. So, to help myself I’ve created an unobtrusive, but beautiful visual reminder. It’s a string of four simple beads clipped onto my purse. I see the beads every time I go to put something into or pull something out of my purse, every time I leave the house and return home, every time I’m sitting at my desk.

The beads remind me to talk to God. Sometimes it’s a short prayer of gratitude. Other times, it’s a request for guidance. Still other times, it’s just humble yet incredibly grateful acknowledgment that I’m never alone.

If you’re curious why four beads, there’s a good reason. Each bead stands for one part of a personal prayer acronym I’ve created:

Praise God and reflect on His character (Psalm 148:1-10).
Repent and seek His forgiveness (Acts 3:19).
Ask God to meet your needs with humility and gratitude (Matthew 7:11).
Yield to His will and walk in His ways (Proverbs 16:9).

I personally thrive under structure, so having this 4-step prayer pattern helps me structure my prayers in accordance with the example Jesus set for all of us in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). And having the four beads on my purse is just a visual reminder to talk to God throughout my day, not just at predetermined or “when it’s convenient” times.

Choosing Joy

A lot has happened as of late, and as a result I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I would like. But I’m going to be much more purposeful about changing that because—well—change doesn’t just happen. We have to be intentional about it.

I’ve learned that joy is the same way. Joy isn’t something you find or stumble upon. It’s something you can choose to have. It’s something you practice. And while practice doesn’t make perfect, it does make better. So, in the middle of—and I’ll be completely honest here—crappy circumstances, I can opt to practice joy, even when in the middle of messy, stressful stuff.

So, rather than go on a rant about what’s been happening lately, let’s focus on how exactly you, me or anyone can be intentional about practicing joy…

Practice being mindful of God’s presence—always.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11 (ESV)

There have quite literally been countless times I have had to walk Mark through painful, scary situations and procedures. The only thing I could do was simply be with him, a powerful, stable, calming presence, a presence that reminded him that—no matter what—I was with him. And this seemed to have helped him tremendously.

God’s presence can do tremendously more for each of us—if we choose to focus on it, instead of allowing our circumstance, challenge or the chaos around us to compete for our attention.

Recognize that joy does not depend on things being easy. Joy depends on Him.

For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Psalm 33:21 (ESV)

There are admittedly days when I feel like I can’t catch my breath. My worries run away with me. But then it gets even worse because I realize that all my worries are based on factual knowledge about Mark’s future. Many days, I wish I simply didn’t know what I know. Peering into the future is not always a good thing.

It’s on days like these that I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter how things are now or how they will be in the future. It doesn’t matter because I already know Who matters: the very One who controls it all and will work all things for good (Romans 8:28).

So, we can suffer and things can downright suck. But it doesn’t have to affect our joy because our hope—and our lasting joy—can only be found in him.

Invest in growing joy!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (ESV)

No garden flourishes without being tended, and neither does joy. So, invest in your joy-filled harvest by being purposeful about planning time to just be with God.

Honestly, I think I’ve been woefully lacking in this as of late. Sure, I faithfully read and study my Bible, but I’ve been so busy taking care of all my responsibilities that I’ve not made time to really rest in and enjoy God.

It helps me to be more intentional about this when I think of a seed buried deep within the dirt. It may look like nothing’s happening, but that’s far from the truth. While in hiding, it sprouts and takes in nourishment from the soil so that it will later have the strength to push through the surface and grow into all it’s intended to be. Likewise, we can make time to hide in God’s presence (Psalm 119:114) and be strengthened (Isaiah 40:28-31), too.

Holding On Can Harm

I was the stay-at-home parent. So, I was the one who knew the most about Mark’s medical, developmental and dietary special needs. I spoke his language fluently, a unique combination of what can only be described as sounds and verbal approximations at best. So, when my husband wanted to start helping out more—well—I had a hard time letting him.

I shrouded my excuses in simple truth-based statements. He couldn’t take that much time off from work. We couldn’t risk losing his employment. It’s was easier for me to manage Mark’s doctors’ appointments. Mark and I already have a system, and it works. And perhaps the absolute worst excuse of all: Everything’s fine. I’ve got this, that and everything in between. Yeah, I was stubborn.

Honestly, I thought accepting help would equate to admitting I couldn’t do it, that I was a failure. And no matter how Jason framed his offer of help, I simply wouldn’t accept it. I wasn’t willing to let him help shoulder the responsibilities of managing Mark’s care. But soon, what I was willing to do and what I had to do became two very different things.

To put it bluntly, my refusal to accept my own limitations—and Jason’s gracious offers of help—began to take a physical toll. My need to hold on to control was causing me physical harm. I was physically exhausted and emotionally an absolute wreck. Suddenly, caring for Mark was no longer my greatest challenge. it was me.

Pride was causing me to cling to control. I wanted to manage it all. I wanted to do it all. And handing Mark’s care over was a scary thing to do. Frankly, it was a scary process for me and for Mark. Prior to the adoption, Mark had been severely abused and neglected. So, trust was not something he placed in people easily. But it was equally important to everyone that he learn to do so.

Sometimes holding on does more damage than letting go. Sometimes we create our own stress by refusing to accept help. Going it alone was never God’s plan for us (Genesis 2:18). And remembering this and choosing to practice humility, instead, can help us manage stress, too.

Dear Father God,
You alone are my strength.
In trusting You, I will find help.
My help comes from You.
Help me to graciously and gratefully accept it.
Amen.

(Psalm 28:7 & 121:2)

When Worry Washes Over

I thought everything was okay. But one quick glance down at Mark immediately told me that it wasn’t. His fists were clenched tight. His jaw was sliding side to side as he ground his teeth. And his cheeks were slowly turning an odd shade of violet as he held his breath. I’d seen all these symptoms before. Sadly, Mark was falling apart.

Things were admittedly going downhill quickly, but there was still time to prevent a complete meltdown. So, I found a quiet corner and dragged Mark over.

It was the first day of school, so the cafeteria was a bustling and busy place. I couldn’t get Mark out of there. There just wasn’t time. But I could limit the chaos—at least a little. I could put myself between Mark and the overwhelming situation in front of him.

“Mark,” I said, holding his chin up firmly so his eyes would meet mine. “Give me your hands…”

He responded, quickly handing me his clenched fists. It was just as I feared. He’d already dug his fingernails in deep enough to draw blood.

I fished through my pocket for a piece of tissue to wipe off his hands as I continued calmly but with a strong voice, “Now, look at me. Relax your jaw and take a deep breath.”

It was a struggle, but he tried. And it worked. Thankfully, together we had averted what could have been much worse.

There was likely close to 400 kids in that one room. To say it was loud and overwhelming would be a vast understatement. So, Mark’s reaction was completely justified. In fact, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was expecting it.

What I wasn’t expecting was his ability to follow my instructions. There were so many distractions, I worried that they would drowned out my directions. But much to my—and Mark’s—tremendous relief, he didn’t let them.

We can work to do the same for ourselves. Experiencing worry isn’t the problem. That’s human. It’s how we work through it and past it that matters.

Dear Father God,
You are my shield. Thank You for being my hiding place when I worry.
Help me to be still before You.
In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

(Psalm 59:11, 32:7 & 37:7)

Escaping Fear

I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, sure, I was hopeful for some answers. I couldn’t help but think that if we could nail down what exactly was going on, then maybe we could better equip ourselves to help Mark. We’d know better what to do, who to seek out and how to approach all his unique needs. And this test was easy enough to perform. Just a quick swab of the inside of Mark’s cheeks and then simply wait.

But nothing—absolutely nothing—could have prepared me for the results.

Extensive genetic testing revealed a massive list of specific conditions, diseases and disorders that Mark had a genetic predisposition to—372 different conditions, to be exact.

Talk about having the wind absolutely knocked out of you.

First, the genetic counselor went into damage-control mode:

This doesn’t mean Mark will come down with all of these conditions.
He won’t necessarily have to deal with any of these until later on in life.
He’s doing remarkably well considering all that we know now.

But then she returned to the grave reality:

He will likely suffer from several—if not many—of these listed conditions, including conditions that aren’t even listed.

I’ll never forget what I asked her next. It was the exact same question I later asked Mark’s biochemical geneticist, too:

“When can we breath a sigh of relief?”

I wanted to know when we could cross some of these conditions off the list and simply not worry about them.
When would we be able to whittle this massive list down to a more manageable amount (if there is such a thing)?
Would we ever be able to not live in fear of something catastrophic popping up unannounced?

I’ll never forget both their responses. They were the exact same: Never.

That was 3 years ago.

As anticipated, things continue to pop up constantly. And it’s always very rare issues, too. It’s always conditions that have no simple answer or symptoms that Mark’s many doctors simply have no experience with. Still, I often feel like the wind is completely knocked out of me. Every day, there’s at least a handful of times that something about, related to or with Mark catches me off guard. But in the midst of it all, I’ve had to learn not to fear.

I’ll be frank. My initial reaction was to be swallowed up by it.

How do I care for Mark if the doctors don’t even know how?
How do I (joyfully) parent a child whom I know is most likely doomed to suffer so terribly?
How to do I keep going knowing my very best will never be enough?

These questions—and many others—still continue to creep in. That’s why I said I had to learn not to fear. But, thankfully, as with anything else, practice has helped me make progress. It all came down to a choice.

I could focus on what I feared: the reality and gravity of Mark’s future and the part I could play in it (including the lack thereof).
Or I could focus on what I knew: God is in control of everything (Isaiah 45:7, Job 42:2, Proverbs 16:4).

When we choose to dwell on our fears, we’re ultimately placing them higher on our priority list than God Himself. But if our thoughts and our hearts are where they should be to begin with—completely focused on God and His truth—then our fears get pushed aside and crowded out by the freedom that comes from giving back everything that was never ours to begin with. Fear can often be boiled down to a lack of control, control that was and never is ours to begin with.

But I’m human. We’re all human. And to say this process is hard is a vast understatement.
I know. I had a list of 372 autosomal recessive conditions staring me in the face. And the reality of each and every one of the items on this massive list were only feeding my fear. But, thankfully, I had another reality also. I had a Book that could feed my trust, too.

What if Noah had looked at the reality of his surroundings instead of listening to God? He wouldn’t have build the ark that saved him.

What if Lot’s wife had listened to the angel’s warning, God’s message: Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17 ESV)? Then, she wouldn’t have turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).

Our fears are valleys, too. And we can very much become swept away by them. But no matter what our circumstances are (or ever will be), escaping our fears is always in our control because we can choose to focus on God—and His track record—instead. In short, we can choose to follow Noah’s example and learn from the woeful mistake Lot’s wife made.

And so I’ve learned to put that spreadsheet away, love and care for Mark the very best I can and focus on God as intentionally and as fully as I am able.

I’ll never be able to forget what likely lies in store for Mark.
I’ll never be able to help prevent any of it.
But I can escape the fear of it because I also know something else: I’m never alone. The One who is in control of it all is also with me.

Grace to Grow On: Joshua 1:9

Practical Help:

Name it. Identify your fear. Be as specific as possible. Don’t let it masquerade as something it’s not. Letting it lurk around in the peripheral of your thoughts gives it the opportunity to fester and grow. This enables its power over you to grow, too.

Ask yourself what’s stronger: your fear or your trust in God? Then, purpose to act—and train your thoughts—accordingly.

We’ve already been given a spirit not of fear, but of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Choose to act on the latter to put the prior where it belongs!

 

 

A Sticky Situation

I was fuming! I couldn’t help my reaction. I was red-hot angry. But then I took a deep breath and tried to temper my response.

Mark’s intentions were good. The results of his actions were just unfortunate—really unfortunate. And right now, I needed to carefully craft what my next few words would be, so as to avoid more unfortunate results.

Mark had been in the bathroom a long time—a very long time. So long, in fact, that I was worried. So, I walked down the hall and knocked on the door.

“Honey, are you okay?” I asked with my ear resting against the closed door.

“I okay,” he said. “I almost done…”

But I couldn’t help but notice the odd sounds coming from the other side of the door and when I noticed my shoes beginning to stick to the tile, I knew something was up.

“Honey, Momma’s coming in…”

And as I opened the door, that’s when it hit me. The smell was so overwhelming I could barely breath and there was sticky coating on everything in the room.

His own embarrassment and good intentions had lead him to completely drench everything in the room—and I do mean everything—with air freshener. The toilet seat and lid, the shower curtain and bath rug, the bathroom sink and counter—and yes—even the floor, all of it carefully and completely covered in a copious layer of (thankfully, environmentally-friendly and all-natural) room deodorizer.

I wanted to scream. What a mess! What a complete waste of money! What in the world?! But apparently I didn’t have to scream. No words were needed. Mark was able to read my reaction loud and clear. My facial response said it all.

But then—as I watched his tiny smile drop into a frown—I tempered my reaction.

How I felt was completely valid. It was a mess. It was a waste of money. But Mark’s intentions were absolutely true, valid—and good, too.

And in that very moment, as I stood in a standing puddle of room spray, I chose to practice grace. I gave myself the space needed to craft an intentional response that would take into account Mark’s own innocent actions. In short, I felt anger. But I didn’t lash out.

Grace to Grow On: Ephesians 4:26a

Practical Help:

Don’t always go with your gut. Try not to react to how things initially appear. Sometimes things can get lost in translation, so try to look at true intent instead.

Recognize that people make mistakes. They screw up. They hurt others. But take the time to appreciate that the results don’t always accurately reflect their real intentions. And when you discover those, let them guide your response accordingly.

In other words, purpose to practice grace.