Monday, January 18, 2016

A Big Move - and a Giveaway!

I started blogging two and a half years ago in response to a one-word writing prompt put out by a blogger I followed at the time.  I have always loved writing.  Blogging became a fun way to write and connect with others while allowing me a way to bless people in the areas of parenting, spiritual growth and home education.  Beyond that, I learned new skills and met some really amazing fellow bloggers.  This past year, I stopped blogging in April.  Just. Like. That.  My family went through an unforeseen crisis and I needed to withdraw from social media almost completely to be fully present in real life.  We're out of that woods now.  

The start of a new year seemed like a good time to reenter blogging.  Since I've been out of sight for a while, I figured it was a great time to relocate and revamp the blog - something I've wanted to do for some time.  

Fresh start.  Fresh look.  New location.  Refined Vision.

I'm excited for Hearts Homeward this coming year!

To read the rest of this post and find me at my new home on the web, come on over to  I'm giving away gifts as a part of my blogwarming today, Wednesday and Friday.  I've written a welcome post to help you find your way around the site and get familiar so you can access spiritual encouragement, parenting help and other goodies like my "Book List for Boys" as well as Home Education ideas and inspiration ... come on over, you are always welcome.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Blind Faith in the Midst of Dark Times

She told me she wished she could end it all.

My friend on the other end of the line shared the ache of a recent grief that hit her like a Mac truck coming around a bend at 80 miles an hour.  I sat listening to her, aware of the depth of pain and the reality of loss.  Years ago when I was younger and more inaccurately sure of myself I would have tried to talk her out of her despair.  Quoting something pithy I would have tried to assure her that all was well, all would be surely well.  In those days I wasn't as comfortable or familiar with grief and unfinished business - difficult circumstances which beg for answers that just don't come.  God, in His mercy, has brought me further along and I know now that what someone needs most when they have lost hope is a listening ear from one who cares.  My friend just needed to be heard and understood.  She needed me to listen and say, "Yes, this stinks."  She needed me, not my quick fix or my memorized scripture verse or any other pat answer that attempts to quell pain and stifle emotion.

Just to let you know, she's been that person for me too.  When I careened into a bit of a depression, longing to feel God's presence and intimate care, yet feeling nothing at all, she was the one who said to me, "I know you have doubts in this season and you can't feel God though you want to.  Just know that I've been there and I know how you feel."  That word of hope became a tether for me at a time when I still thought my ability to  consistently feel of God's presence indicated His actual care and intimate involvement (or lack of both).

After we sat for a while with her sharing her heart, fears, concerns, challenges, we started talking about struggles and suffering.  I'm not going to lay out a comprehensive theology on suffering here, but I was struck by the realization that for the most part, in our current church culture we don't have a place to grieve or a way to honor the process of hurting as a result of loss.  If you've got doubts; if your prayers feel like they are hitting the ceiling; if you are struggling with a grief or an old hurt, the very last place you are likely to take it is to church.  I wonder when the last time was that you heard a sermon on the common experience of doubt or feeling distant from God. 

In the Old Testament the Jews would literally cry out to God about what was burdening them.  They used to put on sack cloth and pour ashes over their heads and rip their clothing.  Whole villages or tribes would do this when there was loss or a need to repent of a sin.  Up until 1950 or so, in America, we wore black for even up to a year to show we were grieving.  Not now.  Now we put on our makeup and wear a smile and keep the pain private.  How about you?  Do you let people know you are hurting?  Do you bring your deepest cares to God and cast them on Him because He cares for you?  When dark times hit, do you turn towards God or do you turn from Him?

In the early years of Christianity and well into the 1500s when St. Ignatius was writing, the concept of a rhythm of relationship with God was well known.  It was expected that there would be times of consolation - when God feels near and we are filled with the comfort and joy of sensing His presence and love for us.  It was equally expected that anyone who walked with Jesus would experience times of desolation - when God seems to have taken a leave of absence, prayer feels dry, we lack a sense of hope and struggle to do the basic spiritual activities which were previously life-giving.  Like waves of the ocean hitting the shore and then flowing back out to sea, our personal sensation of God's presence will ebb and flow throughout our time on earth. 

While there can be self-imposed reasons for seasons of desolation (when we are harboring a sin or when we have put other people or attachments ahead of God), these feelings are not always the result of our own wrongdoing.  Jesus Himself entered the desert.  We are told the Spirit of God led Him there to be tempted.  Sometimes we also forget that God prunes even the fruitful branches.  We can be going along in ministry and life, seeing great results in our intimacy with God and in the people we are reaching out to in His name.  All of a sudden we feel stripped back and exposed.  Something happens externally or internally and it feels as though the rug was ripped out from under us.  Pruning comes unexpectedly, even though He told us it would be "even the fruitful branches."  Why?  He tells us that too: that you might bear even more fruit.  Fruit isn't just in people reached.  Fruit, first and foremost grows in you.

It has been my experience that certain benefits only come through my suffering.  I'm not a masochist.  Believe me, I like to seek comfort as much as the next guy.  As I think back over friendships where I was betrayed, precious family and friends who have died, sins which I have committed or which have been committed against me and the seasons of pain which have followed these experiences, I see a pattern as to what God does with my suffering. 

First of all, God has always shown me my need for Him when I have hit a rough patch.  It isn't on a sunny day that I think about where my umbrella is hidden in the hall closet.  Let the clouds grow grey and I start digging it out and carrying it with me whenever I leave the house.  Sometimes, my need for God is like that.  I reach for Him with both hands when I've hit the end of myself in tough times.  Hardship makes me know my weakness and my deep need for Him.  In distress I am stripped down and I draw near to God in new ways.  He makes use of challenging times to increase my awareness of what is essential and to help me seek Him more fully.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness.  I was reminded just this year that I find my strength in the shadow of His wings.  It is only when I run to Him for protection and care that I am strong. 

God also uses difficulties to draw up dross in my heart.  He shows me false beliefs, idols of my heart and areas I need growth.  Though I search myself with Him regularly, nothing gets my attention and turns my eyes towards self-examination like a season of pain.  God doesn't bring these faults to my attention to make me feel low or to kick me when I'm down.  On the contrary, He is always seeking my freedom and growth.  When I see myself as He sees me, I am more willing to change.  Sometimes it takes a supremely agonizing experience to convince me to shift gears and give up something I was clinging to.  Like a woman in labor, the pain I endure as I grow through grief gives birth to new levels of maturity and joy.  I sure long for a spiritual epidural, but in the end I'm always grateful for having endured the trial when I witness the outcome on the other side. 

Another thing God has done through suffering is to give me a greater capacity for compassion.  In a letter to the Corinthians Paul refers to God as "The God of all comfort."  He comforts us in our affliction ... so that we can comfort others in the same way.  God will provide comfort in due time.  He often does not provide it when we wish He would because He wants us to want Him more than we want His comfort.  You know those "friends" who come over when you have something to offer them, but seem scarce when you have a need?  We call them fair-weather friends.  God won't abide with fair-weather followers.  He knows we need more than to be allowed to access Him only for His blessings.  A real relationship of any kind involves hanging in through hard times because we are committed to one another.  God hangs in with us (even when all visible evidence seems to feel otherwise) and we need to hang in with Him.

Real faith hangs on.  Jesus said, "What good is it if you love only the lovable?  Even the pagans do that."  The same goes for faith.  What good is a faith that believes only when things are rosy, when we can feel His presence and all situations are going the way we say they ought to go?  True faith - blind faith - believes through the darkness.  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.  When we hold onto God though our senses tell us He is not interested in us anymore and when circumstances have us on our ear, we are exercising true faith.  You may feel like your faith has failed you during a dry spell, but the very fact that you are still seeking God, longing for Him and missing a deeper connection bears witness to the depth of your real heart-felt faith.

So, what's a person to do when they are knee-deep in desolation.  Let me tell you, I've had long seasons of desolation throughout the years I have walked with Jesus.  I have some first-hand experience as to what is wise and unwise and what helps the journey go a bit more smoothly:

Reach Out and Reach Up
Don't keep your feelings of doubt, fear and pain buried.  Choose a trusted friend who can bear your burden with you.  Talk with someone who knows how to listen without trying to change you.  If you are willing, the sooner the better, talk to God about your emotions and all you are thinking.  Write a psalm to Him.  The psalms are such a gift to us.  They reveal that God wants us to share the good, bad and ugly with Him.  By including them in scripture, God gave us a model and permission to pour out all manner of thoughts and emotions to Him.  We do well when we walk through our fear and doubt with Him instead of trying to resolve it apart from Him.  On that same note, don't share what you are going through with people who you know can't handle it.  This is a perfect time to exercise the principle of not throwing your pearls before swine.

Don't Change Anything Major
Desolation can make us feel desperate.  We want to move, quit our job, get out of Dodge.  It's normal to want to flee everything and make big changes when everything around us seems to be imploding or when circumstances show no sign of changing and we feel stuck and blah as a result.  If you are going to make a change, run your ideas by some wise counselors.  Otherwise, sit tight.  Let some time pass.  Don't shift from good decisions you made in a season of consolation under the influence of your pain in desolation.

Remember the Good Ol' Days
We all have had great moments of intimacy with God.  During times of desolation these can seem hazy at best.  In the Old Testament God told the Israelites to set up alters, build Ebenezer stones (places of remembrance) and to tell stories and sing songs about the good things God had done.  If you are in a time of desolation, it helps to go back and remember the goodness of God in your life.  Recount blessings and remember His good works towards you.  When you are in seasons of consolation, write in a journal or find another way to record His goodness.  Leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs so that the next time you are in desolation you can remind yourself that God is near, He loves you with the greatest love imaginable and He will see you through. 

Get Out of Yourself
It may seem like the most unlikely time to serve someone else when you feel broken, doubtful or angry with God, but if you can be honest with yourself and God about where you are, you still can be of use to others.  Desolation makes us turn our eyes inward.  We can quickly become self-focused (like when you have a raging headache and nothing else matters or can grab your attention).  The pain of desolation causes us to fixate on our own feelings and thoughts.  Serving someone else lifts our eyes over and above our own pain, at least for a bit.  It is very hard to out-bless God.  Often when we reach out to others in a time of our own pain we feel the nearness of God as we do.  Don't go into serving others with that ulterior motive.  Simply know that you can get your eyes off you and contribute even when your brain is telling you that you have nothing to offer. 

If you are in a period of desolation, I would sincerely love to pray for you.  I've been there and I feel it with you.  Feel free to comment here or connect with me on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  If you aren't in desolation, know that many around you may be. Offer a listening ear and a heart that cares and entrust them to God - who never leaves nor forsakes us and has no condemnation for us who are in Him.

I want to thank my friend for her permission to use a part of her story anonymously so that we could bless others who are hurting.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

The End of the Year Purge

Do you all get like me at the end of the year?

I just LOVE LOVE LOVE to purge as we prepare for the new year.
I purge at the end of summer and usually each member of our family purges one item each day in November, but I somehow missed that boat this year, so I'm on double-duty to purge now.

I grew up in a home where all things were reused or kept for the potential that someday, somehow we would make use of them.  You know the can of old screws you may just need ... that mismatched sock that somehow has a partner that may show up ... the sentimental scraps of artwork from every craft day in elementary school, tattered and faded, but precious enough to avoid the ever-looming trash can?

My mother remarried a genius of a man who has a penchant for reading five to twenty items at a time ... all over the home.  You literally struggle to find an open seat for want of misplacing the magazine, newspaper or book taking a respite in the very spot meant for your tush.  Ah well, genius has its price.  He is a keeper, so we all endure the scattering of literature and scientific journals.

All that said, you can easily see why I am at odds with clutter.  I have the seeds of sentimentality sown deeply into my psyche.  Every little thing has a meaning and threatens potential loss if thrown out.  Still, after years of living with my husband and all the inevitable accumulation of what-nots, junk and miscellany, I got the itch to ditch.  Add to that equation my two boys (now 7 and 14 years old) and we have a veritable hoardfest if I don't get serious, lay down the law and bring out the empty Trader Joe's bags several times a year.  This, my friends, is one of those times.  All through Advent I am caught up in the spiritual significance of the season, but once the blessed day of Christmas has come and gone (forgive me all ye lovers of the 12 days ...) I'm ready to pull up the C-Train, and start tossing!

You might ask why I'm in such a fevered-pitch to get rid of stuff and whip out the label maker and see through tupperware shoe boxes so I can organize to my heart's content.  It's quite simple.

I want to own my stuff.  I don't want my stuff to own me.

Every year I have found that the mittens in that stuffed away rubbermaid in the garage and the candlesticks up on top of the laundry shelves and the old playdough, gone hard in its container due to lack of use - well, they don't only take up room in my home - they rent space in my brain.  Every time I toss, give or sell something, I am lighter.  It's as good as shedding a few pounds - and at my age, it's far easier.

I have improved over the years in this habit of purging.  We do two "end of season" purges (as mentioned above).  One before starting back to school and one after Christmas.  The other big purge has to do with making Thanksgiving truly thankful.  We each purge one item a day in the month of November and that allows us to keep what we love: whatever is beautiful, meaningful or purposeful.  It's ironic how letting go of what was unnecessary or no longer useful lends itself to making you appreciate what you keep all the more.

Here's what's also a bit funny to me ...  How is it after purging as a habit and routine for years now, I still end up with things that have been around and survived purge after purge?  I think it has to do with my ability to let go.  Each year I outgrow this strange and false belief that my things are vital.  I realize that I hold the truly important memories and sentiments in my heart, and no bucket, box or attic full of mementos will recapture the significance of those moments.  I'm allowing time to go by more freely and I am cherishing the now more than the "what was."  I'm making room for the future - holding my hand open.  Clearing out physical space is a spiritual exercise too.  Don't get me wrong, I kept some very precious things from my boys' childhoods, and God help the person who tries to throw out my oldest son's stuffed dog or my second born's first lost tooth.  Still, each year I get a bit better about saying "farewell" to some things that seemed impossible to release just six months back.

For those of you in need of a little purging inspiration, I wrote a little "Dr Suess-ish" story to inspire you ...

I'm on a roll and it won't stop there, 
I'll purge the cupboards til they're nearly bare ... 
 I'll toss things we can't or don't use at all ... 
I'll search through the attic, under beds, down the hall. 

This purging gives life, makes room and brings peace ... 
When I finish here, I'll go to the house of my neice! 
Once you get started you'll see what I mean. 
There's nothing like the feeling of getting things clean. 

Don't hang onto old junk thinking someday you'll use it ... 
Get rid of that frame, the old pot and your whatsee-doosit. 
You may feel a pang as you drop things in boxes. 
After all, those were great grandpa George's old sockses. 
 Ignore that feeling and do what you must. 
 Get rid of the excess. Salvation Army or bust!

I'd love to hear your purging stories ... or your hanging on stories ... or whatever you feel like sharing.  You can comment here (I hope, I hope, if the link works!) or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Family Meeting - Creating Unity and Avoiding Power Struggles

The past two posts I wrote about my slow and powerful recovery from being a serious control freak.  My need to govern may have been stealth and unobservable by most bystanders, but my family can attest, it was mom's way or the highway when push came to shove.  (If you only knew what fortitude it takes to even type that here, you would fall down and worship God for His awesome and intimate touch and His relentless pursuit of transformation in each of our hearts).

I have come a long way, yet feel like I'm just starting to really get a grip on what it means to decide what I will do (know my boundaries and stick with them), let them decide what they will do (release and empower) and pray like crazy over the difference (trust God and step out of His place and His movement in their lives).  Not to digress too far, but I am finding that I learn lessons in layers.  It seems I started learning about healthy boundaries about 28 years ago and as I look back over the terrain of my life, I see how there have been milestones where I let the lesson sink in further and become more integrated.  I guess that is sanctification in a nutshell.  Bit by bit He makes us more and more like Him. 

I am excited to impart a few tools over the next few posts which have been of such great support to me as I am growing in this new level of release.
At the end of my last post I mentioned the "Family Meeting" which is something I really want to share with you.  This gift came my way via a sweet friend who is constantly doing diligent research and reading so she can improve the way they do "family."  I just love gleaning from her.  I'm going to jump right in here and tell you what we're doing and how it has blessed us:

Once a week, on Sunday evening, we hold a "Family Meeting."  The gist of this meeting is three-fold.  
1. Spiritual
2. Planning and Informing
3. Problem Solving

We start our meeting in prayer followed by our weekly devotion. Each member of the family takes a turn leading the devotion, so one week I present it, the next my husband guides us, the next, my 13-year-old son shares and finally my 6-year-old has his turn and then we go back through the rotation.  Since I am raising boys, I want them to ultimately lead their families spiritually, so giving them an opportunity in this devotional leadership is preparing them for that future role in their families.  We don't tell them what to do with their week as to how to lead us.  We encourage them to be thinking about their devotion all week and bring something from their personal walk with the Lord to share with the rest of us.  For my youngest, it may be a repeat of his Sunday School lesson or of some reading we did together in his Jesus Storybook Bible.  My older son may bring us a piece of wisdom from his quiet time.  My husband read through Proverbs Chapter 3 last week and then shared about what it means to him to trust in the Lord. 

Following the prayer and devotion, we go into our Planning portion of the meeting.  At this point in the meeting we might talk about things we want to plan to do together (such as going to Disneyland in the fall, or where we want to serve in our community, or what day we are all doing yardwork this coming week).  Then we lay out our coming week's calendar so everyone is aware of what is coming up for all members of the family in the next week.  Also, during this time of the meeting, my husband and I will make our "announcements."  Announcements are things we have decided as parents (that are not up for negotiation, but need to be known by the whole family).

Announcements also can include things like when I said, "I have noticed you boys are coming late to our morning lessons.  I will not wait for you.  I will keep my day rolling.  I am available for that time to teach you, but if you miss out on my availability, I am going on with my day and you will have to do your lesson alone and turn in proof of your learning to me before you will be allowed to play later in the day."  Just that kind of FYI is the "deciding what I will do" part of life that lets me free them up to make tons of mistakes as they learn from their own choices - without me yelling, getting frustrated and resentful or throwing in the towel. 

After the Planning time of our meeting we go into the Problem Solving time.  We each get to bring up concerns or requests.  We don't talk about "Mom, I need new tennis shoes," here because that is not a family issue.  We discuss things like the way we are treating one another, rules that have not been followed, guidelines for bedtime or screen use or other hot topics.  We may resolve ongoing conflicts such as when brothers are in each others' space too much or how late we tarry after church (as some of us want to get in the car and go and the more extroverted of the bunch want to stay and chat until the custodian locks us out of the building).  Each family member can bring an agenda item (or more than one, though we go around to each person in a rotation, so there may not be time for more than one concern per person). 

We have some "Guidelines" for the meeting which I'll just put out to you here:
1. One person talks at a time (we pass a little nerf ball and whomever is holding the ball is the speaker - this immediately and simply eliminates any spirit of argument and interruption). 
2. Everyone listens while someone else is talking just as they would want others to listen to them.
3. If you are bringing up a concern, you must bring a suggested solution (or two) with it.
4. If you disagree with anything someone else has said, you must present an alternative solution.
5. No solution is put in place until there is a unanimous consensus.
6. If we cannot resolve a concern, it is tabled until the following week.  

When someone brings up their concern or request, they also share their suggested solution.  Then we all talk things out, taking turns by throwing the talking ball to one another.  Finally, the ball lands in my husband's hands and he sort of wraps it up.  We keep notes on what was decided and everyone signs the notes so it is "official."  The beauty of this process is that we are all focused on solving a problem rather than arguing or complaining.  We share our concerns or questions and then we are forced to listen instead of getting stuck in defending our position.  Family members who tend to dominate have to step back and those who are reserved have to take a turn giving input.  The playing field is leveled.  We all participate together.  No question or concern is too ridiculous (we're dealing with a dreamer six-year-old here, so we do get a few doosies in the mix sometimes) or too heavy. 

We wrap up our meeting in prayer and then we spend an hour doing something fun together like going on a bike ride or out to ice cream, playing a board game, backyard soccer or hide-and-go-seek (we're dorks, I know!).  We decided having a fun, unifying activity after the meeting makes the evening something we all can look forward to, so no matter whether we resolved our concerns or not, we all end the night on an up note. 

By having an early supper, then the meeting, followed by a family fun activity, we are strengthening our bonds with one another.  We are teaching our boys valuable problem solving skills and modeling how families worship God while connecting with one another.  The fruit of this process has been rich and sweet.  Our boys feel they are giving input that matters.  They buy into the solutions because they helped decide what would happen.  They are learning to negotiate with one another instead of the occasional getting frustrated and yelling or slamming doors. Our family looks forward to Sunday evening as a time of connection.  When we are frustrated about something through the week, we don't get anxious or overwhelmed.  We can table it as an agenda item for the family meeting and trust that together we will find an answer to that concern without arguing or getting into power struggles.  We are on the same team.  God says in Ephesians for us to be diligent to preserve the spirit of unity in the bond of peace.  The family meeting does that in spades.
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 
If you haven't put a family meeting in place, I strongly encourage you to give this a try.  If you have other great tools for solving problems as a family or for coming together on a regular basis, please share!  We're all here to learn, grow and encourage one another.  I love hearing from you either here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  ... 

Next week I am so very excited to be writing about Bible Journaling and how it has transformed my intimacy with God over the past month. 

Gratefully Linking Up with: theweekendbrewbutton

Friday, April 17, 2015

What Is Left When We Relinquish Everything?

A few years ago I started praying over my friendships.  It wasn't the first season of prayer in this area.  I had shared with my dear friend and prayer partner how I had a longing for more connection and sweetness with women in my life.  She said, "Let's pray over this."  God was so faithful to strengthen existing friendships and bring new women into my life - women who really love me - women whom I pray for, give to, share with, listen to and cherish - women who show up on my doorstep with flowers or a Starbucks for no reason whatsoever.  I'm beyond blessed.  

I've always had this habit of taking a weekend away at least once a year for my own personal retreat.  I pack up my paints, my camera, my Bible, my journal and my tennies and go somewhere lovely alone for two whole days.  This year a few of those friends whom I had prayed for decided we would do this get-away together.  At the last minute, one of us got ill and couldn't make it, so it was just me and my sweet friend, Christine.  We headed to San Simeon and got a room at a little inn there.  If you have never done this, or it's been long enough that you don't remember the sweetness of the last retreat you took, I encourage you to put one on the calendar asap.  It doesn't have to cost a lot.  You can go somewhere local for a day if an overnight won't work.  Swap childcare with a friend if your husband can't provide a day of caring for your children.  Just provide time to separate from life, regroup, gain perspective and rest. 

You know (or at least I pray you do) how it is when girls of any age have a sleep-over.  We stay up, chat our hearts out as we solve the problems of the world together - at least our little worlds.  Lately God has been inviting me to grow out of the habit of attempting to control others.  {You can read about that here.}  Girls, this hasn't been a perfect and pretty journey.  I've cried tears of grief as I feel myself releasing my oldest son.  I've felt confused as I wonder what takes the place of directing him and setting firm limits with consequences.  I've sensed the freedom God is providing for both him and me in the process, but with each additional relinquishing, I feel more residue of the fear that has been the trigger to years of a control-based thread that ran through my parenting.

Now I'm finding, this thread runs through my marriage too.  Yeah, baby.  Not my proudest moment, but you need to hear it, especially if you may have these leanings too.  You know how God gave curses to Adam and Eve and the snake in the garden after they all sinned?  The curse given to Eve was that she would desire to rule over her husband, but he would rule over her.  Without getting into a theological debate here, I want to say, "thanks, Eve."  I sure experience the fallout of that curse.  I would have been capable of bringing that on my own head without her help, I'm sure.  Either way, I find that I want to prescribe what my husband will and won't do - especially when it comes to how we parent our sons.

Why do I feel this drive to control others?  I'm discovering in more personal ways that the root of control lies in fear.  When we fear, we grasp at straws - and we shove God out of the picture (either quietly or boldly) as we take over "knowing how things should be" and often sharing our expectations with others around us.  You know, how we "share"?  ... "Hun, don't do that!" "Babe, you didn't let them stay up that late and eat THAT did you?"  "Don't say that around the kids, they'll start to copy you," and on it goes.  We prescribe the way others should behave because we are sure if things don't go as we expect all hell will break loose - literally.  In our attempt to keep things solid, we actually create a mess.  It may not show on the surface for years, but believe me, a habit of control only leads to two reactions from others - they either comply (agree on the outside, but never engage their hearts in the agreement) or they rebel (either boldly or passively).  Who wants that? 

So I got to the place where I had to let go.  I just had to.  Piling on rules and more rules and consequences that would happen if those rules weren't followed is not going to keep my son from the perils of adolescence.  The good news is that God moves in concert with our willingness.  As I have opened to release, He has met me and blessed me with greater peace, freedom and grace.  A deeper calmness fills our home.  My boys show love more freely.  Laughter pervades our days (instead of tension or the occasional stressed session of raised voices and hurt feelings).  We have a sweet family.  Even so, this pattern of control has been a part of our life and God saw I was ready (and even willing) to learn to live without it. 

I found myself asking God what would fill the emptiness left as I let go.  His answers have been surprising.  I have been given control in exchange for control.  I'm gaining self-control.  When I feel like correcting my son, telling him what to do, engaging in the power struggles we are so experienced at falling into, I stop.  I quiet my heart.  I turn to God.  I let go.  I have control - over me.  I have also been given freedom and trust in exchange for control.  With that has come peace - you know that famed peace that passes understanding, that's the one.  As my friend reminded me this week, we can't dictate what our children will choose anyway (and my sweet son isn't even choosing poorly yet - it's the darned fears that tempt me to board the control train time and again). 

I've come up with a little formula for myself in this process.  It goes like this:
1. Decide what I will do.
2. Let them decide what they will do.
3. Pray like crazy.

That first line - decide what I will do - is all about healthy boundaries.  I'm not talking about boundaries where I am secretly manipulating others to do what I want.  You know, the way we can say something but underneath we aren't leaving anyone in the room any real choice or room to fail.  No.  Not that.  I mean, I just decide what my limits are and I share those with my loved ones.  Then I just live within those and let them make their own choices - without my expert advice, opinion and guidance.  This stuff is uber-practical.  The other night my exhausted six-year-old was fighting sleep.  He screamed at me in the height of his tired stupor: "You can't make me sleep!"  I just said, "Oh, you are so right.  I wouldn't even try.  You are in charge of your sleep.  I'm not.  You can stay awake for the rest of your life if you like.  I'd like you to sleep because I care about you, but I would never force you to sleep."  To this, he replied with tears, "But, mommy, I'm so tired, I just have to sleep!"  You see, when there is no power struggle, the fight often is over.  Ingenious.  Amazing.  God-ordained goodness.  {After all, He is the author of will and choice}. 

Another sweet tool has been the family meeting ... but that will have to wait til next week.  Can't wait to share about it with you, though.
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Where are you in the process of letting go?  Are you finding yourself stuck in demanding that others do it the way you think it ought to be?  Are you letting go, but grieving the losses that come with any process of relinquishing?  Are you a pro at release?  I'd sure love to hear and as always I'd love to pray for you wherever you are in the process.  Share here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.

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Linking up with ....

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

I hadn't seen her in a month or so - not since I went to her home to help work out the kinks in her daughter's sewing project one Saturday afternoon.  As I rounded the corner in Target, on my quick jaunt through the store - you know, just zipping through for a few things - I saw her there, staring at the clearance items in the craft section.  I said her name and she turned.  We hugged the hug of friends who miss one another but can pick up where we left off no matter the time that has passed between our last connection.  As we chatted it all came rushing out - how the family has been so sick and she's been homebound caring for them all.  The conversation turned to our teen boys.  Good boys from good homes still turn into teenagers and the various hormones and challenges {and girls!} throw us all for a loop.  I told her that after only one year of being a teen mom I had this inner urge to walk up to every mom of teens I know, give them a hug, a gift card to Starbucks and shout, "You go girl! You are a rock star!"  She said, "Why doesn't anyone tell us it will be like this?"

Now, don't get me wrong - and hang in there, all you moms of toddlers, you'll be okay.  My son is amazing.  Really.  He's doing great for this age.  Compared to me and my trek through adolescence, he deserves a gold medal.  But still.  The thing is that these years are meant for launching.  I don't know about you, but I'm not so good at the letting go part of life.  I can organize circles around people.  I am able to direct, plan and supervise.  When it comes to letting go, I'm a hot mess.

The thing no one told me about being a teen mom is the refining plan of God.  It isn't so much about my son and his need to become his own person as it is about me and my need to make sure he'll be okay - and by okay, I'm coming to find out I mean my version of okay.  I had no idea how deep this need for control was in my heart.  It just doesn't rear its ugly head in the same way with littles.

Here, in the middle of my wrestling through release, God meets me.  He has been quietly whispering redemption over unfinished business I didn't even know existed in my heart.  It is for freedom that He set us free and He continues to relentlessly and gently pursue that freedom for each of us.  His oh-so specific touches come in unexpected moments.  He speaks.  I randomly picked up The Screwtape Letters (part of my resolve to read something written by C.S. Lewis every day because his writing clears the windshield and I see God more clearly through his lens).  Right there, hidden in the preface was this amazing revelation as C.S. Lewis describes the way he imagines hell:
I feign that devils can, in a spiritual sense, eat one another; and us.  Even in human life we have seen the passion to dominate, almost to digest, one's fellow; to make his whole intellectual and emotional life merely an extension of one's own - to hate one's hatreds and resent one's grievances and indulge one's egoism through him as well as through oneself.  His own little store of passion must of course be suppressed to make room for ours.  If he resists this suppression he is being very selfish.  On Earth this desire is often called "love."  In hell, I feign that they recognise it as hunger.  
I feel this urge to assure you I haven't lived out my parenting life solely from this motive.  Whatever.  The point here is that this very motive - domination, suppression, control - has entered into my life as a parent, a wife, and probably to a lesser extent, a friend.  God in His mercy is weaning me of the need to control.  Like all weaning, it feels a bit raw as I muddle along to what is next.

Once again, this isn't just for me or even just for those of us with children.  When we examine our hearts, most of us will find places where we experience fear.  Fear leads to control.  Control leads others to two reactions.  They either conform, or they rebel.  Neither outcome comes from health and love.  We prefer conformity {mwah ha ha ... you ARE mine and you WILL do as I say}, but the truth is that conformity is external.  God wants more.  He knows what lies below the surface - in our hearts.  He longs for and moves towards obedience rooted in love.  To get us there He allows a vast opportunity for our free will and choice.  He risks our foolishness and sin so that we might choose.  I'm learning to follow His lead and allow those around me the same freedom - to fail, to fall, and ultimately to find their own way. 

What this looks like in my life is that I am confessing my blunders to my son while asking him to give me some grace as I learn how to release him.  I go to the Lord in prayer and confess my weakness and my deep need for Him.  I ask Him for grace to trust Him more.  I pour out my fears at His feet and try not to act on them in my relationships.  Perfect love casts out fear.  Trust doesn't mean promises that all will be well.  It means God will be with me when the stuff hits the fan.  Relying on Him doesn't mean others will go the paths I hope they will.  It means I can focus on my own walk and abiding relationship and leave them free to be found by God in theirs.

I am asking my son's opinion more.  I am giving him the reins in choices about his life.  I am stepping back while my husband steps in.  I am challenging my son with my ideas of what I hope he'll strive towards and asking him what standards he wants to set for himself.  It is so different from anything I've known.  Pressing down on him with more rules and consequences will only produce rebellion (outward, blatant rebellion, or passive aggressive sneaking) or a compliance that doesn't engage his heart.  As always, when it comes to Jesus, the way up is down.  The way to life is through the cross.  I'm dying again - to self-reliance and control.  Can you feel the breezes of freedom in the release?

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If you, like me, are walking into trust and letting go of control which is rooted in fear, I'd be honored to pray for you or just to say, "Way to go!" as you do.  Share here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.

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Linking up with:

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Other Half of the Story

"God never gives you more than you can handle," she says, "so, you will get through this somehow."  Hearing this profession, quoted as if from Scripture, gives me pause.  It reflects a certain perspective about God and His expectations of us.  If He never gives me more than I can handle, then He must expect me to handle it, right?  I've marched to that drum - expecting to pull myself up by the bootstraps, keep a stiff upper lip and press on (or whatever other "encouraging" can-do slogans Nike or the Queen of England want to pitch in here).

When you think about it, when the deep stuff hits the fan, it's really ALWAYS more than we can handle.  Way more.  God allows more than we can bear.  He knows we are weak.  The truth is whenever we can handle things, we often do so without a second thought about Him.  When the tide starts to rise, we reach out for help.  I'm not saying we only draw near when trouble comes, but we sure have a desperation that is hard to come by on sunnier days.  There's just something about a trial that strips us down and helps us look inward and upward. 

Life wasn't designed to be "handled" and certainly not handled on our own.  We weren't intended to bear our own burdens, solve our own problems or work out our own difficulties.  God wants us to come to Him, to depend upon Him {and others} and grow in the process.  

This week has been full of doosies. I'm on a personal learning curve in motherhood.  As our children grow, we must grow with them.  Each stage of parenting requires new skills.  Just when we get really good at what they need and how to go about things, they change and we have to adjust.  Parenting never runs on auto-pilot.  We have to engage and be willing to go through huge emotional ups and downs as we walk with our children through life.  The biggest challenges for me have come as I learn to let go and entrust my  children to God.  Sounds simple enough, but in reality I find I want guarantees from God ... I want assurances they will be okay before I really let go and trust.  Unfortunately trust doesn't work that way.  By its nature, trust means stepping out into the unknown and believing we won't fall.  Letting go of my children doesn't mean I abandon my role as their mother or set aside boundaries and limits.  It means letting go of the outcomes of my parenting and being impervious to their reactions to those boundaries.  I can only go so far laying the foundation and then they have free will as to what they do with what my husband and I provide.  This is a hugely hard pill to swallow.  Horse-sized, if you ask me.  I've gagged on it several times along the way, but I'm getting it down bit by bit.
I have to, for their sake.

You see, motherhood is a great investment, but it is an investment in a person.  We don't get to own them or determine their path.  We rear our children so that they will go on and have their own lives, still connected, but completely separate from ours.  As much as I enjoy watching my boys become more dynamic, more interesting and more themselves, grief has surprised me at each passing season. 

You may not be a mother.  I bet you still have something in your life which has some claw marks on it from clinging while God is asking you to release. 

Pull up Pinterest, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and you are flooded with images of life going well.  Picture perfect living explodes across the screen.  Celebrations, smiles {along with great lighting and Photoshop} sometimes shed a falsely biased glow over the lives we see from the outside.  It can start to feel pretty lopsided - maybe THEY are handling what God has given them.  Maybe I'm the only one who ever raised her voice at her children or skipped a shower and just washed up with a baby wipe or fed the kids cereal for supper.  Maybe I'm alone in this imperfection and weakness.

So, we decide not to share the other half of our story.
We tuck it away behind our own posts of goodness and all-American dreams come true.

Trust me.  Behind every one of those enviable posts lives a real person with real problems, trials of their own, an occasional broken heart and learning curves that take their breath away.  Behind each of the golden moments, real people are living real lives with real struggles and their own fair share of both good and bad days.

We all know this, but sometimes it just needs to be shouted out again ... We aren't perfect - not one of us.  Do you remember in the Wizard of Oz, when they finally come to him, all eager to get their wishes met?  The curtain is pulled back exposing the wizard for what he really is ... just a man from Kansas.  Life can pull back the curtain on us, and it should.  We aren't super-human.  We don't need to be

Right now, as I sit processing the emotions of this week, I'm acutely aware of the need I have for God and His power, love and comfort.  I'm learning afresh that life isn't a relay race, where God passes me a baton and expects me to run the next stretch without Him or others beside me.  I'm sharing my burdens with others and asking for their help.  To say that is hard is an understatement.  As humbling and awkward as it is, I am reaping great benefits by letting others pour wisdom, prayers and words of hope into my parched heart.

I'm leaning on God - literally crying out to Him at times.  I'm remembering, when I am weak, He is strong.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Someone once told me, "God is a gentleman.  He won't force Himself on you.  If you want to run the show, He'll step back and let you."  I think some of that is true.
Running the show is tiring.  Letting go is hard.  He remains present.   

This post won't be my all time favorite.  It may not even "generate traffic."  I'm sort of under the heap right now - living out the other half of the story - the one that never makes it onto social media because it isn't about how to bake the perfect pie, decorate your mantle just so, or parent with finesse.  I decided to write this anyway, because maybe like me, you need to hear the other half of the story sometimes.  Maybe you need to know you aren't alone.  Maybe you need that curtain pulled back on my life so you can have the courage to let yours be drawn open as well. 

It will pass.  I'll make it through.  Just for tonight I didn't want to paint it other than it is - momentarily difficult, painful and reaching up to Jesus.

I can't handle all that life will dish at me, but He can and always will.

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I would love to hear from you.  If you are struggling or celebrating, I want to hear the other half of your story.  
Feel free to comment here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  
Let's encourage one another and remember together we are never alone. 

Linking Up With:
 Fellowship Friday 64 & Burdens