Gathering

The past couple of months there has been a lack of peace in my home, and I often thought, this mothering gig really isn’t my thing anymore. 4 teenagers, one with profound special needs, a pre teen, a 10 year old, a 9 year old, and a four year old who has no lack of confidence. It was a lot. Between health and job and hormonal issues which led to emotional issues and arguing and backtalk and snarkiness and bad attitudes and the older kids teaching the younger kids things they had no business knowing; the whole thing was a big honkin cup that overfloweth… or perhaps, it was more like a kitchen sink or the bathtub spilling over & it was causing significant damage. And we – the parents – should have immediately steered the ship back on course, but instead we bickered & bitched & complained as we held on for dear life to the raft boat the kids threw us when they made us walk the plank.

This sudden change in the family dynamic was attributed to a few circumstances: one, everyone was getting older and hormonal and becoming more opinionated & two, our move to an urban community where the kids had opportunities for activities, sleepovers, and jobs and the focus slowly shifted from the family unit – a strong unit we had in rural America where we relied heavily on each other because it was all we had – to individualized focus “You take care of you, and I’ll take care of me” & as long as the older crew took ownership of themselves: jobs, food, school, homework, play – we didn’t question much. We reasoned it was simply a stressful time in our life and “this too shall pass” and then…

Then, a few weeks ago, I said to my husband “I really miss family dinners.” You see, with the introduction of jobs and late nights and neighborhood kids to play with and everyone fending for themselves, and in turn each individual grabbing a bite to eat here and there, dinner time as a family had become almost obsolete – the rare exception in our family since our conception in 2011. For 8 years, we have religiously sat down at the dinner table and enjoyed a meal together – religiously until the move this past December. When Ryan and I married, we knew this tradition would provide a foundation to our success as a blended family – the art of gathering around a table for a home cooked meal and offering a blessing for not only the food we were about to eat but also for his faithfulness through our lives. We knew that the table would provide the foundation for community and connectedness in our newly blended home and the absence of the table would only leave a void and disconnect.

We recently reincorporated family dinner night. It looks a little different than it did in rural America, and we eat later – around 6 now because of play time with the neighborhood kids. We’ve made it a requirement for any child who is home that evening, and my oh my, what a difference we’ve seen already. Attitudes have changed and lightened as we laugh around the table partaking in fresh pasta and warm bread. I like my kids again & I think they might like me too as the focus has shifted, and we get to know each other on a heart level – on a real level- rather than just co-existing.

There is so much chatter in the world today about how lonely we all are, how depressed and isolated and longing for community, and this is not only true for ourselves as adults, but it’s desperately true for our kids. Our homes need to be safe places of respect & connections and what better way to foster these desperately needed essentials than around a table? What better way to encourage conversations? And what better way to show love than to invest our time, our most precious commodity, in them? Give it a try. You won’t regret it ❤

Just keep livin.

Can We Truly Forgive and Forget?

Ryan and I recently hosted a Blended Live on Facebook where we revealed that marriage and life in general has been difficult for the past few months.  Part of these difficulties stem from circumstances outside of our control: health, 8 kids, four teenagers, and a special needs son; part of them stem from our reactions to the issues – anger instead of joy – and part of it involves the very simple concept of forgiveness.  Instead of rehashing and focusing on the negative, offering forgiveness to the offender and letting go on the angst that accompanies an unforgiving heart.  I’m excited to have author Gil Mertz sharing on the topic of forgiveness today, AND, I have a copy of his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future to send to one reader! Simply comment here on this post or on Facebook for your chance to win.  Contest open until Oct 1st. 

Billy and Ruth Graham were married for almost 64 years and when asked for their secret, Ruth revealed that marriage is the union of two good forgivers. Forgiveness is vital for any successful relationship, marriage and family. One of the biggest challenges of forgiveness is trying to forget the offense and not bring it up over and over again. This not only threatens our peace in the present but our hope for the future. But is it possible to truly forget our past hurts?

We’re told that an elephant never forgets. Frankly, I don’t know where we come up with these funny expressions about animals such as sweating like a pig, eating like a horse, working like a dog or skinning a cat. I’ve never seen a pig sweat, a fat horse, a dog like mine work, and I don’t even want to think about skinning a cat, even those there’s apparently more than one way you can do it! But I know where the expression about elephants comes from.

Unscrupulous circus trainers needed to keep these massive animals stationary and so they would take them very young and tie one of their legs to a stake in the ground with a rope. The tiny elephant would soon learn that it cannot move if it is attached to the stake. A full-grown elephant that has the strength to knock over a tree will not test the stake in the ground because it thinks it cannot move. That’s because, an elephant never forgets.

Many of us are like this helpless elephant. We have total power and freedom to move on with our lives when we forgive, but our past pain is like a stake in the ground. We remain stuck because our memories are telling us that we cannot move forward. If we cannot forget, what if we could learn to remember in a different way so that we can manage our emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them?

The Bible says in Romans 12:2 “Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.” (NIRV) Some translations call this the renewing of your mind, but it basically means to change the way you think. If we can change the way we think, it will change the way we feel and as a result, the way we behave. Advertisers spend billions practicing this biblical principle because they know if they can control your thinking, they can get you to buy their products.

Jesus said in John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So how do we get to the truth so that we can remember in a different way and find the truth we need for our lives? One way is a simple tool known as reframing your picture. All of us see our experiences through a frame of our own choosing. It’s usually limited to our own personal biases and when we’re hurt or angry, the picture can get completely distorted from the actual truth. But if we can reframe our picture by enlarging it to let more truth in, we can remember the past differently.

Recently I was driving in a car with my wife and I was upset because a driver at the intersection pulled right out in front of us. According to the picture in my head, this crazy driver could have gotten us all killed and I was upset. Then my wife gently reminded me that I was intending to turn right at that intersection and actually had my blinker going. At the last second, I changed my mind and decided to go straight. But all the other driver saw was my blinker to turn right and was unable to read my mind. When the frame on that picture got enlarged and I could see the truth, it changed my mind immediately.
Not long ago I counseled with a couple whose marriage appeared doomed. He had a short-term affair which was long over. He knew it was a terrible mistake and had pleaded for forgiveness. His wife didn’t want a divorce but she could not forget the deep pain that had been inflicted. Clearly what he did was wrong and forgiveness doesn’t condone, justify, or rationalize his actions. But as we began to work together to enlarge the frame on this picture, we learned that the wife had been married to her job for years. She was frequently home late and her divided loyalties left a legitimate need in her husband that he tried to fill through other means.

As she could see the bigger picture beyond her own pain, she no longer saw her husband as the 100% villain and herself as the 100% victim. Though she couldn’t change the past, she could remember the past in a different way which gave her peace. This time with empathy, understanding, and love for her husband who also was dealing with a broken heart. Today their marriage is thriving because they become two good forgivers.

If you find yourself struggling to forget your painful past, try to enlarge the frame on that picture by talking to people you love and trust who can help you see things more objectively. Here are some good questions to get you started:

• Are there any details I may be leaving out because of my hurt and anger?
• How might another person’s account of the experience differ from mine?
• Did this person specifically set out to hurt me on purpose?
• Is there any way that I could have misunderstood what was said or done?
• Have I made any attempt to reach out to this person for clarification?
• Do I consider myself more worthy of forgiveness than this person?
Don’t keep rehashing a painful memory and feeling that pain repeatedly. You’ll never learn anything new, it will never help you grow, and it won’t help you change. Besides, didn’t it hurt enough the first time? Holding a grudge is a lot harder than forgiving. Take it easy on yourself and forgive your way to freedom!

Gil Mertz is Assistant to the President at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He has been involved with full-time Christian service for nearly forty years and draws from a vast background of ministry with international missions, humanitarian causes, public policy, and consulting. Article is adapted from his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Permission given.

Adapted from Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future by Gil Mertz (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

 

A New Desk and A Podcast Debut

desk1Remember the old metal table I had my eye on in my husband’s junk pile

awhile back?

It’s not an old metal table anymore! Not only has he masterfully restored it to a beautiful new desk, but he’s also masterfully restored an old barn on our property into a quiet space for me to write and practice yoga.  Continue reading “A New Desk and A Podcast Debut”

Love and Loss {And a Giveaway!]

lovedbaby.jpgA baby gone too soon.
A beloved family member diagnosed with cancer.
A dear woman battles emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband.
Children beg for food in third world countries.
Ten year old girls lose their innocence and their humanity as they are sold as sex slaves.

It hurts like hell.
It stings
It all falls so painfully short of what we feel this life should be
It aches like betrayal on a massive scale
A world wide scale
And we, humanity, are the victims left in the wake.
A big joke played on all of us
by a bunch of pranksters residing in the Heavenlies.

And we numb the pain with drugs
With wine
With anger
And sleep
Or hurtful silences
Or busyness
Or denial
We numb our cells to the best of our ability
To avoid feeling
To avoid the reality
To avoid the ache
But when the numbing wears off
It still hurts
And we rage against our Creator
Our cells scream
We groan from the never lands
We weep for the lost tomorrows
And forgotten yesterdays
And the vacant presents
And there are still no answers
The Creator is silent.

The baby remains absent
And grandma starts chemotherapy
And the “C” word enters our children’s vocabulary once again
Along with the “D” word in regards to their unknown sibling

And our eyes spill in response to their tears
And children still starve
And that woman still aches for a loving spouse
And girls are raped again and again
And that is the reality of what we call life.
And that is why our hearts ache for something purer
And bigger
And more beautiful
We ache for more
We need more
We yearn for a hereafter
Where all the pain is gone
And every tear is wiped from our eyes
Our hearts scream for some sort of redemption
Something that makes it bearable again
All of creation grapples with the injustice we’ve been served
And we shake our fists in righteous indignation towards the pain we have endured in our fallen nature.
Our souls search through the fragility of our humanity for something deeper.

The “Whys?!” we scream
Why is a Godly woman ravaged by an insidious disease?
Why a baby, an innocent child who has harmed not one, taken so early?
Why!?!?
We scream to the Heavens
To anyone who will turn a listening ear towards our anguish

These were some of the words I wrote in response to losing my beloved baby in December of 2013 http://www.jessplusthemess.com/index.php/my-blog-old/entry/love-and-loss-and-bethlehem .  I felt so incredibly alone, lost, scared, fearful and full of despair and so I hid.  I hid behind words.  I hid in my house.  I hid behind a fake smile plastered across my face that told the world I was just fine.  But I wasn’t fine.  I thought I was being punished for some reason.  I could not understand why God couldn’t grant me the desire for a healthy baby – especially after all I had been through – especially after obeying what he had called me to in blending my family with another family and raising 7 beautiful children.  I deserved this baby!

In hindsight, God used the next 9 months of waiting to become pregnant again as an opportunity to birth something beautiful in my marriage and heart as Ryan and I gained a deeper intimacy through the pain and revelations that preceded the conception of our 8th child who would be our beautiful daughter Annabelle Ryan.  God is good. All the time, but man, sometimes it hurts like crazy to walk in obedience to his plan.

I was honored to be a part of the launch team for Sarah Philpott’s book Loved Baby.  In all honestly, I have never read a book on losing a baby that impacted me quite like this one did.  She is honest. She is vulnerable, and she is realistic in explaining step by step, what to expect, how to process all of the feelings, and how to slowly release the pain and agony to your Heavenly Father as you allow him to help carry your burden; as you choose joy over fear when you are blessed with another child, and it is a choice to be made – wishing “we could be filled to the brim with delight about the new life blooming in my womb. But the little thing called memory prevents us from pure elation,” and her wise counsel, “When fear seeps into our soul, let’s combat it with joy.”

This book will be such a blessing to your life and to anyone you may know who has walked through this difficult terrain, AND…. I have a copy to give away! Comment here (sorry, I know it’s a bit like Fort Knox to be allowed to comment on the blog – you can thank the trolls for that) or comment on Facebook or Instagram about why you would like to win a copy. I’ll draw a winner Sunday evening.

Just keep livin!