A Season of Struggle

A sweet young mom looked at me and confessed, “This has been one of the darkest times of my life.” I had just participated on a panel of mentor moms talking to moms of little ones at our church. This sweet friend proceeded to tell me the struggles she has been facing due to the effects of COVID. My heart hurt for her as I sensed her pain and isolation.

I belong to a Facebook group that serves teachers who are trying to find other careers. One mom wrote how she has a toddler, is pregnant, has extra responsibilities with her teaching job due to COVID and she is drowning. “What can I do to relieve the stress?” she implored.

A dad of three confessed to me recently that he has sought counseling for the first time in his life. A strong man of faith, the increased isolation and uncertainty of the time is getting to him. He needs a safe place to process.

This Tuesday I have the pleasure of being a guest speaker for a MOPS group in Michigan. The theme I’m supposed to talk about is Be Strong. What a timely theme! It seems there is much to fear right now. Life can leave us feeling pretty weak right now when even going to the grocery store is a more difficult task. I still find empty shelves for things I need and I realize I’m using more brain power in order to check all of the items off of my list. I read recently that living in a pandemic is similar to visiting another culture. Rhythms we once held for common tasks are thrown off kilter so we really do have to think harder these days.

Each of the people above made some good choices. The first realized something needed to change and started focusing on self-care, which included simple things like connecting with a friend. The second mom reached out to ask advice and people responded with some great ideas. The dad I talked to was right on track by recognizing he needed some professional intervention. Sometimes being strong is best accomplished by admitting we need help.

I have undoubtedly had worse years in my personal life than 2020. This year has been a breeze for me compared to a couple in my past. For some, this is most certainly one of the worst. I do worry a bit as we enter the winter months. I always find it harder to regulate my mood during the coldest season. I’ve coped well the last several months by hiking and spending a lot of time outdoors. As that gets a little harder/less enjoyable to do, I’ll have to be more creative and intentional.

Don’t be afraid to communicate your struggles to your spouse, a friend, or a counselor. So many are fighting tooth and nail to remain positive. If you find yourself there, you are certainly not alone.

I was recently reminded of how God provided manna for the Israelites in the desert one day at a time. God asked them to depend on Him for what they needed just for the day. Any extra gathered would rot. In my darkest times I have found it best to focus on the present. The future might seem terrifying, but God can give us what we need just for the moment. Devoting energy to troubling thoughts is just like rotting manna. As Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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Elusive Peace

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The pounding, hammering, and whir of the machines felt shocking in light of my expectations.

A few weeks ago I wrote a little about my trip to St. Meinrad’s, a monastery in southern Indiana. I looked forward to a couple of days away focusing on solitude and reflection.

After breakfast, on what was one of the first truly beautiful mornings of spring, I decided to take a walk around the campus. I couldn’t wait to find a quiet place outside to do some studying and enjoy the fresh air.

What do you picture when you think of a monastery? Close your eyes for just a moment and visualize it. I imagined a place where it was extremely quiet everywhere. For whatever reason, I simply pictured a place where sound became nearly muted. The clamoring of the outside world would cease to exist.

I already knew quiet is hard to find, but I held deep conviction that this experience held a rare opportunity.

As I left the guest house, this is what I nearly immediately encountered:

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IMG_2277IMG_2278IMG_2279Oh, the clamor! My heart sunk a bit. I had not expected this at all. I continued my walk and made my way down to a large pond. The noise was at least in the distance. My beautiful view here:

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was interrupted with this:

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Finding peace outside of ourselves is a nearly impossible endeavor. Things break and need repair. Lawns need mowed. Various machines grace our world performing important jobs. Ambulances, police cars and fire trucks must rush to the rescue multiple times a day, sirens blaring. These things are necessities in our damaged world. Even nature itself can produce quite the racket, like the birds recently at my house at 6:00 or so in the morning.

As I walked, it occurred to me that the only way to achieve peace is from within. I must strive to make my inner life peaceful, because if I look for peace outside of myself I will only be disappointed. 

I finally made my way into the church. Surely I would find quiet there. Nope. Someone was practicing the pipe organ. At least it was good noise, so I found a seat and settled in to do some reading. About a half hour in, the gentleman practicing came over to me (I didn’t even know he knew I was there, because I couldn’t see him from where I was sitting). He looked at me and said, “Maam, it’s fixin’ to get real loud in here. I just didn’t want to scare you.” I thanked him for the warning and grinned to myself as the organ proceeded to belt out Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. You know, the one that makes you think of horror movies? I just had to grin to myself.

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If we rely on things of the world to calm our spirits, we will walk away deprived. We can travel hours away, spend lots of money, and still leave empty.

For me, in my experience, there is only one source of true peace. John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

If you are struggling in this area, this article has practical examples of things you can do to deal with anxiety and worry. These problems are on the increase and in a world where noise only increases with time, we need to work harder than ever to maintain a positive and peaceful inner life.

What works for you?

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Worry About Your Kid(s) Much?

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Does anything about your child worry you? It seems the pediatrician wants to know.

Hmmm…maybe the question might better be phrased, “What about your child doesn’t worry you?” Because you probably don’t have time to write a book while you’re in the doctor’s office.

Do any of these sound familiar?

He’s six months and he’s not sitting up.

She’s two years old and doesn’t seem to be saying enough words. 

He’s not drinking enough.

She’s eating too much

I’m afraid he’s going to smother his baby brother in the pack-n-play.

Will she choke on those Cheerios?

He’s not making friends in school.

She seems so bored in her class this year. 

My child is exposed to too much junk food.

Will my son ever learn to use the potty?

I don’t think he’s learning his alphabet like he should be.

My daughter is overly stubborn.

She’s not sleeping through the night yet.

His attention span doesn’t seem long enough.

The list is endless. Sometimes these things keep us up at night. We lose sleep. We fret. We ponder. We plot and plan.

I borrowed the above picture from the Facebook page of my friend, Sarah. Sarah’s daughter, who is four, has a rare disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome. The list of possible problems associated with this disease is long. It includes such things as low muscle tone, speech delays, poor growth and development, and so on. One of the most disturbing aspects of this disease is the individual does not have the capability of feeling full. Their appetite is never satiated. In addition, they cannot throw up, which becomes a serious problem if overeating occurs (among other things).

We all worry about our children. You throw any special circumstances into the mix, and you can bet there is some worrying going on. You would think the above question was pretty silly, too, if you were Sarah.

How do we cope, from worrying about the minor to the major?

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not!  And if worry can’t do little things like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?  “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!  And don’t worry about food — what to eat and drink. Don’t worry whether God will provide it for you.  These things dominate the thoughts of most people, but your Father already knows your needs.  He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” Luke 12:25-31 NLT

I have looked into the face of tragic circumstances I could not change. I have lain awake at night fretting over things I fear regarding my children.  There are so many things in life we cannot control.

Here is what helps me: praying for peace, wisdom and courage; taking one day at a time (sometimes one hour); releasing control; not comparing my children to others; and telling myself repeatedly, “I can do this.”

I don’t know that we can stop the worries, but we can work to turn them over to the One who has a greater capacity for helping us deal with them. “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)

If you have a friend that has a child with any kind of special needs, give them some extra encouragement. This parenting thing is tremendously hard under the best of circumstances. They need all the support they can get!

By the way, you can check out my friend Sarah’s Facebook page for the fundraiser she started to raise money for research for Prader-Willi Syndrome: One Small Step–Bloomington. This year’s event will happen August 30th at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church. You can view Lillian’s story through video here: One Small Step.

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