Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Simple Life...Letting Go of Control

This has been a year of exploring what it means to live a simple life. Gone is the need to keep up with, or compete, with anyone. I'm working on the need to please people. I'm a life-long pleaser, and this one has been more difficult.

My search for simplicity has been a process of self-examination in learning how to let go of certain things, while clinging to others. Living in the country has helped me sort out the truly necessary from the trivial habits I've made for myself. I need quiet and margin in my life to achieve simplicity, and I can see the fruit of changing my way of living.

One of the most profound, yet simple actions, has been surrendering control over things I can't change. I'm not necessarily a worrier, but I do tend to project the end result of any number of issues..."if this happens, then this will probably follow," scenario. My brain creates all kinds of stories that will more than likely never happen; a recipe for stress.

I'm learning to accept life as it happens and leave the future, in the future. There are few things we ultimately have control over, and letting everything else go has brought peace.

There was a time I was so addicted to Major League Baseball, I'd get up in the middle of the night to check the scores. My heart would pound as I waited for the Atlanta Braves score to scroll across the bottom of my television. This was in the days before smart phones and instant everything. There wasn't a dad gum thing I could do about it but my anxiety level didn't comprehend that fact.

The weather, the economy, American politics, and especially certain people in my life will never be in my control. My responsibility is to love those I come into contact with, care for my family and home, and live every day in a way that pleases my heavenly Father. It's also my responsibility to use the gifts and talents I've been given to share my faith and point people to Jesus. Beyond that, I'm free to live simply; sit on the porch with a cup of tea, invite friends to share a meal, plant flowers and watch them grow, or serve the needs of others.

The possibilities are endless when you let go of the need to control. I recognize I will struggle with this because of wanting everyone to be happy. However, taking the first step in realizing this is not my job has brought freedom.

Each of us are responsible for how we choose to act or react to the people in our lives. And this, dear friends, is one of the secrets to my simple life.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

When Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Brought Healing

Saying the words "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" was something I associated with war veterans, not a simple girl like me. When my counselor proclaimed this was going on inside me, a flash of light brought focus to my decades-long struggle. Naming something can be almost as important as the cure. At least now my enemy was identified, and I wasn't crazy. This was the first step to a new life.

I've been familiar with triggers for many years. As a sufferer of migraine headaches, I know most of the triggers that cause my head to pound at the left temple. These headaches have ruled my life for many years, sending me to bed in a dark room, and to the hospital for morphine.

I now understand the kind of triggers that thrust long-buried memories into focus. In the spring of 2004, I was a normal wife and mother on the surface. By the fall, I was wearing a monitor that recorded the activity of my racing heart. An incident I witnessed sent me into a frenzy that triggered my past to scroll through my mind in blinding clarity. Unable to handle the fallout, I crammed all my feelings and emotions back where they came from. Thus, the heart monitor.

I didn't even connect the two issues so how could I expect anyone else to recognize what was happening. No one but my family knew the details and I got to the place where I thought I'd conquered. I tucked away all those ugly memories, tidied myself and everything around me. Whew, that was a close one. I was back in control now, except I wasn't. I was never in control, but fooled myself into thinking life was good.

Then came the spiral. D o w n w a r d. Because my family didn't respond in a way my heart needed, I built walls so I wouldn't be hurt. Ever. Again. One year became ten and I was isolated and miserable. After years of keeping my past at bay, I was crumbling inside. I felt like a pot on the stove, lid rocking from the intense heat, contents spilling over the sides. Making the call for an appointment to begin therapy was one of the most difficult things I'd ever done, but that call in March of 2013 probably saved my life. Week after week I spewed the contents of my heart, the damage to my soul and body, the rejections that controlled my life.

Not completely healed, the next trigger sent me over the edge. Trigger number two was a rejection I still don't talk about in public, but it was the final blow.

Through time, I began counseling with someone new, due to my original counselor moving to a different part of the state. After two or three visits she said I suffered from PTSD. God provided exactly who I needed all along my journey to healing. Charles, my first counselor, was kind and compassionate and listened with godly love and biblical truth. He focused on my worth in Christ, and simply acknowledged the horrible things I experienced without turning away from my pain. I was finally heard. He gave me the freedom to use my voice, one I'd suppressed all my life.

Theresa entered my life at a critical point. Because I hadn't fully healed, I was losing ground I thought was conquered. We spent many hours in intense therapy. My husband and I had been separated for some time when he joined me in November of 2016. Theresa led us down the necessary path of painful recovery. She taught me how to name the trauma in the presence of the one who loved me. She explained the way the brain works and what happened to me as a result of my childhood experiences. She united the physical and spiritual aspects of my body that eventually led to wholeness.

Learning how PTSD works made sense and gave me closure. Now I could tie up the loose ends of confusion and self-hate. Suffering without a diagnosis was like having migraines, yet calling them headaches. Over-the-counter meds didn't touch the pain of a migraine. But, oh the relief when the right medicine was prescribed.

And that's what happened when she named my illness. Relief. Blessed relief. The Bible says in John 8:32,  "Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." And it's true. The truth of who I am in Christ has given me hope and abundant life. My marriage was restored, and the future looks promising. It was worth all the pain to get to this place.

If you suffer in a similar way, help is available. You don't have to live another day in darkness. Talk to someone who will listen, really listen. Don't succumb to the darkness. The light is shining on the other side of your pain.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Father's Day Tribute

A father is supposed to be the first boy a girl loves. And mine was.

A father is supposed to protect and love with abandon. Mine did. And then he didn't.

I've spent many years focused on the "didn't" part. Choosing to forgive and focus on the "did" has changed my life.

I choose to remember my dad as kind and caring, because he was. I choose to remember that when he had to make a choice late in life, he chose me. He. Chose. Me.

I choose to remember how funny he was and didn't even know it.

I choose to remember how he taught me to ride a bicycle and drive a car, or actually a truck, since that's what he drove. He taught me how to love someone who is dying. He taught me the meaning of perseverance when faced with a choice of giving up. He taught me the importance of life-long friendships.

I choose to be thankful he took me to church every time the doors were open. Because of his, and my mother's faithfulness, I gave my heart to Jesus at the age of five.

I choose to remember our long talks on the back porch as he prepared to die.

I choose to remember his face as he breathed his last breath. If that's the face of looking at Jesus on the other side of eternity, then I want to follow him.

Thank you, my precious dad, for allowing me to find you again.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Perfect Peace on the Other Side

Someone asked me recently…”How did we get to this place?”

I thought to myself, do you want the long version, or a simple, rehearsed answer? The road that led to “this place” began more than fifty years ago. And isn’t that the way it is with all of us? We are who we are at this very moment because of the accumulation of life experiences.

Writing about the hard places is hard work, and also scary. While I want to help people overcome their own fears and insecurities, I find it difficult to expose mine. Writing teachers stress you shouldn’t write about something for public reading until you’ve worked through it, and come out the other side. I think I’ve finally gotten there, to the other side.

I don’t want to miss an opportunity though, to reflect on how far I’ve come.

I know there are people suffering in silence with grief and sorrow, guilt and shame. There is a way out of the pit these emotions throw us in. I’ve been there and can tell you it’s possible to overcome.

Several years ago I was weighed down with burdens too old to name. It felt like I was walking through life with a chain wrapped around my leg. Every time I tried to move forward in joy, the chain pulled tight to remind me I was different. I was bound together with links of several broken chains, each representing a different hurt or grief.

But there was One who loved me enough to break the chains and strongholds of my life. He protected me, walked with me, and gave me strength when I thought I had none. He heard every cry of my heart, saw every tear, and every broken place in my soul where the enemy had sown lies and mistrust. He confronted me with the hate I’d harbored for those who hurt me, and replaced it with forgiveness. 

God placed two, amazing, gifted, Christian counselors in my life who walked me through the painful steps of healing and recovery. He surrounded me with godly friends who never gave up on me. He gave me a husband who endured the worst of my brokenness, and loved me anyway. He gave me a son who checked on me every day to make sure I was ok.

Bonnie Gray says in her book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace,“Perfect peace from God isn’t found by forgetting. Peace is ours if we dare to remember our pain and our sorrow, and experience our fears fully with Jesus.” 

This is my testimony in a nutshell. There are many good resources for healing in our communities, but I’m convinced that healing of the soul can only come through the One who created me, and died for me. Anything else will never be enough, though may grant temporary relief.

No matter what you’re going through, God is enough. If you truly seek Him, He is able to completely resurrect your life and give you a firm foundation to rebuild. Your pain does not need to define you any longer. It need not demand anymore of your life, the only life you’ll have on this earth.

On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate the peace I’ve found. My parents would’ve been so disappointed if I’d let my childhood destroy my future. My mom was the strongest woman I know. I learned how to die, but I also learned how to live because of her influence. Her favorite Bible verse was Philippians 4:13: I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. He gave her strength to fulfill His purpose for her. My goal is to do the same, whatever that may be. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who have poured love and kindness into my life. I am blessed beyond measure to have so many that have been Jesus to me. You are loved.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Art of Saying No

Many years ago when my children were in Christian school, I did all the things. My hand went up for every field trip, every homeroom party, for both children, every avenue available to volunteer.

What was I thinking?

I wanted to be present for my precious children, yes, but there was pride involved too. That ugly five letter word. That word has tripped me up most of my life. I wanted to be THAT mom, the one with the title of Homeroom Mother, and I was for many of their growing up years.

Not only did I have my hands in the classroom, but I served on the school board, the PTA, the sports programs, and anything else coming down the pike.

During this same era, at this same school, I was asked to lead the Prayer Ministry. I was honored and the pride monster kicked me around for a few days as I tried to figure a way to add this to my growing resume.

Can we say burnout?

Something happened that got my attention. I knew I wasn't supposed to lead the Prayer Ministry, but my pride hovered in the gray areas of my thinking. Finally, I turned it down, and relief flooded my soul. While I am a praying woman, this wasn't the time for me and my relief was evidence I made the right decision. And wouldn't you know, the perfect person stepped up and volunteered. She was amazing and the ministry flourished.

That simple no taught me a valuable lesson, one I've had to repeat many times over the years. While it was a good and excellent thing, God didn't call me to the task. Just because it was a good thing didn't necessarily mean it was for me.

Getting at the heart of my busyness, I discovered a need to feel good enough. I was hiding behind the veil of works in an attempt to measure up to some Wonder Woman identity. In life, as in animation, that woman is fake. She is not so much dedicated to a greater cause, but her own. Ouch! That's not who I want to be. I wasn't created to be larger than life. John the Baptist said in John 3:30: "He (speaking of Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." Good words to live by.

I've spent years reading and studying about my personality, my spiritual gifts, and all the ways God created me to use all for His glory and my good. There have been seasons of ministry and activities. I've also learned that saying "yes" to something is not a forever "yes."

As I've grown older, God has led me in new directions, new ministries, new activities. Saying no is difficult at times. I still have that pride thing following me around, reminding me of the rewards of being noticed for my busyness.

Because I'm a people pleaser, I think long and hard before saying yes. I would rather say no than to disappoint someone by doing a poor job, or taking on the responsibility and then quitting because it's too much. Also, I've held onto activities because I didn't want anyone upset with me. That has no benefit for anyone, because ultimately, resentment sets in, followed by bitterness.

So there's an art in setting boundaries, in allowing yourself to be choosy in how you structure your life. This kind of simplicity encourages me to seek the heart of God for everything presented to me. The one thing I can count on is He will lead me down the best path of living, one that joins my gifts and His plan for my life. And that is simplicity with a bow tied around it.

I'd love to hear what you think of simple living. Share in the comments if this is something you struggle with, or let us know how you've learned to say no.