Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Built a Shell

I've been hurt.

I take things too personally.  I get too emotional about things.  So to keep those things in check--to keep from being hurt--I hold people at arm's length.  I hold the world at arm's length.  I first started noticing this about myself when the parenting of my strong-willed-child got really tough.  I realized one day that I was becoming apathetic toward this child in order to protect myself from emotional pain.  You see, I'd built a shell around my fragile emotions, in order to keep them safe.  Or maybe to keep from feeling them so strongly.

I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that my life over the past six years has been a roller coaster.  I put my husband through grad school (a second time) and took on the mantle of single parent for the duration of that program.  Upon completion of the program, and because he couldn't even get an interview for a full-time position, I continued to wear that cloak for an additional two years while he pieced together a salary and therefore rarely made an appearance at home.  Once he landed a job, we decided to uproot our family and move to be closer to that job.  His decision to pursue that second grad degree brought with it financial repercussions.  The financial strain brought family strain, both within our home and from extended family members.  All the stress and strain was so much pressure.  Too much pressure.  I remember wondering in the back of my mind, "How much more is God gonna throw at me?  I am at the end of my rope!"  The few words I've put in this paragraph simply cannot describe how squeezed and smothered and pressured I felt.  Day in and day out.  For six years.  And throughout those roller coaster years, my protective shell grew thicker and thicker. 

I've been looking back on that time, nursing feelings of thankfulness that I survived.  "Thank God I survived."  I questioned all along, and desperately questioned in the final eighteen months, why God was not answering my prayers to be rescued.  And I still don't have an answer to that... 

My mother is Negative Nancy.  Trust me when I say she has the market cornered on negativity.  And, she holds grudges.  She's held a grudge against her dad since she was elementary school aged, and all because she believes he favored her younger sister.  Maybe he did.  I wasn't there, so I really don't know.  But I do know this:  She wasn't abused; she wasn't molested; she was raised by people who loved her and cared for her needs; they taught her to love and serve Christ, and equipped her to be a productive member of society.  Yet, she holds this grudge against her dad.  I recently described this behavior of hers as "wearing her woundedness like a badge of honor."  And I condemned this behavior. I said, "Do not let these things define your sense of self, and how you live and view day-to-day life.  These events are not who you are, but things that happened to you.  Learn from them.  Don't use them as an excuse to live a crippled and limited life.  Instead, live the free and love-filled life that Christ died to give you!"

Today, I now realize that my behavior has been no better than my mom's.  I've been wearing "survival of the roller coaster years" like a badge of honor.  I think I've been trying to convince myself  that "surviving" that strenuous time in life made me a better person.  But I'm not a better person.  A better person wouldn't resent her husband for those years of stress and turmoil, but rather honor him for the sacrifices that he made in the hopes of creating a better life for his family.  A better person wouldn't hold a grudge against her heavenly Father for not answering those pleas to be rescued from an unpleasant situation.  A better person would count her blessings, would consider it a compliment from God that He tested her to such an extent, and would never lose sight of the fact that He's faithful and loving and good.

Oh, I haven't lost faith in Him.  I believe.  I haven't abandoned my centuries-old faith in our kind and powerful God.  I still want my life to be a testament of His greatness.  I want my life to be a song that glorifies Him.  Sadly, that desire wasn't apparent to the world around me throughout the roller coaster years.  It was hidden behind the shell I'd built to keep the hurt at bay.  I was so focused on being strong all those years that I failed to let God shine through my weakness.  I was so determined to keep it together that I failed to let Him be the thing that kept me from falling apart.  I was so afraid of failing my family and failing in life that I failed in my faith.

So I close with these questions...

Is it sinful to build a shell around your emotions, in order to protect yourself and deal with life?  Or does God call us to leave ourselves open to the world and the potential damage it will bring, so that when we're hurt He can bind our wounds, heal us and return us to full strength? 

Have I sinned by stuffing all the hurt and sadness and grief as far down as I could possibly stuff them?  And, did all the positive emotions get crammed down with the negative ones?  Will there have to be a day (or year? or more?) of reckoning with those emotions in order for my life to become that song of glory that I truly believe He created me to sing? 

I sure don't know the answers.  But I think a good start is break the shell.  To shed the badge that touts "survived a world of hurt."  And instead find and don a garment of love, and forgiveness, and openness, and gratefulness, and praise, and hope.   

Sunday, June 23, 2013


It seems all I do of late is separate fights.  My children fight all the time.  Add to that the spats of our two canines and folks can just call me referee.

Tonight my dogs were fighting over some territory... the licking-crumbs-from-the-dishwasher-door territory.  Their three-minute-long growling match caused me to wonder how often my spiritual behavior resembles this bickering.

Perhaps I'm not fighting with another brother for crumbs from the Master's table (Matthew 15: 27), but am I coveting the crumbs thrown to someone else?  Am I wishing for different or better tasting crumbs?  If I'm honest, I must confess "yes."

Satan has convinced me that I deserve more, or better, and that the desires of my heart are well within reach.  And the truth is, none of us has the guarantee of tomorrow, let alone a better tomorrow.  The dog fight I just witnessed convicted me that I'm doing a poor job of thanking God in each and every situation in which I find myself, and convinced me I have a lot of ground to make up.

Lord, forgive me.  Please strengthen me as I work to silence the voice of Satan and of this world.  Comfort and guide me as strive to make Your voice the only one I listen for.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Another Spiritual Lesson Learned from Parenting

My daughter attends a half-day pre-Kindergarten program.  She came home today in a very happy--and hyper--mood.  She was pretty much bouncing off the walls.

After lunch, she asked if I would paint her nails.  She's been asking for awhile, so I felt it time to comply.   We retrieved all the necessary items, and then set to work.  Oh me, oh my.  If you've never tried to paint the fingernails and toenails of a hyper, almost-five-year-old girl, it is an experience, let me tell ya.  "Be still."  "Stop wiggling."  "Hold your hand still."  "Stop moving."  "Be still."

"Be still" was the most common thing I said throughout the process.  As she was incredibly hyper, I had to say it many, many times.  But nearly the last time I said it, a thought occurred to me.

How many times do I ask God to do something for me--to go in and "dress up" (so to speak) some part of my heart--and then not receive the full benefits of the "dress up session" because I refuse to be still.  Because I won't turn off the TV.  Or leave the laundry for later.  Or remove the ear buds while I walk.  How many times have I prevented myself from reaping the full benefits of God's amazing, life-changing power, simply because I avoid stillness?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lesson in Humility

My husband and I have been experiencing a rough patch, financially speaking.  Our kids haven’t missed any meals, which, I know, some folks worry with daily.  But we’ve delayed many bills.  Several are sorely past due.  And we’ve had to take some fairly drastic steps recently, for which we’ve heard our fair share of criticism.

While taking these drastic steps, several kind souls stepped forward insisting they help or get us help.  And while we know that there are folks out there who are in much worse circumstances than us, we really needed the help.  So we choked down our egos and accepted the help, gratefully.

I’ve never really been in this situation before.  I mean, money has been tight before, and God was faithful and somehow we just made it through.  This time, money was tighter than it ever had been, and expenses kept coming but the income just wasn’t there.  And God was faithful once again.  Through some folks who care about us.

And I’m finding that it is very difficult to look these people in the eyes right now.  Because I’m not really certain that they know what they’ve done for us.  Their help, or getting the help, has prevented stress and worry and creditors knocking and utilities being shut off.  And the help means we’re actually going to get by.  I’m not sure they know how much they’ve helped.  They completed a sort of financial bridge for us.

So I’ve been wondering…. Why don’t I have this same sense of humility for what God has done for me?  For cleansing me from my sins?  For bridging the great divide between Him and myself?  Has my knowledge of this saving grace become common place to me?  Has it become less valuable to me?  I should have the same humility, the same gratefulness, as I do to these folks who helped us in a time of great need. 

Because we wouldn’t have made it by without them.  And I won’t make it home without HIM.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Tonight I have this ache and longing in my heart.  An ache for home.  A longing for Heaven.

God blesses me.  Again and again.  Yet, the rottenness of this life seems to be gnawing at me lately.  A friend from college buried her young sister-in-law today.  A family in my church is grieving the death of their not-yet-two year old nephew last week.  My good friend's dad is dealing with crippling pain.  Two of my loved ones have serious faith struggles.

And I... Well, it sounds fickle to say it now, but I have a challenging child.  I don't care how many people tell me his behavior is "normal," nothing about our relationship feels right or normal.  And while I'm certain that God plans to teach me many things throughout the life of this child, tonight, his behavior has me aching for home.  For Heaven.  For the place where we can co-exist without pre-pubescent attitude, without his determination that I favor his siblings and hate him, without the anguish that parenting him brings.  I long to look into the eyes of my Heavenly Father and hope to hear Him say, "You did well with what I gave you."

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this does seem petty.  After all, my son has a healthy mind and body.  He has a compassionate spirit and the will to lead.  I hope and pray that God will use him for mighty things one day.  But I hope and pray equally that God will equip me to not fail my son.  Or Him.

Monday, February 20, 2012

When Hope Becomes Grief

Parenting is a huge chore.  It will Eat.Your.Lunch.

I've recently taken part in a study on parenting.  Not the first time I'd studied those tactics, but a refresher is not always a bad thing.  I decided to try to implement some of them.  And it is hard.  So challenging to stop yourself in the mid-stream of your parenting habits to try a new approach with your willful and usually disobedient child.

Well, things didn't go so well the other night.  I felt--and still feel--like I handled the situation quite well.  But the experience wasn't pleasant, by any means.  I told my husband about the evening when he came home.  This "report" led to a huge fight, putting us at odds over parenting tactics.  Another unpleasant experience.  And the next morning, we receive word that the job we've been hoping for over the past three months isn't going to become a reality.

I've been living with a three-fold hopefulness:  "Parenting isn't easy, but maybe these new tools will help."  "Our marriage has really taken a beating this past year, but things seem to be getting better."  "If this job becomes a reality, we won't have to move, I can keep my job, etc..."

In the span of just fifteen hours, I was grieving the loss of all three hopes.  I felt like someone punched me in the gut and then pulled the rug out from under me.  And I was all about the pity-party, for most of the day.

I happened to run into an older gentleman, and he commented on my countenance.  He and I are acquaintances; we're friendly, but not really friends.  For some reason though, when he asked, I told him about the storm I felt I was in.  He responded with empathy.  But also pointed out for me a fact of his life that threw everything about my "grief" into perspective.  Suddenly, a day that was gray held new sunlight.

I regret that I pouted.  I regret that I didn't respond with "Okay, Lord, no problem. I trust that You know what You're doing."  I regret that I don't better model Christian citizenship to my children and husband.

Lord, you are my shelter.  Your greatness is a mighty comfort to my heart, whether it is broken or blessed.  Thank you for convicting me in this behavior, and help me to draw closer to you the next time my hopes get dashed.  Let me not forget that you will never disappoint, for the best and greatest hope I have--Heaven--will never turn to grief. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Another face-palm moment

How many parents out there are tempted to say “I told you so” to your kids?  I’m going to assume there is a fair amount.  I can’t be the ONLY one.  Well, Saturday brought one of those moments to me.  I had told my son to put on his shoes and go play outside.  He got part of it right—he went outside.  However he didn’t put on his shoes, and it ended in injury.  His toe met with wood, and the result was a fairly large splinter deeply penetrating the bottom of his big toe.  And oh the drama that followed.  Wailing.  Tears.  Yelling.  Screaming.  More tears. 

I tried to proceed into treatment mode.  “We need to get it out.  Your toe will feel better if we get it out.  It will hurt for a little bit, but then it will be all better.”  More crying.  He sees the needle and tweezers, and that brings even more drama.  He cradles and holds his toe while weeping.  And no amount of explaining to him what needed to happen would convince him to let me proceed.
And SMACK.  A big smack.

How many times has God (or His Spirit) tried to convince me to just give up my sins?  How many times has He whispered to me “Just give it to me.  Let me take it away.  It might hurt a little bit now, but you’ll be blessed all the more in the end.”  So why don’t I let him?  Why do I hang on to my sins?  Why do I cradle them and, I daresay, nurture them?  Why?

Why don’t I “confess my sins to others and pray for others so that I may be healed” (James 5:16a)?  “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)  But, “If I confess my sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive me my sins and purify me from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  I must strive more diligently to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in me richly.” (Colossians 3:16a)  And maybe I’ll get to the point where I’ll gladly let Him come in with needle and tweezers and pluck out my jagged, painful sins.

You know, now that I think about it, I’ve never heard Him say “I told you so.”  What a perfect and amazing God we serve.