Thursday, September 29, 2016

No foundation but Jesus

In early September, Wade Burleson's blog post "MOPS and Its Move Away from Biblical Christianity" came across my Facebook feed.  

Sarah Wilkins, who wrote an Open Letter of Concern to MOPS with the theme materials for the 2016-2017 MOPS year, says (emphasis mine):  
...  I realized my core issue with the MOPS curriculum this fall is how sin, truth and Biblical sufficiency are addressed in the materials.  I also have realized that MOPS International seems to have become a major player in a loose trend within traditional Christian churches, a trend in which Truth is represented as something that changes and can't be known. It is a trend where sin is not addressed because personal salvation is deeply rooted in self transcendence. It is a trend in where anyone who takes the Bible as sufficient for one's faith and life is scoffed at as a closed minded and archaic person.
The blog encourages the reader to not take Wade's or Sarah's word for it but go to the source materials.

I took this advice to heart and began an investigation into not only MOPS' materials but also evidence of the "loose trend within traditional Christian churches" toward relativism, mysticism, and theological liberalism that Sarah notes above.

Indeed, in my research, I was alarmed to find how widespread and popular such ideas seem to be, and convicted to examine my own beliefs and practices, in keeping with Paul's exhortation in Colossians 2:8 (New Living Translation):
Don't let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
 Trevin Wax's 2011 book Counterfeit Gospel includes a table that summarizes some of the most influential types of "empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense" that are at large in the church today.  He uses a three-fold model of story, message and community to show a full comparison of the true gospel to these counterfeits.

  • True Gospel Story: God's good creation was marred by the fall into sin, and our only hope is a Savior. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23
  • True Gospel Announcement: The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the solution to this problem.  "God showed his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
  • True Gospel Community: Our ongoing response to God of repentance and faith creates and requires the creation of the Church which lives out the Gospel.  "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-25

I confess I have allowed subtle variations of these counterfeit gospels into my faith life and I repent of that.  I've been convicted that when I read others' interpretations of God's Word more than I study it for myself is when I put myself in danger of such deception.

I plead with you to do research of your own, and to follow the examples of the Bereans who examined the scriptures to test even what the Apostles were saying.

Or to put it a better way, back to Colossians 2, the two verses previous to Paul's warning against being captured by human philosphy says:

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Monday, August 29, 2016

My Special Girl

Let me tell you about my little Charlotte.  She has unruly dark blond curls and wears pink glasses for an eye that turns in when she is tired.

She tests above grade level in math and reading.  She is hooked on the Magic Tree House series, wants to travel the canals of Venice, and is Rainbow Dash's biggest fan.   She likes to tie knots and build things.  She excels at games that require spatial reasoning.  She collects rocks and pebbles.

On Friday, doctors confirmed something that we already strongly suspected: in addition to her ADHD, our daughter meets the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, level one (also known as high functioning autism or Asperger's).  

This morning I told staff at her school about the diagnosis.  The first response was a sympathetic "aww," which was odd to hear.  Getting the diagnosis isn't bad news to me.  We already knew Charlotte had these issues and needed support.  As I wrote on Instagram this weekend receiving a diagnosis "means her quirks and difficulties have a name, and she will soon be getting the support she needs for all her strengths to shine."

On Saturday afternoon, Charlotte had some difficulty at a neighbor girl's birthday party and ran home in tears.  After helping her calm down and talking through what upset her at the party, there was a natural opening to talk about the fact that she has autism and what that means.  So now she knows.

The truth will set you free.  Knowledge is power.  These and other similar phrases echo through my mind and heart whenever I think about my precious girl.

Now we know.    

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Jesus, Present and Merciful in the Mess

So, Connected Families framework is our ideal way of relating to each other as a family.  I don't think anyone would be surprised to learn that we don't live it out perfectly.  Some days we don't even come close.  We are learning and improving in our ability to apply God's truth and grace in our family.  

In the 2012 edition of Jim and Lynne's book Discipline that Connects With Your Child's Heart (a new edition will be released on September), there is a quote on the bottom of page 30 that really resonates with me:

... I act on the belief that Jesus is present and merciful even in messy family conflicts.  He gives me self-control and clear thinking to solve the problem.
We definitely have our share of messy family conflicts, and so these words encourage me deeply.

The presence of Jesus is such a fundamental and powerful truth.  He is Immanuel, God With Us.  What does it mean to act on the belief that Jesus is with me?  Even in the smallest moment of my day, I can bring to mind that He is at my side.  When I think of Him as an observer, I remember the charge to work heartily unto the Lord in my vocation, which is motherhood.  But he is more than a distant audience.  I also renew my mind with the understanding that He is active in the situations I face.  He is working in my heart and the heart of my husband and children.  He is on our side.  He is FOR me and my family, beckoning us to walk in His ways, rooting for us when we make steps in the right path, hesitating and feeble as they may sometimes be.

And when I don't bring those truths to mind, when I dive in impulsively or become paralyzed with anxiety or allow distractions to sway me from my priorities, Jesus is merciful.  When I sin against my children and exasperate them and add fuel to the fire of conflict instead of shodding my feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, Jesus is merciful. He is my 24/7 parenting coach, whispering gentle correction to my heart whenever I err.  Thanks be to God for his great mercy in Christ our Lord!  Without it, who could stand?

I have found that I can't white-knuckle or fake patience or wisdom in my parenting for very long if at all.  It is such a relief to realize there is a different path.  Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  He is faithful to supply the patience and wisdom that I need for each moment and He does the real work of connecting our family to Himself, to each other and to what He has for us to do.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Connected Families Overview

My family has been blessed by the ministry of Connected Families, founded by Jim and Lynne Jackson, two committed Christ-following parents of challenging children who have since grown up into dynamic healthy adults.

Jim and Lynne Jackson developed their parenting framework through their own experiences at home and also as they served in professional and ministry roles as therapists and mentors to challenging children and teens.

Before going through the Connected Families online course, my husband and I had a lot of conflict in our marriage about parenting approaches.  As Adam put it, "Not only were we not on the same page, we weren't even in the same book."

We got so much out of the course materials and noticed an immediate difference in the level of stress and chaos in our family relationships.  A few months later we jumped at the opportunity to attend a two day live workshop a few hours from our home so we could meet Jim and Lynne in person and also renew and deepen our understanding of this transformative philosophy.

The Connected Families framework is built sending children four messages through how we handle discipline situations:

  • You are SAFE with me
Stay connected to God through prayer and take a step back to become aware of what's going on in one's heart, soul and mind in order to be purposeful and peaceful rather than reactive in approaching the situation at hand.  
  • You are LOVED no matter what
Use a kind voice, connect physically, and listen with empathy to show truly unconditional love to children at the moment when they may seem and probably feel least deserving.
  • You are CALLED and CAPABLE 
Encourage rather than exasperate the misbehaving child by explicitly pointing out the God-given skill that they demonstrated in their misbehavior, what Jim and Lynne call the "gift gone awry," and consistently call them to and give them opportunities to use that capability for God's good purposes.
  • You are RESPONSIBLE for your actions
When consequences are needed, make them constructive and learning oriented, mirroring God's variety of techniques used to correct individuals in the Bible, such as a do over, a loss of privilege or the opportunity to make restitution.   

In the coming weeks, I plan to share some stories of this framework in action in our family.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


At church on Sunday the sermon was about the parable of the banquet, where the invited guests are too busy (or too snobby?) to come, so the host invites all the outsiders who aren't usually considered worthy of such an invitation.

In the course of the talk, the pastor mentioned that the Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, more literally translates to "love of the stranger."  An article from Sojourners goes even farther, explaining that the root word of xenia could also refer to enemies, not just strangers.

We are hosting an exchange student this year.  She is not an enemy.  She was a stranger only in the sense we had never met, but in reality has much in common with us.  We handpicked her because we thought she would fit in well with our family.

Some of the host families in our program are hosting Muslim students.  There are other families around the country who welcome refugees through programs like World Relief.  There are families who adopt children with a history of trauma or with disabilities and fragile medical conditions.

I can't imagine coping with those challenges, but that is because they aren't the tasks set before me.  I fully believe that if any one of those were set before me, the measure of grace and faith to walk in that path would be provided as well, just as it was when I was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, and just as we are experiencing now.

When we first started talking about hosting an exchange student, I felt like I had my hands full already handling my own condition, my kids' energy and issues, and so on.  I wondered if we were crazy for thinking we could add another person to our household.  And yet, I felt convicted it was the right step to take.

On Friday, Anya arrived at the airport.  We were all so excited to see each other.  It was a very emotional moment with hugs and tears.  She feels like a member of the family.

We are exercising hospitality, and the measure of grace and faith needed is here at just the right time.  My kids are still a handful and all my other issues are all still in the mix, and yet somehow, surprisingly, I feel less overwhelmed than before.

I feel encouraged and challenged at the same time by these reflections.  I know I have a long way to grow to be truly hospitable, to embrace and welcome strangers and enemies eagerly and lavishly as I would a beloved relative.  I also know that it is God's will to conform me to the character of Christ, and His sanctifying work will continue to be done in my life.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Lazy Days of Summer

I've sat down here several different times this week, meaning to write another post.  I had so many ideas for topics:

  • Our (still ongoing) journey to diagnosis for our daughter (ADHD and likely autism spectrum disorder)
  • The humbling experience of learning to guide my four year old son's exuberant and sometimes aggressive personality
  • What brought my husband and I to marriage counseling, and its benefits
  • How reexamining everything post-transplant affected my parenting style
  • Why we have embraced Connected Families four messages for our family
  • What I've learned this summer about handling sibling conflict

And I would sit here and type and erase a few sentences, and then a child would climb on my lap for snuggles or invite me to play or ask me to get them something, and I would persist a little longer in trying to write and ask them to be patient.  A few more sentences typed and erased, and an urgent situation would arise needing my attention (sibling squabbles, messes in the making) and that would be the end of my effort.

Yesterday I sat down at my computer three different times fully intending to not get up until I had written something.  And three times I got up again with nothing to show for it.

I did however, have a chance to do my Armor of God Bible study.  This week's focus is on the Helmet of Salvation, which is put on by applying the truth of God's word and the reality of the full implications of my salvation to my thinking.

And as I considered my answers to Priscilla's questions and soaked in the Word, I began to be convicted of my lack of diligence in the study of God's word.

God reaffirmed this conviction when this post on motherhood and quiet times popped up on my Facebook feed.

The Spirit continued to reshape my thinking as I listened to God's word on the radio in the car and reflected on what I had been learning.

Wednesday I read an email from Organized by Choice that talked about two toxic words, "for now." When you just put something somewhere temporarily because you either don't want to do the work right then or don't want to make the decision related to it right then.

This week I have been working a little each day on transforming our spare room from the designated junk hiding spot into a welcoming place for our exchange student Anna to rest and study.  The state of that room when I started was a vivid illustration of the consequences of those two words in my life!

The conviction of the Spirit opened my eyes to see where lack of diligence has affected other areas of my life.

Lack of diligence ... isn't that just a nice way of saying lazy?

Lazy, sluggard, slothful... those are some ugly words.  Do they really apply to me?  Are there areas where I've let my limits and circumstances become an excuse and permission to do less than I am truly able to do?  In my household and mothering, am I working heartily as unto the Lord, or am I doing the bare minimum, looking for shortcuts that seem to save time and energy in the short term but really cause more problems in the long run?

God has a sense of humor, it is often said.

This morning I was up before the rest of my family.  It's a quiet Saturday morning and I was tempted to just browse the internet or play a game on my phone instead of getting started on the tasks of the day.  Thinking of what I have learned this week about diligence, I decided to work on tidying the kitchen instead.  I did grab my phone and look up the latest Truth for Life podcast to listen to while I was working.

Alistair Begg's topic of the day?


While thinking about this topic I googled "chronic illness sluggard" hoping for a Christian perspective on the tension I find myself in.  I'll leave this post with a quote from's post, "Work Heartily"

Now don’t get me wrong; there is great value in rest. God, himself, rested on the 7th day when creating our universe for crying out loud! He speaks often of the importance of rest and commands us to Shabbat, but that time of Sabbath is to spend with Him. With my fibromyalgia and dysautonomia doctors are always warning me to take it easy. The challenge here is to recognize when resting is no longer resting but slothfulness. Prayerfully consider where this line is for you, and if you also struggle with a chronic illness to be gracious to yourself.
I will definitely continue to pray for discernment of where that line is.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Putting on the Armor of God

This summer I've been participating in Priscilla Shirer's Armor of God study.  On page 99, Priscilla poses the question:

How did the enemy take advantage of an upsetting, unexpected, chaotic event or circumstance to gain access to your life?
Well, I had a heart transplant 17 months ago.

It all happened quickly.  April 2014 I gave birth to my third baby and a week later was admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure due to a genetic condition that I had been told wasn't very serious and most likely wouldn't be a problem.  Six months later, I learned that I needed a heart transplant to save my life.  Our family had to temporarily move four hours south to live with my parents a few months later as I waited for and recovered from the transplant.  Then we moved back and have been struggling to find the "new normal" since then.

How's that for an upsetting, unexpected and chaotic event or circumstance?

Those days of heart failure were hard to be sure, but at the same time, it was a beautiful time in my life.  I felt loved, supported, at peace and so very close to God.  It was pretty easy to be heavenly minded when the physical body was declining daily and rapidly.

My post transplant spiritual life has been rocky by comparison,

In the months after my transplant, I was recovering physical wellness, regaining energy, regaining strength almost daily.  I was on an emotional high, so happy and grateful to be alive.  I felt so very much better and could hardly believe there was any limit to how much better I could feel.  It seemed within reason that I was going to be "normal" very soon.

Hello, pride.

God had felt so near.  But slowly, He felt farther away.  Who moved?  That would be me.

Old struggles I thought were resolved cropped back up.  From my high school and college days, God had slowly and painstakingly brought me out of perfectionism, legalism, and the bad habit of measuring myself by my accomplishments or comparing myself to others.  In the past 17 months, I let those snares entangle me again.  I struggled mightily to meet my own expectations and the perceived expectations of others, and despaired when I failed.

Why couldn't I keep up? Maybe I was just lazy.... Maybe I needed to push myself harder.  Maybe I just needed better systems and strategies..  I pushed myself and berated myself for not being able to do and accomplish as much as I thought I should be able to do.

All along, the real and biggest problem was that my focus had moved off of Christ and onto myself, to my struggles and circumstances.  I felt irritable, short-tempered, selfish, restless, unbalanced, uncentered. I was half in denial about the limitations living with a transplant places on me, while also resenting those limitations at the same time.

The enemy had used his usual tactics of deception and hitting at my weak points to pull me down to be sure.

I missed the first three weeks of the Armor of God study due to serving at VBS and needing to get my blood drawn to verify my medicine levels.  Last week I went back through the first few weeks of lessons to catch up.

God's word does not return void and it came at just the right time to rescue me from the pit I had fallen back into.  It opened my eyes to the reality of the enemy and the way he works, but more importantly, reminded me about my spiritual identity and spiritual resources.

With a refreshed and renewed understanding of who I am in Christ, I've been able to better come to grips with the truth of my physical reality as well.

I'm accepting the fact that living with a transplant is like living with a chronic illness or condition.  This new level of acceptance sparked curiosity, and I set out to find out as much as I can about the whats and whys of limits.

Here's what I learned:

Although my new heart works so much better than my old thick, stiff, failing one did, it has specific limitations because of the nerve connections that were severed when the heart was transplanted.

The vagus nerve is the most efficient way for the body to adjust heart rate and blood flow as needed to accommodate for changes in activity level, body position, and external temperature.  But God designed a back-up plan: hormones from the adrenal gland.

But there is a catch: The hormonal pathways my body now uses to adjust my heart rate and blood flow is much slower to turn on and shut off than the nearly instant adjustments the nervous system can make.

As a result, I "feel the burn" sooner when exercising or doing heavy housework, and have more soreness afterward that lingers longer than it otherwise might .  Getting up from a seated or squatting position quickly causes momentary low blood pressure and dizziness, which can be bothersome when picking things up off the floor for example.  If I let myself get too cold, it seems to take forever for me to feel warm again,  More bothersome to me is how much lower my stamina is and longer my recovery time is when the weather is hot.

That is part of the terrain I am traversing.  Other features of my terrain are room for improvement in communication with my wonderful husband who has to work longer hours than I'd like, three active and intense children including a daughter with behaviors on the autism spectrum (we are in the midst of evaluations for a diagnosis) ... those are other features of my terrain.

God is with me, and has not left me helpless or defenseless in the face of these circumstances.  He has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, but I have to activate them. Richard A. Burr came up with a clever acronym: Prayer Releases All Your Eternal Resources.

Asking for what I need with gratitude relieves anxiety and promotes peace.  I can cast my cares on Him because he cares for me.        

God has been faithful and good through it all.  Here are a few ways he has provided and blessed me:

In my search for truth, I was led to a website for Christians with chronic illness: Rest Ministries.  There I found beautiful words of vulnerability and dependence on God in the midst of suffering.  The prayer cards they offer for download there have been helpful to me as well.

A sibling rivalry e-course by Connected Families we started last month is equipping our family with practical ways to use the shoes of peace in our family relationships.

These months have not been wasted.  Some of what seemed like backward movement may have been necessary to clear the way for new growth in the future.  Certainly, the process of re-evaluating who I am has led to a better certainty and understanding of my gifts and callings.  Creative communication and teaching along with hospitality, which I share with my husband, round out my top three.

This blog is one way to live out my calling.  Opening my home to host La Leche League meetings starting next month is another.  And last but certainly not least, my husband and I will be exercising our shared gift of hospitality by welcoming an exchange student into our family for the coming school year.

I'll be back soon to share more about my journey and what I'm learning from God's graceful discipline.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reflections on Deuteronomy 6:6-9

This week I bought a Moleskine journal and set it up to use with the bullet journal method. I also installed YouVersion Bible app on my phone, and began a parenting devotional plan in my new journal.

Yesterday I completed the first lesson on Deuteronomy 6:6-9, using the SOAP method that I have described on this blog before.

First I read the Scripture and translated it into pictures.

Then I made the following observations:

  •  I need God's Word in my own heart first in order to teach it to my children.
  •  It will take diligence, which means lots of repetition. I will fail but I must begin again and not give up, but continually renew my efforts. 
  • Binding God's word on my hand could be literal as the ancient Hebrews interpreted it, but I also thought it could mean to consider God's Word before taking any action. 
  • Similarly, wearing it between my eyes could mean allowing God's word to permeate my worldview and color every thought.

I jotted down a few ideas for application:

Home -- incorporate Scripture into my home decor, clothing and jewelry.  Post notes on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror.  Encourage scripture memorization.  Incorporate Scripture into teaching moments.

Away -- Praise and worship music in the car. Talk about God's creation as we drive.

Bedtime -- Bedtime prayers. Talking about how we saw God at work in our day.

Anytime -- Always be on lookout for opportunities to refer to Scriptural principles and contrast with other worldviews.

What struck me most through the day as I attempted to apply it and reflected on my efforts at day's end is how many distractions there are in my world. There's so little time in the day, and so many competing good things to think and talk about and spend time on.  I thought in particular about my kids' books and screen time and how that is a part of creating their worldview and felt a little overwhelmed by the distance between the standard set in this Scripture and the way we are living at the moment.

I wrote this prayer:

Triune God, you are the only perfect parent. Fill my heart with your truths and nudge me to continually renew my efforts to teach them diligently to my children at all times, in all situations, throughout their lives. I fall far short of this goal moment by moment and it is only by your mercy and grace that I will have any measure of success. Thank you for entrusting me with these precious souls. Amen


In 2010 I wrote the following intending to post it on this blog:

Our 700SF 1BR/1BA condo is listed for sale. It goes up on the MLS tomorrow, and our agents are coming by to take pictures. Although prices are still depressed compared to the 2006 inflated levels, there is buying activity going on, and we're expecting a lot of showings.
All that to say that we've been working hard for the past 10 days or so on "staging" our place for sale. Besides rearranging and removing some furniture, the primary activities of staging have been extreme decluttering.
We rented a 5'x10' storage unit to keep all the stuff until we're ready for it again.
Rather than a feeling of sacrifice, I've been surprised to find the functioning of our day to day lives has not been significantly different without the items in storage. In fact, I love the way our house feels without them. If it is so extraneous, it makes me wonder why I've been holding on to it? Why did I live in such a cramped way just for the sake of hoarding things I might need someday when we might live in larger quarters?
Our bedroom is the first room to be absolutely finished. I love to be in there. It feels cool, relaxing and spacious. 
I'm very encouraged to continue allowing the Holy Spirit to build the discipline of simplicity into our lives.

In February this year, we packed up to move in with my parents while I waited for a heart transplant. Enough clothes for eaxh of ua for a week or so, a basket of toys for the kids.

Once again, I wondered if I could live with such a "barebones" inventory in this situation, why do we have so much more in our day-to-day lives?

Yet I forgot the lesson all too quickly.

We will be returning home in a week or so.  While we've been gone, I started thinking of all the things I'd like to acquire and add to my possessions.

Coming across this old post has reminded me of the joy of simple living and to pursue it as a spiritual discipline.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Heart is His

The heart condition I mentioned in There is too much to 'splain... took a bit of a turn for the worse in September, and I grappled with coming to terms with the full extent of my diagnosis.  I posted details of that at my new CaringBridge site.

This morning I woke up early and felt drawn to look at my copy of Jesus Calling, and as it often does, today's entry hit me right where I am, especially this portion:
Instead of regretting or resenting the way things are, thank Me in all circumstances. Trust Me and don't be fearful; thank Me and rest in My sovereignty.

At the bottom of the entry are three Bible verses, including 1 Peter 5:6-7.  I got out my Bible and a notebook that was handy.

I opened the notebook and found some journal entries and notes from 2011 when I was pregnant with Zachary, and rediscovered a structure for quiet time that had been taught to me by Kenton Beshore, the senior pastor at Mariners Church. 

It uses 3 four-letter acronyms: PERS, SOAP and ACTS.

I am a PERSon... how am I doing?

I answered each of those questions, thinking mainly about yesterday and this morning, and identified that although I had a good day physically, some anxiety, loneliness and self-pity had crept in, as well as disconnection in my relationships.

Then I turned to the cleansing SOAP of God's word:

For the Scripture I wanted to use 1 Peter 5:7, cast all your anxiety on the Lord, but I "accidentally" turned to 1 Peter 1:5-6:
This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

For the Observation portion, I just restated the Scripture in my own words, and wrote about how in general it related to the Jesus Calling message to be thankful and trust in all circumstances.

For the Application, I made the observations more personal, reflecting on what I specifically needed to do in light of that...namely, to thank God for my heart condition.

For the Prayer, I chose to follow the ACTS model:

I praised Jesus as Lord of All and the Healer, I confessed my self-absorption and fear.  Then I did the hard, strange part and thanked Him for my cardiomyopathy, for my heart failure, for my difficulty breathing.  What is there to be thankful for about that? 

It makes the truth that God gives me breath and life very real and immediate.  It presses me to trust and depend on Him more than ever.  It limits my ability to do everything I want to do so I need to seek Him more for wisdom and discernment about what He would have me be doing.  Not only do I feel the need of my Savior all the more, but having been forced to slow down because of my condition, I have time and space in my life to respond to his invitations to seek Him. 

After writing out those praises, confessions and thanks, the Supplications I made were quite different than what I would have said had I started my prayer with a request. 

I'm thankful that God woke me up early this morning to spend that time with Him, that He reminded me of PERS, SOAP and ACTS.  I share it because I hope it might be useful for your own quiet times with Father, Son and Spirit.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Connection Before Content

I said I'd blog once a week but haven't done it.  A month later, I'm ready to post.  Maybe once per month is more realistic for this time in my life?  I'm in a season of learning, of integrating new skills and information.  The current theme is communication skills and emotional intelligence.

I've always loved to learn and I've always enjoyed sharing the information I learn simply because I'm excited and fascinated by it but also because I want to be helpful.  However, sometimes my enthusiasm for sharing information coupled with my social anxiety and sometimes clumsy communication skills meant that I rubbed some people the wrong way. 

For example, when I was pregnant with my now two year old, I attended Celebrate Recovery.  One evening after the session, a fellow attendee was sharing her upset about a recent diagnosis of mental illness in a grandchild.  I wasn't there for the beginning of the conversation, but had walked up and joined the group part way through.  She said something slightly inaccurate about the diagnosis.  I just happened to have read something related to that recently and oh so helpfully, or so I thought, piped up with my correction.

Much to my surprise, she exploded at me, calling me a know it all who always had to be right.  Then she stormed out.  I quickly fled too and cried most of the way home.  I just wanted to help, why couldn't she see that?  Was I really a "know it all?"  Once my hurt was purged, I quickly realized that I owed this woman an apology, and within a few days had done so.   The apology was accepted.

A few days later, one of our mutual friends who had been there said that maybe it was good that this had happened so that I could get a more accurate picture of how well I read people and how I come across to them.  That gave me something to chew on, but that time I didn't spiral into self-pity.  I just made a note of it: "Communication skills are something I need to work on." 

Since then, God has put plenty of opportunities in my life to learn and practice communication skills!  I began going through the application process to become a La Leche League leader shortly after the above incident, and the portions of the Leader Handbook on communication skills gave me some wonderfully useful stock phrases and approaches to sharing information that I've incorporated in every aspect of my life.  Then just this August I attended a MOPS leadership training conference and the topic was communicating well with moms in times of crisis and conflict.  We watched a video of moms roleplaying various difficult conversations with immediate feedback and tips for improvement from a counselor.  Finally, this past weekend I attended a day-long LLL training focusing on listening well and responding with empathy (and sometimes information) rather than giving advice.  Most of the training was active roleplaying between all the participants.

With all I know now, I can see exactly what went wrong that day after Celebrate Recovery.  First of all, it wasn't my conversation to barge into.  Second of all, I responded with information when all she needed was empathy.  Third and worst of all, I also embarrassed her by contradicting her in front of everyone.  No wonder she lost her temper with me!

"Connection before content" is the way the communication skills trainer put it this weekend.  Or as Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It's been a journey to incorporate this skill into my interaction with other adults, but I'm starting to feel confident in it.  What has been more challenging has been to consistently apply it in my parenting.  I reap benefits when I do, but it's still so hard and I frequently forget!  This morning I came across this post at Abundant Life Children which has some great tips.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There is too much to 'splain, I will sum up...

This line from The Princess Bride seems appropriate.  I've taken a very long break from posting because so much has been going on in my life. 

Once this summary is out of the way, my plan is to start posting again the little musings I have about the intersection between my relationship with God as grace-giving Father and how I live as His daughter, especially in the context of parenting and homemaking. 

So, in no particular order:

In the early spring, my almost six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, mild gross motor delays and mild sensory quirks that aren't severe enough to require professional occupational therapy.  We started her on Ritalin, 5mg once per day and it helped her tremendously with focus on her school work and helping her be a more flexible resilient participant in social situations.

On Good Friday, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  A week later I was readmitted to the hospital with double pneumonia and congestive heart failure.  I stayed in the hospital three days.  Recovery was slow and nearly four months later I'm only now getting to the point where my energy levels feel back to normal for me.  I was blessed to have two mother's helpers come a few times a week in May, and with amazing support from my church family and MOPS friends.  My underlying heart condition is a little more serious than I previously thought and not only am I recommended not to have more pregnancies, but I may need to have a pacemaker or defibrillator implanted eventually.

I finally started on anti-depressants.  I'm currently taking 50 mg of Zoloft which has made a world of difference.  I like my husband and children again instead of constantly feeling a low level of irritation and resentment toward them.  My brain's executive functions have returned and I have ideas and can carry them out.  I feel like writing again.  I feel comfortable at home instead of restless and wanting to escape through the internet or too many activities in the community.  I don't overanalyze every social encounter and can just relax and enjoy the company of people around me.  My spiritual life has reawakened too, no longer feeling flat and cold and distant.

In October, we moved to a new house in town and almost a year later as I heal and regain strength and energy and as my depression, anxiety and ADHD symptoms gradually lift, I've really started to enjoy and improve in my role as homemaker.  I've been able to reorganize things, start routines and set up systems that make our family life run more smoothly and keep the house at a level of tidiness and cleanliness that is comfortable for living and conducive to fun and creativity

I feel like each of these areas could spawn many detailed posts of their own, and perhaps that is a good challenge for me.  This fall, I will blog at least once per week (oftener if inspiration strikes), delving into a specific aspect or thought triggered by reading through this summary. 

When I was depressed early in my married life, one of the internal messages I had to overcome was that I had nothing to say.  I overcame that by beginning to post blogs on Myspace and eventually by starting this blog.  Then there were periods when my brain fog and exhaustion made impossible to turn the swirling grey into black and white words. 

Life has rhythms and cycles.  A pearl in an oyster is formed not all at once, but layer by layer.  One season of growth in my life is ending and another beginning.  The previous season was inward and quiet, but this one is bursting out to be shared.  Isaiah 43:18-19 seems very appropriate:

“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands." (The Message)

God is doing something new in me, in my family, in my community and in the world.

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