Toxic

I see a lot of stuff out on the internet about how ridding yourself of the toxic relationships in your life will make you a happier person. I guess I understand how that could be true. I have some relationships that others would probably consider toxic, and I guess in a way they are. I sometimes daydream about what it would be like to be able to just completely wash my hands of certain people and situations. The outlook would be a much more peaceful life.

But cutting people out of your life is a two edged sword, at least for me. I think that a lot of the time, we are predisposed to thinking of everything in black and white. For example, I have a person in my life, we’ll call her Donna, whose temper is just completely out of control. This is a big issue for me, especially when it comes to her spending time around my son. I grew up in a house with a lot of screaming, cussing, and yelling, and it did a lot of damage to me emotionally. It’s taken a long time for me to heal, and I’m determined that my child will not be around that type of behavior. But at the same time, Donna’s  poured a lot of good into my life. I’m the person I am today, some good and some bad, because of her influence in my life. She would (forgive the cliché) give me the shirt off of her back, even though she’d probably cuss me out for it later.

I can’t just cut her out of my life. For one, it wouldn’t go over too well with some other people I know. It would make certain get togethers and formal functions really uncomfortable and weird. And secondly, and most importantly, God has called me to love Donna. (A little disclaimer here: I am not advocating for anyone to stay in an abusive situation. Just in case I’m not being clear, I am only talking about difficult relationships.)

There are others in my life that have cut Donna out, and they are clueless as to why I make an effort to have a relationship with her.   Does her temper bother me? Yes. Do I think she gets out of control sometimes? Absolutely. When people ask me how I stand it, I simply tell them that I’ve learned to set boundaries. When Donna gets all crazy, I get up and leave. I appreciate the good that she brings to my life, and I forgive her for the ugly. I try not to let her angry outbursts get me down too much, but when it does, I look to the One who can heal Donna. I say this a lot, and I think it may be turning into my life slogan: Christ is enough. And how’s Donna going to know that if someone isn’t being there for her, telling her and showing her?

We’d all do better to remember that down at our very core, we are all dark and twisted. Sin makes our heart a toxic wasteland. That’s why we need a Savior.

Last Resort

Struggle. No one wants to do it. It’s difficult and no fun, but a guarantee in this life. We have no choice in the matter unfortunately. We’re gonna go through seasons of it. I’m going through a season of my own. I’ll spare you the gory details (I wouldn’t care to share myself; it’s only that others involved in my imbroglio might not feel so keen). I finally reached out to my pastor this week and set up a counseling session to discuss it with him. I am hoping he will offer a fresh perspective because I am all out of ideas. I’ve honestly been feeling as though my situation has been DOA the past few months. I’ve really lost hope.

All of this makes me think about Jairus and his daughter, and the bleeding woman. I’ve thought about him in particular this past week. Matthew tells us that he was a synagogue leader. That means he was involved with all of the adminstrative tasks that concerned running the place of worship; He looked after the building and ran the school housed there through the week. He also supervised worship and scheduled rabbis to speak on the Sabbath.  He was a planner, an organized person. He had to be in order to do his job. But what strikes me most about Jarius is that his focus and all of his day revolved around serving God and his house. So why did he wait until his daughter was dead before he sought out Jesus? Why did he come to Jesus when it seemed all was lost?

I do this all the time. I wait and wait and wait until a situation is the worst it can get. I allow God to be a last resort much of the time instead of my first line of defense. Sure I pray about it, but I’m disgusted to admit that during these times of desperation, my prayers come out sounding like an almighty wish list instead of loving communication with my Almighty Father. And then when I take into account everything He has already done for me, I feel like a whiny adolescent and that telling God about my problems is the equivalent of complaining about having to do my chores or go to school.

I don’t want to be Jarius or the bleeding woman. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late or suffer for years before I take my problem to God. I’d rather be Jehoshaphat, facing down a massive army and the surety of annihilation with a prayer. I pray that God will help me anchor my life on Him instead of my own strength. I can’t do it on my own. After all, I mess things up time and time again. I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself.

Jarius and the bleeding woman give me hope though. The bleeding woman had been sick for twelve years before Jesus healed her. This woman was probably in a pretty dismal place, thinking that she would live her life being considered unclean and untouchable, until she placed her faith in Christ. It just goes to show you that God can heal situations or people that have not changed for a really long time.  And Jarius. It was too late for him, but Jesus raised his daughter from the dead.  God can restore what is broken and save what is lost. I knew this already, of course, because he saved me, but I’ve been spectacularly failing at living this truth. It’s funny how we trust God to save our eternal soul, but we won’t trust Him with our problems and our tomorrows.

I am learning.

Verb Love

My husband and I have been together for nine years. Nine years. It’s flown by at a breakneck pace, at least for me. My husband may tell a different story. Sometimes we’ll be sitting around in the evening reminiscing and laughing about something, like how we got into a knock down, drag out fight over a crooked piece of wall art in our first apartment, and it will hit me all of a sudden that we have so much history together. I can’t believe we have so many memories to share.

I was twenty when we met and he was twenty-three. I look at pictures from way back when, and my eyes get all misty and I get this funny tickle in my throat. We were just a couple of kids, so young looking. We thought we had it all figured out, when in actuality we were only on the cusp of adulthood. I think back on that time quite fondly. The night we met. The long distance relationship angst and the euphoria of finally seeing one another.  It was wonderful and exciting. It was fight and chase each other into the rain. It was intense, in a way that makes me feel exhausted now.  It was so easy to love each other, in spite of the turmoil we sometimes faced (and caused) in our relationship with one another because we didn’t know our Holy Father.

Things are a bit different now. We’re older. We’re more stable, both financially and emotionally. We bought a home and we have a child. While I sometimes look back on our earlier days wistfully, I don’t think I’d want to go back and relive them. There is a lot less turmoil these days, but sometimes it’s more difficult to love one another. It’s hard to divert time to just spend on one another. And our definition of love has changed.

Love isn’t just a feeling anymore, the highs and lows of infatuation. The world believes that infatuation is love, and they sell it that way through television and magazines. They use the two interchangably, but it’s not true. Love is a verb. It’s something you do. All you have to do is crack open your Bible and take a peek to find out where this kernel of truth came from. It’s there, from the front cover to the maps. Verb love is Christ like love.

See, if you’ve been married for a good chunk of time, you know that marriages go through seasons of struggle, apathy, or even straight up dislike. It’s normal and to be expected, although the world will tell you differently. The world tells you that you should get up and leave the moment you feel unsatisfied or if things get a little tough. But there’s beauty in sticking it out. There’s satisfaction and growth. And you get to see real love, in action; The kind of love that says, “I’m going to do this thing for you, even though you’ve been really selfish lately. Even though you’ve been neglecting our relationship this month. Even though you’re a tootie head. I’m going to go out of my way for you. I’m going to do something that I’d rather not. I’m going to make sacrifices. Even though you don’t deserve it.”

That’s the kind of love that Jesus gives. It saved my soul. It’s kept my marriage afloat.  Let me practice it more like You, Lord. More and more and more.

 

 

 

The Bench

I’ve really been scrambling to figure out what I’m going to write for  Mother’s Day. I’ve been debating as to whether I should actually write about motherhood or just skip it altogether. I feel completely unqualified to write about momming when I’ve been so bad at it lately. My toddler has been feverish, feeling badly, and very vocal about it, and it has really taken a toll on me. I have struggled with how much he has needed me this week. I’m loathe to admit it because I worry it’s maybe not something a good mother feels. I know that all too soon these days will be a distant memory and I will miss them terribly and all that, but this morning as I stare bleary eyed at the computer screen trying to find some words, I am tired. I am completely used up and I could really use a break from the thirty pounds of hot toddler on my lap. So this week, I’m not going to write about all the usual things like “Moms, we’re raising the future of humanity!” and “Moms, you rock out in those yoga pants and don’t worry about those extra ten pounds!” All that stuff is self congratulatory, and I’m just not feeling it.  Instead I’m going to tell you about my bench.

I am not a big fan of sports, but my husband is. Over the past nine years I have watched more football, soccer, baseball, hockey, etc. than I ever dreamed I would in my entire life. I’ve learned the rules of each game, and have even been known to occasionally cheer for my husband’s alma mater (Go Pokes!) out of sheer boredom.  Out of all of the sports, college football is his favorite. Each year, he carefully reviews the stats of all the incoming freshman recruits for his beloved Oklahoma State Cowboys. One thing I have learned as I’ve watched him do this is that

Those who “sit the bench” are really the most important people on the team.

See, those players, besides often being the future of the team, are the ones that the starters practice with each week. The bench-ers help sharpen and hone the skills of those who perform in the actual game, which is critical to the team’s success. And then there are those weeks when one of the starters is hurt or sick, or even just mentally unready to perform. This is when those who sit the bench get the chance to shine. They take the starter’s place in the game, and while they may not always perform as well, they get the job done.

As a mom, I desperately need a bench.

Someone I can count on to take my place when I’m sick or hurt or just completely out of my mind with exhaustion. Most of the time, this person ends up being my husband. He amazes me sometimes. He regularly works thirteen and fourteen hour days at a physically grueling job. I know he’s tired when he gets home. I know his joints hurt from all the lifting he does. I know that all he probably wants to do is come home, eat, and fall asleep in the recliner to the basketball game.  He does this a lot and I don’t usually begrudge him for it or I try my best not to. But I have noticed that sometimes, especially when I am going through a season of struggle, he comes home, takes one look at me, and scoops that baby off my lap so I can have a hot shower. He comes home, takes one look at me, and starts dinner right away. He comes home, ignores my smartalecky comments about how I wish he wouldn’t rinse coffee grounds down the kitchen sink, and cracks a joke to make me laugh and lighten up. He changes the poopy diapers. He plays peek-a-boo a million times in a row. He answers the toy telephone. And he loves me at my worst.

So this year, on Mother’s Day, I’m going to make sure to thank the MVP of my team. I’m a better mom because he sits on my bench.

Building Authentic Relationships

I’ve always struggled with making friends. Always. In grade school, I was chubby. I’m still chubby, but because children tend to be cruel, it was a much bigger deal back then.  Sometimes being overweight in school can help someone’s personality blossom because, hey, you gotta work with what you have.  Unfortunately, this is not what happened to me. Being the fat kid turned me into a trembling bundle of resentment and insecurities. I was much too worried about what others thought of me and how I might be made the butt of a joke to ever have a chance of being a real friend to anyone.  In high school I slimmed down enough to where I was only called fat occasionally, but my intense fear of rejection and ridicule remained. I went through several groups of friends, going through the motions of changing my taste in music, clothing, etc. to fit in. I clung to whoever seemed to even mildly like me. I let others use me. I fell into drugs and alcohol.  Although I was able to cultivate some relationships during this time, they weren’t healthy and they were all colored by the fact that I was alone in my misery. I dealt with this by becoming increasingly self absorbed (which certainly didn’t help anything). This continued into my adult life until I came to know Christ. Maybe you rolled your eyes when you read that, but it’s true nevertheless. Maybe you don’t buy into all the Jesus stuff but stay with me for a few minutes and let me explain.

Coming to know Christ has freed me from bondage.

See, Jesus loved me so much that he died for me. He died to save me from my sin and to save my soul from eternal separation from Him in hell. He died so I could become a part of His family. He chose me.  And because He chose me, someone who’d been looked over and picked last for a lot of my life, I finally understood that I had value. I was free to be myself, because my identity was in Christ.  Jesus freed me from the bondage of sin, and He gave me victory over the hatred I had for myself and the need I had for the approval of others.

Coming to know Christ has emptied me of myself.

Seems contradictory, no? If I was finally free to be myself, then how could I possibly be emptied of myself? A few months after my conversion, I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first and only child. Let me tell you, my son is truly a gift from God.  He is a gift in himself, with his sweet, humble smile, his enthusiasm for learning new things, and his overload of snuggles and kisses. But the gift is twofold. Through my child, God also gave me a joy in putting others before myself. He emptied me of my self absorption. I’m not saying that I practice selflessness perfectly. I still have plenty of selfish moments and I fail on the daily. But through many sleepless nights, lots of dirty diapers, and plenty of tears from the both of us, I found that all the effort I poured into my son was just worth it. I was exhausted, stressed, and frazzled beyond belief, but I was also insanely joyful.  I began to approach all of my relationships from the perspective of  “What can I do for you?” instead of “What can you do for me?”

Having an authentic relationship with Jesus has allowed me to build authentic relationships with others.

God has poured out an enormous amount of healing into my life, probably more than my fair share. My marriage, which was on the brink of divorce, is much improved. My relationships with my family are no longer one sided. Making friends is quite a bit easier. I don’t have many and I’ll never win any popularity contests, but the friendships I have cultivated are genuine and grounded in the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and my heart explodes with thankfulness to God.