To Do or Not To Do…That is the Question

As I begin to add strength to my days, I find myself in a recurrent dilemma: How much can I do today?

What I actually did today. 🙂

Recovering from an ME/CFS relapse is rather like playing on a see-saw with an erratic playmate: I never know when she’s going to decide to get off and leave me to come crashing to the pavement. (By the way, nobody actually liked that kid!) I can merrily be about some little chore for my family, when all of a sudden–BAM!–I’m on a collision course with my couch as quickly as a child plummets to the asphalt.

On the other hand, I obviously don’t want to spend each and every hour simply not exerting myself out of fear of an unexpected impact. I do want to fill my days with as much life as possible. But since my body gives me no fair warning, how in the world is a girl to know?

The truth is that there is One who knows me better than I know myself. He knows my daily–no, hourly–capacity. He understands my heart and my desire. He longs to enable me to minister to my family to the best of my ability, but He also longs to help each member of my family to grow deeper into His image. He knows all this because He created me.

Therefore, the onus is not on me “to do or not do,” the onus on me is to listen and obey. I find my days are far smoother when I pray and listen. His heart is toward me, and He longs for me to be all that I can be that day–that moment. And then, when I have lived my day to its fullest capacity (whatever that may be), I, too, will have earned the blessed sleep of the honest laborer. 🙂

“O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Thy holy hill,” (Psalm 43:3)

PS. Since today is the first day of The World Series 2012, I only have one thing left to add: Go Giants!!!

Anticipating the first pitch!!!

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The Help of His Presence

I have spent the past two mornings mesmerized by the simple beauty of this one line from God’s Word: “the help of His presence.” Something rich and vital calls out to my soul–a glorious something as though the knowledge and understanding of its meaning brings essence to my very being.

Yesterday I allowed this phrase to wash over my heart. I savored every tasty flavor and texture I could absorb. The sons of Korah, who penned these lovely words, offer the assurance that I will offer to God my praise based solely on the help of His presence. His aide is promised in no other way. Not the help of money. Not the help of a job. Not the help of health. Simply the help of His wonderful, comforting presence. Could anything be more sumptuous?

Today I was again drawn to this remarkable little phrase, but my mind cried out for greater comprehension. As I repetitively pored over Psalm 42, its scriptural home, I was even more astounded. You see, this particular psalm–like so many others–is more a psalm of desperation rather than praise. Listen to some of the other phrases: “When will I come and appear before God?” (v.2b); “My tears have been my food day and night” (v.3a); “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (v.5a); “O my God, my soul is in despair within me” (v.6a); and, “Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (v.9b). An anguished spirit inscribed these words.

Even the first verse, which we devotedly sing as a worship chorus, speaks of the writer’s privation: “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee.” A deer panting for water is a parched deer, not one just wishing for a little sip of something cool and refreshing. That little deer is in dire need of hydration. In like manner, the soul of the psalmist is in dire need of the presence of God.

I want…no, I need…a soul like that.

“Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” Psalm 42:5b

God’s Magnificent Revolving Door of Peace

We live in a society that is often compared to a hamster wheel. Everybody’s running on that thing and getting nowhere. Even after expending tons of precious energy, a person is left stuck in a cage, absolutely spent.

I don’t live that way. Not because I wouldn’t if I could, but because frantic racing is a bit beyond a woman who spends eleven hours a night in bed, and nine or ten hours the following day resting in a recliner or a comfy chair. Nope. Borderline impossible.

That said, however, the hamster-wheel pace can be just as frenetically lived out by the sedentary as well as the active if their hearts are unsettled. Even a health-inhibited inactive person, who allows anxiety to exercise dominion over peace, can have a life every bit as frantic as her healthy, energetic neighbor. (And that stress? Boy, that’ll do you in every time!) Likewise, an active go-getter, who keeps her eyes fixed on Jesus, can live an extremely peaceful existence.

The true difference is not the outward activity, it’s the inward heart. And, great gravy!, I have certainly had my experiences of wrestling with the tortures of a worried heart! I shudder to think of my attitude then, but when I had my initial onset of ME/CFS, I certainly got perturbed. (When I had enough energy to accomplish this feat!) I struggled to believe that I, who obviously had so much to offer my little world, would be rendered so incapacitated!

Over the years, however, I have learned what it means to “keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2). I have found that if I stay my course, I am more victorious in my littleness than I would have been had God allowed me to continue in my large-lived willfulness.

And do you know what else I have found? I have found peace, not as the world filled with all sorts of medical knowledge has to offer, but a peace that causes my heart to not be troubled nor fearful. (See John 14:27.) A peace based on the understanding that God, whose very character is lovingkindess and compassion, cares tenderly about every aspect of my life. And how sweet is the peace that is based on the goodness of the Lord.

Oh, sure, the enemy likes to come along and rock my boat. At the beginning I chased doctor after doctor to no avail…especially as medical research has yet to offer hope to the ME/CFS patient. It was at that point that I determined to not be as the lady with the “issue of blood” (Matthew 9:20), who had spent all her money on doctors, yet still was unwell and unclean. I wanted to be as she was in the story when she desperately reached out to Jesus in faith. I realized that God, who knew all my struggles, would meet me and minister to me simply because I was His darling daughter. I chose to allow Him to work out His perfect plan in me regardless of the cost to my health, my pride, or my acceptance by society. This became my free-will offering.

Even a month ago, when I went to the doctors for the first time in years to check some new symptoms, that niggling fear came back. Was I doing everything I ought? Was this disease, indeed, to be taken as lightly as they presumed? Where should I go next? What should I do? Actually, now that I think about it, it wasn’t just fear but anger. And both needed to be dealt with. Anger and fear left free to roam in a Christian’s mind will be her undoing. Never, ever doubt that!

So I remembered what my training had instilled in me: put to death the fleshly attitude, stop being intimidated by the waves, and focus back on the compassionate and victorious face of my King and Savior, Jesus.

And do you know what happened next? The voice of the enemy stammered and stuttered! Where was his confident mocking and jeering? Although my circumstances hadn’t discernable changed, I wasn’t the one vanquished! As a matter of fact, because my heart and hand was wholly entrusted to Jesus, I was the one who was “more than a conqueror!” In that moment, I knew that my small action of trust had brought true delight to my eternal Beloved. Though I didn’t see it with my outward eyes, my heart knows He smiled. 🙂

This is where my revolving door analogy comes in (since you were probably wondering!). Every time I stay my course and simply push through, I am compelled from peace to victory to delighting God’s heart, which brings me back to peace again. Then, of course, I go on to victory to delighting God’s heart. And my joyful little world revolves around His anchoring of my life.

Some may think my life looks like little more than that of a hamster: a small life existing in a small world, with nothing more than a wheel to keep me occupied. If I believed that, I would perish. However, each opening in my revolving door offers an exceedingly more stunning view of God’s grace, mercy and faithfulness. Every vista that befalls my eyes is more gorgeous than the one before. A life filled with such serene beauty towers above that hamster wheel of frantic activity. Such a breathtaking panorama can only result from God’s magnificent revolving door of peace.

“By this I know that Thou art pleased with me, because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me.” Psalm 41:11

Kid Nation

A few years ago I remember seeing some ads for a then-upcoming reality series entitled, “Kid Nation.” The premise was that forty kids of all ages would be left to construct a functional community for themselves with no adult input, supervision or guidance. They had an appointed “Town Council,” other children who served as leaders, but they were really left on their own to figure things out. I was thinking about this show the other day because I realized, ever so sadly, that I don’t have to watch TV to see this exemplified–I see this same premise personified in daily life.

A couple of examples I’ve recently encountered:

* While walking past the park, I noticed a mother heading to her van followed by a very reluctant son (approximately 7-8 years old). She got in the van and signaled for her son to crawl in the open rear door. He crossed his arms and stood his ground. She started the engine. He maintained his position. She inched the van forward a couple of feet. He continued to defy her. She stopped the van, got out, and they both proceeded back to the playground.

* At the table next to us at a restaurant, a small child (approximately age 4) had a fit because he didn’t get to sit where he wanted. The parents, exasperated but unwilling to rock the child’s boat, made the other children at the table rearrange themselves to accommodate this son without even addressing his unacceptable behavior.

In both situations–and many others I have witnessed–the child controlled his situation. He exerted his will. The parents capitulated. End of story…or so they think.

When Amanda, my firstborn, was just an itty-bitty thing, I received a solid piece of advice from Jean, our former pastor’s wife, during one of her lessons to our Women’s Ministries group. She profoundly stated, “Never lose control with your children. If you do, guess who has it?” And I remember thinking, “Oh, heaven help us if a child has control of the home.” At that moment, I made a determination in my heart that I would learn what it meant to be a mom who was in control of her offspring…while, hopefully, making them feel loved and cared for in the process.

This came through daily small choices made consistently and lovingly, yet firmly. I had to be resolved within myself that this was a long-term commitment, and I could not give myself the easy out. Those of you who know me personally, or have read my blog, know that I experienced my original onset of ME/CFS when my children were six and almost-three. At this point in my life, my choice to maintain steadiness in this realm was challenged greatly, but it was too important an issue for me to relinquish. For this reason, I know how difficult it is to complete the course, but I also know how imperative it is: a child’s future is at stake.

Was I perfect? Hardly! But after every faltering, I got back in the box and kept swinging.

To make consistent, loving and firm decision implies that I have a basis on which to make these choices. And I do. Clearly, the highest standards for my life and home can be found distinctly outlined in The Bible. (Which means I have to be in it daily and not just rely on what a pastor tells me on Sunday!) But, beautifully inscribed on these Scriptural pages, however, I find such wisdom as, “Do not steal.”

“Hey! Give your brother back his Furby.”

Or, “Do not lie.”

“Actually, I don’t care what your friends do. We cannot lie about even small things to get what we want. Not even our age to get facebook.”

And, “Honor the Lord thy God.”

“Son, a video game with that rating cannot have anything in it that glorifies God.”

I also read that children are to “obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

According to God’s Word, parents are to call the shots in their own home. (They are not to be abusive of this authority, however!) As my husband likes to say, “These are God’s standards. They are not our standards. We don’t have the right to alter God’s standards, for they aren’t ours to alter.” As Christian parents, we are appointed by God to uphold His standards in our home and teach them to our children. If we do not do this, we erroneously teach our children–whether intentionally or not–that God’s rules allow for lots of wiggle-room, or that sin is only sin sometimes.

In addition, lack of parental covering causes children to look for ways within themselves to make up for the parameters that are missing. Sadly, they try to cover themselves, which unfortunately leads to fear. Whether you see their fear or not, don’t be deceived: it greatly comes into play in the choices they make.

One of the few parenting books I’ve read, “Dare to Discipline” by Dr. James Dobson, cited an experiment done on a playground of children. (I tried to find the book to make sure I got the details absolutely correct, but I couldn’t. You’ll just have to trust me.) Anyway, on an average enclosed playground, normal children play on every square inch of that playground, even hanging out all the way by the fence–taking full advantage of their entire sphere. In the experiment, however, they removed the fence. The interesting result? The children stayed near the center of the playground, uncomfortable going near the outer edges of the playground. My interpretation? Healthy, adventurous children need understandable boundaries to enable them to fully explore all that God has given them.

I don’t know how the TV show, “Kid Nation,” ended up, but I do know those children were able to return to their homes where, hopefully, parents awaited to give them the comfort and guidance that they needed. I also know that children, who spend their entire developing years lacking guidance, discipline and parameters, don’t have that option. Having been trained in their own little version of a “Kid Nation,” they will enter their adult years skewed, self-indulgent, and dreadfully unprepared to face a grown-up world filled with cause-and-effect.

“For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12

Breakin’ It Down

One of the things I absolutely love about homeschooling is the opportunity to learn new things…or relearn long-forgotten things. As a matter of fact, I’ve been positively stunned at how much I enjoy science–considering I didn’t consider myself good at it in high school. With well structured text books, on-line support, and life experience to assist me, I’ve become relatively comfortable in my role. Not only that, but I’m thrilled at how many aspects of science are so down-right applicable to real life. Why, it’s just like God designed the natural world around me to teach me truth about the spiritual world as well as things about myself!

From Biology, I learned that the root system of a tree is generally 2-3 times more expansive than the canopy of a healthy, mature tree. Now, shouldn’t that be the same for a healthy, mature Christian walk? The beauty of her public walk should pale in comparison to the depth of her private walk with her Lord.

Chemistry taught me some pretty awesome and helpful laws like, “An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside source.” I see that played out everyday in my home, but it sure is nice to know that Newton can explain why Junior doesn’t just pop out of bed in the morning all by himself.

One thing that has spurred my thinking lately, though, has come through Physics. I recently learned that when a physicist needs to solve a two-dimensional problem, he breaks it down into two one-dimensional problems, thus simplifying a convoluted amount of information into manageable pieces. And since life’s problems are rarely simple, it’s kind of a nice key to remember when facing the more complicated issues–especially since most issues involve people, and people are never cut-and-dried.

But this particular line of thinking has helped me sort through my ME/CFS relapse. ME/CFS is a convoluted medical issue with a broad spectrum of symptoms which vary from patient to patient. Since medical science has yet to crack the code, I have to play my own research doctor, running experiment after experiment. However, if I focus on one element only–one symptom–it helps me sort through all the complexities.

Like when we returned home from a two-week vacation–a vacation during which I experienced a growing upward trend in my health. My first day of being home, our cat decided to express to me how much she missed my presence in her world by joining me on the couch for a snuggle. Immediately, my head became extremely foggy. Hmmm. Could it be???

This caused me to pull out a sheet of paper a couple of days later and make a list contrasting my life-style while on vacation versus at home. Since I was entirely cat-free for two weeks, and since I had such a resounding reaction toward our cat, we made the heart-rending decision to rid our home of our little Trixie–our kitty of ten years. But, this incident led me to recall an allergy scratch-test I had had done several years ago. (Yes, I knew about the cat allergy, but I had succumbed to the pleadings of two adorable children.) I remembered that I had an allergy to dust mites and almost all flora in our area. Okay. A deeper commitment to washing all the bedding regularly and the purchase of air purifiers–though I’ve been unable to stay up on the dusting and vacuuming as I really ought. Result: only occasional brain fog (a common symptom of ME/CFS, which makes filling out a grocery list as complicated as solving a quadratic equation).

This small victory has caused me to currently tackle the insomnia issue. (Can you believe this disease, which is known to cause over a million US citizens to live flat-out exhausted lives, also keeps them wide awake in the wee hours?) After spending hours rifling through various online sources, I’ve decided how I want to set-up my experiment. I had the right supplements (melatonin,  calcium/magnesium/zinc and Vitamin D), I just needed to better structure when I took them. While, I’m not prepared to leap for joy or anything, I did sleep better last night than I have in I-don’t-know-how-long. After all, I have had the occasional good night’s sleep in the past nine months. But still…nine straight, beautiful hours. Wowza! I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, here’s to breaking down complicated problems into their individual components! I won’t be solving the whole of the ME/CFS disease, but perhaps I can piece together a more functional life for myself.

“When I remember Thee on my bed, I mediate on Thee in the night watches, for Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to Thee: Thy right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:6-8).

When as a Child

Sons seem to have their own distinct way of interacting with their moms. My son has always loved to play little jokes on me–kind of his way of saying he likes me or something. One of his favorite ways to connect with me these days is to change the sights and sounds of my electronic devices. Lately his gig has been to daily change the wallpaper on my laptop to random pictures of himself as a toddler.

Today, however, in reference to his pictures, he said something rather astute: “If I tried to do some of those things now, it would be kind of…awkward.”

And he’s right. A two-year old hiding in the laundry basket waiting to surprise his mommy is adorable. A sixteen-year old? Not so much. But his comment made me ponder how many adults try to get away with attitudes and actions that they should have ditched long ago.

Now I totally get this concept. After all, I have totally wanted to have a melt-down in public just because I’m tired and things aren’t going my way. Or I’ve felt that sting of jealousy when someone has something I want, though I have managed to refrain from pushing her down and taking it away. I’ve also wanted to leave my things lying around for someone else to pick up. And I’m sorry to have to admit it, but I have been known to sneak a cookie before dinner and then not want to eat my veggies. I get it!

But the truth is, I’m not supposed to act like that. I’m an adult. And I’m supposed to be a mature, God-honoring adult. In this role, I am not allowed to follow my selfish ambitions or indulge my fleshly desires or consider another as someone who should pick up after me, which includes any emotional outbursts I may wish to partake in.

And as a parent, it just gets harder. Because, in addition to training myself, I also have to train my children. As a matter of fact, the biggest challenge facing parents of newborns is how to groom this little one to be an adult who will comprehend the importance of self-discipline so that he can bring glory to his God. And the only way a child can grasp this concept is through parental discipline beginning when he is small.

I remember sitting at the table with Amanda when she was but a few months old. Yes, quite young. She reached for my spoon, but pulled back her hand when she heard me simply tell her “no.” I thought, “Ah! She understands!” It only took a moment, though, before a peculiar look crossed her face. Her little chin tilted up just so, and her little paw reached a second time for that spoon. Defiance had reared its ugly head in the heart of my little girl and, since I didn’t want defiance reigning supreme, this had to be nipped in the bud. I took her little hand, looked firmly in her eyes, sternly repeated “no,” and tapped the padded top of her pudgy paw with my finger. She quickly pulled back from the spoon, her bottom lip fully jutted out. The firm, but loving, role of discipline had entered our home.

As time went on and comprehension grew, the simplistic “no” became “You’re now on grace. You need to obey mommy,” which became “You’re walking in disobedience. You need to choose to obey or face the consequences.” All of these dimensions were important to me: obedience, grace, choice and consequences. These were significant aspects of my relationship with my children, because they are significant aspects of my children’s relationship with God.

Is it easy to stay on the discipline bandwagon? No way! I’ve yet to meet a parent who hasn’t inwardly thought, “Please obey me! I’m so tired! I don’t want to get up!” But the fact of the matter remains, you have to discipline regardless of how you feel.

And that discipline needs to be loving, consistent, and restorative. Without love, our reprimands are merely a “noisy gong or clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Without consistency, our rules are wishy-washy and can be taken lightly. And without restoration, our role of authority becomes cracked and dismissed. Most importantly, though, our discipline needs to be loving, consistent, and restorative simply because that is how God does it, and our ultimate goal is to teach our children to respond to God’s instructions.

We still have a teenage son in our home–and he’s far from perfect, in spite of our discipline. He leaves his dirty dishes on the counter and his soiled socks on the floor. He neglects to respond when we talk to him and forgets to follow-through on his commitments to us. (I did mention he was sixteen, didn’t I?) In spite of his shortcomings, he does respond relatively well to our discipline, because he has been trained by it. I think he may actually get–laundry basket aside–that if he tried to behave now as he did then, it would, indeed, be rather awkward.

“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” I Corinthians 13:11

Weary Bones–Merry Hearts

Yesterday evening I had a deep desire to remember who I am. I longed for a moment to feel like me. To think like me. To be out of the house as me. Therefore, when my husband came home and asked if I would like to go on a walk, I said that I would prefer a date. A big, lovely grin appeared on his face as he delightedly asked, “Where would you like to go?”

Based on my already bumpy day, I really wanted something simple. Someplace where he and I could sit, talk, and celebrate the beauty of our relationship…and then get my weary bod back home as soon as possible. I chose Rubio’s, because Mexican food is pretty much awesome anytime. And besides–Whimsical (frozen yogurt…or sorbet, in my case) is next door. 🙂

My husband, as always, was a wonderful date. His strong, comforting arm stabilized each step. He waited on me hand and foot, gallantly leaping up to meet my slightest need. And, what won’t surprise those of you who know him, he chatted animatedly away, carrying the lion’s share of the conversation. He was positively dreamy.

This morning, however, arrived with the “bill” for last night’s diversions–marked “Payable on Demand.” It’s been a rough one; I can’t deny it. My body is so tired that my muscles quite literally ache. My mind searches vaguely for words that don’t seem to exist. What’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you what I won’t do. I refuse to regret my evening with my beloved; each marriage needs to be tended, especially a marriage that is bearing the weight of a debilitating illness. We smiled into each other’s eyes and hearts last night, and it was worth the price.

Needless to say, this afternoon offers the delectable comfort of my daughter’s bed. However, as I start to nestle in, the notes from Barbra Streisand’s “I am a Woman in Love” come to my mind. Why? I don’t know. I haven’t thought of that song in years–possibly decades. Anyway, the lyrics that pop randomly into my head to accompany those notes are clearly my own. So, here for your enjoyment…or not:

I am a woman in bed

And I’d do anything

To get back into my world

And be active again

On this hope I’ll depend

Over and over again

That’s right. It’s important to keep the humor alive, even if the only one you amuse is yourself! 🙂

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.” Proverbs 15:13a