Sunday, December 2, 2018

Being Intentional in your planning and preparing for the holiday. A collaboration of ideas.

As we finished the Thanksgiving holiday, and crept closer to December and the Christmas holiday, I started seeing many posts about ways to de-stress and declutter our holiday season so that we could get the most of this year’s Christmas. 

It matters not how hard we try, often many of us end up wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve, doing last minute baking, and overall feeling like we have at the least compromised our joy, but in many cases losing our joy, in the last-minute crazy of the Christmas season. 

This year, while I saw many posts about various ways to handle this stress, I had a thought.  Let me engage some wonderful ladies, in my online bible studies to see what sorts of tips and tried and true ideas they have for decluttering and de-stressing the holiday season, so that our focus as moms can be our family and remembering the real reason for the season; Jesus. 

While many of the ladies in these two groups were encouraging of this collaboration, they admitted that they really did not have much to contribute but were excited to read what others had to say on the practical ways to get a handle on the strain and stress that we as moms feel (real or perceived) during what should be the most glorious time of the year. 

First and foremost, many of the women in the online groups indicated that regardless of how busy they knew that their days would be, they had to take the time to focus on the Lord.  Without a daily and purposed quiet time, they find their frustration and irritation on the rise in the month of December.  I agree.  After all, the Christmas season is about celebrating the birth of Christ.  Regardless of your preferred style of study and quiet time, either an advent style devotion, or the study with a specific group of ladies, stay connected to the Lord daily! 

Secondly, many ladies also indicated that it was helpful to maintain a regular work out program.  We all agree this is not the time to start a new fitness program (wait until the first of the year and resolve to do so then) but if you are a walker, a runner, a boxer, a weightlifter, a Zumba dancer, or a swimmer; keep at it!  Purpose to make it to your activity of choice, at least three times a week, to not only offset the additional calories from breakroom goodies,  and holiday parties, but to just keep that time for yourself to focus on your body and mind and keeping them healthy. 

From here on out the responses are varied, but all are worth consideration and are in no particular order:

Greeting Cards: Some indicated that they no longer send holiday greeting cards.  Others indicated that they still send greeting cards, but it makes them anxious that they may have missed someone.  Here are some insights about holiday cards.  If you want to send them, plan to have them done and ready to go in the mail by black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) I can speak to this personally as I typically prefer to make my cards by hand.   However, it started to become a major stressor in my life.  So about 10 years ago I made an agreement with myself.  If the cards were not done, addressed and stamped by the end of September, I would skip them that year.  There have been some years that I have not sent cards.  Most years, I enjoy either creating (this year I colored them) or addressing cards I found at after Christmas sales, as a summer weekend project. 

Many, including myself keep track of whom I send my cards to.  By placing a list of the recipients on a piece of paper in your calendar or other safe place  ( setting aside about 1 dozen extra cards and stamps)  so that if a card comes in the mail during the month of December, from someone that is not on that list, you can quickly jot a note and send a return greeting!  

If you opt to skip the cards, then be okay with it!! Don’t second guess your decision, but do enjoy the greetings from those that send you greetings!  If you really want to reconnect with someone, then save their card and send a personal hand-written note/email/Facebook message after the first of the year! 

Shopping:  Another hot topic was shopping.  Wow, so much to say about this area of the holiday!  Where do you even start, what are the boundaries? Some indicated that each child/person in their home receives three gifts, as a representation of the gifts baby Jesus received from the wise men.  Others indicate that their lists for their loved ones start the day after Christmas,  and they keep a note book (or the note section of their phone) for listing things that their loved ones mention throughout the year as things they like, or wish they had. 

Others indicated that they get wish lists from their loved ones no later than August/ September and attempt to do all their shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  

Personally, I try to have all my shopping and wrapping done by November 30th each year.   While there is occasionally a few items that slip through the cracks until the early part of December, it is a great relief to have the bulk of the gift giving handled before the first of December!  

For those of the group that have out of town family, online gift giving seems to be the best option.  I agree!  For my family and friends, that are out of town, I order wreaths and other live greens for them, which are delivered end of November and early December, that include a personal message and gives them a gift that they can enjoy for the entire Christmas season.  Additionally, using e-bay, amazon, Esty and other online stores to order and ship gifts to family and friends across the miles, is best done early, with guaranteed availability of items and delivery in time to actually be a Christmas gift.   

It seems that hands down, shopping on line, either at Amazon or your favorite retailer, with front door delivery was the go to method of shopping for the majority of the ladies that weighed in on the shopping aspect of the holidays!  

Spending: There were many that have learned lessons about over spending and creative ways to plan financially for the holiday.  Many banks offer Christmas club accounts.  For years when our kids were small, we started one of these the first of the year and then put cash in each payday.  The bank then paid them out around the first of November.  It was a great way for our young family to prepare all year for expense of the holidays!   If your bank doesn’t have a specific check into opening a savings account that can be used specifically for holiday saving year round.

For the few ladies that really enjoy the Black Friday craze, they weighed in with their tips for successful shopping including purchasing the newspaper or looking at the online advertisements, to make a “road map” of where you will go, at what times, to get the best deals and the best chances at the items you really want.  Many said that it can be tricky to Black Friday shop, because if you are prone to impulse buying, you could walk away with many “great deals” but with no one to gift them to. 

The last note on gift giving and spending is make a list!  Check it twice! Or five times!  Whatever you need to do to stay on budget and on task.  I know that there is always that one person on my list that is super easy to buy for and if I am not using a list that person ends up with two Christmas’s worth of gifts and everyone else looks like they were an afterthought!  The “list” can be altered throughout the shopping season but provides a great baseline for staying in the means of your holiday spending and gift limits!  

Everyone that weighed in stated that staying on task for giving and financial spending makes the season easier to manage and makes the new year manageable, since you will not have over spent.   Many said if they do not have cash, they do not make the purchase.

Wrapping: In regard to wrapping, over the years because of the number of children we have (7), we wrapped all gifts in a separate paper for each child.  This is a great option for me, as I know that since the gifts are not hidden, no one is sneaking peeks because no one knows what paper their gifts are wrapped in until Christmas morning!  

It is also great to pick up paper and ribbon at the after Christmas sales, so that when you are shopping and wrapping in August and September, you have paper and do not have to wait for the retailers to put out their stock. (while you are at it, purchasing that discount paper and ribbon at the end of the year sales, go ahead and add scotch tape to that list and keep it with the paper for safe keeping! 

Now about this point in the post you are feeling a bit overwhelmed!  As one online contributor shared, always keep wine on hand… it is the great holiday stress reliever, however if you plan, and are intentional in your holiday preparations, you can just enjoy your wine, or cup of hot tea with a good book, without the guilt of being behind as the holiday rolls up on you fast and furiously! 

Baking and Meal Planning:  Another area that causes much stress is holiday baking and meal prep!  Here are some insights from the ladies.  You are either a baker or not.  If you are not, do not worry, you have a friend that will deliver some sweet treats to your home for the holidays!  If you are a baker schedule your baking time!  We have always made many types of cookies and shared them with neighbors, postmen, garbage men, bus drives etc.  But to use baking as a gift giving option, you do have to have a plan!  So, in October, make the list of the types of holiday baking you would like to do, and then start adding a few of the baking items to your standard grocery list through the end of November.  This helps keep the cost lower, as you spread it out across several weeks of shopping.  Also, don’t forget the containers that you are going to use to wrap those great treats in or distribute them in. 

Be intentional about scheduling a baking day.  Clear your schedule of all distractions and plan to spend the day baking! In our house now that the kids are grown, this helps ensure that they are off work, and have the time also to bake.  

If you have younger kids, you may want to consider letting each child choose their favorite type of cookie and they can bake that one with just you, so that you can purpose to have some one on one memory making time with each of your kids.  But again, it must be intentionally planned on our end, so that we have the supplies and the right mindset.  Being in the kitchen with littles is not always easy.   

If baking is not your thing, as early as September, you can make a few types of dough, (sugar cookie, chocolate chip, snickerdoodle etc) roll the dough like a log, and wrap in saran wrap and tin foil and place in the freezer.  When you need or want cookies for the holiday, remove the cookies from the freezer, slice and bake by normal baking instructions.  Or buy frozen cookie dough at the grocery and keep on hand for the holiday season.  The end result is the same, a house filled with a fresh baked cookie aroma!

In addition, like the baking ingredients, meal planning and purchasing can put a huge hit on the family grocery budget.  If you use frozen turkey, purchase "Tom" at the end of the summer,  for each holiday.  If you make green bean casserole, purchase two of everything in the summer and stock pile them in your pantry with an X on them, as a sign to yourself that they are earmarked for the upcoming holidays. 

We often seem surprised by the holiday meals, but they are coming, so planning in advance and purchasing everything prior to Thanksgiving, is what many ladies said they do.  Then, give it no more thought until the week before when you need to purchase your perishable items like potatoes, or fresh meats and vegetables.  

Again, the key the ladies indicated is making a list, and planning ahead!   This sounds great you say, except you do not have a lot of storage or freezer space. No worries!  You can then either, put aside a certain dollar amount each week starting in the summer (based on your budget) so that you can purchase supplies for the holiday meal and baking in December without wrecking your grocery budget.  However if saving money(cash) is an issue, and you are tempted to use the cash for other things, try purchasing gift cards for yourself from your primary grocery store and put them away each week, so you can pay for your holiday meal and baking items with gift cards vs your standard weekly grocery budget monies when the time comes.

Here is an example from our house. We have many “traditional” meal items.  Christmas Eve dinner is always homemade chicken pot pie.  At the writing of this post the chicken is cooked and shredded and in the freezer in gallon zip lock bags with the celery and slivered carrots and chicken broth.  The week before Christmas I will hand roll the dough and cut it in squares and place it on wrapped cookie sheets in the fridge.  The day before Christmas eve, I will pull those bags from the freezer to thaw, and then on Christmas eve in the morning place the prepared ingredients in the stock pot on low, bringing to a slow boil and add the dough prior to leaving for church, turning back to warm, so that dinner is ready after Christmas Eve services at church… no fuss no muss.   Regardless of the tradition, my grandmother’s hot chocolate, or breakfast on Christmas morning, the prep is done well in advance of the actual holiday meal need, and the stress is minimized, allowing more time for sharing time with my family instead of being alone in the kitchen! 

Okay, I bet you are wondering what we missed!  DECORATING!!  This preparation is literally my favorite part of the holidays!  I did not get a lot of ladies weighing in on this particular part of the festivities, but I have lots of great ways that I have made this work for me over the years, and I love to share. 

Before I do however, please note that this is a serious thing for me, decorating.  I do have a Christmas problem. Inside and outside my home. If you doubt it for one moment, know I rent a storage facility for all my Christmas decorations.   I do understand that there are not many of you that do decorating on the scale that I do. (Most do not.) DO NOT feel discouraged, the level of decorating that you do, is what you do. If it in any way causes stress in your life just review some of the ideas below and see if any could help you with the stress. 

The first thing that I started years ago (at least 20) was organizing all my decorations by theme (room).  When the kids were small they each had a bin with a tree for their rooms, and the ornaments that were the room theme (hunting, sparkly things, football team) which also included santa hats, and special blankets for their beds etc.  If you are like me, most always the decorations go to the same place and stay in the same general pattern over the years.  When you have a bin for each theme(room), you can decorate a room at a time vs, pulling all the decorations and reorganizing the whole house at once. 

When I enter a room, to start decorating, I take the bin(s) for that room with me, and the cleaning supplies. You read that right, cleaning supplies!  My themes are vast after 30 years of Christmas decorating, and so all my “typical” decorations come down, are dusted, stacked neatly on a pile and then I wipe the walls, and baseboards, dust the furniture, and then re-decorate by pre-appointed Christmas theme. Then the standard decorations are placed in the empty bin(s), and are clean for their return to each room after the first of the year.  

For example, my half baths have always had a reindeer theme.  Hand towels, a wreath for the wall, and small wooden and plush reindeer add the festive touches to the room.  By cleaning the room before decorating, I am also guaranteeing myself if I only manage the basic bathroom cleaning for the month of December that space will be guest/company ready at all times. 

If you have not thought about your rooms in themes, here are some ideas.  My main family space is nativities, big and small, and our family tree. Our family tree has all the ornaments from our kids and my husband and my childhoods.  I anticipate that it will in years to come be filled with our grandchildren’s homemade treasures too.  

As an aside, in regard to the decorations for that tree, each of the kid’s ornaments are marked with their initials and sorted into containers.  When it is time to decorate the kids, each get to put up their own ornaments (which my kids insist on), while I did not figure out soon  enough that I should have been keeping them sorted all this time, until about 6 years ago, it has been SO helpful.   Now that they are starting to leaving home, when they have their own first trees, I can just hand them their ornaments with ease whenever they are ready to decorate in their own homes. 

Other themed rooms are snow people including a snow man tree with ornaments, and shelves with knickknack snowmen and women.   My kitchen is gingerbread men, and the tree in that room is decorated with a variety of old kitchen gadgets, cinnamon sticks and ribbons.  I have a vintage Santa nook, and a beach theme for my lanai including throw pillows for the furniture, and a sea themed tree. 

This year I got to add to my themes, because for the first time, I have a guest room!  I purchased a small table top driftwood tree, some new bed sheets with flamingo’s in Santa hats,  a driftwood wreath, and decorated  a small tree with shells and driftwood… while purchasing the decorations, I also made a stop for a small bin to house these items in for the other 11 months of the year! 

I think that it is also important to evaluate your decorations each year. Sometimes we have things that get broken.  If I can fix it, I stop right then and go for the glue gun or the super glue.  If I can’t fix it easily, I return it to the box for repair after this Christmas season or determine if I it is even worth the fix.  Sometimes,  somethings that are not sentimental, are only around for a season.  For example, none of my kids have trees in their rooms any longer.  It was a phase and that is over and all those supplies and items either got merged into their personal ornament collection or were donated to the Goodwill/Salvation army, so others could find a way to use them for their holiday memory making. 

Some other ladies shared that it is helpful to spend time with their small children cleaning out and purging their play boxes and playrooms, and donate to a specific cause before the incoming gifts arrive.  Not only does this make room for the new items but also helps our littles understand that not everyone is as blessed as we are, and many can benefit from items that we no longer play with or care for.  

 One more note, as I know this post is growing long. Please let’s remember that the Christmas holiday season is not always a happy and joyous occasion for everyone.  I have found that by being intentional prior to the first of December in regard to my own traditions for decorating shopping and planning, this has relieved much of my inward focus and the stressors so that I can now focus more on others.  I do not always do great at this, but it is my goal, to each year stay on task personally, and spiritually so that I am more sensitive to those around me that may be lonely or struggling because of depression or loss of a loved one.  When I complete my tasks, big or small, before the first of December, I have found that I have more time to consider others before myself.  Maybe blessing a family in need with gift cards, baked goods, or gifts so that their holiday is a little brighter.  Giving to a toy drive.  Taking that time for coffee and a chat with a friend that is hurting, without feeling guilty about tasks that still need to be checked off my "to do" list. 

Intentionality is everything during the holidays!  I hope that you have each been blessed by the ladies who took the time to contribute their thoughts and ideas about how they manage areas specific to Christmas planning and execution.   As women we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.  Most times when I look back at the not so perfect Christmas’s (and there have been a ton of them) I am the only one that remembers the pie was burnt, or the gift wrap was held together with string because I ran out of tape at midnight on Christmas eve.  

This year if you feel overwhelmed, stop and seek the Lord’s direction.  If it is not important, the task that is stealing your joy, then let it go.  Be okay not always being the most creative mom, or the one who sends the lengthy update on kids and family to your mailing list.  Be okay resting in the joy of the season.  Ask yourself this, at the end of the day, will your home provide a haven for your family and an occasional guest?  Will the joy of the season be what people who enter through your front door feel? Is there peace in your home, when the world outside is chaotic? 

None of this happens overnight.  Years of purposeful and intentional planning go into making things merry and bright year after year.  At the end of it all, my goal is to honor the Lord and my family while being available to share the good news of the birth of our Savior with all I come in contact with, not only at Christmas but all year round. 

Merry Christmas to each of you!  May your days be intentional, your spirit be encouraged, and your hands and feet available to serve in tangible and remarkable ways this Christmas season! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

So many levels of broken...

Yesterday, driving in my middle class neighborhood towards the shopping center, I see a field of grass ahead, it registers in my mind, that I am seeing a person, shirtless and shoeless sleeping in broad daylight surrounded by their belongings under a tree.  Upon getting closer I can see said sleeping person clearly.  I know he has a name, I know his birthday, the color of his eyes if they were open, his favorite food, his shoe size, his favorite color and his favorite sports team. 

None of those things seem to be of great importance any longer. He is sun burnt and exhausted, unemployed and virtually skill-less.  He is manipulative and has carved a niche for himself into the fringe of our community in the last nine months. All day long, every day he does nothing, except walk from location to location, carrying his meager belonging on his back, desperately searching for someone, anyone that will listen to his tale of woe, offer him a meal, or a ride and conversation.  Conversation that he can use in some way, for however brief a moment in time, to break up the monotony of his current lifestyle choice.  

He will play to your heartstrings. Within moments of his engaging with you he will be able to tell how to manipulate the conversation to get what he wants in that moment.  Food, a ride, money.  His renderings of the last 12 years of his life are not at all what he has really lived.  Yet as a stranger how would you know that?  He is not remorseful.  He is sorry, but sorry just states how he feels when he stops to think about what he no longer has. But the sorrow is fleeting. It doesn't leaves a strong impact in his broken mind. At least not a strong enough impact that would allow him to consider doing an about face and walking away from this situation, or trying a different path. He’s not broken or willing to place himself under any authority that could change his circumstances. He is okay. Everyone else is the problem. He is living his "best life ever".  No rules, no authority, no consequences except the natural ones, (like no money, no food, no shower, no power) but even those are also not his fault.  

This is a day in the life of my second youngest son.  He is mentally ill.  A phrase that I do not throw out lightly, nor am I over exaggerating the dire situation he is in, or that we as his parents are enduring as a result.  

I find myself repeatedly at a loss for why doing the hard, yet right thing 14 years ago; following a calling to adopt "special needs" siblings, has lead us down this path.  If you had ever told me this would be where I am, and what I would be struggling with, I would have laughed at you.  I would never, not for one moment, believed that I could have endured so many highs and lows in these years, which have lead us to this point in time.  

Here is a list of the horrible side effects for the families of individuals with mental illness. Understand none of these side effects, affect the one that is mentally ill.  This is in no way is this an exhaustive list.  This is based solely on my personal experience up to this point in the journey.  Actuarily speaking, we are on a journey, which in the longevity of a life span has just begun with no end in sight. 

The list in no particular order.  Helplessness. Guilt. Anger. Bitterness. Resentment. Frustration. Second guessing. Enabling. Broken heartedness. Rage. Confusion. Sadness. Grief. Sorrow. Anxiety. Dread. Fear. Doubt. Reflection.  Stop at any point and cycle back to the beginning, because you can feel more than one symptom at a time, and you can dwell on multiple "like" symptoms until you think you're going to lose your mind.  None of which helps, heals or promotes good mental health in the life of those living without mental illness, but whom are trying to minister to the needs of those they love with mental illness. 

When someone you love is so broken, and yet they are so deeply entrenched in the denial of their mental health problems, they never own their current situation. Blame shifting and manipulation are the lenses through which they live their days causing all others in their paths to live on egg shells if you are immediately attempting to care or guide said individual.  All of your safe places are no longer safe, because they begin to surface in those places lingering far longer than is socially acceptable.  Begging borrowing and creating a general nuisance of themselves.  But in this, they remain oblivious.  

For others on the fringe of a family that is struggling with someone suffering from mental illness,  they are faced with the options to engage or ignore.  Engagement is messy.  Because mental illness is messy.  There is no logic, no rhyme or reason to how the affected individual will behave in any given situation. Engagement always leads to devastation in the life of the one that volunteers to step up or step in, because even though you have shared your journey, others stepping in, often think that they can do the same thing you have been doing for years with different results.  Maybe for a week or two the "engager" will see some hope, but it quickly ends in devastation, because anyone with mental illness is unable to sustain "normal" for any length of time, until they go "off the rails". Typically just fleeing, with or without any of their possessions.  Many, after one attempt themselves, or because of watching another person attempt to help, will select the second option.   Ignoring the situation and the family and their needs. At best they may lend a listening ear, while rejoicing in their minds all the while they "listen" that their life is not this messy! 

As a personal testimony to the last 14 years of my life, I did not think mental illness was affecting me.  I was living with occasionally unstable adopted children providing for them a loving home, working hard to provide for their emotional physical and spiritual needs and balance the life of mom, employee, wife, volunteer etc.  At the time of their adoptions, mental illness was not known to be the cause of these children's  issues. Diagnoses like ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder,  Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (while playing a critical role in who they have become today), were only discussed in terms of "special needs".  

Subtle changes happened along the way in their progression from adorable "special needs" kids to hormonal, challenging teens. As a parent or loved one, when you are in the trenches protecting, guiding and attempting to navigate these waters on the day to day, all of a sudden the issues have mushroomed to something so large, that most people do not really believe that this is happening in your home. 

These children/young adults with mental illness do not, and would never, behave that way for strangers (remember manipulation is huge) teachers, neighbors or extended family.  Before too long you look back and you see that your friends are distant. Your personal life is on hold, and your lack of desire to even pretend any longer that life is normal, causes you to just stay home.   

Before our move four years ago, our life was much different.  We were known in our community. We had supports.  Relationships were built between all our kids with other adults (neighbors, extended family, church members) that allowed for less trauma overall to the others when one was having significant struggles.  With a call, children were carpooled to and from work and school. Homework helper would appear Monday through Thursday, around our 12 foot table.  Breaks were given to us as parents,  when one or more people would step up at the same time to ensure care for all during our break. Errands were run for us.  Physical needs were meet at the very least with a meal, but often times groceries, financial gifts and more often than not just the gift of time was given.  A listening ear, someone that folded the laundry while I made dinner. Now they are older, it is messier and we are1100 miles away from our family and friends. Most will politely inquire, but have been removed from the day to day, and struggle to understand.

As each day progresses, the only thing that I can stand firm on are the promises of the Lord.  I have been faithful. I have been diligent. I have been obedient.  I trust that what the Lord has called us to, He will equip us for, and I know that more than anything, the Lord loves these kids more than I have or every will.  

My wrestlings come as side effects of living this life.  We can't leave the house for outings, my husband and I together, because of the way these adult-ish kids behave when alone together.  We have to lock up all things valuable when we do leave the house or pack them into the car and take them with us.  We now have to lock the house all the time since we have a desperate homeless child lurking in our safe spaces.  We can't drive or shop or worship without the constant thought of who is where, how long they will be there, and when do I/we need to be back in a supervisory role based on the dynamics of the ones that will be around.  When we get breaks, over the past couple years,  it has mostly been one of us at a time. While I am confident that while I am away my husband can handle the chaos, he never gets to rest when he is away, as he is always worried about my ability to handle the kids in his absence.  One of the major issues not even discussed in this post is that the boys have a great dislike, bordering on hatred of any woman in a position of authority over them.  Well folks that's me the mom. While I understand it, and do not take it personally (most days) it makes it hard to engage them in any situations where I need to correct instruct or re-direct. 

In this all, I can rejoice that it is a season.  In this season, most especially being separated from family and friends,  we have learned to cling to the promises of the Lord and to depend on each other.  I rejoice that in all this,  the prince and I, our ideas, values and goals regarding what to do and how to do it for ALL of our kids has been mostly unified.  

While it is our goal to stop allowing those that are "special needs" to stop train wrecking our every day, we are not there yet.  It could be some time until this season ends.  Some days are good, some days are not.  Yesterday was not.  Seeing my son, lying in a field of grass, almost naked, sun burnt sleeping, surrounded by his meager belongings, brought my heart break to a new and painful level.  

Not only did it physically hurt me, it took me on a journey of self doubt, of anger and frustration.  I would stop and arrest my thoughts throughout the remainder of the day, but my mind kept picturing him lying on his row of broken down cardboard boxes sleeping.  Knowing what I know to be true, God's word, yet still wondering if I did enough. Could I do more now. Should I do more now.   Remember almost simultaneously the ways that I have been recently manipulated, and how he has responded with no remorse, not desire to change... and so the loop plays and replays, sometimes more emotionally raw, sometimes more anger and bitterness.  Insert the truth.  

I wish it was as easy and brushing my hands together in the air and saying. "I'm done!" I wish there were facilities for such persons to get the help we know they need, but there are not. Because for them to get help, they have to recognize that they need help, and then they have to ask for it.  I am waiting for that Aha moment, knowing in the depths of my heart that it may never happen.  

God's got the details of their lives and mine.  I'm along for the ride, and in this I am praying that with each blog I post, each conversation that I have, I will be affecting awareness about mental illness.  The deep uglies of a not so perfect life, and how it affects all involved.  Knowing that somewhere along the way, the Lord will use our story to speak to others, to offer encouragement, and to let others know that they are not alone on this journey. 

It is times like these when I really wish I was making this stuff up...   

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

When Love is not Enough

I am sure that I was never so deluded in my thinking, that I thought love was going to be enough.  Nor at the time did I understand the significance of how broken they would be.  In my naivety I thought perhaps structure, guidance, patience, endurance and long suffering would help, would make the difference, and would gain the upper hand.  To my knowledge it has not.

Sadly, we are somewhere in the middle of this story, bogged down by broken, by skewed perspectives, by nature, by hard wiring, and all things unrealistic.  At times in the journey I have found myself shaking my head, and wondering if I am as on point, and sane as I thought that I was, and questioning if the error in judgement is on me, not them.

It's been, and remains a difficult journey.  Not many can relate.  Not many want to make the effort to understand.  Eyes glaze over, or platitudes are shared. Not many engage.  Many often engage by wanting to share how they would fix it,  and share their thoughts on how they would do things differently.  As if it were that simple to change the outcome!  The ones that do step in or step up, do so at their own risk, and are rewarded just like we indicated they would be; with disrespect, with apathy, and non compliance. Quickly and eventually, the cost is too high for them, and they sever ties.

All of this still places us in the fray. We've severed ties.  But how do you completely walk away?  How do you stand back let them fail repeatedly and not desire to share some hope, some sense of love and light in their life?  Yet the cost of doing so is frustrating, time consuming, exhaustive, draining, maddening and overwhelming.

Society has abandoned these broken souls.  It never was my concern, until the broken souls carried my last name.  Now I can see why so many are wandering aimlessly, and without a purpose.  Even the few structures society has in place to assist, carry weighty requirements that my dwarf can't meet or sustain.  No one is helping, they are just bandaging the wounded and sending them back to the streets.

If you were to dwell on the sad reality of this, you would be unable to function. Yet this is our "dwelling place". A constant that hangs over our lives all times of the day, all the days of the week. Stretches of time go past with no contact, and then when there is contact, it is always on their time frame not ours.  Through this all, we still have to meet our requirements to our family, employers and function daily.  Life demands it.  Christ demands it.  But what is the cost?

How has the system become so broken, so inept at caring for those in our culture that can't care for themselves?   We all hear success stories from the agencies during fundraising campaigns, about those that got the help they needed, and with hard work, determination, guidance and perseverance beat the odds and made something from nothing.  But what about those that had everything, and on purpose turned away from it?  Because of mental illness are unable to make good choices, make a plan, execute a plan and are wandering hopeless and haplessly through their days?  Who is helping them?

The old adage, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink", is so appropriate in this situation.   One can spend their  life intentionally planning, encouraging, instructing, teaching, living as an example... but what gets through?  When is enough, enough?  What happens when structure, encouragement, consistency is not enough?

We go back to center.  To why we started this journey to begin with.  We followed a calling to adopt special needs children.  While in the beginning, we had no idea what the needs of these sweet, clean faced, adorable children would be once they morphed into adolescence and adulthood, we worked diligently pouring our resources into creating and fostering a safe, loving world for them to thrive, feel accepted, and succeed at their individual levels.   But that was not enough in some cases.  Love as unconditional as it was, was not enough.  Now what?

God's word is clear about what love is.  And while I am weary from the past 14 years of "loving" there is a long-suffering component, that I will not be able to walk away from until one of our stories ends. (mine or theirs) Love endures all things.  Not just the pretty, but the pretty ugly too.  Like dropping your son at the homeless shelter.  Walking away, knowing that he is beyond what you can do to make things right.  Here is my reminder, when I feel like I can't endure another hit from the broken:

Love is patient, kind. Not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand it's own way.  It is not irritable, it keeps no record of wrongs.  It does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices when truth wins our.  Love never gives up, never loses faith is always hopeful and endures in all things.  (1Cor 13:4-8a) 

Today, I resolve to stand firm on the promises of God.
To be patient, and kind to the broken.
To not allow my pride to demand it's own way in the life of the one that He called me to love unconditionally.
I will not be angry, and cast up the many things that I think they have done wrong. I feel that on their level they carry that burden already.
I will champion for justice and rejoice when milestones are reached.
I will continue fervently to keep the faith that some day, some way, someone, will be able to break through the heart of this broken one, and make the impact needed for their safety, growth and maturity.
Never faltering in my fervent prayers, and in the hope that someday, always trusting that this story will be written in it's entirety, with an ending just as the Lord sees fit, not as I desire it to be.

In this journey through life, I need to stand firm on the promises of God.  I do not have the answers figured out. But I trust that God does. His word says so. What He calls us to He equips us for. (Heb 13:21)  For that promise alone I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Indeed it is a strange world.  I found this poem posted in a common area at Fiwagoh.  I have read it several times since my arrival home, and find it to be more than a little convicting, very spot on, and humorous all at the same time.

A Strange World

A lot of people are like wheelbarrows- No good unless pushed. 
Some are like trailers - They have to be pulled
Some are like canoes - They have to be paddled
Some are like kites- If you don't keep a string on them, they will fly away
Some are like footballs - You cannot tell which way they will bounce next
Others are like balloons - Full of air and ready to blow up
And yet, others are like neon lights - They keep going on and off
But very few like a good watch - Open faced- pure gold - quietly busy

I am sure I am not alone when I say my life is filled with people that could easily fit into one or more of these categories.  The wheelbarrow, the trailer, the canoe, the kite, the football, the balloons, the neon light and it is the very few (and often they go by somewhat un-noticed) that stand out like a good watch.

So many in my world are are no good unless they are pushed. (like the wheelbarrow)  I spend more of my day than I would like to admit, pushing my people (mostly the dwarfs) to achieve, manage their responsibilities, and get some sort of passion for life!

Sadly, no matter how hard we push and pull them, there is no moving a strong willed, arrogant and prideful person beyond themselves, and if we need to get something done, and they are not willing to be pushed, they tend to get drug along behind. (like the trailer)

Oh, how I wish some of mine were still little enough,  still small enough that even the "threat of a paddling", was enough to propel them towards good and right behaviors.  At least in those years, their eagerness to please, often over wrought their selfish impulses, when there was even a threat to their backsides in play.

Many of us can relate on occasion to the fact that if we were not "tied down", tethered to the ground we would be like the kite, off in the breeze we would sail, chasing day dreams and shiny things.  Sometimes I believe this is an escape mechanism for the wheelbarrow and for the trailer, but others exhibit this trait simply because this is who God created them to be; creative and flexible. (hang on kite)

We all know those that are prone to random behaviors. When the only thing that is certain in life is that they are going to bounce when their disposition becomes triggered.  The struggle here is that their being triggered is the only know entity.  When and where the trigger happens and where that individual ends up after they are triggered no one knows.  (can something that shape even be in the "ball" family)

I can speak honestly about this point in the poem, and I am sure I am not alone, sometimes I am so full of hot headedness, disgruntled-ness, frustration and anger, that one little pin prick will have me blowing air at anyone, no one, or everyone!

"Hello in there? Anyone at home?"  We sometimes refer to this around the kingdom, as being intentionally obtuse... but it rings true I think with us all.  Sometimes we are on, and sometimes we are off.  Unfortunately many of those around us in the world have no ability to control it when we are on and when we are off.  General flighty-ness, mental illness, social and learning disabilities are the cause of this on again off again dispositions in some of our family, friends neighbors and co-workers. ( neon lights are so bright initially, they flicker on/off for a long time when they are burning out )

But friends, how many of us can say that we know, or are one that,  who on a regular, steady, and unchanging basis, works on task, quietly behind the scenes, for the glory of the Lord and for the edification of others.  What usually happens to those that are the consistent, calm, practical, and steady at what they do?  They get taken for granted.  They may look good on the outside, but their true form, being the back bone to many, never changing, always to be counted on which is so desperately needed, that it is take for granted. (like a good watch)

I understand that you may not be in agreement with all my analogies outlined above, but is not that the great thing about the arts (poetry, painting etc) We the consumer take from it what we each need to, leaving the same images to resonate with others, perhaps in a completely different way.  It is great that in the world we live in we can all have opinions and they do not have to match up with one another 100%!

So here is the remainder of my thoughts and ponderings on this poem:

What would the world look like if more of us were encouraging wheelbarrows to work to their full capacity? If we load the trailers with tools for success instead of just pulling them to the next thing without explanation?  Instead of turning the other way, we confronted poor behaviors in others and were willing to in return accept the criticism of ourselves from others without defensiveness?  What if we encouraged dreamers to dream while keeping their feet on the ground and providing resources for their dreams to become reality?  What if the crazy bounces in life that caught us off guard could be handled with grace and mercy, recognizing that we are all unique and different and handle what life throws at us differently?  What if instead of letting things build up until we are ready to blow, we talk about the things that cause us stress and hurt feelings, so that our balloon was never on the verge of popping.  What if we loved and paid attention to those around us who's life seems to be on a dimmer switch, seeking ways to assist them, encourage them and find resources for them, so their dim moments lessen and they had more chances to be more like a fresh neon light. Bright!

If I purposed each day to be aware and react according to the needs of those around me, it would be my hope that I would be more like a good watch and less like a balloon.  But even as I type these words, I am in no way desiring that others see me, or my works and efforts on behalf of others, it is my goal that they would see Christ through me.  That in my encouragement, and steadfast work, supporting and lifting up those around me that I would be showing to those in the world that have lost their place and feel discouraged, the unconditional love of Christ and the difference that He made in my life and how He can impact their lives.

Even if you do not have a relationship with the Lord consider this, kindness, grace, mercy and unconditional love have never hurt anyone.  No one has died being kind, extending grace, and accepting others unconditionally.  When we do these things, we stand out, like a good watch.  When we are pure in our intentions, seek to serve others before ourselves, we decrease and others increase. In the lives of believers we decrease and Christ increases.

My corner is crowded with wheelbarrows, trailers, canoes, kites, footballs, balloons, and neon lights.  In my corner there are also some beautiful good pure gold watches!  I desire to be more like the good watches. I want others to be their best, in their own unique ways be transformed into good watches,  steady, happily and eagerly doing the things that God has intended for them to do.  I want others to see Christ in me.  His beauty and glory.   At the end of my poem, I want the Lord to greet me with His arms open, saying "Well done my good and faithful servant!"  Matt 25:23