Finding God in Hardest Times? (Part One)

There is a moment.

That moment when the world feels like it is crashing down on your shoulders.

That moment when you are sure you are alone, no matter how many people are around you right then.

That moment when God feels so far away but you have nowhere to turn, nowhere else to go.

So you pray. But, deep in your heart are the doubts that this prayer (or any, really) is reaching God. That He even cares. The lies Satan is whispering have taken root and are spreading.

And, we hurt. Because that moment is pain. It is deep, unrelenting, excruciating pain. When all we can scream is WHY?! Why me? Why now?

This story is indirectly related to why we later homeschooled the boys, but that is not why I am starting here. Somewhere out there somebody needs to hear that God is there, even when we can’t feel Him. That our prayers are not going into thin air. That we can trust Him, even when His answer isn’t to turn back time and somehow make the bad news, in this case the diagnosis, go away.

The date was April 1, 1997. My husband was 27, I was 24. We only had two kids at the time: a 26-month-old easy-going, talkative son (Alex), and our 10.5-month-old daughter (Angela). Because Angela was our second child, her doctor,  Tim, and I noticed some red flags in her development. For example, she only weighed 14 lbs 9 oz, and was about 20 inches long (a nine-pound weight gain and only about two inches in length in 10 months). She was tiny and not growing well. She also couldn’t sit up, roll over, hold her head up, or interact with us; she choked on all solids, and she didn’t really play with toys. And, as a mom I knew, absolutely knew, there was something wrong. (Of course there were other things as well, but you get the idea.)

Angela with Grandma Lee – August 1996

So her doctor referred us to Children’s Hospital in Seattle. They sent us a schedule that had us in appointments from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. First on the list was aptitude testing, so they could get a baseline, as well as a variety of other tests throughout the day.

After being told Angela was 57% behind other kids her age, I was already feeling … lost. But, we had yet to see a doctor. So, the second appointment was with a geneticist. She walked into the room, introduced herself, and then asked us three questions. Just that. Three. Questions. She then left the room and came back less than 10 minutes later with a book. And a diagnosis.

It was that moment.

Because feeling something in your heart and being told something concrete, with proof, are two completely different things.

Now, I am not going to tell you that getting the diagnosis that your daughter has a permanent disability is the hardest news ever. Because it isn’t. After all, we could have been told so many other things. However, it was devastating and the loss of a dream.

By 3 p.m. that day, I had a raging headache and felt dazed. Too much information, too many tests, too much emotion. Honestly, it was just too much everything. And the emotional pain, I cannot describe the pain – or the guilt that seemed to come from it. Could I have done anything differently? Did I have caffeine, not get enough water, not eat enough? What did I do wrong? The moms out there know this guilt. It’s called Mom guilt, and I can tell you from years of experience, it’s a useless emotion that Satan uses to derail us.

Angela was diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS for short). This can be genetic; however, after blood testing it was concluded that hers was a mutation that occurred at conception. There was quite literally nothing we could have done differently. At the time of her diagnosis, there were 2,500 cases known worldwide (there are now more than 2,500 people in my Facebook group alone), and they didn’t yet know which gene or chromosomes were involved. There is a lot of information about those afflicted with this syndrome at www.cdls-usa.org since I could fill pages and pages with just details about it. I will also be sharing more about exactly how the syndrome has affected our lives and her medical, physical, and intellectual challenges in my next blog post.

Angela in 2014 – taken by her teacher at school one day.

And, that was just the beginning. She had more tests added to the schedule that day and over the next few days. Then, her first surgery was just 16 days after that. We went from thinking we had two healthy kids, to one healthy son and a daughter with needs we were only beginning to understand (and still struggle with, if you want the truth).

In that moment (and many others) I related to Job when he said, “I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look,” Job 30:20. I felt so alone in my grief, anger, and pain. But, just like Job, I wasn’t going through it alone. God was there the whole time. Jeremiah reminds us in Lamentations 3:55-57, “But I called on your name, Lord from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried ‘Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!’ Yes, you came when I called; you told me, ‘Do not fear.’” Oh, thank YOU, Lord! You are there, even when we cannot feel You. You have not left us or forsaken us. There is a relief in that thought, isn’t there?

However, as you all know, prayer is hardest when your faith is weak. And, the devil strikes then! The deceiver wants us to feel alone in our pain. Have you ever felt that your prayer isn’t going past the ceiling? In a recent discussion about prayer, someone mentioned that David said in Psalm 23:4, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid; for you are close beside me. Your rod and staff protect and comfort me” (emphasis mine). What a comforting thought!! “God is right there with us,” my friend said, “listening to every word we say.” We don’t have to worry about the prayers not going past the ceiling, He is sitting with us in that moment!

I won’t lie to you and say that feeling of being alone went away quickly. It didn’t. I won’t tell you I felt God’s arms around me in that moment. I didn’t. I will tell you I did slowly start to feel less alone and could eventually feel Jesus holding me as I cried, raged, and screamed out my pain. And, I did keep my faith, even if I was hanging on with torn fingernails.

And, He is right beside you in that moment, and the next, and the one after that. Let me say that again: JESUS IS SITTING WITH YOU RIGHT NOW! The pain and anger may keep you from feeling Him, but turn to Him anyway. Our Lord is waiting with open arms, a big lap, and strong shoulders to cry on. Let Him comfort and heal you. No, it’s not an easy process, but it is worth it.

An excerpt from Footprints in the Sand, author unknown

There is so much more to tell you (and look how long this one was!) that I have to make this a two- or three-part series. So, watch for my next blog to hear more about Angela, her diagnosis, learning to cope, and learning to trust God with all of it. For now, I leave you with this thought:

Lamentations 3:20-24 (NLT)

20 I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”

Building Castle Walls: And Keeping Enemies Out

I have been thinking a lot about castles.

I am what some call Generation X (some toss me in with Millennials). I grew up with Disney princesses before they were called “Disney Princesses,” Ninja Turtles before TMNT, and Legos that didn’t come with instructions. Castles were for magical maidens, stories, and cartoons; movies were filled with brave heroines; and no matter how deep the moat or how thick the walls, the threat was never really a threat. Tom and Jerry never really hurt each other, and that anvil never permanently stopped that Wile E. Coyote.

Since I’m grown and have a world of my own and a castle of my own (my house), this juvenile idea of the beautiful world and all the beautiful people in it has been changed a bit. My rose-colored glasses have come off, and I see now why castles have moats — why they have draw-bridges, and walls made of thick stone.

In the Bible you can find a similar structure — a castle fit for a King — Solomon’s temple. Not only did Solomon build the temple to certain specifications, he dedicated it to God. Some culture and Bible scholars theorize that the outer walls of the temple were as thick as a man’s body is long. That is some intense security. The walls were high and thick, the space dedicated to God Himself. And the man who built the temple? Solomon built the temple that his father, David, had planned, because David was a man of war, and God wanted a man of peace to build his temple (1 Chronicles 22:8). It doesn’t matter how high the walls are, how well-constructed, or how well-guarded. If we don’t have a heart of peace, can we build a peaceful castle? Can it keep the war out?

Who Builds Your Castle?

God has given us a special job as parents. We are to raise these kiddos with compassion, love, discipline, and God’s guidance. There’s an invisible umbrella image always in my mind: God’s the fabric that keeps the wind and rain off, my husband is the stick that is constantly holding that fabric up, and me and the kids are safely underneath (and the kids are hiding under my coat and warm in my embrace). See it? Our castle is like this — with Christ as the cornerstone. You can’t just throw wood and nails at the foundation and make a house. You have to carefully place joists, measure angles, and sand down edges. You have to have a vision and a plan in place. Don’t let outside influences build your castle, plan your homeschool program, or replace the education you envision for your family.

Who Is Allowed In?

As homeschoolers, we love programs — Adventurers, Pathfinders, Sabbath School, co-op, conservation programs, summer camps, and more. Most of these programs have leaders and staffers that have thorough background checks and training programs, but that doesn’t mean we can be absent. Be involved! Meet the leaders, the staff. Volunteer! Host an outing or get-together. Get to know who your kids know, and make sure it’s a good fit. If you try out church school extra curricular groups, children’s ministry clubs, or homeschool co-op groups, and it just doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to go. If there isn’t a group for you, start your own! Many of us are picky about the electronics we use (movies, games, apps), but we forget the doors and windows (the guests we allow in), or vice versa. Be careful to guard your whole castle.

Castle Upkeep

Though a house is built, and walls, windows, and doors keep the outside world out, someone has to take care of it on the inside. Windows can become broken. Doors can become damaged and let cold air seep inside. Walls can deteriorate. Garbage can pile up. The air can become dusky. Bacteria can grow, and health issues can crop up. It doesn’t matter who builds our castle, or who we let in or out if we don’t maintain the inside. THIS is a problem in our house. We need a chore chart — a routine! We need all hands on deck! STAT! I think many homeschool families probably have this problem too. It’s close quarters, it’s 24/7, and dishes, laundry, and baths must be done.

Take Action: Evaluate the people and things in your life regularly. As often as you check the batteries in your smoke detector or complete your spring cleaning checklist, you should take a look at who and what is participating in your life.

Lead Me Lord, Please!

Prayer: a starting and ending point for all we do as Christians. While this post talks more about where I feel God is leading for my 2018 posts, it really is about prayer, learning to trust the paths shown to us, and following where God leads. I hope you find this encouraging, if in no other way than to at least know what is coming later in the year.

Before I start writing a blog post (or anything really), I pray. A lot. I pray for guidance, for a subject, for the right words, and most importantly I pray for each of you and each word I type. While I don’t have the right words all the time or even the subject, God does. My trust is in Him; in where he wants a blog post, skit, play, sermon, blog post, Facebook comment or post, or anything I say to go — and who HE is trying to reach.

We come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures around the world. Some of us are married, some are not. Some of us are young, and some of us (cough, cough) are not. Some of us have littles, while some of us have only teens or adult kids. Some of us are new Christians, and some of us dedicated our lives years ago. We are moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, or brothers. All of us are just doing the best we can with what we have and what we know. All of us need Jesus in our lives to do it. So, while all our experiences are not the same, we do share some commonalities, and I keep feeling led to find ways to encourage you all as you journey down the various paths you take.

When LaDonna asked for volunteers to become blog writers, I jumped at the chance. I love to write (and talk – seriously just ask anyone). I love to share about how Jesus has worked in my life. LOVE IT! He has performed more miracles than I can share in one blog post (although I will be over the course of this year). And, I love homeschooling my kids. Right before she posted her request (and I mean minutes before), I had just finished asking God to expand my horizons and lead me to a path to share my story, or more appropriately, His story through my life, with others.

The Sabbath before she posted I had given a sermon at my church, which turned out to be more of a testimony than I expected to give (in case you want to see it https://youtu.be/JRf0cirwH8A). It was a very personal sermon. But, God is in control — where he leads I follow. Always. Even when it doesn’t feel like that is the right path. Even when the sacrifice seems bigger than I can bear. Even when it hurts. And honestly, it was one of the hardest things I have EVER done. The pain was worth the result, the people reached and impacted. The sacrifice seemed trivial in comparison to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And the path ALWAYS turns out to be the right one. ALWAYS! The sermon turned out to be the right choice. Or, more accurately, saying “Yes” to God was the right choice.

Where was I? Oh, blog writing. Asking God for a path and taking said path are two very different things. He didn’t just show me a path — he practically shoved it under my nose. And to be honest, I nearly turned tail and ran! I very quickly became overwhelmed with sharing those deepest parts of me with all of you. When I finally sat down to write that first blog post, I was nervous; ok, slight understatement there, I was terrified. So, like I did before and during the writing of that sermon, or any of the dramas or skits I write for church, I prayed. I prayed because, knowing what I know about myself, how was I going to get all these ideas about God, living, homeschooling, etc. onto paper (or laptop), without seeming preachy or condescending? I have not had an easy life (and I promise to share more about that as the year progresses). I wasn’t raised Adventist and I am far from the perfect Christian woman. I am not the best mother ever created. I have made and will continue to make more than my fair share of mistakes with my kids and in my marriage. Who am I to try and encourage each of you in your walks with Jesus and through homeschooling?

I put my heart and soul into my writing. It is a true expression of my innermost feelings. All my fears, regrets, pain, joy, love, and encouragement go into every word I write. Whether I am letting you know you are not alone in homeschooling, trying to get you off the worry path, or helping you find ways back into the Word, these are all things I have either experienced or am currently experiencing. Although, I did manage to not truly share myself in those posts.

I have been feeling convicted to go deeper. That what you really need and what I haven’t done yet, is share with you who I am and how God has worked in my life. I haven’t shared how or why we came to homeschool our boys. I have mentioned I have a child with a profound disability, but not how this has truly changed our lives. You don’t know I deal with chronic depression and PTSD from childhood abuse and how I cope with that. I haven’t explained how I survived, faith intact. How Jesus and getting into His Word literally saved my life. And more importantly, how I regained my trust in God afterwards. You don’t know how often I retreat into books rather than dealing with frustrations, anger, or worries. You don’t know that I struggle with parenting, marriage, homeschooling, my faith, or physical and emotional pain. You don’t know that I am or have been where many of you are now. Yet.

While telling all of you these things won’t be the easiest path I have ever taken, I do know that God is not only with me on this path, he guided me to it and is carrying me down it. While I don’t know or understand His reasons for me sharing these pieces of myself over the coming months, He does. I know that His ways are good and true and that He has not only my best interest in mind, but yours as well.

Credit: https://i2.wp.com/www.jeremybrummel.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/study-862994_1280.jpg?resize=350%2C200&ssl=1

So, whoever you are — the one(s) God is trying to reach — I pray for you as I write these words down. I will continue to pray for each of you as I share the good, bad, and ugly of my journey to this point. There will be tears and pain, but there will also be release, joy, and love. At church, we have a saying about our big productions. “If only one person’s life is changed by what we have put together, then all the time, effort, skill, and work that has gone into it was absolutely worth every drop of sweat and tear shed. We are merely the vessel for God’s word to touch those around us.” I am the vessel of God, so I will share these things with you and pray.

Ultimately, my prayer is that you are blessed and enriched by my words and thoughts. That Jesus should lead and guide each letter I type. That He will protect my heart and mind as I share and my story will somehow bless you in your journey. I ask that you join me in prayer, and that our faith and trust in God will grow through this shared experience.

Mundane Days of Faithfulness

The winter months — with recovery from the holidays, colder temperatures, and the end of the school year seeming so far off — are often when students appear to struggle. For parents the colder, shorter days can be seen as days to get through in order to get to the days which are warmer and longer. In the winter months in the midwest, it’s a time of rest for the land and the plants; even cows and chickens take a break from producing milk and eggs. The winter is a sustained period of time where not much appears to be happening, but it’s a crucial time in the farming process. Just as the farmer has a time without the appearance of success, so too, families can have a season where not much appears to be happening. There are ways, though, to make the mundane days, meaningful.

During this time focus could be changed to demonstrating how to work at something for a little bit, and be satisfied with incompletion. The process is the important part.

When I think of an example of appreciating repetitive and mundane experience, and focusing on the process vs. the outcome, each time I come back to chores. When I look at chores in a way that I will only be satisfied when every dish is clean and put away, all the clothes laundered and put away, and the house straightened and looking company ready, then I am setting myself up for frustration and an irritable mood. I am also modeling the idea that satisfactory work only occurs when the desired outcome is met.

I’ve worked, prayed, and continue to practice accepting time spent on a project as good enough. Beyond accepting “good enough,” the repetitive nature of most tasks lends itself well to engaging in mindfulness activities which soothe the mind, body, and spirit.

The easy task of matching socks and prayer go well together. Singing and worship in the middle of dishes increases energy, both physical and spiritual. Vacuuming and mopping the floor works well with taking deep breaths and adding a blessing or a mantra to focus the mind. My favorite deep breathing activity is also a prayer. When I breathe in, I pray, “Whatever You give me, I accept.” When I breathe out, I pray, “Whatever You take from me, I let go.” I have found increased connection with God, and flexibility in following God’s plan for me by incorporating this deep breathing prayer with my chores.

In Deuteronomy 11:19 we are to “Teach them (the Word of God) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” While it may feel awkward at first, modeling and demonstrating mindful connection to God throughout the day are powerful tools of faith to impart to your children. You may wonder, then, how does this apply to school work?

My husband, a concert level musician, taught me that in order to learn how to do a skill quickly and accurately, I first needed to learn to do the task slowly and methodically. Whether taking my licensing exam or folding laundry, in order to improve my skill, I need to take action slowly; and, once learned and done accurately, I can increase the speed of completion. School work is about acquiring new skills, in-depth study, and communicating the knowledge acquired. The process is similar to what I described with chores. Frequently, there isn’t a satisfactory end. Reading, writing, and math all require practice, a lot of practice, with frequent mistakes and trying again. If the focus of learning is on a satisfactory outcome, we can set up our relationship with our children to be one of frustration and irritability. I present for your consideration: What if the process of learning chores and prayerful mindfulness will ease any learning frustrations, because knowledge of the process of learning will already have been experienced by your child(ren) through learning the process of chores?

These shorter, colder, perhaps even mundane days allow activity in a household to slow down; the focus of learning can be on the basics. Through repetition and mindfulness, a child can grow physically, developmentally, and spiritually during a time when you are unlikely to see any “academic fruit.” These days are important, if we can model the skills we want our children to integrate, and allow children freedom from constantly striving for the moment of success.

“What will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?” ~Martin Luther

Time With Jesus

The new year is coming. I have friends who make resolutions and plans to lose weight, exercise, eat better, work harder, get a new job, or change their life. Ugh. I do not make resolutions. I break those within minutes of midnight. I do, however, make goals — goals to be a better person than I was the year before. Yes, even goals to lose weight, eat better, and exercise. But, my most important goal is to continue my walk with Jesus and to be closer to God. While these general goals never change, this year I want to make it with intent. And honestly, this came up because I have let my personal worship time suffer.

The devotional book is 5 Minutes with Jesus by Sheila Walsh. It literally takes five minutes to read that days devotion.

One Sabbath in September I was wearing multiple hats at church. I was worship coordinator, the six-minute social volunteer (a fellowship time right after the service), and I even stopped in my Juniors class (for about a minute). From the time I got to church until I left that afternoon, I focused on the details: who was moving this, who was playing here, who needed mics, getting the attendance count, and setting up juice and crackers. And, you know what? By the time I walked into my house after church, I had walked 5000 steps (approx. 2.5 miles) – AT CHURCH!

I did a lot, but do you know what I didn’t do? Listen to the sermon. Oh, I caught a few minutes of it, but I didn’t get much nourishment that morning. I didn’t even get a chance to open my Bible, something I find myself saying a lot throughout my week. And, I crave that relationship with my best friend, Jesus! I want it. I need it. I long for the time and the energy, to be honest, to fellowship with Jesus. I must find time to spend in the Word and in prayer.

Taken Aug. 5, 2017. From left to right: Me, Alex – my newly married son, Geovana – my new daughter-in-law, Angela (21), Tim – my husband, Aaron (17), Adam (15).

Like all of you, my life is busy. My oldest got married this last summer, but I still have three kids at home. Angela, 21, has a profound developmental delay and medical issues. Sadly, this means she is a toddler in mind and an adult in body. So, her care is 24/7/365. Sometimes balancing her needs and the needs of the rest of the family is difficult. My two youngest boys are 15 and 17, and of course I am still homeschooling. Between their homeschooling, volunteer work, youth group participation, and Boy Scouts — and since neither one drives yet — these are also my things to deal with. Every Friday right now I teach two classes at our local faith-based homeschool co-op to kids ages 12-18. I have even started volunteering at the local church-school every Tuesday morning to help in the library. Then there are chores, bills, shopping, etc. You get the idea.

OH! I forgot one – I am a student. I am back in college myself now and maintaining a 3.7 GPA. And, I am supposed to find time to exercise, eat right, cook healthier meals, spend time with my husband, and be with friends from time to time.

Yes, we have seasons in life where we are busier than others, but Satan is always there with an excuse we can conveniently use. When all four of my kids were little, I had the excuse that I was too busy with them. As they have gotten older, I have had new reasons to not focus on that most important relationship. I tell myself I am too busy, I don’t have time, that my life is too full.

We cannot be lights in this world (Matt 5:14) if we don’t understand the true “light” we have been given. How can we truly love what we don’t know? The Word is our greatest defense, our deepest joy, and our most sincere love.

His Word is our food — our spiritual food, yes, but it is as necessary to us as breathing. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” So, if we are not spending time reading His Word, learning His character, finding that trust, finding that spiritual renewal – how can we KNOW Jesus? Because, as John goes on to say in verses 2-5, “He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” The Word is Jesus, Jesus is the Word.

So, how do we find time in our schedules to meet with God. Well … just that way — we schedule a meeting with God. I have a friend who gets up early every morning to spend time in the Word and with Jesus before she goes to the gym and then goes to work. Another friend says to Jesus every day, “Let’s do lunch.” I know a couple that studies and prays together in the evenings, after they have put the kids to bed.

Another friend who homeschools her seven children and helps her husband with their ministry, recently told me she felt like she was drowning. She was struggling in her personal worship life. After some prayer and talking to a friend, she decided to start getting up at 4:30 every morning. Yes, I said morning, now pick up your jaw! She takes that time every morning and studies and prays. And, you know what? God BLESSES that time. She has the energy to teach, play with, and enjoy her kids and husband all day long every single day, because she chooses to get up and spend that time with Him.

If you just cannot find 15 minutes or more in one block, that’s OK. Spread it out. Even five minutes while in the bathroom (yes, I hide there too) can influence the rest of our day. Read a Bible verse while the eggs cook or while sitting in the car waiting for a kid. Consider listening to the Bible; find an app that will read it to you while you are vacuuming or resting. Take advantage of nap time, PE, or other time when the kids do not need direct supervision, and read a page from a devotional. And, don’t forget to pray throughout your day while doing the dishes, driving, or dusting. Do what you must to get that few minutes in the Word and with our Savior; He will bless those minutes. And once you start, you will find you have more time than you thought.

Jesus desires that relationship with us as much as we do with Him. There is a craving in each of us, a hole in our hearts, a hole that can only be filled by Jesus. He went to the cross with intent — intent to save us. We can set aside time in our lives with purpose and intent to spend with Him.