You Don’t Have to Do It Alone

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My sister posted this little gem on her facebook page recently. My brother saw it and shared it. It’s not the first time either of them have posted something along these lines. I desperately wanted to comment, but I knew it was futile. On the one hand, I’m glad they have some sense that God is ultimately in control. That’s a very good thing. Unfortunately, if you look at this little quip carefully, you’ll see the problem that plagues my entire family. One that I have broken free from on an intellectual level, but struggle to implement every day of my life. No, it’s not the misuse of the hyphen. Although, I have to say, hyphens and I do have a fairly touchy relationship.

The problem is a complete sense of self-reliance.

Let me explain. But, first, I’ll have to give a little background info.

The Bible does not  ever say that God will not give you anything you can’t handle. The closest is comes is 1 Corinthians 10:13. This verse says that God will not allow you to suffer a temptation that you cannot handle without providing a way for you to escape. Sort of the same thing. But not.

While difficult situations may be a temptation to sin, they aren’t necessarily. Maybe they just suck. Maybe they’re just a cause of great suffering. If that’s the case, the Bible never says that God won’t give you more suffering than you can take. After all, what’s the threshold on suffering? If it’s physical suffering, I guess death is more than we can take, but we were born to die, so that doesn’t really mean much. I don’t mean to sound flippant. I’m just trying to point out that suffering sucks and there doesn’t seem to be any real limit to how much of it we can take. Even if there were a limit, God never promises that he won’t allow us to suffer past a certain point.

(Can I just pause to say how merciful it is that God will never allow us to suffer a temptation that we can not conquer! That’s not the point of this post, but thank you God for your infinite mercy!)

So, are we just condemned to suffer at the hands of an uncaring God? Certainly not. The great apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12 he tells about a time he begged the Lord to remove his suffering, but God did not. God explained to Paul that His grace was enough to sustain Paul through anything. (2 Cor 12:9) And that’s the key.

All suffering can be endured, even great physical suffering that leads to death (i.e. the martyrs), with God’s grace.

Did you catch that last part?

The key is God’s grace.

God’s grace sustains us through whatever suffering we may endure, be it emotional, spiritual, or physical. We likely will encounter some suffering in our lives that we can’t endure. But, with God’s grace, suffering takes on new meaning.

Naturally, this leads to all kinds of other questions like why God allows suffering to exist and what the heck grace is anyway, both of which will have to wait until another time.

My point is, we’re not made to journey through this life alone. We’re going to face trials and obstacles and hardships. Some days we might be close to breaking. But if we’re surrounding ourselves with God’s grace, we won’t break. Quite the contrary. Paul goes on to tell us that it is through our weakness that we are made strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

My friend is a breast cancer survivor and she sums up her entire experience by saying that God had to knock her flat on her back (referring to the extensive time she spent in hospital beds) so that the only direction she could look was up (to God). Through her suffering, she came to understand the meaning of this verse.

So back to our family problem. We’re a “suck it up and deal with it” kind of people. We’re people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We’re definitely a family who believes in (although would never say so candidly) social darwinism. If we have problems, we work them out. On our own.

I can’t ever recall seeing my parents ask for help. Not the, “Hey, I’m really overwhelmed, could you watch the kids for me while I catch up on some housework?” kind of help and not the fall to your knees and put your problems in the hands of Jesus kind of help. We prayed together. And we prayed about problems. But the trust was missing. Praying about our problems didn’t change anything. It wasn’t a surrender. It was more like complaining.

We never learned the lesson that my friend learned. We kept trying to fix everything ourselves. Make it work out. Play the bad hand that we’d been dealt. We never leaned on God’s grace, placing full trust in his perfect plan, and allowed him to guide us through the turbulence of life.

As I said earlier, I understand the significance of this intellectually, and at times I succeed in letting God be God despite the suffering I may endure, but most the time I find myself standing alone in a puddle of tears before I have the sense to remember that this suffering, like all suffering, has a purpose, and that with God’s grace I can overcome it.

That’s the lesson I wanted to share with my siblings when I saw their silly little quote on Facebook. That’s a lesson that can give their lives new perspective and change their attitudes. They’re not suffering because God is mean or because he doesn’t fully understand what they can handle. He’s their creator; no one knows what they can handle better than he does. While they may indeed be suffering, God wants to help them get through it. They just need to ask him for his grace and trust in his perfect plan.

“Babe, we need to have a talk…of the morbid variety.”

I’m sure my husband was thrilled to hear that just after I walked in the door last night after spending the last 10 hours up at church. Nothing says “I’m ready to relax and unwind with you” like a comment like that, right? But it had to be done. I’m getting on a plane on Thursday and spending 4 whole days of my life away from my family and then getting on another plane to come home. And I know, I know. Josh is very quick to remind me that I’m more likely to be killed on the way to work than in a plane crash, but I’m a mom. I need to know there’s a plan in place for my babies. And my hubby too.

The truth is we’re really bad at this kind of planning. Neither of us are insured to the level I want us to be, and we don’t have a will. It’s not that I’m worried about distribution of assets…we don’t really have any of those. :0) But my babies…I just don’t know where I’d send my babies. I want a will so I know they will be provided for and raised the way we would raise them. I want adequate life insurance so whoever is entrusted with such a huge task will be able to do so without a huge financial burden. But I just don’t know who that who would be. How do you make that kind of decision?

Josh and I have had variations of this conversation many times over the years, but we’ve never come to an answer we’re happy with. That’s why we don’t have a will. Does that make us the most irresponsible parents in the world? It sure feels like it right now. In this instance, I’m not quite as worried because, if something did happen to me, Josh is still here, and, thankfully, we are on the same page when it comes to parenting. But any time we walk out that door together without the kiddos, it really bothers me. I guess that’s one reason to be grateful that we don’t go out alone very often. In fact, Saturday night we went out without any of the kids for the first time since January. And it was the first time we went out alone since…I don’t even know…I think August of 2009? But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, we are not properly prepared.

If something were to happen to us, I know both sets of our parents would think they have rights to the kids. And, yes, of course we want our parents to be very much involved in our kids lives, but we don’t want them raising them. Neither set agrees with our parenting philosophies and that’s fine; they don’t have to. But if we were gone, we’d want someone raising our kids who does agree with our philosophies and priorities. But can you really sign a legal document that declares that your kids shouldn’t be raised by family, rather friends?

Obviously, you can, but that just makes me feel so guilty. I don’t know why. I know what’s important to me. But I think the difficulty arises because family is also hugely important to me. It just seems so insulting not to trust family with raising my kids. But the fact is, I don’t. Well, trust is too strong a word. Of course, I would trust them to provide for them and love them, but I don’t think they would give them the same priorities and values that we are working so hard to instill in our kids.

These are the moments that it’s really difficult to be a parent. It’s not the endless supply of dirty diapers and 3 different kids getting up 3 different times in the night. Those moments are trying and exhausting, but not frightening. The fear that comes with parenting can be almost debilitating if you sit around and marinate in it too long.

Interestingly, as I wrote that last line, I had the epiphany that, like so many other causes of stress in my life, it all comes back to fear. You would think I would have realized that before just now, but I hadn’t. The Lord really seems to be trying to teach me not to fear. To have faith. To trust. Those are such difficult lessons for me. I am a control freak, in part, because I know if I’m in control things will go as I see fit. No need for faith. No need for trust. No room for fear. I just make sure things happens exactly as I plan for them to happen. But, lately, I’ve been realizing that’s not good enough for the Lord.

I’ve been on a journey of learning to “let go and let God” since October 2008. Yet, he continually he peals back another layer, phrases the lesson a slightly different way, or illustrates his point anew, just hoping I’ll finally get his message. I’m trying. I really am. But this is such a hard lesson for me. Surrendering all to another is so difficult, but it seems especially difficult for me. Did you know that the Lord tells us not to fear 365 times in the Bible? He left us a message for every day of the year to let go of fear and trust him. Isn’t that awesome? I know I’ve strayed entirely off point, but the Lord continually amazes me and I am truly baffled by his constant, patient, and unfailing love for me.  All I can say to that is thank you, thank you, thank you Lord! You are so good to me!

But, wrapping up the initial point of this entry, because I wouldn’t feel satisfied if I didn’t, we are truly unprepared should something unthinkable happen. Now, however, I am much more peaceful about it than when I first started writing. I know that our parenting is in line with the will of God and he will protect that. If he sees fit to bring us home early, he will ensure that my kids are provided for just as he provides for us. That’s not to say that we don’t need to make the appropriate provisions too, just that, as always, God will provide.

For Better or For Worse

I was recently asked why I don’t write more about my marriage. Not just the daily happenings that I sometimes discuss, but the nitty-gritty details. My questioner speculated that it would make for good reading. I’m sure it would. But I don’t write about my marriage for the same reason I don’t talk about some aspects of my marriage, even to my closest friends. My marriage deserves more than that.

In a recent post, “Is Being Family Enough?”, I briefly touched on the special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” I think that dignity is far surpassed by the dignity of marriage. On my wedding day I stood before my family, friends, and God, committing my life to Josh under all circumstances: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer. My, oh my. We don’t know what we’re saying on that glorious day, do we? After all, how bad can bad be? How poor can poor be? How worse can worse be? How sick can sick be? We may think we know, but we don’t have a clue what those words really mean. I think that’s the beauty of it. On one’s wedding day, one finds oneself so very in love that one is willing to commit to stand by the another, even in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m not perfect. My husband’s not perfect. Our marriage is not perfect. We are two imperfect people charged with living together and given the added responsibility of managing a household and raising a family. Are there ugly moments? You know as well as I do that there are many. Do those “moments” sometimes stretch past the end of the day and spill over into other days? Of course they do. So why don’t I talk about them, vent about them, or share whatever struggles we’re currently facing? I think doing so violates the dignity of our marriage. Even if my sole intention is just to get something off my chest, that’s not how it works. Whether my audience is an anonymous internet audience, my mother, my sister, my best friend, or a stranger at the park, if my words belittle Josh, they belittle my marriage. If they belittle my marriage, they belittle Josh. Marriage is hard enough without one or both of the spouses slowly tearing it apart to anyone who will listen.

I’m not suggesting that it’s healthy to keep your emotions bottled up inside. But I think struggles of this nature ought to be shared only with your spouse or your private journal. (Not barring a marital counselor or your confessor, if the situation applies.) Or (as should be the case in my marriage much more often than I do) first with my journal to filter out some of the unnecessary and potentially damaging words, then with my husband to attempt to build a bridge over, around or under the situation. Josh has it much worse than I do when it comes to bearing the brunt of our arguments. My knack for sarcasm often results in some pretty cutting comments, which is why I should work harder to filter out some of the emotion in my journal, so he and I can deal with facts.

While I obviously don’t know this from experience yet, I think I may have discovered the secret behind the 80-year-old couple sitting on the park bench, having been married for the past 60 years, and still very much in love. Mutual respect. They’ve seen each other at their very worst, their very best, and everywhere in between. The same is true for anyone in a marriage, but I think their secret is how they respond to and recover from those situations.

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s self-love. After pondering those words for a few moments, I decided truer words have never been spoken. While “hate” isn’t comfortable, and it’s definitely not something you want to be part of your marriage, that’s not what will ultimately do it in. Self-love, on the other hand, especially when greater than the love you have for your spouse, will.

This is what is at the root of the saying that a successful marriage can’t be 50/50, rather it must be 100/100. Both partners must make every effort to give 100% of themselves. Yet, both partners must be be willing to give 110%, 150%, or 190% when, for one reason or another, the other is only capable of giving 90%, 50%, or 10%. Remember those scary vows? This is where they come in. We promised that we would do this, did we mean what we said?

If either or both spouses are more concerned with their own needs, their own desires, their own dreams, goals and aspirations, than those of the other, the marriage just won’t work. To make marriage a real, true, lifelong commitment, we have to look past ourselves and only see the other. How scary that can be sometimes! That’s why trust is so crucial. One has to be able to trust their spouse enough to be totally vulnerable. One has to be able to totally trust that their self-sacrificing love will be reciprocated. That’s what makes a marriage work. Not just work, but land two 80-year-old people on a park bench, 60 years after making vows that they really didn’t understand, sitting happily just because each is with the other.

Celebrate Family. Celebrate Life.

Andy and Jack. Summer 2009

Andy and Jack. Summer 2009

I spent a lot of time yesterday discussing the Tebow Superbowl Ad. Maybe it was the hormones. Maybe it was because Josh was working OT again. Maybe it was because I had a long day and didn’t have the energy to do much else besides sit with the computer. Maybe someone will benefit from what I had to say. Whatever the reason, I stand behind what I said. The thing that bothers me is I spent too much time reacting in frustration instead of talking about what’s really important. I spent too much time feeding into the drama and not enough time elaborating on the intended theme of the ad, Celebrate family. Celebrate life.

Both children and family are huge blessings and most definitely huge reason for celebration. Ask any woman who is desperately trying to conceive a child. Children are not burdens and I don’t know when they became such in the eyes of our society. Children are a gift. Children may mean you take one less vacation or you make decisions regarding your career or you closet that you wouldn’t have made before having them, but since when are we afraid to sacrifice for something worthwhile? Unlike what Ms. Gettelman said, this is not “losing your future.”

Children bless and enhance your life in the way that no career, vacation or shopping spree ever could. Having a family is the most fulfilling decision you can ever make. Yes, you will have hard days…a lot of them. There used to be a time when we understood that anything worth having was worth fighting for. What happened to us? Now, we want everything handed to us in the most convenient fashion as quickly as possible. I don’t know who set us up to expect that, but they did us a great disservice. As Dacia Wiegandt often says,

“The reason most people fail instead of succeed is that they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.”

What do you want most in life? If children and family is on your list, I highly recommend you stop putting it off until you reach a certain point in your career, until your bank account reaches a certain balance, or until whatever else you’re waiting for. First of all, even when you reach those goals, something new will pop up. Like Joanne Bertalan always reminds me, “there’s a new devil at every level.” Looking into the future, you can’t truly comprehend or predict what your life will be like when you reach goal x, y or z. Secondly, once you have a child, your priorities will probably shift anyway. Why waste so much time building a life that you may or may not want once you are fortunate enough to have a family of your own? Again, this is not “loosing your future.” This is maturing and seeing the world from a whole new perspective.

I speak from experience when I tell you that when you openly and lovingly accept a child or children, you will be provided for. It may not be in the fashion you initially expect, but you and your family will have every need met. See what we are told in Matthew 6: 25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Andy's Birth Day. December 2005.

Andy’s Birth Day. December 2005.

I can tell you, God is faithful to His word. One could say I found myself in a “crisis pregnancy.” At the very least it was unexpected, unplanned and inconvenient. And believe me, more than one person suggested I “terminate” it. I am so grateful that I was raised to know better and received enough emotional support from those around me to keep from feeling forced into that decision. Let me note, when I say support, I don’t mean the people around me were thrilled or even happy. I lost a lot of “friends” over the decision to carry my child to term and raise him myself. But let me tell you, neither he nor I wanted for anything during that pregnancy or even now. God provided us with everything we needed.

People I’ve never met sent me hand-me-downs. My grandmother bought us a stroller. Some friends threw me a shower. A woman at church made me this awesome basket of stuff she knew I would have never thought to buy in advance like a thermometer, diaper rash cream and gas drops. Josh was offered a new job, albeit not the job we “wanted” nor one he liked, but the one that provided us with enough income to support our little family. I had everything I needed to take care of that baby because I trusted in the Lord. Actually, that is a huge overstatement. At that point in my life the best I could do was say “Ok, I’m having this baby. Please help us.” My definition of trusting in the Lord has definitely matured since then, but God provided for us anyway.

I can assure you no other “accomplishment” in this life compares with being handed your child for the first time in the delivery room. No other “success” compares with watching your child achieve a new skill or make a good decision on his own. No other “recognition” feels as good as little arms around your neck and a little voice telling you “Mama, I love you so much!” Children are a great gift, the most rewarding “job” that has ever existed. It’s so sad to see the way our country throws them away and devalues them to nothing more than a burden.