Well, It’s Not Any Wonder

I’m a juggler.  No, a magician.  Superwoman?  The truth is –  I’m dropping the balls, the trick has lost its magic, and I definitely don’t feel super.

 

Suddenly, the little chunk of world that I’ve managed fairly well, seems to be coming undone at the seams.  My mom who is my only living parent, is very ill as I write this.  Those babies, that I held in my protective arms, are now going out into the big scary world and making big scary choices.  I’ve loved deeply enough to have been hurt.  I’ve lived long enough to be blamed for things that weren’t my fault.  My once orderly home-school seems disordered.  I’m still running a business and still trying to finish up our new home.  I’m being faithful to my ministries.  Most importantly, I’m taking care of my husband, marriage and mothering a teenage young man.  And the cherry on top – I’m officially menopausal, and I’m no longer recognizing the woman that looks back at me in the mirror.  It’s still acting like winter here and honestly I feel like I’m living through a long winter of life.  Well, it’s not any wonder that I’m overwhelmed and mildly depressed.

 

Sorry for the gloomy introduction, but there’s just no way to sugar-coat the pressures that a woman feels in this stage of life, and there are days when it does get the best of me, but I’m learning to focus on living well, and I’d like to share what I’m learning with you.

 

>When I realized that I was emotionally disconnecting, I told my husband what was happening.  We need to let someone know – they may not be able to identify this on their own.  Now, he is my lifeline – he can pray for me and intervene, and since he knows my insecurities about aging, he tells me that I’m getting better with age.

>I asked a few trusted friends to pray for me.  I withheld nothing.  They know exactly what state I’m in.  Since they are each unique – they have each encouraged me in unique ways.

>I’m focusing on the people and relationships where I have influence.  No matter how tired I am or inconvenient it is, I’m intentional, because I don’t want regret.

>I’m reading God’s Word every single day and sometimes multiple times a day, and I fall asleep meditating on His promises.  I’m praying bold prayers – no wimpy prayers for this woman.  This has given me hope.

>I’m choosing forgiveness where others have wronged me or continue to hurt me, and I’m choosing to believe that God is my victor, and He will bring the truth forward when the time is right.

>I’m doing what I need to do to take care of my physical health.  No guilt.  I’m sleeping in if I need sleep.  I’m making my nutrition and exercise a priority, and I’m throwing the to-do list aside if necessary.

 

You are everything to someone.  Please don’t forget that.  You don’t need to jump higher to please others.  You are amazing exactly who and where you are, because God has put you in your unique setting to solve a problem – so take a breath, and be still, and know that He is God.

 

Update:  My precious mother passed away two days ago, just after I wrote this.  I’ll be taking time to grieve and help my brother.  My next post will be a Mother’s Day post and I’ll tell you all about this amazing woman that I called Mom.  Thank you for taking the time to read, react and comment.  You really do encourage me.

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20,000 Chances to Steer the Ship – Relation-ship, Friend-ship, Disciple-ship

Most women express a daily mega-load of words.  About 13,000 more than men.  What if all of those words were uplifting?

 

God says that the tongue is hard to tame, full of poison, and that it’s like a small rudder that’s capable of steering a large ship.  Recently, after sensing sadness within my home, I prayed and asked God to show me what my part was in this.  He revealed that I’d taken my gift of words and wounded my loved-one.  God had given me the gift of words to bless and build, but I’d used them as a curse.

 

A woman enjoys enormous power in her femininity, which can be harnessed for good, or exploited and used for destruction.   We are very much like that small rudder that is capable of steering a large ship.  Along with the abundance of words, a woman’s mind is able to multi-task, and we usually have an enormous capability to be aware of the happenings around us.  We are natural managers, delegators and motivators.  Unfortunately, pride in our abilities can get in our way.  We remember details, so we correct or chide others when they don’t.  We are capable of juggling many tasks, so we demean others when they can’t.  When others hurt us, we wound by expertly wielding the weapon of sharp cutting remarks.

 

I hear your lament – “but Madeline, you have no idea how hurtful my husband has been, or how exasperating my child is, or how cruel that other woman was!”  You’re right, but I do know that life isn’t fair, and that the only person that you have control over, is yourself.  I’ve learned that when another person intentionally or unintentionally hurts me, I have no right to return the hurt.  God tells me that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I possess the same power that resurrected Him.  That’s power!  I should be able to follow His command to love my neighbor – the people that He puts along my path or in my sphere of influence.

 

God humbled me – I apologized and then asked for forgiveness.  I’m determined to steer this ship into peaceful, beautiful waters.  He created me as a woman, to be a guardian of hearts.  My words should be full of grace and seasoned with salt.  I should protect hearts, lift hearts, build hearts, and repair hearts.  Just as salt brings out the flavor of food, I can bring out the best in others.  I can help someone believe that they can overcome and do great things.  I can tell the truth gently, always with the motive of love, and helping another to see the best path – God’s path.  I can forgive again and again, because I hope in God’s purposes.  I can withhold my thoughts, because I understand that my wisdom is limited, and God is always working.  Most remarkably, I can speak words to heaven, interceding for others.

 

Life giving words are sweet and encouraging, savory and wise.  They’re not bitter, nor are they hot.  Perhaps we could taste test our words, before we spit them out.

 

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read.  Your readership, reactions and comments are so encouraging to me.

Look Up

How are things going?  How are the people that you care about?  What was that?  How about me you ask?  It seems that a deluge of adversity is raining down on many that I know and care for.  Each new day brings another conversation, text, message, email or phone call – another dear one sharing their news and asking for prayer support.  Disease, marital disharmony, betrayals, relationship failures, worrisome decisions, unfair circumstances and wayward children.

 

Ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I carry a heavy burden for those that are dear to me.    I will go to war with my prayers.  I’m relentless until the Lord releases me.  I’ll wake up and pray.  When I’m alone at home, I’m praying.  One of my favorite times to pray is when I’m alone in my car.  Pray without ceasing, He says – no kidding.  Recently, bearing the weight, wore me out.  I found myself in a minor health crisis – an outbreak of shingles.  I imagine that stress along with a weakened immune system, allowed the sleeping virus to wake up.

 

Shingles are painful and vile.  I stayed home for two weeks, which was a blessing and a curse.  I suddenly had more time to sleep and rest, but the quiet in my days left my mind more time to think.  I’m a thinker – can’t seem to shut my thinker off sometimes.  The extra time to think, became time to obsess, and the burdens that I felt for others became overwhelming.  It snuck up on me too.  I felt crushed and I couldn’t even put together a cohesive thought and pray.  I sat on the floor of my bedroom and cried as the thoughts raced, and then it all changed in a moment.  For the first time in all of my years, I truly understood what it meant to have the Holy Spirit intercede and make sense of my groanings.  I didn’t recite a list to the Lord – I simply thought of the person and the circumstance.

 

What was happening here?  God was teaching me.  He was teaching me to look up and release the burden to Him.  I can’t walk and hold onto my burden while I am looking up at Him.  If I try to, I stumble and fall.  There’s a fine line.  We are to carry the burdens of others, but we are not to retain them.  We are to hand them over to the only One who has shoulders that are broad and strong enough.  The only One who can bring lasting healing and change.

 

What have I learned?  To boil it down – I can make anything a curse when I attempt to do it in my own power and in my own way.  God brought me to the end of myself.  My own strength was exhausted – literally.  Resting became a necessity, and in His gracious mercy, He taught me to look up.  Being self-protective isn’t the answer – looking up is the answer.  I’m looking up a lot more these days, and I’m not letting the weight of the burdens separate me from the power that my Father has over them.

Lending More Than Your Ear

Listening is a craft, and it involves so much more than simply hearing.  Some are fantastic listeners, but most of us could improve our skills to effectively listen, and demonstrate empathy toward others.

 

We may lack confidence in our ability to speak well, but have you ever considered that listening well makes you a far better communicator?  Listening can be a way to demonstrate that you put others first.  As long as listening is not for the purposes of plotting, scheming or searching for a chink in someone’s armor, it is a selfless action to listen, rather than to be heard.  When a person needs someone to listen, they need someone to lighten and share their burdens.  Their mind unlocks, and burdens begin to ease as they feel that another human being cares for them.  You have helped them to pour out their confusion and overwhelm, and now they can gain clarity.  Since this is so important, let’s look at a few of the most crucial aspects of good listening technique.

 

>Concentrate on what is being said, instead of how you will respond.  Most of us tend to hear while we are actively thinking about our response, or how we can relate to what is being said.  Instead, completely focus on what they communicate.

>Let them speak without interruption.  Interjecting your questions or thoughts, causes them to feel as though they didn’t complete their story.  They feel cut off.  If you’re concerned about forgetting questions or points that you would like to make, try jotting down some reminders.

>Don’t finish someone’s sentences or help them find a word, unless they ask for help.  They don’t feel helped, they feel interrupted.

>When they’ve finished telling their entire story, it’s time for you to jump in.  If they are looking for advice, here is where you may offer it.  If they are not looking for advice, but are instead trying to problem solve or gain clarity, try drawing them out with open-ended questions.  Asking questions is also a great non-confrontational way to help someone see error in their thinking, and they are more likely to come to conclusions without feeling judged.

>A pleasant and relaxed smile with natural eye contact, will communicate your sincerity, empathy and engagement.  Be aware of your head nodding.  Nodding gives an impression of agreement.  If this is not the impression that you want to communicate, then make an effort to control that.

>Summarize what you’ve heard.  This is your opportunity to prove that you have been actively listening, and that they have been heard.

>Be patient and understanding.  They may need to tell the same story repeatedly.  They are working through things, and for some, this is very helpful.

>Finally, make sure to follow up with them.  This demonstrates your sincerity, and that they are not out of sight – out of mind.  Knowing that someone truly cares, removes feelings of loneliness.

 

Let’s look at another type of listening.  Listening to someone who is upset with us.  Too often, we feel the need to defend ourselves, or make excuses.  God’s word gives us helpful guidance in this area.  James 1:19 says “so then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”.  Proverbs 15:1 says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger”.  As difficult as it is, a confrontational situation can be defused by following these very simple words.  Arguing or making excuses for yourself, will further inflame.  It is wiser to listen, and then take it to prayer, allowing God to show you the truth.

 

Listening is so much more than hearing.  When we really listen, we are fully engaged.  We hear, but we also see the other person’s emotional state, and we feel compassion and empathy.  One of the most powerful ways to minister to another human being, is simply listening to them.  Most people don’t need someone to solve their problems – they need someone to listen.  When we give our time, and make the effort to really listen, we lighten the burdens of another human being.  Most of us won’t get this completely right every time, but try putting a few of these tips into practice every time that you have the opportunity.

“Look for the Helpers”

I’ve watched quite a bit of news these last several weeks.  Way more than I usually do.  The news turns me off – too much fact spinning and ugliness.  I’ve watched because, I was either concerned about those dealing with the hurricanes, or those dealing with wildfires and the dangerous air quality issues resulting from the smoke.  The news is depressing, but then I happened to see a great interview.  Do you remember Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?  He was talking about something that he’d learned from his dear mother.  She taught him that whenever scary things happen, “look for the helpers – they’re always there”.  Yes, they are Mrs. Rogers, and I very much appreciate those words today.

 

Yes, disasters bring out the worst in human nature, but they also bring out the best.  Neighbors banding together to help a woman in a high-risk pregnancy and the worst of conditions, to safely deliver her baby.  A man using his jet-ski to evacuate others to safety.  The families of first responders, having to deal with the disaster and worry alone, because their loved one must go and serve their community.  A man giving the last generator to a woman who needed it for her oxygen tank dependent father.  Medical and mental health personnel, putting their lives on hold, to be deployed to deal with the aftermath of disasters.

 

America.  When disaster strikes, there is no question of whether or not someone deserves assistance.  They aren’t asked about their religious beliefs, or political views.  The color of skin isn’t a factor.  We aren’t who the political machine says that we are.  We need not believe the loud voice, that says we are weak minded, and that words can destroy us.  We are brave enough to help each other, and selfless enough to sacrifice for each other, and tough enough to listen to each other, and we can be respectful when we disagree with each other.  We are Americans.

Beautiful Music – Never Out of Style

Men and women are equally valuable, and come in all shapes and sizes, with a wide variety of personalities, gifts and interests, but God made a man to be very different from a woman.  God composed a beautiful symphony when He created masculine man and then feminine woman.  No matter what our cultural influencers are saying, whether platonic or romantic, men are attracted to a soft feminine woman and women are attracted to a strong masculine man.  What are some of the characteristics of this strong masculine male?

 

Physically –  his body is hard and angular and he is naturally muscular and strong.  He can be a little crude and rough around the edges.  He craves physical touch and reads it as love – this doesn’t define him as a maniac.  He is a visual creature, noticing and appreciating feminine beauty.

Emotionally –  he craves peace, and will hide his feelings when he feels judged or when he believes she’ll react badly.  He will always have a little boy within himself.  He needs the women in his life, to be light-hearted and fun to be with.  He’s not your best girlfriend – keep the girl talk and shopping between girls and don’t ask him for an opinion on your outfit – he is afraid to say the wrong thing and if he likes it, you will know.  He desires to please the women in his life.

Mentally –  he feels the need to provide, protect and conquer.  He naturally problem solves.  He’s competitive, never allowing another driver to win the race to the traffic light.  He thinks in terms of compartments or boxes – only open one at a time please.  He needs you to need him – stop being so darn competent at everything.

Spiritually – sometimes, he has difficulty understanding spiritual things.  Don’t use your knowledge or spirituality to intimidate him.  Instead, be an uplifting inspiration to him by living your faith in front of him.

 

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’re aware of the slippery slope that we’re on – the blurring of the lines of distinction between men and women.  Sometimes, I’m tempted to go crawl under that rock, but then I remember – God has given me a platform to speak truth.  Men are men and women are women – truth.  They are created to be very different from the other, but when united as two perfectly tuned and masterfully played instruments, together they make a harmonious sound.  One is not more important than the other, but one is to lead and the other to help.  The leader instrument provides the direction and cadence and the helper fills in with soothing and soft sounds, helping the strong to be incredibly beautiful.  Imagine for a moment, the helper instrument attempting to take over.  No, the symphony was planned and it is beautiful when played according to the plan.  No competition – just a perfect blend of each instrument completing the other, by playing their very special part and most importantly, the conductor guiding the process.

 

Being a strong leader is a high responsibility and many men don’t understand what it looks like.  They will either buckle under a domineering wife and allow her to lead, or they will take the tyrant approach and rule with a heavy hand.   A biblical leader doesn’t do either of these.  He models his leadership after the example of Christ.  He is a humble, self-sacrificing servant.  He leads with truth but always seasoned with grace.  He never runs over others.  He is courageous and stands up for what is right even when it costs him peace.  He never treats a woman harshly or as though she is lower than him.  He respects women and values their input, because he recognizes that they are uniquely gifted by their Creator.

 

We may not be able to control the cultural trends, but we can certainly take a look at ourselves and ask the hard questions.  Am I playing my instrument according to the Conductor’s direction?  Am I the masculine man or feminine woman that God intended me to be?  Am I helping the men in my life to be the masculine men that God created them to be?  What are the areas that I can improve?

For Exactly This Moment

I hear other people talking about God’s call on their life.  Starting a ministry, going to Bible college, training and going into a remote mission field.  I’m excited for them and happy that they are following God’s leading, but I’ll admit that sometimes I feel like I’m inadequate.  Every ministry that I’m involved in, is a behind-the-scenes venture.  There isn’t acknowledgement or “stage-time”.  I’m fine with this – even comfortable and at peace with it, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get to handle the big guns – kind of inadequate.

 

I was just crawling into bed, getting ready to settle down for some much overdue writing and then some television watching.  It was going to be a nice quiet evening with my husband in bed next to me, doing his evening scroll through Facebook.  Then the call came.  It was a distress call.  I was to throw a few items into a bag, get out the door to someone who needed me.  I handed the telephone to my husband, who began to sooth the distraught soul on the other end of the line.  I stood there completely frozen – stunned at this thing that was happening.  So much was at stake here.  I’m so inadequate.  How would I be able to be wise enough and strong enough?

 

I flew down the highway.  Praying constantly.  I prayed for His protection over the hurting one.  I prayed for wisdom.  I prayed for God to keep my car on the curvy road and to keep the animals off of the road.  I prayed that He would empower me to keep my mouth shut when I needed to, and to give me the words to say that were right for the moment.  I felt inadequate.

 

What should have been a forty-five minute drive, became thirty minutes and when I drove up, my fears abound.  My mind played tricks on me, replaying a time of a hurting loved one from my past – the one that I couldn’t help, because I was inadequate.  I knocked.  We embraced.  We prayed.  I prepared a meal.  I did the dishes and I listened.  I realized that my entire life was preparation for exactly this moment, and this was His call.  It was the appointment that He had made for me.  I then knew, merely listening with only a pinch of input, being in the room while they slept, and praying for them as I kept watch, was completely adequate.

 

His strength is made known in my inadequacy. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Get Messy

It’s free but it is expensive and it can be messy.  I’m referring to putting your time, effort and heart into the lives of other people.   Whether a big investment or a small gesture, never disbelieve the power of your sincere care, encouragement and kindness toward another human being.

 

We live in a rushed society where most of us are striving to build a life.  Providing for the needs of our family is godly but we can easily get caught in the trap of wanting more stuff or being involved in every activity under the sun.  Are we too pressured trying to get to the next activity to even smile at the stranger that comes across our path? How about the elderly person that might need our time, ear and patience?  Have we taken notice of that person sitting alone that might be in desperate need of some companionship or encouragement?  Are we so over-committed that we can’t invest in a young person’s life?  How about that friend who has been through a difficult period and would benefit from some empathy and support?

 

To demonstrate the impact of one life investing in another, I would like to tell you a short but true story.  There was a woman who for various reasons, endured many years of persecution.  She was treated hatefully, wrongly judged, falsely accused and alienated.  Due to circumstances that were outside of her control, she could not leave this environment.  The many years of this treatment shattered her self-image.  She began to believe that she was worthless.  By the time that she was removed from this environment, she was a wounded, broken shell of who she had been.  She kept to herself, rarely letting anyone get close, because deep down inside, she believed that no one wanted to be her friend.  One human being, who was gifted and sensitive in the area of noticing hurting people, began to talk to her.  This person began pointing out her strengths and gifts and they became faithful and supportive friends.  She began to believe the good things that she was hearing about herself.  This one person took a step toward another person and made the investment of their time and friendship and a hurting soul received healing.  Without the investment made by this person, this woman might have continued on in her hurt and probably retreated further into the protective cocoon that she had knitted for herself.  Instead, she is now encouraging others.  So many people are benefiting because one person reached out to bind her wounds and now the cycle of blessing continues.

 

If you lighten up your load and look around, you will see hurting humans – unfortunately, they are in abundant supply.  They might even be in your own household.  Be available for these God appointments.  What appointment does He have for you today?  God says that pure and undefiled religion is visiting orphans and widows in their affliction.  Ministering to the lonely, broken and needy is pure and undefiled too.  Let Him send you into someone’s life, so that you can get a little messy.

Playing All Your Hearts

Rare and generous, they are created with a unique capacity to love.  They give of themselves liberally and expect very little in return.  This is the bright side, but what about the dark side?  Too often, these large-hearted souls attract a person that is unable to return love due to their own circumstances, personality, emotional problems, mental illness or addictions.  Worse yet, sometimes their love is met with critical, rude or malicious behavior.

 

It would feel better to be like most others – able to let it roll off and move on but usually the person who loves deeply does not do this with ease.  They put great effort into relationships and when there is failure, their emotional wound can be deep.  If they are the type that is willing to examine themselves, they will probably blame themselves for the failure.  If this is you, you may long to be like others but God created you with this capacity to love and yes, there will be times that you will get hurt.  The question isn’t “how can I avoid getting hurt” or “how do I make the hurt go away quickly?”.  The real question is “what will I learn from the experience?”.  The greater the investment, the greater the gain and in every failure, there is always a gain.  Learn to look for this and be thankful for it.  What you gain isn’t always from good.  Sometimes, it is a lesson learned from a negative experience.

 

If you are that person who is putting all of your cards on the table, and they are all hearts, it is crucial that you are learning from the good and bad that comes out of your relationships.  People with a great capacity to love, will often take two or three steps forward, while the other person involved takes fewer steps, or even none at all.  Every healthy relationship is like a waltz.  Even though the gait and physicality of each person is different, there is a rhythm and mutual movement to make the dance beautiful and mutually satisfying.  A waltz wouldn’t work if only one person wants to dance or performs all of the movements?  What should we learn from this?

 

First, remember that trust in a relationship must be earned and trusting too soon, will eventually lead to difficulties.  Second, in order for a relationship to withstand the test of time, each person should, in their own way, be giving to it.  Reciprocation doesn’t have to be exactly in the same fashion or equal amounts but there should be energy poured into the relationship from each side.  Third, invest appropriately – don’t take three steps forward when the other person isn’t also taking steps forward.  Finally, in a situation where only one person gives, you have a ministry – consider whether or not this is acceptable to you.

 

Whatever the reasons, when a relationship is unfulfilling, it can cause heartbreak to the person who has loved and poured into it.  Your investment isn’t wasted.  Even if the other person didn’t appreciate you, they probably benefited from knowing you and with the insight that you have gained, go out and love again but this time, know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.