Saturday, October 30, 2010

Grace-filled Surprises

     It feels like forever ago since I last posted on my blog. Hmm....what to write....I've been busy! At the end of the evening, when the house is picked up, homework is finished, the last story is read, details about tomorrow have been discussed, and I finally have my jammies on and teeth brushed and flossed,  I squeeze in some reading time.
  Ahhh....just a couple of pages.....Right now I'm reading Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity by Charles Swindoll. I had done an excellent bible study on the book of Esther about 9 years ago and thought I knew the book fairly well. Charles Swindoll never disappoints, though. He is a theologian and his detailed handling and explanation of this beautiful woman's place in biblical history is, so far, fantastic. I am surprised by how much more I'm getting out of it. I'm only about a 1/4 of the way through it and am enjoying every chapter.

     The other book I'm reading is a child's book about blood. Yes, you read that right. It's a junior health-type book about the human body and blood. It's quite interesting and at my intellectual level!
     There have been quite a few surprises this last month. The weight loss program I am on (Lord's Table - Setting Captives Free) has been phenomenal.As of today, I've lost almost 22 pounds in 8 weeks. It's a internet-based bible study I do daily (or those days when I can get to it). I also have a mentor that I e-mail my bible study answers to and she gives me feedback and prays for me. Really exceptional material and life-changing. How much more weight I lose is up to God. I'm just relieved to take off all the extra weight I gained this last year. I was so uncomfortable I couldn't believe it. I had never been heavier and, by the grace of God, will never be that heavy again. The bible is clear that I am to eat for the glory of God. For too many years I have been eating for "Laura's glory" and the fruit was rotten. But it really is all about his grace and his Spirit. I can't do anything commendable without his Spirit prompting me and helping me every step of the way.
     Another surprise is how much peace I feel about Chloe and Leanne being back at school. All the misgivings I had about sending them to school have not been realized. Just the opposite. I was concerned that I would feel split by having half of my school-age kids home schooled and half of them in public school. Not so. Everyone has their place and it's working quite well. I also was concerned about having to get up early and rushing the girls to school. Not so. It's helpful to get up early and we don't rush to school ordinarily. The mornings are fairly peaceful and organized. This is amazing to me. Another concern I had were the influences the girls would be exposed to at school. The jury is out on this one. So far, so good. We'll see about that one. I was also worried that I'd be overwhelmed and put out by all the school communication, fundraisers, things to sign and paperwork, etc. There are forms to fill out and plenty to put on the calendar, but I'm not feeling overwhelmed by it yet.
     I am overwhelmed, however, by all the trips I make getting Camille to and from all of her different places; art lessons, her writing class, her cooking class, her running program. That aspect is challenging. But having Camille at home with a computer-based curriculum has not been challenging overall. There has been much grace with her for this school year so far. I've enjoy seeing her mature and having her fun-loving, animated personality around.
     Looking back, it was a challenging counseling appointment with our pastor in the spring earlier this year. We were talking about various schooling options for Camille and how to direct her artistic inclinations. I really wanted to home school the girls, no matter how much I had to change my current approach. I had determined which curriculum I was going to teach each one of them and was excited about that. I was also looking forward to the changes I was going to implement and trying new things.
     And then I prayed about it. Uh - oh.
     That's what our pastor asked us to do.  Tim really wanted Leanne and Chloe in school and Camille at home again. I wanted them all in school, or all at home. (Elena is so independent and hard-working that I hardly do much to help her out. She takes quite a few academic classes at her co-op that she's a breeze to home school). But I really wanted them home again. So, our pastor simply asked us to pray about it. We prayed together once or twice, and then I prayed on my own.
     And God is faithful. He impressed upon me that I was asking my husband to follow my vision of home schooling our children, but that wasn't Tim's vision. God directed me, in that still small voice, to adapt myself to my husband's vision. If I were to come under my husband's direction, there would be grace and favor in that submission. I was not happy about this change of plans. Tim reluctantly agreed to have Camille go into 8th grade at the middle school, but at the last minute I felt God direct me to ask Tim about that again. Tim still felt uncomfortable about her going into middle school. And so....she stayed home. I was quite depressed at how the year was shaping up.
     But God was right. He's always right. So, now I feel like he's using this small step of obedience to point to something bigger. The principle is this: when I feel like God is directing me to do something I don't want to do, do it! Immediately and without complaining. Because favor and grace and  joy will follow. Okay, God, help me to get this lesson down solidly....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Self-Pity vs. Self-Validation

     So, I heard about this woman who had a really rough couple of years. I mean, really rough, couple of years. Financial devastation, misunderstood, physically afflicted, unfairly blamed, huge losses of relationships and emotional reserves. Bad. Just recently, she felt that God opened her eyes, ever so gently and slowly, to see that some of her suffering was because of self-pity. Ouch. She realized that this was true and repented and got right with God and others in this area of her life.  Freedom, joy, and peace flooded her heart for the first time in a long time. Thank you Lord!
     I read about another lady who had an awful experience that profoundly traumatized her. She was really wronged. Really badly. She acknowledged her anger at those who hurt her, let herself think through and ponder her pain and didn't deny that she was angry. She avoided situations that would cause her more heartache and grief over what she had lost. She was wise and thoughtful. And one day she was rewarded. She woke up one morning and her anger was gone. "It no longer served me, " she wrote. Wow! She also acknowledged the pain her body feels, the specific aches and pains and places where her body reveals denied and stuffed anger and sadness. Wow again. I was so impressed and wrote her an e-mail to let her know.
     I mused over these two ladies' reactions to profound hardships and heart ache. One engaged in self-pity and one engaged in self-validation. Both ladies were ultimately set free from being a victim of their circumstances. Not all people get free. My feisty Grandma would tell her bitter tales about her sisters well into her 70's. Oh, Grandma and her bitter stories. So sad.
     But anyway, what is the difference between self-validation and self-pity? I am the queen of self-pity. I am really, really good at it. If there was Self-Pity 101 offered at a nearby university, they'd ask me to teach it. If you googled "self-pity" in images, you'd see a picture with my sad-looking, down cast face. Yes, folks, self-pity is like a sport for me and I win every time.
     But no. I lose. I lose opportunities to trust God and thank him for my trials. I'm getting a teensy weensy bit better at that, but still I whine and complain and moan about injustice (I'm really big on that one). So, when I heard about this woman who was set free from self-pity I became rather curious. If I don't feel sorry for myself, what do I do then with being wronged? Forgive 70 times 7. Okay. What next? That get really tiresome after awhile! I think part of my issue is that I don't want to validate the pain. I don't want to feel those feelings, although I'm quick to complain about them.
     A couple of weeks ago I related a difficult situation I had encountered to a stranger. Big Mistake. She proceeded to evaluate my trial and give her spin on it - after getting the facts all mixed up. It was so disconcerting and upsetting to me. I abruptly cut off communication with this woman, offending her in the process. Several days later, I called her by phone and wanted to "clear the air" and explain my outlook; "I had come to a peace about my situation and was not asking for your feedback. Your questions and comments re-opened wounds and it was quite painful." What I did not say to her, although I hope she can learn this lesson quickly, was that I really needed her to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry for your difficult situation. It sounds like it was very painful." Or something like that - even half of that. I became aware of the need to have my pain noticed. Please just see how much this hurt me and don't analyze it for me. That's my job. I have to own my reactions to the cards Life deals me. Just see my pain and sympathize. Not pity, just "I'm sorry for your pain."
     I ended the conversation as pleasantly and kindly as I could have. I really wanted to affirm and encourage this woman in the work she does. I was no longer offended by the social boundary she crossed because I set a boundary for her that was comfortable for me. But I did want to give her the opportunity to be heard. Nothing that she said to clarify what she had communicated via e-mail changed how insensitive she was. But she realized that she should have been more careful with comments and not to converse by e-mail with a stranger about serious issues. So, valuable lesson learned.
     I took many lessons away from that encounter as well. One thing I am freshly aware of is to see and validate the pain, discomfort, and inconveniences others complain about. I believe that if they feel heard, they will not feel the need to engage in self-pity. Hmm....more to ponder and observe how effective this is.
     At any rate, how's your day going?