November 24, 2015

How Not to Deal with Conflict in Relationships

Since it's only been 6 months since my last post and a lot has happened (like, hi, I'm almost 34 weeks pregnant with #5, our baby girl Eden Hope), I thought I would ease back into writing with a fresh, light post. On conflict. In relationships. Amongst people who profess to be Christians.

Because it's Tuesday and it's snowing outside and I don't need a nap.

I've had this post swirling in my head for awhile now and, as it always seems to go, everything in my life seems to keep finding its way back to this topic. Relationships. Having them, fighting for them, displaying Jesus through them.

It's no secret that I'm a big people-person. Sometimes I even load us all up and go to the mall just to be around people. (Every introvert in the room is holding their heart in horror. That's ok. I've made peace with myself. I yam who I yam.)

And as such, I also spend a lot of my time observing people. And as a tried-and-true optimist by nature, I find that there's a lot of good to be seen, even in the midst of a lot of evil. Doesn't light always shine brightest in the darkness? But there's something I've seen for a long time now (and I've kind of written about these things before) that just simply grieves my heart. And it's the way we can treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ when it comes to conflict.

Here's how I've seen conflict dealt with amongst people who are professing Christians in the last 6 months alone:

1) Passive aggressively. I'm mad at you/you've offended me/I don't like something you said or did but I lack the courage to tell you so instead I'm going to punish you in subtle ways. When you say hi I'm going to give an imperceptible head nod and keep walking. If you're in the same room I'm going to work very hard to ignore you and/or pretend not to notice you. You will know I'm not happy with you, even though I'm not brave enough to tell you why I'm not happy with you.

2) Avoidance. Similar to above except contact with that person is avoided AT ALL COSTS. Will they be at the same event/party/celebration/church service??? Make for sure that you know so you don't actually end up at the same place (horrors!). Will our spouses/children/friends be affected because everybody else has to ensure avoidance happens too? Probably. But that's not my problem. (Even though it totally and completely is.)

3) Pretending. Oh, HI, HOW ARE YOU! I am SO HAPPY to see you! How's life? Did I tell you about the latest funny story/my kids/that football team/the weather/the wilting lettuce I saw at the store??? Anything but the obvious tension and conflict that exists between us and needs desperately to be brought out into the light and talked about so that we can have ACTUAL, REAL, AUTHENTIC relationship with one another! Heaven forbid.

4) Outright ugliness. Sides. Divisions. Factions. Slandering. Gossip. Nastiness. Judgment. More negative words.

And this would be no surprise if I said I was talking about the Kardashians, bless their hearts. But I'm not. I'm talking to those who say, "I'm a Christian. I believe the Bible is true. Jesus is real. He's coming back. He's given us all a mission to glorify him with our lives. I go to church. I raise my kids to believe the Bible is true. I serve in a ministry. I'm a Christian."

Today in my Bible reading time, my reading plan had me in Ezekiel 35-37. In a nutshell, these chapters talk about how intensely concerned God is with his Name amongst his people; which is to say he's intensely concerned with how his people reflect his character, the very essence of who he is, to unbelieving people and nations. In fact, in the famous Ezekiel 36 chapter that speaks to him giving us a new heart and a new spirit, and replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, both before and after he says he's doing it for his name's sake. Because the nation of Israel at that time had repeatedly defamed his name with an abundance of injustice and wrongdoing and wrong-dealing and religious pride and blasphemy and lots more negative things.

And he had had enough. He made clear that he was tired of his name being defamed and he was going to make things right.

It would be one thing if it were reserved to the Old Testament. Except that the New Testament is full of this idea too. In John 17 alone Jesus tells his followers that just as the Father and he are one, so his followers are to be one so that the world will know and see and believe that Jesus was sent by God and God loves the world as he loves Jesus.

Can you even believe that? 

Jesus is saying that the unity we have with one another and the love we display towards each other will cause people to know and believe that he is who he says he is and that God loves us profoundly as he loves Jesus, as seen through Jesus' life and subsequently ours.

Do you know what that means?

It means the reverse is also true. That a lack of unity and love will cause people to disbelieve that Jesus is who he says he is and that God loves us profoundly as he loves Jesus, as seen through Jesus' life and subsequently ours.

Does that mean Jesus isn't who he says he is? No. Does that mean God doesn't love us profoundly? No.

It means that when we don't strive for peace with one another (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14, lots of other verses), when we don't fight for love and unity amongst one another, the witness of Jesus in our lives is diminished and his Name is defamed.

There's honestly so much that could be said about this, but I want to wrap it up with a few parting thoughts.

Do you strive (fight for) unity and peace and love with others? And as Ravi Zacharias always says, "Unity doesn't mean uniformity." It doesn't mean we agree about everything. It doesn't mean we're always Pollyannas with one another. It doesn't mean we don't broach the hard things.

It means we forgive, not avoid. It means we believe the best about others, not assume the worst. It means we have honest, open conversations with others, not one-sided condemnation conversations in our head. It means when someone hurts us, we approach them honestly in a kind and gracious way (Ephesians 4). It means if we think someone has an offense against us, we pursue them (Matthew 18).

We should be marked by kindness, graciousness, inclusiveness, forgiveness, openness, and a lot of other positive words.

And I say this just as much to myself. I've had experiences even recently where I've had to be the one to ask forgiveness because I'd judged wrongly, been jealous, envied, reacted from a place of hurt (hello, hurting people hurt people), and a lot of other negative things. And I've had to be the one to approach someone and say the hard things - It seems like I've done something to offend you, when you said this, it really hurt my feelings, etc.

I have to regularly pray that the Lord would help me to love others like he does because I desperately need his help. One of the most common verses I pray for myself and Matt is from 1st Timothy 1:5, that the goal of our instruction would be love from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith. I regularly need the Holy Spirit searching my heart, sanctifying me in his truth which is his Word (John 17:17), giving me a pure heart.

But people are worth it.

And about a majillion times more than that, the renown of Jesus' Name is worth it.

"Your name and renown are the desire of our souls." Isaiah 26:8

The fact that people will actually come to know and believe him because of our love for one another is astounding and wonderful. And possible because of his Holy Spirit living in and through us.

Thanks for bearing with me friends, and thanks for reading again. I've sure missed this. And missed you.

And because I want to wrap up this fresh, light post with some fresh, light pictures of life lately.

This picture is a few weeks old but I'm currently almost 34 weeks pregnant with #5. Our baby girl, Eden Hope, is due the beginning of the year.

If this doesn't sum up brotherhood, I don't know what does.

Luke is almost 18 months (!) and just such a joy to all of us. And he's deliciously chubby. 

Asher turned 4 in August and started preschool this year. He loves it and is doing great and has the best teacher.

Micah is almost 6 and started kindergarten this year. He's turning into such a little individual person, it's so fun to see. He loves school and learning and has started reading (!), which makes me so happy. He's growing up so fast!

These two have always had a special bond.

Matt finished his Master's program last January and started his first job as a Family Nurse Practitioner in April. He's since transitioned within the same hospital to a family practice clinic, which was a huge answer to prayer. He works with a great team of people and is learning a TON. 
So there you have it. Life lately. Conflict. Pregnancy. We'll just mash it all together and call it good, yes?

May 22, 2015

Luke's Dr. Suess-themed 1st Birthday

This week we celebrated our Lukey's first birthday.

He doesn't actually turn one until the 26th but my dear friend Marissa and I decided to join parties since our boys are only two days apart. It's been fun to walk this journey with her, from finding out we were both pregnant to having due dates two days apart to actually having them two days apart to comparing newborn notes and who's eating what and who's biting while breastfeeding and who's having serious sleep regressions and how Luke weighs TEN pounds more than wee Anthony.

Luke capitalizing on the 10-pound difference.

Lots of fun to do life so closely with dear friends.

Marissa came up with the idea to do a Dr. Seuss party and it was perfect! Definitely my favorite themed party ever. And for a non-crafty, non-Pinteresty, non-cake making, non-details being like me, having Marissa was kind of like having LeBron play for my JV team.

 Some (almost) one-year old stats (for my sake)...

Eating: I officially weaned him about 8 weeks ago. I was actually the most sad about it than any of the others. We're about 99% sure he has a dairy sensitivity so we avoid most dairy. I can't quite get a handle on what he loves/doesn't love. I think sometimes he has an issue with textures but then he'll eat something easily that disproves that. I think he just chooses to be a fussy eater sometimes.

Sleep: he's a fantastic sleeper and has been for a long time. He sleeps a solid, uninterrupted 12 hours at night. Sometimes he naps once a day but still mostly twice a day.

Personality: he has really developed a personality the last couple of months. He's been such a laid-back, take-it-all-in kid that it was hard to know what he was really like. But he's really come into his own. He's super happy and loves to smile and play and do things that will make us laugh. He's very opinionated about his brothers, either in that he thinks they're being hilarious or that they better not touch his head or personage one more time. He loves a good snuggle and will burrow deep into your shoulder as long as you have his blankie ready.

We just honestly love this little guy so much, it's hard to really put it into words. He brings us so much joy and to say we delight in him is putting it mildly. I am so thankful the Lord gave him to us and I just look so forward to getting to know him better and better.

Can you tell he's trying not to touch the grass?

Happy (almost) first birthday, Lukey, we love you to the moon and beyond and back!

April 23, 2015

What am I doing as we anticipate Grace's 2nd birthday in Heaven?

I started and finished this book in two days this week.

Was it good? Yes, very. 

And also no.

I have a very vivid imagination. I have my entire life. Which means words and images really stick in my thoughts and mind. I've also developed certain convictions as I've walked with the Lord about what's "permissible" for me. 

Which means I'm usually very stringent about what I read and watch. It doesn't mean by any means that I only read Christian books and authors; quite the contrary. I read a broad array of genres and authors. I'm just cautious. 

And on a normal day and week I would've picked up this book and read the first few chapters and discerned that there were waaay too many F-bombs and sex scenes for my imagination and it would be in my best interest to find another book.

But this isn't a normal day and week. Because my Grace's second birthday is in 3 days. And the same as last year, I feel anxious and angry and deeply sad and like I'm on a slippery slope into a dark hole.

And what's been my escape my entire life? A well-written book that makes me forget about my life for awhile.

So that's what I've done the last two nights. I've felt the wave of grief and sadness coming and done what Old Sara used to do. Gotten lost in a story. 

Even if it had been a great book, I was still escaping. Or trying to. 

I just hate April. I don't even try to be spiritual about it. I dread April 1st because then the countdown begins and then I dread the passing days and weeks because the countdown becomes less. 

People who haven't experienced loss probably don't get this (or at least I definitely didn't) but anniversaries and marker dates are just awful. I probably used to think in my pre-loss days that they were a celebratory day, a day for remembering and honoring. But instead it's a day for the should-haves and almost-was(es) but never-will-bes. 

Our Thursday Bible study group is part of a larger study group and every week we all meet together for food and a devotional and prayer and then we split into our smaller groups. I had thought maybe I'd share with my group about how (terrible) I was doing and that I was trying to escape (and into a not-good book for that matter) and I just really needed prayer. But there's this side of me that just hates being weak, is just tired of it quite frankly. I'm tired of being needy and crying in front of people and asking for prayer again. Even though I know that's exactly how and where Jesus wants me and, really, is the sweetest place of communing with Him and others when I get there (or admit that I've been there all along). 

Today, as the Lord would providentially have it, a woman from another group shared for this week's devotional and it was from 1st Kings 19. 

Of course it was. 

Probably my favorite story in the Bible and one that breaks and awes me every single time I read it. 

Go ahead and read it. Probably read 1st Kings 18 and 19 for context. Go ahead. I'll wait... 



Elijah does a great thing with great faith and then Jezebel threatens to kill him so he runs for his life into the wilderness and tells God he wants to die and God shows up and meets his immediate needs (food and rest) and then says he's going to pass by Elijah. BUT. He's not in the mighty wind, the great earthquake, or the raging fire. But then a low whisper comes and Elijah finally hears God's voice. 

God asks him what he's doing there. 

What he's doing.

Because sometimes we just need to tell someone what we're doing. 

Sometimes we just need to crawl out of the cave we crawled into (a book that's not good for our soul, a relationship we shouldn't be in, an addiction that controls us, an anger that destroys us) and tell God what we're doing. Tell a friend what we're doing. 

Today was my what-am-I-doing moment. 

I heard the soft, compelling voice of the Holy Spirit calling me out of the cave of grief and anger I'd crawled into and directing my next step (the same as he did for Elijah). Directing me to share. To humble myself. To ask for prayer. To confess my anger and anxiety.

So I did. It wasn't pretty but I did. There were tears and anger in my voice and words like "hellish" and phrases like "I don't want to talk about it but I do need you to pray but I don't want to talk about it" and frustration and and and...but I did it. 

And then the beauty of the why. Because then there was the being prayed for and the arms wrapped around and the head leaned against and the foot cradled and their tears shed. 

I didn't feel it at that very moment but it wasn't very long and I did feel it. The burden lifted. The tiny sliver of joy. The hope of a better day. The renewed strength to face April 26th. 

Isn't God so kind? He could've come in his awesome power (the raging wind and earthquake and fire) and scared me into obeying, but he didn't. He came in a gentle whisper. Compelling that leads to conviction that leads to restoration. 

So what are you doing? And who can you tell? 

And since I've already laid myself bare, would you please pray for us as we mark another year of our Grace and her loss?

Thank you, friends. I so appreciate each of you readers. You make this worth it. 

March 18, 2015

I have Jesus, Part 2 (the days after we lost Grace)

This is Part 2 of my last post. I didn't mean to leave you hanging but I have such limited time during nap time to write and I also didn't want it to get too long. :)

Click here if you haven't read Part 1 yet.

In the days after we lost Grace I completely withdrew from almost everyone and everything. Social media. Friends. Face-to-face interactions. Grocery stores. Everything. I was terrified of people. Terrified of having to converse with people, of having to supply something they needed, whether it be comfort, encouraging words, anything. I had nothing to give.

I was both in awe of my sons, that they were living and mine, and terrified of them needing anything from me. I did zero parenting in those first days and weeks.

Family was really the only people coming over for the most part and I could only handle so much and then I would literally abruptly stand up and walk out in the middle of conversation and escape to our room where I would curl up on our bed and start the process of crying and surviving all over again.

(You may be wondering why I'm sharing such a behind-the-scenes look into grief. One, because I have a point, and two, I can only share this now. I could have never shared this before, it was still too raw and painful. It still is painful but less so; I feel more removed from that blistering first season of grief.)

This was just a few weeks after we lost her and my smile never reached my eyes in those days. It was hard to find joy.

But if there's one thing I had in those days, it was Jesus. And this is so difficult to explain because I can't handle it sounding so churchy but there's no other way to say it. I heard a Focus on the Family broadcast recently and the guest was explaining how difficult it is to explain God's kindness and nearness when you're walking through such painful times, that it's like describing a color nobody else has ever seen, and that completely resonated with me.

Because here's the thing. While I did cry and lament to Matt every single day, he alone wouldn't have ever been enough to bear my grief. Nobody saw the full extent of my grief. I knew almost immediately that nobody would be strong enough to bear it except Jesus. Even the best comforter, best husband, best mom, best friend, is not good enough or strong enough to alone hold you up.

Day after day I locked myself in our office and opened my Bible, desperate to meet with Jesus. I journaled constantly, unable to really speak my pain but able to write it. I was desperate to be anchored in truth. I needed to remind myself daily that I had his hope as an anchor for my soul. That my story and pain had eternal weight and that he was the same God he'd always been, he had never changed.

There is something powerful about meeting with God in the secret, something so precious, so intrinsically valuable. It grieves my heart when I hear people describe having to spend time with God, having to get it done, get it checked off. He's so rich and so wise and so full of depth and mystery, there's no end to discovering him!

When you have Jesus, when you really have him, when you walk with him in the secret, anchored in his Word day after day, it solves about a million other things at once. Not to mean that it solves you of your sinful nature and the battle between the flesh and the spirit, just this morning I yelled at my son in our rush and my frustration and had to repent to him, but it solves so many of our counterfeit life-finding attempts.

There's this woman I know and I really, really (really) look up to her. She's godly, she's wise, she is who she is without pretense (my favorite type), she speaks truth and doesn't put on a churchy face. I just really, really like her. And recently I found myself wanting to impress her. I wanted to "drop" a comment about what I'd been learning in my devotional times and I wanted her to think it sounded wise. (Right?? What the?)

And while I regularly have to repent of doing something out of pride or with impure motives, this time I was able to remind myself: I don't have to do that. I have Jesus. Our meeting time is a treasure and so rich and something to be prized in my heart, not diminished by trying to prove myself. 

On another occasion recently I was introduced to a new friend. She's beautiful and confident and in my younger, immature days I would have been tempted to find something disagreeable about her so I felt better about being less pretty than her. (Seriously, the thoughts.) But I was able to remind myself that I have Jesus. I have my place in him, the Creator of so much beauty and wisdom and light and goodness, and I need never have to compete or prove or fault-find. And it frees me up to rejoice in others' beauty and gifts and abilities, especially if I don't possess them. I can speak face to face and rejoice in my heart for them, be intentional to speak encouraging words to them.

Because I have Jesus.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, when life is great and when it feels like a crapshoot, when others receive and I didn't, when I receive and others didn't, when I'm understood or not, when people assume and they're wrong, or maybe they're right, at the end of the day, I have Jesus.

And he's just so much better than every other counterfeit treasure. He can withstand the storms of grief. He can withstand the insecure heart. He can withstand the fears that form into anger. And only he can withstand them. Not even the best person in the whole world (and believe me, I know some quality ones) can bear up under the weight of our hearts and minds and souls and all that they bring to life.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." 
Psalm 34:8

Taste. See for yourself. He is good. And he is a refuge.

And if you need proof that Matt is one of those quality ones, these pictures from last night are it. Let me preface them by giving you some context.

The boys: Mom, can we help you paint?

Me: No.

The boys: Dad, can we help you paint?

Matt: Sure thing, I need some help right here. Great job, guys!

Hashtag he's definitely the better parent.

And one more for good measure.

March 16, 2015

I Have Jesus (the days leading up to the day we lost Grace)

Wow, it's been awhile. I haven't had a huge desire to write, though I do have about half a dozen posts half-written in my head. This is one though that compels me to put pen to paper. Sometimes I have the strongest compulsion to write a post and not to would be disobedient. So here we are.

I've traveled quite extensively out of the country and though I don't fear flying and I don't fear traveling alone, I hate flying alone. (Is that possible?)

I hate it for how lonely it is. The layovers, the flights themselves (especially the long international ones), the arrivals, the people-watching. It all exacerbates this feeling of being truly alone amidst so many people.

One time in particular in college I was on my way to visit my friend in France for Thanksgiving break. Being Thanksgiving it was the height of travel time for approximately 5 billion people.

Same trip but we went on an overnight to Geneva, Switzerland. 

Annecy, France. If you want to live in a magical place, this is it.
You know I visited one of these chocolate stores everyday. 

Oh yes I did.

The French Alps. Unbelievably beautiful.

Taking the train to Switzerland. This was actually a very sad time in my life as my college boyfriend and I had just broken up. I think this picture showed a glimpse behind the scenes of my normally extroverted self.

Sonia, my friend I was visiting, lived just down the road from where I'm standing here. NBD.

I had a layover in Minneapolis (the former airline employee in me ((<- I worked for two major airlines for 5 years)) desperately wanted to write MSP) and while waiting for my flight I suddenly had this intensely strong feeling of stark, raving loneliness come over me. It was so sudden and so strong it felt like it physically cloaked me.

And almost immediately following that feeling I had this equally strong thought: I'm not alone. I have Jesus. I'm never alone.

I had to share that first because that phrase, I have Jesus, came to me so strongly again yesterday as I reflected on those first days and weeks of losing Grace that I knew I needed to write about it.

I haven't talked about her much recently and part of it is because it's hidden down deep in my heart, only between the Lord and I. I think about her constantly but different than before. Before I thought about her in her loss. Now I think about her in what we're losing. (It's hard work conveying such deeply-held feelings into words so I'm not sure if this is making complete sense.) Before, it was her physical loss. We held and loved her for hours. My body physically lost her. She went from the safety of my belly to complete and utter emptiness with no evidence that I had carried her. I ached for her constantly.

Now, I think about what we're losing today. She would be almost two years old and I don't know if you've had the privilege of being around an almost-two year old recently but they're about the cutest thing you've ever seen. They're unsteady on their feet and speak incoherently but just coherently enough that your heart can't stretch wide enough to capture its sweetness. And if she was anything like our boys, she would be roly-poly with thighs that looked like they were strangling her diaper, and she would have a very deep attachment to Matt and I.

So I think less about the sudden loss of then and more about what we're missing now and it's just too painful to casually speak about, so most of the time I avoid the conversation.

But I want to talk about her today because I think Jesus wants someone to hear this.

One of the extremely difficult things about receiving a poor diagnosis and prognosis while pregnant is that you have lots and lots of time to imagine your worst fear becoming true. Many pregnant women fear losing their baby but I not only had that fear but a high probability of it happening. In fact, in that final week before we went in for that last ultrasound at 30 weeks I had, up to that point, never been so undone in my entire life. I felt like I was losing my mind to fear and subsequently, anger.

The day before that last ultrasound I was so completely undone with pain and the fear of impending loss that I literally packed my sons up and drove to another town 45 minutes away because I felt like I had to escape my life. I really did. It makes me well up even now thinking about how desperate I was. I sat on a swing at a park with my sons and I couldn't stop the tears that flowed constantly that entire day because while I was in another town and was able to respond to the questioning passers-by with a soft, It's a girl, I hadn't escaped my reality at all. The fear and pain and anger followed me and cloaked me in the same way that feeling of loneliness had so many years previous in that airport.

I was angry with God, why He didn't heal. Why he had prepared my heart to lose her. It would be such a small thing for him. Please, God, hear us, heal her!

That evening, back in our home after a severe time of wrestling and tears and anger I finally, truly, yielded her life and my desires to God. It was a profound moment for me (and a story in itself) and a turning point in my faith. I chose to love him and trust him more than I wanted the deepest desire of my heart, the physical healing of my only daughter. I felt her kick one final time that night and the next morning when I woke up, I knew in my heart. She was gone.

Baby Grace in my belly.

Big brother love.

The pain I had felt the day before was nothing compared to what was coming.

But I had Jesus.

Part 2 to come.