Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Foolish and Ignorant Disputes

I never thought I’d argue with my children.  I always thought it was something I’d need to be the mediator for, but I have found that I all too often find myself needing a mediator myself! 
We usually see girls portrayed as the talkers and debaters.  In my home it’s the boys! My eldest son has a loophole for every situation, suggestion, comment, direction or command.  We’ve moved past the “Eddie Haskell” schmooze pro (mostly) to the persistent  Johnnie Cochrine type of debater (“if it doesn’t fit, you must equit”).  His arguments don’t always make sense and he may not be right but he’s “sure”and he’s prepared to “die” on many a hill to prove it.  "Wise Mama" tells me to listen but not engage.  Unfortunately Wise Mama all too often takes a quiet back seat to “Mama of Justice”.  Apparently Wise Mama likes the entertainment.  

I am a person who likes to come up with analogies.  Maybe that’s part of why I like to write.  What may be encouraging to someone outside of my home, I find, is completely lost on my children.  I suddenly step into the role of Perry Mason.  I have to not only present my case but stand in as jury in a trial of my making. 
My youngest son has a mouth that goes a million miles a minute.  He can lie in such a way it is almost believable.  He comes up with whole scenes and scenarios and background stories on the spot.  The hard part is that when he is stating his case he believes what he is saying.  Again, I engage because it is my job to bring understanding.  This time I am not an attorney I am the magistrate.  I try to hit the gavel and call him to order with my words.  I tell him I’m not going to argue to show him his efforts will bring no reward, but they do bring a reward.  The judge has engaged with the defendant.

What is a mama to do? 
But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. -2 Timothy 2:23-26

A mama is to avoid foolish and ignorant disputes.  That does not mean we let our children get away with whatever they want, but it does mean that we need to internally acknowledge the arguing for what it is, “foolish” or ignorant.  They do not have the life experiences to help them make clear rational decision or they may not understand what all has to be considered for their particular issue. 

A mama is a “servant of the Lord [who] must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition…” With our children I believe this means we need to listen so they know they are being heard and let them know we will consider what they have said and return to them with an answer.  I think a lot of arguing can be avoided by five simple words, “let me think about that”. Of course if they are asking to jump off the roof or play chicken with cars we need to give an immediate answer.  When my children attempt to argue after I have given an answer I try to listen and either remind them that I already gave my answer or say “I heard what you said, but my answer is still the same.”  Sometimes the listening does produce more information that may influence the decision.  But if I simply engage in a debate with my child I find neither of us really cares what the other is trying to express, we just want to be right…to be justified.
I have a wooden sign in my house that says, “It’s nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.”  That doesn’t just go for our children and their interactions with one another, it goes for us mama’s too.

Lord God, help me not to enter into arguments with my children but let me be calm and humble as I correct their errors.  It is so hard, Lord, to hold my tongue when my children argue.  Allow me to see the eternal picture and use my words sparingly and only in ways that will be beneficial for their godly training and for the salvation of their souls. Amen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Flee to Christ

No matter how many waves rise up in your soul, always flee to Christ.  The Savior will come to help and will calm the waves.  Believe that the Lord has providentially arranged your life for your healing; do not reject it and do not seek bodily rest and imagined peace.  It is necessary rather to be shaken and endure much.  If you will have a revelation, it will greatly ease your battle and you will have more peace than just by yourself.  ~St. Leo

When my youngest daughter was about 4 I had a panic attack.  I don't know if you've ever had a panic attack, but it's one of the worst feelings ever.  I got a sinking feeling that something was "wrong" and my body responded with an adrenaline rush which seemed to confirm the feeling.  I assumed I was just over tired or thought maybe I ate something that didn't agree with my brain.  I thought it was a one time thing.  It wasn't.

After a while another panic attack came.  Then another and another until it felt like my life was just riding the wave of panic. I wasn't my normal optimistic mostly happy self.  I was carrying a great weight and I didn't know how to get out from under it.  I felt like I was in a dark pit and couldn't see even a pin prick of light for a long time.  I wanted to "flee to Christ", but it felt like each foothold I discovered in that pit would melt away and I'd fall back down before I'd gotten far.  It was so hard. I listened to KLOVE and read the Bible but the "traffic" inside kept coming.   I took medication for a time and while that helped me to peep out of the pit there was still much work to do that the medication couldn't do for me (this is just my personal experience and not to say there is not a place for medication).

I battled with anxiety for two years. It took every bit of effort to be a wife and mommy.  When moments of peace came I was thankful, but I also questioned how long it would last.  I felt like a little girl clinging to the robes of Christ and dancing on His feet, because I didn't understand the rhythm of life anymore. 

My husband was the one who said the words that made all the difference.  "Don't focus on what you can't do, focus on what you can do."  The first thing I focused on was breathing in and out.  I can breathe.  I focused on driving or playing with my kids or singing or cooking.  Little by little I was able to focus on the "now" instead of the "what ifs". 

One of the things that impacted my life tremendously was going to my mom's church before we became Orthodox.  It was the Pascha service.  It was late at night and I stood there with my mom and two of my daughters.  That night was special for a number of reasons.  Spiritual reasons.  But that night my heart was blessed by words sung over and over again.  "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!" It was a declaration of truth.  It was triumphant.  It was bigger than my panic.  Then the priest would call out "Christ is Risen!" and the congregation responded "Indeed He is Risen!" They said it in English and Greek and Russian.  

When I went home that night my sleep was the most peaceful it had been in months.  It seemed every time a dream started to go in a negative direction "Christ is risen from the dead..." would be the reply and the panic was replaced with peace.  This went on all night.  It was as if my heart was standing guard over my mind. 

It was still a few months before I was finally able to stop the traffic.  I had been carrying a heavy weight for so long.  A lovely woman from a homeschool conference prayed for me and also helped me see I wasn't some freak for having panic attacks.  She reminded me of how the enemy of man's soul tries to isolate us and kick us while we're down.  She reminded me that thousands of mamas felt like they were all alone in the struggle of anxiety or depression.  I went to a quiet spot and prayed.  I noticed something.  The traffic stopped.  I had put up a road block so I could pray. It was only for minutes at a time at first.  I realized, by the grace of God, that I didn't have to respond to the traffic or reason with the traffic.  I could just put up a road block of silence and when the traffic tried to go around the road block I internally took on the role of Gandalf standing against the Balrog refusing to let the thoughts pass. 

Since making it to the other side of the battle I have learned a few things.  I figured out some of the "why" behind my anxiety (An attack on my mother by a stranger in the middle of the night when I was 3 and witnessed violence because I happened to be sleeping in her bed that night.  A grandmother who was chronically ill and on life support multiple times.  A car accident.) I learned how valuable that awful time was and that while I wouldn't purposefully choose it, I wouldn't trade it for the world because it made me rely on the Lord and it made me stronger.  I learned that anxiety is a weak chink in my armor and I have to avoid watching, reading or listening to certain things because I feel the sorrows/fears/hurts of this world so keenly.  I learned that the Lord is faithful and big enough and strong enough to handle everything.

If you, dear mother, are struggling, or have struggled, with anxiety or depression know that you are not alone.  Know that God has not lost sight of you.  And know that the Light is there even when you can't see it.

-Lord have mercy upon me.  My thoughts seem unyielding but I know you are more powerful.  Thank you that you have not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind.  Help me not to despair, but to draw closer to you.  Let me not forget the challenges of this world are great, but that you are greater still.  For You are Holy now and unto ages of ages.  Amen. 
-Oh Lord of hosts, calm my anxious heart. In Your love and concern for the salvation of my soul bring to mind your loving kindness and grant me Your strength to block out every thought or feeling that does not bring glory to you. Teach me to keep my mind in the present that I may meditate upon your goodness whenever I am assaulted by anxious thoughts. If I may not be freed from the anxiety plaguing me, let me continue to work out my salvation, know Your peace and trust You for each step heavenward. Amen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mercy for Mamas

In the book of Luke, chapter 8 verses 9-14, we read the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  In those days a tax collector was viewed sort of how we view the IRS.  They skimmed from the top and were not trustworthy persons.  The story tells us that these two men went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee prayed and thanked God that he was not like sinners, even (or maybe especially) the Tax Collector.  He proudly gave his credentials about how much he fasted and  how much he gave.  The Tax Collector, on the other hand, humbly cried out to God, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"

In the Orthodox tradition we say the Jesus Prayer, taken from this parable.  We seek the Lord's mercy on our lives by praying "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."  I think of the long bearded kind eyed monks with their 300 knot prayer ropes praying this prayer throughout the day and night.  I think of the nuns I was able to meet at St. Paisius Monastery who used this prayer to "pray without ceasing" as they went about their work.  The words just part of their breathing out and breathing in. 

As a mama my breathing out and breathing in consists of lots of directions, affirmations (at least I try), redirection and correction.  Some days it's hard to find a moment to pray and others it's hard to find the will to pray.  Just being honest.  But there is always "Lord have mercy".  When my children do something frustrating or my day feels overwhelming I can pray "Lord have mercy on me a sinner."  It is both a request for His mercy and a reminder to me of WHY I need His mercy...I am a sinner.  On good days I'm a sinner and on challenging days I'm a sinner.  His mercy is ever needed!

I've been working on doing this for a little while now.  If I am not praying for mercy for myself I can pray for mercy for my children or husband or friends. Do you know what I'm finding?  It is giving me that moment I am always looking for.  That moment to stop and turn my focus to the Lord and ask for His help instead of reacting to a situation.  Can you imagine how many emotional bumps and bruises might be avoided by praying that short prayer?  I pray the positive impact is great! 

The lives we lead as mothers and the asceticism we are practicing (or endeavoring to practice) in our own homes shows us our need for the Lord's mercy as we raise up the next generation for Him.  It reminds us to be honest about our lowly state and humble ourselves so we can accept His gracious and loving help.  His mercy is there for us right when we need it.  It was there for the humble Tax Collector.  It was available to the proud Pharisee.  And it is there for a mama like me.  Praise God!

O Holy Trinity, I come before you as the Publican (tax collector), acknowledging how unworthy I am of Your grace and mercy.  And while I know my shortcomings are great, I thank you that You love even me. I humble myself before Your throne and dare to ask that You bestow Your grace and Your mercy and grant me the courage to walk in Your ways.  For You are my God and to You I ascribe glory and honor in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Thing

As I have mentioned before, I have a particular child in my home who has a heavy burden to carry.  This child doesn't fully understand body language or facial expressions.  He doesn't understand his own emotions or much beyond "happy" and "sad", and even those emotions he gets mixed up sometimes.  Some days he seems to need to bounce his body off of everyone and everything to figure out where his body is in space and time.  Everyone and everything doesn't always appreciate this method.  His volume control button is broken...or perhaps we haven't found it yet.  If there is any sugar in the house he will do anything to get it.  He will wake up in the middle of the night and sneak and steal.  The results are evident hours later when he is unable to control his body.  It is like an addict looking for his next fix.  And he is not at all pleasant when on his "drug".  He becomes more physically imposing and louder.  But there is one thing...

Sometimes, when parents have children that excel at being over the top challenging, we have to find that "one thing" we can cling to that brings us hope.  With all the behavior we have to try and work throughout each day, my son can have a very giving heart when it comes to his money.  Last night he found some of his change left over from allowance.  He saw the little Food for the Hungry box we get at the beginning of each Lent (and generally don't turn in until the following Lent!).  He took his money and without hesitation put the rest of his allowance into the box.  He has taken toys and money his brothers leave out and tried to make them his own. He has shown up with things from school that obviously belonged to someone else just because couldn't control the temptation to acquire it.  He has NEVER tried to take money from that box.  He is always excited when he can add something to it and loves to pick it up to see how heavy it is getting.  

My child regularly brings me to tears because of his behavior, and even sometimes when I just think of the long long road ahead of both of us, but this time the tears were because of a sweet selfless gesture.  Sometimes it's that "one thing" that makes all the difference.