Adventure Magnet

Yesterday was my last day at a job I have really loved.

Sure, I frequently wished to dispose of a few of my colleagues in an untidy fashion but it has taught me that I can in fact work quite productively with people I’d rather see as lawn ornaments.

I learned I can work side-by-side with handsome thirty-something chaps and realize my husband is the most adorable of all, which would never have happened in my twenties, or marriage number one.

I stretched my brain a  little and my patience a lot.

I learned how to negotiate from the master of negotiation. I think I taught him a little about being less obvious about it. I learned that it is okay to be tough and a girl at the same time. And I got things my way, a lot.

I learned that my transferable skills are not what I thought they were, they are better than that. I learned that most people can’t do what I can do. I learned that the more I respect what they can do, the more they will do with excellence.

It’s not okay to cry at work, so if you cry a lot, it is time to move.

And that is just what I have done. Monday starts a new adventure.

So today I agreed with the Handsome One that I would go skiing (history of some trauma and drama there). I am the lodge-sitter and snack-dispenser and I have chunks of time to read my Bible and talk to people.

Not today.

Today, Handsome, who is an expert ski bunny, fell over the little one and ripped the patootie out of his knee. Badly. Crying badly. Not his usual thing.

So we had a race-car ride to the little dinky mountain village hospital, then another one home to call Doctor friend, and another race to next big town to see orthopedist and another race to get the MRI. I’ve never seen an MRI.

Considering I just learned some new things about my gifts at the women’s retreat (the same one I did nto want to attend), I stayed right beside him and alternated between admiring the HUGE machine and laying on hands. It was awesome and could only have been more awesome if it had not been a family member in the MRI.

My children were uninjured. Blessing number 1.

My husband will be at home (albeit not in ideal circumstances) so my nanny’s hours aren’t a stress source my first week at work. Blessing number 2, although I’d rather have the knee intact.

All the doctors we needed to find were RIGHT there, even Dr. Friend, who never works on Wednesdays and amazingly was in the office on Wednesday and has an orthopedist right down the hall. Blessing number 3, a big one.

We got all the last appointments of the day. Blessing number 4.

Our friends could take our kids. Amazing Proverbs 31 friend FED them and entertained them and returned them here. BIG blessing number 5. What amazing friends we have.

Husband is sleeping under the influence of three Advil and an exhausting day, having fretted about everything he can’t do for the next couple of months. But he is Polish and I have learned Eastern Europeans do that, it is how they process. By Friday, he will be ready to talk about what he CAN do, not fixate on what he can’t. But for now he is sleeping.

I do not have to be up this late, but my mind is at rest. This is the most amazing of all. We were under attack for the court stuff this week, my husband has a major injury, my job situation is changing and I’m…resting. This is possibly the biggest blessing of all.

Selah. My times are in YOUR hands.

The Fear Fortress and the Money City

This Lent, I intentionally tackled one of my strongholds (meaning one of the things I couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of to make myself more useful for God) – anxiety over my children. I realized that this was a form of insisting on control, and it was motivated by all the fears and horror I experienced as a victim of domestic violence. Now that I’ve been free from the violence for ten years, wasn’t it time to also let go of the fear that had remained, as an excuse, a crutch and a bad habit?

I am not suggesting that I am 100% of anxiety, but forcing myself to let go of the constant worry surprised me with how easy it was once I was firm with myself. I am convinced that God asked me to do this specifically, because this Easter my daughter refused to go on her access visit and we had to fight to keep her here. Once I was finished being irritated that my former husband had brought his lawyer to a handover, I realized the entire incident had passed with no fear on my part. Amazing and wonderful!

So the other area where I have been working consistently with God is money.

Growing up in a very comfortably affluent family ensured that I had no concept of money, and I never had that intuition of how much money I had, or didn’t have. My first husband had total control over our finances as part of his campaign of terror, so I didn’t learn then either. Second husband grew up poor but earns a large salary now – so he has a very conservative attitude towards money that I have learned to respect and imitate.

But three years ago, my husband lost his job and so he went through a time of extreme money anxiety despite having very healthy savings and a large severance. I didn’t understand his fear but felt anxious myself when he got a great new job, and then since I was also working, decided what he would pay for and left the rest to me. I struggled mightily and just did not have enough money for everything I was supposed to cover.

I am still working on the resulting credit card debts, but they are shrinking more and more every month. I am grateful and thankful that I got myself into limited trouble, but the dollar amount doesn’t matter, it is the attitude behind it.

I used to love to shop, ALL the time. Now that I’m no longer a size 8, I don’t like shopping for me as much but I love to dress my children. I realized part of the issue wasn’t the unfair allocation of expenses, it was also shopping for my children and my inability to keep up with the small change (like work lunches and subway tickets).

I have been blessed with more funds as I’ve learned to take better care of them. I have also learned that God communicates very clearly with me on this one.

There will never be a parking space near the store if I’m on a frivolous errand.

There will be no sales if I am looking for something I don’t really need or am about to overspend purchasing.

There will be no cute clothing for my kids in the same situation.

If my proposed purchase is okay, there will be a great parking spot, lots of sales and plenty of cute things.

Once, my card didn’t work in the machine when I was on a frivolous errand.

My challenge now is to learn when it is “okay” to get something that maybe isn’t 100% need, but would be helpful to have (I just bought some new work shoes, my one pair of flatties was dying a death and I only have one pair of heels). They were half price. So by waiting I got two shoes for my initial budget I’d allocated for one pair. Thank you God for letting me have some pretty new shoes!

And it isn’t hard to see when He’s giving me the okay to proceed – my Easter dress this year was $4, for example. Once I put back a $12 sale dress that I just didn’t think He was keen on and later the same day I went to a thrift store and bought a much cuter designer dress second-hand for $3. Thank you God, for bargains and for not losing patience with my cluelessness.

It has taken nearly the full three years for me to begin grasping the central teaching and attitude God is working on with me – it isn’t the price of the clothing, or even how much money I have. It is my desire and my motivation for shopping, and my willingness to let Him run my bank accounts, not me. GIVE he will tell me and I’ll think, but that will take a huge chunk from my account. GIVE he will ask me again, and I will do it and then find I have more than enough to complete the time to my next paycheck in security. He doesn’t want me to suffer, he just wants me to treat it like His money and use it wisely.

I was talking to one of my closest friends last night and telling her about the system, and she laughed. She buys very high end things for her kids (eight of them, five still at home who need dressing) – so she can spend $100 on a dress for one daughter. Clearly, stewardship and relying on God’s provision isn’t a struggle for her in the same way. One day I might get where she is, but right now, I’m happy with the parking and sale system.

I grew this Lent, and I’m sure that will mean there are new things to address in the upcoming months.

Beautiful Scars

Most of my scars are on the inside.

I had sections for all four of my children, so there’s that one (it gets re-opened and re-stitched every time, it’s pretty sturdy by now). I have the odd scar from my little brother throwing things and a few on my knee from a ski injury. But nothing you would notice if you met me.

I have bigger scars on the inside. I believe everyone my age has a bit of “emotional baggage” – meaning experiences that weren’t especially positive that we either learned from or suffered from, depending on your attitude. I survived an abusive husband, a pregnancy when he threatened the life of the baby, fleeing to the US (home from London) with my daughter, facing charges of international kidnapping, a Hague Trial and a custody fight in the UK where the judge hated Americans. I lived through battle after battle for my daughter, as her father refused to accept the loss of his whipping girl, and the custody verdict and opened case after case after case in both the US and the UK. I’ve lost people I love too young, and my grandparents who were old when they died but it still felt too soon and one grandmother to suicide…probably. Maybe not.

And most women my age have the same experiences, or others as traumatic, to report by the time they are my age.

We spend a lot of money to hide our external scars. We buy make-up, we might have surgery, we really don’t want anyone to see them. I’ve historically been the same with my internal scars. So much so that I remember my mother telling me that people would like me a lot better if the knew I wasn’t perfect. I still get accused of being awfully together.

Well let me tell you!

I’m getting there. Slowly.

My six year old is super-coordinated for her age. She lands on her feet, like a cat. She rock climbs, she swims, she skis, she does gymnastics – she’s a little scary. Like a little spider. So I don’t worry much when she does gravity defying feats. She’s never really had an especially bad boo boo, praise GOD.

My son – a little younger – less coordinated. He’s rash, he can throw himself into a somersault at full speed and whiz around without his head or hands touching the ground, and he’s barely four (he started this at two). He had three visits to the ER within 3 months before his 2nd birthday.

So her first ER visit…when my son threw a scrap block of wood at her head during a rousing game of pirates. Big split. Straight to the ER.

My husband and I were both in the City, so we caught the first bus we could and raced to meet them in the ER. She saw me and smiled. “Mama, don’t be mad at him, he didn’t mean to.” Awed and amazed, the grace and forgiveness of a small person…Father forgive them, they don’t know what they do.

He didn’t get a punishment, he just got a discussion. He was devastated enough when we let him see the stitches, the scab, the scar. It’s there, under her new bangs. It’s small and it healed well but she now has a scar, not of her own making. Just like me.

She loves it! She can talk to all the less whizzy kids about her scar, and share stories and it’s like a playground trophy. She has more street cred. She looks like the tough kid. She thinks this is great.

Our bishop told us during one of his recent sermons, the only man-made things in Heaven are the scars on Jesus.

Wonder why God left them there, when he surely and certainly did not have to?

Could it be that He knew we’d relate to Jesus better with the signs of suffering, just as they were? That we would put our hands in the wounds, like Thomas, and say, yes you do understand. You have been there. You’re like me that way.

I am challenging myself to show my scars in the same way. It’s really hard for a perfectionist who has spent 99% of her life as a cute blondie. Not easy to show the less than perfect stuff, admit the mistakes, share the pain. It hurts. I re-feel some of it every time. But I’m a witness to healing and strength and presence – only when I share. Only when I show the scars.

I’d miss out on opportunities to witness to other women and girls who are where I’ve been. If they can’t see my scars, do they look at me and think, she can’t relate to my abusive husband, to my anxiety over my kids, to my pain and loss? Do they think, God doesn’t want me until I’m all figured out like that?

Well, I’m a work in progress. The nice thing about being maybe one or two steps ahead is that you are still close enough to reach back and offer the next girl a hand. You can hold her hand and walk with her a little bit. I sure had my hand held during my journey, and I wouldn’t miss the chance to experience the joy of help, freely given, sorely needed and the joy of seeing a sister raised up. Praise God for scars, and for giving me the courage to show them.

Other People’s Pain

Driving home from visiting another office, that Stephen Curtis Chapman song about his daughter came on the Christian radio station I like for that stretch of road.

Six months ago, I would have immediately switched the station. But since  it’s Lent, and I’m giving up anxiety about my children, I listened. Of course, that means I listened AND cried.

My fears and anxiety have bordered on pathological – listening to a song about a child who was killed in an awful accident, I was convinced, would endanger my children to the same thing. After all, my kids are sometimes in the driveway (or on planes, Portuguese resorts, by windows or wherever the news story or song placed the doomed child). I would think, not my child, please not my child. Pathological? For sure. Unfounded? Oh yes. And not very compassionate towards the victims or those suffering loss and pain.

It wasn’t just the music or the news, though. Recently, one of the deacons challenged me to step out and not be afraid to minister to other women. That I shouldn’t doubt my ability to reach them. I wondered at the choice of the word “fear” but I think I get it now.

Compassion can be painful. It means opening your old wounds just enough for the other person to see them, and feeling some of their pain too. Listening to music or news stories invites compassion (a little more remote, but the same thing). It’s painful. You experience a little of the pain in the story or song, and then I guess it’s human nature to project that into “what if that happened to me”. Sharing and ministering is painful on a different level – “this has happened to me and I’m going to relive it a little with you”.

But what I noticed was that yes, I did experience some of the pain, but the fear subsided very quickly. My kids were home and safe. Mr. Chapman didn’t write this song to scare parents, he wrote it because he loves his daughter and he trusts God that he will see her again. Mr. Chapman wouldn’t want me or any other parents to be afraid. But I’m sure as a wonderful Christian, he’d like for us to trust God too.

Sunday, one of the young women confided in me that she has seen a dark figure lurking recently. She reaffirmed her faith a couple of weeks ago, and is really marching on the right track.  So much so, that I counseled her – Satan doesn’t like you being on track. You are a formidable woman of faith, and he knows you’re less danger to him broken and scared. So he’s going to bother you. If you weren’t formidable, and dangerous to him, he wouldn’t bother. I thought she should be encouraged – this is a sure sign the plans for her are important, and she has gifts that God plans to use. Plus the strength she will gain from this fight will serve her in later fights.

Aren’t we told we can heal and cast out demons in His name? Well, I told her, you are up to the fight with this demon, just don’t try to do it yourself. Let us help you, let God help you and fight it out. I am so impressed with her. She has come a long way in a few months. Of course Satan is getting antsy.

As I spoke to her, I felt chills up and down my spine. I sensed the warrior angel’s presence – the one I feel when I’m in court fighting for my daughter. He’s a real kick bot angel. He doesn’t mess around. I’m always overwhelmed with the urge to do a primal scream and fight when he’s around. Everything in me knew, this is what I’m supposed to be doing, sharing some of my strength to encourage this woman, who I love dearly, whose suffering was visible and tangible to me.

It didn’t hurt. God was right there with me.

The whole Broken Vessels thing suddenly made sense to me. That’s when the real tears started in the car  – Am I broken enough yet? I yelled at God. I wasn’t mad at him, but I just felt like I’ve had enough. I want my kids to be safe. I have had ten years of fear and anxiety and that’s plenty. I’ve had ten different flavors of stress, so much so that I think I can relate to pretty much anything another woman throws at me.

Broken enough in this case means trusting Him to take care of me, and of them, and venture out into the wilderness of other people’s pain. Yes, it is going to hurt. Yes, I’m probably going to cry from some of it. But I’m not doing this by myself. God is going with me, and he will make me strong enough.

My next thought: look out bad guys, a fierce Mama and a warrior angel are coming after YOU. God help me! And I know, I know, I know He will.

Unsweetened Lent

So this year for Lent, I’m giving up candy, cookies and cake.

I had a suspicion I was eating a lot more of all three things than I realized, and judging by the way my pants have been fitting I need to stop.

Only three days into Lent, and I hear the inner negotiations. Cinnamon rolls aren’t cake, or cookies,  so they are okay. Ditto yesterday’s hot fudge sundae. Toast slathered with strawberry jam isn’t cake or cookie, so it’s okay. Today’s thought: Amish Friend Bread, coated with glaze and beefed up with oatmeal, isn’t cake, it’s bread. So it’s okay.

What this tells me: I like sweets and I have trouble saying no to them.

The subtext, and what I think I should be getting out of this exercise: I am wretched at self-denial.

How many other things do I do that with? I am watching my spending so I have more to give our church…except for the $6 dress at Target. And the lunch I forgot to pack so I had to buy in the City ($9). It adds up. Just like all the sweet stuff.

So I see this is going to be a journey, like it always seems to be with me. I’m clearly not a fast learner in the spiritual realm. I have to ingest slowly. Process a bit. I’m going to work on being more aware, and progress to more control. I could use some generalized application in that area too – my words, my thoughts…I need to be aware.

So as I work to control my rampant sweet tooth, I’m hoping the ability transfers to a whole lot of other things. Not because I’m on a diet (although that wouldn’t go amiss) or because I’m worried about my health (I’m not really) but because I need to be more purposeful in my decisions and my choices. Catching myself red-handed negotiating over sweets is a good start.