I’ve Been in Pain

946770_10153542624579818_1936731990056128860_nIt’s been a long time since sharing my words in this setting. Too long. Its been an awkward enough pause to address it, but doing so is easier said than done. Some bloggers would suggest I call it a “sabbatical.” That’s really just a cop out at this point. Still others would counsel to have me point to my behind the scenes projects to show that I’ve been “in demand” and the brand is still thriving. And yes, I’ve been working furiously on the book and lining up my 2016 speaking engagements, but it’s certainly not what’s kept me away.

Here’s the unglamorous and totally truthful reality:

I’ve been in pain.

Some of it is physical pain. Many of you know I suffer from a debilitating pair of chronic health conditions called Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Fibromyalgia. Winter is the hardest time of year for both these conditions, as cold and flu season hit with a vengeance and cold weather is a known trigger for additional fibromyalgia pain – especially now that we’ve left mild CA for a state with an actual winter. We even had our first ever snow this year. The pain has been harder to tolerate than I’ve been used to, and our medical insurance situation last year left me unable to pursue any real forms of help. I’ve been fairly open about these issues on my social media accounts, and have appreciated the wonderful support Ive received from both my readers and and from fellow members of the spoonie community. And it would have been easy to enough to leave it there and accept all the good wishes and understanding emails of encouragement. But that’s not the whole truth…

I’ve been in pain.

I’ve been neck deep in pain that was difficult to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else. It’s a pain I’ve tried to rationalize myself out of, explain away, and stifle down it hopes it would disappear on its own. But as with most pain, it really doesn’t work that way. It’s continued on as this persistent ache, popping up at the most inopportune moments and gnawing away at my ability to ignore it. It’s not going anywhere, and the more I attempt to ignore it the more aggravated it becomes.

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I’ve been in pain.

At the beginning of 2015, in the midst of our multiple months of unemployment, my husband and I discovered we were very unexpectedly pregnant. It was quite the shock, and I would lying if I said it didn’t take some time to used to the idea. It was literally the worst possible timing, but it was far from unwelcome. We felt blessed to be experiencing the possibility of another miracle baby, one we had been discussing for some time but weren’t quite ready to take the leap to try for yet. That baby was a shining light in the middle of a dark season, a much needed anchor of hope to ballast us in the midst of so much uncertainty.

And then, after a longer than usual ultrasound with the nurse, the doctor said those horrible two words.

Not. Viable.

This marked the 7th child that we wont meet until eternity. A 7th precious little one with no birthday to celebrate, no future to plan.

I’ve been in pain.

12342486_10153485769759818_246129569753746655_nSoon after the loss,  my closest friend was blessed with her own unexpected surprise: a 4th little one to join her beautiful brood. It was a joy I admittedly have struggled to untangle from my own sorrow. The happiness I feel for her is authentic, but it’s difficult not to feel the pain of the could have beens. Up until now all our boys have been perfectly staggered in age. If I had carried my most recent pregnancy to term, this trend would have continued, but with the final pair being the closest in age of the bunch. We would have experienced our first pregnancy we’d actually get to do together. Watched the boys grow together. Done it all together.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps the hardest part of miscarriage is that the world around you goes on, and you carry no visible scar to help legitimize your pain. There isn’t a label such as “widow.” There is no grave marker to show. There’s no words to properly explain the gaping hole you know you’re walking around with but simply can’t find a way to show. You’re seemingly alone in it. – and no one knows, or they’ve all but forgotten.

I’ve been in pain.

They say, “time heals all wounds.” Has this ever really been true? If you leave a gaping hole in your leg untreated and wait for time to remedy it, does it really heal? Don’t you usually end up with gangrene? Why have we been taught to believe any different with invisible wounds? Why do we beat ourselves up when our pain doesn’t heal according to some fabricated timeline we’ve assigned ourselves? Why do we feel the need to limit the reaches of our grief? And how can we ever find healing for wounds we are so unwilling to admit, let alone treat.

I’ve been in pain.

1237591_10153541449494818_9191476745620302457_nMy best friend welcomed her 4th little guy into the family a couple weeks ago. He’s beautiful: perfect in every way. And with his birth, I was finally able to admit out loud to my husband for the first time whats really been paining me. Maybe it was the first time I was truly able to admit it to myself. I miss my baby. I miss what might have been. I ache to have a photo, or a birthday, or even a name for this perfect little person I haven’t been able to meet.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps finally admitting it is the first step to real healing. It stings like mad, but most wounds don’t heal themselves. And I refuse to ignore this one any longer.

Contentment Friday: A Meaningful Tradition to Replace “Black Friday”

Last year I was honored to share one of my family’s most important traditions on She Lives Free. This year I’d like to share it again in hopes that it catches on amidst the craziness of the ever more commercialized holiday season. 

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Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, and my laptop finally decides its long slow death march is finally coming to an end…  right as I sat down to make my deadline for submitting this very blog for publishing. Lovely. So we pile the family into the car and head over to Best Buy, to buy the family computer we were planning to acquire in the next week or so anyways. As we make our way to the front of the store, what should come into view? A line of patrons and their tents, already camped out for the upcoming Black Friday sale. My heart actually dropped in my chest. Really? THIS is what we’ve come to now? Not only are we opening more and more stores on Thanksgiving day and beckoning them away from their family tables with $9.99 Elmo dolls and discounted Playstations, now we are setting up metal crowd control fencing to contain the line of people camping out in a parking lot days before the sale even starts? It was all I could do but desperately hope my kids didn’t ask about what they were seeing, cause I was tempted to tell them that some very silly grownups were playing “lets pretend we’re on an explorer expedition” and had brought their fun campsite toys to add to the overall effect. And Im not sure how convincing that really would have been.

You see, my children don’t know about the insanity now known as “Black Friday.” Crazy, I know, but my husband and I made a choice some years ago that we would commit to abstain from Black Friday and the total circus it’s become. I hated the idea that we would gather over a Thanksgiving table on Thursday, and profess our great gratitude for all God has given us… and then run out the door so soon after in an panicked rush to “buy all the things!” It simply doesn’t compute for me. So we decided that Black Friday would cease to exist for us, and in its place a new holiday was born: Contentment Friday.

Contentment Friday isn’t just a sweet little term we’ve coined to excuse missing out on the cheapest shopping of the year. No, Contentment Friday is quite possibly second only to Christmas in terms of holiday importance for our little family. It’s a BIG deal around here. The basic premise is simple: in order to focus on our hearts and minds on the idea of contentment, we abstain from spending money in any way, shape, or form on that Friday after Thanksgiving, and we instead fill the day with family centered activities in our home. We stock up on all groceries and essentials in advance (to ensure we never have any reason for unexpected spending,) we block off the date on our work calendars as a holiday, and we prepare to spend the whole day celebrating as a family. This year will be no exception. We’ve bought cinnamon rolls to bake for breakfast, stocked up with some great new board game options, made plans to cook our favorite bacon appetizer and devour it during a family screening of Stars Wars: A New Hope (my 5 year old is especially excited about that one,) and we have all the supplies to bake sugar cookies to frost and decorate. We never feel like we’re missing out, because Contentment Friday is usually one of the fun filled days of the holiday season for us.

contentmentfridayquoteOn Saturday, we continue the fun celebrating our official opening day for the Christmas season. By abstaining from anything Christmas related while we’re still focusing on a season of gratitude and contentment first, we get to experience a whole day dedicated to welcoming the yuletide season into our home. This is the day each year when the Christmas tree goes up, the holiday music finally gets played, the decorations come out, and those great claymation classics like “The Year Without a Santa Clause” are screened. And Im pretty sure we drink more cocoa then the rest of the year combined. Best of all, our hearts are truly prepared for the fullness of Christmas’ joy because we’ve really given heed to the gratitude from which it springs. Simply by being intentional in recognizing all we have to be thankful for, we find ourselves content with the life we already lead, and this in turn births an abundance of joy in our hearts – the very joy that the Christmas season should ultimately be about: not a quest for more things, not a stressful march to simply get through this season with what sanity we can manage, but a season of joy to the world and peace to all men.

My heart’s dream would be to see Contentment Friday take hold in more families then just our own. Imagine the impact it would have on the retail world if even half of Black Friday demand just simply went away? There wouldn’t be a need for crowd control fencing or a website to track the Black Friday death toll each year (oh, how I wish that wasn’t a real thing,) and perhaps some stores wouldn’t even be able to justify calling in all those of employees away from their families without all these customers clamoring for their attention. Because the hidden truth of Black Friday is this – it’s not the retailers’ faults; we have nobody but ourselves to blame. If the demand wasn’t there, the stores wouldn’t have a reason to continue the craziness any longer. So the power is ultimately ours. Nothing battles the current of consumerism more than the value of contentment. When our hearts are focused on being content, we see the virtues of the life we already live and the numerous blessings we already possess – and suddenly no amount of discount seems high enough to give that up to go sleep in a Best Buy parking lot.

 

Terrorism, Tragedy, and the Autistic Child

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With the news from Paris on every channel and reports of horrible acts of terrorism splashed across every headline, the anxiety can weigh especially heavy on parents with small children at home. For parents of children on the autism spectrum attacks like these bring a whole wealth of additional challenges and considerations. My son Aidan, for example, has been able to read any newspaper headline with ease from about the age of 3, so shielding him from events of terror has been nearly an impossible feat. And since he is already prone to severe anxiety and oversized emotions, and both his age and his diagnosis cause him to struggle to understand complex social constructs like religious extremism or even politics in general? Events like these have the potential to rob him of much needed structure and security and plunge him into total chaos. Here are some valuable tips for helping these special kids cope with such difficult issues.

Resist the temptation to be anything less than honest.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of fudging the truth to keep our kids from their fears. Why not simply answer questions about unimaginable evil by somehow explaining it away all together? Although this tactic can buy some quick relief in the short term, it creates much bigger problems in the long run – especially with these children who often have extraordinarily gifted memories. Set a history now of being an honest communicator with your child when they have questions or concerns, rather than risk being permanently characterized as likely to offer less than truthful information.

Avoid offering extraneous details – stick to the facts.
Sure, we might see the clear connections between terrorism and religious extremism, or see how the history of US politics in the Middle East may contribute to modern day extremism, but is this all necessary information for a child who’s seeking to get their mind around some already complex ideas? When your child is presented with details of an attack or asks a question about something they have read or heard, its important to address only their specific area of inquiry and not offer any new information into the equation. Keep it simple, with age appropriateness in mind, and wait to see what their next questions may be before offering up new info unprompted. Your child may be satisfied with far less information than you think.

10173594_10152161556649818_2724005321082070142_nProvide safety in routine.
It can be tempting to try to appease difficult emotions with treats, privileges, or even easing off on normal requirements and expectations, but for the autistic child this can actually make the situation much worse. Provide comfort by sticking to familiar routines and predictable boundaries. When your child see’s that everything is still normal on the home front, it helps reinforce the idea that their world is still the same as before these terrible events, and that they don’t have to worry about total upheaval. Life will go on, and a strong routine is the best way to communicate this right now. 

Be vigilant about media exposure, but give yourself a huge measure of grace.
Children on the spectrum have a wide range of skills and areas of struggle, but many of these kids have hyperlexia, which is marked by not only unusually advanced reading abilities but a often a compulsion to read any and all written materials around them. It can be next to impossible to shield these kids entirely from events that are dominating the current news cycle. Give yourself grace and be prepared to answer any questions if and when they may arise. However, be aware of the media sources your child may come in contact with and take steps to filter them to the best of your ability. Avoid watching the news while your children are still awake, even if you think they aren’t paying attention. Don’t leave newspapers out or laptops open to newspaper websites. Ensure parental controls on computers, tablets, and/or smartphones your child may use keep news outlets from their access. I’ve even been known to flip over a copy of Newsweek or two when standing in the checkout lane, or hide them behind the Martha Stewart Living. You may not be able to shield them from the event entirely, but you can take steps to keep the coverage from being overly prevalent in their view.

Watch for nonverbal signs of anxiety
Even if your child has questions or concerns about events on the news, its not a given that they will verbalize them. Stay educated about various nonverbal signs of anxiety and keep an eye out for any new behaviors or changes to your child’s overall emotional state – even if you think your kids are still totally unaware. It’s impossible to know for sure what they may have overheard, seen in passing, or even been told by others, so never assume that the news isn’t playing a role in any behavior changes you might see.

Reach out to your resources and get support
Get in touch with your child’s teacher. Reach out to your ABA. Talk to your child’s counselor or psychologist – or consider contacting one if you don’t already see someone regularly. These issues can be extremely difficult to navigate, and it’s essential to have as many resources and tools on your side as possible. Build a support team around yourself and your child, and never hesitate to admit if you’re feeling out of your depth. It’s always ok to ask for help.

The War on Thanksgiving

War on ThanksgivingThe War on Christmas is getting its yearly spin in the news cycle, from the rampage over red cups to the horror over “happy holidays.” Every year these tirades take over our national dialogue once more; it’s as predictable as clockwork.

Yet we never hear about the War on Thanksgiving.

Where is the hashtag campaign complaining not that Starbucks isn’t Christmassy enough, but rather that its Christmassy the minute of Halloween’s end?

Where is the outrage that a holiday once hallmarked by a family gathered for dinner is now celebrated in the parking lot at Best Buy, holding place in the Black Friday line up?

Where are the news pundits railing about a national culture tearing away more and more at the traditions of a holiday we once held dear – a holiday once marked by conservative values like gratitude, contentment, and the closeness of family?

While the world is debating the merits of this supposed War on Christmas, Thanksgiving is waving the white flag and quietly succumbing to its defeat. And yet no one seems to care.

What can we expect to teach a generation who are growing up in a world where Thanksgiving has all but been replaced with a season that can only be described as “pre-Christmas?” How can we ask them to eschew a culture of entitlement when the Christmas toy catalogs are showing up the week of Halloween and commercials are beckoning them to make lists to Santa before the leaves have even left their fall branches? Are we really prepared to raise children in a culture where a season devoted to the art of gratitude has been replaced instead with a wanton consumerism that threatens to consume us all?

Instead of adding to the tirades about “holiday trees” and politically correct window displays, consider taking a stand instead for Thanksgiving. What better way to put Christ back into Christmas than to spend November focusing on gratitude and preparing our hearts for the season yet to come. The way to experience the fullness of Emannuel, God With Us, is to experience the season of anticipation before Christmas comes on the scene. Thanksgiving prepares us for the coming King – where hearts lined full of thankful prayers take the place of a manger filled with straw. When we skip over Thanksgiving, we find ourselves unprepared to receive the holy child, as if we have no room in the inn of our hearts and minds.

Forget the War on Christmas. Who will fight back for Thanksgiving?

I See Christ in the Red Cups

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In my humble blogger opinion, this year’s red cups are the MOST Christian Christmas cups Starbucks has ever designed.

Yes – you read that correctly.

I see a cup where they have stripped away all the snowmen and penguins in holiday scarves. Santa is nowhere to be seen. All of the holiday trimmings and distractions have been removed, and we are left with a blank slate. A simple cup of red, as bare and plain as the stable that housed the newborn Lord on Christmas night. Simplicity – a beautiful stand for the heart of Christmas in the midst of a world who seeks to distract us from that holy night.

I see a cup of scarlet red, like the saving blood of the savior who came to earth to die for the creation He desperately loved and pursued. Without the message of His death, we miss the purpose of His birth.

Most importantly of all, a cup that leaves room for everyone at the table is the very embodiment of what Jesus called us to be. We serve a Savior who called Jews and Gentiles alike, and who saved His scorn not for the people who represented a different culture, but for those who misrepresented His. Jesus never commanded us to loudly fight for our rights as Christians, but rather he called us to lay down our own rights in the name of bringing the gospel to those who don’t yet have a place in His family.

I Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I see Christ in bare red cups.
#MerryChristmasStarbucks

I Speak for the Turkeys

Last fall I had the amazing opportunity to share my heart over on Delight and Be. As the calendar rolled over to the 1st of November this morning I found myself urged to share these same thoughts as we dive into the holidays once more. 

It was the day after Halloween and I found myself standing squarely in the middle of my living room letting out a silent scream. A Christmas commercial. Amidst the discarded hulk mask and superhero cape and the crinkled up wrappers from last nights snicker bar binge it was all I could do not to pull out my own hair and curse all things merry and bright. A Christmas commercial – heralding all that was snowy and shiny and on sale for only $19.99.

Im one of THOSE people, you know the type – we are the grinches who complain about the stores decorating too early or who gripe about Starbucks bringing out the red cups in November. Im the Scrooge who loudly declares a moratorium on any Christmas music while any of the leaves are clinging red and orange to their branches; the one who scares her children with threats of bad reports to Santa if they so much as think of starting their wish lists before the turkey and cranberry sauce have been reduced to leftover sandwiches. If you met me in November you’d be convinced that I had experienced some sort of horridly traumatic Christmas past that converted me into an avid rejecter of all things remotely yuletide.

Im going to steal a page from my children’s Dr. Seuss obsession and appropriate the catchphrase of the Lorax for a minute. Except instead of the trees? I speak for the turkeys. Now before you roll your eyes and click that little red x in the corner of this screen, let me clarify that Im not speaking for the turkeys in the picketing for PETA and buying a tofurkey sense. By all means, when it comes to turkeys go ahead and shoot ‘em, pluck ‘em, and roast ‘em up nice and juicy. Im allll for turkeys… when they are covered in gravy that is. Lots and lots of gravy. No, I speak for the turkeys as the adopted mascots of Thanksgiving, which in my humble opinion is the single most important holiday of the year – and also the most under appreciated.

I will go so far as to say that without a Thanksgiving we absolutely unequivocally wouldn’t have any Christmas at all. Aaannnd I know what you’re thinking: she’s gone and lost it now. The baby Jesus couldn’t be laid in His manger and the shepherds wouldn’t hear the angels sing unless… the pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and had a feast with the Indians?

Yep.

Well, sort of.

Ok not at all. But there IS a point to my madness, I swear.

Image Credit: Grace & Salt

You see Thanksgiving is a holiday that boils down to only one thing: gratitude. Underneath the turkeys and the pilgrims and the bundles of wheat on our perfect Pinterest mantles, Thanksgiving is in its simplest form is an entire season wholly dedicated to stepping back from a culture that’s saturated with discontentment and an all out pursuit of more for the sake of more, and calls us instead to look at the abundance we have already been blessed with and utter a prayer of gratitude for having more than we could possibly deserve. Thanksgiving is a season of “thank you’s” in a world of “but I want more’s.” It’s the epitome of counterculture at its finest.

And when the final bite of stuffing is consumed and the last piece of turkey has been placed in the final leftovers sandwich, a new season emerges: Christmas, the season of joy to the earth and goodwill to all men. And its here that we find the thread that seamlessly pulls us from one holiday into the next: because the root of our joy? It has to be gratitude. Without the fertile fall season of gratitude we can never reap our Christmas’ joy. For Christmas depends on Thanksgiving the same way the crops in the fields depend on nutrient rich soil and abundant rains to bring them to life for the harvest. It is only in a heart of gratitude that the seeds of joy can take root, and its only by watering them regularly with prayers of thanksgiving that joy can thrive and grow bring forth something new and beautiful in our lives.

To truly receive the joy of Christmas it is essential to dive in fully and embrace the season of Thanksgiving with our whole hearts. To begin to make room for the presents the yuletide season brings, we must first spend time emptying ourselves onto the altar of gratitude, recognizing the overabundance we’ve already been given. For it simply wouldn’t be Christmas without Thanksgiving. The world around us may try to hurry us along, beckoning us across its ramshackle bridge straight from the halloween candy right into a Christmas tree farm and long lists to Santa. Don’t go my friends. Take the long way – under the falling leaves of red and orange, through the fields of golden wheat being brought in for the harvest, and by the long table of abundance shared with those we hold most dear as we remember the incredible blessing of even having these people to walk life’s journey with. Take a stand against the “Christmas Creep” and build up those boundaries around a season increasingly taken for granted. Speak for the turkeys.

And don’t forget the gravy.

Apologizers Anonymous

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Hello my name is Stephanie.  And I’m sorry.

Bob Goff loves to tell his readers that they should quit something every Thursday. It’s a powerful concept really: intentionally looking at yourself each week and trying to identify something that’s holding you back, bringing you undue stress or guilt, or otherwise just doesn’t need to be part of your life anymore. So when a post from Bob showed up in my Facebook feed last night asking what I was going to quit? I took a pause and gave it a thought.

And then I had the essential come to Jesus moment of any addict. The scene where I said, “Whoah. I have a problem. An apology problem.”

It’s often the butt of jokes  – my husband jokes about it, my mom jokes about it, a number of my close friends joke about it. I say “sorry” so many times in a day it’s enough to make your head spin. Preemptive apologies. Apologies for things totally out of my control. Apologies for things no one noticed or cared about. There have even been multiple occasions where someone has called me out for apologizing so much – and I have responded by apologizing for apologizing. Thats right ladies and gentlemen, I even say sorry for saying sorry too much.

They say the first to recovery is to admit you have a problem.  Im pretty sure your step two involves a meeting somewhere with free coffee and maybe even a donut. Im kind of hoping I get a donut. Once you get past the donut step though? I’m admittedly pretty clueless as to what comes next. I feel like this is the part where someone should be assigning me a sponsor. Someone I can awkwardly call in the middle of the night and say “I’m so sorry for waking you but…” Of course then they’d have to call me out on my whole opening the call with the apology thing, and the whole call would likely just devolve from there. I’m pretty sure any sponsor of mine would go nuts pretty quickly. Folks there is NO amount of free donuts that is fair compensation for my unique level of crazy.

And yet I’m still feeling like it’s time to take up Bob’s challenge. It’s time to quit with all the sorries. The apologies I do make would likely be far more meaningful if they were rarer, if they were reserved for things that were truly deserving of my remorse. Yes, I’m fully aware how hard this habit will be to break.  I expect at some point to have friends and readers call me out for not successfully keeping to this goal, and my response will most likely be to apologize for it. I’m in deep y’all. So deep. But it’s still worth a try. It’s a habit I recognize impedes my ability to be my best me, and to confidently embrace my worth. So I’m standing up behind the podium of my blog, in this wonderful support group meeting we all call the internet, and I’m saying to you all:

Hello, my name is Stephanie. And I am so sorry for always saying sorry. Wait, sorry for that, cause that was me saying sorry again. But so was THAT. Sorry. I mean… ugh. Ok. Not saying sorry anymore. Sorry this is coming out all jumbled. I mean I’m not sorry. Sorry. Crap. ………. Did anyone bring donuts?

A Postcard from the Muck

  
I dont think I’ve ever sat down to write a more difficult post. Or a more necessary one.
There will be no fancy formatting, no pretty pictures, and no perfecty designed pinnable graphic with a carefully selected quote from the writing. Just words, in their truest and most naked form, slowly trickling from my keyboard and taking their places is neat rows across the screen. I feel a bit like a singer who tells the band to put down their instruments and steps up to the mic with a single guitar.

I’ve missed you dear readers. Its been a long summer that somehow bled over into the fall and made it harder and harder to get back to business the longer I was away. In the beginning it started as Aidan finishin out Kindergarten and coming home for the summer. And for all the ways he has so dramatically grown and thrived this first year here (and I promise, I have an entire post coming down the pipeline dedicated solely to an Aidan update,) it had also grown really clear he desperately needed some hands on love and attention this summer. And so I stepped quietly back from the keys, temporarily let go of the thing I worked so hard to build, and trusted that God would reward the choice to put my most important job first for awhile.

It was a beautiful summer and Aidan is absolutely better off for that choice. But somehow in the crevices of my mind the lie started to creep in: you’ve lost your blog. You worked so hard and now you’ve burned out and fizzled into nothing. Your readers have all lost interest and left. You wrecked it.

Little by little the lie took root and the anxieties grew. It became a more and more difficult task to sit down and face that stark white page with nothing but a blinking cursor waiting for me to say something, anything at all. Even if I could manage to type some words, the reality of the editing, and the formatting, and designing graphics, and social media cross promotion – all the “shoulds” of a strong professional blog – it was overwhelming. The longer it went on, the more difficult a return became.

And then came the BIG curveballs.

Major flares of my health conditions. A schedule packed with meetings for Aidans IEP and other educational needs. Kidney stones. A double kidney infection. All sort of reasons to excuse myself from my calling and retreat to the couch defeated.

So there I lay, on that couch, right in the thick of the muck. And nobody wants to hear from somebody in the muck. No, we want a recovery story! We want our bright and shiny heroine to return from her struggle and tell us all about how it was and about the glory of it defeat. So I kept waiting for the victory to come, so I could be worthy to sit in front of these keys and speak to you once again, all bright and shiny and new and full of wisdom and DIY tutorials.

But the hits kept coming. And the muck kept stinking.

And somehow the calling kept aching. That part of my soul that says “Child of God I created you a storyteller. I formed you in your mothers womb with a purpose, and that purpose calls you to write, and speak, and share. You are a truthteller, no matter what other design you may try on or attempt to squeeze into or hide behind or even convince yourself you’re trapped under. You are still, at your core, what I created you to be. And you can’t run from that.”

So, dear readers, this is my postcard to you. Greetings from the muck. I’m here, not shiny, not new, and not entirely sure of how this season of life will play out. But Immeasurably More is still true: He still gives good and perfect gifts, Immeasurably More than whatever I could ask for or even imagine in the first place, even if its hard to see laying on this couch surround by perscription bottles and discarded piles of plans and “should haves.”

But there’s one thing I no longer keep on this couch with me: the lie that it would be better to share nothing than to share anything less than I’ve come to expect of these posts. That lie has been thrown right out into the trash. That lie has been carried all the way to the dump and incinerated. 

This is the first post Im writing from my new couch office – a refurbished ipad, a special keyboard case to essentially convert it to a laptop, and soon there will even be a lapdesk. Im going to get back to the business of who I was created to be, because even covered in muck Im still that same creation. Its time to get back to the heart and soul of who I was created to be as an author. Its time to recognize that sometimes when that singer steps forward away from the band, and the lights go down, and we hear those first bare and naked sounds of a voice quietly singing out, clear and uninumbered? We hear with our hearts, we’re moved in our souls, and something magical happens.

Im ready to step up to the mic again, even if some of these songs have to be unplugged.

Greetings from the muck. I’ve missed you.

What Does the Josh Duggar Dialogue Say to Assault Victims?

Duggar Assault

When I started this blog, I had decided that I never wanted to write this post. Hot button topics? Politics? Debate? This was never going to be that sort of blog. There was enough internet commentary already, and mine wasn’t going to be that sort of place. And yet I’m sitting here in front of the screen, writing my first post back after a month long hiatus of sorts, and never in a million years did I expect THIS to be what I needed to write. But for the million and one blogs and articles dissecting the recent Duggar scandal from every angle and point of view, one was glaringly missing to me: and it’s the one I simply can’t allow to remain silent. Am I concerned about the potential loss of readership? Of course. But some things are simply too important to remain silent about. Someone has to speak up for those who can’t always speak for themselves. So bear with me dear readers. I promise, this will not be a heated debate or rehashing of the same rhetoric you see all over social media and the blogsphere. If you would give me a few minutes and an open mind, I want to give some thought to the people who are being given the least attention right now in this whole sensational media explosion – the victims of sexual assault.

What exactly does our public dialogue about Josh Duggar say to victims: both his own victims, and all victims of sexual assault by a family member or friend? As I read post after post, status after tweet, and all manner of debate and discussion about what and who is to blame, I can’t help but read each of them through the eyes of assault victims. I see some common themes and phrases popping up repeatedly in response to the all out attack the Duggar family is supposedly facing right now, and I wonder how many people have really asked themselves what they are communicating to assault victims with their words? Let’s take a closer look at four of the more prevalent messages I’m seeing.

He sought forgiveness and repented, and became a great person, so why is everyone trying to destroy him over a past mistake?
A common theme to some of the defenses of Josh Duggar seem to be that he’s a good man, a family man, with a wife and kids who depend on him, and that coming after him is vindictive and cruel. There are many who would frame the dialogue to make Josh a victim in his own right: coming under fire from an out and out attack by the progressive left. Over and over I hear messages of sympathy for a man who’s built a wonderful life for himself and his family and is now being senselessly dragged through the mud when he’s already repented and apologized. But what does this dialogue say to victims of sexual assault, especially those who experience their pain at the hands of someone they know and quite possibly even love? The heartbreaking message we are sending them is that if your abuser apologizes and seeks your forgiveness, its unfair and purely vindictive to seek meaningful legal consequences for their actions.  If Josh Duggar is being unfairly persecuted despite his apologies and remorse, what does that say to a young victim who is struggling to decide whether or not to potentially “ruin the life” of her family member by reporting them to authorities? How much harder is it for a victim to knowingly send a long time friend and mentor to jail when they are being bombarded with messages about how believing in the power of Gods forgiveness means accepting a heartfelt apology and not destroying the life of a “good person” over a “mistake.” It is difficult enough for many sexual assault victims to seek justice in their cases because they already struggle with the complexities of feeling both love and pain towards the same person in their abuser, so in adding this extra layer of confusion how many victims might we be ultimately silencing? How many will now tell themselves that the “right” thing to do is accept an apology and move on without justice?

“How can people call him a child molestor when he was just a child himself!” / “He was so young! It wasn’t a crime, it was teenage mischief!”
This has got to be one of the most damaging pieces of rhetoric I have seen making the rounds. What are we saying to countless sexual assault victims when we write off these crimes as “teenage antics?” What are we saying to them when we publicly declare that Josh was simply too young to be held accountable for any sort of real crime? So if a young girl’s abuser is also another teenager, does this in fact negate the crime? Are we telling her that no crime has actually occurred at all, thereby stripping her of her victimhood? How can a nice girl from a nice family hope to report a sex crime when she is met with the idea that it wasn’t really a crime at all but teenagers fooling around with their sexuality? Furthermore, as the mother of two boys I see a big part of my job as teaching them that they have responsibility for their choices, and about the importance of consent in regards to sexuality. This dialogue certainly flies in the face of that message. If Josh Duggar didn’t commit a crime and was just “exploring” or “curious,” what terrifying messages does that send to our sons about both consent and personal responsibility? If that 14 year old can’t be held responsible for his sexual actions, what does that say to my boys about theirs?

“It was 12 years ago! Why bring it up now? He shouldn’t be defined by a mistake from so long ago.”
Easily one of the most common themes permeating the dialogue right now is the idea that this was all ancient history and it serves no good to bring it up now. Are we ready to look assault victims in the face who are 10, 15, even 20 years beyond their ordeals and tell them that it’s all “water under the bridge” and that any pain they still feel is simply outside the bounds of normal? Are we willing to place limits on how long they can relive the trauma, how big the lasting effects can be, or how much they are even allowed to claim their crimes have effected them? And what of women who simply weren’t ready or able report their crimes years ago, but wish to step forward now and seek whatever justice may be left? Are we willing to tell them there is a time limit not only on the reaches of justice but the length of our sympathies? Why report a decades old crime when all you will be met with is tales of what a nice guy your abuser grew up to be and how it was all so long ago its simply not worth bringing up. It also begs to question whether we apply this same standard to ALL sexual offenders. Should we remove all sex crimes from a criminal record after a decade has past? Perhaps we should lift the ban on former offenders being teachers, childcare workers, etc. After all, we are claiming we shouldn’t define them by a past mistake right? Are we ready to abolish the sex offender registry and forgive all past offenders as easily as we are expecting the world to forgive Josh Duggar?

“This is a liberal attack on the Duggars, because they are such great Christian role models.”
I’m going to make a heartfelt plea to my fellow believers on this one: guys, we have GOT to stop saying this. Think this one through. Do we really want to send the message that reporting the crimes of any of our own is going to met with the overwhelming response that this is unfair persecution and simply the attack of some sort of liberal agenda? Do we want the world to see us as a church body that will stand by its own at all costs, even if it means defending a child molester because he’s such a “good guy?” I understand how hard it is for many of my faith to feel like the world is out there just looking for a way to take us down. I understand we’ve been told that the media is out to discredit us all and seeks our demise. And I will even admit that whoever brought this recent scandal to light probably had less than saintly motives and that yes, there are plenty of people out there who are doing a victory dance on the Duggars’ perceived grave. BUT, and this is a big but y’all, does that really and truly justify going out there and portraying Josh himself as the victim in all this? And more importantly, what do you think we are saying to victims of sexual abuse when we show them that the church is quite possibly going to close ranks and protect their own if someone wants to call out an abuser in our midst? How many girls sitting in our own pews right now are getting the message that if they somehow muster the courage to admit someone in our congregation has assaulted them, that they might just find their attacker painted as the victim and see themselves be hung out to dry for attacking such Godly upstanding men of character? An overwhelming majority of sexual assaults already go unreported, and sadly this is already the main reason why: it’s hard enough to hope that adults are going to believe you when you are young, but it’s exponentially harder when the person you stand to accuse is seen as an upstanding citizen and person of faith. We as a church have a responsibility to sexual assault victims everywhere to make a very public stand: we will not protect or support criminals in our midst. We will not write off accusations against as our own as merely “spiritual warfare” or “liberal agenda.” We will not close ranks when we feel slighted. We we always first and foremost stand for VICTIMS. Period.

The Biggest Lie We Believe

I hear it time and time again from people I care about: the insidious little lie that wriggles in and sets up root in our hearts and minds, gradually pushing everything else out as it grows, until finally we let it become so large that it stifles out any semblance of quality of life. This one lie takes away our ability to thrive and convinces us its all we can do just to survive. It makes the days drag on long, but makes the years fly by too quickly. It convinces us to trade up our passions and priorities for the mindless fodder of just getting by. It destroys us from the inside out, and we don’t even know it’s there.

My friends, it’s time we stand up once and for all the lie of completion. It’s the idea that if we just get the right ducks in a row, if we can only get our circumstances up to that certain level of security, if we can just reach those particular goals and cross those certain checkpoints – THEN we’ll have the chance to really live our life; THEN we’ll have our joy. Once it’s all complete, then we can finally get down to the rest.

How many years of my own life were wasted to this lie! How many moments did I spend surrendering my joy, convinced it all hinged on the ever shifting circumstances around me, circumstances all too often out of my control. It’s a horrible feeling when you finally bring your head up for a moment, reflect back on the years you’ve just left behind, and wonder to yourself what you really DID with them, and where they had gone to. When you look back and wish you had made more memories instead of plans, more “remember that times” instead of “someday whens.” And yet all too often we stand there, reflecting on time wasted and chances lost to us, and simply return our head down to our work – convinced ever still of the lie that there will be time for those things eventually, after we reach all the “whens” and “if onlys” in our path. We return to our toil, watering and tending the lie as it chokes the life out of each of our dreams, and robs us of all but the hope of the eventual completion – when we can finally put down our tools and set about the business of living.

The secret is that completion doesn’t exist on this side of eternity. It’s the most insidious of lies, because we’ve accepted it for truth for simply so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it. We’ve based so many of our choices, so much of the framework of our day to day, that if we suddenly let go and admitted it isn’t true? We’d have to change the very way we live. We’d have to accept the harrowing reality of the time wasted, the priorities skewed, and the years spent working towards a goal that ultimately proved to be a futile illusion like an oasis in the desert – as unreachable as it is imaginary. It would in so many ways be earth shattering, forcing us to begin anew with a transformed perspective on what this life is ultimately about.

And yet, it’s the only way we can begin to have what is it we’re ultimately after. Letting go of the lie is the only way to find the freedom to thrive.

The freedom to put our families before our employers.

The freedom to spend a day making memories instead of making to do lists.

The freedom to create a line item in our budgets for “marital enrichment,” to tell ourselves that taking those trips together should be as big of a priority as any other bill on the list, even on the months where there isn’t enough to go around.

The freedom to let go of the job with the great paycheck for the one with healthy work/home boundaries.

The freedom to live in the right now instead of the someday when.

The freedom to put that unexpected $500 towards a family vacation instead of into the 401K.

The freedom to use the good sheets, burn the good candles, and wear your best perfume for Saturday morning errands – because TODAY is special.

The freedom to tell ourselves each and every day that THIS is our life, and tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.

The freedom to thrive instead of just survive.

This isn’t simply a call to live extravagantly, ignore our means, and burn our budgets. Hear me when I say that there is a place for planning and that real life comes with real responsibilities. If you don’t pay the electric bill, they will turn your lights off. No, letting go of the lie of completion simply means giving up the idea that someday we’ll meet the elusive goal of total security. It’s letting go of the belief that someday we’ll reach a place where there wont be anything else more deserving of our time or our resources, and we’ll finally live happily ever after. It means recognizing that priorities don’t happen unless you MAKE them happen, and that every day we are asked to use our time and our money to demonstrate just what those priorities really are. It means that dedicating every cent of our resources, and every hour of our week, towards creating an incredible retirement some day? That means choosing to give up the time we have right now in favor of the hopefully someday – a someday we are never guaranteed to reach.

In essence we’re all playing the gameshow of life, and you have a choice: to walk away with all the cash and prizes you’ve won, or you can trade them for the mystery prize behind door number two. Sure, the mystery prize could be a trip around the world and a brand new car… or it could be a years supply of toilet paper. You wont really know until you open the door, and once you do it’s too late to go back. Is it worth the risk? How much are you willing to give up for the hope of possibility alone? What if today was your last? What if each and every day we framed our outlook with the reminder that people die, economies crash, and the unexpected happens, and all of our best planning simply cant control the future. Would it change the way you live? Can we really afford to give up the here and now, the time with our families, the chance to make the memories and have those experiences, and trade it all for nothing more than a hope of a maybe?

Give up the lie of completion.

Let go of the hope that someday it will all come together and you can start living your life.

Give up on chasing the elusive dream of a finished check list – a world where there is nothing more demanding of your time and resources and priorities stop requiring a choice.

Give yourself permission to live right now.

Grab on to today and make it count.

Prioritize the here and now.

Put your time and your money into what matters to you most.

Store up your treasures in heaven instead of your 401k.

Make memories instead of plans.

Stop choosing the mystery door.

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