How I am rising above shame (and the winner of Fight Back with Joy)

The past week was full. Full of tears, grief, sorrow, and pain. Full of joy, laughter, hope, and excitement. Full of new people, new friends. Abundant. Overflowing.

At times I was overwhelmed, felt behind, wanted to crawl in a hole to sleep, because it was almost too much for this girl who gets over-stimulated. And in all of the goodness and pain (which are not mutually exclusive) I knew I had forgotten something.

fightbackwithjoyI forgot to announce the winner of Margaret’s book. (see below)

Now, this might be a small thing most people would not realize, but to me, in my desire to do things right, shame creeps in. Failure speaks: “You screwed up. Who do you think you are? How could you forget something like that?

I have a choice: I can either listen to the shame, absorb its message of failure, become paralyzed in guilt, horrified by remorse. OR I can accept my inaction. I can acknowledge that I did not follow through, apologize (I’m sorry, my friends, I am), forgive myself, and work to rebuild my integrity.

As I choose the second path, I also choose to see who I am. In the face of shame which puts me down, I can stand and acknowledge how God has built me up. This work is difficult when I am tempted to see only the negative in me. But God has created me and his works are wonderful. I am “wonderfully complex” (Psalm 139:14 NLT). I am vulnerable. I am strong. I am compassionate. I am loving. I am passionate. I am wise.

With humility I see both of my failures and my gifts. I offer them to God. Use them. May I be a blessing to someone today.

What is shame speaking to you, today? What is the truth about who you are? Hold them both in your hands before God. You are his masterpiece. He has created you to do good. And that work He has began in you? He will complete it. Amen.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

 


Thank you everyone who shared your stories of grief and joy on my blog two weeks ago. You blessed me with your truth.

The Winner of Fight Back with Joy is Lynnae McCoy. Congratulations, Lynnae!

 

Advertisements

How Grieving Has Brought Me Joy :: A bit of my birth story (and a Giveaway!)

When my son was born, the experience was anything but what I anticipated. We planned for a natural birth, but 12 days before his due date an ultra-sound told us he was breech, amniotic fluid was low, and the cord may or may not have been wrapped around his neck. We were already in the maternity ward for an external version, so within an hour Jack was delivered via c-section.

prepping for surgery

prepping for surgery

My memory of that hour is fuzzy as my eyes blurred, my heart pounded, my anxiety built. I held my breath during the spinal and tried to control my body one last time as I lay down only to be reprimanded by the surgeon. I searched my husband’s eyes for hope as they put the pressure on my belly needed in order to squeeze Jack’s 6 pound 12 ounce body through the incision. My ears strained to hear my baby’s first cries from the other side of the blue sheet which divided me from him.

As they wheeled me from the operating room I wondered, “Did I just give birth?

It was hardly the story I envisioned and, in a state of shock, not one I could rejoice over.

But I had a healthy baby. And that’s all that mattered.

Or so they said.

_______

What do you do when life should be joyful, but it’s not? A fight breaks out the third day of your honeymoon, your beloved infant develops unexplainable colic, a dream job turns out to be beyond your ability to handle?

As Christians we are often taught to bite back the tears, cling to “the joy of the Lord,” put on a happy face, and move on.

But according to Margaret Feinberg, “When we don’t allow ourselves to grieve well, something inside us dies.” (Fight Back with Joy, p 79) Grief is not an experience to be swept aside, but an opportunity that is vital to our ability to have joy.

“Sometimes we need to give space for grief in order to make room for joy. No one is immune to sorrow, and only those who learn to grieve well can recapture the healing it brings. Just as light needs darkness, so joy needs grief.” (FBWJ, p 72)

________

At the end of my pregnancy with Ben, I received the news that he was also breech. After many failed attempts to flip him (including somersaults in the pool, standing on my head, and an external version), I faced my second unwanted c-section. For the first time I let myself feel. Feel the disappointment, the pain of Jack’s delivery. I wept over my sense of failure. I lamented my fear and shock. I mourned the loss of a vaginal birth (which I still inexplicably desired).

Grieving the painful circumstances of Jack’s birth freed me from the negativity of my past. Mourning my experience enabled me to see God’s work at the time. Fear of my feelings was replaced by confidence in the good grief brings. For the first time in three years I was able to say with certainty that I gave birth to Jack. And I would give birth to Ben the same way.

If anyone knows about seeking joy in the midst of the worst circumstances, Margaret Feinberg does. Diagnosed with an aggressive cancer before the age of 40, Margaret decided to not only fight the cancer, but to Fight Back with Joy. Her new book (Fight Back with Joy) documents her journey through the diagnosis, chemotherapy, grief, loss, and pain all with the firm belief in the power of joy.

morethanwhimsy

I am treasuring her words as Margaret shares her story in Fight Back with Joy with vulnerability, courage, and hope. She is teaching me, the often pessimistic, perfectionistic, mother of two, that Joy is possible. Even when it is least expected.

_________

fightbackwithjoyTo win a copy of Fight Back with Joycomment below on how grief and joy have coincided or collided in your life, subscribe to The Toothless Grin blog, share this post through your favorite social media, like my page on Facebook, Follow Me on Twitter. Up to five ways to enter! Be sure to let me know how you have entered by writing a comment below! (if you already subscribe, like, or follow me, then just tell me!) Giveaway ends on January 22, 12:00pm MST.

This post was written as part of Margaret Feinberg’s Partymob blog tour for the release of Fight Back with Joy. To purchase a copy of Fight Back with Joy check out Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. Or for the 6 week bible study DVD series for your small group, click here.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Jesus (Matthew 5:4)

Fight Back With Joy 6-Session DVD Bible Study Promo Video from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.

I am Reclaiming Date Night

Before children we were so good. On Tuesday nights we would get dinner, sharing an entree, going to the cheap theatre, being together. We took walks in the moonlight. We held hands. We chatted. We were together.

16d5 4580_93990421388_562111388_2424922_3889001_n a007 9-16-2006-04.

Then Jack was born. We went on our first date as parents when he was 6 weeks old and struggled to talk about anything except him. A few gracious friends offered to babysit that first year and we got out every once in awhile, but, you know, we were just. so. tired. Going out took energy and money and time.

Slowly, date night fell away. Until it didn’t exist anymore except on that rare occassion when it was unearthed like a rare gem. We stared at it and each other, uncertain what to do with it. We tried to enjoy it, but it was so unique… what do we do with it? Pretty soon, it was buried, forgotten again in business, stress, fatigue.

Until this December when I looked up from my phone to look at my husband and realized I don’t feel I know him right now. He has his inner world of thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears need to be invited to be shared. Unlike my prattling and verbal unloading, Tim is careful with his words. Not one is wasted. If I’m not listening, they won’t be said.

If I don’t take the time to be with him, I might never hear his words.

Common wisdom says that the secret to being good parents is being a good spouse. Or that we love our kids best when we love each other best.

I have fallen into the cyclical pattern of tending to those who are loudest. My kids whine, pout, scream, shout for my attention, while my husband silently waits for his turn. When the day is over, I’ve spent all of my energy on the boys without reserve.

This is not good, friends.

This is a habit that is hard to break. A reaction instead of an intention. Acting without purpose and instead in frantic fear of controlling the littles who are instead controlling me with their outbursts.

So I am turning to dates to break this pattern. A bump in the week that pulls me away from the children in order to gaze solely at my husband. I am hoping to arrange one a week for awhile. That sounds like a lot. But you guys, we need it.

date night

We need to start living out those vows of love and commitment instead of letting the days go by with little more than  peck on the lips or a side hug greeting.

So, on Saturday, I took Tim on a date. I anticipated it. I looked forward to it. I got all dressed up for the movies and Fazoli’s. I danced to “Shake it Off” Radio on Pandora while I dried my hair and did my make-up. I left light hearted, expecting the best. The best of the movie, the best of conversation, the best date in months.

Tim saw me excited and I think it made him a bit more light hearted. I let him see me be happy to be with him. I giggled and flirted and engaged.

For the first time in weeks, we laughed. We talked. We held hands. We snuggled. We kissed.  We were together.

I am looking forward to our future date nights. I am pinning ideas, looking for “at home” solutions, seeking out sitters, and anticipating more great times with my husband. My beloved. My friend.

What about you? What would it take for you to reconnect with your spouse?

sos 6_3

I’m Giving Up the Normal Life

Jennifer Garner is my new hero. On the Ellen show, she faced rumors concerning her “baby bump” with confidence, poise, and style. Smiling triumphantly, she said,

I do [have a bump]… I am not pregnant. I have had three kids and there is a bump. From now on ladies I will have a bump. And it will be my baby bump. And let’s all just settle in and get used to it. It’s not going anywhere.  I have a bump; it’s name is Violet, Sam, Sera…

(you’ve gotta watch it)  

As I considered the whole New Year’s Resolution thing over the past couple of weeks, I realized a couple of things. Not only did I realize why I would not follow through with my resolution to keep the house clean, but I realized that with many of my ideas I was seeking to become something I’m not: childless.

Topping my list were:

  • Keep a clean house
  • Get rid of baby bump
  • Be more structured and productive with my time
  • Get more sleep

… basically, have the things I had before children. Rewind the clock and become the person I was 7 years ago before my skin stretched, my eyes sagged, and my mind got fuzzy.

But in a moment of peace – while stroking my son’s boyish hair and touching his delicate fingers, after one of his all out blood-curling, screaming, horrendous tantrums – I started wondering, do I really want to take back the last 7 years?

Am I so interested in erasing evidence of my pregnancy, my child rearing, my family that I would dedicate a year to those things?

IMG_20141226_191734

Is what I really need to return to a “normal” life (because that’s how I often think of life pre-children, normal)?

Or can I settle into the life that is? Accepting that I cannot function at the same energy levels I had pre-pregnancy. That now my time and brain are roughly divided between my two littles, my husband, and my pursuits. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for extra things such as working out or cleaning more hours of the week.

Can I finally settle into the reality that I am a mommy? That I am a mommy blogger. That that I cannot expect to have hours of uninterrupted time to myself. That  I will not be a marathon runner, a master crafter, or a foodie-chef. I will not always have the house as clean as I did before Jack was born, and that’s ok. No. That’s fantastic.

Mommy

I will drop everything when my kids bonk their heads playing power rangers.

I will kiss the invisible boo boo on the middle finger that is extended towards my face and giggle incessantly inside.

I will wake up for sickness, bad dreams, nighttime snuggles, and everything in between.

I will tend to my needs within the needs of everyone else. I will take the time I need, but I won’t expect more than I can have.

I will accept these limitations.

I will be content.

After all, I have a baby bump. And its name is Jack and Ben. It’s not going anywhere. So, let’s all settle in and get used to it.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. 

-Psalm 127:3

As a Christian Perfectionist, I feel like a failure (intro to my sermon)

A month ago I preached what has been called my “best sermon yet.” While it didn’t feel that awesome to me (I was tired and a bit uncertain) I do believe that God had something to say. Here is the introduction to the sermon. If you want to hear the whole thing, listen here or get it on iTunes here (11/9/14 “Clothe Yourself in Christ”).

During my sophomore year of high school, I woke up each morning at 5:30 in order to spend 30 minutes reading my Bible and praying before getting ready for school. During those times, the Spirit moved within me as God’s word began to impact my life as never before. I read about love, forgiveness, life. And as I struggled with depression for the first time, I experienced comfort and acceptance in God’s presence.

Those times were precious to me.

I desired my friends to experience this life and I’m sure I came across pushy and judgmental as I awkwardly told them they needed to read the Bible, too. But it came from this deep desire that they know God.

This season was sweet. And it was short. Summer vacation came and so did my late nights watching every episode of Wonder Years on Nick @ Nite and sleeping in. As I went on, still following Jesus, I felt pangs of guilt in my conscious that I should have been better at reading the Bible. The few times a week here and there were not good enough. I believed I was not doing well as a Christian. My youth group meetings, church services, and FCA meetings confirmed this. Read your Bible! Pray! And for 30 minutes. In the morning. Because that’s when Jesus did it. While it was still dark. Before everyone else got up.

If you check this off of your list, you will be ok.

And as I read scripture, I began to see that there were behaviors that would please God and those that God did not like so much. So, as I read, I tried to change. I would search for ways that I needed to change and try to learn how to be the girl God & others wanted me to be, on my own.

If you can hold your tongue, not swear, never drink alcohol, dress modestly, if you could just be perfect, sweet, humble, kind, quiet, then you will be acceptable as a Christian woman. Then you are good enough.

But I have a temper. I used to scream at my little sisters and smack them, hard, if they got in my way. When I was 15 or 16 I left a stinging hand print on my 7 year old sister’s back. I was horrified with my sin and vowed to never hit anyone again. I refrained from my sisters and have avoided spanking my children, terrified of the wrath inside of me.

And there’s this thought in me, if only I was better at following Jesus I would not have a temper. If only I just did more to follow Christ, then maybe I could have myself under control.

As humans, we tend to view ourselves as one of two ways. Either we work our butts off to prove to everyone that we are good enough, terrified of failure, constantly trying to perfect ourselves on our own. Or we feel that we are not good enough and give up trying to be, accepting that no one, not even God could love or help us. We are perfectionists, trying to “make it” on our own. Or we believe ourselves to be failures and give up before we even try.

Any one of the individuals on either side of the spectrum are desperate, whether we will admit it or not…

Listen here for more…

clothe in christ

For the first time, I acknowledged my loss…

Day 8 of 31 Days of Connecting31 days of connecting

My journey of 31 days is taking a little turn. Over the next days – as many as it takes – I want to share my recent story with you. It started here, yesterday. Please start there. I pray that hearing my story of connecting – of REconnecting – will help you connect with God, others, and yourself.

In January 2013, I felt life was going really well. Ben was one, Jack was four, my depression was under control, I had excitement for Scum of the Earth Church and sensed that God was bringing something new to our community through a movement of prayer and worship.  I had hope of redemption and faith that God brings things around for the better – hope that I had been missing for a few years. At last God had reminded me that He brings joy to life, not just endurance.

So, when we held our first night of prayer and worship at Scum, I was filled with anticipation and expectation of what God would do.

The evening was beautiful as people came and saught the LORD. And God was moving. He was redeeming. He was encouraging. He was speaking. I was honored to be part of it and more confident than ever that this was where I was supposed to be.

Then one of our leaders asked my husband, Tim, and me to pray for his health. I prayed. Tim prayed. When we finished, he turned to Tim and told him how impactful his prayer was. That there was power in his hands.

He said nothing to me.

I felt myself fall to pieces. My confidence vanished. I was hurt that he didn’t recognize God’s work in me – I feared maybe God wasn’t working in me. I battled with my insecurity and shame until I finally told Tim, “I feel useless.”

Tim then wanted to ask that same leader we prayed for to pray for me. I was horrified and scared to discover where these feelings were coming from. Was I under spiritual attack?

But we asked the leader, and he prayed over me. Then he said the thing I least expected. He said that fear is often connected to grief. He told me I need to consider what I’ve lost in my life and how that has affected me and caused me to fear. My fear and insecurity was not an outside attack, but God was healing me by revealing my deep pain.

I was bewildered. I had never considered myself as needing to grieve. However, within 24 hours, I had a list of lost relationships; more than 20 individuals whose relationship with me had been severed in some way. From middle school friends to professional mentors. From relatives to peers. From best friends to boyfriends. Deaths. Illnesses. Moves. I had said goodbye to so many people and I felt the hurt of them all.

For the first time I acknowledged my loss.

And my pain.

I wrote in my journal:

Sometimes I fear no one loves me as deeply as I do them. That Tim could not be as crazy about me as I am about him. Or that friends don’t want my friendship. Or even, Lord, that I have to earn your favor… Now, being away from family, having few friends, or even close co-workers, I feel afraid of losing more, being rejected all over again…

I began to grieve.

day 8to be continued…

 

God doesn’t use sticker charts.

Day 3 of 31 Days of Connecting

I have been potty training my kids for what seems like an eternity. They each have sticker charts and when they receive a certain number of stickers, they win a prize. The charts point towards the goal – put your waste where it needs to go. But my kids don’t seem to understand the goal. While I want dry pants, they want the sticker.

We can easily confuse our time with God, our time of devotions and prayer like my kids confused the goal of the stickers. When I first began taking time alone with God on a regular basis, I was amazed at how close He felt through His words in Scripture and His presence in prayer. I did it because I wanted to. But over time, I did it because I felt obligated. I felt that if I did not do it, I was not a good Christian, I was not a good follower of Jesus who set the example of getting up early in the morning when everyone else was sleeping to pray.

I do not wake up. I push snooze. What does this say about my relationship with God? I feared and condemned myself for this laziness. When I heard another sermon emphasizing taking time with God, I felt guilty and alone. Surely God could not love me.

But then I read these words.

When we use spiritual practices to gain secondary things like spiritual cachet, success, approval and respect, we rob the discipline of its God-given grace… Spiritual practices don’t give us “spiritual brownie points” or help us “work the system” for a passing grade with God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us.[1]

I had my goal confused. What I was striving for was not connection with God, but a check mark next to my “Good Christian” title. When I was trying to read the Bible, I did it not to hear from the Lord, but to be able to show others (and myself) that I was good enough.

God is not countingGod is not counting the number of chapters we read in our Bibles or the hours we spend on our knees. He is not recording the days when we sleep in, because our five year old had bad dreams throughout the night. He is not desiring us to keep spiritual practices because they are the end. They are not the end. They are the means. They are gifts. The ways we connect with God.

What has been your experience with spiritual disciplines? Have they given you a guilt trip? Or have you been free to enjoy them as the God given gift of Time with Him?

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 NIV

[1] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 18-19.

31 days big