Monday, October 31, 2016

Because, Spencer, you're almost not five...

Dearest Spencer,

This morning, you proclaimed to me, "Mom, I'm almost not five!" We have been talking about your upcoming birthday for quite a few days now, and the excitement of it's impending arrival is definitely stirring excitement in your little-huge heart.  

It's true, buddy, you're almost not five.  In fact, within a few short hours, the clock will strike midnight, and it will be the first of November, and you will turn six.  Now granted, you weren't born until the evening, so you won't officially be six til after 7:30pm, but I will keep that secret to myself for now and enjoy a few more hours knowing that you're "still five."  My momma heart isn't ready for a six-year-old just yet.

Spenk-a-Doodle, you are growing way too quickly.  Within the past few months especially, you've transformed so much from a slightly anxious preschooler, to a confident kindergartner.  You've shown me that you are now incredibly brave, gentle, strong, intelligent, and surprising.  You're so full of wonder and intrigue.  It may drive me to the brink of wanting to put in ear plugs and pretend I can't hear the seven bazillionth question you've asked on the way to school (which, by the way, is about a 7 minute drive, sir) some days, but truly, I appreciate your intense desire to learn.  "I like to know stuff," you told me recently when I asked why you fire off questions so quickly.  It's true, you do.

Spencer, I am incredibly impressed with your compassionate heart, and your desire to know Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.  You talk of all three of them frequently, and questions about them and the Bible are among the never-ending questions you ask.    Your questions are so deep sometimes that I am unsure how to answer, and while I feel timid attempting, I am so impressed and so proud of you for where you are in your faith. You may be pint-sized in the eyes of some, but you are growing ginormous faith.  I pray that others will see this and be inspired by you, especially your siblings.

You love nature and athletics, art and music.  I am continually impressed by your many skills.  Some of your recently acquired ones are tree climbing, reading some words, writing and painting words, hockey, skee ball, climbing walls, and identification of many musical instruments.  

Your brother and sister adore you and look up to you very much.  I hope that you know this, and remember this, even when they're pestering you, in your personal space, and driving you crazy.  They miss seeing you around as much as they did, now that you are in school, and sometimes they don't know how to really handle those feelings.  But, they love you. They talk about you when you're not around, and miss you, asking where you are and when we will get you back.  

Spencer, I want to thank you for all that you've taught me in our almost not five years together.  It's crazy to think that we've been on this team together that long.  Six years sounds like such a long time, even though in the grand scheme of things, it's minuscule. You've taught me so much about patience, unconditional love, parenting, faith, wonder, and whimsy.  You make me laugh until I cry sometimes (although the interrupting cow knock-knock joke has really worn out it's novelty, no offense).  Sometimes, I just look at you and cry tears of overwhelming joy and gratitude.

You're the one who made me mommy first.  We've had so many firsts together in these past five years, and I know we have countless more ahead of us.   I'm so grateful that they will be with you, my brave, caring, funny, ornery, blue-eyed miracle.  

Thank your for still being willing to cuddle, to hug me, to kiss me, even in public and in front of your friends, and for telling me that you love me countless times a day.  Thank you for inviting me to play, telling me your stories and dreams, and challenging me (even when I can't stand it sometimes).

I'm sorry there are days your heart still hurts and aches incredibly as you miss your dad.  I know you're still looking for him, and I know that you're still sad he's missing out on your growing up, and things like your birthday.  I love that you still pray for him.  I'm sorry he's missing your birthday again this year.  But, I am so thankful that there are so many others out there who love you, who tell you how much they love you, and show you how much they love you.  From family, to friends, to Sunday School teachers and neighbors- you are one adored little boy.  It doesn't make it better, but I pray it fills your heart to overflowing.

I've said it before and I will say it again- You're the best thing that ever happened to me (and yes, I say it to your siblings too). 

 Happy Birthday, Spencer Jacob.  I pray immeasurable joy, love, and blessings upon you.  

I love you.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Retreated and Transformed

The Cleansing Stream...

I approached it.  I waded into it. I walked through it.

I was hesitant.  I was nervous.  I was excited.  I was leery.  I was determined.

There's no turning back now.

This stream, though... What is it?

It's a Life Group through the church the children and I became members of after our world was turned upside down.  It's a healing ministry by nature, filled with lessons and group discussions, as well as a full day retreat.

I really was skeptical.

I've been a Christian my entire memorable life, though I have felt closer to God sometimes and very distant others.  I went to a parochial school in kindergarten and first grade.  I continued growing in my understanding and love for Jesus afterward, mostly going to church with my grandma.  I loved going to church with my grandma.  I was confirmed in a Lutheran church back in my hometown.  I made a friend from another town in high school that introduced me to McPrayer (at McDonald's on Friday mornings before school) which I attended a few times, and fell in love with another friend from that town who was also self-proclaimed "on fire for Jesus."  I became a part of their entire family, and grew even more in my faith alongside them, through table prayers, Bible Studies, trips to Sonshine Music Festival, jamming to Christian radio, and so forth.  I attended a Christian college for two years, worked as a counselor and daycamp director at a Lutheran Bible camp for two summers, did youth lock-ins with a college outreach group, attended Bible studies there, and what not.  I switched to a State University to pursue my Bachelor's Degree, but continued my love for God as my relationship with the aforementioned man deepened.  We were married in a non-denominational church, making a covenant to each other, with God, to never separate in this lifetime and to live our lives for God, growing our family in that way as well.  As our children came into this world, we found the church that we attended for five years, until, as I said, the world flipped upside down.

When he up and abandoned us, it was hard to go back to our home church.  The kids were looking for him constantly and he stopped showing up.  I visited our current church, the Church at the Gate, one Sunday morning, and we just never really left.

Through my job at the church daycare, I made a dear friend, one who also attends this church, and she introduced me to this thing called Cleansing Stream.

As I said, I was skeptical.  I have read the Bible (maybe not cover to cover yet, but the majority of it) and I know that Jesus is all about healing.  I've read that we are to be healers as well, and that we have authority to do so in His name.  I know that we are called to pursue the Fruits of the Spirit, and there are so many blessings and promises made to those who seek and love Him.  I know it in theory.  But I have, for as long as I can remember, been skeptical.

For this, I have apologized to God.

Anyway, this ministry was brought up multiple times over the course of the last year and a half or so. I listened and told myself, "well, maybe someday, maybe."  It is offered twice a year, and the last time it didn't work out for me because I was a part of a parenting Life Group.  So, when my friend brought it up again this fall, it worked out scheduling wise, and I couldn't come up with a solid good excuse not to sign up.  So, in faith, I registered.

The DVDs are interesting, thought provoking, and insightful.  Discussion is great to relate to others in the group, as well as to gain more perspective toward your own journey.

But this retreat... this thing I spent my day doing... it was intense.

Truthfully, when my friend would bring up how awesome this retreat was going to be, I was withdraw a little sometimes.  Other times, I would get nervous.  On a few occasions, I would be excited.  She was thoroughly excited about it and believed wonderful things would come for me when I went, but I really did dally back and forth among the multiple responses.

Last night, I was getting ready, mentally, before bed, and nerves set in.  I went to bed, and was very restless in my sleep all night long.  Every time I would stir, I would hear myself saying "seriously, I'm going to be so tired in the morning at this rate, I'm not going to want to go."  I had my sister-in-law set to spend the day with the kids, and when the alarm went off this morning, I really didn't want to get out of bed.  I knew that would happen, so I made myself get up out of bed, shower, and get my body out that door.

As soon as I arrived at church, I was greeted by members of my group and had discussions with them where I detailed my night and how I knew that because I didn't want to go, I knew I needed to come.  They had been through it before and they agreed.

When I entered the sanctuary, I was greeted by a line of church members and friends who each gave me a hug as I found myself a chair.  Truthfully, I've not been much of a hugger the past few years, because of wounds from my marriage largely, so this was a big step for me, allowing these hugs and embracing them, uninhibitedly, in response.

Worship began and every single song we sang was perfect.  My sinuses have been giving me issues for over a week now and my voice has been goofy, but I sang away, feeling peace come over me, knowing that I was going to be okay, no matter what happened today.

The lessons began, and thoughts started flooding.  Negative talk and lies from the enemy, combated by truth from the Father.  After each section, we prayed against lies and bondages, were blessed, renounced strongholds, fears, and so much more.

The first time, wouldn't you know, it lined up perfectly where my prayer warrior was my friend- the one who introduced me to the Stream in the first place.  I was actually quite a bit relieved because there's only been one other time at church that I've really allowed someone else to pray for me (and she was actually right praying, too), so it seemed like a familiar way into unfamiliar territory.

As I started to approach her, my heart started racing and I became unsteady in my own foot work.  She asked me if I was ready.  I don't think I said a word, but she knows me well, and we began.  The tears began falling as we prayed through some bondages and lies.  The leader of the retreat joined and added in.  My head was spinning and my hands were trembling, my eyes pouring tears.  We prayed and prayed.  And I felt release.  Then my hands stopped shaking, my heart went back to normal, my breathing steadied, and I opened my eyes.  I received another hug, perhaps the biggest one I had received in weeks, and in that moment, I was so overwhelmingly thankful for Jesus and for his bringing her into my life.

As I sat there after, praying and trying to take it all in, writing down words that came to my mind, I felt this surge of strength.

The next section was about rejection, and let me tell you what, I was holding onto way more rejection than I knew.  I knew of the big stuff, the rejection of my former husband (toward both me and my children), but there were others there, too.

We were urged to document some of the instances that lead to the feeling of rejection, and then listen to what Truth God had to say in the matter.

"I chose you, before you were born. I wanted you.  I brought you here for a reason.  I love you want I want you.  I also chose your children for you.  You four are Mine. We are all on the same team.  We are FOR one another."

When it was my turn to receive prayer again, I found myself in front of a kind man that I had never met before, who happened to have the same first name as one of my sons.  I noticed right away and he greeted me openly.  He then asked, in some way or another, what a point of rejection was for me.

Up until this very moment, I have not really told anyone, especially someone I didn't know, in a meaningful situation especially, the huge period of distress that the kids and I had been through.  In almost every step of the journey, if I told anyone at all, friend or family, it was initially in writing.  I am a writer-type-person, and it is exponentially easier for me to pen out my thoughts, emotions, and words than it is for me to swallow the lump in my throat and speak them audibly.

Yet, here I was, tears burning down my cheeks again, and the words came flowing out of my mouth, "Over two years ago, my former husband ditched my three children and I. We ended up homeless.  He found himself a boyfriend, and we haven't heard from him, not one word or text, in almost a year and a half."

He looked directly in my eyes, and told me how huge that was.  He then called the leader over (and instantly, my mind went to "gosh, I am such a mess that he needs to help again already (which I then had to dismiss as a lie))" and told me to tell him what I had just said.  So in less than two minutes, I audibly spoke out the truth to two people I didn't know.

That was huge for me.  We prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and prayed.  I received blessings and hugs and Kleenex and more prayer, and more hugs.  They asked what it was that God had told me, if anything, about it all, and I told them what I had written down.

And then, I felt release.    They told me how powerful that Truth was and how amazing it was.

When I went back to my seat, I repented for believing the lie that I was such a mess.  And then I heard in my mind, "You're NOT a hot mess.  The situation was a mess, but you're exactly who I made you to be, and you are perfect."

Well then.

I then wrote down some words that I thought God was telling me about who I was.  Things like warrior, brave, strong, determined, and so forth.  I then, out of seemingly nowhere, found myself humming to these lyrics, "when my faith gets tired and my hope seems lost, you spin me round and round and remind me of that song, the one You wrote for me, and we dance."  (We Dance by Bethel Music)  I wrote it down, not really knowing where it came from.

We moved onto guilt and shame, and those lies from the enemy, as well as fear. (Parts of the outline are a little muddy tonight and I don't have my workbook near me, but regardless, the meaningful content stands even if the time frame is a little off...)  Following the same pattern, we were prayed with and for.  This time, I found myself in front of another person, a woman I had seen around but didn't know.  This time, I came to the altar in a bit of a different stance I suppose.  We prayed as a group and I let go of most of the guilt and shame for things, and when I prayed with this wonderful woman, she spoke to me, "You're a warrior.  You know that?  You might be a peaceful, quiet warrior, or maybe a loud and boisterous warrior.  Whatever it is, you're a warrior."    We renounced the lies, and by this point, I was crying tears of joy and freedom, strength.  She asked what it was that I thought God was saying, and, in my own vernacular, just like the hot mess thing, it was "This isn't an thing, you know?  I've already got this.  We've conquered it."

She smiled, and said "Jesus is dancing all over you right now, all around you."

That song lyric!  It made sense.

There were more sections and topics throughout the day.  We broke binds from soul ties and the spirit of Death and its influence in various ways over our lives.  I visited each of those three prayer warriors another time.  Tears were shared all over.  It was exhilarating and liberating.  I received multiple hugs from multiple people, and gave multiple hugs to others as well.  It seemed like the fence I had built around my heart was torn down, and I was finally able to give and accepted real, meaningful hugs again.

At the end of it all, there was a time for couples.  And I sat there in my chair doodling, seeing as how I was a single, and not paying much attention to it anyway.  Then a dear friend, sitting beside me, leaned over and said something that really hit home.  She asked me who my spouse was now, like when we were in the parenting group, who is it that's in it with me?  Because I'm not doing this alone.


I started bawling as she helped me through that, and empathized with how I felt being a single mother completely on my own, but not really on my own.  She reminded me of how it's good, even if it's hard, and how it's not really an issue at the same time.  And she hugged me, too.

It's hard to explain how I feel tonight, sitting, reflecting, trying to make it tangible and find a way to explain it.  I wonder if it's something I need to explain, should I explain it?  Should I detail the day?

I think I should.  Because, as I mentioned, it is easier for me to write.

But also, because I was skeptical.

I don't know exactly how I've transformed, and I am sure I won't fully know until I meet my Maker at the end of days.  I know that I have transformed though.  I've laid down so many burdens, broken so many ties, let him heal so many wounds, heard so many truths, and freely cried and overwhelming number of tears in front of people I don't really know (which is another something I get anxious about doing).

As I said in my final prayer, "there's no turning back."

The past, while I've known it to be true and have been working really hard to function with it as truth, is done.  As my prayer warrior said, "It's a cleared history.  Today is a new day, and it is a GREAT day."

I have a renewed sense of hope.  I have a renewed sense of faith and belief.  I feel that I'm not going to fail as being a single mother even if their dad never enters the picture again.  Tonight, when we prayed bedtime prayer, I actually believe what I prayed for him and lead my children to pray for him.  Up until tonight, I prayed it because I should, not because I wanted it to be true.

I know the enemy will come on back, trying to get me to believe lies instead of truth again. It's what he does, and he is dang good at it.  I'm so fortunate my friend has been alongside me to point out when I'm latching onto lies again, and now I have a bigger support system to help me on my journey, and I am now a support system to more people as well. Its a blessing, truly.

I write this also because I need it documented, for me.  So if I ever feel myself slipping into the past, I can come right back and read what God said to me, what my friends and prayer warriors said to me, what I said to the enemy, and what I said to myself, fresh out of the experience.

I truly believe that each and every believer could benefit from Cleansing Stream, as skeptical as you may be.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

It has been a while, Ole.

Yesterday, my children and I found ourselves at my alma mater homecoming parade.

I choose this as my alma mater, although I did not graduate from the college, my heart never left.

My roommate, best friend, the other half of my brain was in town for our graduating class 10 year anniversary. Had she not been, I likely wouldn't have gone at all. I love her something fierce though, and gladly snatched the opportunity for much of the day together.

It was the first time I've visited in a few years. It was fun, and sad, and nostalgic, and contemplative.

I was nervous to go, because most everyone I knew from there knew me back when... back when I was young, in love, starting a life story with my former husband. They watched our relationship grow and blossom and be challenged and solidify. They all knew me back then.

Over the course of two years, I developed friendships there. One friendship in particular, with my aforementioned roomie bestie, has remained strong and really been cultivated over the last 14 years. As it usually goes, most dissipated to merely Facebook type friendships with occasional check ins and comments. I still consider these friends to be friends, but not close friends. It doesn't mean I don't value them, of course.

I knew that seeing my bestie would be wonderful. She's stuck by me through better and worse, longer now than my former husband did, and long enough to be family. But, I didn't know what to expect from seeing anyone else I knew.

I wasn't really a part of Augie long enough to leave a lasting mark, and I certainly don't believe I was very memorable or important to most people beyond my bestie, a camp friend, and one professor. When I saw people I knew, my inclination was to shy away because I was pretty sure they didn't know me well enough or like me enough to really have a conversation. It's okay, though, because I had my kids along to supervise.

As I sat and listened to people catch up with one another later in the day, while I pushed all three kids on swings, I felt myself retreat inwardly. Here were my classmates living their dreams and pursuing their careers and making something out of themselves and their degrees and had all sorts of accomplishments and stuff to talk about and compare.

And then there was me. The one who left after two years to pursue a social work degree that I used for a while. The one who had a fairy tale love story and three children whose life turn a psychotic thriller type turn, and now lives day to day usually, her main aspiration and goal to raise good children and provide them with a home and some sort of consistency. 

I felt inadequate, by no fault of anyone's except my own inner demons.

After talking with a trusted friend, I realized that my three children are a huge accomplishment and while they're not a career accomplishment or any great material reward or something, they're happy, thriving, and filled with the joy and love of the Lord.

So there's that.

Sometimes, I wish I had stayed there. I wish I had been a part of the last two years with my class and had those lasting friendships many do.

But, I won't play the what-if game.

I'm blessed as I am and my worth isn't defined by the two years at my alma mater, the things I did or did not accomplish because of or inspire of my degree, or what people remember of me or whether they remember me at all.

Really though, it was a good day. It was filled with laughter, smiles, some hugs, new memories, renewed and new friendships, and the beginning of sparked interest in my oldest child toward pursuing academic dreams in his future.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A place of my own

I have my very own bedroom.

I haven't had my very own bedroom since the spring of 2006.

It happened last Sunday, after a month or so of meditation.

Prior to this, I had been sharing the larger of our two bedrooms with my nearly 2.5 year-old daughter.

I actually began sharing a room with her in January of 2015, when we moved into transitional housing straight out of the homeless shelter.

Prior to that, I spent two months sharing a bedroom with my two sons while we roomed with a friend at her apartment.

Before that, I spent 9 years or so sharing a room, and a bed, with my former husband.

My daughter doesn't sleep very well. She never has slept more than a few hours at a time for me, and I have been so perpetually exhausted for years now that sometimes I think I'm crazy.  She sleeps okay for other people. It's been a combination, I assume, of recurrent ear infections, tonsils, adenoids, teething (she's still missing two of her two-year molars), and knowing I'm near. I'm a cruddy sleeper, quiet noises wake me, so listening to her cry at night is overwhelming. I have not been one to pick her up and coddle her when she cries at night, but I think part of it is that she would cry and I would even just voice from my bed "it's okay, babe, go back to sleep." Who knows.

Regardless of why, I thought it might be worth a shot to combine her room with her brothers room, and pray for the best.

It's been going well. She still wakes up sometimes, but not every 40 minutes to two hours. The boys stay in their beds quietly because she's in there, so the middle child hasn't been wandering out eight times before he falls asleep. I'm praying these things continue or improve. 

It's nice to be able to go to bed and turn on the light whatever time I want to, or turn it on first thing in the morning and not worry about waking anyone. It's nice to have my own closet and not have to share space. It's nice to not have toys to step on, or other people throwing clothes on my floor. I can decorate for just me. I could read in bed if I wanted, or not wake anyone if I cough.

I have still been sleeping like crud. I think it's partially because it's a new room, new light, new noise, new temperature, and because my body is so used to waking up multiple times a night. It will take some adjustment. I'm holding onto faith soon we will all be sleeping well, though.

Last night, I had a few nightmares. It's not really a big deal, but irritating. However, I was going to make my bed a bit ago and I remembered them.  Then, I remembered the 9 or so years where I had a roommate to share them with.

Suddenly, I realized, sitting on my bed, that my new room, while exciting and deserved, feels a bit lonely and sad at the same time.

It seems silly. But, I realized that in 2005, I was engaged and planning my forever, which included a roommate for life.

And now, the bed and the room contain just one person. Just me.

It's empowering on some levels, to know I stood up for myself and worked so hard to be in this room, alone. But it is also currently weighted reminder that my life dreams and plans were shattered and remade.

It will take some getting used to.

And my bed is still not made.