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Archive for November, 2018

“I’ve decided not to have a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving this year,” I casually announced to my husband yesterday. If you can’t imagine anyone having a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving, I call as my witness this post from Thanksgiving 6 years ago. I began this blog nearly 8 years ago to share my journey through several challenges: being gluten free (before it was the popular thing to do), homeschooling a child with behavioral problems and learning challenges, financial strain, health issues, and losing a parent to dementia. Over the past 10 years I have dealt with loss after loss, which has particularly affected me during the holidays.

For years, I dreaded Thanksgiving and Christmas. It began with my son’s gluten free diagnosis the week before Christmas in 2008. Back then, gluten free items were expensive, hard to find, and tasted terrible. You were considered strange if you said you didn’t eat wheat, and no one knew what gluten was. That Christmas, I grieved the loss of a normal life for my son, and I grieved for myself because I would have to learn how to cook all over again with new ingredients that didn’t play by the rules. To this day, whenever I hear the Amy Grant song, “Breath of Heaven,” I remember crying in the car while listening to it on the way home from my first terrifying gluten free shopping trip, and praying, “God, I need you to hold me together because my world is falling apart.”

Then, the week before Christmas in 2009 we took my son out of public school and made the terrifying decision to homeschool him because of his writing difficulty (which I would later discover is Dysgraphia). Again, I grieved during the holidays the loss of a normal life for him and me. Fast forward to 2010, when my husband’s workplace folded because of the recession, leaving him unemployed for both that Christmas and Christmas of 2011. In 2012, he had a job, but it barely paid the bills, and we struggled to rebuild our finances. Then, in 2013, my mom had a stroke that left her with vascular dementia, erasing her memory and personality. That was effectively the year I lost my mom, even though she didn’t die until 2016.

Thanksgiving of 2013 was a particularly low point for me. I already hated how much work it was (back then) to create all our family’s favorite holiday dishes from scratch because there were no gluten free shortcuts like cream of mushroom soup or stuffing bread cubes. I had to dip tiny onion segments in batter individually and fry them myself in order to make green bean casserole. I was bitter over all the work I had to do for one meal that was over in less than an hour. Plus, the expense of gluten free food compounded financial stress. Plus, I had to clean my house for company (which always made me grumpy) because we were hosting my parents since my mom could no longer cook due to her dementia. Plus, I still didn’t know how I could relate to the person who technically was my mom, yet she wasn’t. That ugly Thanksgiving morning, I snapped at my family and ruined breakfast. I cried in my closet over all the loss that came crashing down on me at once. I felt defeated.

In 2016, I reached a tipping point. I lost my mom and put my son back in public school within a matter of months. God redeemed the heartache of losing one of my best friends by strengthening my relationship with my sister through the whole ordeal. She is my best friend (aside from my husband) and also a spiritual warrior who has helped me overcome generational strongholds. That fall, we prayed together and forgave those in our family line who had normalized a life of bondage to fear, and asked God to break the cycle in us and in our children. Within a couple of weeks, God healed me of my food sensitivities that had arisen out of the stress of the past several years, and set me free from my fear of food.

At the same time, God began to whisper crazy things to me about my son, like, “The things you fear are not real.” What? Back in 2016, God challenged me to believe that all the fears I had for my son’s future were based on behaviors of the past that would not carry into his future. I dared to believe God and was able to break free from the stronghold of fear that had gripped me as a homeschooler. But things didn’t get better for my son; they got worse. The stress of school launched health problems for him that have lingered for over two years now.

The week before Christmas in 2016, I was once again on my knees before the Lord in tears, begging God for direction and healing. That’s when God whispered something else totally crazy: “I will heal your son. Just celebrate me.” I was about to put my son on a restrictive diet to see if that would help him get rid of his digestive problems, but God said no. He was more concerned with my son’s emotional health, and wanted him to celebrate Christmas without the loss of favorite foods. So we just celebrated God’s goodness and provision. It was my first Christmas with no mother, and my son’s health issues and school stress were still there. While we were not celebrating any improvement in our circumstances, we chose to celebrate God and fix our eyes on him.

That choice to celebrate God and rest in his provision while believing him for deliverance launched a season of spiritual renewal and redemption. God blessed my husband’s work, and steadily increased his salary. We thought we would never get rid of our second mortgage, but God challenged me to believe that he would help us do what we could not, and I dared to believe him. Last year, we paid off our $55,000 second mortgage after completely draining our savings just 5 years earlier. God heard my cries, walked me through those painful holidays when I had to choose contentment, and worked miracles to provide what we simply could not do on our own. He used those years of financial strain to bring to the surface deeply rooted issues relating to financial bondage, and challenge me to believe that God wanted to bless me.

God then released us from the gluten free diet a year ago, restoring freedom to our family. But most amazing has been the transformation in my son. When I exiled him from homeschool in 2016 it was because he had become lazy, argumentative, entitled, and exasperating (you know, a typical 14-year-old). Two years after I turned him over to God and the public school system to discipline him, he underwent a dramatic change. I can only explain it as a work of the Holy Spirit. His laziness is gone. His resistance to authority is gone. Entitlement has been replaced by humility. As we have celebrated God and continued to read his Word as a family, God has taken hold of my son and transformed him into a new person. The difference in his behavior caused nothing short of shock and awe.

He has learned how to suffer physically, yet choose joy in the Lord. He is uncompromising in his faith and commitment toward obedience to God, which translates into obedience to those in authority over him and being impervious to peer pressure. God has healed him mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. All that is left is the physical healing. Although I have often given credit to the gluten free diet and homeschooling on this blog for tiny improvements in my son’s behavior, he was eating wheat and going to public school when God miraculously transformed him, literally overnight. God gets 100% of the glory!

Yes, those things were important parts of our story because the gluten free diet is what prompted me to start this blog, which is how I discovered that I am a writer. And homeschooling gave me an opportunity to focus on raising my son in the knowledge of the Lord, which is ultimately how God is healing him in every way. While God’s path to change in my son and in my life has been watered with tears, I would not erase it. He is a new person, and the things I once feared no longer hang over me. This blog stands as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to lead us through some of the darkest hours of my life.

My sister-in-law designed this for an apron (which I can’t wear because it’s white – hence the wrinkles from being stored in a drawer). Each part of my blog story shows part of the cross I have carried, but Jesus has the final word over the cross!

Right Back Where We Started or Completing the Lesson?
As I reflect on the past 10 years, which have been documented on this blog, I can’t help but notice that some cycles seem to be repeating themselves. This past week, we determined that my son was trapped in a viscous cycle of health problems being disruptive to school, which in turn caused homework to pile up (despite his best efforts) and lead to more stress which feeds his health problems. So we decided to break the loop and found an alternative schedule that will allow him to take some of his classes online through the school district at home. Essentially, we’re returning to part-time homeschool, right before the holidays again. But this time, my son is determined to be responsible for himself and work hard with a good attitude. This time, we made a change not because my son couldn’t get good grades, but because his A’s came at the cost of his physical health.

We’re also working with a functional medicine doctor to reduce my son’s inflammation, and the doctor has asked us to take him off of both gluten and dairy while we’re in the diagnosing stage, to eliminate those as possible inflammatory contributors. So here we are, the week before Thanksgiving, on an even more restrictive diet than before. Oh, and all of his expensive medical tests and supplements, on top of other big expenses, have left us pinching pennies for the holidays. Again. Those old, familiar temptations to give in to grumbling and despair resurfaced last week. Sure, I’d worked through the trials and found joy, but would I still choose joy if all my freedoms were taken away again? Sometimes we don’t know how much we’ve learned until God gives us a test.

What do we do when we find ourselves right back where we were before, repeating a familiar cycle? Does it mean that we are doomed to repeat the same trials our entire life, or is God giving us an opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and face that same trial with spiritual maturity? I have learned from reading the Bible that the cycles documented in the Scriptures were meant to give both the people in the Bible and us opportunities to learn from the past and mature in our faith.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

The struggles and temptations you and I face are no different from the temptations humanity has faced for thousands of years. Sure, the specifics may be different, but the temptation is the same. Israel was tempted to grumble when they were stuck in the desert eating manna. I was tempted to grumble when I was stuck with the gluten free diet restrictions during the holidays. Israel was tempted to give in to fear and unbelief when they had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land, and I was tempted not to believe that God would ever restore us financially or give my son – whom I could only view as broken for so many years – a good life. But God gives us a way out of temptation and cycles of brokenness. Jesus came to set us free from bondage to sin and shame.

How God Helps Us Break Cycles
When the children of the unbelieving generation of Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land their parents failed to enter, God purposely led them in a way that would help them break the cycle of unbelief. He brought them through the Jordan River on dry ground, just as he had delivered their parents through the Red Sea on dry ground, but this time he had each tribe gather a stone from the middle of the river to set up as a memorial so they wouldn’t forget what God had done for them. That’s what this blog has been for me. It serves as a reminder not just of the trials I’ve gone through, but of how God has brought me through each one. He has delivered me around or sometimes through every obstacle, and brought me safely to the other side. So this Thanksgiving, instead of giving into despair over the battles still ahead, I choose to gaze at these stones of remembrance and thank God for his faithfulness to our family time and time again.

After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites were circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant with them. God then told them, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt” (Joshua 5:9). God named the place Gilgal, which means “to roll.” We cannot break the negative cycles in our past until God rolls away our shame. For a Christian, sanctification is the process of inviting God to “circumcise our heart” and replace our rebellious, hardened heart with a tender heart of obedience out of love for God, as promised in Ezekiel. “I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 11:19). That is exactly what happened with my son last summer.

Afterward, we encouraged him to be baptized because that is the “Gilgal” for Christians, when we physically experience God rolling away our shame. My son has felt a lot of shame over his behavior as a child and early in his teen years. God does not want him to live with that shame, so he washes it away in the baptismal waters. What a joy it has been to welcome my son “home” to do school and release him from his former reproach. That’s what our Heavenly Father promises to do for all of us! Just as Gilgal became the base camp for the battles in the Promised Land, when the enemy tries to pull us back into shame over our past, we need to return to our Gilgal to rest and declare, “I am not that person anymore. God has rolled away my shame.”

After the Israelites entered the Promised Land and began to eat the produce of the land, the manna dried up and was never seen again. The Israelites would now have to work for their food, and trust that God would provide through them, not just for them. Now that my husband has a good-paying job, as the cycle of financial strain repeats itself, I have to rely on God to help me be a good steward of our resources. I still have to choose contentment and live beneath my means, even though I have more choices available. When I had no confidence that we would ever get out of debt, I had to trust God to provide for our needs. Now that we are out of debt and financially stable, I still have to trust God and not panic when we dip into savings. God wants to end the cycle of fear and scarcity by giving me opportunities to choose contentment whether we have little or much. God is able to bring each of us to the place where we can join with the Apostle Paul in saying, I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

When it was finally time for the Israelites to face their first battle in the Promised Land, God gave them specific instructions that would help them overcome the mistakes of their grumbling parents. They would conquer Jericho by walking around it – in silence. “Do not shout; do not even talk,” Joshua commanded. “Not a single word from any of you until I tell you to shout. Then shout!” (Joshua 6:10). What was it that invited God’s discipline of their parents over and over in the desert? Grumbling! If they had been allowed to talk while marching, they would have no doubt returned to the grumbling ways of their parents. Someone would have complained or voiced their fear, causing the whole army to question themselves or grumble.

God knows it is in our nature to do what we’ve always done or what was modeled for us, so he disciplines us in a way that forces us to take a different approach in order to overcome the past. That’s why he gives us opportunities to face the same challenges our parents faced or that we previously failed to overcome, so that we can try again and do it right this time. The obvious lesson for me, in this holiday season, is to overcome the temptation to grumble about my circumstances. If I have to fix the entire gluten free, dairy free, Thanksgiving meal in total silence, so be it – but I would rather shout my gratitude to God, because that is what gives me the victory over the enemy!

When God brings us back to familiar territory – whether pleasant or unpleasant – the Christian who wants to grow in spiritual maturity will learn to ask God, “What lesson are you wanting to complete in me?” God is not punishing us by allowing us to go through the same trials over and over again; he wants us to learn how to be overcomers through them, no matter how many times it takes. God created the world to operate in cycles of seasons. Every spring we have to prune in order to make way for new growth. Every summer we have to pull weeds or suffer the consequences. Every fall we choose whether to share our bounty or hoard it. Seasons and cycles repeat regularly because no matter how many times we fail to do something right, God wants to give us another chance. The Scriptures show us that God is able to help us overcome our weaknesses by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must choose to believe and obey the Spirit. As God begins to rewire our thinking through daily exposure to the truth of God’s Word, eventually thought patterns change and cycles of behavior are broken (Romans 12:2). That is my testimony which I have chronicled on this blog.

So here we are, right before Thanksgiving, choosing to be thankful. This year, I will make our gluten free AND dairy free Thanksgiving dinner with a cheerful attitude, and give God thanks for the hope of healing that we have. This year, I will choose contentment with a pared-down Christmas celebration, once again, and praise God for what we have while sharing with those less fortunate. This year, I rejoice that God has rolled away the shame of my past and my son’s past, and given us hope for the future as we prepare to enter our Promised Land. This year, I choose joy in all circumstances, which was and still is the purpose of this blog. The cycle is complete.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

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