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“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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“Hurry up or we’ll be late!” How many times have I uttered those words in agitation? Or “Hurry up and finish so we can ______.” All parents struggle with this on some level, because kids don’t necessarily operate on our time schedule, but some kids in particular are just…s   l   o   w. There is no rushing them. They will get there when they get there, and no amount of yelling, bribing, threatening, and pleading will hasten their arrival. If you have a child like this, you are keenly aware that activities that can be accomplished in 5 minutes by one child, take your child 10 minutes. It takes FOREVER (it seems) for your child to tie his shoes, brush his teeth, do an assignment, eat dinner – pretty much ALL THE THINGS.

Today I want to bless you to know that there is nothing wrong with your child. And there’s nothing wrong with you, either. Your child is simply wired differently by his Creator, and happens to live in a society that does not match his inherent values. However, this does not spell doom for the slow-paced child if you can help him understand those differences and see the benefits of society’s values that sometimes conflict with his. But before you can do this, you need to first understand and value what makes your slow-paced child tick. What God revealed to me – after much time on my knees, pleading for understanding – is that my slow-paced son is endowed by his Creator with the following gifts:

  1. A sense of pride in work and desire to be the best in everything he does, which means he works to please himself more than others.
  2. Total focus on whatever the work is in front of him, which often precludes an awareness of time.
  3. A drive for craftsmanship in every endeavor, stemming from an innate desire for creative expression.
  4. A capacity for deep thinking and desire to fully engage in something that is mentally stimulating.

These are all things to celebrate! Because of these unique qualities, he operates on a different time-table than the rest of us. God-gift #1 causes him to be careful and conscientious in all he does, which means he takes his time to do things well. (“Well” simply means it meets his standards, not necessarily mine.) Some kids are negatively labeled as a “perfectionist,” but this is insulting to the child who takes pride in a job well done. It seems contradictory to tell a child to “do his best” in one breath, then say, “Just hurry up and finish – it doesn’t have to be perfect!” in the next because if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well in his eyes. A job well done – or at least done to his satisfaction – is very important to the child, and this value carries the weight of a moral high ground. To surrender this high ground is to betray one’s very self, in the eyes of the child. So the first step in helping your child to function in a fast-paced society is to recognize and appreciate why he moves so slowly, and not devalue his good intentions. Before he will listen to your desires, you must respect his.

God-gift #2 means that he needs to shut out all distractions in order to do his best (which we established in gift #1 as not being optional). Not only does this child need a distraction-free zone to work, he wants to be fully engaged in his work and not limited by time-constraints. As we’ll see later on, this can be managed through strategic planning, but it is essential that this child feels like his need for an environment that is conducive for concentration is respected (even though it’s not always possible to accommodate).

God-gift #3 is a driving factor in the slow-paced child’s life because creativity is his life-blood. He is compelled to express creativity in all he does – whether the job demands creativity or not. My husband – who is cut from the same cloth as my son – could never just dash off a spelling sentence when he was a child in school. Every sentence had to be a creative masterpiece, so homework took a looooooooong time. Today, he can’t just send a quick email without multiple edits and creative expression. But you know what? He’s an awesome writer and it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him! If creativity is in your child’s blood, it’s important for you to value that and delight in it. Yes, it means everything will take longer because every assignment is an opportunity for creative expression, but that very creativity may one day be the gift that changes the world. Don’t quench the fire – fan the flame!

Why? Because stairs.

God-gift #4 contributes perhaps the most to the slow-paced child’s challenges because mentally-stimulating activities and deep thinking are incredibly satisfying. You may be raising a scientist or philosopher who is driven to ponder and work out complex ideas. This can present itself as an attention deficit, but it’s because the child is wired to pay more attention to the thoughts within him than to what’s being presented around him. The slow-paced child likes to take time and work the thing out fully – whatever “the thing” is – because the working-it-out part is what brings him satisfaction, not the completion of the job itself. These kids derive pleasure from the process of working on something mentally stimulating, not turning an assignment in. These are all good things. But they cause stress because we live in a world in which:

  1. There are time constraints on almost all activities, and the expectations are based on the time the job takes to be completed by someone who works quickly and likely gives the least effort.
  2. Most employers will say they value quality work, but in actuality, they value quantity of output more than quality because of the time constraints mentioned above.
  3. Not every activity is innately creative, so investing creative energy in every activity is wasteful in terms of productivity, and productivity is valued more than creativity in most places.
  4. Not every activity is mentally stimulating, so those that aren’t get avoided by the slow-paced child and put off in favor of more interesting activities, and this procrastination leads to additional stress as work piles up.

So what can we, as parents, do to help our kids function in a world that does not line up with their values? First, we respect their values. Then – and only then – are we in a position to explain why society’s values can also be beneficial. Ask your child to consider what the world would be like if we all operated on our own time-table instead of functioning within schedules. Chances are, he will jump at the opportunity to think creatively and ponder this scenario, so let his imagination fly! Help him to see that there are benefits to pleasing teachers and bosses – but focus on the direct benefits to him because these will have the most power to motivate him to change his behavior.

Once he has a desire to work within the constraints of someone else’s system – whether that’s a school or place of employment – you can discuss the following strategies that have proven helpful for us. I used these strategies to design the flow of our homeschool day – and this method was the only one that worked of the dozens I tried. Now that my son has successfully transitioned to public high school, we still use these strategies to organize our approach to homework or big projects. As a word of caution, though, these strategies are still not going to make him move any faster than he’s able to move, so you are still going to need to adjust your expectations for how long a particular activity should take, and adjust your schedule to accommodate your child. If he’s in public school, you may need to work with his teachers to find compromises, as well.

School/Homework/Work Strategies for the Highly Creative, Deep Thinker

  1. Make a list of all regularly occurring tasks. Categorize your tasks according to your employer/teacher expectations as either highly important or less important. (Talk to your boss/teacher to help you do this, if necessary.)
  2. Then further categorize these tasks as either requiring creativity, mentally stimulating, or neither of the above.
  3. Look at your schedule and block out what you think is a reasonable amount of time for each activity, allowing the least amount of time for the things that are not creative or stimulating. Don’t just look at the day’s schedule, but look at the week because some days are full of activities, and others are not. The goal is to accomplish everything you need to do in the space of a week – not a day – so that you can spend your weekend doing fulfilling things (even if that means work projects you happen to enjoy) instead of boring work that has been put off through procrastination. Also consider the environment when making a schedule. For instance, don’t plan mentally stimulating tasks for the same time as little sister’s trombone practice!
  4. Set a timer and then try to accomplish as many boring tasks that are important to your boss/teacher as you can during that block of time. The goal is to just get ‘er done so you can move on to something more interesting. The timer is important because it forces you to stay focused and keeps the end in sight. (If you use any rewards for motivation, this should be the only time to use them. Creativity is internally rewarding, so only offer admiration for creative projects. Physical rewards like my son’s favorite motivator, an M&M for every 2 math problems completed, are usually needed to motivate a child to just plow through boring activities.)
  5. Next, set a timer according to how much time you can reasonably afford to spend on a creative activity that is a high priority, then work on it until your time is up. Doing something creative is a reward for finishing the boring activities, and also energizes the highly creative person. However, you must still set a time limit because otherwise, you won’t want to move on.
  6. Set a timer for a small amount of time and then tackle some of the low priority, boring activities. Then do the same for low priority creative activities, etc. If you run out of time to complete them, they move up into the “important” category the next day. This keeps the little tasks from piling up as long as you commit to doing them as quickly as possible, according to the standards imposed by your boss/teacher (and not your own standards of perfection and creative expression).
  7. Lastly, reward yourself by allowing the last block of time each day to be spent on a mentally stimulating activity. If it needs to be a big block of time, adjust the amount of time you spend on the above activities accordingly. If you run out of time, jot down notes and plan to finish your thought later in the day. If you have a lot of important activities, you may need to wait until the weekend to do mentally stimulating activities, so you can give them your full attention and a larger block of time. Mentally stimulating activities are important because they keep you motivated and satisfied in your work, so block out a good chunk of time for this. Putting it at the end of the day or week means you don’t have other things hanging over you, and can fully dive into to the task with less pressure from time constraints.

Following this format, the highly creative, deep thinker should be able to get through tasks in a reasonable amount of time in a way that is still satisfactory because he is directing the most time and effort to the things that really matter to him (creativity and mental stimulation). It helps him to identify and acknowledge which things don’t require 100% in order to still be good enough for his boss/teacher. “Good enough” is a hard pill to swallow for those with an internal drive to excel, but so is stress, anxiety, and never having free time to do things that are truly enjoyable and satisfying.

As I’ve talked with my teenage son about how he will approach his job someday, I’ve tried to remind him that the goal of man is not to have a mentally stimulating job; the goal of man is to have a full life. Life is more than work. Life is work, relationships, recreation, and rest. If you try to satisfy all your needs through work, then work will take all your time. But when work is no longer the sole means for creative expression or mental stimulation, but more of a means to that end, then less time can be given to less important activities in order to make time for needs to also be met in relationship, recreation, and rest. It helps to see the bigger picture in order to embrace the small sacrifices he must make in his approach to daily tasks so that those tasks don’t take up his whole life.

It’s not easy raising a “square peg” in a world of “round holes.” But God has often reminded me of the verse he gave me for my son:

[He is] God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Every aspect of my son’s personality was intentional in God’s design. God has a plan for his life, and he is uniquely qualified to do those good works. My job is not to “fix” him, but cooperate with God in helping him be who God created him to be while functioning in a less-than-ideal environment. And the result, so far, has taken my breath away. When my freshman son left 6 1/2 years of homeschool to enter the public school system, I watched my square peg willingly fold in his edges and slide himself into that round hole. Glory to God! Let’s bless our kids to be all their Heavenly Father created them to be, and allow God to change our perspective to His.

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I’ve shared on this blog before how God gave me a new spiritual name in my 20’s to symbolize the different direction he was taking me. For the first 21 years of my life my name was Ability. Much of my life was on a stage singing, acting, dancing, or speaking. But then God began to take me off the stage so he could root me in my faith and deepen my relationship with him. During this season my name was Availability, which is my old name – Ability – with my literal new married name, Vail. For the past 21 years I have sought to simply be available to be used by God whenever and wherever he wants to use me. I have mostly done short ministry assignments in a variety of places in the church, as well as homeschooling my children and occasionally blogging.

However, around the time of my 42nd birthday, last summer, God began to move mountains in my life. He released me from homeschooling my oldest child which forced me to face every fear I’d ever had about him in the weeks leading up to his return to public school. The voice of the enemy was so deafening in my ear with shouts of fear, but because of how close God had been to me earlier in the summer during the 6 weeks my mom was on hospice before she died, I knew that if God could sustain me while I was taking care of her, he could certainly take care of my son in school. However, the power of God to silence that screaming voice of fear was not activated until the day before my son started school, when I taught my Sunday School class the lesson God had been teaching me on parenting out of faith instead of fear. God’s power in our life is often activated by our voice when we speak in agreement with him.

It was then that I first discovered the power of my new name, Avail. The “Ability” part of Availability has been dropped because, frankly, whatever abilities I bring to the table don’t matter to me anymore. I’m not interested in being praised for my abilities – a former stronghold of mine. As I move into this third segment of my life (which, interestingly, can clearly be divided into segments of 21 with 3 distinct seasons of 7 years in each), God’s priority for my life is that my words and prayers avail much for the kingdom. It’s not my stage; it’s His. The word avail means

to be of use; have force or efficacy; serve; help
to be of value or profit

The root, which happens to be my last name, Vail, comes from the Latin valēre, to be of worth.

It’s no surprise, then, that the enemy first attacked me in my youth with the stronghold of insecurity. If God intended for my words and life to avail much for the kingdom – to be of value or profit – the enemy needed me to question my worth, or at least link it to my abilities so that when I failed or was no longer in the spotlight, I would doubt my value. However, as I activated my new name by speaking the truth over my life – the truth that I am of worth because Jesus died for me, and I was created for a purpose that God will accomplish in and through me – the enemy lost his power to bind me with fear. You and I were created to avail much. Our words have efficacy, which means “the ability to produce a desired or intended result.” If God has given you a promise for your life, don’t just think it, speak it! When the enemy comes against you with fear, boldly speak the truth and promises of God with praise and thanksgiving, and the enemy will flee!

Speaking God’s truth and promises over my son – that he is God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do (Eph. 2:10), and that God will finish the good work he started in him (Phil. 1:6) – silenced the voice of fear. It also activated those promises in my son’s life. I have never seen him thrive and flourish like he has since the school year started. God’s hand is on him in a mighty way, healing him and maturing him in every way. God is blessing him and our relationship with him. Hallelujah!

Parents, what I’m about to share may be a hard pill to swallow, but here is what God’s been showing me about our words. When we believe God and speak his truth over our kids, it activates his blessings in their lives. If you read through the Old Testament, you’ll find several accounts of parents speaking blessings over their children (Noah, Isaac, and Jacob, to name a few). People brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them. These blessings had power and efficacy. However, when we listen to the voice of the enemy – which often comes as the voice of fear – and speak words over our children in agreement with our fears, we are unintentionally speaking curses.

“Stop acting so weird or you’ll never have any friends,” we say to our child in agreement with the voice of our fear. And so the child becomes fearful of other people, wondering if people are rejecting him. As a result, he withdraws and becomes overly self-conscious. And ends up with no friends. Cursed by our words of fear voiced over him. 

One of the hardest things God’s called me to do this year is apologize to my son for agreeing with my fears and speaking curses over him. God told me, when he was 4 years old and in the midst of major upheaval in his behavior, that he would be all right. (And because God is always consistent, he spoke that same promise again recently.) However, for the past 10 years the voice of fear has often gotten the best of me, and I’ve reacted and parented out of fear that what I was seeing was going to be a forever thing instead of just a phase. (How do you know if you’re parenting out of fear? You’ll know it’s fear when you feel like you need to control your child’s behavior. There’s a difference between teaching our kids self-control and being just plain controlling.)

When my son started public high school, I wanted to talk to his teachers about his Dysgraphia because I feared that his writing difficulty would hinder him from finishing his work on time, but my son didn’t want me to. The reason why God also said no was because he knew that phase was over and there is nothing hindering him in his writing anymore. I honestly believe that had I kept speaking it over him, it would have continued to plague him, which is why God said, “Enough! Start believing and acting like you trust Me that if I say he’s okay, he’s okay.”

God’s revealed to me that my son and I were meant to be 2 threads woven together in a beautiful tapestry for the dual purpose of teaching me how to love and accept someone who is unlike me, and also speak words of encouragement to other moms of kids who don’t fit into the world’s mold. He gave me a precious, quirky boy who was meant to be different – and we were to delight in it.

This is now one of our favorite photos, depicting our epic failure as parents to recognize that 4-year-old soccer was not our sons jam. He was so miserable, but we learned our lesson not to assume anything with this kid!

This is now one of our favorite photos, depicting our epic failure as parents to recognize that 4-year-old soccer was not our son’s jam. He was so miserable, but we learned our lesson not to assume anything with this kid!

However, the enemy also had a plan to spin a web of fear between my son and me, so that every time I ran headlong into fear I would attach that web to him and myself, thus tangling us up in a sticky mess. Every time I voiced my fear, and spoke words in agreement with it, we got more and more entangled in the web. But God, in his grace and mercy, has not only delivered me from the stronghold of fear through voice-activated faith, he has been untangling us from that ugly web. Glory to God!

Thankfully, the way into that mess was also the way out. When I apologized to my son for sticking that web on him, I said, “I revoke the curses I have unintentionally spoken over you.” I then laid my hands on him and began to speak blessings. I blessed him in every area of his life I could think of where I used to be filled with fear. I blessed his education, his friendships, his marriage someday, his work; everything God brought to my mind, I agreed with God’s good plan and spoke it.

I want my words to avail much for God’s kingdom and in the lives of my children. God’s word tells us that we will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:20). Our words have efficacy, especially in the lives of our children. Oh God, consecrate our mouths so that we speak blessings, not curses. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You.

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As we pulled up to the stop sign, my 12-year-old daughter spoke up from the passenger seat, “Mom, this is where we turn.” Yes, sweetheart, I know that. A few minutes later I heard, “Mom, turn right.” What in the world of driving has gotten into this girl! Am I suddenly incapable of navigating the town I’ve lived in for 35 years because my daughter is now 12?

This behavior continued for about a week until God gave me some insight into what was prompting her to act this way. As my daughter was, once again, telling me how to drive, I said, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been telling me how to drive lately. Is this because you’re wanting to let me know that you know how to get around town now?” She sheepishly smiled and said, “Yes.” I then praised her for her navigational skills, but let her know that she need not tell me where to go anymore.

However, there was more to it than that. Her driving commentary was really her way of saying, “Mom, I’m ready for more responsibility. I’m capable of doing more than I currently am. I need a challenge.” It’s hard to listen to what our kids mean to say when we’re distracted by our irritation over what actually comes out of their mouths. (Can I get an amen!) But when we answer the deep, unspoken need of a child’s heart, it has a way of correcting the child’s actions for us. Only God knows what that need is, but he will tell us if we ask (James 1:5). In my daughter’s case, she needed to be given more responsibility over her life.

From “B” Word to Blessing
Before I go any further with how this was accomplished, I want to say a word to fellow parents of strong, capable girls. For the love of our daughters’ futures, could we please stop calling them the “B” word, bossy? If we label our daughter’s gifts negatively, she will feel like who she is at her core is wrong, and that if she tries to use her gifts she will be rejected. Our strong girl – who was meant to make a difference in the world – will whither up and shrink back in fear, never fulfilling the purpose for which she knows she’s created. When a girl who is endowed by her Creator with gifts of leadership, administration, and organization is trying out these gifts by exerting them in inappropriate ways (say, over her big brother), we need to redirect her gifts in positive ways and give her something appropriate to be in charge of, such as a pet or a household chore that she desires (like cooking a meal or helping to plan a vacation). We can bring out the best in her by prayerfully giving her as much responsibility over her own life as is appropriate for her. (My daughter has had way more responsibility at each age than her older brother because she desired it and could handle it.)

Let Her Decide How Much Responsibility She Wants
The trick is to not burden her with more than she desires, just because she’s capable of shouldering responsibility. I’ve been guilty of this many times with my daughter, and she lets me know when she would like to just be a little girl for a season. And that’s okay. We went through one of those seasons last fall, when her brother went back to public school. I realized that because she was capable of doing the same level of work as her older brother, she’d already done the middle school curriculum I had, but she was not ready for high school in 7th grade! So we took a semester off of academics and focused on building relationship. I let her be a little girl (which she kinda missed out on for a few years) and played games with her, baked, did crafts (by the grace of God because oh how I hate crafts), read, found new piano music to learn, and went on long walks and shopping trips. It was a precious time for both of us.

Let Her Be In Charge of Herself
But that season ended in December. By January, she was ready to stretch her wings. So rather than let her take over my driving, I put her in the driver’s seat of her own education. I decided to pull out all our school materials and set them in piles by subject. I invited her to look through each pile and pick out her curriculum, then with a little direction from me she designed a learning plan for herself. The keyword I want to emphasize is herself. Before she can be in charge of anyone else – and she likely will be one day, because she has a desire and gifting to do so – she must learn how to be in charge of herself. The more opportunities she has to make her own choices, the happier she is and the more confidence she gains in her ability to make plans and follow through.

Oh the power of boxes to check off!

Oh the power of boxes to check off!

Provide Encouragement and Accountability 
The result of my turning over her education completely to her is that she now writes her daily assignments in a planner each morning, then checks them off as she does them without any reminders from me. Strong, capable, self-directed girls are a blessing! (I just ate a bite of a delicious peanut butter banana muffin she baked all by herself this morning. She is a truly a gift from God!) On Friday, we either have an afternoon tea time or take a walk together to discuss what she’s learning. As I give her responsibility, I must be careful to hold her accountable. She needs to know that what she does matters and will be noticed. (Don’t we all?) I also check in with her periodically throughout the day to see if she has any questions or would like additional resources. I am her mentor, but she is learning how to teach herself.

Reward Her with More Responsibility According to Her Desires
My daughter is now practicing her administrative and organizational skills in appropriate ways, and her reward for taking on more responsibility is that she gets to plan a family fun night at the end of each month because she loves to plan parties. And because that’s how God rewards us. When we prove faithful with little, he gives us even more responsibility and opportunities to grow our talents (see the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30).

Oh Lord, help us to see what’s really going on inside our kids and listen to what they mean – not just what they say – so we can train them up in the way they should go and faithfully develop the gifts you gave them. Give us godly wisdom and discernment to know when to pull them in tight and when to release them to fly. Show us how to reward them with more opportunities for responsibility when they are faithful with little, so they will mature into the beautiful creations you designed them to be. Thank you for loving our kids and faithfully giving us the direction we need at just the right time.

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Less than a week after my mom’s funeral, the countdown to sending my homeschooled son to public high school began to tick louder, drowning out one grief with the sound of another. I’m not ready! He’s not ready! I’ve somehow got to cram ALL THE THINGS into the few weeks before school starts. Otherwise, I may get my report card as a homeschooler and find an F!

Fear. It’s a powerful emotion – especially when the fear is that we’ve failed our kids. It makes us do crazy things like ruin the last few weeks of summer vacation undoing all the years of allowing your child to discover who he is apart from his peers by suddenly reversing course and trying to make him “fit in.” (Lord, have mercy.) Fear makes us bombard our children with criticism and so many instructions that they begin to second-guess all their instincts. Parental love that has been warped by fear often turns into toxic control of every aspect of our kids’ lives, robbing them of valuable opportunities to learn through trial and error. Thankfully, God gently smacked me upside the head with a copy of Parenting with Love and Logic from the thrift store, with the “knock off what you’re doing” messages conveniently highlighted by the previous owner. (Subtle, God.)

He also used a fictionalized account of the life of King Hezekiah (one of the good kings of Judah in the Old Testament) to show me that I cannot place my hope in the ways our culture tells kids to find success. When Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz (a bad king), paid tribute to the Assyrians (the cruelest army on earth) for protection, he essentially made slaves of his kingdom. All their resources were diverted to Assyria, including God’s tithe. I realized that, as parents, we’re essentially “paying tribute” when we buy expensive clothes, purchase the latest gadgets, sign our kids up for activities we can’t afford, all in the name of not wanting them to be “left out.” We fear the “Assyrians” – the popular kids, the bullies, whoever it is you think will reject your child for not being “cool” – so we place our trust in buying their favor. But once we choose that road, we and our children are forever slaves to it.

At one point, Judah tried to make an alliance with Egypt, hoping that would save them. As parents who’ve lived through adolescence, we know that loners are targets for bullies, so we encourage our kids to do whatever it takes to be popular or form alliances. We put our hope in academics or sports, believing that being part of the “right” group will save them. When I was a teenager, I thought that if I just had a boyfriend, that would make me okay. Alliances make us feel powerful – until they don’t. Until we get a bad grade or miss the winning shot or our boyfriend breaks up with us. Looking to allies to save us still results in us being slaves to our performance and the opinions of others.

Thankfully, there is another way. Hear God’s response to Judah (and me) in Isaiah 30:15:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.”

It is a stinging rebuke, but also a sign of God’s grace and mercy as he spells out how to repent and do this parenting thing right. When faced with a battle between the world’s desire and God’s desire for our kids, we choose to return to God and do it his way. We rest in his unique plan for our kids, which will sometimes conflict with our plan for them to have an easy, outwardly-successful life. What if we don’t “pay tribute”? Perhaps that $.99 shirt from the thrift store will make our child more approachable to the kid who really needs a friend. (After all, Jesus’ ministry was usually to the outcasts, not the in-crowd.) What if I stop forcing my kid to do activities he doesn’t enjoy, but has been doing because I don’t want him to be “left out” of alliances? Perhaps saying no to something good will make room in his schedule for something better, like developing the unique strengths God gave him. We don’t have to work so hard to make sure our kids have all the right stuff and amazing resumes by the age of 16. Rest in God, and he will show us what is best.

In quietness – not nagging, nit-picking, fault-finding – and confidence in God is our strength. It is not up to us as parents to “fix” our kids, placing our magnifying glass over their quirks and weaknesses. Our job is to help them become the beautiful butterflies God designed them to be. It’s scary to think about sending our kids out into the world, and yet if they’re going to fly (and not live in our basement forever), we have to put our confidence in God. We may fail our kids, but he never will. We can confidently send them out into the world, knowing that God will never abandon them (Joshua 1:9). On the first day of high school, I shared this promise from Isaiah 30:21 with my son:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Ultimately, the voice we want our kids to hear is not our voice, but the voice of the Holy Spirit. As they cross the bridge into adulthood and venture out on their own, He is the one we want to guide them.

Bridge

Have you blown it with your kids? Me too. But it is never too late for God to redeem the failures that we place in his gracious hands. We don’t have to wring our hands in worry, wondering what to do. When we place our hope and trust in God, he promises to show us the way (Proverbs 3:5-6). He invites us to come to him when we need wisdom because he is a generous God who does not find fault with us for simply having questions (James 1:5). As we learn to rest and trust in God’s perfect love, our love becomes perfected. The result of perfect love is that fear is no longer holding the reigns in our parenting!

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love…And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:16-19

Lord, thank you for loving us first. We surrender our death-grip on our kids because you love them and know them better than we do. We place our confidence in you, our loving God, not in alliances. Give us eyes of faith to see your vision for our kids so that we will train them up in the way they should go – not our way, but your unique way for them (Ephesians 2:10). May we return to you and find our rest (Matthew 11:28-29). Quiet us with your perfect love and cast out our fear as we confidently look to you for our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Amen.

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A while back I mentioned to my husband that since we’re both hanging on by a thread, it’s a good thing our threads are tied together. His response was, “I don’t have a thread; I’m hanging onto yours.” Perhaps you can relate? The past few months have been some of the most difficult of my life. In addition to the the time-consuming, strict diet I’m on in order to heal my intestines and address food sensitivities, I’m also helping out my parents 2 or 3 days a week, as they adjust to my mom’s loss of abilities due to her vascular dementia (a terminal illness that gets progressively worse). Add to that the high stakes pressure of homeschooling high school and you have a recipe for a breakdown. And that’s pretty much what happened last week.

But sometimes a breakdown is exactly what we need because we finally realize we can’t keep going on in the same way. Something has to change. As I cried out to God in frustration, I realized that the change I needed was to let go of the thread of hope in my circumstances getting easier, and grab onto the thread of hope in God to walk with me through whatever comes today and tomorrow. Hope in circumstances will often disappoint us, but hope in God never disappoints. As I began to shift my focus off of my discouragement and onto God, the following path for navigating this season of my life began to unfold. If you’re also dealing with a stress trifecta in your life right now, I invite you to join me on this path of hope.

Remember That There Is a Purpose in this Season – But It’s Still Just a Season
The overlap of all these stressful situations in my life makes each one feel enormous, but the truth is that eventually my mom’s mind and body will be healed in heaven; eventually my kids will graduate from high school and I will no longer be homeschooling; eventually I will be able to incorporate more food into my diet and find a new normal. All of these things are part of this season, but it will not last forever. I cannot plan my way out of this season (no matter how hard I keep trying to do just that!) or control how long it will last, but I can rest in the knowledge that God is still working out his plan for my life in the midst of the challenges I’m facing.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

What if the difficult season we’re in is exactly where we need to be in order for God’s higher purpose to be accomplished in us? What if the heat and pressure I feel is part of God’s refining process in answer to my prayer to make me more like Christ? If holiness is a higher pursuit than happiness, then perhaps God occasionally needs to accomplish the former at the expense of the latter in me.

Pray For God to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
One of the threads I’d been hanging onto was the hope that if I just did high school “right,” then everything in my oldest’s life would turn out right. But the problem with putting your hope in your plans is that it is usually accompanied by terrifying fear when something – like life – interrupts those plans.  Panic set in when I realized that having to be increasingly involved in helping my parents meant I couldn’t do high school the way I had planned. But into my frantic heart, God whispered an invitation to trust him to meet my needs by simply asking him each day to give me my daily bread, then resting in his provision. So I let go of that fabulous high school plan I’d carefully crafted for my son. In this season, I am learning to take life one day at a time, trusting God to point me in the right direction each day. So far the result has been a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere in our home, more interest-led learning because that has once again become a higher priority than checking things off a list, a better relationship with my kids because I’m nagging less and listening more, and my digestive issues are finally healing as I am slowing down and focusing on just one or two goals a day (since the underlying cause of my issues, I’m convinced, is stress).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Receive Your Daily Bread With Gratitude – Even If It’s Squash Pancakes
Many aspects of my life are beyond my control right now, but I can control my attitude. I can choose to resent my situation and spend all my energy bemoaning my woes in an endless loop. Or I can choose to celebrate life with my mom and treasure those moments when I see glimpses of the woman who lovingly raised me. I can choose to focus on making memories and building relationships with my kids in their remaining years at home, instead of worrying about what will happen when they leave. I can choose gratitude for what I have instead of pining away for what is lost. It is not easy to choose gratitude for what you have when it’s not the thing you wanted, but the Apostle Paul – who knew all about suffering – offers us the key to unlocking the secret of contentment in all circumstances:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:12-13

Did you catch that? The secret to contentment is strength from God. I can’t do it on my own, but God invites me to pray for the strength to face each day, whether I feel well fed or hungry. I’m learning to accept that my literal “daily bread” right now is squash pancakes, and though my daily bread may not taste great, it is enough. What I’m doing for my parents and kids is enough. Because God is enough.

I Can Let Go of My Thread Because God is Already Hanging Onto Me
When life doesn’t turn out the way we’d planned, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the change and unrest around us. But God does not leave us alone to struggle through difficult seasons. In fact, in my personal experience, God is even closer during times of trial because he is inviting me to put my faith to the test – not to see if I will pass, but to see that HE is faithful in all circumstances. We may never know how big God is until we take our eyes off of the wind and waves and look to the One who is right there with us in the storm, whispering to our heart, “Peace, be still.”

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2

Notice that the above verses don’t say “if” but “when” you feel like you’re drowning in your circumstances. Look up. See his hand of protection covering you from waves of bitterness and despair. As children of God, we are constantly reminded in scripture to not be afraid; not because we have nothing to fear, but because God has promised he will never abandon us. We can let go of our death grip on being in control of our circumstances because we know that God will never let go of us.

Accept That This New Thread Can Be Part of Something Beautiful
When we moved into our house, I carefully measured and planned our landscaping in the backyard. Ten years later, almost nothing I envisioned has worked out the way I planned. The raspberry bushes took over the corner of the yard and grew over one of my bushes. The elegant white rose bushes I planted both died, then came back to life as smaller, red roses. (What the what?!!) The neighbor’s lilacs and lilies grew under the fence. And you know what? It’s all beautiful! If I had held onto my original vision and yanked out the spreading raspberry bushes, I would have missed out on the abundance of delicious berries we enjoy and share each year. (And the bush that they covered was not meant for full sun, and was dying anyway.) The rosebushes I planted looked sickly every year, and every time we had a gusty wind all the petals would blow off. But whatever this other variety is that took over happens to be hardy and better able to tolerate our growing conditions. And the lilacs make my day every time I look out my window. I had such great plans when we moved in…but had no clue what I was doing. I’m learning that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Perhaps letting go of my plans will clear a path for something even better.

Also spontaneously growing in the bark patch are weeds, grass, and chives (another oops), but we're going to focus on the pretty lilacs.

Also spontaneously growing in the bark patch are weeds, grass, and chives (another oops), but we’re going to focus on the pretty lilacs.

So I’m letting go of my thread, hanging on to God, and believing that the tapestry of my life that God is weaving will be something so breathtakingly beautiful that I will someday fall to my knees in wonder and say, “Yes, I see it now.” Until then, I will have to see the beauty in God’s plan with eyes of faith, believing that the God who turns ashes into beauty will grow something beautiful in me. Right here. In this season.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
– Jeremiah 17:7-8

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I was feeling agitated after watching what should have been a motivational video, but the message of “you were created for more than this” instead made me gripe at God. “Oh really?” I pouted, “What MORE would you like me to add to my plate?” I actually got out a notebook and filled the page under the title “Stuff I do” with all the things I do for other people on a daily basis. “Okay, God, the ball’s in your court!” I huffed.

“Get your coat on and let’s go for a walk on the dirt road,” was his reply. I was rewarded for my tantrum with a bitter, cold wind and shoes full of goatheads, but as I again voiced my frustration with all the messages I hear on a regular basis to do more, be more, serve more to God, he responded with, “Take a look at those ruts in the dirt.”

“You mean the ruts that are filled with ice because it’s REALLY COLD out here?” I snarked.

“Yes, child, those ruts. What have I been teaching you about your mental ruts and what you need to do to put an end to this spinning of your mind right now?”

I need you to appreciate that I did not have a camera on my walk, and had to go back and repeat the walk in the bitter cold to take this picture. Be impressed.

I need you to appreciate that I did not have a camera on my walk, and had to go back and repeat the walk in the bitter cold to take this picture. Be impressed.

RESET

I’ve been reading a fascinating little book called Habits, by Charlotte Mason, in which she likens the mental pathways we develop through constant use to ruts in a dirt road. Our brains take the path of least resistance, so once a habit or path of thinking has developed, it’s very hard to get out of that rut, in much the same way it’s hard to drive a bicycle or car out of a deep rut. To change a habit or rut, we need to intentionally substitute a different habit or insert a distraction that will cut across the path and allow a new one to be developed.

My personal take on this has been to visualize a distraction – squirrel! – as a mental reset button. When my thoughts take a nose dive and I begin the downward spiral (of dwelling on things outside my control, obsessing over how I measure up to someone else’s standard, fill in the blank with miscellaneous fears/hang-ups…), I can follow that well-worn path (developed over a lifetime of struggling with insecurity/people-pleasing) OR hit the reset button.

What is the Reset Button?
I can’t tell you exactly what the reset button is – well, at least what it is for you. For me, the reset button is any brief, pleasant distraction that shifts my focus away from the endless loop of negative thinking and gets me off the merry-go-round so I can start over with a more positive mindset. In the circumstance above, taking a walk with God was my reset button. (But watching a short, funny “Tonight Show” video also works!)

[Disclaimer: The reset button is not procrastinating and putting off things you should be doing. The reset button distraction is not a substitute for dealing with real problems that require attention.]

The value of the reset button is not that it solves problems, but that it changes your frame of mind from a negative one to a refreshed, more positive one, which then enables you to think more clearly and deal more effectively with whatever issues you’re facing. The reset button is especially useful when you’re having one of those “I overslept, then was grumpy with the kids who, in turn, were grumpy at me, and when I tried to salvage the day by making flatbread, it tasted…well…flat, so I tried to broil some cheese on top and ended up burning it, making the whole house smell terrible” kind of days. When nothing is going right, a reset button allows you to make a clean break and start over.

The Reset Button For Your Family
I recently taught this survival skill to my 14-year-old – and if anyone needs to learn how to reset a bad hormone/mood-swing day, it’s teenagers! After a miserable morning that climaxed at math time (shocker), I finally yelled (yes yelled), “Stop! Go outside for 15 minutes and get some exercise.” When he came back inside, we agreed on a reset button activity for him; he can set a timer for 5 minutes and read Calvin and Hobbes to get off the bummer train whenever his mood swings take him for a ride. (Longer than 5 minutes would likely lead to procrastination, and we discussed the difference between the two.) After his reset, we returned to math and were able to see the solutions to the problems that stumped him earlier. (I wish someone had told me that I did not need to be ruled by my emotions when I was a teenager, marinating my mind in depressing music and wallowing in my melancholy like a pig in the mud.)

The 2-part Reset
After my husband got separated from the kids and me at a crowded theme park and was ready to call it quits and go home by the time he found us, we were able to salvage the day with a 2-part reset. We did not say a word while we stood in line because if there’s anything I’ve learned after nearly 20 years of marriage, it’s that you cannot talk someone out of a bad mood. After a few minutes, however, I silently started handing out snacks, since it had been several hours since we’d eaten. Sometimes a reset button requires addressing a physical need like hunger, a need for exercise (in my son’s case above), or a good night’s sleep first.

After we started eating, I noticed some machines that looked like they were supposed to set off “explosives” along the edge of the ride, so I silently walked over and began turning the crank and pressing down on the lever until BOOM, we saw water spray up into the air along the fake canyon of the ride. Suddenly, all 4 of us were excitedly winding cranks and setting off explosions until we got on the ride and forgot the woes we left behind as we enjoyed the roller-coaster.

Part 2 of a family reset is setting an example by taking the first step out of the rut and engaging in an inviting distraction without prodding your family to join you. The 2-part reset button of snacks and a distraction enabled us to break from the negative mindset we were in and move on in order to enjoy the remainder of the evening. Contrary to the feeling of our momentary frustration, a bad circumstance does not have to equal a bad day! (Again, why couldn’t I have learned this years ago?)

A Reset for Routine
Sometimes the rut is simply a routine that needs to be shaken up. This year, my focus word is faithfulness, and I’ve realized that in order for me to be faithful to carry on the (sometimes monotonous) work of homeschooling and homemaking, I need to allow myself periodic breaks from routine to refresh and revive my spirit. Last fall, this looked like filling a backpack with fun educational games, activity books, and reading materials, then taking the kids for “park school” and a picnic as our reset.

"He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul." - Psalm 23:2-3

“He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” – Psalm 23:2-3

A Reset for Marriage
If there’s any area of our lives that regularly needs a reset it’s our marriage. But rather than wait until we’re in a rut, we’ve learned to be proactive in scheduling resets (a.k.a. date nights). If your whole relationship is consumed by the daily grind of life and raising a family, you’re in danger of bitterness and resentment carving ruts. (If you find yourself regularly dwelling on something that irks you about your spouse, then a reset is in order.) A weekly date night helps to reset our relationship by providing a break from our everyday routine in order to just have fun together. (I’m less likely to get hung up on the toilet paper being replaced the wrong way – and yes, there is a right way – if we’re still laughing over how the instructor for our weekly swing dance class keeps calling my husband by the wrong name.)

If you’re in a “we can’t figure out how to make a date night happen” rut, a weekly date night doesn’t have to be on the weekend, doesn’t have to require a babysitter, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Here are some of the variations we’ve tried, which I hope will inspire you to be creative and, most importantly, get a reset date on the calendar soon (and if you’re too busy to make time for your marriage, you are just plain too busy and need to look for some activities to cut, dear one):

  • Midweek Coffee or Ice Cream Date – Drop the kids off at church on Wednesday night, then head to McDonald’s for the cheapest cup of coffee in town – if there’s no climbing structure, it counts as a date restaurant. We order 2 cups of decaf for $2 (or in the summer, order ice cream sundaes) and chat about things we’re reading or big picture dreams (like what we’d do if we had no debt – a fun and motivating conversation starter). God cares about your marriage, so ditch the guilt over ditching Wednesday night church in order to nurture your marriage. (We don’t skip Sundays, however.)
  • Walk, Talk, and Sip Date – Take a walk together on Saturday or Sunday afternoon – put the kids in a stroller or on bikes to go with you if they’re too young to leave at home – ending with a cup of (hot or cold) tea or coffee WITHOUT THE KIDS at home. Since you’re saving money by having a date at home, splurge on some fancy cocoa, coffee creamer or flavored teas that you like. Our favorite homemade treat is a Rum Mocha: 3 c. (8 oz. each) hot coffee, 2 envelopes cocoa mix, 1/4 c. half-and-half (or almond milk or whatever milk is on hand), 3/4 tsp. rum extract. Combine in a saucepan over medium heat and pour into 2 large mugs. Top with canned whipped cream and enjoy in whatever nook of your home is clean and/or pretty. So long, Starbucks!
  • Bedroom Date – Set up a date night in whatever part of your home you feel is beautiful and/or clean. (We invested in an electric fireplace for our bedroom and bought extra twinkle lights at Christmas to put on a fake tree next to it. It transformed our boring bedroom with hand-me-down, 1970’s, plywood and veneer furniture into a cozy little getaway. Worth. Every. Penny.) If your kids are pre-school age or younger, put them to bed first. If they’re older, let them fix themselves a nutritious dinner of microwave corndogs and chips (God bless you Foster Farms, for giving us gluten free corn dogs), while you order take-out or heat up something easy but special for the two of you. (Costco and Trader Joe’s have lots of fun, gluten free, heat-and-eat options.) Put in a movie for the kids in the family room while the two of you enjoy a leisurely dinner and conversation together in your room or wherever you can carve out a date space. If it’s been a rough week, watch a funny movie or show together to unwind or give each other back rubs. Oh, and don’t forget the dessert!

Why Does the Reset Work?
Back to that picture I took of the ugly ruts. The next day, I woke up to blue sky with a blanket of snow covering the ugly, muddy ruts, reminding me that each day is a new day with fresh hope in a God who blankets us with his grace to start over (as many times as it takes in order to break free of the rut). As I headed back out to the dirt path, this time with warm sunshine on my face (and camera in my pocket), I was reminded of one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Romans 12:2 (NLT):

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but let God transform you by changing the way you think.

Those negative thoughts that sent my brain into a tizzy the day before were the pressures I – we all – feel to conform to the pattern of the world to be always striving, always comparing ourselves to others (and never measuring up). But by the grace of God I can exit the rut and start a new path. By the grace of God, my family and my marriage can move out of ruts as we continue to place our hope in God who makes all things new.

Marking a new path.

Marking a new path.

The walk I took with God the day before was the distraction I needed to remind me that God is not calling me to do more, but rather inviting me to live differently, to rise above the old patterns of thinking and knee-jerk responses to disappointments, and allow him to teach me to to be more joyful. Yes, there is more to this life. There is more joy, more love, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that God wants to develop in me if I will stop looking down at the rut and instead look up.

Blue sky! Sunshine! A ditch! (Okay, ignore the ditch.)

Blue sky! Sunshine! A ditch! (Okay, ignore the ditch.)

Utilizing the reset button is one way that God is transforming me by literally changing the wiring of my brain as I cooperate with him when he makes me aware that I need to change the direction of my thinking. Just because certain neural-pathways have been well traveled for 40 years does not mean that I am stuck in a rut forever! God is able to transform me into a more positive, joyful person when I yield to the nudge to shift my focus off of whatever is irritating me – whether it’s the winter blahs, the pressure to conform to the world’s standard for (unattainable) success, a string of unpleasant circumstances, or a hormone-induced mood swing – and accept God’s gift of grace to choose to momentarily focus on something that brings me (and my family) joy and reminds me that God is the giver of all good things. The power to change comes from God, the reset button is the tool he’s given me to help me transition out of my ruts, and the result is a more joyful life that benefits both me and my loved ones. Glory to God!

God, examine me and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any bad thing in me.
    Lead me on the road to everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 (NCV)

 

 

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