Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Making Choices..

Being a Christian is an interesting thing. Paul describes being a Christian as having liberty. We have been set free from sin, we have been freed from the bonds and chains of this sinful nature.  `Everything is permissable`, Paul wrote.

What have we been freed to though.. What are we now free to do

Ultimately, when Jesus died on that cross, and when He defeated death and the grave, He redeemed us back to what God had given humanity in the beginning: the power of choice.

Through Jesus, we are free to choose. We can freely choose to love, to serve, to give. Or we can freely choose to turn away. (This would be why that once you`ve been saved, if you then reject the gospel, and reject your salvation, there is no more salvation available to you -- you resold your power to choose, and Jesus isn`t going to die again for you to get it back).

However, sometimes as Christians, we lack awareness of this freedom to choose. That`s why we tend to sin so frequently, and why we feel like we are continually struggling. Being a Christian means that we can no long live life on autopilot, because the autopilot program is corrupted. Now that you have that freedom to choose, you also have the responsibility to actually make a decision, and not just react on instinct or habit in the moment.

God gives us the recipe to develop this awareness of our choices: it`s called `renewing your mind`. The degree to which we renew our minds is the degree that we are aware of our choices and able to decide among them. (This would be why reading scripture frequently is helpful -- it keeps constantly in the forefront of your mind the idea that you can choose what you will do, how you will respond, and changes how you think -- renews your mind).

Old habits are ingrained in our brains. The more you follow a certain pattern of thought and behaviour, the faster the physical neurons in your brain connect, and the easier that connection is made. Like water, your thoughts and actions will tend to follow the easiest path, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will do what you`ve always done -- unless you choose otherwise.

The point is that we have this power to choose, and the more aware we are of our choices, the easier it is to choose -- and the more you make the right choice, the easier it is to make the right choice again. You will retrain your brain.

Humanity was designed to live inside time. We make choices based on what happened, what is happening and what is going to happen -- the past, the present and the future. However, our lack of awareness of our choices will make us unaware of the time as well. God did call us to `redeem the time`.

If we live solely in the past, we will become indecisive. So caught up in what happened, we will be victims, and feel helpless and powerless. We will be unaware of the present moment, the choices facing us, and completely ignorant of the future consequences. We will live passively, letting life just happen to us, instead of deciding for ourselves what we will do, and what we will make happen.

If we live solely in the present, we will become impulsive. Living in the moment is spontaneous and fun, but dangerous too. We will be forget all about the past, and its lessons to be learned. Someone once said, `Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.` and it`s very true. Those who ignore the past make the same decisions over and over again (old habits die hard, and old thought patterns become ingrained). We will also forget all about the future, and its impending consequences. Then we constantly wonder why the same things happen over and over again. This life choice leads to insanity, doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.

If we live solely in the future, we will be come overly anxious. We will forget about the past, and the victories and successes there, and we will forget the mistakes made so we do not repeat them. We will miss the moment of decision, paralyzed by the thought of the consequences of every choice, by not being aware of the present. We will wonder constantly `what if, what if` and never be able to appreciate what we have. This leads to discontentment, and a constant search for security, or a way to numb the pain of worry.

In order to really choose, we have to be aware and live in the whole of time. Sometimes, it seems animals do this better than we humans do. An animal will learn from the past -- that`s why they can be trained. Animals are very (very!) aware of the present -- that`s why they are opportunists. And animals plan for the future -- `look to the ant, you sluggard!`   We humans need to live similarly, dealing with and learning from our past, in order to plan for our future, so that in the present moment our choices will be right and good.

The first thing we need to do in order to make a good choice is to deal with the past. We all have things we wish we hadn`t done.  We all have painful memories, regrets and sorrow about the past. In order to not live there, we must deal with these things. We must come to terms with the fact that no matter what it was, we had a choice (even when we were legitimately a victim, there is still a choice -- a choice of response. The good thing is that choice can be made in the present, even when the victimization happened a long time in the past!) We must also learn to recognize all the consequences of our past choices, even when they are uncomfortable. Sometimes this means we must admit we made a mistake. And that we must forgive ourselves for that mistake, recognizing that Jesus has already forgiven us. Once we`ve dealt with the past, we can learn from it. We can learn which decisions led to consequences we didn`t like, and purpose to not make those mistakes again. We can figure out what we want, what we like, what we value, and what`s truly important. In short, the past shapes our identity.

The second thing we need to do in order to make good decisions is to plan for the future. All those `what if`questions will disappear when we have a plan. You can`t decide anything if you don`t know where that decision fits in the bigger picture. Having a plan for the future means having a guide for all your decisions. But in order to have a plan, first you must find out who you are (dealing with the past).  You need to know what you want, what you like, what you value before you can develop the plan that will get you there. Once you have a plan, all your decisions fall into place, and we can decide for the consequences that further the plans we have, and decide against those things that will hinder the plans we have. You can`t know what you will do, what you want, until you know who you are, and what your purpose is. Your identity shapes your destiny.

You can`t know what to do until you know who you are and what you want. You can`t know what to do until you know how you`re going to get what you want. And you can`t know who you are and what you were made for, until you know God. One thing you can know for sure, and this is a great starting point, is resting assured that God made you, God loves you, and God has a plan for you.

Deal with the past and learn who you are. Plan for the future and learn where you`re going. Then the present will fall into place. Your decisions will be guided by your values and your goals. If your identity and destiny are rooted in Christ Jesus, your decisions will be based on who He is, and what He wants. Then the promises of God come into effect:


`And we know all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.`
`Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.`
`Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding; commit all your ways to him and he will direct your paths.`
`With God all things are possible.`
`Happy is the man who trusts in the Lord ... he shall have good success.`
`I would that you will prosper in all things, even as your soul prospers`

Becoming aware of your power to choose, renewing your mind, and redeeming the time = the Christian walk. It`s not easy. It`s not that hard either. It does require effort, but it is rather simple. It`s a `light yoke and easy burden`. It`s `picking up your cross daily to follow`.

It all starts with a choice.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Endings and beginnings.. Part 8

Continued..

The counselling program was my lifeline. I checked my email constantly, hoping for encouragement, and I called in regularly to the group counselling calls. I grew more and more discouraged.

I tried setting boundaries, healthy boundaries, this time.. asking for appropriate affection and communication. My boundaries were crossed, every time. My requests were ignored, and my no's were also ignored. After one morning of feeling used, again, and crying.. I realized that nothing was changing.. or rather that it was changing, and not in the direction I wanted it to go.

By the end of the third month, I was emotionally depleted, and physically drained. I had nothing left to give, and nothing left to fight with... and felt like I had nothing to fight for. I asked my husband to leave, on the last day of the month. The counsellors we talked to asked him to leave two days before that.. and he did.  By the end of the month, he had packed up most of his clothes and necessities, and he was moved out.

These last two weeks have been both a relief and a sorrow. Physically and emotionally, I feel as though I've regained strength. But I am despairing at my marriage...

We continue in the counselling program, which has a high rate of success, when the husband whole-heartedly participates. However... I have my doubts about my husband's heart.

** For information on the counselling program used, please go to www.godsavemymarriage.com **

Friday, 6 September 2013

Here we go again... Part 7

Continued...

In the fall, we continued to struggle. And then it happened.. we had a major fight, that resulted in horrific actions. My husband, in his raging, grabbed my daughter's school project, and threw it on the floor, breaking it to pieces and yelling, scaring both me and our small children. I stood up and asked him to leave, right then and there, .. and he refused. Finally he walked out, after walking in and out several times, intimidating me and yelling the whole time. Terrified of his return, I waited a few minutes, and shakingly dressed my children in coats and buckled into strollers, and walked them over to my brother-in-law's house.

I walked in their door, and promptly burst into tears. I was scared, shaking, and just hoping for release. My worst nightmare had come true, and here I was pregnant with baby number 5. My inlaws calmed me, and watched my children, while I pulled myself together. My husband showed up, and apologized nicely, and everyone convinced me to go back home.

I regret that, actually..

Things were never the same, after that. I jumped constantly at his every emotion, trying to read him and make sure he was never enraged again. I kept my oldest with me as much as I could, in an attempt to protect her from his verbal attacks. I found the marriage ministry that I had briefly discovered when we moved in together again, and I jumped on it with both feet, connecting with online and phone counsellors. And I prayed harder..

As my due date neared, things were falling apart. Another rage happened, and this time one of our children was nearly hurt seriously by his out of control actions. I was ready to leave, but felt trapped by my impending delivery, and our small children. I clung to the counsellors, and to my God..

Our baby was born during a storm -- not emotional, but natural -- but it seems symbolic, somehow. We named her everlasting mercy (the meaning of her name), and I know she is my reminder that God gives us the things we don't deserve, for ever and ever..

When she was just a few weeks old, I sat my husband down, and gave him my ultimatum. Either get with the program.. or get out. I was done with abuse, I was done with feeling unsafe, I was done, period. I asked him to show me he was serious about being married.

He agreed to do what I asked, and participate in the counselling program. He connected with counsellors, read the books they asked him to read, and watched the seminars on dvd. But his attitude, his actions and his words didn't really change. He still attacked my oldest daughter verbally, and I still watched his every move to try to anticipate his moods. I still didn't feel safe.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

God's recipe for families

It was a special fall, in a time that I expected and hoped for so much. I sat writing with my newborn daughter on a blanket at my feet. My toddler and preschooler were outside with their older sister, enjoying the brisk fall weather and each other. My husband was watching and playing with them, and I was relaxing in the comfort of my parents' home. My mother had supper cooking in the slow cooker, and the smells of warm stew were teasing my appetite. My father had a fire on in their fireplace, cozying up their already inviting home. 

This, to me, is family.

Comfort, warmth, food and friendship are what most of us think about at certain times of year. When we gather together with loved ones, we celebrate family, create memories and build relationships.

As believers, family is even more special, for many reasons. We have a larger family than just related by blood or marriage but is also created by faith. Family is the form of the Church, the foundation of society and the fundamental representation of the Triune God. It is by family that we learn to relate to each other, to God and to the world.

God has instructions for family as He does for every other area of life. Family is incredibly important to God, and should be also vital to the Christian. In fact, the main qualification for any type of leadership in the Church is that one's family has been and continues to be well managed and an example of faithfulness, respect, love, and kindness. Paul states that if we cannot lead our own families well, we have no business trying to lead the church.

A godly family begins with a godly, solid marriage. In the beginning, God created human beings to be together in families, and joined the first couple in marriage Himself. Their relationship was without barriers, originally, and they had complete intimacy, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They had complete trust in each other and in God. God designed us to long for that connection to another person: to be completely known... and accepted! This intimate, connected relationship is where our strengths shine and our weaknesses are protected. United in marriage, our efforts are multiplied, and our impact magnified.

A godly marriage starts with God. When both partners have a personal relationship with God, like a triangle, they grow closer together as they grow closer to God. Godly marriages are strengthened by our willingness to be honest, open and vulnerable. Paradoxically, we build a strong marriage by being willing to reveal weakness. Marriage is then fulfilled in our unity and teamwork. We are fully "one flesh" when our first response is about "we" not "me".

It is in family that we best exemplify the Image of God. Genesis 1:27 says that man was created in His image, male and female. Together we fully show who God is. It begins with marriage, and is completed with the first command God gave human beings: to be fruitful and multiply. God looks generationally. His promises to Abraham and his descendants were constantly to “you and your children.” Children are compared to “gifts”, “rewards”, and “crowns”. It is the security of a godly marriage, founded on God’s principles, that children best grow and thrive, and the Godly family achieves God’s purpose.

In order to have a godly family, godly parenting is key. Scripture says that the essential ingredients of godly parenting are consistent teaching, compassionate discipline and communal responsibility. Deuteronomy 6:5 instructs parents to teach their children the laws of the Lord, at every single moment of life, and not just with words, but with their example as well. Consistency is integral to effective parenting. If your words don’t match your actions, children are confused and often rebel. Proverbs lists the value of discipline in correcting children and preventing future pain for both child and parents, and Ephesians 6:6 expands on that by admonishing parents to temper their discipline with understanding, lest they provoke rebellion in their children. Psalms declares that God disciplines us like a father disciplines the son he delights in, showing us that it takes love and compassion to discipline appropriately. The examples given us in Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings of how the sins of one person affected the whole community show how God views the community’s responsibility of the raising of children. Leviticus gave instructions to parents on how to handle rebellious children, with the community’s help. In Matthew 18, Jesus also told us how to handle those who offend us, including our children, by appealing to the larger community of which we are a part, such as our local church. Godly parenting involves all these elements to raise godly children.

The effects of godly marriage and godly children are evidenced in the impact on the world. In Psalms 134, God compares godly children to arrows in a trained warrior’s quiver, going far beyond him to hit the target and accomplish a purpose. God can use our children to accomplish His purposes. In Psalm 139, God declared that each of us was uniquely created, and in Jeremiah 29, God promised a future and a hope for us. In families, we are trained, nurtured and prepared for that future. In Isaiah, God told us that He puts the lonely in families. Families are God’s way of showing His love to the world.

The holidays are soon upon us again.  This year, for my family, it is exciting, but bittersweet, with our new addition, a wedding, and a marital breakdown. My daughters are excitedly anticipating being able to share their favourite traditions with their new baby sister, and our extended family is greatly looking forward to meeting her. My brother is getting married, and my second daughter is thrilled to be their flower girl. Yet, I struggle with the pain and sorrow surrounding my own marriage. 

We do have more to celebrate this year. We also have more to mourn. Every year, however, we can celebrate God’s love and provision for us, in giving us a family, whatever that may look like. God puts us in families, whether that is the family of our birth, or the family of our second birth, the church. The community of family is so important to God. God started His story with a family, and finishes it with a family.

The Godly family is love in action. Thank God for His family, and for our families.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Surprise! Attempting reconciliation... Part 6

Continuing.. 

The new year started with some good resolutions.. and a big surprise. On January 4th, I discovered I was pregnant.. again! It was a shock and at first I didn't even believe it. But two weeks later a follow up ultrasound confirmed that another baby was on its way. 

I told my husband who was ecstatic with the news. Apparently the Christmas present I had given him was going to keep on giving.. for 9 more months! And all my intentions of a slow, paced, careful reconciliation process went out the window. In a sense, I panicked. Here I was, with a 6 yr old, 2 yr old, 9 month old and newly pregnant.. in a 2 bedroom apartment, with no husband, no car, no job.. I was a mess. 

I was still nursing, and in fact nursed through 6 months of pregnancy, and immediately began looking for another place to live. A 2 bedroom apartment was not going to fit 4 children, and 2 adults. And my lease was up in September, so waiting till then to move was also out of the question -- moving while due with a baby is not fun! I worked to break my lease, found replacement tenants, and a new house to move to, coincidentally? (absolutely not, God knew what He was doing!) in the same village that my inlaws lived in, just outside the city. My husband and I moved in together when we moved into that house, and that's where our baby was born, at home. 

With all the stress surrounding moving, baby, the issues of trust and abuse not addressed, in the rush, after my daughter was born, I slipped into a mild episode of postpartum depression. My husband stepped up into a role of taking care of home and children, and wife and baby, even taking extra time off to do so. It was, despite my fatigue and fog, probably the best time in our relationship ever (even since). We worked together, and we enjoyed each other. So much so..

One year to the day, after our reconciliation papers had been filed, ending our separation, we renewed our vows in front of our new home church. We hosted a party to burn the papers I had filled out to file for divorce. We symbolically recommitted ourselves to each other and to our family. And a month later, we found out we were expecting.. 

I was thrilled. Finally, a child I expect to have been both conceived and delivered while married and living together. It seemed fitting, to seal our new relationship with another baby. My husband seemed pleased as well, though unemployment and a new baby was definitely causing him stress. 

But.. subtly, things changed. Whether it was the stress of unemployment, or the feeling of having "won", my husband fell into old patterns. This time, it was a more subtle version. The criticism was hidden in compliments, or targeting my oldest daughter behind my back. The fights and yelling were provoked, rather than incited by him, and I found myself feeling like I was the one starting things unnecessarily. Things were twisted into making him seem innocent, that hurts were unintentional, or were ignored altogether. I was questioned constantly on my beliefs, my feelings, my needs, and I felt so off-balance that I wondered if I was going to lose my mind. 

I began to ask him to help, to change, to do something... to at least recognize the old patterns of abuse. I began searching for things to help. I prayed.