My Deprived Childhood

Joey, Lauren and Amelia at her second birthday party. She's quite the Disney lover already.

Joey, Lauren and Amelia at her second birthday party. She’s quite the Disney lover already.

Note from Sheree: This week three of my sons agreed to doing some guest posting for me as I anticipate the birth of my grandson. Their musings are a little feisty and address contemporary issues pertinent to us all. I’m grateful — because the world is changing too rapidly for me to keep up. We are eager to hear your comments and they have agreed to respond to each. Today’s post is by 27-year-old Joey. He is pictured here with his wife, Lauren, and adorable 2-year-old Amelia (who absolutely loves playing games on their iPad).

“I don’t think playing video games makes people more violent. You of all people should know that. I do, however, believe playing video games turns people into bigger (jerks) than they would otherwise feel comfortable being. Games are founded upon competition and confrontation. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that a large and extremely vocal part of the video-game audience responds to arguments with which it disagrees by lashing out. One reviewer of GTA V (Grand Theft Auto V), Carolyn Petit of GameSpot, said the game was “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic,” which is very much a defensible position. Petit also made it clear she loved GTA V. Twenty thousand irate comments piled up beneath her review, many of them violent and hateful. Is this reasonable behavior? Sure, if you’ve come to regard anything that stands in perceived opposition to you as in dire need of eradication. What is that if not video-game logic in its purest, most distilled form?” – Tom Bissel (emphasis mine, edited for language)

“We have just witnessed the greatest entertainment launch in human history, though I suspect few of us noticed. We remember the buzz around James Cameron’s Avatar which quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time, raking in over $2 billion since its 2009 debut. Well, last week Grand Theft Auto V, a video game, put it to shame, raking in $800 million on launch day, and surpassing the $1 billion mark on its second day…Not only that, but a game typically appeals to a narrower demographic than a movie, which means a narrow slice of the population may be heavily impacted by it. This game is making a huge mark in a relatively small crowd—men in their teens, twenties and thirties…based on reviews, it seems clear that it pushes far beyond the boundaries of good taste or good satire. The game offers an exaggerated world of violence, crime and sleaze. It is unapologetically misogynistic and crude, the language is harsh, and “everyone you meet is a sociopath, narcissist, criminal, lunatic, sadist, cheat, liar, layabout, or some combination of those. “ Players will visit strip clubs and encounter explicit sexuality there, they will consort with prostitutes, they will be involved in a lurid scene of torture, and they will kill gratuitously, graphically and repeatedly.” – Tim Challies, blogger

“I don’t like games where you kill people.” – Every mom in the world.

Mom and Dad had a bizarre and arbitrary rule they enforced with all of their kids as we grew up. We were only allowed to play video games on rainy days. We lived in Virginia at the time, not Florida, so that rule meant we didn’t play much. Today and tomorrow I’ll be talking about why I’ll be enforcing that bizarre and arbitrary rule (well…a version that accomplishes the same thing, without being based on rain, of course) in my home.

Growing up I remember thinking that my parent’s reasoning was along the lines of, “We’re weirdo’s who homeschool, so of course we think worldly things like video games need to be limited as much as possible.” Just kidding. To tell the truth, I never thought much of the rule. The only time it annoyed me was when I was in the middle of a particularly good season of Super Tech and had to wait for the next rainy day to dominate my brother Jesse’s 49ers with my Bears squad. The rule was simply a part of growing up. Many of my friends got into various video games (I remember going to a friend’s house and playing a 007-based game called Golden Eye…at some point he looked at me and said, “You’re the worst player I have ever seen.” We only played a few minutes because I was apparently too easy to kill for the game to be fun.) I just never got hooked, so when I got older and could play as often as I wanted to, I wasn’t hooked and never got into it. Sometimes I go over to my in-law’s house and play with Matthew, who is a first person shooter savant of some sort I think. I get mercilessly destroyed every time. All that to say, (a) I recognize I see this issue from the perspective of an outsider, and (b) I don’t have a problem killing someone in a video game. Or, more appropriately, I don’t mind being killed.

There are 4 reasons I am going to do my best to make sure my kids are as bad at video games as me.

  1. 1.     I don’t want my kids to get addicted to gaming

To be honest, this is probably my biggest concern. Obviously, people can be addicted to anything. At least, if your definition of addiction is my very technical definition, which is addiction is a really big idol. My kids are going to have idol factories for hearts (thanks Mr. Calvin for that life-changing phrase) the same as me, and I want to help them avoid creating an idol of gaming the way my parents did, by limiting their involvement in it during their formative years. This is going to be more of a challenge for me than it was for my parents due to iPad’s, iPhone’s, etc. Games designed for educational purposes will not be given the same treatment as shooting games or football games, for instance. But we have to face it, being addicted to solving math puzzles is not as problematic as being addicted to killing people.

  1. I don’t want my kids to view gaming as an escape from reality

Now I am just being silly, right? For many people the whole point of video games is to escape reality. There is nothing wrong with that, at times. Books can be an escape from reality for some people. Movies usually function that way. Tolkien and Lewis had some great things to say about escaping and the importance of fiction. I just am not sure the type of escaping most video games provide is the good kind of escaping. There is a difference on the affect on the soul between getting lost in Middle Earth for hours and hours and getting lost in a video game world where the goal is to kill more times than you get killed. I am sure there is someone out there who is addicted to a Lord of the Rings video game who could argue that there isn’t much of a difference getting lost in the books verses getting lost in the game. I wouldn’t believe him, but I also will be more open to my kids playing LOTR than GTA V for any length of time.

  1. I want my kids to be active

Forgive me as I will sound like Michelle Obama for a moment. Jesse, take deep breathes. I’ll also sound like a cranky grandpa, but my friends won’t see that as anything new. The amount of time kids spend sitting down inside staring at a screen is incredible to me. Get outside and run…ride bikes…play sports (of course)…mow the lawn…anything! Stop sitting down and staring at screens so much. I stare at screens all day in my job working for an IT company. It drives me crazy and I am getting fat. Kids shouldn’t be doing that. This brings me my adjustment to Mom and Dad’s rule. My bizarre and arbitrary rule is that my kids are going to have to demonstrate that the amount of time they want to play a video game will never be more than 1/5th of the time they spend either outside or reading on a weekly basis. So if they want to spend an hour playing Madden they have to spend a combined total of 5 hours outside or reading. School doesn’t count of course. And by the way, there’s no excuse for it being hot. Florida can get super hot in the summer. But anyone who lives in the DC area knows it gets just as hot and humid as Florida; it just doesn’t last as long. The heat didn’t keep my siblings and I inside because if we ever used the B word (“bored”) or seemed like we had nothing to do Mom brought out the chore list and started making assignments.

  1. I want to limit the influence of the gaming industry on my kids

It’s not just the gaming industry, of course. It’s the entertainment industry in general. There are particularly unique aspects to the way gaming can influence kids (positively as well as negatively), just as there is with movies or any other form of entertainment. Limiting game play time is not the only or best way to combat the negative aspects of gaming…but it is a way. That first quote I shared was from a man immersed in the gaming industry. His perspective would be that the maker of the most popular video game in history knows very well what it is doing, and the message it is sending to the kids and adults who play it. Here is how his article concludes.

What would it even mean for something like GTA to “grow up”? Our most satirically daring, adult-themed game is also our most defiantly puerile game. Maybe the biggest sin of the GTA games is the cheerful, spiteful way they rub our faces in what video games make us willing to do, in what video games are.

Playing GTA used to feel like sneaking out behind school for a quick, illicit smoke. The smoke still tastes good, Niko; the nicotine still nicely javelins into your system. But when you look up, you have to wonder what you’re actually doing here. Everyone is so young, way younger than you, with the notable exception of the guy handing out the cigarettes, and he’s smiling like he just made a billion dollars.

I can’t protect my kids from every cynical, base perspective the world will bombard them with. That’s not even the goal. The goal is to train them that they don’t have to listen.

Tomorrow’s post will address a question this post should inevitably raise. Why pick on video games as opposed to any other form of entertainment?

What’s Coming Up?

I don’t usually plan ahead much on my blog for several reasons. But for the next couple of weeks I’ve got some things planned I’m excited about…

Next week

Those of you who have been around this blog for awhile know that I have occasionally asked my kids to contribute. Next week three of my sons will be posting. I’ve read a couple of their blogs and…well…I will be reading them again. They’re young and say things in a different way than Mom. And they have some opinions and concerns on contemporary issues that will spice things up here. Whether you’re married or single, have kids or don’t, I think their perspectives will provoke your thoughts (and likely some disagreement). Next week will be a great one for you to post comments — and they will respond to each one.

Upcoming Series

Beginning a week from Monday I am beginning a series on “Secret Struggles Women Don’t Talk About.” In my personal life and ministry to women for nearly four decades — and now in my own growing family that includes lots of big and little girls — there are things we commonly just don’t want or like to talk about.  Things like temptations to greed or lust; struggles in our marriage (especially certain kinds of struggles); unplanned pregnancy (we’re supposed to be happy about every one, right?); menopause yukkiness; inferiority over not being “like” that amazing woman you know who does everything…well; shame over sins committed by or against us; longings for closeness to people that seem to go consistently unfulfilled; hidden and confusing same sex attraction.

If you’re not a woman, I hope you won’t check out of this series. I love that guys frequent my blog and each of you know women. Understanding our struggles — especially those we can’t or don’t know how to talk about — may help you to care for and understand the ladies in your life.

Thanks to each of you who come here! I don’t take for granted the time you take to visit. I especially love connecting with you through comments or questions so please bring them!

Have a great weekend!

Lessons from a Smart Phone

I was so excited when I found out that I could speak into my phone and have it type for me!      What an amazing convenience!

I quickly learned, though, that my phone isn’t all that “smart.” How in the world could it think I would actually send someone a text that said, “I’m hey you to pick her up so reassure key lock is hopping for me” when I told it to type, “I’m heading out to pick her up so can you make sure Kayla is looking out for me?”

The hilarious thing is that I pushed send before I read the text. When Jaime sent a return “huh???” text I was confused.

Until I read what my silly phone heard me say!

Relationships are kinda like using a smart phone. Sometimes what we clearly communicated was heard quite differently by our listener.

  • We attempt to encourage a friend for growth in an area and she interprets our words as a back door opportunity to communicate, “Wow, you were really weak in this area and thank God you’re making progress!”
  • A marital conflict escalates — neither of us realize until later that it started because one of us completely misunderstood something that was said early in the conversation. (This happened a few days ago with Benny and me!)
  • A young teen reacts angrily because he or she heard Mom or Dad’s “No, you can’t go” as “Stop trying to grow up…and don’t think you’re gonna start running around everywhere like some of your friends do!”
  • Emotion-laced words are shared through email or text that should be communicated in person. Hiding behind a phone or computer is an understandable temptation when the heat rises in a relationship…but a dicey misunderstanding is pretty much a given.

There’s no way to avoid our words being misinterpreted. We live in a fallen world. We’re not perfect communicators and neither is anyone we know. We all hear things with a trail of experiences, struggles, former relational conflicts and “there they go again”‘s behind us. It’s just plain hard to talk to people and not be misunderstood — especially when heart issues are involved.

And when a relationship is already tense or there’s a growing history of hearing things wrongly (on our part or theirs), it makes communication all the more tangled.

I would be surprised if you aren’t experiencing struggles in communication with at least one person right now. Just typing that sentence brought three people I love to mind as those I get anxious about talking to these days. Even if I carefully choose my words, will I still be misunderstood (again)? Is a big part of the problem in our relationship my own inability to listen without bringing past hurts or conflicts into mind? Can we have a meaningful conversation without one or both of us feeling judged, belittled or frustrated (even if we don’t show it)?

Ugh. It’s just easier to keep conversations light and superficial something, isn’t it? And there are times perhaps we should avoid potentially thorny topics with someone because the relationship just can’t handle it right now. But we can’t give up. If we do, we’ll drift into the bitterness, withdrawal and fear that characterizes people who are unwilling to take the risk of being hurt again when what we say isn’t heard the way we meant it.

Off to text Jaime to see when Kayla is coming to do Thursday morning schoolwork with Granma. Hopefully “eta?” will come out right.

Loving the Light


Last night a group of ladies gathered at my home for a second book study meeting. I love preparing my heart and home for most any reason that involves a crowd — but knowing they were coming made my prep especially enjoyable. Our first meeting was characterized by rich fellowship, even though a few of us were meeting one another for the first time. I was anticipating another sweet time together.

I wasn’t disappointed.

As the room filled my heart warmed at the diversity in the group. There was a college aged cutie; several single adults; married women without kids; a first-time expectant mom about to deliver any day; two moms with little ones in their laps; a middle-aged wife with no children; and a couple of Granma’s like me. In a culture where segregating people by age or season of life is common and often preferred, I’m grateful that having a new little church means everything we do is necessarily…together.

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

After our first meeting two weeks ago one of the gals contacted me to ask if she could share her testimony at the next meeting. The warmth and safety she experienced at the first meeting as she listened to ladies open up about their struggles, coupled with beginning to read the book we are studying together, was opening her heart to some painful things in her life. The Lord stirred her to write down her thoughts and she felt compelled to share her musings with the group.

I was deeply affected by this desire. Why would a young woman who had met most of those in the room at our meeting for the first time want to open up painful, tender things about her life? God was clearly at work in ways I couldn’t and didn’t need to understand.

I opened the meeting last night with the plan: we would share how we were being affected by the book, pray for one another, and then hear a testimony of one of the ladies in the group. After I finished, my new friend sheepishly said, “Sheree, I’m not sure if I can do this. I just don’t know….I want to. But I don’t know if I can.”

I assured her she didn’t have to share and that just knowing she was willing to was a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace in her life. If she decided not to open up such tender parts of her life, that was completely fine.

However, as the meeting winded down she said, “No. I want to do this. I need to do this.”

The rest of our meeting was filled with holy moments. The vulnerability and humility we all witnessed was compelling. As she read her words through tears, many of us cried along with her. The pain, shame and suffering she described touched areas in our own hearts. All of us could relate to her story in some way. We all know what it’s like to fail and to be hurt by others. She was in the company of fellow broken, weak and flawed women.

And when she was done something wonderful happened. Woman after woman thanked and commended her. The risk she took to share her life with us was met with compassion and care. The gospel was on display and we were all honored to have been entrusted with such a precious gift: the gift of disclosure that wasn’t treated as exposure. (A wonderful distinction I’ve learned from friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.)

Her testimony ended with a recognition that the painful things through which she has walked, even those that were the consequences of sinful choices she made along the way, have all been used by a faithful God for good in her life. She even said that she isn’t afraid of future hardships and suffering because of all God has done through the dark times in her life.

Yes, we were on holy ground.

Do you have someone with whom you can share your story? We are all like my friend who opened her heart last night: people who have sinned, been sinned against (sometimes in vile ways) and who live in a fallen world with the resulting consequences of pain, shame, disappointment and discouragement. When we keep our “secrets” in the dark, they grow and often haunt us. When we, however, find a safe person or people to whom we can disclosure things hidden or tucked away, the light dispels the darkness and we see with new eyes.

Choosing the “right” person or people is really important. At times I have unwisely opened my heart and life to people because it felt like the right thing to do and ended up regretting my decision when their responses made me realize I spoke prematurely. Gratefully, though, God has put a few people in my life to whom I can pour out the good, bad and ugly of my past and present struggles.

The light can be a little blinding at times. We all know the feeling of needing to allow our eyes to adjust when we leave a dark room. But the warmth and clarity that only the light can bring are needed and welcomed when God provides a safe and caring place to be honest.

I’m glad my new friend found that place. And I’m glad I was there on a front row seat watching God’s amazing work in her life.

I love the light.



Yesterday I spent part of my day at a Monday homeschool support program my daughter Jaime started last year, enjoyed by a few dozen children and some spunky mom/teachers. I walked up to the building to a greeting of a voice I recognized as my friend, Vicki, who waved from the playground where she was supervising a couple of kids. Inside, I walked by classrooms of giggling children, a teacher reminding students to stop chatting and pay attention, and a child asking how big a stomach is.

I observed my daughter Janelle’s writing and history classes in preparation for being her substitute teacher when little Silas is born in a couple of weeks; watched moms pull toddlers onto their lap to help them with lunch; observed a pregnant mother rubbing her expanding belly; was introduced to a delightful single woman with a reputation for being an awesome kindergarten teacher; and overheard Jaime saying she was headed off to clean up a poopy “whoops” in the bathroom.

As the morning progressed I became sad. I was thrilled to be there and am really looking forward to subbing for my daughter. Yet on the way home tears filled my eyes as a strange blanket of grief crept through my heart.

I miss my babies.

At ages 35, 34, 30, 27, 24 and 19 my littles are now all big. They are terrific, productive, delightful, busy, handsome/beautiful…adults.  They have given me eleven adorable Little People, with numbers twelve and thirteen on the way. And just two nights ago I had the opportunity to listen to them mock and honor and express their love to the three whose September birthdays we were celebrating. Sometimes I pinch myself as I wonder how in the world this “infertile” woman has been so lavishly loved by God.

But today I miss them.

I miss all those little blondes and the dark-haired cutie God gave us last through adoption. I miss wondering if it was dog or toddler pee on the hallway floor and realizing at 4:30 PM that chili dogs would have to do because I forgot to thaw the chicken…again. I miss dandelion bouquets. Feeding the ducks at Burke Lake. Overhearing Benny praying from room to room at night that each would “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Snuggling on the couch to teach another first grader to read. The smell of a just-bathed newborn. Having my frig covered with pictures of Mommy and Daddy whose skinny arms stretched out of our fat heads. Picking up coloring books and popsicles and a Blockbuster movie for the one who had a fever. Nags Head vacations with a house full of kids and friends.

I miss my littles. It may sound strange but today I feel like I’m grieving. Why? They’re all well and I still get to make their favorite birthday dinners. They love to mock me for lovingly comparing a friend to a hobbit and remind me that the every single accent I try always sounds asian. Laughter still fills my home when they are around and the piano in the living room gets played a lot, usually with Jesse’s newest awesome arrangement of something familiar. When Jake, Joey and Janelle get into the kitchen to help clean up, Disney songs are still belted uproariously out and Josh thinks even today’s video games are “unrealistic.” And once in awhile I even hear Jaime slightly mispronouncing her r’s.

So what am I grieving?

I’m mourning the loss of years I thought would never end. But they did.

They ended before I made enough pbnj’s; played enough CandyLand; read enough “Fox and the Hound”‘s; kissed enough boo-boos; graded enough spelling tests; cheered at enough basketball games; swept up enough Cheerios; wiped enough tears; kissed enough soft cheeks; returned enough morning grins; clapped at enough piano recitals; celebrated enough lost teeth; and combed or trimmed or curled or cut gum about of enough hair.

Maybe it was  yesterday’s gloomy, rainy day that caused me to mirror the melancholy because it’s been awhile since I’ve grieved like this. I mostly love my still-busy but different life when I can actually go to the bathroom alone and enjoy leisurely time reading my Bible or editing family photos or blogging in my room with no interruptions (well, except when Benny’s elderly mother wants to know if I can help her find a NCIS rerun on her tv or asks again if I’m sure she took all her pills that morning). But yesterday I was mourning the loss of a life that was more exhausting but wonderful than I could have ever dreamed.

If you’re a mom of young children, please try to remember that before you know it you will be me. The very things that tempt you to feel unappreciated, cause you to fall into bed exhausted (knowing it’s only a matter of time before someone cries to be fed or falls out of bed or rushes in frightened by a bad dream), and make you crazy are those things that may find you driving in a few decades with tears streaming. Of course you get tired and overwhelmed. What you’re doing with your life requires more courage and strength than you ever anticipated. And, yes, you get as low on patience as you do sleep.

But sooner than you think you might be sitting in your quiet room alone thinking about how happy you are that your pregnant daughter and her husband are coming for dinner. In fact (shhh…don’t tell anyone) you might even experience a tinge of jealousy that she is the one about to bring home a newborn and not you.

Then you’ll come to your senses and realize that there is something precious and sweet about remembering things that used to feel they would always be…but aren’t. The grief will pass but the memories won’t.

Kiss your babies while their cheeks remain soft and their little bottoms can still fit into your lap. And tonight when you fall exhausted into bed, remember there’s now one less day before you will celebrate their last birthday at home before they get married to start the crazy, wonderful years they, too, think will creep by before they get old (right, Jake?). The tears you shed now over another day of doing chores that will only have to be redone tomorrow will become tears of sentimental regret that one one is in the house to mess it up.

I know you probably don’t believe me. But trust me. It’s all true.

Me and my "babies"

Me and my “babies”

He is in the Rain

I’m sitting in my comfy chair in my room watching rain fall lazily onto my back yard. In Florida you never know how long the rain will last, but it’s typically not long at all. A light rain can turn into a deluge within minutes and then sunshine soon returns. In fact, in can be raining on my side of the street and not in my neighbor’s yard just feet away!

Moving to Florida brought new meaning to “scattered showers.” In the DC area where I spent most of my life, rain coming usually meant you were in it for the day…or week. Scattered showers typically still meant long periods of clouds and rain as far as the eye could see. Florida is different. Yesterday I was driving in the bright sunshine and suddenly I drove into pelting rain that lasted for only a matter of seconds. I’ve lived here for over 13 years and this still catches me by surprise.

In the short time it’s taken me to type these words the rain has stopped. Oh well. I missed the opportunity to set some plants out….

Aren’t our lives a little like the weather?

Sometimes gloom comes on suddenly and we’re surprised by wind and pelting rain. What just happened? Perhaps it was a phone call that left us reeling from a poor health diagnosis about us or someone we love. Or maybe a sudden job loss, exposure of sexual sin with a young adult child or weighty conflict with someone close leaves us feeling discouraged or despairing. The suddenness of the downpour only adds to the disorientation of the information we just received. Bad news falls hard on the unsuspecting heart.

Other times we see storm clouds gathering and have time to prepare for the deluge.

Growing marital strife warns that things between us and our spouse are becoming more serious. An x-ray reveals that haunting suspicions over time about strange symptoms have a cause. The “gut feeling” we’ve had that something just wasn’t right with one of our kids makes sense when we happen upon their recent online activity. But even seeing storms on the way don’t make them easier because watching dark clouds building can bring foreboding anxieties about what’s coming.

And then there are those times when the sun is out and life is pretty much going well. When sudden rain falls it’s easy to just smile and enjoy it. Florida living introduced me to the whimsy experience of driving when the sun is brightly shining and shimmers of dancing droplets play on my car windshield for a minute or two. It’s easier to handle unexpected challenges in our lives when they come when all is otherwise well.

Is it raining in your life? If so, has it been dark and gloomy for a long time, leaving you weary and fighting for hope? Or are you worried that circumstances or relationships are brewing to bring trials that test your faith? Perhaps your life is pretty pleasant right now as spurts of challenges come and go in your otherwise happy days of relative sunshine?

However the rain is falling for you, I want you to know I’m there. Over the past year or so I’ve experienced all three of those scenarios. Sometimes I feel the darkness closing in and wonder if the sun will shine again. Other days I’m able to see the clouds gathering ahead and am able grab onto my spiritual umbrella. And then there are days when my heart is light and the Son is shining brightly while I deal with the normal challenges of every day life.

The good thing about rain is that it never lasts forever. It comes…and goes. It has a purpose. For me, the rain that been falling has been softening my heart to know and love God more. When it’s dark I can tell myself, “It won’t be dark forever. The sun is right there behind the clouds. Lord, help me to endure.” As my heart softens I sense His nearness and know that He is planting tender seeds in my heart that require both rain and sun. Believe me, this is something that I have to remind myself regularly. Otherwise I easily fall into hopelessness and believing the lie that it will never be sunny again.

God measures the rain in our lives. Even when it seems flood waters are rising and we fear we might be swept away, He governs each drop that falls. If we’re swept away, it will be into His outstretched, safe arms.

Is your heart dry and hard? Then pray for rain.

Are you being pelted by a painful deluge? Then pray for strength.

Do you see clouds gathering? Then pray for God to prepare your heart to endure with faith.

Is the sun shining? Then pray for gratitude.

And always remember, He is in the rain.

Looking…in All the Wrong Places

As I’ve been talking about sadness this week, several people have contacted me saying the thing that most tempts them to be sad is trouble in their relationships:

  • Marital strife, disappointment or shame due to a spouse’s sin
  • Lonely years of unplanned singleness
  • Spiritually passive teens
  • Misunderstanding in a friendship; or no close friendships at all
  • Unresolved extended family tension or unmet expectations
  • In-law challenges
  • Hurtful words or actions from co-workers
  • Spiteful adult siblings

I agree with author Paul Tripp who calls relationships “a mess….”

In my life, the problem is when I think the solution is for someone else to change. Take this morning, for instance. Benny and I had a tif over a decision he made some months ago that has affected me in ways he didn’t anticipate. As the consequences of that decision have become clearer to us both, and especially to me, the temptation is to think, “If he had only listened to me. My goodness. He needs to stop/start…(fill in the blank).” My default reaction to challenges between us is to blame him and/or consider how things would be better between us if he would just change. (Ha…I’m sure he probably thinks the same thing!)

Paul Tripp says, “The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that it promises that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself.” Ouch. I’ve been taught the wonderful principle that the only person I can help to change is myself — and that real change can only come by the work of God in my and others hearts. But in the moment (you know that “moment”) when the hurt or anger of relational disappointment happens, I all too quickly rush to how he needs to stop doing this or start doing that.

The season of sadness through which I’ve been walking in teaching me so much, mostly about God but also about myself. I’ve been investigating scripture, getting counsel from a friend and praying for God to change me. But this morning all that went out the window and during my interaction with Benny there was no talk of how need to change!

The fact is Mr Tripp is so right, relationships are a mess — but a mess worth making.  (You can take a look at his and Tim Lane’s helpful book by that title here.)

When I’m tempted to give up or curl into a ball of unbelief and hopelessness that things will change, I’m reminded that difficult relationships are just a reminder that the only Person who will never betray, disappoint, gossip about, reject or otherwise sin against me is God. People — including me! — are flawed, broken, weak and in need of change. There will never be a husband or child or friend or sibling or parent or boss that won’t do and say things that cause us pain. But God will always and only be good, loving, faithful and patient.

He will never turn away from me when I sin.

He will always be there for me; never too busy or distracted or pre-occupied to listen to and help me.

He will never betray or abandon or reject me.

And every time someone important to me does any of these things (and more) He will empower me to run to a throne of grace where He stands eager to help, comfort and sustain me.

Why, then, do I look to people for what I already have from Him? Why am I surprised when sinners like me don’t understand what their words and actions to do my weak heart? Why am I more eager for others to change than I am for me to change?

People weren’t meant to give me safety, comfort and security. If I found these things in them, would I know I need God?

Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

Something I truly Hate.

I dislike numerous things but honestly, I hate being sad.

Sadness is like a thick, wet blanket that closes in on me and tempts me to feel alone. Do you know what I mean?

Recently several things have brought sadness to my heart. Watching a friend deal with the debilitating illness and slow death of her husband. Caring for one dear woman dealing with the shock of an unplanned but healthy pregnancy while another suffers grief from a planned pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Walking through some challenging circumstances in my marriage. Dealing with weighty adjustments to my elderly mother-in-law moving in with us. Missing a son who is away at college (oh, so much to miss about him!). Being misunderstood by an in-law. Being acutely reminded recently of how much I miss my long-gone Mom and Dad.

Walking through this season of sadness has reminded me of how good but hard it is to have a God-tenderized heart. You see, not everyone feels things the same as others. Some people either refuse to feel because it hurts too much; many elect not to feel because they’re afraid of where the grief will take them; still others have deeply painful things that happened in their past that make sadness utterly fearful and to be avoided; and some choose to embrace sadness because..well…because there’s no way out of it but through it. A tender heart (which is only possible with God’s help) makes sadness really hurt, but it brings with it a desire to take that path through it.

My friend Ginny calls this “processing.” In the nearly two years since I’ve known her I can’t recall the number of texts or emails or Community Group conversations when she’s mentioned she was processing a sermon, Bible passage or experience. To Ginny, processing means not rushing through the grief or confusion or temptation to be overwhelmed. Rather, the goal is trusting God even when sturdy answers can’t be found.

I’ve been processing my sadness. In fact, I still am.

A friend recently compared processing to having a “psalmists mentality.” People (like me at times) who avoid taking the often leisurely path that’s required to effectively deal with the sadness or grief that comes from painful situations in our lives or the lives of those we love  shortchange the process. Jumping from the sting of sadness to the unhelpful end of premature “acceptance” of the source of our grief cuts God out of the picture.

The psalmists didn’t rush the process. Rather, they honestly poured out their hearts and complaints to God. Why was this acceptable to a holy God? Why did He respond with compassion and help? Because their desire was to work it through to an honorable end.

I used to think that complaining to God was always wrong and that the mature and biblical thing to do when faced with sadness was to stop whining and accept God’s plan. I was right. Sorta. Whining, complaining and charging God is never the godly woman’s response to pain…longterm. But God is our Father; the One to whom we can pour out our hearts —  including our perplexities and complaints and the “Lord, what are you doing” cries — when the disorientation of sadness grabs our hearts and then twists them hard.

Are you sad today? Are you or someone you love facing painful circumstances that leave you feeling like a wet blanket is leaving you alone in your sadness?

I might know a little of how you feel. What I’m certain I know, though, is that you are not alone. If you are a Christian, God is with you.  His very name is Emmanuel, which means God with us. Even if you have no one to talk to or listen to your struggles or with whom you can share this burden, He is near. One of the first things that often happens to hurting people is a feeling of isolation that either says, “No one could know how I feel” or “No one cares.”

Someone does know how you feel and does care. Sometimes we don’t feel His nearness, comfort and help, but He promises He will “never leave or forsake us.”

Never leave. Even if you feel abandoned by those who you wish were close and considerate.  Or even if you wish you could help the person you’re grieving with and feel there’s just nothing you can do but pray.

Never forsake. Even if you’ve been betrayed by someone you thought you could trust or have been slandered by people you assumed knew better.

I pray that your sadness will be met with the tangible, real and promised help of the only One who can truly help you even when you crave human empathy. Pour out your heart to Him. And, yes, even your complaints. He’s been hearing some of mine recently and I’m thrilled to say that He really can help. When the heart of His sons and daughters are disposed to trust and honor Him and yet we’re struggling with the sadness of life, He is ready and eager to help.

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have a heart to know and follow God.

I don’t know all of you who visit here but God does.  And I’m stopping to ask Him to help you now.