Time is definitely NOT on my side

My son came home for his first home visit at my house (his first one was at his dad’s) last weekend. I wish I could say I thought it was a success. But the truth is, after the first day I was more than ready to ship him back off to treatment. I know, that’s not the Good Mom attitude. And it isn’t gracious, or longsuffering, or kind. I feel like when it comes to this particular relationship, what spiritual fruit God has allowed me to develop so far just sort of looks at it and immediately gives up and withers away to nothing. I love him so much, and yet being in his presence makes me so upset and frustrated. I thought (or at least hoped) that after a few months in treatment, the Sean I remember from 8 years ago would come back. That the sweet, tenderhearted, hardworking and hilarious son that I used to have would return to me. But alas, apparently mental health treatment centers are only meant to help with mental health issues. They can work with him to treat his depression, but they can’t make him not be a total jerk. They can’t make him treat his parents with respect. They can’t even give him any kind of desire to become a functional adult so that he could successfully survive without his parents.

The only one who can do any of that is God. And I have been crying out to him throughout the last few days. Literally bawling, and often at completely inappropriate times. I don’t always even have the words to articulate what I’m asking for, I just say “help him” over and over, begging and pleading. And then I read stories about people who have waited 25, 50, even 75 years for their prayers to be answered.
I’m not sure I can make it that long, God. I’m staring down the barrel of a decision that I know is coming within the next few weeks. The decision that I have to either let Sean make all the rules like he always has, or stand up and tell him that if he doesn’t show that he’s willing to try to follow my authority, he can’t live with me. I have to be willing to kick my son out of my house. And there’s no doubt in my mind that left to his own devices, Sean will push me to that decision very, very quickly. I need some divine intervention. Give me time, God, please!! I just found You, I just figured out what life was about, please let me have a chance to show my son what that looks like.
I know I’m a little incoherent, readers, and I’m sorry. This is what I’ve been like for the last 5 days, pretty much – be happy you’re not my younger son, who’s actually having to LIVE with it.

First Steps

This spiritual journey that I’m on feels like a rollercoaster ride sometimes.  Three weeks ago, I stepped out in faith, completely convinced that I was about to ruin my relationship with my kids, be embroiled in a legal battle over my home, be living in fear for my own safety, and probably lose many of my material possessions.  Ok, so maybe I wasn’t completely convinced of those last two, but I was sure my kids were never going to speak to me again and sure that I was going to have to go to court to get my house back.  And now here I am, back in my home after a relatively quiet move out by my ex.  He took nothing with him that I didn’t ok first, and of those things, I didn’t feel pushed to hold on to any of it.  Yes, I will miss my dog, and my kids will miss their video games, but all in all it’s just stuff.  And my kids?  Barely blinked when I told them that the guy I’d been living with for 3 years, who they’ve been calling their stepdad, is no longer in their lives.  It’s a little disconcerting that they seem to be that unsurprised by their mother destroying yet another relationship, but it’s also a huge blessing.   And even beyond that, I’m now able to spend time with my younger son that I never got to before because given the choice, he always would have hung out with my ex over me.  I mean, why wouldn’t he?  The ex was the one who played video games with the commitment of a full-time job, they had far more in common than a 13-year-old boy has with his mother.  But now it’s just him and me in the house, and so he pretty much has to talk to me, and it’s actually been unbelievably good for our relationship.  Not something I was expecting at all, but thanks God!

But the blessings don’t stop there.  My spring Bible study group, which I’d been dreading the end of (next week) because I have no Christian friends yet, has extended through the summer.  My church started a small group JUST for new people, and it’s the perfect size for a super-shy person like me, small enough that I don’t feel too self-conscious and can share a little, so I can start to plug in there.  My older son is having his first home visit with me since he went into treatment this weekend, and I’m not scared at all, I’m just excited.

Things are GOOD!  I’m not into prosperity gospel or anything, I know that it’s not always like this no matter how strong my faith is.  There will be many trials and tribulations, and even in this time of overflowing blessings, I’m still experiencing some of those too.  But I think sometimes God just wants you to experience joy in the present, without too much sorrow or pain or tribulation to balance it out.  So I’m enjoying this while I can, and trying to use this time of sunshine to build and grow so that when the rain starts falling again, I’m more prepared than I otherwise would have been.

Thank you, Lord. 🙂

 

Through the eye of the needle

You know, in my life I’ve heard a lot of Christians talk about how God grows us in our faith little by little, that it’s a daily change and that we aren’t expected to run before we can walk.  And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.  But I’m starting to feel a little misled – maybe just because of my own misinterpretation of what that meant.

I had JUST committed my life to Christ when I created this blog, and that was only a few short months ago.  I mean, I’m still a real baby here.  When someone asks me why I believe X or Y, I don’t always have a verse to back me up, and I totally suck at recognizing the voice of God as opposed to the voice of my own selfish desires.  I’m learning.  Because yeah, we DO grow little by little.  But that’s not the end of the story.

As a spiritual infant, I sort of thought that I’d have more time before I needed to really ACT like a Christian.  I mean, quitting smoking is hard.  Finding time for devotions is hard.  Not swearing is hard.  There are many things that I started my walk still doing, that I knew weren’t in line with God’s greater desires for me.  But I didn’t feel like I could or even should seek to defeat all of them at once – it’s just too much to keep track of, quite frankly.  I sort of have a lot of flaws. And I will continue to have a lot of flaws, probably for the rest of my life.  I won’t be perfect in this life, and I don’t have to be.  Right?  Right.

However, I forgot that God has a schedule of his own, and that just because I don’t have to be perfect right now, doesn’t mean I don’t need to listen to him when he speaks.

Within a week of my initial commitment, I was already feeling convicted about the relationship I was in.  I know it’s wrong to live in sin outside of marriage.  I know it’s wrong to marry someone who isn’t on the same belief path I am (not to mention just a really bad idea most of the time). But really, God?  Can’t I just marry the guy real quick, like I planned to do originally, and then ask forgiveness later? Instead you’re asking me to throw away a 3-year relationship, two practically-step-children who I consider family, a domestic partner that I care for deeply, and a life that just feels really good?  You’re asking me to do this NOW, when I just discovered You like yesterday?

And he says: Yes, Nicodemus.  That ONE thing that you love more than Me – the ONE thing that would usurp me in your life because it always has – your former god – THAT is the thing you have to give up. Because true love involves sacrifice, and look what I sacrificed for you!  Can you not sacrifice this one thing to follow me?

Man, this is not all unicorns and fluffy bunnies, is it?  It’s hard, doing right.  But after months of wrestling, looking for loopholes, and even pretending I wasn’t struggling, I finally gave in to God.  And it wasn’t much fun.  I’m currently staying at my parents’ house, because my ex wouldn’t leave the home that I own.  I get angry, hurt, bitter messages literally hourly.  But it is SO good to finally have peace with this.  Thank you God, for being patient with me, for showing me your will in such uncertain terms that I couldn’t possibly ignore it, and for giving me strength to take that step of faith.

 

Easter musings

My life this week has been completely wrapped up in a single decision I have to make.  I’ve been so worried about knowing for 100% certain that my decision is following God’s plan for me, I can hardly think about anything else.  I set up a meeting with my pastor for this Friday to get his guidance on this particular issue….so now I dream at night that I suddenly find out that he doesn’t believe anything he’s been preaching, that he doesn’t even believe in God, that he’s actually a horrible person who abuses little girls.  I’m so worried that he won’t have the answer, that the fear even follows me into sleep.

So I have been trying to get out of my own head in my morning devotions.  This is Easter weekend anyway, right?  I should be focusing on the incredible gift of the resurrection, I should be thankful rather than stressed.  So I read the Easter story this morning, and I spent a little time reflecting on the sermon that I heard last night (yes, my church celebrated Easter on Saturday night. Sue me!). Something stood out at me from that service, and from the Good Friday service as well.  There was a lot of discussion about the cross, the actual physical cross, and its meaning at the time of Jesus’s death.  It wasn’t just about execution, it was about public humiliation.  That’s fairly common knowledge…..Jesus went through mocking, through torture, through a long-drawn-out death in front of crowds of people.  But I couldn’t help asking myself….why?  I mean, I know why he died – he had to, to pay for the sins of the rest of us.  But the wages of sin is DEATH – not shame, not public humiliation, not mocking.  So why did God pick that particular fate for his only Son?

I have to think that the answer lies in the results.  I mean sure, Jesus could have been beheaded in private as it sounds like was rather common at the time.  In fact, it seems to me like he could have had one of his disciples cut him open in an emotional, formal ceremony.   But if he had gone with one of those options…would we still remember him?  Would the hundreds, thousands of people who after the Resurrection heard that Jesus died and was raised back to life, have been amazed and terrified and enthralled, if they hadn’t witnessed the unforgettable hours of torture that they had watched him go through?  Would the story have continued to spread the way that it did in the early days of the church, if so many people hadn’t known and remembered Jesus as that guy who they enthusiastically mocked, and who then died on the cross that same day?   I don’t think it would have.  So, just in case I didn’t have enough to thank God for already, here’s one more thing to add to the pile.

Not only did he send his only Son into the world.  Not only did he have him put to death for my sins.  Not only did he then call me out of that sin and consider me righteous.  Not only does he offer me eternal life.  Not only did he give me his Spirit to transform me from the inside out.  But on top of all that, he picked the most horrible, humiliating, long-drawn-out, painful death he could possibly have chosen to undergo.  And why?  To make sure that the story would live, would continue to be told from generation to generation, so that I could hear it and believe.

Amazing grace.

A letter to my son…

….who’s currently in residential long-term care for his recent behavioral/mental health issues, about 3 hours away, and who is now refusing to contact me because he’s not happy about it.

Dear Sean,

I feel like I have much to say to you and not a lot of opportunity to say it these days.  I had really hoped to talk to you on your birthday, but I understand if you were too upset at me to call.  I hope the staff did at least ask you to call, and that you don’t think I was ignoring you.  You were on my mind all day, as you have been every day.  I kept my phone glued to my side, and checked it every five seconds until I drove your brother and Jim crazy. And then I slowed down to every ten.

I just want to tell you a few things:

Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4: I love you.  More than anything of this world.  You and Devin are my little boys, and you will be my boy if you hate me, if you run away, if you refuse to talk to me for the rest of your life.   It took 30 years, a failed marriage, and a troubled teenage boy to teach me what the words “unconditional love” actually mean, but I think I’ve finally got it.  And I’m just so incredibly sad that it took me this long to get there, and that you’ve had to deal with such a blind and selfish mother so much of the time.  But more on that later – for now, my point is that there is nothing in this world that can separate you from the love of your mother, whether you like it or not (and I’m well aware that right now, you’d like nothing more than to be separated from it).  So wherever you are, for the rest of your life, please remember that.  I will never give up on you, I will never stop speaking to you, I will never stop trying to show you love, although once you turn 18 you may not give me a choice.

Also, I miss you. I miss not just your physical presence, although there’s certainly that.  Your brain may not want you to remember the good times, but they were there.  Going running together…playing Eldritch Horror….practicing for your driver’s license….watching Battlestar Galactica….when you punched me in the nose at the park….your Shrek/Donkey impression in the car on the way up to Duluth, even.  You can be so much fun to be around, and you set the mood of an entire room when you walk into it.  That can potentially be an incredibly positive thing (although unfortunately, with that great power comes great responsibility – you also have the potential to turn an entire room into a cesspool of negativity if you choose to).  But I want those times back.  You’re so close to adulthood, and I thought I’d have another year with you before you really went out on your own.  But that year is slipping away so, so quickly, and it makes me sad.

I don’t really know what’s going on inside your head right now, but I am pretty sure that there’s a lot of anger towards me in there somewhere.  And you aren’t wrong to feel that way. I have done so much to hurt you, as inadvertent as it all has been.  I treated your father like crap, thinking that it wouldn’t affect my relationship with you.  I abandoned you and Devin under the delusion that you guys would be better off without me.  I spent years after that doing nothing of real value, unless you count work.  Up until about 4 years ago, my entire life was a mess and I don’t think I would even consider myself an adult.  What a difficult thing that must be for a child, to see how immature their own parent is.  And how difficult it must also be, to watch that parent suddenly grow up and start really parenting, prioritizing their relationship with you, going to family counseling with you, and setting expectations for you, just when you thought you had a handle on how our relationship – or lack thereof – worked.

I’m not taking the blame for where you are right now.  Many people have come through far worse with far fewer scars.  But what I am saying is that I accept that I have been a deeply flawed parent, as all parents are, and that if there are things you need to deal with regarding our history as mother and son, I am completely open to doing that.

I may not know you as well as I think I do, but I guarantee that I know you better than you think I do.  For every lie you’ve gotten past me, there’s another one or two that you think I didn’t catch but I did.  There’s generally no way to prove it, so I let it go.  But your mom isn’t quite as big an idiot as you might think.  And I know a little bit about feeling like your parents are just holding you back, don’t understand what you need, give you consequences that are completely unnecessary and overly harsh.  I haven’t been exactly where you are, but I *have* been through that.  And here’s what I can tell you:

This program that you’re in isn’t going to work.  No program that you’re in is going to work.  Nothing in or out of this world can help you until you want to be helped.  And when you do decide that you genuinely need and are willing to receive help, Sean, everything will change for you. ANY program or counseling or treatment that you actually invest yourself in, you’ll get something out of.  Sure, you can sit there and do your time at Cambia until your parents are completely broke or the staff there kick you out.  What would that accomplish, for anyone?  You’ve wasted their time, you’ve wasted far more money than you can even begin to comprehend, and you’ve wasted your own time as well.  The only benefit is that you get to make the point you’ve been trying to make, that what we think is good for you isn’t going to “fix” you.  But is that result really worth the price you’re paying?  Besides, my dear son, we already know that no treatment is going to work without your investment. We are well aware that no amount of money, no amount of counseling, no amount of anything is going to make you realize that life doesn’t have to be lived the way that you think it does.  The only thing that will do that is you realizing that the mindset you have now is not working, and all of our actions now are built solely around keeping you alive and safe in hopes that you will realize that before it’s too late.

I’m saving the part that you’ll probably like the least, for last.  I wanted to let you know that in mid-December, when you had decided to live with your father and I was struggling with how to get you the help you needed, and I felt overwhelmed by the weight of everything I had done wrong as a parent, I went back to the only place I could think of…..I went to church.  Grace Church, where my parents brought us when we first moved to Minnesota.  It took 36 years, 20 of which I spent going to church every single Sunday, but just before Christmas my eyes were finally opened.  I realized what I’m praying daily that you will realize without all the years of pain I’ve had to go through to get here – that trying to run my life just doesn’t work.  That I “can’t make it on my own”, as Jim would say. I felt completely hopeless, like there was no way I could possibly dig myself out of this pit that my whole family seemed to be trapped in.  And then it finally sank in that I didn’t have to.  That there actually, truly, is a God who can and wants to take care of everything.  He loves me in spite of my flawed parenting, he loves me even though I’ve rejected him for my entire life…..he loves me, in fact, very much the way a parent loves their child, only far more perfectly.  Growing up with Grandpa Jim’s preaching, I’ve always been so focused on God’s judgment and God’s expectations, just like I was always focused on my dad’s.  But experiencing the love that I have for you even in the midst of all this pain (and believe me, Sean, there is a lot of pain), finally helped me to understand God’s love. So your mother, after all these years of running from God, making fun of her parents’ devotion to church, and criticizing faith in general, is a Christian.

I don’t expect you to do anything with this information.  I firmly believe that if and when God wants you to find him, he will make it happen – and while I pray every single day that it will, I’m also well aware that you probably think I’m completely insane.  I know Jim does. But I just wanted you to know because it’s the thing that has gotten me through the last few months, the most difficult months in my entire life, and because I want you to know that it WORKS.  I want you to find hope and to find peace, and this is the way that I found those two things.

My plane is now descending over California, and I’ll have to shut my laptop down soon even though I feel like I could continue talking to you for hours.  I’d be shocked if you even read this far without dramatically ripping this letter in pieces and lighting them on fire or something along those lines, but if you did, please know that I love you very, very dearly and hope and pray that I’ll be able to spend some good times with you again soon.

Love,

Mom

Is it possible that my son isn’t “troubled” at all, he’s just a selfish brat?

My 16-year-old is back in the hospital again, after 7 weeks in an outpatient day-treatment program for dual-diagnosis DBT.  He didn’t waste any time – he started going to a sober school full time on Wednesday morning, and on Wednesday night he told his dad that he had left the house to go jump off a bridge.

Now, my initial reaction is of course to panic.  This is a kid who has threatened to kill himself many times, but the idea that he actually went far enough to do something about it is pretty scary, you know?  But his story unraveled fairly quickly.  The bridge he claims to have been standing on ready to jump off is not within walking distance, he didn’t make or take any phone calls to hitch a ride, and he only had about half an hour during which he could have done all of this. And this wouldn’t be the first time that he’s lied about a suicide attempt.  A few weeks ago he “ran away” (and by run away I mean he left the house with no shoes, no jacket, in the dead of winter, because he was upset that we wouldn’t give him permission to switch to online school).  He was back within half an hour again, and says he jumped in front of a car and rolled up onto the hood.  But he had no injuries, not even a scrape, after supposedly being hit on a road where cars are typically moving 40mph or more.  And this person who hit him would have had to drive off without making any effort to ensure that Sean was being helped.

So, my panic subsided fairly quickly once the full story was clear.  But he still has to go to the hospital, because whether he was lying or not, it’s still pretty clear that he’s in bad shape if he’s willing to go to those lengths to make it look like he’s trying to die. So off he went.  He’s been there for two days now, and from what I’ve heard (he refuses to call, so all I know is what the staff tells us) he’s bored, disruptive to the other kids, and doesn’t want to participate in anything.  He’s not making any effort to work through whatever issues may have caused this, and he’s only hindering the progress of others in the ward.

Clearly he does not belong in a hospital long-term, but clearly he also needs to be watched 24/7 and neither his father nor I have the ability to do that, especially when I have 3 other kids to deal with.  And quite frankly, I don’t really want to give him that kind of attention, because that’s obviously what he wants.  Not to be watched 24/7, but to have this negative attention that comes with being troubled and suicidal.  I don’t understand how a child who has been as loved as Sean has, can feel like he needs to do this to get attention.  I know it’s a cry for help, but I don’t understand it, and he’s refusing to figure out what’s causing it and work through it.

So now here I sit, looking at the seemingly endless options for long-term residential behavioral treatment, and wondering if there’s a “right” choice for this.  Anywhere he goes, I’m going to feel like a terrible mother.  Anywhere he goes, he’s not going to get any better unless he decides he wants to.  Anywhere he goes, even for a 6-month stay, is going to drain my bank account dry for 10 years or more (these programs are around $7500 a month).

Isn’t there a verse somewhere about the sins of fathers being visited on the children?  If so, I really hope Sean doesn’t have any kids.  As crazy as he’s making me right now, I wouldn’t wish this on him.

God-breathed…

I’ve heard since I was a toddler about the fact that all Scripture is God-breathed.  I never had a whole lot of trouble taking that for granted, since it wasn’t like I was really reading the Bible anyway.  But now I’m doing morning devotions each day, and after a couple of months of this, I’m so turned around I don’t even know what to do.  I was raised by a pastor!  God’s word shouldn’t be confusing to me, I should know it and understand it up, down and sideways!  But “should” doesn’t count for much, apparently.  Almost every single day that I open the chapter my Bible app picked out for me that day, I read through it once or twice and have a million questions, and not nearly enough answers.

Take today, for instance.  The verse in question is Matthew 18:19: “I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you.”

For real? I mean, all I have to do is find one other person to pray for the same thing that I’m praying for, and it will happen?  I’m pretty sure that any believer can give an example of a time where they have had multiple people praying for something, and it hasn’t happened.  And they probably also found that God had a clear purpose in NOT giving them the answer they wanted, they just didn’t know it at the time.  So then what on earth does this mean?

I come up with questions like this every single day, and the time that I’m able to spend actually reading God’s word, which is where we’re supposed to FIND all the answers, just seems to generate more questions.  I feel like I need to go to seminary just to figure out what the Bible means, or hire my own personal pastor just to be at my beck and call.  I have a care pastor at my church, of course, but he has hundreds of people to care for and I can’t ask him to respond to every single question I come up with.  So, help. Please. What do you do when you’re confused?  How do you find the right interpretation for a Bible verse that doesn’t make any sense to you?