Saturday, September 22, 2012

Start Counting

I've heard that if you are one who has trouble controlling your temper, when something begins to anger you, you should start counting.
Take a moment and count to ten. It's something I've seen my husband practice and it's something I'm sure I will be teaching our sons (who inherited their father's short fuse).

But maybe, for me, "start counting" means something different. Maybe in order to be the best person I can be, I need to start counting something other than numbers.

On Thursday, I attended my bi-weekly Women's Bible Study, as per usual. The lesson, given that day by our minister's wife, was entitled Don't Waste Your Trials. We began our lesson by reading James 1:2-8, but for the sake of this blog, I will simply share James 1:2--Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

Pure joy during trials? How can that be?

As we went over the lesson, we discussed what "joy" really meant to us, and how we could achieve that joy even amidst life's many trials. Remember, joy itself doesn't always mean happiness. Joy is a reason to rejoice. And, maybe, if we look deep enough, we can find a reason to rejoice in ALL things. Even our struggles. Even our disappointments. Even our pain.

I ended up spending Thursday afternoon/evening in the ER (7 hours to be exact). No worries, I am fine. That is a completely different story.
As I sat there, I fought off the urge to become restless and even annoyed as the hours passed by. But I chose to remember our lesson from that morning and embrace the blessings that came along with that waiting room silence.
Silence. A blessing in itself. And the fact that I spent that quiet time reading a book, Sacred Influence about be a blessing to my husband? Even better.

The fact of the matter is, sitting in the ER, no matter what may have been going on with me, it's not the end of the world or anywhere near it. There were many blessings to be found in that commonplace, slightly annoying, mildly frustrating situation. And that principle applies to every circumstance in our lives, no matter how challenging.

Let me take a moment to share a couple (very opposite-end-of-the-spectrum) examples of my own:
In November of 2010, my husband and I suffered a miscarriage with our second child. It was devastating to us. We had been trying to conceive for a few months and were feeling so happy and blessed that it had happened so quickly for us. My husband was set to deploy in just a couple short months and things seemed to be falling right into our time-frame and plan. But our plans are mere ideas, dust in the wind. God's plan is the only real plan.
Finding out I was in the process of losing the baby we had only known existed for exactly one week was one of, if not the hardest, things for me to go through.

Within a few days of finding out the news, I decided to call my dad and let him know what was going on. He had called me the previous week to congratulate me, as he found out I was pregnant through a common family member who found out on Facebook. (Yes, I know. I dropped the ball there. But my dad and I are not close and we very rarely talk.)
When I called him and told him about losing the baby, I expected he would say "Oh, I'm sorry." and that would be the end of it. But I heard my dad's voice shake. And he asked me something I had never had someone ask me outside of a church building, and certainly not over the phone: "Would it be okay if I prayed with you?" Of course I wasn't going to turn it down. And so there we were, hours and miles apart, and yet together in the eyes of God. My dad prayed for healing for my body and my soul. And it is one of the most precious memories I have of my father.
Maybe it is because we aren't close, and yet we were sharing such an intimate moment...or maybe it was because I felt like he truly believed that God would take care of it, and so could I...but, something changed in me after that phone call. I decided to try (let's face it, it's not easy) to accept the loss and understand that everything happens for a reason, even if I didn't yet know that reason. Even if I never would know that reason.

Three weeks later I got pregnant with Archer. And here he is now, 1 year old, full of life and energy and smiles.

Shortly after finding out I was expecting Archer, my cousin lost her second baby. Over the past couple of years, many ladies I know have gone through miscarriages and losses of children. Just recently, a very dear friend of mine miscarried her first baby.
And I can't say with certainty that my words truly help them. I can't say that I am a comfort to them, although I hope I am. What I can say is this: I know that my trial prepared me to be a better blessing to them. When I say "God is your comfort.", I really mean it. When I tell them "God has a plan for your family.", I deeply trust it.
And I can rejoice in the trial I faced because I can use it to bless others.

Just yesterday, I found myself having a hard time with the kids. I wasn't feeling in my best shape, the house needed cleaned, I needed to email admissions advisers about school and put in some more applications and and and...And the kids were, well, being kids.
Xander decided to bring his bike into the house and proceed to ride it all throughout, and of course when I told him he needed to take his bike outside, he refused. I gave him the option of taking it out himself before I removed him from the bike and took it outside myself, leaving him kicking and screaming. Then I planted his little toosh in time-out. After telling him to get back in the chair three or four times and doing my best to avoid his flailing arms and legs as I sat him back in the chair each time, I was getting pretty frustrated.
"Mommy, you're dumb!!"..All it took was those three words to set me over the edge. [SN: The downfalls of preschool: new, colorful language]. I lifted him out of the chair and I swatted his butt. Hard. Harder than I should've.
At that point I went and sat myself in time-out. I knew I couldn't continue to stand there and let his actions control my own. I sat down on the couch in the other room and prayed this prayer:
God, thank you for my children. Thank you for the blessings that they are and the joy that they bring me each day. Please guide my hands to help them and not hurt them, and please build my patience with them. I pray that I can be humble in front of them and in front of You. Amen. 
And I walked back in and apologized to my son. Not for putting him in time-out, and not for disciplining him, but for losing my cool while doing so.

Later on, when it was just about nap time and Xander was slap-happy and singing at the top of his lungs..and Archer was walking into the walls and stumbling over his own feet...and I was trying SO hard to just simply get the floors swept, I had to take another moment to stop and find joy in my trials. I thanked God for a house to clean. I thanked him for a place to lay my kids down for a nap. For food that leads to dirty dishes. For a husband that may not be home to help me so much, but only because he is working endless hours serving our family and our country. For a mother who is willing to be here, in a place that is not her own, making less money than she was before, in order to help me out with the day-to-day activities.
I simply thanked God for my life. And everything in it.
And you know, after doing so, finishing up those floors and taking time away from cleaning to lay down with my Goob wasn't so bad. It was good. It was joy.

So, try to take some time to truly appreciate life's blessings, even if they are laced with struggles. Even if your life is mostly struggles, you cannot claim you are not blessed. Do you love? Are you loved? Then you're blessed.
If you're going through a trial and you can't find the blessing, that's fine.  Do these four things and see what happens:
Ask yourself if, under different circumstances, would this be a trial?
(Example: If I didn't have a ton of housework and another screaming child, would I have gotten so upset over Xander's misbehavior? Probably not.)
Ask yourself if your struggle can be seen as a blessing to someone else.
(This may be difficult, but I think if we dig deep enough, helping someone else can feel like a blessing to us as well.)
Ask yourself if there is anything you can change in order to turn your trial around.
(Of course sometimes it's completely out of our hands, but others, we can. We've all heard Let go and Let God. Sometimes that means seriously, just let go. But other times, more often, it means let go of the control, and let God lead your actions.)
And finally, pray. Ask God for direction. Ask him for comfort. Ask him for wisdom. And thank him for all He is, all he has made you, and all he has done in your life.

It's not easy, but it's simple. In ALL things rejoice.

Get ready, Get set...
Start Counting.