Struggling with Struggling? Yeah, me too.

Struggle.

A universally relevant word. A word no one wants to experience. At times even a dirty word. But we all know it.  We all feel it.  We all pretend we aren’t doing it.

I don’t know about you but I’m quick to say things like, “I struggled with that but it’s better now.”  Notice the past tense.  It’s ok to say I’ve been there but somehow it’s not always ok to say I’m still there. We hesitate to admit current struggles.

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Struggling, at least in my life experience, has always been something hazy.  Pioneers and trail blazers, medical or academic pursuits, these are struggles of noble fashion. Stories with heroic and progressive outcomes, albeit tragic sometimes, are well loved tales.  But to speak in terms of real time struggling, deep or dark struggling; this is somehow not as acceptable.

Why?

The answer to that is layered and undoubtedly complicated.  Might I suggest my own thoughts?

We don’t like struggle because we think we were never meant to struggle.

Struggling is wrong! At least that is the internal conversation we have with ourselves. We must be a loser if we keep struggling. We must have made some great mistake in the cosmos of life and now we are subject to struggle.  Our struggle is a sign of sin. Sound familiar?

A few years back I was struggling to believe that God wouldn’t fail me.  I didn’t know if I could trust Him completely. The odds I was up against were so big. I didn’t see how I would make it through. I struggled to trust God. My emotions were all over the place.  A very well meaning loved one said to me one day, “You say you trust God, then why are you so afraid? Why do you doubt? You’re not acting like someone who trusts God.”  Ouch.  They had a hard time dealing with my struggle.

I was really angry and hurt at first.  But then I realized that my struggle was too big for them too and they didn’t know what to do with it, or me.

Where struggle can often be a result of our own mistakes it isn’t the only reason we struggle.

To struggle means you are a human being. To struggle means you don’t know everything and it’s uncomfortable. To struggle means you’ve smacked against this broken world.

For some reason we believe that struggle is something we shouldn’t feel after a certain age. Once we jump through various life hoops like; graduating high school or college, buying a home, losing weight, getting engaged, getting a promotion, starting a family etc., we should never struggle again. And when we do, we feel like a failure. But struggle isn’t quarantined to a certain season of life. So we do what we do best.

Run.

Ignore.

Hide.

Cover it up.

Succumb.

Guilt settles in when we struggle. We don’t want anyone to know about it. It’s so hard to talk because we don’t know how to talk about it. Shame shadows us and impairs our ability to see truth or friendship.

We don’t want to be seen.  We don’t want to see others. Struggle will do that.

Messages the world sends are; you are living right if you are struggle-free. Don’t get me wrong, avoiding mistakes, treating people well and lovingly to avoid unnecessary struggle, is wise. I’m not talking about being careless or stupid. But to lump all struggle in the mistake or “sin” category is naive.   We will never learn to move through struggle if we do not realize struggle is normal.  Not something to hastily judge or ridicule. That just makes us want to hide more. Regardless of why we struggle it can make us feel like a prisoner.

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Nobody wants to feel this way.

Struggle is a symptom that everything is not as right as it could be.  It’s a signal that something needs attention or loving care. It’s a catalyst to exercise faith in a very uncertain and confusing world.

Just because I wanted to believe God would help me didn’t mean I was able to believe.  That’s what struggle is.  Not being able to do something you want to do.

It’s easy to get lost living in the struggle. We begin telling ourselves, “Struggling is a sign of weakness. We shouldn’t struggle.  Why do I feel this way?  I shouldn’t have to deal with this. Nobody else deals with this. Nobody wants one likes to be around me.” Have you caught yourselves thinking this way?

I’ll admit.  I cave when I struggle.  I give in too quickly. Then, the struggle usually gets bigger.  But I’m learning to practice. Practicing what it means to be a human being.  Flawed, unsure but growing and learning.  Mistake ridden, wanting to believe but looking to God for answers.  When you and I accept that we will struggle we actually have a shot at getting through our struggles.  When we ignore them, they grow.

Struggle can be an invitation to more.  More learning, more practicing truth even when it doesn’t feel good, more grace, more conversation, more prayer, more patience, more encouragement.

Struggling doesn’t have to define us but it can design us.

Paul was a man in the Bible who understood the nature of struggle.  He writes of his struggles with himself and with a condition that wouldn’t go away. (Click on the links to read for yourself.)  He chose to let his struggle design the kind of man he wanted to be.  His struggles were real and he spoke openly about them.  With the admission of his struggle he incorporated a perspective that helped him get through:

  1. He shared his struggle openly. He doesn’t hide it. To struggle is NORMAL and no one is immune.
  2. He points to God. He recognizes that God sees and knows exactly what he is going through and hasn’t left him to struggle pointlessly. God will not leave us alone in our struggle either.
  3. He surrenders his struggle to God. He puts his faith into practice. He activates belief that God loves him and doesn’t allow the struggle to define him. We can follow God, even when it’s really hard.  Our character can define us instead of our struggle.

Struggling does not have to be the end of us. It can be a beginning of something new and transforming. No, it’s not fun to live with. There are no quick fixes. Yes, we should avoid unnecessary struggle. There still isn’t a good reason to be stupid.  Will others be ok with our struggle? Probably not all the time. But struggle doesn’t have to define us. It can be a beginning to “more”.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. ~Psalm 51:6

When someone you love hurts…

What do you do when someone you love is hurting?

What do you say?

When a loved one is hurting emotionally, physically, financially, professionally or relationally how do you respond?

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At first I imagine most of us react the same way.  We are quick to call, text or email.  We show up with visits to the hospital and bring meals to the home.  We listen, empathize and pray.  We offer to babysit, make a phone call, do some networking or meet for lunch. We send encouraging notes that are tucked with verses of victory and strength.  We cheerlead, motivate and preach.  We repair stuff, help interpret diagnosis’s and research helpful articles. We do anything to help take away the pain so hope can thrive.

But what about when things don’t get better after a week, or two or seven? When weeks turn into months and months into years? How do you handle it then?

People I love have experienced significant hurt, long term hurt, no easy answers kind of hurt. Dear souls tangled in painful scenarios that just won’t go away.  It’s impossible to not be affected.  It hurts to journey with someone whose hurt goes on. Once you’ve emptied yourself of every encouraging deed and word you can think of you eventually collide with their pain. Now you both hurt.

Mom and Jake

So what do you do when you begin to feel their pain because things just aren’t getting better?

Do you run out of things to say?  Do you stop asking because you don’t want to make it harder?  Do your emails and calls slow or stop all together?  Do you still come over for visits like in the beginning?  Do you avoid them because it’s too hard? Do you think about them?

We had a long season of hurt in our home. For the first time ever we experienced long term unemployment during the recession.  For a while it seemed as if the entire state was unemployed.  People were wonderful to us.  So much care, encouragement and support. But as weeks turned into months, which turned into years, things got quiet. Really quiet. I don’t think for minute that people didn’t care.  I think people just didn’t know how to care anymore.

When relief and answers don’t come for our loved ones what exactly are we supposed to do?

There were a few people who were constant. We treasured their presence. One friend called weekly, without fail. She listened for countless hours to my dialog that never seemed to change. Her prayers, unwavering and undying. Another friend invited my husband to lunch.  Every week.  Without fail. There they talked about everything or nothing. He simply showed up. A beautiful couple never gave up hope that God would help us. At the most unexpected and poignant times they were His messengers of aid to us. It was uncanny.  All of their gentle kindnesses pierced our darkness.  None of them had answers or remedies, only their presence.

They hurt with us. They felt the pain of silence and loss along side us.  They wrestled with their own expectations for God and people as they watched us slide deeper into hurt. They let themselves be hurt by our pain.

Sometimes you cannot do anything for others.

Sometimes you can only be with others.

A friend who enters the hurt of another.

Friends who risk being clumsy.

When we are willing to hurt with those who hurt we offer friendship in the lowest of places.  The place where hurt persists and relief is out of sight.

These low places are the most desperate places of our soul, the place where fear rumbles and frightens. No one can ignore vulnerability here.  Going into these low places, even for the sake of a loved one, means dealing with our own frailties, uncertainties, doubts and vulnerabilities. Everything that doesn’t get answered the way we want becomes front and center. I think this is why people don’t know what to do when the hurting goes on and on. They aren’t prepared to go that low. But love reaches deep.  It gets muddy. It enters doubt.

Something unusual also happens when you go to the low places with a hurting loved one. Light begins to shine. It’s not like a brilliant full moon that illuminates the darkness.  It’s more like a sky full of stars. Tiny dots of lights. Every hurting moment shared a new light pokes through the darkness. The starry night, a thing of beauty. The weathered soul in a weary place accompanied by the presence of loving friendship, a thing of beauty. I wonder if this is one of the greatest gifts we can give the world? To go into the lowest places with our loved ones, acknowledge their pain, let it rub against us? What if we don’t leave them alone? I wonder what good would come if we learned how to care for others when our encouraging ideas end and the hurt goes on? I wonder what would change if we learned how to get better at being “with” others?   What if we were more like stars than the moon?

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The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship.  Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. ~Psalm 19:1-4

home plate parenting

Parenting and baseball have a lot in common.

Once that little one is in your life you find yourself pitching.  You pitch comfort to that baby 24  hours a day.  You keep throwing at them whatever it is they need. Food, clean diapers, warmth, attention, you’d do anything for that baby.  You have become a pitcher.

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As time goes by you slowly become the batting coach.  It’s your job to get them to make contact with the ball and feel the connection of their own power.  Potty training, not hitting their baby sister, saying thank you, learning to pick up toys, things that help them to feel a sense of responsibility and consequence.

Before long you are the short stop.  Stopping the infield balls they hit.  You keep them contained, running only to 1st base.  They begin to create their own sense of identity and direction.  They join the hockey team, drama club or 4-H.  They have oodles of ideas or things they want to try but it’s your job to provide boundaries and allow them experiences at a reasonable rate.

Next thing you know, you are standing at third base coaching them on.  Your perspective and vantage point help guide them when it’s time to stay put or run the bases.  The stakes are higher, first jobs, driving and college prep tests require preparation, responsibility and discipline.  Your voice leads them. Their legs do the running.

Then when you least expect it, you have become home plate. You are the place they run to.  The place of safety and completion. The place they land on. The place they connect with to secure a run.  Home plate.

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You are no longer pitching them anything, helping them choke up on the bat, scooping up the infield ground balls or coaching them to stay put or run home.  You are home.  You are the constant in life for your newly grown babies.

My kids fit in the “newly grown” category.  Finishing college, first steps in building a career and moving out.  All good things.  But it leaves me wondering what it is that I am to be for them.  I haven’t got it all worked out. Honestly, I’ve never completely worked out any stage of parenting.  But this is the stage that our family will spend the most time.

My son and I were hanging out the other day.  We talked about his school work load.  He has a lot going.  As he shared with me I was overwhelmed. He wanted to share with me, for whatever reason. We are way past the stage where I help him organize his tasks but it touched me that he wanted to tell me anyway. I accept any and all reasons to engage with my children.

It seems that even as independence grows, the need for connection deepens.

And that’s what being a home plate is about I guess.  Connection.  Providing a source of belonging and acceptance.  Reassuring that their tasks, hopes, struggles and accomplishments matter. Affirming they will make it through.  Providing a moment to rest, refuel and inspire. Connection.

I like being home plate.  I’ll admit, I’m new at it.  There haven’t been to many times where my kids have touched base.  But before long I’m sure I will have dirty cleat marks all over me.  I’m good with that.

Home plate is the landing spot.  Meant to be crossed over again and again.  You can’t stay there for long. You have to touch it and get back in the rotation. That’s how the game is played. You play your position to the best of your ability.  You strive to round all the bases and touch home plate. You’ve then scored.  Connecting with home plate counts as a run.

I think I’ll like being home plate.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10

Recycle or Rubbish?

Do you recycle or do you throw everything away?

I have to admit that I recycle absolutely everything possible. I like the idea that something can be reused in a different form for a new purpose.

Sometimes I don’t know what can be recycled and what can’t.  What can be recycled for a new use?  Is there potential in ripped, torn or empty things?

A while back I was able to rummage through an old home that was going to be demolished.  I was told that I could take anything out of the house I wanted.  You don’t have to ask me twice to go picking.

There wasn’t too much worth salvaging.  A few doors and old hardware appealed to me but not much else.  On the property there were a few out buildings.  The structures were in really bad shape.  The kind of old shacks that would blow over with one big gust of wind.

There was one that was really dirty and dark.  Things seemed to be moving in the dark and I’m pretty sure it was a home to a bat colony. I had to go in.  Embedded in the dirt floor was an old box.  It looked like some kind of rough tool box with oozy grime all over it. It was so gross I didn’t want to even touch it, let alone put it in my car. Starting to feel as if things were climbing all over me I had to make a quick decision.

Was this worth saving? It’s hard to see potential in things when they are covered in dirt, worn down by the weight of years and harsh treatment.

Sometimes I think people are like things.  They become worn, dirty, empty and used.  In our souls we wonder, do we have any further use?  There is always value for each life, but, like the old tool box, we remain hidden in a dirty old shack, stuck in the mud.  The question isn’t value, it’s worth.  Is it worth rescuing the broken and forgotten without knowing what will come of it?  Is it worth the hard work and sacrifice that comes with effort? Is it worth leaving the old shack?

I finally got that old box out and brought it home where it spent a long time waiting in the garage for some attention.  After a  r e a l l y  good bath and some major elbow grease it began to evolve into something new.  Something I couldn’t see when I first found it.

The scrubbing, scraping and sanding gave way to beautiful waves of color and texture.  All of the scars and rough edges seemed to hint of a former life well lived. I wanted to know more.  I wondered how old it was, who had used it and for what purpose?  Why was it buried in the old shack?  Why did they leave it behind?

That’s the thing about restoration, it creates wonder and wonder breaths life into old things. Wonder creates space for something new.

The box began to transform as the dirt and grime washed away. The old box took on a fresh purpose and a new start.

Box Table
Box Table
 Restore us O God; make your face shine upon us that we might be saved. ~ Psalm 80:3

That’s Not Yours

I looked out the window today to see a squirrel hovering over a corn cob in the snow.  Where it got the cob I have no idea, but there were kernels still on it.  The squirrel feverishly was chomping off kernels.  As he did kernels popped off in the cold air making a messy pile beneath him.

As I watched this odd scene I noticed another squirrel cautiously making his way towards the squirrel “in feast”.  As soon as he got within two feet, the first squirrel jumped at him and ran him off. This happened repeatedly and sometimes violently.  There was no way the first squirrel was going to let anyone or anything get a hold of its’ corn cob.

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Eventually the first squirrel got tired of running. So it picked up the cob and hobbled across the yard and out of sight.  It was clear who it belonged to.

The second squirrel stood motionless. The battle lost and now the first squirrel ran away with, what looked like, a meal for at least two.  He seemed dumb founded the first squirrel was so unwilling to share, so selfish.  (Okay maybe I’m reading into it.  I’m not a squirrelologist.)

After a moment the second squirrel turned around.  Jackpot!  A corn pile was left behind.  Now began the second squirrel’s feast.

As I watched this new odd scene, I noticed yet another squirrel making its’ approach.  And as it got within two feet of the squirrel “in feast”… well I don’t have to tell you.  You already know.

Selfishness breeds selfishness.

Our walls, fences and divides screech, that’s not yours!

We don’t have a problem with what belongs to us but we sometimes have a problem with what doesn’t belong to others.

We are quick to respond with a that’s – not – yours kind of way.

My husband is notorious for saying, sharing is caring, when he wants some of the M&M’s that I’m eating. I usually never want to share my M&M’s.  They are my favorite and they belong to me, not him.

See? There it is… that’s not yours.

Why is it we are so quick to be selfish and slow to share?  Why is it that we, like the squirrels, hover over our preverbal corn on the cob and fight off anyone who is hungry?

As I pondered this dilemma of human nature I watched the second squirrel defend his pile of corn kernels against a third squirrel. I realized I had no good answers.

So I let my dog out to chase them all away.

The Hound
The Hound

 

Grasping for Christmastime

 

It’s close to that time.  You know, “that” time.

They call it Christmastime.  Yes, it’s a real word.

It’s the time we work so hard to make space for, to create, to celebrate, to forge new memories as we honor family and faith traditions, to conjure up a little more magic for the kids again this year.

I was looking at this old star.

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It belonged to my grandma. She had a flare for the colorful when it came to Christmas decorations. Her style would definitely not be found on Pinterest. But it was colorful and full of imagination.  It was grandma.

I remember as she got older it became more of a chore for her to set up her Christmas village.  What once was an exercise in celebration and fancy became a duty of deliberation.  She did it because of the kids.  Something compelled her. She did it because it was Christmastime.

But isn’t that like Christmastime?  It urges something inside.  It says, “Wake up, something special is about to begin.”  The senses are lured with smells, sounds and lights.  We are drawn to the brightness of Christmastime.  We are convicted that light doesn’t live very long in our soul.

We grasp for Christmastime.

Isn’t that a good thing?  Christmastime brings us to a place in our year where we accept that we are longing.  Longing for that which fills us, brings us peace, holds us near or sends us on a wild adventure.  Christmastime reminds us that we are human and long for something Divine.  We can almost taste it we are so hungry.

Awake my soul to see all that Christmastime brings.  Awake my soul to know the riches that Christmastime told. In the brightness of your light, you beckon me to find, the wealth of Christmas cheer that comes from Love drawn near.

With each bite of your Christmastime treats, may you hunger for richer delicacies.

Every party you attend, may you know loves embrace.

Each time you see Christmas lights, may you realize you were made for brightness.

When the sounds of Christmas fill the air, may a melody deep inside you resonate.

May we together grasp for Christmastime.

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“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son,” ~ Galatians 4:4

Are you feeling stuck lately?

I know how you feel. 

Often we get stuck with consistent problems at work or with friends, our families or marriages battle the same issues over and over again or our own unhealthy behavior seems to rule over us.  Feeling stuck is a universal experience often with no quick solutions.

Recently I was thinking about feeling stuck. Processing my own “stuck-ness” I began to realize surprising signs of help and hope. I am simply inattentive to the small graces around me. Suddenly a story began to form.  I’d like to share it with you today to let you know that you are not alone. If you feel stuck, keep looking for signs of help and hope in the unexpected places. That’s where the small graces rest.

 

Original art work by Randi Perez Helm
Original art work by Randi Perez Helm

Lionel

The jungle was hot and sticky. Lionel’s fur was matted and icky.

It was time to get out of the heat and find a shade tree or a pond for his feet.

Across the way he saw a large tree. Slowly he made his way through the jungle heat.

Coming up close he noticed a pool. No, not with water, but mud. It was cool.

He tipped toed in and it felt sweet. With a belly flop splat, he was off of his feet.

He rolled over and over, one messy cat. Making mud angels with his legs and his back.

But after a little while the mud wasn’t new. It didn’t feel cold. It felt more like glue.

Flat on his belly he couldn’t flip back. He felt like the jelly to a peanut butter snack.

I’ve rolled and rolled in this cool muddy muck. And now I’m afraid that I’m completely stuck.

 He looked to the left and then to the right, but none could be seen. There was no one in sight.

He started to think he’d be there for good. He started to worry like anyone would.

Oh no, what do I do? Lionel thought and thought it through.

Tired from thinking and feeling kind of stiff Lionel noticed a monkey carrying a stick.

Hello furry friend, I see you are stuck. Grab hold of this stick and I’ll pull you unstuck.

Oh thank you, thank you. You’re a friend indeed. Lionel grabbed hold of the stick, wishing to be free.

The monkey pulled and pulled and pulled with all his might. But it was no use. Lionel was stuck tight.

Just then a large hawk swooped down from the sky.

Can I help you Lionel? He cawed. I’ll give it a try.

 The hawk clutched Lionel’s tail and flapped up and down.   But Lionel’s muddy fur, still stuck to the ground.

And after a while it became clear that Lionel the lion wasn’t going anywhere.

Why did I slip into this muddy old place? He frumped and he grumped with no smile on his face.

Don’t worry old Lionel I won’t fly away. I’ll stay here with you until you find a way.

The hawk was sincere and the monkey agreed. Both now would and wait until Lionel was freed.

Tick, tock, the time traveled by, he was still, stuck and Lionel wanted to cry.

Hawk and monkey soon became sleepy but this was no time for Lionel to be dreamy.

How long was he stuck? Lionel didn’t even know. Ker-plunk, ker-plunk, something fell on his nose.

 Splat, splat, it started out small, but soon it was heavy, a real rainsquall.

Hawk and monkey now up in the tree called down to Lionel to see how he’d be.

Lionel oh Lionel, we’re sorry you’re wet.

But something soon happened he’d never forget.

With a slurp and a slosh he moved in the muck. With a squirm and a squish he finally got unstuck.

The rain that poured down was a good thing you see. It loosened the mud and now he was free!

With a jump and a roar Lionel hopped to his feet. His friends danced beside him all happy these three.

The rain washed the mud clear off Lionel’s fur. He felt so much better, that was for sure.

With his friends right beside him all squeaky and clean, Lionel realized one thing, then two, then three.

It’s never a good idea to roll in mud puddles. It might look like fun but you’re asking for trouble.

Real friends stay with you even when you are in a rut. They might not have answers but they stay ‘till until you’re unstuck.

And just like the sunrise the rain knows when to fall. You might need to get a little wet to be free after all.

Copyright 2015 Randi Perez Helm