I am so thankful for the few Saturdays Roosevelt family came over to help get my grandparents moved in or help us dust/clean/scoop water out of our living room. It has been such a blessing.
The last six weeks have been extremely challenging. We had a few (that may be an understatement) things happen in the midst of renovating our home that led to ruined floors, wet drywall, damaged furniture…then on top of that we found ourselves in the ER multiple times for a fractured ankle of one child, flaired asthma of another, a baby with a respiratory infection. We had to move out of our home for a month and then moved back into our home while it was still in complete chaos and in the midst of all of this I kept telling myself, “this too shall pass.”
This has been an intense season for our family, yet I felt conflicted labeling these things as “struggles” considering how completely temporary they are. A messy home temporarily while we get a chance to live in a home more amazing then I could dream up? Sickness that God’s provision through medicine and science would allow to quickly go away? Being displaced from our home and having the blessing of extended family close by to stay with? Every challenge we have faced has felt minor in comparison to others we love who are suffering and in the midst of exhaustion and stress, we have seen God’s provision and grace in countless ways.
But even knowing that at an intellectual level, for the last 6 weeks, the moment I walk into my home I have felt an instant wave of discouragement and heavy burden about the work ahead. What then has unfolded daily is some of the most embarrassing, pitiful moments where every flaw and sinful tendency I have has been on full display for every member of our family to experience and see. So I laid in bed every night replaying how poorly the day went asking myself why these temporary, “meaningless” challenges were getting to me so much and falling asleep trying to rest in God’s grace to get us to the other side of this.
Now that we are finally coming out on the other end of it (although I would love to rush the process..I’m thinking it will be 2015 before we are fully back into our “normal” routines and habits), I have some time to sit and reflect and here are a few lessons I’m learning along the way….
1) I have this deep belief that I can handle almost anything and I have taken sinful pride in that. I’ve had some interesting/ intense living situations and always felt like I could handle stress well. This season has revealed pride that I didn’t know was there and opened my eyes to judgment I have then held to people who don’t “handle” stress well. I wonder how many times I have lacked empathy for someone who felt overwhelmed by something I didn’t think was that overwhelming. This experience is uncovering an entirely new layer to ways I could love others better.
2) I really minimize the impact of this physical/ material world on myself and segment it away from my emotional and spiritual life. I have no problem being real with my community when I am struggling through something that I put in a “spiritual” category or an “emotional” struggle, but sharing a that I’m burdened by physical exhaustion or 4 weeks straight of endless dusting? That feels silly to me and I have been surprised by how difficult it is to tell the same women I trust with more “serious” things, the fact that this experience has brought out the worst in me. The “segmented life” approach that is so prevalent in our culture played out in so many ways these last two months for me.
3) Environment matters. For weeks we had no table to eat dinner on as a family, no games or toys to sit down and play as a family, no access to the chairs we sit in to read our Bibles and drink our coffee in… Again, on surface: I’ve tended to lable these as silly, meaningless “physical”things. But what I’ve discovered along the way is that all these things really matter. My kids behaviors have been unlike anything I’ve seen and I’ve either reacted too harshly or ignored altogether and I know their behaviors and mine have been a consequence of our environment. I can feel the impatience, lack of kindness in speech and tone, frustration over small things and yet while aware of them: felt too tired to respond differently. Vermon and I could go to a coffee shop and have a logical enjoyable conversation, but in the midst of the mess of our home it felt like we were dumb and dumber.
Clearly, all sinful behaviors and attitudes I have had these past two months I am fully responsible for, but it is humbling to see that sanctification is all grace. It is easy in my independent; confident, “I can do it” spirit to think I can “make” myself be more kind, loving, etc. But to be in such a raw place, find myself noticing the words flying out of my mouth sound mean, yet truly feel incapable of responding differently was eye opening to me. I realized how deep down I do not depend on the spirit enough to sanctify me, how much more I need to depend on the Lord to stir my love for others. I can’t just “will” myself to be like Jesus… it must be a work of the spirit work (and I need time alone with the Lord for that work to happen).
And… now we are coming out on the other end of a challenging season… As of this past weekend I felt like we could breath in our home again (granted still a lot to do). Dinner back together as a family, kids laughing and playing together, family devotions, times snuggled on our couch reading, bubble baths… instantly our kids went back to “themselves”…I feel more sane. I am aware that without the 2 Saturdays of friends helping out, some meals, babysitting, and encouraging words along the way we would have probably had another month ahead of us of crazy…
Which all this leads me to think about two populations:
1) the foster child. In these last two months the few times we were visiting someone in their calm, peaceful home I found my heart literally beat slower. If this experience has brought out the ugliest parts of my heart—what do you expect when a 4, 9, or 15 year old has had to live in such chaos for so long? I think it will still be a few weeks before I feel fully back to myself. Why do we expect this to happen fast for children who are not just experiencing a stressful environment, but also have to grieve losses of relationships? Foster children get labeled so quickly when the reality is…the environment they are in just hasn’t provided them opportunity to really be themselves. The stress is toxic and brings out irrational, illogical behavior. Give them calm, nurturing, consistent, loving environment and over the years you will see beauty thats always been there blossom.
2) the poor. Many don’t just go through a stressful home environment for a few months, but for so many there are years, decades that their physical world is deeply impacted by the stress of poverty. Throw in domestic violence and that adds even more to the stress. When we sit in our comfortable homes fully in control of most of our life and criticize the poor, complain about them wanting “handouts,” get annoyed by behaviors we don’t relate to I think we fail to realize how much of our ability to finish college, have a good job, take care of our “things” is connected to the privileges we had growing up. And regardless of our childhoods, what we currently have allows us to think critically, explore, discover. Stressful environments make all these things difficult.
A desire for control is sinful when it becomes something we must have above all else, but some control over your environment is important for the health of our bodies, minds, and soul. A lack of control over all aspects of your environment feels like drowning. If we are privileged to be middle class, there is a Christian responsibility to love those who are poor by entering into their world and identifying with the struggles they experience. Try to understand and wrap your mind around having no control over anything in your life. It is easy to segment the spiritual from the physical when we are comfortably living in privilege. But if your physical environment is deeply impacted by chronic, on-going stress you understand that there is no division between physical suffering and spiritual challenges.