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Monday, May 14, 2007

Where is Your Focus?

What a week... Have you ever had a breakthrough, or an “aha” moment, or made a decision you felt really good about, only to then be tested, challenged, or thrown a curve ball that takes you off track from where you thought you were going? A couple of weeks ago I was feeling really good about the direction I was going, the goals I set for my life, and I felt confident I was moving in the right direction. Then, almost immediately thereafter, along comes the test. It’s as if my resolve, my strength, and my inward joy are being called into question. I feel in my heart the questions are being asked, “Did I really mean what I said in my April 23 blog? Do I actually thank God for my trials?”

First, we had a really tough interview with a Case Manager for my son. This person was condescending, judgmental, and even disparaging toward my son, my husband and I. She questioned my husband’s motives for leaving the workforce to be a stay-at-home dad. She expressed her distaste for our decision to homeschool our son. And she basically tore down my son to the point he stopped talking to her. I have never been through an experience as demeaning and hurtful as this one. I do praise God we should never have to deal with her again.

This has also been a tough week in terms of getting enough sleep. Between late-night meetings at work, getting my youngest to school in the morning, baseball tournaments that start at the crack of dawn on weekends, and lesson planning for homeschooling, my energy is waning. And my time with God has been the first to go, which then compounds my feeling of being drained.

Sorrowfully, we’ve learned that my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and it seems to be progressing quickly. My grandmother also had Alzheimer’s, and it truly is a devastating disease. Once a vibrant, witty, full-of-life woman, my grandma became disoriented, confused, forgetful (to the point of not knowing her family), and eventually lost her speech. My husband’s sister is the only child living in the same town as their mom, and she is feeling overwhelmed and frightened. She has three children of her own, and starts a new job in June. Finances are tight, and while we can help somewhat with that, I know from experience how important emotional support (and a break / escape from the situation) can be. She is in my prayers daily.

And now, there are mounting problems at my place of employment. The team of people I am responsible for are starting to develop unhealthy “cliques”. A key member of the team unexpectedly resigned in the midst of a critical project he was responsible for. There is an accountability issue with yet another team member. I am feeling discouraged with the recent backward progress. (Those two terms don’t belong together, do they? It’s pretty much an oxymoron to have “backward progress”.)

Of course, we are still walking a long road facing the realities of my oldest son’s troubles. Between court dates, meetings with investigators, case managers, counselors, attorney’s fees, and restitution to be paid (not to mention missed days of work, my husband dropping out of school to homeschool him, the loss of friends my son has experienced, and all the other things I’ve already relayed in the past), it can be daunting to think of what all the future holds.

So, I have to ponder, am I allowing others to steal my joy? Who am I expecting to fill my emotional needs? I am again reminded that it is through the difficult situations in our lives that we grow the most, learn the most-lasting lessons, and become the most reliant upon the Lord. In all of my 39 years, I have never identified more with the saying, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle; I just wish He didn’t have so much confidence in me.” However, I’ve realized it is when I take my eyes off Him that doubts, fear and frustration rise up in me. It turns out I am not only dodging the curve balls, but have actually started throwing them in my own life. By not keeping my eyes, heart and mind focused on the Prince of Peace, Mighty Counselor, and Savior, they become focused on the muck and mire of the world.

How do we do this practically? I mean, it’s nice to say and all, but how do we stay focused on the Lord rather than our circumstances? Trust me, I’m not an expert, or I wouldn’t need to keep coming back to this place. But when I recognize I’m getting off track, there are some things that help redirect my path. The Bible makes no secret of these things; all we have to do is follow them. And thankfully they are not hard, but they do require dedication, time, and effort. Once you’re in the habit, however, you’ll find the effort and emphasis you placed on lamenting over your troubles were actually harder.

1. I said it my last post, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV). And, I really mean “without ceasing”. Keep the music off in the car, and pray as you drive. Post sticky notes around your house if necessary to remind you to pray, or to remind you of scripture verses so you can focus your mind on them and pray by reciting scripture. Pick up a book by Stormie Martin, who has written numerous books with practical prayers for you as a mom, woman, wife, etc. Start your day in prayer, before you get out bed (i.e., between the times you’re pushing the snooze button), and end your day in prayer. Spend time journaling your prayers (and then be sure to record the answers!). Before having a conversation with another, before picking up a ringing phone, and before walking in the door after a hard day’s work (or before your husband does), pray that your words would be a blessing, uplifting, truth spoken in love, or whatever the situation may call for. Train yourself to pray continually, and you will find yourself doing it even without prompting.

2. Probably the most common exhortation you receive from your pastor, from Christian writers, and from many other sources is to stay in the Word of God. The Reverend Billy Graham says that he leaves his Bible open somewhere in his home or office (or wherever he is traveling), so that he will come across it during the day. He then takes the opportunity to read a verse, or a chapter (or more) as he comes across the Bible. What a great idea! And, how many of us have more than one Bible, so we can leave them open in different areas of the house?! (Thanks to Jerry B. Jenkins for this tidbit about Rev. Billy Graham.)
The Bible is such a terrific “instruction book” for life. As it says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105 NIV). So often I will come across scripture that ministers to my soul in a way that speaks directly to my current situation. I know that this is one of those ways that God “speaks to me”. And, the more I am in the Word, the more I learn and the more encouraged I become. So, while you’ve heard it before, it bears repeating: Study the scriptures!
“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing in the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8)

3. By serving and ministering to others, you keep your focus off yourself and on others. It truly is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This doesn’t have to be elaborate…you can make a difference even by emailing a quick note to a hurting or concerned friend, penning a letter to let someone know you are thinking of them or praying for them, or sending a greeting card that contains a poignant verse. In return, I have been so uplifted by responses to emails I’ve sent (or comments I’ve made on blogs). Sometimes I wonder if the responses I receive have more impact on me than the original recipient of my writings. Serving and ministering can also be done very practically through volunteerism (whether at your church, local food pantry or at a homeless shelter). One thing I would caution here is to ensure you are serving within your gifts. For example, don’t sign up to help with the children’s ministry unless you love being around kids and are blessed with a good dose of patience. Also, charities have many different needs for which you can volunteer your time. If you don’t feel working directly with people is one of your gifts, find out if your local soup kitchen needs administrative / office work done, or if they could use your help with fundraising (if those are your gifts instead).
Bottom line is that it always helps me to put into perspective my situation when I read and/or respond to the struggles of others. As it says in Proverbs 16:3 (NKJV), “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” Plus, what a joy it is to serve God in ways that he himself served (a kind word to someone hurting, feeding the hungry, etc.).

4. Finally, I encourage you to consciously remember your blessings. Do this is a very real way, such as writing them down in a praise journal or verbally thanking God for them during your prayer time. If you have trouble, read through the Psalms, and you will see the many different ways and times David praised the Lord, in spite of his troubles and persecution by Saul. By focusing on your blessings, the Lord has an opportunity to give you peace and joy that surpasses all understanding. “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:11).

It seems fitting here to list just some of the blessings I have experienced in the midst of my turmoil recounted above.

  • At the end of a tumultuous meeting, my son’s Case Manager referred him into a juvenile program that will eventually clear his name and record, assuming he completes it successfully. (And, you can imagine we will be praying hard for that.)

  • In the midst of a lack of sleep, I have spent some quality (and quantity) time with my family. Also, the late-night meetings at work produced a well-received presentation that provided a source of pride and accomplishment for my team.

  • My mother-in-law’s diagnosis gives us a very really opportunity to serve, both her and her daughter. It also seems to have drawn my husband much closer to his mom than he has been for many years.

  • I am supported by those I report to in how I address the challenges with my team at work. I work directly for a terrific Christian woman who is compassionate and encouraging, and who can always be counted on to provide wise counsel.

  • My husband’s and my relationship with our oldest son is stronger now than it has been at any time in the past year. Our homeschooling has brought us closer to him, and provides more one-on-one time with him than we have ever experienced before. Also, we now live life with eyes wide open to the challenges and dangers of his adolescence. We truly do feel everything that has happened is a blessing in disguise, as we are more aware of what our son is experiencing, how he is living his life, and who his friends are.

If you have actually read through this entire blog (what a marathon!), I would love to hear about the methods that work for you in keeping focused on God, especially when faced with pain, anguish or confusion. Thanks, and may God pour His richest blessings out on your life, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.


jackie carl said...

Hi. My name is Jackie. I am from Indiana. I started reading your blog from your April 7th post.
I can't remember now, how I came across your site. I know it was a link or a comment that you had made on someone else's site.
I regulary read nitty.gritty, noahsteven, and nothingmissing;nothingbroken....not sure if you read any of these blogs...but, anyway, you asked if anyone actually had read through your entire blog to please leave you a here I am. :-)

I love all that you had to say today. I totally agree w/ everything you said. I feel the same way about keeping in the Word and how to stay focused on God.
I don't have any new revelations to add at this time, but did want you to know that I loved reading your words.

I also have been praying for you & your family, every since the first day I read your entries. Even though I don't know all the circumstances concerning your son, I just felt a a "mom to mom".

I have a 24 year old son. The years have flown ! He has been out of college for 2 years now, and yet it seems as if it was just yesterday that he was starting Kindergarten, then graduating up to Jr. High, then High School.

Kids are so precious and the love we mothers (parents) have in our hearts for our children is totally unexplainable.

I know I have not been the best mother that I could have, but I hope and pray that my son will always be proud of me.

I'm sorry this post is so long. I knew once I got started that I would go on & on. It's not always easy to say what you want, when it's a one-sided conversation. :-)

Please be encouraged to know that others care & have you in their hearts and prayers.

My wish for you is to be greatly blessed w/ God's wonderful grace and riches.

Jackie Carl
Marion, IN

Penless Thoughts said...

Michelle - please e-mail me at I looked on your site for an e-mail address for you and didn't see one. I've walked you walk and I'd like to share with you. God is faithful!!!

jackie carl said...

Hi Michelle !
I received your email in response to my post from yesterday. THANK YOU for responding !
I will write back, but will be gone for the majority of the day today, so will get back w/ you as soon as time permits.
Hope you have a glorious day.
Sending you a hug,
Jackie Carl

groovyoldlady said...

Oh Michelle. I am feeling for you and prayed for you while I was here.

It's been a very weepy week here; lots of emotional ups and downs that I can't blog about because I have a hostile lurker (aka my almost ex DIL).

Thanks for stopping by my blog and thanks for redirecting all our hearts and minds back toward God, even in the midst of the muck.

He IS our light and our salvation. He IS in control and He knows the end from the beginning. How awesome that He loves us!

jackie carl said...

Hi Michelle....I know it's been a couple of weeks since I posted or sent you an email, but wanted you to know that I prayed for you & your family this morning.
(This is not to mean that I don't pray for you regulary, but today I am taking the time to let you know). :-).
I walk 4 miles every day & that is a wonderful time to do a lot of praying. Today I was out at 5:15 AM getting my miles in, which again is wonderful....quiet, hearing the birds awakening and beginning to chirp & being able to take in God's wonders and pleasures.
I just wanted you to know prayers were being lifted up on your behalf. Please be encouraged.
Hope to hear a new posting from you soon.
Jackie Carl
Marion, IN

Diane said...

Found your blog while visiting Groovy Lady' glad I did.

I'm so sorry for your trials....and can relate to each word your wrote. Additionally--I must say--I marvel at your obedient walk. I know--I know, how I know, that we gain strength in our weakest moments...when we lean on God--He faithfully carries us through. You pointing us, as readers, in that direction is a testimony not of your will...but your faith and trust in Him! Well, I may have certainly requires our will--but it is not by our might.....nor by our is only by His Spirit in us that we can claim His victory over every circumstance.

God Bless you as you continue to shine His light on the darkness of this world.