Monday, June 29, 2009

Slaying the Dragons - The Yellow Dragon

Fear is one of the strongest emotions we experience as human beings. It brings a clear and obvious hormonal/chemical reaction in the brain - a release of adrenaline and what is called a fight or flight response. As moms, we have many things to be fearful about. finances, swimming pools, fire, tornadoes, high ledges, balloons, hot coffee, pedophiles, the direction our country is headed, and on and on and on. It is easy to become afraid. But God says over and over in the Bible to "fear not". One of my favorite passages is Phillipians 4:6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. "

Like the red dragon of anger, the yellow dragon of fear can have quiet beginnings. It's just a little egg. It's just the normal thoughts and feelings that anybody has. But, it can easily grow out of control - and into control of our lives. I was speaking with a friend today who struggles with fear and we talked about the roots - begun way back in childhood. In one case, an encounter with a big dog was dwelt upon and thought about, the emotions allowed to fester. Each trigger along the way - the sound of a chain moving in the wind, the glimpse of a big dog - brought back all that original fear and cemented it in her brain. Other episodes with different fears were "handled" in the same way, until the fear became an integral part of who she was, growing bigger and bigger with each reinforcement. When a huge trial came into her life, it's no wonder that the predominant emotion (although many would have fit) was fear. That trial grew the fear into debilitating panic that lasted a long time. She is still dealing with the fallout.

It would be easy to look at the debilitating fear as something sudden, from outside of herself, over which she had no control. But looking back, the eggs were laid and incubated from early childhood. There are many who cry foul at this. How dare we say that our mental illnesses are rooted in our own wrong thinking? How can we blame a child who doesn't know any better? Are we saying that if our faith was just stronger, if we just read the Bible and prayed more, we wouldn't be sad/scared/angry/bitter/etc.?

The point is that it is not about blame, but simply about consequences. God says that the wages of sin is death. He says that we are born with a sinful human nature. Each child is born with the consequences of sin already at work in his life. We may cry, "unfair!" but that doesn't change the facts. In the same sense, our thoughts and especially our dwelling on certain thoughts, has consequences, both emotional and physical, even as little children. As we think and learn, pathways are literally created in our brain, chemicals are brought into play, and memory files are created. Each time those pathways are repeated, they are strengthened until paths become ruts and sometimes ruts even become canyons.

So, how do we break free? How do we slay the dragon of fear? I believe there are three main weapons here again.
First, we need to say, "Lord, I can't, but You can!" When Fear is overwhelming you and the dragon is sitting on your chest and you feel like you can't even breathe, like it has become a tangible heaviness, like you don't even know if you *want* to fight it anymore - that's when God has to take control and do the fighting. And He will! It may not be the immediate relief that we may want. My friend told me of many times that she cried out to God in her fear and He graciously gave her an overwhelming feeling of His presence. The fear did not go away, but God was clearly there with her in the midst of it. It reminds me of the song by Scott Kripayne, "Sometimes He calms the storm, but other times He calms His child".

Second, we need to learn to take our thoughts captive as the Bible says. This is something few of us are taught to do, especially as children, when it would have been quite handy to never have allowed these dragons into our lives in the first place. We have been told *to* do it, but not really *how* to do it. Often we have a thought, like fearing that our child will inhale a piece of a popped balloon. We have heard stories of children dying in this way. We hear the story and it makes an impression. As we think about it, it produces a chemical response in the brain, which produces a fear emotion and cements the image in our minds. Now, we see our child with a balloon in his mouth and our brain calls up that image. If we allow ourselves to entertain the thought for more than a minute our two, the adrenaline starts to flow and the fear becomes stronger. Do that often enough with enough different scenarios, and eventually the fear becomes a defining factor of who we are. Taking a thought captive works best if we can capture it within that first 1-2 minute window - before the brain's chemicals become involved. This does not mean for instance that we see something that triggers a memory of something fearful, the image comes to mind, and we tell ourselves, "I won't think about that. I won't think about that. I won't think about that." Trust me, it doesn't work. We're still thinking about that! It also does not work if we are telling ourselves, "I don't have to fear. God can use this for good in this way or that way and maybe He's doing this or that in my life through it." We're still thinking about that! What we need to do is get it gone entirely.

I liken this to changing the channel in our brains. From what I've been reading lately and what I've experienced, our brain can only *really* concentrate on one thing - one strong thought or emotion - at a time. So we need to change the channel. We don't have to go directly from the channel of fear to the channel of perfect peace. (or the channel of anger to the channel of true love, or the channel of despair to the channel of high flying joy) Often it works better to switch to the cooking channel, the home decorating channel, the what do I need to get done today channel. Any channel that does not have any connection to the thought that you are taking captive. Put your mind on something - anything - entirely different. It may niggle at the back of your brain, but it can't control you unless you turn back to that channel. And if you do - change it again. Each of us have certain thoughts, certain areas of life that are dangerous for us to think on. For me, it may be thoughts that lead to depression, for my friend, it may be thoughts that lead to fear. Psalm 131: 1b-2 says, "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Those thoughts that are too great, too hard for us are matters that must be trusted to God's care. Once we have put reasonable precautions for our children's safety into place, and we know that God is in control and will not allow anything into our lives that He has not ordained, we can not dwell, fixate, or mull over those thoughts any more. We have to simply turn the channel.

Which leads us to the third weapon - praise! The Bible says in Romans 8:15, "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. " and in Isaiah 49:15-16, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."

I LOVE that image! We are graven upon the palms of His hands - quite literally by the nails on the cross! We are His dear and precious children and He loves us so very very much. We have so much to praise Him for. Even those emotions that threaten to overtake us, we can thank and Praise Him for allowing them into our lives, drawing us closer to Him. When we change the channel, the Praise channel is a very powerful channel to switch to. Satan may fight us for a little while, but eventually he must flee, holding his fingers in his ears! That Phillipians passage says to use prayer and petitions WITH thanksgiving! For me, I've found that in the moment of channel switching, a brief "Thankyou, Lord" prayer helps immensely. By that I mean, "Thankyou, Lord that You are in control no matter what, even if I don't feel like it right now." Keep it short, then, SWITCH! Praise Him, not in relation to the negative thought, but just for who He is.

There is a place to consider the effects of female hormones and health issues on one's emotions. I am not discounting that at all, though I will wait to discuss it more in length in another post. I will say though that I don't believe throwing drugs that cause more calming chemicals to be present in the brain at the problem is the answer. They do nothing to change or help the underlying causes, and for many people do more harm than good.

So until next time, God bless you as you fight the yellow dragons in your life.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Slaying the Dragons - the Red Dragon

God created us to be emotional people. We feel love, hate, joy, despair, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, frustration, peacefulness. All are a part of being human. But God tells us to live by faith, not by feelings. We are to be the master, not the slave when it comes to our emotions. I remember hearing a sermon back when I was in the depths of depression, saying that depression was a sin. I was furious. How on earth could I change how I *felt*? But God's truth tells us the opposite. We Can change our feelings and should. We Can take those thoughts captive and must! If we do not, they grow and we truly become the slave, and it becomes harder and harder to ever get free. In my life Disappointment became Self Pity, which in turn became Despair, and eventually became Depression. I was *little* when it started. One could say I didn't know any better - and perhaps I didn't. It would be easy to look at those thoughts and feelings along the way as completely normal, and the Depression as something sudden that overtook me from outside myself. But the seeds were planted long before and allowed to grow - and even watered along the way. Like a dragon, the little egg becomes a little lizard wrapping its tail more and more tightly around your neck, and eventually it grows until it is a huge fire breathing dragon ready to consume you! Any emotion can gain control if allowed to fester and grow. Disappointment becomes Depression. Concern becomes Fear and Anxiety. Nervousness becomes Paranoia. Hurt becomes Bitterness. Self thought becomes Self consumption. Irritation becomes Anger and Rage. Our world is filled more and more and more with people under the control of their emotions. We call it mental illness and claim victim status, forgetting that we picked up the egg and kept it warm and fed the little dragon hatchling all along the way.

It is of course easiest to slay the dragon while it is small, even in it's shell yet. But often, we don't recognize it in time. We live in a world that sees these things as so normal that we don't notice what is going on. So what happens when the dragon is full grown and seemingly in control? Is it too late? Are we doomed to a life of slavery and medications? I don't believe so. It may take more time and will certainly be more difficult, but God is still able! He sent David out against Goliath with a sling and a stone and a strong faith. These are the same tools that will slay dragons even today - the sling and stone of prayer and praise - and faith in a God who loves us and is in control of our lives.

So, the first dragon that we find is the red dragon - the dragon of anger and rage. As Moms we may find this dragon to be suddenly more present in our lives than ever before. So very often we want desperately to not have our children remember us as angry moms - yet we feel powerless to change. We find ourselves in that "definition of insanity" - continuing to do the same things over and over, thinking we'll get different results. For me, this really did seem like one of those things that suddenly took me over from somewhere outside myself. But I had to admit the egg was laid long ago in selfish thoughts and expectations that grew into idols in my life.

I grew up in a home where anger was not the norm. Mom would become irritated on occassion but it took a lot to get her angry enough to yell. I don't think I ever saw my dad angry, although sometimes the set of his jaw as he chewed on his pipe was a clue to his inner struggle with his anger (which I've found out recently was more than I ever knew). Anger between us kids was quickly nipped in the bud whenever it occurred - not in a bad way - it was just something that wasn't acceptable and I came to see it as not normal. I remember staying over at a friend's house when I was in the eighth grade. Her brother started arguing with his mother at the supper table and sounded quite angry to my ears. It disturbed me so much that I started to cry. They quickly assured me that they were not at all angry with eachother, but rather playing, teasing. How bizarre it was to me! :)

Then I had children, and experienced anger LOL. Their fighting, bickering, misbehaving, having to be told again and again and *again* to do something - pushed me over the edge in a way I'd never felt before. It scared me. I found myself swearing in my head - and I am*not* a swearing person - but all those words from the Stephen King novels I'd stupidly read in my teen years came flooding into my brain in my anger. It was awful! I remember one morning, coming to the end of my rope and *begging* God to help me, show me what to do with that anger. Immediately, the phone rang, and it was my dearest friend and mentor. :) Isn't God amazing? During that phone call, and over the years to follow, God taught me three things that have made such a difference. Trust me, I still blow up at times, but I don't get to the swearing in my head point, praise the Lord!

First, my friend prayed for me and then she got me a set of tapes from Charity Ministries called The Godly Home. Those tapes, as well as some other great books, most recently one called Raising Godly Tomatoes , helped me to learn to be more consistent in my parenting. I'd gotten into the habit of trying to ignore bad behavior until the irritation built up and up and up and I finally exploded. To say something once and matter-of-fact-ly administer discipline for disobedience, helped immensely. Even after learning this lesson, I've found it's easy to backslide into laziness and complacency again. It's so worth the effort to keep on top of things.

Second, God taught me more about loving others with His love rather than my own. He had taught me some of this in my marriage a few years before that point, but for me, the children - whom I felt I *should* have some measure of control over - were much harder than my husband -as another adult. As mothers, we have a lot of natural love for our children, which is a good thing, but there are times when we can find our children quite unlikeable - terrible as that sounds - and *is*.

God taught me that there IS no true love in me for my children. That natural love is so filled with selfish thoughts and motivations that it's no wonder we seem to lose that love when things get tough. It's no wonder we can look at our children's behavior and think they're just doing it to spite me or to make me look bad! So much of my selfworth was bound up in the behavior of my children! When they misbehaved that voice in my head told me again how worthless, useless, stupid, and incapable I was. It was all bound up in the depression and self-loathing I had struggled with most of my life.

But God was at the same time teaching me how *much* He loves ME - Yes, even me! When I truly experienced His incredible love for me - just as I was -I was finally able to put off little by little that self hatred that had consumed me. I finally was able to see myself through His eyes -dear and precious and beautiful. Then I could learn to say, "Lord, I*can't* love this person. It is impossible. But YOU can love them through me."

There were times I'd pray that prayer and take a deep breath and almost step outside myself watching myself going on to do the right thing - a bizarre feeling, really, but so incredibly powerful.

Because God had taught me how *MUCH* He loved me, showed me His delight in me personally -
Because He had drawn my heart to fall head over heels in *LOVE* with Him -
Because He had filled my heart so full to overflowing with that love relationship with Him -

When I admitted my complete inability to love my children the way I should and got my "self" out of the way - His love overflowed through me into the lives of my children around me. Again, this was not a one time thing. Oh no! Moment by moment, I had (and often still have) to make that choice. But when I do, all anger melts away and it's a beautiful thing to watch God work.

Third, He taught me that He is the true bringer of all things in my life, good, bad, irritating, whatever. If I look at my child's disobedience and get angry at my child for what my child did, I am looking at the "secondary causes" whereas the "primary cause" is God Himself. (The book, The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith explains this concept more.) He has allowed this situation in my life for *good* to grow me, change me, draw me closer and closer to Him.

I've learned that I need to praise Him, not just *in* the hard times, but *for* them. This is always easier when the hard times are things that happen rather than what people do - especially little people that I am supposed to be teaching and training - but it is no less God's hand in my life. And I need to simply say,"Thankyou, Lord!" and give that little dragon egg of hurt that would turn into anger up as an offering to Him. This then, frees me to deal with my child's sin firmly yet calmly and lovingly.

The bigger the dragon has grown, the more times we will need to go through the above steps before it is slain. The prayer of a life that says, I can't Lord, but You can! The praise of a life that says, Thankyou Lord, for allowing this frustration in my life to draw me and my child closer to You. And the faith to believe that God can and is changing us from the inside out as we immerse ourselves in Him more and more. It is a fight that must never be given up. As Matt Kaufmann writes in his article "When Anger Rules" in Focus on the Family's webzine Boundless,
"Anger has to be experienced briefly, then dispelled or channeled into positive directions. Those who let it take up long-term residence in their souls are liable to find themselves under the devil's mastery. And if that happens, then the original cause won't even matter any more."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stepping Back in Time

We found out that there were free Mondays in June at Old World Wisconsin - a living history museum about 2 1/2 hours away from us.
So we decided to meet some friends there for the day and piled into the van about 8am. After two potty breaks and accidently turning the wrong way once, we got there just in time to eat our picnic lunch.

The girls had so much fun and Terran was such a great helper. They got to experience a taste of some of the things people did back in the early days of our state of Wisconsin. One of the first areas we stopped in had children's games for them to try. Here they are trying stilts, which are apparently not as easy as they look.

Amanda trying the hoop rolling. The girls enjoyed the hoops so much that I bought two of them for them to have races here at home.

Elisabeth and her friend, Adrienne played Graces - a game where you hold two sticks through the little hoop. As you gracefully open your arms, the sticks send the hoop flying - and the other person is supposed to catch the hoop on her sticks.

There was a little school in the Norwegian area, where the girls got to sit at the desks which were actually original to the building. The interpreter told us about schools a hundred fifty years ago. He asked the children, "Who here has the same teacher for music AND art AND math AND reading." He was surprised to see most of the classroom raise their hands! We weren't the only homeschoolers there. :)

The blacksmith shop was Terran's favorite place. He has been interested for a long time in learning blacksmithing and building his own forge.

I'm sure this would have been my favorite place 150 years ago! The shelves and shelves of fabric in the general store.

There was a place in the town where the girls got to wash clothes the old fashioned way. A scrub board and a bar of soap in the first tub - a metal plunger type thing in the second - then squeeze them out and hang them on the line.

Lissa's favorite part of Old World Wisconsin - seeing and petting the horses. We saw maybe a quarter of all there was to see, there was just so much!

Tired after a long but wonderful day, Amanda and Emilie sit on the porch step.
It was beautiful - a taste of a simpler life in a simpler time. You would not believe the number of times we were asked if we were volunteers there. I guess we looked like we fit right in. I know I felt like we could fit right in too. How I'd love to cultivate that simple life here and now - in more than just the little bits here and there that we already do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

And the Winner Is...

16 names all in a bowl. Hmm, which one should I pick?

This one looks good. What does it say?

It says that the winner is Challice!
Thankyou to everyone for playing. We had a lot of fun. Challice, please send me your address and the size that you need for Euphemia and whether you want the bloomers set or the petal dress. Who hoo!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Neat Opportunity and a Contest for You

Back in February, a new law was passed pertaining to children's items. It was written in response to the toys that were imported from China and found to have dangerous levels of lead in them. But it was written so broadly that anyone making anything for children would be affected. The law said that everything made for children would have to be tested and given a certificate that said it was safe. Each and every batch would have to be tested and it was the responsibility of the one making the item. In other words I would have to test everything I made for Daddy's Little Princess. I would have to test just about each and every dress or pair of bloomers because only those that were made *exactly* the same - pattern, size, fabric, buttons etc could be counted as a batch. And I couldn't just buy materials that had been tested by their manufacturers and rely on their certificates. I'd have to do my own testing. This would of course add up considerably.

As more and more small businesses let their voices be heard, the cpsa decided to forgo the testing requirements for one year. Business owners should be careful to make and sell only safe items, but they were allowed to use their own common sense rather than deal with the testing. Unfortunately the ability to use common sense may go away in February of next year, depending on what they do about it - but at least for now Daddy's Little Princess can continue pretty much as before.

One positive thing came out of this. As I read through the law and realized that there were exemptions for completely natural materials - cotton, wool, wood - without any dyes, bleaches, etc - I started searching for sources of organic cotton fabrics. I found something wonderful - organic *color-grown* cotton! Did you know that cotton naturally grows in all kinds of shades of green, brown, and cream? I had no idea! And they can actually weave the different colors into lovely patterns, so I can get ginghams and stripes and all kinds of things. I ordered some and fell in love with the look and feel. I actually made our Easter dresses from the colorgrown cotton this year. :) It's more expensive than my usual fabrics, but not as expensive as testing everything. :)

Then, last weekend, Mike and I went to a new store called The Green Plan-It. It was a fascinating place with everything you could imagine organic/natural/or recycled. The man we spoke to told us that they had someone working with them on providing cloth diapers and they were hoping to carry a line of infants and toddlers clothing. I talked to him about the organic colorgrown cotton and he was very interested in seeing and possibly carrying some things from Daddy's Little Princess made from those fabrics!
So I've been working on some new designs. So far I have a little blouse and bloomers set. I made it of the natural muslin. It is *so* soft! And I used drawstrings rather than elastic because I can get them made of organic cotton. They are sewn in for safety of course. I'm thinking of adding just a little lace to the set too, but I have to get some more.
To go with it, I'm planning to do one of these sets:
in the green/cream gingham and another cream that has a diagonal texture woven into it. I got buttons made of wood and some of tagua nut so that even they will be completely natural materials.
So, I thought it would be fun to have a contest here in honor of the new line for the Green Plan-It. I will make either a blouse and bloomers set or a little petal dress (the dress only) in your choice of size up to 3T. You just have to be willing to send me your address. Just leave a comment here and I'll enter your name in the drawing. At the end of the week, (on Friday the 12th) I'll put all the names in a hat and let Emilie (my 2 year old) pick one out. If you don't have a little one, you probably know someone who does, to whom you could give these as a gift. Please pass on the link to my blog too!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Just Because - Explanation

This is what was going on in the "Just Because" picture below. :)
The guys were in the process of building the new swingset and the tube had been assembled but not yet added to the swingset structure. Lissa and Abi climbed inside and Micha started rubbing the outside of the tube to generate static electricity. It made for some pretty interesting pictures. :)