Archives For August 2010

Sounds of September

Allison Stevens —  August 30, 2010 — 1 Comment

It’s almost September and children across our state are getting ready to go back to school. Teachers prepare for their classes and parents rush to super stores looking for the best deals on notebooks, pencils, and calculators.

But there is a select group of students who have already been hard at work, readying themselves for this season. In the burning hot sun, they’ve labored to improve their skills for the field. Last month, they persisted through long hours at camp, so that they can be the best. Now, with their uniforms proudly worn, helmets in place, they eagerly await their first game. You know who I’m talking about: the High School Marching Band.

Were you thinking about the football team? Isn’t it funny how much the football team and the marching band have in common?  I don’t think I’ll mention that in the mixed company of full-backs and clarinetists.

I realize that most of us don’t go to high school football games to hear the marching band perform at half time. (Except for me. I’m a band-mom. I go to the games simply for the thrill of hearing the band.)  Many folks quickly make their way to concessions during half time and miss one of the best parts of a football game.

Marching Band. They don’t get a lot of press, which in my book is a shame. As I stood there Friday night, listening to the amazing music these kids have been mastering for weeks and weeks, I admit that I got a little choked up.  Teenagers spending their Friday nights and Saturdays and at least two other days a week, learning notes, cadences, the intricacies of their particular instrument, keeping time, and then learning how to move in correct formation with one another is nothing but outstanding. Not to take away from the earned glory of football players and their coaches, but the students in band work just as hard as the athletes who run plays and earn points. It takes hard work, dedication, and a love for music to make it in band.

Not fully sure why I’m blogging about marching bands.  I guess because I really appreciate the commitment put into it and then the wonderful results. Music is food for our souls. What would a parade be without a marching band?  And, certainly, our football games are better for it.  So if you know a band member, say thanks today. They make us sound a lot better.

A Silent Killer

Tim Jackson —  August 28, 2010 — Leave a comment

Google the words Silent Killer and the website that pops up first says:

Many diseases are silent killers in that they are silent (no symptoms or only vague symptoms), and that they are deadly. There are a number of diseases that are known as “silent killers” because they gradually consume you without causing any serious symptoms in the early stages. Regular medical checkups and early diagnosis of unexplained or vague symptoms can safe your life.

Hypertension, better known as high blood pressure, is often considered one of the major “silent killer” diseases. If left undetected,  it can reek havoc on your physical well being and will eventually destroy your health from the inside out.

But the same is true for our emotional health and well being too. It’s often the things we don’t talk about–our secrets that we stuff down deep–that eventually erode our sense of personal security and our stability in our most cherished relationships.

What got me thinking about this is a new book that I’ve been reading to prepare for an upcoming HelpForMyLife video shoot on a topic that is rarely talked about: the childhood sexual abuse of men. It use to be that no one ever talked about sexual abuse. Period. You just didn’t bring it up. Frankly, it’s not that it wasn’t going on, but just that no one was courageous enough to talk about it.

But 25 years ago the sexual abuse of women started to be discussed, uncovering a major blight on society. All of a sudden, the topic was out there on the talk shows, in seminars, featured on news outlets, and in educational curriculum. The issue of the past sexual abuse of women and it’s impact on adult relationships was making it’s way out of the shadows and into the light where we now see clearly that any where from 25-40% of women experience some form of sexual abuse by the time they reach the age of 18.

But, there’s been little in print or in the public forum about the sexual exploitation of little boys who later grow up to be men who bear the effects of sexual abuse. But that’s starting to change. And that’s a good thing.

Cecil Murphey is a successful author who has written or co-written over 119 books. By anyone’s standards, that’s a bunch. But Cec (as he likes to be called) admits “unquestionable, this book is the hardest book I’ve ever written.” Although he’s come a long way in his own healing journey and recovery, writing about male sexual abuse meant writing about his own story and struggles with his abusive past.

Check out Cecil’s book, When A Man You Love Was Abused. If you’re a man who has never dared tell his story of past abuse, Cecil’s book may be the tool you need to encourage you to step into the light. If you’re a woman who loves a man with a past of sexual abuse, you too will find godly encouragement and practical help in helping your man face, battle with, and overcome childhood sexual molestation.

You can also read comments on Cecil’s  blog, from other men who have courageously taken the first steps of breaking the silence about their childhood sexual abuse. And watch for future posts and the upcoming round table discussions and insights from Cecil and the HFML team.

I became a grandmother last week when my stepdaughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Including having my own children, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I think about my granddaughter all the time and can’t wait for the next time I see her.  It’s been 48 hours and I’m eager to hold her again. I’m in love!

Like many stepmoms, I’ve had my issues and difficulties with that role. Where do I fit in? Do I matter? Am I doing too much?  Too little? Where are instructions on how to be a good stepmom?  I’ve felt discouraged many times trying to figure it all out.

Since Lilly’s birth, however, a new thought came to me. Maybe step mothering isn’t so unclear after all. I think after all this struggle; I’m seeing that my role is to bridge a gap towards stronger family ties.  My stepdaughter introduces me as her stepmom, which I am and I’m proud to be. But when she introduces my son and daughter, she says, “brother” and “sister” and they call her “sister”, too. The kids eliminate the “step.” They see each other as true brother and sisters. That’s a step towards greater closeness as a family. Now, my granddaughter will call me grandmamma, not “step-grandmama.” There is nothing wrong at all with the word “step”, but once it’s dropped, relationships are more clearly defined and solid, long-lasting bonds can form.

So if any of you are in a stepfamily, especially stepmoms, remember that you do have a place. You belong to your family and they need you. You play a significant part in that family. It may not be as clear today as it may be in the years to come, or you may not feel as needed as you’d like, but I wonder if you give it time, if your place will become more clear and important to you and to your family.

In a shameless attempt to borrow from the recent post “It’s not just about food,” I share the following post about home repairs:

Last Monday evening, my neighbor across the street asked to borrow my extension ladder so he could fix some facia (the trim board on the edge of a house) that had rotted from ice build up in the winter. Shortly afterwards, he returned and sheepishly told me he tried to climb up the ladder, but he couldn’t bring himself to go up that high. So he asked me if I would do it for him.

I gladly obliged. For the next two evenings, I climbed up the ladder to the second story of his roof edge, replaced his damaged wood, and made it so it ice would not build up there anymore. He helped out from the ground by measuring and cutting what was needed to complete the task. Even our wives came out and added some peanut gallery humor. It was work, but we enjoyed ourselves.

It had been awhile since I’d been up that high on a ladder. So it took a little getting used to. But once I felt comfortable, I actually enjoyed it. And so did my neighbor. After we finished, he told me how much he had been fretting over how he was going to fix the rotting wood since last winter.

Did I go up the ladder simply because I could and knew how to fix the problem. Partly. I wouldn’t of climbed up 20 feet in the air if I didn’t. But similiar to what Allison pointed out in her post about food,  it was a hands on, neighborly way to show that I cared. You know that “love your neighbor as yourself” thing Jesus talked about?

Whatever it is…home repairs, food, yard work, you name it…if you’re doing it for someone else, it’s about a lot more than we may ever know.

A Change of Plans

Tim Jackson —  August 18, 2010 — 7 Comments

Does your life go just the way you had it planned? Mine sure doesn’t. The question is, how do you respond when your plans change? Or maybe better said, how do you respond when your plans get changed?

I recently returned from a 20-day vacation to the American West with my wife and 3 adult children. (Now you know why I haven’t been posting anything over the past several weeks.) We’ve dreamed about and have been planning a trip like this for years and finally all the stars aligned to make it possible. We drove 5,000 miles (Yes, that’s 5 with 3 zeros!) and were privileged to enjoy the rugged beauty of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. All in all it was a fantastic, memory-making trip of a lifetime for us.

But we also had our fair share of hiccups along the way . . . primarily in the area of vehicle challenges with the vintage 1973 motor home we inherited from my in-laws. Both before we left and occasionally throughout the trip, we encountered obstacles that we had to overcome. At times I had visions of our adventure becoming a sadistically laughable tag line for yet another Chevy Chase/National Lampoon vacation movie gone bad.

Prior to the trip, the old machine spend over a month in the shop to diagnose and fix a faulty electrical system. After getting the green light to go,  we subsequently blew a power steering hose as we were literally pulling out of the drive way. I’m not kidding! I envisioned our trip draining out with the fluid leaking all over the road. We quickly rushed to the garage and begged our mechanic to craft a new hose (because, of course, you can’t find a hose at the local parts store for a 1973 motor home on short notice). Masterfully he completed the task the same day and twelve hours later than we’d planned we again departed on our long anticipated adventure . . . before something else could go wrong and scuttle the whole dream.

We encountered several additional “mechanical” challenges along the way (like a broken alternator one day out and a faulty battery connection that stopped us dead in our tracks for a couple of hours when we were just 10 hours from home). But, those are only part of the story.

We returned on schedule  and I had visions of blogging about all the things God had inspired me to write about and share with you all . . . and then my plans were changed.

I had allowed for a couple days at home to take care of unpacking and cleaning up the home front prior to getting back into the saddle at the office (pardon the shameless western metaphor but I couldn’t resist). Much was needed after being gone almost 3 weeks–mowing the overgrown lawn, repairing the motor home, weeding the 3-foot high weeds that were threatening to totally overrun my vegetable garden. Sunday afternoon I bent over to pick up a bolt that had fallen to the floor in my garage. I tried to straighten back up but couldn’t. Ouch! Literally! The familiar sharp pain in my lower back told me I was in trouble. Shoot! That’s not what I had planned.

I’m not unfamiliar to back pain. Six years ago I went down with a bulging disk in my low back. It took 6 months to rehab it. While this present pain was not as bad, it was another warning bow shot that I had been neglecting to take care of my body during vacation. Now it was time to pay the price and there was no discussion about it.

So what do you feel when your plans are foiled? I must confess that quite often the first place I go is frustration. “Awe come on! No! Not now! I’ve got too much to do!” My response can quickly dissolve into complaint that morphs into anger and then sinks into despair. “Fine. Forget it! Why bother? It never works out anyway!”

Fortunately, I don’t stay there as long as I use to. And thankfully, God has been patient with my slow growth. Being willing to ask, “Okay, God, what are you up to now?” has been a major shift in my heart and demeanor. Back pain has been used of God to force me to “be still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10).

In times of disappointment, struggle, pain, and changes in my well-laid plans, a belief that has grown into a deep and abiding conviction over the years is this simple but reassuring truth: God is up to something good all the time no matter what. Whether I feel it, see it, or experience it at the moment, doesn’t change the reality that God is always involved and at work in all the details of our lives. I believe that. And that sure helps me handle the changes of plans that get thrown my direction.

So how about you? I’d love to hear how you’ve battled, struggled, and worked through your response to game-changing plans in your life.

We went to a dinner party recently (who says “dinner party” anymore?!) I don’t know what else to call it. It was a party and they served us food at dinner time.   

Anyway, have you seen the movie, Julie and Julia?  It’s about Julia Childs and a young writer who follows Julia’s footsteps, recreating the culinary legend’s 524 recipes in just one year. It will either make you very hungry, or make you want to quit your job and go to culinary school in Paris. It’s an inspiring movie about doing what you love, sharing it with others, and relationships.  

Getting back to the “dinner party,” our hosts were generous and served us all night. I felt pampered. I offered to help in the kitchen, but the hostess and her husband insisted that all the guests sit and enjoy one another’s company as she occasionally popped her head in, brought us drinks, and shared funny stories with us. It was a very enjoyable time with friends.

Cooking for others is one of the most tangible ways we show others we care about them. My family and I benefited from many family members and friends who brought meals to us during the early weeks of my husband’s accident and recovery. We felt so loved and we realized how many people care and want to help.  

I want to give tomatoes from our garden to our new neighbors, and maybe I’ll throw in a couple dozen cookies. And my step daughter who’s about to give birth sure could use some meals in her freezer so that she doesn’t have to worry about cooking for awhile. 

Preparing a meal or simply baking bread for someone could really lift someone up today. I wonder who you know that could use a little comfort food.

I’ve been away from Internet access for a few weeks so I didn’t have a chance to weigh in on the recent posts discussing the issue of abuse in marriage.

This post contains some of what nearly 20 years of counseling experience has taught me about the serious issue of marital abuse. It’s a bit on the long side, but I hope what I’ve learned will be of some help.

Martial abuse, whatever form it takes, is ultimately about a husband or a wife who makes it all about him/herself. The common thread that runs through just about every controlling, unreasonable, petty, hurtful, and frustrating thing they do is their demand to have everything revolve around them. We’re not talking about lower case selfishness that is in every last one of us. What I’m referring to here is capital letter SELFISHNESS.

Abusive spouses employ controlling tactics such as bullying, punishing, whining, belittling, complaining, accusing, and threatening to get their own way and keep their spouse from doing anything that unimportant or threatening to selfish agenda. They are not interested in being a mutually considerate partner. Whatever it is that is important to them—their pain, their needs, their wants, their opinions, their schedules, etc.,—that is what occupies their interest. Everything else, at least in their eyes, is irrelevant. And they are very persistent and clever at conditioning their spouses (and others) to see life exclusively through their self-absorbed lenses.

If you’re married to someone with a serious case of Me-ism you know first hand just how maddening, oppressive, and wearing it can be. No matter how accommodating you try to be, it’s never enough. And good luck trying to speak with your spouse about how he/she is treating you. Some may back down now and again, even say they are sorry, but mostly because they are afraid they have upset you too much. Most, however, will typically respond by going on the attack or playing the victim. Many abusive spouses are capable of attacking and playing the persecuted one at the same time. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are masters at twisting things around, blaming you for what their selfishness created and making you look bad and feel bad for “pressing” them too hard. They are never wrong. It’s never their fault. And they are typically full of excuses. They are generally victims of something, whether it be another “bad day” or your impatience or lack of understanding them.

Remember—it’s all about them.

Experience has also taught me that it’s pointless for anyone to try to reason or debate with an abusive spouse. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to. They are not interested in being reasonable or honestly evaluating why they act the way they do. They are not serious about taking a hard look at themselves and how their selfishness is tearing apart the marriage and family. They generally don’t care what they put their spouses or others through. Again, they are mostly interested in what’s important to them. And about the only way you can be right or have a valid thought or feeling is if you are accommodating their needs or requiring nothing of them. And if you do get frustrated and blow up at them, they get to play the victim of your anger.

Another thing I’ve learned about abuse in marriage is that it gets worse over time. Accommodating and cooperating with your spouse’s subtle and no so subtle demands may buy you some temporary peace and sanity, perhaps even some affection, but it doesn’t last. Because of the extreme levels of selfishness at work in the heart of your abusive spouse, marital abuse, if not confronted, will return and continue to escalate and slowly suck the life out of you.

I’ve also learned that most abusive spouses will not deal with their capital letter SELFISHNESS as long as they know they can get away with it. They need to experience serious and consistent consequences for making it all about them. Drawing lines and giving consequences are some of the most loving actions an abused spouse can take as it gives their spouse a chance to admit they have a serious problem and begin to deal with their heart. I don’t say this lightly, for this is hardly easy. It’s disruptive, messy, and can be potentially dangerous. That’s why addressing marital abuse requires outside help from those who understand the selfish and dangerous dynamics of abuse and can provide guidance, support, and protection for an abused spouse as the abuser is confronted and held accountable.

That brings me to another important point experience has shown me. Over the years I’ve seen well-meaning family members, friends, church leaders, and even other counselors attempt to step in and help, only to make things worse–especially for the abused spouse.  Many lack the experience or reference point to recognize and confront the subtle yet extreme “all about me” dynamics in the abusive spouse that are destroying the relationship. They themselves are frequently manipulated and or intimidated by an abusive spouse, and they tend to offer counsel and advice that mistakenly assumes both spouses are willing to be mutually considerate.  These are unfortunate errors that unintentionally enables the abuse to continue.

One last thing experience has taught me is this: while most abusive spouses will insist on joint-marital counseling once their pattern of control and making it all about them is exposed, this is the last place to begin addressing marital abuse. Neither spouse is typically ready for the level of honest vulnerability that is needed for marital counseling to beneficial. Until abusive spouses are able to become self-ware of how they make it all about them and own the extent and harm of their abusive behavior, they will try to make the counseling process all about them too, which will undermine it. Further, abused spouses will not feel free to openly share their thoughts and concerns in the presence of their abusive partners. They are understandably afraid that their spouse will later make them pay for saying what they truly think and feel.

Abusive spouses who are truly interested in dealing with their Me-ism will not only be willing to accept consequences for their selfish behavior, but they will agree to pursue a path of individual counseling (separate from their spouse) where they will take an honest and hard look at themselves and explore how and why they feel such a deep and pressing need to be so self-absorbed and controlling. Joint-marital counseling only becomes a possibility once abusive spouses have consistently demonstrated over a lengthy period time a genuine, no excuses repentance/sorrow over making it all about them and the nightmare that it has put their spouse and family through.

Heal, heels

Allison Stevens —  August 9, 2010 — 5 Comments

Just came back from the physical therapist with my husband who broke both of his heels in May. It was a difficult thing to watch:  the therapist moving my husband’s ankles, heels, and toes and seeing my husband wince in pain.  A lot of pain.

The therapist explained that it’s necessary to massage his feet like this so that the swelling can go down and more blood can circulate through to the injury to speed up the healing. Healing is a result, but so is pain. A lot of pain.

There is intentional, growth-producing pain and then there is pain we tolerate because we’re too afraid to really face it and do the difficult things up front. But what we may not realize is that doing the hard thing up front (i.e. going to physical therapy) provides healing that goes deep to the wound and we can hopefully be pain-free.  If we avoid the hard stuff now, it will inevitably lead us to pain on top of pain.

If my husband does all the physical therapy, follows the doctor’s orders, and exercises, he will greatly increase the likelihood that his heels will heal faster, and that he will walk again soon with little or no pain. Will it hurt at first?  You bet!  Earlier, when I said he “winced” with pain, I was being nice.  He really cried like a little girl (just kidding, honey.)

If he doesn’t go to therapy and sits around with his feet up al the time, sure the bones will eventually come back together, but he would never walk normally again, and he’d do so with a lot of pain. And pain for what?

I won’t try and draw all the possible parallels to our emotional, relational and spiritual lives, but the parallels are there. If I’m going to feel pain, I want it to be the kind that is redemptive, pain that brings me life. I want to have the kind of courage my husband has. It’s not the easier path, but it is one leading towards hope and freedom.

My sister Eileen

Allison Stevens —  August 2, 2010 — 2 Comments

All I can think about today is my sister. She left early this morning for her trip back home to North Carolina.  And I miss her terribly.

You see, except for the college years, we’ve either lived together, or lived near each other.  We know all there is to know about each other, together, finding our way through childhood friendships, piano recitals, boyfriends, junior high and family issues.

At ages 13 and 15, when my family moved from Georgia to Michigan, my sister was my rock. We sat on our twin beds as she listened to my anger about moving, my fears of a new place and new people, and she became my best friend.

It’s been 4 years since she moved 12 hours away and I’m still not OK with it. I thought the distance would get easier, but, no, time hasn’t healed the sadness I feel every time we say good-bye.

I can tell her anything and she won’t judge me. She accepts me as I am, yet, by her example, challenges me to be better. Her faith in God has increased my faith. Her love for others has increased my love for others.

I don’t know what else to say except that I’m so thankful for my sister, my best friend and I love her dearly. I’m just missing her a lot today. Thanks for listening.

Many caregivers find themselves grappling with issues they weren’t prepared for. Join us as Shelly Beach describes the struggles that are common to people providing care for another.