Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Plagues and Prayers

Insomnia is the pits. Especially when my favorite thing to do is sleep.

Lately I have been plagued by sleepless nights. The last time I suffered from insomnia was when Peter was deployed for a year. He was getting shot at and bombs were exploding all around him so I think it was sort of acceptable for me to stay up, worrying about his safety.

But now, there is no explanation.

My body is so exhausted. For the first thirteen months of Vivienne's life, I didn't sleep. She was up every couple hours to eat so by the time I fell asleep from one feeding, it was time for another one. By the time she finally started sleeping through the night, I had forgotten how wonderful it was to sleep seven straight hours.

But lately, I've had significant difficulty sleeping. I just can't seem to shut my mind off. Why is that? And why do men have absolutely no trouble sleeping? It's irritating. Peter can fall aleep anywhere at any time. But me? Even on the days when I'm completely exhausted and I try to sneak in a little nap, it's a no go.

And Peter has no difficulty tuning things out when he's sleeping. Last night, Vivienne decided to wake up at 1:20 crying, "Book! Book!" You know how most kids sleep with stuffed animals or soft blankets? Well, Vivi sleeps with books. And sometimes she loses the book in the middle of the night so I have to go find it. That's what happened last night.

After listening to her cry on the baby monitor, I finally got up, stumbled to her room and felt around in the dark on my hands and knees until I finally found the stupid book. I gave it back to her, she laid back down, and she fell right to sleep. I then stumbled back to my room, crawled in the bed, and bam! I'm wide awake. I tossed and turned while Peter snored beside me. Irritating! At 2:30, I finally decided to get up and read the Bible.

And hey, you know what's not a cure for insomnia? Reading about wars and false gods and plagues of tumors and gouging people's eyes out. Thanks for the nightmares, Samuel...

I think I posted a few months ago that I was praying through the Bible for Brienne. I don't think I truly grasped the enormity of this endeavor when I began. Let me just say this - I'm currently praying through 1 Samuel in the Old Testament and Mark in the New Testament.

It's slow going, people.

There aren't a whole lot of verses that I can pray from the OT. How about this: "God said that He will give you a baby so don't let your handmaiden sleep with your husband." Or maybe this: "Try to avoid selling your brother to some gypsies just because you think Daddy likes him better." I'm telling you, some of those stories are crazier than reality TV. There were some screwed up families back in the day.

And there are some screwed up families now, too. Just this morning I was watching the news and they were advertising a new reality show. (As if we need another reality tv program.) I didn't hear the entire promo but I think the basic premise was this - the grandson became a huge YouTube star and decided to move the whole family to Hollywood from Georgia. I don't know how he became an "Internet Sensation" and I'm not sure I want to know. I mean, seriously, where do they find these people? But as I was listening to the crazy talk, all I could think was that that family needs Jesus.

Y'all, I can not begin to tell you how many things I've done in my life that I would change. So many things that I'm embarrassed and humiliated about. Things I would rather my kids never know about me. And I can pretty much guarantee that they won't find out about those things unless I tell them. But what about these reality stars? In ten or fifteen years, will they be proud of the choices they've made? Or will they one day be ashamed to let their grandchildren watch their escapades?

Honestly, I'm embarrassed for them.

But more than likely, I will never come in contact with a reality tv star. I will, however, come in contact with people who need Jesus.

Today, I took Jonah to a play date with some other children with autism. As I sat around, watching these precious children, I heard some constant themes from their moms. Frustration with school systems, difficulty getting appropriate therapies for their children, hopelessness, and physical and emotional exhaustion. As I sat with these new friends, I realized that they need Jesus.

Who else is able to give you peace in a storm? Who else is able to bring you out of the pit of depression? Who else is able to give you wisdom to know what is best for your child?

Only Jesus. Precious Jesus.

I've been praying for opportunities to tell others about Christ, and I believe God put this group of women in my life so that I can show them the Jesus that I know. These women realize that I understand exactly what they're going through because I also have a child with autism. We can relate to each other and share our concerns. But I can do something more - I can give them hope. I can introduce them to Jesus.

So tonight, when I can't sleep, I'll pray through the next part of 1 Samuel and Mark for Brienne. But I'll also be praying for these women - that The Lord will open their hearts to Him and that I will be bold in telling them about Christ. Will you pray with me?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Someone Is Watching

I learn something new from my kids all the time.

I've learned to stop and enjoy the rain pouring from the sky.

I've learned to take a break from chores and run around the house, giggling.

I've learned to relax and enjoy a little cartoon time with them.

I've learned to immediately empty the little potty before Vivienne pours the pee out all over the playroom carpet. 

Yes, they teach me something new. Every. Day.

When Brienne was three years old, she could throw an unbelievable tantrum. I remember thinking that her behavior couldn't get much worse. Then along came Jonah with all his issues and he made Brienne look like an angel. But nothing could compare to Vivienne. Don't let her precious little face and sweet smile fool you. She can punch you in the mouth while smiling innocently. She can steal a toy from Jonah and then come to me and tattle on him! She can throw every piece of food on the floor while looking you directly in the eye. She is strong-willed and won't back down from a challenge.

But she is also watching me. Looking to me in order to see how she should act. Just the other day, I was wearing some flip flops and she decided she needed some too. I found an old pair of Jonah's and put them on her feet. She was so proud of herself. I was standing in the playroom wearing my flip flops, leaning against the doorframe with my arms crossed. She looked at me, and then she stood in the exact same position that I was standing in - leaning against the door frame in her flip flops, arms crossed. It was so cute and hilarious. My mom and I giggled about it. But in reality, it scared me a little. I mean, she is truly watching everything I say and do. Everything.

When I lose my temper, she is watching.

When I'm too exhausted to get off the couch, she is watching.

When I choose my iPhone instead of choosing to play with her, she is watching.

When I cry, she is watching.

When I choose despair instead of joy, she is watching.

My kids are watching every time I mess up. But they are also watching when I (occasionally) get things right. And sometimes they surprise me.

Like when Brienne asked all her friends to donate shoes for orphans instead of bringing gifts for her 10th birthday.

Like when Vivienne serves Jonah by taking him a snack or giving him his favorite toy.

Like when Jonah displays empathy toward Vivienne. If Jonah has a cup of juice or a snack of goldfish but Vivienne doesn't have anything, Jonah will start crying because he thinks Vivienne needs what he's got. And at first, I thought his crying was sweet, but after listening to the whining multiple times a day, it started to become a little annoying. (I mean, clearly, Vivienne does not want her juice. She just threw it down five times.)

But as I analyzed the situation, I realized that Jonah just wants Vivienne to enjoy the same things that he enjoys. He doesn't want her to miss out on the goodness that he is experiencing.

And it got me thinking. How often do I cry out for the poor? For those that don't have a roof over their heads or food on their tables. What about my neighbors who don't have the joy of Christ? Do I have empathy for them? Do I even care about the problems of those around me? Of those around the world?

So many times I find myself drawn to people who are just like me. People who don't have a lot of "needs." People who already love Christ so they don't need me to tell them about His joy.

But I know there are other people watching me. The people on the sidelines. The young mom whose child has autism and she has no hope for his future. The homeless man on the street corner who sees me walk by in my "Jesus loves you" t-shirt. The little girl down the street whose parents never seem to care where she is. These people are watching to see if I'm going to lend a hand. To see if I am who I say I am. They are looking for Christ in me.

And here's the thing - I don't want those people to just be "sideline people" in my life. I want to show them Christ's love. Because He loves me and gives me grace and mercy, I am called to do the same for those around me. James 4:17 says that "if anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." What an amazing and convicting verse!

I am praying for opportunities to show the love of Christ in my neighborhood and in our community. I want to be a light in the darkness. I want to help give people hope in their despair. I need to show Christ to those around me.

Because someone is always watching.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Great Expectations

This is how I spent Valentine's Day 2014. I know you all are super jealous.

I've got one kid who needs to be potty-trained (aka Jonah, the 3-year old wild man) and another kid who doesn't want to be left out of anything that's going on in our house (aka Vivienne, the 1-year old little mama). I can't keep up. I don't know how parents of twins do it.

Actually, I'm only really potty-training Jonah at this point. If I can get him to catch on, then we'll work on Vivienne. Because she thinks she is ready. She wants to be grown up but I just want to keep her small for a while longer. She is the baby, after all. And, Lord willing, there will be no other babies coming from this body. Because we are D-O-N-E. Anyway...

We (and by "we," I mean "I") attempted this potty training thing with Jonah last fall, and it was a major fail. He had absolutely no desire to teetee in the potty and every time I made him sit, there was screaming, kicking, yelling, crying, and gnashing of teeth. And only some of that was from Jonah. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life and I'm not exaggerating. I finally gave up because I didn't have the energy, stamina, or desire to fight with him.

Fast-forward a few months and things are completely different. Of course, I'm pretty sure I can't take much credit for this miraculous turn of events. A couple weeks ago, two ABA therapists (ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis) started coming to our house three times a week to help us work on things that are difficult for Jonah. Big surprise - potty training made the top of the list.

These people are freakin' geniuses. They can get him to do just about anything. Sort of like a circus monkey. Every time they come, I'm amazed at the things Jonah can do. Like learning new language skills. Like actually putting his own shirt on. Like peeing in the potty. It's astonishing.

Peter is always at work when the ABA therapists are here, and one day he said this to me : "It must be weird to have some strange person in your house teaching you how to parent."

Um, yeah. Thanks for that, my love.

But actually it is sort of weird. I mean, we raised Brienne and she turned out mostly alright. And we were ten years younger and a lot more stupid when we had her. But after seeing how quickly Jonah picked up some skills with the ABA therapists, I was beginning to feel like a slacker parent. Sort of like I had set my expectations too low for him.

I think I sometimes do this with the Lord too. I set my expectations too low. I don't pray big prayers. I try not to get my hopes up in case He disappoints me or He doesn't answer my prayers the way I think He should. Recently, I was praying for healing for someone but chose not to tell Brienne about this person's illness for fear he wouldn't be healed and she would be disappointed in God. Instead, I kept a blessing from her because this person was healed and she never even knew he was sick. She missed an opportunity to see a miracle and give God the glory all because of my weak faith. I often tend to think that it's just easier to do things myself instead of believing and trusting the One who loves me more than I could fathom.

But when we decide that we have all the answers, we miss out on miracles. We miss the opportunities to see God show out on our behalf. I don't want to miss those blessings.

With Jonah, though, I realized that we weren't being slackers. We do need help teaching Jonah to get dressed. We do need help teaching him to sit and wait. We need help because he learns differently. And that's ok.

A friend introduced me to a website where you can find your birth verse. It's a pretty neat idea - a verse that is completely unique to you based on the day you were born. Here is Jonah's birth verse:

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." 1 Cor 10:26

My first reaction to this verse was, Big deal. Everything belongs to God. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But the more I thought about it, the more I let the truth of this scripture sink in. Jonah belongs to the Lord. Christ knew Jonah before we were even aware of the possibility of Jonah. He knew that Jonah would have to learn things in a different way than most people. He knew we would need assistance with some things. So instead of feeling like a slacker or entertaining feelings of defeat or despair, I'm choosing to be thankful for people who are trained to help families like ours.

And I'm choosing to trust Christ to help me when I feel unbelief setting in. I'm choosing to let go of my low expectations and to trust Him with my desires, my fears, my prayers, and my hopes. Because He is good and wants the best for my family.

And hey, Jonah didn't have a single potty accident all morning. It's a miracle! Happy Valentine's Day to me!

Friday, January 3, 2014

He Makes All Things New

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe that it is 2014. I sometimes still find myself writing 1990-something, so this 2014 thing seems a little crazy to me. I mean, do you realize that the kids who will be entering high school this fall were born in the year 2000?!?! What the what???

As this new year begins, I find myself reflecting on the past year. 2013 was really good in a lot of ways. Peter completed his first Ironman, Brienne is thriving in school and has some great friends, Jonah's language has exploded and he is doing well in preschool, and Vivienne has become our little social butterfly. We've visited with family, vacationed at the beach, and just hung out. It's been a good year.

But 2013 was also a really hard year for us. It will forever be known as the year Jonah was diagnosed with autism and our world fell apart. Maybe that seems a little dramatic - maybe our world didn't fall apart. But it was rocked beyond anything we could've imagined.

Autism is scary. I hate to admit it, but it is. It's scary for me and Peter because we don't know what to expect as Jonah grows. It's scary because we know the stress that autism causes within a family. Did you know that 90% of couples who have an autistic child end up divorcing? Ninety percent... That's the same percentage as parents who have lost a child to death. And sometimes that's what it feels like - our hopes and dreams for Jonah have died and we have had to grieve what "could've been." Peter and I are determined to beat that divorce statistic, but we know it won't be easy. We have to keep our lines of communication open, realize when we need outside help, and seek The Lord in everything.

And we have had to develop different goals for Jonah, different dreams. A "Plan B." No one wants to go to their Plan B, but that's what we are doing. Pastor Pete Wilson says this: "The knowledge of God's love is not going to make the pain of Plan B go away. But we can allow His love to become the fuel that sustains us through the long, difficult days ahead."

This is the truth I cling to. That Christ's love will sustain us.

I recently came across a passage in Isaiah that resonated with me.

"But forget all that-
It is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun!"
Is 43:18-19

This passage gives me hope. And hope is precious around here. I can look at the past and see the many miracles Christ performed for me, in me. I can see all the answered prayers. But He says that what He is about to do will surpass anything He has done in the past. I am claiming Isaiah 43:18-19 for our family this year. I want Christ to do something new in me, in Jonah, and in our family.

I know that God is sovereign and He has a purpose. He will be glorified through Jonah if we allow it. What satan meant for evil and despair, God will use for good. I am trusting that my faith isn't so shallow that I doubt God just because He puts some difficulties in our path.

This year, our family has a lot to be thankful for. And we also have many things to pray for. Brienne will enter middle school (ack!), Jonah has a long road ahead of him, we have to make a decision about where to move after leaving Valdosta.

And these are only the "big" worries. Thankfully, my God is greater than my worries.

So in this new year, I will trust Him to carry us through the hard days, to give us peace.

And I will trust that He is about to do something new.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Peace on Earth

Aaaah... The Christmas season is upon us. Joy to the world. Peace on earth. Goodwill to men.

Sometimes, though, I feel like I'm still waiting for that joy, peace, and goodwill to make it to our house.

I'm kidding, obviously. Except for the peace part. I can't remember the last time our house was peaceful. With three kids, two adults, and a dog running around this place, peace is hard to come by.

Last week we traveled 13 hours to visit family in Louisiana. The kids did very well in the car on the way, and the week spent with family was wonderful. It was so nice to actually have help with the kids, and watching them interact with Nanna and Pappy was priceless.

But the trip back home to Valdosta - Oh. My. Word.

It was the Worst Trip Ever.

Vivienne screamed for a total of three hours. Yes, I said three hours. Three solid hours of baby screams. Super fun. And during the third hour, Jonah decided it would be fun to sing and yell as loudly as he could. For the whole entire hour. And no amount of diversion, bribery, snacks, or discipline would shut him up. I thought Peter was going to park the car on the side of the road and run away. And frankly, I wouldn't have blamed him. I've never been so happy to be back in Valdosta, just so I could get out of the torture chamber that was our mini van. Being an adult is everything I dreamed it would be...

Thankfully, Brie is fairly calm, mostly independent, and quite helpful because I'm not sure I could handle three little kids all at once. And although Jonah has some issues, we are usually able to anticipate his needs before it turns into a full-blown crisis or a major meltdown. Usually.  Not always, but let's not go there today.

But Vivienne. Whew. I think we are in for it with her. She is precious and adorable but she comes with an ATTITUDE. I'm amazed every day with her. She is strong-willed, headstrong, and moody. If we can only harness these qualities for good...

I see lots of prayer time in my future for this one...

Let's just say that Vivi is a girl who knows what she wants. For instance, she recently decided milk wasn't for her. What the heck? Milk was Brienne's drink of choice till she was 7 years old, and it's Jonah's go-to comfort drink. But no, little Miss Vivienne has to throw me for a loop by refusing to drink milk. We finally decided to switch her to vanilla soy, mainly because she's so tiny and we figured she could use the extra calories. Plus, she likes the taste of it. (Who wouldn't?) But here's the thing - she will no longer drink it if someone is holding her. She'll only drink it while sitting on the floor by herself. And only in the morning and in the late afternoon. She is my last baby and I would really like to rock her, but she's having none of that. What is this mutiny?

And let's talk about walking. She's been able to walk for a while now but she refuses to walk by herself. Instead, she constantly wants someone to hold her hand and walk her around. She'll scoot around on her bottom and say "Alk. Alk." until someone finally gives in and walks with her. Sometimes, though, we'll catch her walking on her own and when she sees that we've noticed, she immediately sits down and whines for us to "alk" her. Seriously?? She is a mess.

But then again, aren't we all a mess?

Even if we don't actually scream and throw tantrums, aren't there days when we really want to? And I don't know about you, but sometimes I just want someone to hold my hand and walk beside me, knowing they will be a steady hand that keeps me from falling.

There is Someone who wants to be our Rock. Jesus Christ. And as I reflect on this Christmas season, I am reminded of a precious baby sent to earth to be that Rock. A baby that grew up, walked alongside others, and willingly chose to give His life. For you. For me. For me. Why would He do that? Why? Because He loves us more than we can fathom.

The story doesn't end with His death, though. Christ rose from the dead and conquered death so that we could live with Him forever. But we have a choice to make. Will we believe in Him? Will we choose to trust Him in our chaos? Will we follow Him and allow Him to lead us through this life? It won't always be easy, and there will be tantrums, screaming, and all sorts of difficulties to go through. But with Christ, we can have peace.

And peace sounds really good to me right about now.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Autism: The Invisible Diagnosis

This post has been rolling around in my mind for a couple of months now. I've been so close to writing about this several times, but I just didn't feel quite ready to share my thoughts. I once heard Beth Moore say that the Lord often communicates to us in the secret place and He doesn't want us to share those secrets until the appropriate time. I feel that exact way about what I'm going to share tonight. This "secret" between me and God wasn't ready to be told. My feelings, fears, frustrations, hurts - none of those things were ready to be shared until I could take a little time to process them. I needed to listen to what the Lord was teaching me before I could share with others. I think I'm now ready to share this story, so here goes...

Our precious little Jonah was diagnosed with autism this week. We've been expecting this diagnosis for a few months now, so we've been able to sort of prepare our hearts and wrap our minds around what this will mean. But actually seeing it on paper was, well, devastating.

We have known for several months that something wasn't quite normal with Jonah's development. His language is characterized mostly by echolalic speech. What this means is that pretty much everything he says is something he is repeating from another source, whether it's from television, a book, or something Peter or I have said. It's almost like he has a Rolodex in his brain, and in each situation he flips through it to find a phrase or sentence that he has heard before. The amazing thing is that it almost always applies perfectly to the situation. I'm not sure how his little brain works, but to me it seems pretty miraculous that he can flip through all those mental files and come up with what he should say.  Other red flags for autism that we noticed were that he has significant difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next resulting in major breakdowns, he doesn't exhibit eye contact, and he prefers to play alone rather than with other children. All of these factors kept pointing to autism in my mind, so I knew this diagnosis was coming. But it doesn't make it any easier.

Peter and I had dreams for Jonah and some days we feel like those dreams have died. Almost like we are in mourning. I wrote about it in my journal:

"I need to look at this loss as a sacrifice of praise to God. We have to make a choice to trust Him even when we can't understand why He requires some of the things He does. I just want Jonah to be normal. Why has God allowed him to struggle which then leads to the whole family struggling? I had dreams for Jonah. Do I have to let those dreams go? Is that supposed to be my 'sacrifice of praise?' But I know that God wants to see if we're willing to give up what we love to Him who loves us more."

Some days I feel like a normal mom with a normal life. Other days I feel extremely sad and riddled with anxiety. But over the past few months, I've noticed a couple constant themes at church, in my quiet time, in books I'm reading, in devotions I'm doing with Brienne. The first theme is that God loves us. I know that He is telling me, first and foremost, that He loves me. I have heard this over and over from Him during the past few months. The second thing He's been telling me is that I don't have to worry because He has a plan for me, for Jonah, for our family. This plan may not look like what we had pictured in our minds, but it is still His perfect plan for our little family. That doesn't mean the journey will be easy, but it does mean that God will carry us through when we feel like we can't get through another day.

I have experienced significant anxiety over Jonah, particularly this fall when he started preschool. I worried about so many things. Will his teachers be able to see him, not his behaviors? Will they love him through the difficulties? Will he be able to make friends? Will he even like school? And the Lord has been faithful to give us little glimmers of hope - a precious teacher who loves Jonah like one of her own and who prays for our family, Jonah learning to participate in circle times and group activities, the way he is learning to interact with other children. Small, almost insignificant things to those who don't understand autism, but huge things to us.

We have also seen God's faithfulness in other areas. He has given us glimpses of small improvements.  Again, these are things that would seem so insignificant to an outsider looking into our situation but they mean progress to us:
           Jonah jumping in our bouncy castle which has caused major anxiety for him in the past;
           Jonah telling me, "I hurt my toe." This statement is significant on so many levels - he was able to indicate pain, which he generally doesn't feel; he used appropriate pronouns (I and my), which is very difficult for him; and the statement was an original thought, not something he heard somewhere and then used in context.
           Jonah leaning over to kiss Vivienne, without being prompted to do so. That moment was so special and heartwarming to me and it renewed my hope that maybe one day he will feel what it means to love someone.

Although this is not the road that we would have chosen for our family, Peter and I know that God is faithful. One morning as I was sitting in the playroom and having a particularly hard day, I looked over to a children's bible laying on the floor. It was opened to the story of Jonah, and one sentence jumped out at me: "But God did not let Jonah drown." No, God did not let Jonah drown in the raging waters 8000 years ago, and He is not going to let my Jonah drown in his autism. The Lord will faithfully walk beside Jonah, beside our family, through this storm. And we will give Him the glory through it all.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Welcome to the Zoo

Apparently I've been neglecting this blog lately. It hasn't been intentional. It's just that my brain has been so full of mush that I haven't been able to form a coherent thought. I attribute this partially to having three kids who are constantly clamoring for my undivided attention. And partially to getting older.

I recently celebrated a birthday. It wasn't one of the "big" ones, like 30 (I wish) or 40 (which is too close for comfort), but it was still a birthday. And birthdays aren't super exciting after you hit 21. But apparently, it was a big day to someone because I received a packet of glucosamine chondroitin in the mail from a random drug company. It apparently improves joint health. I think I should be offended. Now, granted, I have been walking around a little stooped over due to a sore back, but come on. (To be honest, I feel like someone has been peeking in on my life, and frankly, that's a little scary.) "Happy Birthday, Old Lady."

On top of feeling a little older, some days I also feel like I live in a zoo.  And I don't mean a happy, relaxed zoo where the animals are properly restrained and contained. For instance, we have a little pop-up tent in our playroom that the kids like to play in. But yesterday, I guess Jonah thought he was part of the WWF because he was DDTing the tent. (Is that the correct wrestling lingo? Obviously I was not a WWF aficionado growing up.) Anyway, basically Jonah was running, jumping, and slamming his body on top of the tent. I'm not sure how much more it can take. (And by "it," I mean me.)

Jonah also loves to jump on the furniture. It's almost impossible to prevent him from jumping. He likes to say, "But I need to jump." And maybe that's true. He can jump from the twin bed in Vivienne's room almost to the door. We're talking at least four feet. I'm pretty sure we will be spending some quality time in the ER with this child. (And, by the way, I used to talk about friends who allowed their children to jump on furniture. I'm. So. Sorry.)

And anyone with more than one child knows about sibling rivalry. It is already starting with Jonah and Vivienne, and some days I feel like all I do is referee. Vivienne loves to irritate Jonah by taking something that he is playing with. And sweet Jonah isn't sure what to do about it. He obviously doesn't want to snatch it back and hurt her, so instead, he comes running to me so I can rescue his stolen toy. Super fun.

But life isn't always crazy. Today Jonah helped me vacuum the bedrooms. Now granted, it took about four times as long as it should have. And the vacuum freaked Vivienne out so badly that she scooted away, screaming her head off. Which was actually kind of funny. (Does that make me a bad mama for laughing at her terror?) Anyway, Jonah was very sweet and helpful. And he was proud of himself for being such a great helper.

While Jonah was helping me clean, though, I realized something about myself. I have a very difficult time accepting help from others. I've always thought of myself as pretty independent, being self-sufficient, especially when Peter is deployed. I guess I never wanted him to worry that I couldn't handle whatever life threw at me. But lately, I feel like life is throwing me a few curve balls and I need to be more open to asking for and receiving help.

This is not a new concept. It's actually biblical. Scripture repeatedly tells us to love our brothers and sisters, to share with them, and help meet their needs. Galatians 6:2 tells us to "bear one another's burdens" in order to fulfill the law of Christ. And Philippians 2:4 says this: "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." This verse doesn't give us permission to nose our way into our friends' business, but it does instruct us to look out for our Christian sisters and brothers. And if we see a need that we can meet, we must offer our assistance.

I know that I am guilty of having tunnel vision where all I focus on is what I see right in front of me. I don't always look around to see how I can help friends who are struggling. And frankly, I think lots of my friends, myself included, like to pretend that everything about our lives is great. We don't want others to know that we are struggling in our marriages, or we are having difficulty with a particular discipline issue with one of our children, or our finances are a mess. We just put on a happy face in order to mask our insecurities and our difficult issues.

But what if we all decided to take off our masks? What if we decided to let a few people into our not-so-perfect world? Think about the effect we could have in each others' lives. If we knew how to pray for each other, we could intercede specifically for our friends. If we knew a friend was having a hard time balancing children, a job, and housework, we could help out by cleaning their home or doing their laundry one day. If we knew our friends were struggling in their marriage, we could encourage and mentor them. There are so many possibilities if only we would be open and authentic with each other. And we also must be willing to accept help when it is offered.

We are called to love The Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let's all vow to be more honest about our struggles. Let's allow our friends to see our messes.

I, for one, will be inviting more of my friends into my "zoo." Because, hey, the animals are wild but they sure are cute.