By Ellyn Davis
Added Sunday, September 02, 2007
Sure, right now you are up to your elbows in baby doody, your house is a wreck, and there is no way you will have supper on the table in time. No wonder you feel stressed and harbor thoughts of sending the kids to military school!
This time of year seems to be the hardest time of all for home schoolers. Winter weather has kept us inside, but now that spring has come we've got too much to do to enjoy the pretty weather. The drudgery of routine has set in; work has piled up; and we've had a chance to fail miserably at reaching goals that seemed so easy to achieve when we started schooling in the fall. Add to that level of stress a series of small crises, and you have a recipe for homeschool burnout.
Gail Felker, in Homeschooling Today magazine, says homeschool burnout is a condition in which "the teaching parent is anxious, depressed, discouraged, overwhelmed, and ready to quit. Burnout is not uncommon. Special-needs schools, churches, and nursing homes, for example, have a large employee turnover due to burnout. Demanding, people-oriented professions are most at risk. For the home-schooler, it often results in sending the children back to public school."
BURNOUT AND THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE
One of the most cherished tenets of business is the "80/20 Principle." This scientifically proven principle says there is always an imbalance between causes and results, inputs and outputs, and effort and reward, and that imbalance generally assumes the proportions of 20% to 80%. In other words, 80 percent of the results you want to see will come from 20 percent of your effort. In business, this means that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your products; 80% of the important work will be done by 20% of your employees; 80% of the actual benefits of a project will be developed in only 20% of the time spent on the project, and so on. So the key to good business management is to find the 20% that is most productive and enhance it, and to find the 80% that is not productive and figure out ways to either eliminate it or make it part of the 20%.
The 80/20 Principle applies to other areas of life as well. For example, good students innately know that 80% of an exam usually covers only 20% of the topics from the course, and they have discovered how to find out which 20% of the material to study to make an 80 or higher on the exam. The 80/20 Principle even works relationally. 80% of the value of your relationships usually comes from only 20% of the people you know.
OK, so what does this have to do with "Homeschool Burnout?" First, we need to understand that a major cause of burnout is the feeling of being overwhelmed and under-supported. Here are some common ways this feeling is verbalized:
- This isn't fun anymore (in fact, it's a real drag).
- I feel like things are spinning out of control.
- There's not enough me to go around.
- My life is fragmented (pulled in too many directions, torn into too many pieces).
- I feel like I'm trying to keep too many balls up in the air (or spin too many plates).
- I'm drowning.
- There's too much to do and not enough time to do it.
- There's too much to do and I'm expected to do it all myself.
- I don't feel anything but anger (frustration, irritation) or sadness (grief, depression, sorrow).
- I resent having to be responsible for everything.
- I am the one who has to pick up everything that "falls through the cracks."
- I am constantly disappointed.
Here are some common ways this feeling expresses itself physically: (1) a tightness in the throat, chest or between the shoulder blades, (2) pain in the lower back, (3) headaches or dizziness, (4) chronic fatigue, (5) numbness of certain parts of the body, (6) anxiety and tenseness, (7) difficulty swallowing, (8) nausea, (9) upset stomach or irritable bowel, (10) ringing in the ears.
Any and all of the above verbalizations and physical symptoms are a good indication that we are bogged down in the 80% of our lives that is non-productive and that undermine our sense of well-being. The good news about the 80/20 Principle is that there are a very few, key activities that will dramatically improve our happiness and sense of productivity. What do I mean by "key activities?" Well, do you know the simple, key activities that distinguish thin people from people who struggle with their weight? If you ever went to a "Weigh Down" workshop, you know that thin people don't munch, they eat only when they are hungry, they stop eating when they are full, and they eat smaller portions of food. In contrast, people who struggle with their weight tend to be "grazers" who eat large portions of food and don't stop eating even when they feel stuffed. This means that becoming thin doesn't necessarily require a massive amount of will power counting calories, weighing portions, and developing meal plans. The average person can lose weight by sticking to the key activities of eating less and becoming aware of when they are hungry and when they are full.
What are the simple, key activities that distinguish financially stable people from people with chronic financial troubles? Financially stable people resist going into debt, they save, and they don't fill their lives with expensive doodads. So what does this mean? This means that becoming financially stable doesn't necessarily require keeping track of every expenditure to the penny, becoming a Scrooge, and denying yourself your dreams. The average person can become financially stable by following a few, key principles of money management.
Now, back to the 80/20 Principle. The book, 80/20 Principle says,
There are always a few key inputs to what happens and they are often not the obvious ones. If the key causes can be identified and isolated, we can very often exert more influence on them than we think possible.
What this means is that there are a few key things that cause us to feel overwhelmed and under-supported, that contribute to that feeling of always being on edge and the tenseness in our bodies, and that make us want to throw up our hands and quit.
OK, what are some simple measures we can take? First of all, we can identify our "energy vampires." These are the people, activities, and beliefs that literally "suck" the energy and enthusiasm out of us.
People as Energy Vampires
Not only can groups be draining, but certain individuals can cost us a lot of energy. In our former church, there was a woman who was like a huge emotional vacuum. Her neediness and negativity would suck all of the optimism and energy out of me. I had to learn to let someone else try to help her.
When I first started homeschooling three boys, I tried to keep up with women's Bible studies, homeschooling field trips and other get-togethers, but it didn't take long to realize these social outings didn't provide me with enthusiasm, they only wore me down.
I also had to learn to say no. It's amazing that people will assume since you're home all day, you're available. They wouldn't dream of calling a career woman at her office and asking her to take the afternoon off to listen to their problems, but they will call you and assume you're free to help them. I learned to think of myself as a "career woman," only my career was managing a home and educating my children. I didn't just work a 40 hour week, I was on the job 24/7, so didn't have to apologize or lie when I said, "I'm committed this afternoon."
Before you know it, you can spend 80% of your time on social activities that have a pay-back of less than 20% in terms of what is really important to you. There are two key solutions to the "People as Energy Vampires" problem. (1) Pare down your involvement to only those 20% of social activities that have real meaning to you, and (2) Get an answer-phone and let it take all calls for certain hours each day. If your household is like mine, just leaving an answer-phone on most of the day saves me about 45 minutes in answering telemarketing calls.
Activities as Energy Vampires
One of the best pieces of stress-reducing advice I ever got was from a time management book. It said to mentally visualize myself going through a typical day. This meant visualizing getting out of bed, getting dressed, fixing breakfast, brushing my teeth, and so on...every little activity I typically did in a day. As I screened through my day, the book said to notice any time I felt irritation, tension, or resistance, and jot down that activity.
What an eye-opener! The first thing I realized is that it irritates me to be interrupted while I am in the bathroom. Sounds pretty stupid, right? But what this meant was that I was starting every day irritated because there was hardly ever a time I wouldn't be interrupted while I was in the bathroom. Stupid problem. Simple solution to eliminating that source of irritation: Always close the door when I go into the bathroom and tell everyone that when the bathroom door is closed I am not to be disturbed.
By the time I finished visually screening a typical day, I realized that there were dozens of annoyances like the bathroom scenario. None of them was significant enough by itself to ruin my day, but a day filled with 40 or 50 unconsciously irritating moments might have something to do with my being frazzled by suppertime.
Certain routine activities are always accompanied by some amount of emotional or physical pressure. What are your stressful activities? The laundry? Cooking? Shopping? I've never particularly liked to cook. Plus, taking a car-load of small boys to the grocery store has got to be on my list of "Top 10 Ways to Torture a Tired Mother." So I had to experiment with getting the grocery shopping done without wearing me out (or freaking me out when I saw the receipt), and with developing some simple menu plans that didn't exhaust me after a long day. Plus, I had to be realistic about my limitations. As much as I might want to provide my family with three, lovingly created, nutritious, home-cooked meals a day, it would be psychotic of me to think I could pull it off and still do everything else I needed to get done. So in my household, we have meals where everyone is on their own to fix something for themselves, meals that another family member prepares, and meals that I prepare, depending on everyone's schedule and what will give us the most family time around the table.
Another thing that can be done is to go through each room of the house and note anything that is irritating. Rooms have a powerful effect on our sense of well-being. They can make us feel like prisoners in our own homes or make us feel gracious and relaxed. Are there certain colors that make you feel tense? That make you feel relaxed? Could the room be re-arranged so that the pattern of traffic flow is better? Could simple changes be made that contribute to a sense of peace and order?
Do the tools you have enhance your productivity? For example, I started out writing our catalogs on an old IBM electric typewriter ($25, second-hand), made photocopied reductions of the book covers, and had to cut and paste everything together. It was a massive, time-consuming, mess-producing job. So, guess how I began to feel about the catalog? I dreaded the thought of starting each new one, and the whole time I worked on one I was a witch. It was like trying to build a modern house with stone tools. Then one day I heard Mary Pride say she always tried to invest in things that increased her productivity. I began to look around at all of the equipment I relied on. Everything from my vacuum cleaner to my typewriter was out-dated and difficult to use. So I began systematically replacing my "tools," starting with the equipment I used most and that caused me the most aggravation. I also began investing in skills that made me more productive. I learned how to use word processing programs and scanners and Adobe Photoshop. I read every household and time management book I could get my hands on. I tried to increase my knowledge and skill in every area that drained energy.
Another stressful area for home schooling parents is the "schooling" itself. In our desire to make sure we don't leave any educational gaps, we tend to overdo. We need to evaluate our homeschools by the 80/20 Principle. What are the key areas we need to be concentrating on? How can we eliminate the unnecessary and ineffectual? What simple changes can we make to decrease stress and enhance enthusiasm?
Lifestyle as an Energy Vampire
A recent article in U.S. News and World Report focused on sleep-deprivation in America. Because of our fast-paced lifestyles, very few Americans ever know the clarity of thought and level of energy that comes with being fully rested. Not only do adults suffer from lack of sleep, but now children are at risk for sleep deprivation, because their lives have become as demanding as their parents'.
Although this seems elementary, the amount of rest you get and the kind of food you eat can have a dramatic effect on your ability to cope with life's demands. Some questions you might ask yourself are: What makes me happy? What energizes me? What makes me feel productive? What comforts and renews me when I feel worn out and used up? What am I passionate about?
You can make major lifestyle changes that refresh you, or you can make minor changes by building "happiness islands" into your day. For example, I am a person who needs solitude in order to recharge and reconnect with what is important to me. Yet for years I lived in a four room house with three active boys and five or six employees coming in and out of an upstairs office all day. It was a radical invasion of my privacy, and some days I thought I would lose my mind. I had to force myself to find reflective time, to create "happiness islands" for myself. Sometimes these "happiness islands" were as simple as taking a walk by myself, or shutting myself in my bedroom with a good book. Sometimes they had to be more extreme, like flying to Dallas to participate in a horse-judging seminar, or taking the boys to the beach for a few days by ourselves. In the process, I found out which colors, smells, sights, and activities renew me.
Beliefs as Energy Vampires
Think about it. Here we are, absolute amateurs, sitting around our kitchen tables, using our own children as guinea pigs and clinging to a belief that we can somehow give them a better education than an American institution that has multi-million dollar facilities and a professional staff, and that spends an average of $5,500 a year on each child. The only tools we have at our disposal are our own willingness to give it a try and assorted teaching materials modeled after those used in the public schools. So we are surrounded with constant questions-questions from our relatives, our friends, members of our church-that undermine our convictions. Even worse, we have to battle questions from own minds like "Can I really pull this off? Do I know what I'm doing? Am I doing too much or too little? Am I using the right teaching material? Am I simply wasting time? Am I going to warp my children and make them total misfits?"
No wonder we struggle with burnout!
Obviously, these questions can become "energy vampires" that erode our sense of confidence about what we are trying to accomplish. We need to surround ourselves with confidence builders that reinforce our convictions, like books by John Gatto that let us know all is not as great as it may seem in the public schools. Or books by Raymond Moore that tell us that warm, loving, family life overcomes any deficiencies there may be in our teaching materials and methods. Or books by Edith Schaeffer that make us realize our homes have the power to mold lives in eternal ways.
There are three major "energy vampire" beliefs I have noticed as I've talked with home schooling families across the nation. You can probably spot more self-defeating beliefs in your own life, but here are three I have noticed:
1. The belief in scarcity.
This is the belief in "not enough"-not enough time, energy, money, opportunities, resources, and so on. When we hold a belief in scarcity, we limit ourselves. We tend to not step outside of our own "boxes," because we feel we must hoard what little we have and we feel that no matter how much we try, our efforts won't be "enough." We are always afraid we are going to "run out" of time, energy, money, opportunities, etc., etc. When we choose to believe in scarcity, we not only limit ourselves, but we insult God-the God Who is Enough, and Who, in fact, promises to give to us exceeding abundantly, pressed down, and running over. We also lock ourselves into anxiety over finances and time pressure, and into regret and grief over wasted time, energy, and money. One of the reasons our family has tried to keep Hudson Taylor's biography in print is that he was a man with a firm conviction that God would always "be enough," and his response to every extremity was, "Now we have an opportunity to see what God can do!"
2. The belief in difficulty.
The word "bummer" has become firmly entrenched in the American vocabulary. It is reflective of a widely held belief that life is a hassle, a battle, an uphill climb, a constant proof of Murphy's Law ("everything that can go wrong will"). Yes, it is true, we live in a fallen world, but that doesn't mean we have to approach everything with a "What's the use?" attitude.
One of the most important lessons I ever learned was about the power of repetition. I used to never make up my bed, because I would hit the floor running each morning and never slow down until I fell into bed again at night. The unmade bed always bothered me, but it seemed like an insurmountable task to tackle first thing in the morning. A friend happened to mention that if you do something for six months, it becomes a habit and it no longer requires any extra emotional or physical energy. Silly as it may sound, I thought, "Maybe I can try making up my bed for six months." Well, that was twenty five years ago, and I don't even think about making up the bed anymore. I just do it when I get up. Since that time, I have used the power of repetition to eliminate the draining effect of certain tasks that I dislike. I've found out that social scientists call this "unconscious competence." All tasks, particularly tasks that require overcoming a certain amount of inner resistance, have a "competency" curve where once you reach a level of mastery, no further mental, emotional or physical effort is required. We see this all the time when we teach a child to read. For months it seems like we are getting nowhere, but all of a sudden our child reads effortlessly.
Speaking of the word "bummer," did you know that you can change how you feel about life by simply changing the words you use? If you find your everyday conversation filled with words like "exhausted," "rushed," "overloaded," "stressed," "frustrated," "disappointed," and so on, you may want to make a conscious effort to change the words you use. Find positive (or even humorous) words to replace your "bummer" words. For example, you can say, "I am achieving warp speed" instead of saying "I'm rushed" or "I'm at critical mass" instead of "I'm overwhelmed." Not only will changing your words make you think about the labels you put on your life, but it will make those around you start listening to you again. Your family has probably tuned you out because they've heard you say the same negative things over and over.
3. The belief in failure.
Robert Kiyosaki says the most damaging beliefs the public school system teaches are (1) that mistakes are bad and (2) that there is only one right way to do something. These beliefs create a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes, that thwart true learning. Kiyosaki further says that most true learning comes from making mistakes, from falling down and trying again like you do when you learn to walk or learn to ride a bicycle. So failure always has something to teach us, and often teaches us more than success does. Kiyosaki says there are no failures, only "outcomes" and he calls mistakes "outcomes with attached emotions."
What if we really believed God works everything for our good and even redeems our mistakes? That would dispel a lot of our fear and anxiety.
4. The belief that it will always be this way.
One of my mother's favorite phrases is "This too, will pass." It is her way of acknowledging the inevitability of change. Sure, right now you are up to your elbows in baby doody, your house is a wreck, and there is no way you will have supper on the table in time. No wonder you feel stressed and harbor thoughts of sending the kids to military school! But believe me, there will be a day when you would give anything to have a peanut-butter and jelly smudged four-year-old son crawl onto your lap and ask you to read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel for the four hundredth time. These days with your children will pass you by in an instant. All of my children are now well beyond the diapers and peanut-butter stage and what I miss most are the snuggles, the little hands reaching up to me, the plaintive cries for "just one more story," the proud calls of "Mama, come quick and see what I did!" How could I ever have thought it was a hardship to read Mike Mulligan? I would gladly trade all of the clean houses in the world for more of those stressful years when my children were small and every day held a thousand new wonders for them to discover.
Beliefs have a powerful impact on how we perceive life. Next time you are frustrated, anxious, or depressed, ask yourself, "What would I have to believe to feel this way?" Recognizing the false beliefs you allow yourself to hold about people and situations, and then consciously trying to align those beliefs with God's truth, will dramatically change the way you approach life. For example, if you believe your children are "rug rats," you will relate to them totally differently than if you believe they are "blessings from God."
In The Safest Place on Earth, Larry Crabb says:
We simply do not believe in a God who is so intrinsically good that His commitment to be fully Himself is equivalent to a commitment to be very good to us. When He tells us that He is out for His own glory, and will glorify Himself by making known who He is, we can relax. It's something like a wealthy, generous father declaring his intention to display his true character. We know we're in for a bundle. That is, if we're his heirs.
SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS, MENTORS AND CHRISTIAN COUNSELORS
We are relational beings, and, ultimately, all of our problems are relational. All of the practical areas discussed so far in this article have to do with changing how we relate to created things (like time and our living environment) and changing what we allow to affect our relationship with ourselves (our thought patterns, our energy level, etc.). But there are other relationships that contribute to stress and conflict in our lives. Yes, we may have too much to do and not enough time to do it, but this time/space problem only reaches "burn-out" when there are underlying relational problems such as tension between husband and wife, conflict between parents and children, or estrangement between fellow Christians. Usually the largest source of relational stress is in our marriages, because most of us got married without ever being taught how to make a marriage work.
Those of us with relational problems don't need time-management courses or housekeeping seminars, we need spiritual friendships, mentors, and counselors who help us develop right relationships with others and with God.
What about spiritual friendships? Unfortunately, many of us hesitate to share our deepest struggles, because we suspect other Christians will treat us like a problem that needs to be fixed. Larry Crabb says in The Safest Place on Earth that all Christians yearn for...
"...a community of friends who are hungry for God, who knows what it means to sense the Spirit moving within them as they speak with you. You long for brothers and sisters who are intent not on figuring out how to improve your life, but on being with you wherever your journey leads."
We would give nearly anything to be part of a community that was profoundly safe, where people never gave up on one another, where wisdom about how to live emerged from conversation, where what is most alive in each of us is touched....where we would feel safe enough to meaningfully explore who we are with confidence so that the end point would be a joyful meeting with God.
Scripture tells us that God intends for the Body of Christ to be just that: a safe place that nourishes the godly in us and brings us to a "joyful meeting with God." It is worth searching for spiritual companionship, even if we find only one or two others who befriend us spiritually.
What about mentors? Within the Body of Christ, godly older women are specifically intended to help other women be all that they can be as wives, mothers, and home-makers. But, as I once remarked to a Christian psychologist, "All of the older Christian women I know are faking it just as badly as I am!"
Most of us have struggled to become Titus 2 women-keepers at home, lovers of our children and husband, etc.-but very few of us have had godly older women to show us the way. Instead, we have been nurtured and discipled by women who are as unskilled as we are at fulfilling the Titus 2 mandate. I have always thought of my generation as a "sandwich generation." We are "sandwiched" between a generation that never mentored us, and a generation that desperately needs for us to mentor them.
How do we cope with this dilemma? First, we need to take a good, hard look at who our primary influencers are. Are these women worthy role models? Can they provide us with a pattern of beliefs and godly living as well as with practical skills that we can duplicate in our own lives? Is their influence causing us to be happier and more productive, or do we relate to them because "misery loves company?"
Second, we can search for women worthy of modeling. Sometimes this will mean we have to settle for second-hand modeling, by reading books or listening to tapes by women who are well-respected and generally acknowledged as worthy to instruct other women. For example, most of my role models are women I never knew personally: women like Corrie Ten Boom, Edith Schaeffer, and others whose lives will withstand scrutiny.
In addition to the lack of godly, older women, there is a dearth of mature Christian counselors. It is hard to find someone to talk to whose advice isn't mixed with pop-psychology, or who doesn't try to superimpose their agenda over your problems. What do I mean by "agenda?" It's like the old saying: "When you have a new hammer, everything looks like a nail." We've all had the experience of someone trying to make our problems fit their doctrine. If they happen to be into inner healing, then our problem becomes the "nail" to their inner healing "hammer." If they happen to believe in demons, then our problem becomes the "nail" to their deliverance "hammer." Don't be ashamed to seek professional help, but when you do, check the person out as carefully as you would any other mentor. And don't let anyone ever treat you like a "nail." Sin and Unbelief in Our Lives
No discussion of frustration and stress would be complete without examining whether there is any sin or unbelief in our lives that may be contributing to our feelings of being overwhelmed and under-supported. The primary relationship that under girds all of our other relationships is the relationship we have with God. If our relationship with God is out of balance because of sin or unbelief, all other relationships suffer and no amount of time management, household organization, self-help, spiritual friendships, mentors, or counselors will help. These measures may seem to provide temporary relief, but will never address the root problem, which is our disobedience to or lack of faith in God.
Let's look at the three most common areas of sin that cause women to be stressed-out. First, there is the area of proper discipline and training of children. When we do not "nurture and admonish" our children in the ways God requires, we are not only creating children who make our lives miserable, but more importantly, we are sinning against God. Next is the area of the husband-wife relationship. If your attitude toward your husband stinks, it will be impossible to achieve a sense of peace and order in your home no matter how hard you try. Finally, there is the area of personal sin. Maybe your house is a wreck because you feel it's unfair for you to have to do so much work, or you feel cheated of your potential by being a mother and home-maker. Or maybe you're caught up in some secret sin like over-eating or sexual fantasies, or whatever. No matter what your personal sin, it clouds your relationship with God, with others, and with earthly things like time and money.
The bad news about sin is that it is like a disease that weakens every part of our lives. The good news is that God freely forgives and heals us if we confess our sins and turn from our wicked ways.
Unbelief is a form of sin. God has provided everything we need through many precious promises, and through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This "everything" includes strength and vision to enjoy the privilege and endure the demands of home schooling our children and running a household. The Bible says, "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish woman tears it down with her own hands." We are foolish women when we let our sin and unbelief tear down our houses.
REACHING GROUND ZERO WITH GOD
When you're in the midst of a crisis, when you've reached the end of your rope, when you can't seem to find the inner resources to keep going for another day, you often will reach a place of "ground zero" with God. Ground zero is a term used to designate the immediate blast area of a nuclear bomb, and sometimes life sends "bombs" that leave you feeling like you are in nuclear winter. The nuclear winters of life are times when you must come to terms with Who God really is. So in one way these times are extreme challenges, but in another way they are "gifts" from God because they give you a true perspective of what is valuable and what is not, they show you who your real friends are, and they force you to accept God on His terms.
Here is the story of one of my "ground zero" experiences. In January, 1994, due to a freak accident, a piece of metal fractured my skull and destroyed my right eye. Just before the accident occurred, Chris had resigned from the pastorate and the lease was up on the house we were renting. This meant we had sixty days to find another place to live and another source of income. The Elijah Company at that time certainly was not capable of sustaining us financially.
While I was recovering from surgery for removal of my eye, well-meaning Christians came and counseled me. Most of their counsel was variations on five themes: either (1) there must be some sin in my life for me to have been injured, or (2) I had somehow "come out from under my covering of authority" for this to have happened, or (3) I would never have been injured if Chris hadn't decided to leave the pastorate, or (4) God was teaching me a powerful lesson through this, or (5) I must be a very special person for God to have let this happen to me. All of this conflicting counsel further unraveled me emotionally and I began to feel like I would throw up if I ever heard Romans 8:28 again.
After my release from the hospital, I had to be very careful in standing, and was not supposed to lift anything or do any physical work for six weeks. The only comforting aspect of that six weeks was a tape my sister sent me with the chorus, "I'm going to walk right out of this valley, lift my hands and praise the Lord!" I don't know the name of the song, but I played it over and over.
But a remarkable thing happened. Some people I had thought were good friends vanished, but people I hardly knew started packing up the house for me. They brought meals and offered to watch the children. A church group from another part of town came over the day we had to move, rented the moving van, loaded it, drove it to our new place, unloaded it, and cleaned up the old house. Then they presented us with a "love offering" of enough money to help us get started in the new direction we felt God was leading us.
The challenges continued. Losing an eye meant losing depth perception and balance, so I had to re-learn how to do many, many things I had never before realized relied on hand-eye coordination, balance, and depth perception. This was a very long, fearful process, but I had to keep going because life didn't slow down just because I had been injured. Children needed caring for, a household needed managing, and a business needed me to write catalogs, speak at conventions, and exhibit at book fairs. There were times during those first years after the accident when I was hanging on emotionally and spiritually by the thinnest of threads.
But you know what? As trying as these times were, something "ground zero" about God was being formed in me. Francis Shaeffer always described our relationship with God as a series of "bows." Well, I had to bow to God's god-ness. This meant I had to acknowledge that He is God and I'm not. It's hard to explain, but I realized that God is God, so He's always right, no matter what happens and no matter what I might think about what He does. It may not make sense, but it was very freeing to know my life was out of my control and in the hands of a God whose "work is perfect and all His ways are just."
Several months after the surgery, I went for one of my monthly doctor's appointments and happened to sit in the waiting room next to a man who had also lost his eye. I asked him what had helped him get through it and he told me his story. He had been a telephone workman repairing the line when the pole he was attached to snapped at the base and fell over on him. The whole right side of his body had been crushed and he had undergone multiple surgeries to regain limited use of his limbs and to reconstruct his face. This is what he said, "For the first few months to a year, all you will be able to think about is what happened to you and how bad off you are. Then, after about a year, you'll only think about it a few times a day. After about another year, you'll only think about it a couple of times a week, then a couple of times a month, and then you'll get on with your life and hardly ever think about it anymore." It's been over six years now, and the man was right.
There is one final "gift" I want to mention. One of my greatest private griefs in losing an eye was that I found I couldn't ride a horse anymore because I would get dizzy and lose my balance. I struggled with feeling like one of the things I loved to do most had been stripped from me. Then, in the fall of 1999 I went to a Cowboys for Christ service at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress. One of the men who spoke at the service (Steve Heckaman) had been a famous horse trainer who was involved in a horrendous traffic accident that crushed the right side of his body, killed his wife, and injured his young son. He had to undergo multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. On that day in Cowboy Church he shared how the accident had totally transformed his life and brought him to Christ. He had learned to walk again, but one of his biggest challenges had been riding again because he had lost his right eye and no longer had the balance and depth perception he needed to stay in the saddle. With the help of friends, he learned to ride again and came back to the show ring and won at the largest Quarter Horse show in the world.
So guess what? I'm starting to ride again. I'm still scared, and it's still a struggle, but I'm going to do it.
So what's the point of all this. Well, one point is that your "ground zero" experience may be the turning point in someone else's life. Another point is that "ground zero" experiences will eventually enter the "This too shall pass" phase and life will move on. The third point is that there will always be someone else whose "ground zero" experiences make yours look like a piece of cake. The fourth point is that, after a "ground zero" experience, life's everyday hassles don't seem so hard to bear. And the final point is that these experiences can be "gifts" in disguise, gifts that bring you face to face with Who God really is.
I know this article is way too long, and I've turned it into a testimonial, but before closing I want to share a recent experience. My father died unexpectedly in November. Our grief was intense, but the funeral was a family celebration of his life and faith in God. Our son James sang one of Papa's favorite hymns, Chris and I both spoke and shared memories of his life, and his grand-daughter read a poem she had written.
During the preparations for my father's funeral, I began thinking about my grandmother, Caroline Blackshear Bridges. When she died nearly 25 years ago, I drove to Blakely, Georgia for her funeral. As I looked around me at her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, as well as all the friends who had assembled in the Blakely First Baptist Church to pay their respects to the woman we had all called "Miss Carrie," I thought about Exodus 20: 5 that says God visits "the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation." I was suddenly struck with the reality that the reverse of that scripture is also true. God blesses the children of the righteous to the third and fourth generation. I knew that Miss Carrie had been a Christian. Her father died when she was a child, but her maternal grandfather was a Christian who said he received a call from God to become a missionary to the then wild and sparsely settled portions of backwoods Georgia. His name was James C. Bass, and he would travel to remote lumber camps and stand on a stump to preach the gospel to the rough lumberjacks. This grandfather had a powerful impact on Miss Carrie's life.
So there I was at my grandmother's funeral, over half a century after James C. Bass died, realizing that nearly every one of Miss Carrie's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were Christians. As I sat through that funeral, I was overcome with gratitude for my godly heritage.
Then, this November I was at my father's funeral (Miss Carrie's son). I again saw children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren: three generations who had all been affected by my father's belief in God. My father was not only a Christian, he was a Southern gentleman, who imparted a legacy of loyalty, integrity, principle, productivity, and confidence to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as to all those around him. He gave us all a firm belief that each person's life could count for something.
I spoke at my father's funeral, and what I shared was that God is faithful to bless righteousness. One righteous person can impact four generations, and those four generations can each impact four generations after them, so that the ongoing impact of righteousness can be never-ending as it passes down into the future. In fact, the Bible tells us God shows His mercy and steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:6).
How about that? We can bring mercy and steadfast love to a thousand generations simply by loving God and keeping His commandments.
So, I guess what I want to tell each of you who reads this article is: your life can affect forever. Maybe you don't have generations of godliness standing behind you, but you can start where you are and affect your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren-at least three generations beyond you. And each of them can affect at least three generations beyond them. And who knows? If God were once willing to spare Sodom for only ten righteous men, maybe your presence in your own city has more of an impact than you could ever imagine.
I know this article tends to sound like I've got it all together. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It's only by God's grace that I am a fairly sane woman today, so I feel somewhat hypocritical in writing this article.
What makes me bold enough to write it is that I used to love listening to John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Fellowships. Wimber's life impacted thousands, but every time he spoke he freely acknowledged there was nothing in him of any worth. He would often say, "I'm just a fat man trying to get to heaven." Well, I'm a lot like that. There's nothing in me of any worth. I'm just a frazzled, adventurous Mom trying to get to heaven.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
"If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought." James 1: 1- 5, The Message Bible
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