Saturday, November 11, 2017

Advice; for those who love to give it.

Advice.  It's everywhere.  We give it, we receive it, and we ask for it. Sometimes we have to ask not to receive any more of it.  Regardless, there is no doubt that giving and receiving advice plays a huge part in our lives.  It can help us make great choices or pressure us into making poor ones.  When used well, receiving advice can greatly improve our lives. It helps us get jobs, both gain and maintain relationships, learn knew skills and adapt to new situations. Knowing how to appropriately give and receive advice can greatly benefit the people you surround yourself with, as well of course, as your own life.    The problem is, due to varying circumstances, personalities and priorities even great advice for you could be disastrous for me.
       It may seem that whether advice is helpful or not strictly depends upon the content of the advice, but I believe that is far from the truth.  There are many aspects that can help us to both be able to sort through advice and deliver it in ways that are much more effective.   I will touch on a few of these, beginning with giving advice to others.  I will talk more about learning to effectively receive advice in a future post.
       I will not say that I have mastered giving advice, for we have all given flawed/irrelevant advice from time to time, but I do think I have some insight to pass on in this area,  so I'll go ahead and give you a few  suggestions and you can take them or leave them.
       One very important thing to do when giving advice is to listen.  You may think you know where the person you're talking to is coming from, but taking the time to listen to them and hear their questions and/or concerns about a certain situation will make them feel heard, let them know you are fully aware of where they're coming from, as well as more completely fill you in on what they're wanting advice on. The next thing you want to do is be careful with your delivery.  Although you may believe 100% in the information you're offering, even after hearing it, they may not agree, and that's okay.  For example, in my opinion the Ergo baby carrier is the best out there.  My opinion is based on the fact that it has worked so well for me and all of my four children.  It is easy to use, versatile, cute, and comfortable.  I have used several different kinds and love this one the most.  Many people agree with me, but not everyone (even among people who've used them - if you can image that!)  Why is this?  It's because we're looking for different things, raising different children, and have different bodies.  All of these impact our experiences.  A friend of mine has two children and neither could stand the thing.  Clearly it was therefor not a good fit for my friend to continue to use one.  Makes sense, right?  Understand that someone choosing not to take your advice does not mean that they are rejecting you as a person or that they are necessarily making a bad decision.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but this decision is theirs, not yours, and you need to respect that.  
    There are as many variables in decision making as their are kinds of decisions to make - they are endless.  Even if you think you know all the variables in a situation, inevitably you don't.  It is impossible for any of us to detect all of the things that influence us as we are unaware of most of them, anything from our childhood experiences to the weather outside could be affecting us.  Since we can't put a finger on all of these ourselves there's no way we could share them with someone else, even if we wanted to.
    Also, as with many things in life, advice is something we often put in our pocket and then pull out later, either in full or in part.  Rather than being concerned with the result of whether or not someone takes your advice try to focus more on sharing what has been helpful to you and leave it to them whether they use it or not.  While it is very important not to minimize someones situation by trumping it with your own, it is helpful to share specific things that have been helpful to you, and why.   I once told a friend (sarcastically) that as a mother of four young children I don't think I should give advice to new moms for a few years, I'm too jaded!  However it is important, especially as someone "deeper in to parenting" that I don't end up minimizing their difficulties and or make statements such as "if only my life were as easy as yours!" If I were to tell a mother of one that it was super easy to fly with one child and she shouldn't complain about it,  it would be both unhelpful and untrue.  The truth is that I flew last week with one child and it was easy.  For me.  It was very easy to fly with one even tempered child compared to flying with three or four children.  I also flew with one child back when I only had one, and it was so much harder than flying alone!  Had Eowyn been in a different mood I also might not have been thinking of how easy it was either. Perspective is everything.  So what would be helpful to tell a parent traveling with a baby for the first time?  "I found it very helpful to have formula ready to before take off.  (Or, if you're nursing, make sure you're baby hasn't just eaten, as nursing/feeding during take off can help keep their ears from hurting due to the elevation change.)  Also helpful to know?  Even though you can normally only bring 3 ounces of liquid through security this is does not fully apply to traveling with infants.  You are allowed to bring what is a reasonable amount of formula/baby food for the flight."  That is so much more helpful.  Do they need to take you up on it? No, but now they have that information and can do with it as they please.
    Having a professional weightlifter tell me bench pressing 200 lbs is easy would NOT be helpful to me, even though it probably is easy for them.  What would be helpful in that situation would be training tips.  Training tips are things that they did that helped them, that you can either do yourself or perhaps change them to fit your own needs, or not use them at all. Think of giving advice in this way.
      Try to give practical applications to practice.  If someone asks me how to make a cheesecake and I say "Be careful to follow the recipe," that is not very helpful.  They could have done that themselves.  However, if I say "It is helpful to make sure the cream cheese is soft, as it is essential for a silky smooth filling.  I usually pull mine out of the fridge in the morning if I am cooking at night, or before bed if baking in the morning" it's much more practical.  Here I have given a helpful hint as well as the information they need to do it themselves.  Don't assume.  You might think that everyone knows how to make cream cheese soft, but to them that might mean "pull it from the fridge 20 minutes early" which it most certainly does not.  Leaving this information out can either keep them from being as successful as possible or cause them to feel dumb and not want to ask, or, worst case,  if they already know it will simply reinforce it in their minds as well as clarify what I meant.
     Be careful not to talk down to people.  Whether or not you're well versed in the subject and they're a newbie, no one wants to feel inferior. This can cause people to shut down and keep them from hearing your point.
     Lastly, make it a point to pause and leave room for questions or comments. Although giving advice is great and helps us to feel important, needed and appreciated,  don't forget that they may have just as much or more advice to share as well.  Relationships that go both ways really are the healthiest and promote both respect and good will among both parties, no matter the relationship.  No one likes to be shut down, and everyone likes to feel heard and understood.  Modeling respectful ways of giving advice to others is a great way to show how you like to receive advice, as well as build positive relationships.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Working together - appreciating my spouse and all he does.

   Crouching down to fit under the porch, I awkwardly push a wagon filled with two cement pier pads in it for about 50 feet, crawling all the while before shouting out to Seth to see if I was close enough.  "No," he calls "they go over there, up in that corner."  He was pointing to a spot another thirty feet away, where the ceiling was hardly more than 24 inches off of the dirt.  I silently groaned as I bend over to pick up one of the piers and stumble my way forward. The sweat pours down my face, and my arms ache from carrying this heavy load, even just a few feet.  I push forward, struggling against the instinct the drop the pier pad right there in the dirt and rush forward as far as I can and using all my remaining energy, launch it as far as it will go...about three feet.  I then roll it snowball style up the dirt incline until I can push it no further and call it close enough. Breathing heavily I collapse in a heap, dirt covering my face and body.  Only nine more pier pads to go.  Ugh.  "How does he do this all the time?" I wonder.  I roll my head to the side, watching Seth laugh good naturedly at me as he continues to dig from the only place under the house deep enough to stand in.   He's been there all day, working tirelessly without complaint and I had showed up less than an hour ago.  This time we're working on what we hope will be our own home, but usually he's working on other's houses. He's a pretty incredible guy.  Sometimes I forget this.
     Sometimes I feel as though I am doing the majority of the work.  I wake up at all hours of the night to feed, change and soothe whoever might need it. After getting not near enough sleep most  days i wake up, get the kids dressed, fed, and off to school.  I then run errands with the remaining children (2-3 depending on the day), cook, clean, and do a whole lot of refereeing, soothing and diaper changing in between.  I keep things running, if not like a well oiled ship, at least like one that's still sailing and well loved.  Seth comes home from a long day of work, eats dinner and sits down.  I continue to put the kids to bed, wash dishes, sweep floors, pick up toys  and then when I  finally flop down next to him to watch some show I usually fold multiple loads of laundry, and then put them away without waking any children. All day, every day, with very few exceptions.
    At least that's how it feels.  In reality Seth wakes up before six and is out of the house before seven, sometimes earlier.  He heads off to a full day of physical labor, mental problem solving as well as battling the elements (picture siding houses in an Oregon winter or roofing in summer.) He makes his own breakfast and lunch and never once complaining.  He sacrifices for me so I can do what I've always dreamed of, stay home and take care of my babies.  While I "survive" my days by chatting with friends and having our eight children take over the house (though literally some days it does feel like we're barely going to make it through the day), picking berries, or sitting at the beach enjoying the weather while watching lots of children play. Meanwhile my husband just goes on working day in and day out, and deals with all the problems and stresses of the day.  When he comes home he may sit down and take a load off, but he is certainly not uninterrupted.  He happily plays with our kiddos, reads bedtime stories and builds cardboard airplanes. They ride bikes together and he changes his share of diapers.  He is a wonderful dad, just ask his kids.  If Sequoia needs someone to cuddle longer than 2 minutes you better believe it's going to be him, not me.  When we finally settle down, and I do indeed pick up the laundry he often works on paperwork as well.  If he doesn't, who can blame him.  The truth is we both work hard.  Really really hard.  So much so that it can be hard to see past all that's in front of us personally. We both make sacrifices and we both have moments where we feel we are doing way more than our share. Sometimes we are full of appreciation for one another and other times we lash out in frustration, feeling overwhelmed.  Our kids are needy and tiring and wonderful.
       Twice a year or so I get away for a well deserved weekend and come home to a husband who is ready for me to be home and to go back to work himself.  For a few days he's always extra helpful and  a little in awe of how I do it all (though my quality of work is sometimes less than he would love - that's the sacrifice I have to make to get it all done.) We both struggle to do the other's jobs, and we both need one another.  He is an amazing contractor and provider, and being a mom is what I was born to do.  Sometimes we need a reminder of how hard the other works.  I know I do.  Seth is an incredibly talented, hardworking, loving man that I'm honored to be married to.   I don't know if it's possible to have a healthy marriage if you only focus on all that you do and ignore the other half.  Comparing our work is like comparing a cotton picker (back when it was done by hand) with a rocket scientist.  They both work tirelessly and come home exhausted, but in two totally different incomparable ways.  You could never really say who works harder, because they both give it their all.  In the end it's not about who works hardest, but more about being able to appreciate one another and support one another - making sure we each get our needs met.
       Right now we are in a crunch spot, trying to fix the foundation of what we hope to be our house, soon enough to get a loan on it before it's too late.  This is a stressful, expensive process and Seth is giving up his big hunting trip for it.  Something he's looked forward to all year (two years really, since he didn't get to go last year either.)  This was to be his first year bow hunting and we're not sure if he'll  get to at all, though I hope he will get to go on his late hunt.  Hunting, being in the woods, long drives, this is how he gets recharged and he's trading it to do what he hates the most - work under a house digging out dirt and replacing beams all so we can get this amazing place to raise our family.
       I guess when all is said and done we make a great team, and I hope I never forget that.  Never forget I'm not alone, and that I'm not the only one fighting for this team.  Thanks my love.  I appreciate you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Finding the beauty in not having it all together

       I often get asked the question "How are you doing?" or "How's life with four kids?"  When I'm completely honest I usually have no idea how to answer these questions.  Sometimes this makes people look concerned or uncomfortable.  When I blabber on trying to explain how complicated that answer is, it rarely helps.  The truth is that some days I am thriving, while others I am struggling to stay sane. Balancing children and errands, melt downs and to do lists until I feel like everything is going to go crashing down around me.  Indeed sometimes it feels as though it has crashed down, crashed in a pile of curdled milk, spilled paint and tears and I am left in the ruins trying to make sense of it all.    Other times I feel strong, confident and ready to face what ever the world throws at me.  Running errands all afternoon while multiple kids are melting down? I can handle it.  Sticky peanut butter on the carpet? No problem.  Going to the beach with a friend and a combined 8 kids?  Piece of cake.  Other days it's like, "Get into the car with all my children? I can't do it!!!"   Usually I am feeling a mix of these things, or even both separately, all in the same day.       The difference here often comes from other factors, for example,  have I received encouragement or a helping hand from someone, be it family, friend or stranger that day?  Am I feeling appreciated and loved? Have I had coffee? Is the sun out?  Am I feeling emotionally stable?  Did I get enough sleep last night? Do I have a spirit of gratitude?  Did I receive a quick text from my husband just to say he loves me?   Have I had quiet time lately?   All these things and so much more affect how I respond to everyday situations.
   This season is by far the most challenging time of life I have faced yet, no other has required so much from me 24/7 without any breaks.  Even when I get a break I am still thinking about my children.  When I think about all the repercussions,  both good and bad, that can come from these early years, and how my children will forever be effected by them as they shape their very lives, I feel overwhelmed with this great responsibility. At the same time however,  this also happens to be my favorite season of life so far. What an opportunity to pour into their lives!  This might go without saying, but before having children I  had never loved anyone like I love them.  I couldn't even fathom it.   Although I love my husband more than anyone else, the way I love my children is different.    It's like my very heart split into five pieces.  I could not love them any more if I tried, they are part of me.  Picturing life without them is dismal.  I rejoice with their triumphs, grieve with their sorrows and laugh at their quirks.  They have filled me with more of an understanding of our heavenly Father's love for us than I could have ever experienced without them.  Being a parent has caused me to live constantly at the edge of my comfort zone, being pushed further and further not by my own accord, but simply by the requirements of being a mother.  Every new stage is something I've never experienced before,  as with every new child each stage appears differently than it did with the last.  So just when I think I have it figured out, it all changes.  I love this. And I hate it. It keeps me on my toes.
   Everyday I have a thousand chances to show grace, mercy, patience, love, anger, frustration, resentment, kindness, jealousy,  compassion, forgiveness, and humility.  Everyday I choose a whole mixture of these.  I also watch my children do the same.  Everyday I have a thousand opportunities to model for my children the kind of people I hope they become, and sometimes I do well and sometimes I don't.  Thankfully how my children turn out isn't all on me.  There is an amazing amount of grace in our lives that washes over both my children, my husband and myself and covers a multitude of mistakes.  Part of me doesn't like to admit all this, because if you didn't already know I don't have it all together, you surely do now.  But here in lies the secret to my success.  If I had it all together I wouldn't need others to help me.  I wouldn't need grace and I wouldn't need encouragement and support. I wouldn't need Jesus to sacrifice himself on my behalf, but I do, and he did.  These very things that I need to stay sane are the very things that keep me connected to others.  They are the experiences that help  build my relationships and make me who I am.   My need for others reminds me of the need they have for me.  If I had it all together I'm sure I would not remember what an encouragement a simple note can be, or an offer to cut in line at the grocery store.  The struggles I go through make me stronger, and they help me to make others stronger as well.  My failures as well as my successes teach my children to never give up, always hope and to always persevere. When I fail they see me pick myself up, ask for forgiveness and move forward.  All of these things together, the days where I soar and nothing can knock me down as well as the days when I simply sit and lick my wounds work together to cause me to thrive.  James 1:2-4 says "Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish it's work so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything."  If life was easy and I never had struggles, I would miss out on so much blessing.  The ability to learn from my mistakes and be willing to try again, to be willing to love others even when they don't love me back are just a few of the invaluable skills I hope my children pick up from me.  Without these challenges I would not appreciate the good times so much and the things that now make my day would mean little. The simple messages of encouragement from long time friends who likewise are in the "trenches" of mothering littles, the ones that make me well up with tears of love and  gratefulness as they stand beside me and truly get what I'm going through, reminding me I'm not alone, would be non-existent.  We need one another, we are made to need one another, and by needing one another our lives are made so much the richer.  It's a beautiful thing to see Love shown this way and to show it in return. 
   There is something completely wonderful about not having it all together, it makes all of the small blessings so much bigger.  Little kindnesses are magnified and a normally insignificant act of compassion can make my day.  Sometimes even stepping outside myself enough to see others needs and meet them in one way or other, showing them just a little bit of the love of Jesus,  can end up making my day as well.  May I never stop looking for those needs to meet and loving those in my path.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

This morning

This morning I was going to wake up early.  This morning I was going to sit down in my favorite chair and have a cup of coffee and read my bible, write in my journal and soak in the quiet while enjoying the warmth of the pellet stove.  This morning did not go as planned.   While I did wake up earlier than normal, it was not early enough.  Sequoia beat me to my favorite chair and Mikaiah was close behind.  Not giving up yet I got them breakfast and poured my coffee.  Stirling woke up and I started over, dressing, feeding, cleaning up, etc.  I helped Mikaiah get ready for school, gave her a kiss and waved goodbye as she got in my friend's car for her ride to school.  I relented and handed Sequoia the ipad to watch a show and thought "Now I will have my quiet time, I will get it done!"  And then Stirling came.  He climbed on my lap, bouncing around and demanding my attention.  I diligently ignored him and read my devotional.  He grabbed my journal and pen and started writing in it and I almost scolded him, but did not .  He elbowed me and pulled the sunglasses off my head (they serve more as a headband than sunglasses on days like today.)  I felt frustrated and turned to put him down and then he looked at me with a huge smile on his face, silently begging me to let him stay.  And I did.  I put down my book and let my coffee grow cold.  I pushed out of my mind all the things I "should" be doing.  I took a selfie of us cuddling together and started to post it, and then put that down too.  I was present.  We giggled and laughed and I picked up a book to read to him.  Then I picked up another.  I didn't rush and I didn't look at the dishwasher, still waiting to be unloaded.  I ignored the shoe under the coffee table and the blankets waiting to be put away.  We enjoyed each other's company, and then, and only then, after a good twenty minutes or more Stirling climbed down and went to go play.  Then I picked up my journal and contemplated the morning, and this is what I wrote:
    Today this is what my quiet time looks like.  It looks like sacrificing my own agenda to love on my son.  It looks like scribbles and bent pages.  It looks like patience.  It looks like knees kicking me accidentally in the stomach and wet kisses on my cheek.  It smells like oatmeal and sour milk.  It sounds like happy chuckling and feels like memories being made.  It looks like love.  And today it's enough.  

This morning did not go how I planned, it went way better.  I didn't do what I thought I should do, but I did what I needed to do.  I didn't have quiet time, but I felt the Lord's presence more clearly than during most of my quiet times.  I was able to put myself and my own expectations out of the equation and the Lord met me there. My house is still not clean, and I don't care.  This morning was a good morning. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Choosing contentment inspite of our circumstances

     Another year has come and gone, and with it the familiar vents of "what a horrible year that was, hope this next one is better."  I don't believe the year ever really ends without this, for we have an uncanny ability to forget the good and to see only the bad always wishing things were better, but unable to see very well when they are.
      Every year is different and holds its own challenges;  personally, politically, and globally. Every year natural disasters happen, people die - some of them famous people, most of them not, but affecting us all the same.  Scandals abound and people in high up places make bad decisions.  Some of them effect us directly and some of them have the potential to, while others simply hang over us like a shadow.  People are elected and removed from election, laws are changed and bills are passed.  For better or worse, these things effect us.
        People are also born.  Kindnesses are shown.  Memories are made.  People show love and care even to those they don't know and lives are changed.  People meet.  People fall in love.  People marry and new families begin.  Babies are born  and change those families in amazing ways as they live, learn and grow.  Milestones are met, life changes are made.  Consequences abound, both from the decisions we make as well as the decisions made by others, resulting in circumstances both good and bad in our lives.
        This is the journey we are on.  It's called life.  Over the ages it never really changes much, though the circumstances of it do.  The reality  is that what this new year offers us is one part new situations, challenges and blessings and 3 parts how we respond to those situations.  The sum of these parts is eventually how we end up feeling about how the year has gone, and how we feel about our lives in general.
      Personally, the more I focus on the negative things that have happened, are happening or (worse yet) could happen the more negative my perspective becomes and the more gloomy my future looks.  However, I have an opportunity in these exact same situations to choose to listen to the holy spirit and ask for his guidance.  I can choose to love instead of hate.  I can choose to serve instead of asking to be served and I can choose to bless instead of curse. 
       Being justified in bitterness or resentment doesn't mean it's a good idea.  Though it may seem deserved those are not the things that bring restore life, they just draw in more bitterness and unforgiveness, slowly eating us from the inside out.   Instead, by choosing daily to forgive, to have hope, and find joy in our circumstances, we bring about contentment. Contentment changes our lives from the inside out as well, but instead of eating us up it brings forth a joy and love that mere circumstances can't take away.   The kind acts of strangers helping out at a grocery store, a lovely picture drawn for me by one of my daughters, a fun evening playing cards with friends, or an encouraging card in the mail just when you need it most. Choosing to look past our own circumstances and to reach out to others naturally puts us in a place where we are more able to receive and appreciate the blessings that already  abound in our lives.   Looking around to see what God is doing in my life and asking him how I can take part in it,  these are ways I find joy, contentment, and life in a changing world full of uncertainty and despair.
      I recognize, even as I write this, how blessed I am to live where I live, with the opportunities that I have and the family, friends and community I have.  We have a warm home, plenty to eat, a decent job, and lots of good friends and support.  We live in a country where we have a lot of freedoms that many do not. We are indeed blessed.  Maybe it seems easy for me to talk about being content when I have so much to be thankful for, but wherever you're at, in whatever circumstances, I still believe that how we approach the every day situations and the attitude we have towards them makes all the difference.  How can people who have almost nothing still smile and give generously of the little they have?  By choice.  No matter  who we are, where we live or what challenges we face, we will never fully understand those who are not in our own position, or what challenges they face and how they affect them.  Something that is difficult for me could be super easy for the person next door.  We are all different and affected differently even by the same situations.   All we can do is look at where we are at and ask ourselves what it means to choose to be content in our own circumstances and to fully appreciate what we do have instead of always longing for that which we don't. 
      So as we enter this new year my prayer for each of you, and for myself, is that we would truly be able to see all that is offered to us and to live lives full of gratitude, love and hope.  The God I serve is bigger than my circumstances and is worthy of my trust and my faith.  He will not let us go. Wishing you all a year full opportunities to love and by loved by others,  and hearts that are able to receive all that is so lavishly given to us.  May you be able to see beyond the circumstances of the moment and see all there is to be  grateful for.  Happy 2017!  Below are just a few of the everyday moments I'm grateful for from this past year.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The fruits of the Spirit VS. The fruits of Michelle trying really hard

      Over the past few months our church has been studying the life of Daniel.  Several weeks ago we broke into groups and were supposed to think of something from the chapter we'd covered that week that we wanted to try to specifically put into practice.  As I had been listening to the teaching that night, one of the things that really struck me was how Daniel is described as having an "excellence of spirit."  I pondered what this looks like and came down to the fruits of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."   I have always prayed for these attributes to be present in my life and the lives of my children.  If I really want to love people unconditionally with a pure love as Jesus did, and as I wish to be loved, these would be evident in my life.  However, this is easier said than done, as these things do not come naturally to us (as humans living in a fallen world, that is.)  I decided for this particular week to focus on two of these attributes in particular, kindness and gentleness - specifically with my children.  
    As I woke up early the next day to have a little quiet time and to pray I asked that the Lord would help me to be kind and gentle with my children, and it didn't take long for me to have opportunities to practice.  Almost immediately my children were awake, demanding, and making messes and taking too long to do simple things and generally testing my kindness in a myriad of ways.  It showed me just how unnatural it is for me to respond gently to my children.  As situations continued to arise I would start to fail, be reminded and do a little better.  This continued throughout the day and the next few days, but as the week began to wear I began to exhaust myself.  I felt so very aware of my own inadequacies to excel in even just these two areas of loving my children (and others.)  I felt completely overwhelmed at the thought of trying to focus on even these two attributes, let alone the others.  Oh boy.  With a sigh of exasperation I brought the verses to mind again, and all of the sudden something struck me.  Something that is so obvious I can hardly believe how all these years I have overlooked or ignored it, and yet it's in the very first sentence: "The fruits of the spirit are:"  Wait. These are not just things to strive for, focus on and with hard work, eventually master. I believe that in and of ourselves that is an impossible task for we are imperfect people.  No, I think I've  had it all wrong, that's not what this is saying at all.  It is saying that these things are fruits. (Obviously.) One of the definitions of fruit, as defined by Merriam-Webster is "the effect or consequence of an action or operation."  So then I re-read that first sentence again.  The "fruits of the Spirit are..."  This sentence is referring to the holy spirit that is given to us, as believers in Jesus Christ to live inside us.  Just this morning I was reading in 1 John 3 and in verses 23-24 (of the Message) it says "Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us."   
       So here it seems is the first piece.  I, as a believer am commanded to believe in Jesus, to love others and as I keep these commands I live deeply in him, and he and I and I experience that by his presence in me, his spirit.  And the fruits (effects of) his Spirit living in my life are
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control.  
        Up until this point I feel that I have, by and large been trying to separate these things.  I love God believe in him, and try to show it by having these attributes in my life, these which I am continually striving-and failing.  The failure here would seem to be because I am trying to do them on my own strength, and these are not fruits that come from Michelle trying hard (though sometimes I come up with a half decent imitation before failing) but by focusing on loving and serving God and letting him fill me up with his Holy Spirit and shine through my life.   We are independent people.  We love to prove ourselves.  We however, are weak people.  We were made weak to exemplify our Father's strength in our lives.  The more I try to prove my self, the harder I fall, but the more I focus on him and asking him to live through me the more I allow his Spirit to take over my natural instincts (which fight against selflessness and all these things) and to truly love and serve those around me.  I feel like this is just the beginning of a new revelation in my life, and hopefully in my way of living.  Things I have always known, yet continually seem to forget.  May the Lord be continually glorified through my weakness.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Choosing gratitude

     The warm sun shines down on me and I smile as I walk along, my children laughing and playing nearby, and I am thankful.  Today is not this day.  Today I wake up with a severe sinus infection and a throbbing headache which has been my constant companion these past 36 hours and which simply refuses to go away.   I reach across the bed and pick up my phone, quickly checking my email and then sighing to myself when I see that my plea for someone to cover my shift in the Preschool co-op Sequoia attends has been unsuccessful and I will have to throw together a snack of some sort for nine hungry preschoolers and face a day I'd rather just ignore.
    As I contemplate all this I hear a pained cry coming from down the hall where Stirling wakes from a restless sleep, where he too is fighting this discomforting cold.  I glance at my watch, 5:45 and with a slight groan turn on the light and fling my feet to the floor in one swift movement, simultaneously saying goodbye to the warmth of my sheets and turning to greet the day in what fashion I have yet to decide.  
      My head throbs as I heat a bottle of milk and change my sons diaper, hoping he'll go back to sleep and I can have a few moments of peace.  I hand him the bottle and breath a sigh of relief as he settles back into his bed, asleep almost instantly.   I scuffle down the hallway, say goodbye to Seth as he heads out the door on his way to work and fill a mug with some hot coffee.  Turning on the pellet stove and just enough lights to be able to read I sit down in a cozy arm chair and try to make sense of the day before me.   My constant sniffling does little to stem the continuous dripping of my nose and a small pile of tissues stacks up next to my coffee cup and bible as I make a decision.  A most important decision it is, though almost as important is the fact that I recognized this choice in the first place - usually I don't even get that far.   The deicision is this: to either embrace the miserableness of this day, to curl up in the comfortable and smelly blanket that is self pity, a thing so cozy I hardly even notice how sick it's making me and wallow in my sad circumstances.  This is my default.  But at the corner of my mind another option begs to be heard.  It makes its way known as the Tylenol I took begins to take effect and my pounding headache moves to the back of my head, and I am thankful.  Its name is gratitude. Gratitude, as defined by google is "the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness."
       I take a bite of raisin bran and glance at the book lying on the stool next to me "One thousand gifts" by Ann Voskamp a book about thankfulness, and I consider.  I consider the fact that my children (usually awake by now) are still sleeping, and that my coffee is still hot.  My house is warm and though I have much to do, and don't feel like doing it, there is perhaps more to be grateful for in this moment than there is to be frustrated by.
     My children wake up and we rush through the morning, getting ready for school and the rest of the day, and though I have now become nauseated as well as congested (this caused more by my 18 week pregnancy than anything else) I notice the clearness of the day and the fresh fall smell in the air, and I smile.
        As the day goes on I have moments of absolute misery, where I give in to the frustrating circumstances and focus on how uncomfortable I am, but mostly I make a point of noticing the beauty around me and all the things I have to be thankful for.  Even as I write this my child cries and as I go to help him I notice three baskets of laundry waiting to be folded. Uggh.  Then I pause.  Three baskets of clean, dry laundry, and I am grateful, and my day continues.   I keep writing this blog and then my computer goes glitchy and it gets deleted. All of it.  And I write it again.  The battery drains, but we have electricity and a plug to charge it.  Much to be grateful for.
       The funny thing about gratitude is that it is virtually impossible to express sincere thankfulness and gratitude while wallowing in self pity.  You must choose to abandon the latter and focus on all the blessings in life instead of the irritations in it.  Maybe that's the real trick, that with one you cannot have the other.  As I choose this less obvious, more intentional choice I noticed a change, not in my circumstances exactly, but in my attitude.  I was more patient, despite feeling sick, and less given to agitation.  In short, choosing to be thankful changed my entire attitude, which ended up turning around my entire day.  I even think that as I chose not to focus so much on my afflictions I began to physically feel a little better as well.  
     Everyday we are faced with all kinds of situations and choices, but we can always choose to look around for the blessings in our lives and choose to be grateful.   In doing so we might even inspire those around us to remember the things in their own lives they are grateful for.  We serve a good God who is faithful and deserving of our thanks.  Let us remember to do so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Loving others in a world that has forgotten how to love

    As I think about how the world has changed since I was a child, a seemingly much simpler time and age I sometimes get overwhelmed and dismayed, especially as a parent.  How, in this world of instant gratification, of watered down morals, and "do whatever pleases you" messages do I teach my children to love relentlessly.  To trust the Lord speaking to them more than the world?  To hear his quiet voice amidst the thunder of this world.  To live humble lives, surrendered to the Lord.    The only answer I have is the one the Lord seemed to choose to teach us, by example.  He sent Jesus to live on this earth and show us how to live.  He lived selflessly.  He lived uncompromisingly. He lived a life of total surrender to his father and full of love and compassion.
    The other day I was having quiet time and I randomly (not really of course, the Lord knew just what I needed) turned to 1 John 1:10-? I have read this many times before, but this time it had a profound impact on me.  The entire chapter, really. Reading it in the Message it says "This is the kind of Love we are talking about - not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice, to clear away our sins and damage they have done to our relationship to God. My dear, dear friends if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever, But if we love one another God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us - perfect love." 
       We live in a world that has taken the word "love" and watered it down to the point where it can be used as a mildly stated opinion.  "I love flip flops!" "I love to go hiking."  "I love hamburgers." Really?!?  I think it important to take a trip back to 1 Corinthians 13 to remind ourselves what he is really talking about here.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8A NAS "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous, love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth ; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 13:12-13 "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  But now faith, hope, love abide - these three; but the greatest of these is love."     Love is not just a fleeting feeling of joy, it is a way we live - selflessly putting others above ourselves without agenda.  This is how Jesus loved.
     As I think of all the issues we have today, hatred, greed, pornography, loose living, homosexuality, among others - I realize that though some of these come in different forms today, such as the internet, social media and other digital devices, they are also often supported by our government, schools and even some of our churches, even so these things are not new.  Ecc. 1:9 "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."     
      Jesus knew these people, these issues, these sinners.  He knew them. He loved them.  He called them to repentance, and (many of them, though not all) saw this and they knew that he loved them, and they loved him back.   In and out of the church we seem to have a huge discrepancy.  We often seem to either respond to sin with hatred "taking our stand" or we simply accept it.  Do whatever you want.  Jesus did neither of these.  He loved them. Loved them to the very core of their being, no matter what their decisions about him were, but he did not accept their sin.  He called them to "repent and sin no more."   We have a hard time doing this.  I have often thought of his example and wondered what is different, why we struggle so much to do this.  And today it hit me.  It's because we see this and then, of ourselves try to copy it.  But we can't.  God is love.  He is the only true love. And we can only love others with him in us. We can't do it on our own.  The great news is that we have his spirit living inside us, and we can love others as he does, with his wisdom and his power - we just can't do it on our own.  So, how do we do this practically?  We surrender ourselves to him day by day, moment by moment and ask him to guide us.  And when we mess up (as we often do) we just go back, and do it again.  We ask for his presence, his wisdom, his forgiveness and his love.  The only way I can teach these things to my children is to practice them myself.  One day at a time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

It's all in the Journey

I have heard it said a time or a thousand "It's the journey that matters, not the destination."  Never, however, has that felt more true than this past week. 
     A couple of weeks ago Seth and I set out on an epic road trip with our three little ones headed to Iowa for the wedding of a dear friend.  I admit that I was a little apprehensive of taking this         4,500  mile plus trip.  Don't worry though, with Pinterest at hand I outdid myself with preparation.  I had the notebooks made up with little activities, I had the Ipad pre-loaded with movies, I checked out every age appropriate audio book from the library and even planned to drive at night so the kids could sleep at night.  I was ready.  And then we left.  At 10:20 pm on Tuesday we pulled out and almost immediately the kids were asleep.  It was working.  Then a rest stop came at 2 am and our children were all awake for the next two hours, and I'm telling you, they were not happy about it. Neither were we.  The seats were too straight, no one was comfortable no matter how many pillows they had and our journey had just begun.  We made our first stopping point around noon the next day and moved into the little cabin I had rented, giving Seth some time to nap while I took the first shift.  When it was my turn to nap however my two younger ones decided to join me.  It wasn't that bad, but I never rest as well with little ones all around.  Eight thirty came around (sooner than I had expected with the time zone change) and we were off.  Wearier than before, but still doing okay.   Our children stayed awake until 11:00 Pm and then woke again for a nightly crying time.  At 5:00 am we crashed in a hotel in Rawlins, Wyoming and had a much needed, though way to short rest, and by 11 am we were off again.  This time we continued on for about 20 hours before reaching our destination. Those hours were filled with tired, sometimes grumpy but determined parents and moody children.  Various struggles arose, such as a puking toddler and vomit covered everything on the side of the freeway - but we made it.  As we pulled into a laundry mat in Muscatine, Iowa completely exhausted but trying to recover I felt as though I never wanted to do another road trip with small children ever again.
     We were all about our destination, and we made it, but we missed something.  So after an absolutely lovely wedding and two days restoring my faith in road trips we headed back.  Seth had this great idea that we would take our time on the way back. I was wary.  I was not sure I wanted to make this last any longer than it had to, but I went along with it.  We arrived near Denver at my Aunt's house (as planned) late on the 3rd of July and spent the entire 4th of July hanging out with my Aunt, my cousins and my cousin's daughter, it was truly wonderful.  We slept late the next day and pulled out sadly at noon, sad to go so soon.  This time however we were only driving 6 hours or so, headed North toward Yellow Stone.  We took two days getting there and were in no hurry.  We enjoyed the scenery, and so did the kids. We (Seth and I) pulled out our headphones more and I put down my book and we talked. We laughed, we shared great moments together as a family, and we relaxed.   We were able to visit Yellowstone National park, which I had never seen and though we had to camp in pouring rain the night before we visited the clouds parted and we had amazing weather all day.  Byson and Elk guided us through the outstanding Park and as we joined the many tourists to view things such as Tower Falls and of course Old Faithful I found joy and peace as I was able to simply be present.  Even as we pressed on towards home the next day, taking one more long day on our journey the change in attitudes continued and showed me what it really meant to view life as a journey rather than a series of destinations.  I only hope that the next time I am faced with some such occasion I will remember to slow down, breathe, and soak it all in.  No matter what stage of life we are in, this is the only time we will be here.  Enjoy it.