Thursday, January 18, 2018

The true heros of Birthdays

Tomorrow I turn 35 years old.  As much as I love Birthdays (and believe me, I do) ever since becoming a mom I can't help but think about my mom every time my birthday comes up.  When I was a child I remember waking up on my Birthday only to have my mom standing over me, wishing me many happy wishes from the get go.  She has always made me feel special, but even more so when Birthday's approach.  As a mother myself,  I too get giddy at the upcoming birthdays of my children, I recall to myself over and over what it was like those last uncomfortable weeks and days, the anticipation and joy as we welcomed each of our children into this world. 
   When it comes to my own Birthday, I now can't help but be overcome with gratitude for my mom.  At 2 1/2 weeks overdue (when my older two siblings were each two weeks early) and weighing in at 9 lbs, the largest of all my mom' babies) my mom was definitely ready for my birth.  Every day for over a month she must have been anticipating the upcoming event, but to no avail until finally on one mid January day in 1983, I made my entrance.  Giving birth to a child is so miraculous and yet so painstakingly hard.  First you carry them for nine months, facing both physical sickness and mental struggles,  random ailments attacking from all sides, as well as expectations, fears, and exhaustion, just a few of the feelings that can overwhelm you as you're faced with the onslaught of pregnancy hormones. Giving birth however is just the beginning, you now have to raise the child.  The next five years come down with a sort of boot camp intensity, strengthening your long suffering while seemingly attempting to flush out all of your weaknesses at once.  After the young years come the slightly less physically demanding, yet even more daunting task of raising these pre-teeens and then teenagers into the kind of adults we want to have relationship with.  I have not yet gotten to the phase, but as I watch friends go through it and remember my own childhood, I know it's not easy. My parents both did a great job in this area (parenting,) my hat is off to you, Mom and Dad.
    On Birthdays we celebrate people as though they did something amazing on this day, when really all the hard work was done by someone else, and they simply did what they could not keep from doing if they tried. They were born.  Having both been born and given birth (four times,) I assure you, being born is the much easier feat.
       All my life people have commented on how much I am like my mother, in both appearance and personality.  When this has been told in both of our hearing my mom's often response has been something to the effect of "Michelle is my one child that's like me, though she hates that."  I sit there awkwardly, not saying anything.  I honestly can't remember what I thought of those comments as a child, but as an adult I know that my silence has long been misunderstood by her.  It is not at all that I would not want to look like/act like her, but rather from disbelief.  I know and believe that we have similarities, but she is one of the most active, vibrant, caring, generous, beautiful and kind people I know.  She loves relentlessly, serves Jesus unfailingly and pours herself out endlessly to family, friends, and strangers alike.  If I, in anyway resemble her in either form or spirit, I am humbled and thankful.   So on this day that she went into labor and later gave birth 36 years ago, I am exceedingly grateful to you Mom, and will always be proud to be your child.  Thank you for your sacrifice.  And Dad, I know you were there too, and though different your sacrifices were different, they have been no less. Thank you.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Re-evaluating our excpectations and ideas of what's important, and what isn't

    Expectations.  Ours, others and even imagined ones can bring about limitless amounts of stress.  When reached they can also give us a great amount of satisfaction, but at what cost?  I have never been a perfectionist and have always run along the lines of "Do something to the level that you can still enjoy it" but even I wince when someone says (or I think to myself) "Better lower your expectations" or "lower the bar!"  These words cause me to grimace and sigh.  They say to me "You're not gonna make it, better quit while you're behind."  They tell me I'm not good enough and that nothing I can do is ever going to be enough.  They are lies.  They make me feel like a failure, when in reality I have often simply bitten off more than I can chew.
    I love to do lists.  I sit there at 6:30 in the morning with my coffee and journal, in front of the fire and make big plans for the day.  I feel accomplished just writing them.  In my head I know I can do it all, in fact, I should probably add a few more items.  Several weeks ago this was my list: 1. Clean house 2. Make snack for HOME group (my mom's group). 3. Get to HOME early in time for prayer. 4. Go grocery shopping 5. Get kids home and make them lunch.  etc.  But then life happens, 7:45 rolls along and I'm already behind.  The snack I was going to make has turned into "pick up donuts," breakfast dishes litter the table and half dressed children run rampant.  The clock is ticking faster than I can imagine and my stress levels are rising.  Throwing shoes on my son (for the third time, he'squite the shoe remover) I grab him in one arm and the baby in the other, balancing my purse and other necessities between the two and head to the car. (Apparently I don't believe in making multiple trips if at all possible.) No longer having enough time to hand pick the donuts I quickly grab a box of day olds from the local donut shop and jump in the car.  Feeling warn out and slightly defeated, I pull into the parking lot, rush to drop off my kids, and finally plop myself into a free chair, not only have I not made it in time for prayer but I'm a full ten minutes late...again.  Almost two hours later, feeling somewhat rejuvenated from adult conversation, snacks, and a little break, I go to fetch my kids and once again chaos ensues. With difficulty I wrangle the now almost hysterical children (near dying from starvation and exhaustion it appears) and  head to the grocery store while the meltdowns continue.  Quickly nixing the "make lunch" part, I pick up corndogs (shamefacedly trying to talk myself into believing that they have corn in them and that must have been a vegetable at some point, right?) and hand them to my kids as I rush home in hopes of getting them to sleep.  Exhausted I flop onto the couch and feel DONE and it's only 12:30  So much for all my morning plans!
  I could repaint this picture a hundred times with different details, lists, experiences, etc. but in the end they would all have the same feeling of "not quite cutting it."  However, this year I have been taking a step back.  I have been doing something I hadn't thought of often before, and it's changing my life.  I am changing my language.  I am not "lowering the bar" I am re-evaluating what is important, what really matters, and what I can do and changing things accordingly.  This is what I'm starting to do, when I start feeling behind I stop and take a time out (often while driving, but it works.)  I think about what my goals are for the day and what I really want to accomplish.  So, in this case I might say my goals are 1. Go to HOME group 2. Bring a snack 3. Get groceries 4. Feed kids  5. Nap time  6. Clean house before going to bed
  Then, I would go on with my day as before, only this time I am not running behind, at least not impossibly so.  I get in the car when I can, grab a snack and get in my seat before it's over.  First three goals, accomplished!  Then I run to winco, grab them food from the deli and throw some carrots in the mix, run home to put them in bed.  Then during nap I rest, or clean, or whatever.  Or maybe they don't nap and we cuddle and read books, and we still call it a win.  Either way my whole outlook on the day is changed even though the results were virtually the same.  See the difference?
   There is so much pressure out there to be the best mom/dad/person, to be successful, to have the perfect home, kids, etc.  But what does that even mean?  What is the best? What's perfect and what does it look like to be succesful?  Everyone has their own opinion of what this looks like, so if you're looking for others approval you'll probably end up feeling like you can ever quite make it, because they're all different. Sometimes we even have our own ideas of what we want and it turns out they're just not practical.  For me I need to look at the bigger picture, what do I want for myself and for my family?  Happiness?  Not always possible, nor is it always the best goal even if it were to be possible.  Seeking only happiness is a rather discouraging journey.  There are just too many factors, many beyond our control and it tends to create pretty self-centered people as well.  When we "seek to be happy" we often assume (wrongly) that this is most dependent on our circumstances and not what we make of them, when really our attitude and what we do in difficult circumstances is much more important. What I really want for myself and my family is for us to learn to be content in our circumstances.  To look at what I have and see it as enough.  To see myself as enough and for my children to see this too.  I want to see more than myself and my circumstances, I want to see others and love them right where they're at.  I don't want to give up on setting goals and pushing myself and even having expectations but rather let these be more fluid, changing even as we change as people but holding secure to the things that are really important to us.
    A couple of years ago Seth and I were in Bend for the weekend.  Mikaiah was almost 4 and Sequoia was 18 months and I was six months pregnant.  I really wanted to take Mikaiah ice skating  so we drove up to the Inn at the Seventh Mountain, where they have an outdoor ice rink.  As we were driving up there Seth asked me "What are your goals for this trip?"  I hadn't really thought about that before.  Since Sequoia was too young to skate, she and Seth were just going to watch on the sidelines.  Not being the cheapest of outings I think he was afraid it would end up feeling like a wasted trip. "I guess I want her to come away having enjoyed it and wanting to go again" I told him.  And as I said it, I knew it really was true.  I knew there was a chance we'd only be on the ice 5 minutes, but if that five minutes left her with a smile and wanting more, than it would be a win.  Mikaiah and I took to the ice and with me holding her hands we made our way all the way around the rink and then stopped to rest.  She had the biggest smile on her face, as did I.  We did this four more times (taking almost an hour, I'm sure) and called it a day.  Sequoia had not been thrilled about being left out,  but upon getting hot chocolate along with the rest of us before leaving, she was appeased.   What a great day.  On the way home Mikaiah told me "I think I'm ready to have my very own Ice Rink now." hahaha.  As we drove home and I reflected on the day, I realized I could not have hoped for it to have a better ending.  I think much of this had to do with my own expectations.  Since then I try to apply this every time I go on an outing.   Usually with the expectations being along the lines of being able to enjoy some of what we did and going away wanting to do it again.  Wishing for a trip with no melt downs or delays is like jumping into a lake and hoping you won't get wet.  Doing things with littles is challenging, but can be so rewarding. When you're expectation are more realistic you're much less likely to end up disappointed.
    I know that all of my examples here have to do with raising kids and surviving mom-hood, but I do believe that the practice of re-evaluating our goals and expectations is key to all of us in the hope of living a content life.  It's not about lowering expectations, it's about changing them.  It's about realizing what's important to us and figuring out what really needs to be done, and what doesn't, to get there.  It's about doing what we can to lessen our stress levels and give ourselves the greatest chance of success. And that is something entirely different.

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.