Saturday, September 7, 2019

When our expectations don't measure up to reality


School is here, parents are thrilled, and school supplies abound.  I am not left out in that number.  What was once a somewhat sad time of year for me as a child, having to leave the freedom of summer to head back to school, is now a time to rejoice.  Two of my four children are once again going back to school, in schools I love, with wonderful teacher who are offering to teach my children for a while school year and leave me with a lot less to deal with.  This is great, and I'm happy for it, however this year felt more complicated somehow.  You see, last year Mikaiah started the 2nd grade and Sequoia, who had turned 5 on July 1st started Kindergarten.  I was thrilled, and so were they.  Sequoia loved her teacher, her class, and (most days) loved going to school in general.   However, it soon became apparent that she was not thriving as we had hoped.  Sequoia has always had "big feelings" and struggles to reign them in.  In short, she spent much of her time at school throwing tantrums and working on calming down, which didn't leave her a whole lot of time to learn.  Half way through the year it became pretty clear that she was well behind (emotionally and academically) the rest of the class and would not be ready for the first grade the following year.  Seth and I talked about it with the teacher throughout the year and agreed that holding her back was the right thing to do.  Of this I am 100% sure we are doing the right thing.  When she found out she would get to go to Kindergarten again Sequoia was thrilled (much to my relief.)
      As the time went by and summer came people started to ask "Will Sequoia will be in 1st grade this year?" To which I would reply "Actually, she's going to be repeating Kindergarten."  People were always supportive, even thanking me for being able to see this need and being willing to hold her back.  Many of our children are pushed ahead when they are not ready and it can be very detrimental.  I am happy to help Sequoia be where she needs to be, this is not a struggle for me.  What needed to be done was clear, and we are all okay with it.  We are so happy to be of the same mind as both her teacher and school counselor in this regard, it helps a lot to be on the same page.
      However, as the first graders went back to school (they start a few days before the kindergartners) I found myself surprisingly emotional.  Here on my facebook feed were the pictures of all Sequoia's classmates going back to school, joining the first grade, moving on.. and here we were, once again, waiting for Kindergarten.  I wanted to cry.  Actually, I did cry.  I drove to my friends house and buried my head in her shoulder, still totally unaware of why this was so hard for me.  She held me and cried with me a little bit, and then we all ran errands together. That's what real friends do I think, they listen and encourage and then walk beside you (quite literally sometimes) just so you know you're not alone. 
     I have had to process this whole thing quite a bit, but eventually I came to the conclusion that it really wasn't because Sequoia had to repeat Kindergarten that I had a hard time with, but rather what that represented  Parenting Sequoia is an immense pleasure and also the biggest challenge of my life.  We have been in an extremely difficult parenting phase with her for basically her whole life!  She has always been quick to throw fits and lose control.  She either takes directions perfectly, or not at all.  Running and screaming (happily) through the grocery store disregarding everything I say or do is not uncommon.  She's definitely getting better, but she is quite exhausting to raise, to be quite honest.  I wouldn't trade her for the world, but I would love to see her conquer some of the things and areas she struggles with so, and seeing her here in Kindergarten, AGAIN, just somehow burst something in me, something that felt a bit like defeat. The disappointment of not being where I thought we would be (parent and child) by this point.  The feeling of so wanting my child to succeed in taking control of her feelings and reactions so that she can learn, and grow and enjoy life to it's fullest. The feeling that we are never going to get past this point, that she will remain in Kindergarten forever (even though I know it's not true.) Recognizing that it is okay, and valid to feel this way has been a relief.  
      Although our situations are all different I think at some point most of us experience things like this.  Something that no matter how hard we try we just can't seem to get past.  The frustration, hurt, and feelings of inadequacy can be overwhelming.  These are the times that I turn to James where he says (James 1:2-4 )" 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 its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
       So although we are not through it yet, and I am sure there are more tears to come I choose to consider this a Joy, knowing all that it is doing in me and in my daughter as well, developing perseverance and shaping us into the people that God made us to be.  In this I find hope.  Hope and encouragement to keep moving forward.  Kindergarten 2.0, here we come!

Child rearing is like lifting weights, the more you have the more you can handle.

        As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop, Jack Johnson playing in the background, a half eaten snickerdoodle next to my laptop and my youngest child playing happily with the toys while people chat happily all around me.  Bliss.  My three older children are all attending a local Vacation Bible School and will attend yet another next week.  To all the churches and volunteers that choose to entertain my children and teach them about Jesus while I enjoy this much needed down time I am eternally grateful.  Thank you.  Just one child, every morning for two weeks!  It's like a vacation, practically like having no kids at all!  That's how it feels now at least.
        A couple of years ago, pregnant with my fourth child and totally exhausted I was sitting around a table at a mom's group talking to a first time mother.  I answered her questions the best I could, but realized even as I did so how jaded I had become.  In my head I felt like "You're just having one baby!  No worries, you've got this.  If I could only have one baby again it would be a piece of cake, no whining!  Of course I didn't say these things, but I felt them.  Not because I had any animosity towards the mother, or even because her questions were over the top (they weren't) but simply because I was treading water myself and could not lift my head up enough to remember the struggle of adjusting to my first child.   Even at the time I remember telling a friend later that day, "I think in a few years I will be a wonderful person to go to for advice, but right now I just feel jaded and sarcastic."  I was too deep in the mire to bother turning around.  As I predicted, every year I feel more and more capable of lifting my head and seeing what others are going through and am able to offer at least a listening ear if not a word or two of sound advice.
       You see, child rearing is like weight lifting.  When you start from nothing anything feels like all you can handle.  As time goes by and you adapt, your child grows older and more independent, you adjust.  Then you add more children and you adjust again, just as you would add more weights the stronger you get.  (For those with just one or two children they experience this too, as each age brings new challenges, but it feels different I would imagine.)  At the point where you have several children, having a break where you only have one child can feel like such a relief that it can be hard to remember the early challenges you faced.   The danger here is undervaluing the struggle someone else is going through because it's no longer (or never has been) your own struggle.  Some people do have a really easy first baby while others are extremely difficult. Not to mention where the parent is coming from in the first place.   For myself, although pretty prepared for day to day baby care through much experience and training (early childhood ed. degree, years spent working as a full time nanny, babysitting as well as teaching) I still struggled a bit.  Nursing didn't go like I thought it would and the weight of having to bottle feed when my daughter was just a few months old was immense, not to mention hours and hours of crying late into the night for no apparent reason.  Time went by and she got easier, and then we had another and so it goes.
      Right now I find myself in a sweet spot.  Life is much simpler in many ways.  My children sleep through the night, they feed themselves and play independently, yet I still remember when they didn't.  We still have hard days, rough trips to the grocery store and find ourselves in desperate need of a nap.  Sometimes I need the nap more than my kids.  I still gaze longingly at moms sitting in beach chairs at the public pool reading books, all the while trying to keep track of all my little ones.  And yet often I hear these moms say, "I remember when my kids were so small and so much less complicated.  I can't wait until they are out of the house."  We can spend our time looking back to the past, forgetting our struggles or always looking for the next easier stage, but if we do either of these we won't ever really learn to enjoy where we're at.  My advice?  Remember where we've come from and the struggles we've overcome so that we can more appreciate where we're at in life as well as have compassion for others. And one day maybe we'll be able to help them out as well.   Oh, and just so we're clear, I am still so distracted by life that I wrote this two months ago and am just now posting it.  What can I say?  Life with kids.  Busy, messy, and simply wonderful.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Learning to enjoy where I'm at, instead of just longing for where I'm headed.

    As the school year wraps up and we head into summer I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on this past year and what I have learned.  Every Tuesday morning I attend a mom's group where 60 or so mom's gather together without children (they have an amazing child care program) and spend time learning and growing together for the next two hours.  Every year they have a theme and this years theme has been "First things first."  Learning to put first things first so that we have more time for the secondary things.  I believe that prioritizing is important for everyone, but as a scattered mom with way too many roles, I am finding it absolutely essential.  The first thing you have to do when you prioritize is recognize what the things are that are most important to you and what that looks like.  It's easy to find myself responding to the loudest need around me rather than the most important.  Even as I write this one of my two cats has gone missing.  I have a long to do list today but all I want to do is go look for my cat.  However, I know my cat.  She goes to the neighbors, she eats their food and then eventually, she comes home.  My cat is probably fine.  So I will continue with my well thought out list, and if she's not home this afternoon then I will walk over to the neighbor's house and look for her.  I'm okay with that. So, most likely, is she.
     Besides prioritizing this year another thing I have really been working on is learning to express gratitude for the things I normally take for granted.  I don't want to wait until It's too late to appreciate what I have.  For example, I want to enjoy my children while they are young instead of waiting to regret not doing so later.  Yes, they are needy.  Yes, they wear me out.  They also bring me great Joy.  My heart aches just at the thought of them growing up and moving on.  Yes, this time is intense, but it's also wonderful.  My family is in a sweet spot right now and it is important for me to recognize that because it helps keep me from taking them for granted.
     My parents are really quite exceptional, and I can't even think about what I'm grateful for without thinking of them.  My dad worked long hours for Evergreen Avionics, often traveling as well.  I honestly don't know how my mom did it with four young children and my dad gone for weeks at a time, but somehow she did.  When I think of my childhood however, I don't think of all the times my dad was gone, I remember the times he was home.  I remember him coming how from work, exhausted but happy to see us and then watching him eat dinner and then go wash the dishes so my mom wouldn't have to.  I remember him playing catch with me out in the front yard on summer evenings, and going to breakfast at Tommy's on Saturdays.  I remember dump runs followed with milkshakes at Alf's Ice Cream.  (Eating out of any kind was a rarity, so this was particularly special.)  I remember hiking up to Multnomah Falls with my whole family and feeling like it really was waaaaay to far to hike.   I remember going to church together as a family and praying together at the kitchen table.  What I don't remember is how tight it must have been financially at times, or how much my dad was gone.  Why?  Because my parents focused on what we did have rather than what we didn't, and taught us to be present.   These are traits I take to heart and try to implement into my own family.
     The last thing I have been focusing on a lot lately goes with this one as well.  It's contentment.  Choosing to be satisfied no matter our circumstances. Recognizing my blessings (even when they come in the form of struggles) and choosing to be content.  I am trying to stop looking at everyone elses "green grass" so that I can see my own.  The definition of Contentment says "a state of happiness or satisfaction."  I think that satisfaction is a more appropriate term, since happiness is a fickle thing.  I think sometimes you start with choosing to be satisfied or content with your circumstances and happiness comes out of this decision.   I live in an amazing little cabin of a house.  I absolutely LOVE it.  It fits our personalities like a glove.  However, there is a lot of work to be done on it.  We bought it with the intention of fixing it up, and like many things, it is taking a lot longer to even start that process than we anticipated.  It's easy for me to start looking and around and only see what I want to change rather than what I already have.  This only breeds frustration and stress in our home.  When I start looking at our home with eyes that appreciate its beauty and the love that is shared here I am filled with Joy, Peace, and contentment.  That's where I want to live.  I used to feel that if I chose to be grateful with where I was choosing not to move forward or improve at all, but I don't thing this is true.  Instead I think you just learn to enjoy the journey, which is after all, what life is all about.  Love where you're at, instead of just longing for where you're headed.

Update: Less than 10 minutes after posting this, Stella wandered into the laundry room to eat her breakfast, no need to worry.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Being enough.

      Every morning, Monday thru Thursday I wake up at 5:00 am and leave the house at 5:20 to get to my 5:45 workout on time.  This workout is one of the only things that I am almost always on time for, in fact, I am usually 5 minutes early, but not today.  Today my alarm didn't go off.  Today I didn't wake up until Seth started talking to me and I realized it was 5:22.  For about 15 seconds I seriously considered going back to bed.  It was too late.  I didn't have enough time, and I wasn't feeling great.  I probably shouldn't go... But I had loosely planned to meet a friend at that class, a friend who didn't normally come in the mornings and I felt obligated to be there in case she came. Besides, I really should go, I told myself.  So, I jumped out of be, threw on my clothes and ran out the door at 5:27 as my husband handed me a hastily brewed cup of coffee.  He can be a Saint sometimes.  As I drove to Burn Bootcamp I forced myself to calm down after the frantic rush out the door.  I pulled into the parking lot a mere 3 minutes late and took a spot at the back.  My friend was not there, but that was okay.  It got me there, and that was enough.  I was just glad I wasn't super late.  For the next 45 minutes however, that's about all I was grateful for.   You see today was a partner workout day, something I usually love, but which can also be a challenge.  By now I have quite a few friends and people I am very comfortable with in this class, people whom I usually partner up with.  Being with someone I know makes me a lot less self-conscious, especially if I have to modify a lot or if I am struggling due to my asthma.  Today however, several of these people were gone and the others were paired up already.  No problem, I don't mind meeting new people.  Indeed my partner today was a very sweet, kind woman who was about 1/2 my size and twice as fast as me.  Normally having a faster partner is not a big deal because you're usually having one person do one exercise and the partner does another and after a certain number of reps, or amount of time, you switch.  Not a problem.  Today was not like that.  Today almost all the exercises relied on one another.  From doing toe to toe sit ups, to linking arms behind your heads (on the ground) and doing dragon flies (where you lift up your legs and back straight into the air.)  There were three other partner exercises to do per round, and then you would both do sprints outdoors before starting over.  The first round went okay, though I had to push myself a little to keep up with my partner it wasn't a huge issue.  Then came the sprints.  Sprinting almost always sets off my asthma and true to form, as I finished my first lap I started having difficulty breathing.  I tried to pace myself but was already so winded from pushing myself earlier it was no use.  I did half of the sprints and took a breather (using my inhaler and catching my breath) before my partner came back.  We sat down to start over with the sit ups but I can barely do them without my toes being held down (our feet were pushed together, but not held down) and after about five I stopped trying to keep pace.  After about 8 I stopped all together.  I was losing it. The thing is, as difficult as it can be to balance working out with asthma among other physical limitations,  the bigger battle is in my head.  Once I start having difficulty breathing all these insecurities come flooding in.  Feelings of not being good enough, fast enough or in shape enough.  Feelings that I don't belong and should stop trying.  These feelings, plus my workout and my asthma attacks combined have an almost paralyzing effect on me and almost always leave me in tears.  How humiliating.  Today was no exception.  As I lay there gasping for breathe (I was more worked up than having an attack at this point) my trainer came over to check in with me.   She took me aside, helped me calm down and told me not to worry about letting my partner down. Then she helped me modify the workout to fit my needs.  She is wonderful, compassionate and yet is able to help you get back in the game while still taking care of your body.  I was able to push aside my embarrassment and finish the workout with just a few modifications.   As I drove home I was trying to figure out why today was so hard, what had triggered me so much that I hadn't been able to keep hold of my emotions.  The workout was hard, but not that was my mental state that had pushed me over the edge.  As I drove I began to cry again, feelings of frustration and of never being able to measure up to my own standards flowing off me as steadily as my tears.  It's easy for one thought of inadequacy to bring up piles of others.  All sorts of lies flowing through my head.  Never pretty enough, never healthy enough, patient enough with my kids, or a good enough parent.  Never able to fully follow through with disciplines I say I'm going to do, and on and on these thoughts went.  And then I heard it.  The song I'd been listening to on Pandora broke through my thoughts and finally I could hear the words.
 "Only you satisfy, only you satisfy, only you satisfy, my soul...Oh, oh my soul, thirsts for you, you alone."    As I listened to the song and my heart filled with worship the lies left me.  I am not enough.  I will never be enough on my own. I was not meant to be.  But the one who made the stars in the sky, the earth and the seas made me. He made me in his own image and he made me to be in relationship with him.  He made me to need him.  And he made himself  enough for me, and when I am resting in him, I too am enough.  Just as I am, just as he made me, I am enough.  When I rely on him, and his strength as I am meant to do I am more than enough and measuring up to anyone else doesn't even matter.  And just as quickly as the fears and insecurities had filled my mind, they left. They left, and peace filled my soul.  This is how Jesus speaks to me.  In a million ways, through a song, a friend, or a trainer.  And when I can quiet myself enough to hear what he is saying I hear him and my doubts and fears fade away.
   I will not pretend I am the only one who struggles in areas such as these, we all do. The issues might be different, but we all have things we struggle with.  I don't think anyone really likes to talk about the things that are really hard for them, and I am no different.  I'd rather throw on a brave face and pretend it's no big deal.  Then I have days like today where I burst out crying in the middle of a workout (truly embarrassing by the way) while everyone else just keeps doing their thing.  Hard to hide that, but it is easy to pretend it didn't happen, but not really helpful.  Avoiding issues doesn't fix them or make them go away, especially when they are so deeply rooted in fear and self-worth, or lack of.  I hope that by sharing my struggles it resonates with some of you, reminding you you're not alone.  Reminding you of your true identity, that you are a child of God (whether you believe in him or not) and that you are enough.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Spring is near

It's a warm spring day and as I sit on our porch with the sun shining on my face, ignoring the sounds of nearby traffic speeding along the highway just about 20 yards away.  For the Joy I feel I might as well be on a tropical island.  There are very few things that could make today feel better.  It's amazing isn't it?  The way the sunshine change your outlook on life?  I am an Oregonian born and raised.  I love it here, and I don't hate the rain, for the most part take it in stride. In the fall I welcome it with open arms even,  but there's something about the middle of February that has me yearning for a warmer climate.  Some wonder why we Oregonians don't just move somewhere warmer, like Southern California (and some do) but to be honest, I don't want the weather to be just slightly different versions of the same thing all the time.  I love living somewhere that experiences all four seasons, in a rather mild way.  Our summers can get pretty hot, our falls cooling down with a lovely show of changing colors and our winters are right around freezing with lots of clouds and rain, and occasionally a little snow.  Then sometime in late February or March we start seeing the sun more and more and the flowers start shooting through the ground.  Just as I am starting to lose my mind with the dreariness of it all Spring comes in to save the day.  It's  simply wonderful.  This 70 degree breezy day would be nothing to me if I lived in San Diego, I wouldn't think anything of it, or might even complain of the wind if I hadn't just experienced the gloom of Winter.  I can only imagine how magnified that feeling is for people who live much colder places that have "real" winters.  It's amazing how positively sunshine seems effects everyone it touches.  You go to the store and people are smiling and greeting you happily.  People wait patiently while you cross the road and strangers wish you a good day as you pass them by on the sidewalk.  Parks overflow with families who've been waiting for months for days such as these.  Cats sun themselves on porches and dogs wag their tales as you pass.  If it didn't happen every year it would seem nothing short of miraculous. 
     God sure did know what he was doing when he created seasons, and not just the physical ones.  As much as we hate change and difficult times they really do help us to appreciate what we have and bring out hearts of gratitude as difficult seasons pass and more pleasant ones come around the bend.  They help us to grow and challenge us to persevere.  They give us opportunities for delayed gratification and spur on hope for what's to come.  It's easy to feel excited about the coming more pleasant times but also important to recognize the good that happens in us during those dormant periods, both in physical seasons as well as personal seasons of hardship.  It is necessary for the old to die away and the land to rest in winter.  We can't see new growth without this pause.  At a time when it looks as though nothing is happening, so much is going on beneath the surface.  Deep down in the dormant places of our lives change is made and new life is forged.  So if you're experiencing winter, either physically or emotionally/spiritually remember the importance of this season and put your Hope in the one who never fails us but promises that spring will come again.  And if you, like me, are exalting in this new season don't forget to be grateful for the one we're quickly leaving behind.  Contentment in all things.  If I can live a life full of gratitude, contentment and love and faith, I believe I cannot lose.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"You sure have your hands full" and other unhelful comments you can avoid

       So you're at the store standing in the checkout line and there's a woman in line with several children bouncing all around.  She glances back your way and you chuckle to yourself and then say the first thing that comes to mind, "Well you sure have your hands full!"  Wait.  I know this might seem harmless, and sometimes it is, but please don't.  I have been hearing this statement almost everytime I go to the store since I was pregnant with my second child.  Seriously.  "You're sure busy aren't you?" Is another favorite. Now, while neither of these are the worst things to say to someone, and I can certainly understand why someone might say them, I am here to ask that next time you're tempted to, please just don't.  It's not that they're extremely rude things to say, most of the time it doesn't bother me at all.  I just smile and nod.  But the thing is that though it doesn't usually bother me, it really isn't ever helpful either, and sometimes, depending on my mood and how the trip went and how my children are acting as well as the tone of voice the person uses, sometimes it can actually be rather hurtful.  Not on purpose, I know, but sometimes it makes me feel as though we (my children and I) are too much.  That my children are louder than life and that we are somehow intruding into this persons space.  Maybe we are a little, but please just get over it.  In a minute we'll be gone and you can move on with your day.  I have noticed my oldest daughter starting to look embarrassed when she hears these kind of comments. Yes, my children have good days and bad days, loud days and quieter days, and days when they are driving me absolutely nuts, but I don't ever want my children to feel as though they are too much or that it would be better if they just weren't here.  I may prefer to shop alone, but it's not usually possible and this is a public place they are absolutely allowed to be, and they should be treated that way.  If there's a tantrum going on please just ignore it or go to another line.  I know that having four kids these days can feel like a lot to some people, but it's my choice. A choice I have (clearly) already made and will not be changing.  Although you might not be saying "you have too many children" or even meaning it, it sure can feel that way, especially if I'm feeling extra vulnerable for some reason.  This happens a lot. 
       When someone smells bad I don't comment that "Laundry's really hard isn't it?" That would be rude, I wouldn't dream of doing it.  Commenting on someone's children and how busy they can be can feel just as rude. Yes it can be a struggle, yes encouragement can help, these comments aren't encouraging.
       Here's the thing, there really are things you can say or do that are just as easy as saying "you've got your hands full" that are actually helpful.  Here are things people have said to me that have been helpful and/or encouraging. I have heard most of these several times, and they are always helpful.   "I've been there, hang in there Mama, you're doing great!"  "Your children just put a smile on my face."  "What sweet children you have." (That last one was said on a good day.)  "You've got a lot of helpers there!"  "Can I help you bag your groceries?" (This happened at Winco and pretty much made my day.)  Several times people have noticed one of my children drop something and have turned to pick it up for me, this is also very helpful.  I would encourage you not to ever touch another persons child (you think this wouldn't happen, but it does.) It's usually done while trying to soothe a baby, but it's not appropriate if you don't personally know them.  You can try to calm a child by talking to them, but be aware of their response and/or body language.  If they seem concerned or upset by your attention I would encourage you to stop.  My children have been both soothed and consoled by adults talking to them as well as frightened.   It doesn't hurt to try (talking to them that is) but just be aware of their body language as well as the parent's body language.  The goal is to help, not upset them more.
     The other day after a particularly challenging trip to Safeway I had pushed the cart to the entrance and was trying to gather everyone together to leave, it was pouring rain outside and my son would not sit down in the cart. I was feeling more than a little flustered, though actually remaining outwardly quite calm. A middle aged man who had been in line behind me came up and was getting ready to go out as well, I still wasn't ready so I tried, awkwardly, to move over so he could leave.  He looked at me, smiled shyly and opened his mouth to say something (here it comes, I thought) but what he said caught me off guard.  "You're an amazing mom" he said, and then headed out.  I choked up and almost started crying.  All my insecurities and frustrations hand been momentarily shut down for just a second.  It was as if he said "Hang in there, you've got this." That's what it it felt like he was saying and I needed to hear it. I was having a rough day, and as experienced as I am at shopping with kids I was not feeling at all amazing at this moment and yet he had seen something there, in my effort to hold it together and not explode (that's all I can think of anyway) and then comment on it and in about half a second he gave me the courage to go out the door and not feel like a complete failure.  This is the impact you can have on someone, mom's with melting down children (and even with happy children) are as easy to encourage as they are to deflate - they just need a little understanding and compassion, and a little  patience with them doesn't hurt either. 
    Parent's with young children are not the only ones out there who need encouragement, we're just the easiest to spot!  Having these positive experiences has encouraged me to look out for that person in need of a little boost.  Maybe it's someone who looks a little down and I take the time to compliment their outfit, or the checker who's frazzled from a busy day and rude customers.  All it takes is a moment to turn around someone's day, in the store and out.  While it's often easy to overt your gaze or make a neutral to negative comment to someone who seems to be struggling, I would encourage you to take just a moment to A) notice these people and B) make a comment that simply let's them know you care. Or simply smile. This is huge. Sometimes it's all I need to see. 
     You never know how much those words might mean to that person.  And when you're having a hard day yourself and just can't handle anything else and you see "that" family coming towards you in the isle and you just can't face it,  rather than responding negatively I'd encourage you go to another isle and come back later! Sometimes I wish I could switch isles (or lanes) too, but I don't have that choice. You do.  You're welcome.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Letting go of bitterness

   Lately I have been thinking a lot about bitterness, and how it eats away at us.  Probably most of us have met someone we would describe as a "bitter or resentful" person and I seriously doubt that you think of them as a particularly pleasant person.  No one has goals of becoming bitter, it's not something we strive towards.  You never hear someone say, "I wish I was more patient, and strong, bitter."  Just the word brings unpleasant thoughts to mind (unless referring to beer, and even then it's matter of taste.)  The interesting thing about bitterness is that it usually starts as a hurt or wrong towards this person.  You would think that since they are the victim, not the aggressor, that they would feel justified in their "righteous anger,"that it would be a fair response to poor treatment.  Often we do feel justified in our anger and resentment, but that justification doesn't bring with it the health we seek, instead it brings just the opposite.   It brings a corruption of spirit that destroys us from the inside out.
    So, where does bitterness and resentment come from and how can we stop it?  The answer is both simple and extremely complex.  I believe that we can only get rid of bitterness by doing what we refused to do in the first place, by forgiving.  I think sometimes we feel that a person doesn't deserve forgiveness, and they probably don't, but that is not the point.  It's not really about them, it's about us and where our hearts are at.
      In Matthew 6:14-15 it says "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."  
       That's pretty intense.  Harsh even, one might say.  However, I don't think that God says this just because he wants to be mean, I think we says it because when we live with unforgiveness in our lives we invite evil to live inside us and he physically cannot be around evil, it is against his nature.  If we want to be people filled with Love it it is imminent that we be free of unforgiveness. 
        Forgiveness is hard.  It can be painful because it requires us to bring up past hurts and to let them go.  I have often heard people say "If you knew what I've been through you wouldn't ask me to forgive them" but I think that speaks even more of the need to forgive.  The bigger the thing we are holding onto the more power it has over us.
      Here's the problem though.  We might know we need to forgive, we might even be willing to forgive, but we just don't know how to do it.  We all know that true forgiveness is much more than saying the words "I forgive you."  It's unlocking those hurts and digging them out by the roots.  I think we start with the words and then ask the holy spirit to change our hearts.
       What if you are still being hurt by this person?  That's a tricky situation.  I think it's important to differentiate between forgiving and trusting.  We are called to forgive everyone, but we are not called to trust everyone.  Sometimes forgiveness means that while we forgive someone we still must remove ourselves from this cancerous relationship.  It might be temporary, or it might be permanent.  I think sometimes all we can do after we have forgiven, and offered this forgiveness to them if necessary, is to pray for them.  It may seem like it would take a miracle, but God is in the practice of miracles.  He also is the King of restoration.  He loves to fix broken things and broken people and to make them whole.  And that is something worth rejoicing over. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Appreciating Progress

   I have been beyond blessed to have four wonderful children.  These children mean the world to me, and yet they have the uncanny ability to make compassionate, kind, caring me really, really mad.  The other day, for example, Stirling was dishing out his own snack during preschool.  He had four carrot sticks, three crackers and two apple slice and was reaching for more when I told him he couldn't have more apples until he ate what was already on his placemat, a rule he already knows.  He was enraged.  Then he continued for the next twenty minutes to not eat any of his snack and throw a huge tantrum while I stuck by what I had said.  In the end he somehow got over it and moved on, I was outwardly pretty cool but inside I was ticked and extremely annoyed. This was the third tantrum of the day and all while the other two children  (several others were sick that day) sat by and watched.
     Lately I have found myself growing quicker to anger than normal.  Dismayed at this self-discovery, I decided to take some time to pray about it.  For the past several months I have been studying James 1:19 "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."    The last few months?  You might ask. Didn't you just say that recently you've been struggling with anger?  Yes, yes I did.  Is it surprising that having read this verse many, many times I still have a tendency to fly off the handle?  Perhaps not.  We all know that reading a verse and knowing what we should do mean nothing  if we do not actively apply them to our lives.  Anger is a tricky one because it often comes as a reaction, we need to train our reactions to do something that is unnatural to our human nature, and that is a hard, yet not impossible, thing to do.  I believe that this is where the holy spirit comes in.  Where I live my life is such a way that I am not trying to do things on my own strength, but allowing the holy spirit to work in me, to slow me down and help me to listen.  Deep breathing helps a lot with this.  I do a lot of deep breathing these days.  So now you might ask, if you do a lot of deep breathing these days and slowing yourself down why do you say you're still struggling in this area of anger?  I'll tell you why, it's because it's a process.  We, as American's and perhaps as humans in general don't like processes.  We like instant gratification.  We don't want to be patient, we want results!  And we have trouble seeing the progress we are making, which often causes us to become discouraged.  We live in a pass/fail culture.  Either you are successful or you are not.  You pass the class or you fail the class.  You're a good guy, or a bad guy - yet we know that in most areas of our lives this is not really true.  We are on a journey as people, as parents, as children, and as friends and coworkers.  We tend to look at the situations where we have not responded as well as we wish we had and feel frustrated, discouraged and dissapointed with ourselves.  In general, seeing situations thus does not encourage us to overcome the next time but tends to spiral us down in feeling of overall negativity and self doubt.   This is where we must retrain ourselves to see things in a different way, to see the progress we do make rather than simply seeing our failures. 
      As I have written about before, I am currently working to lose weight and get healthier.  This is a journey, one with us and downs.  So much of this journey is affected by not just the things I do physically, but where I am at mentally.  The other day I was looking at current photos of myself and feeling a little discouraged. I have been working out regularly for six months now and still feel I have a long way to go (because I do) before I get to a really healthy place for my body.  As I was thinking about this I had to stop myself, this wasn't helpful. What was helpful?  To look at how far I have come.  I have lost 20 lbs, slowly, it's true, but I have continued to lose weight.  More than that, I am getting strong, and I feel so much better about myself.  So, while I do have a long way to go, I choose to dwell on how far I have come rather than what I have yet to do. This is the attitude we should have in all areas of our lives.  Looking for forward movement and being encouraged to keep going.  Instead of dwelling on all the times I've given in and gotten angry and yelled at my children, I am choosing to see all the times I have chosen not to.  I choose to remember the times that I have taken deep breaths and slowed myself down instead of reacting to situations.  (Even as I write this I am ignoring a tantrum my son is throwing, having told him that when he calms down for twenty minutes I will build a block castle with him. This is not easy for me to do, yet it is working.) I choose to remember the times that I have slowed myself down in my busy day and taken the time to play with my children or read a book to them.  I choose to love them in spite of their temper tantrums and so I choose to love myself in spite of my sometimes negative responses to these temper tantrums.  I choose to see myself how my heavenly Father sees me, someone on a journey.  A journey learning to love as he loves and listen as he listens.  I refuse to start a downward cycle every time I give in to anger.  I choose to ask for forgiveness and move on, loving these children, and my spouse, on this journey of life.
James 1:2-5 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 its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
      What a great reminder that all of these trials are not for naught and that we are not alone.  Give yourself grace, ask for wisdom and continue to love those around you, regardless of how they respond to you.  We can only control ourselves, but our responses do effect others one way or another.   Happy Holidays my friends, and may the struggles of this season not get the best of you!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Lessons I've learned through marriage

     This past summer I went to several bridal showers, and one thing that happens at most bridal showers is that they ask women who've been married for a while to write down a piece of advice for the couple.  They do this, because anyone who's been in a relationship (and even those who haven't) knows that relationships are tricky and any tips and tricks you've figured out for yourself might be able to give this couple a little boost.  It's a great idea, however I often sit there thinking "What's a piece of advice I've learned...I've been married 9 years, should have figured out something....what's just one thing....drawing a blank here."   Usually I come up with something in the end, sometimes I don't.  Mostly I think this is because it's hard to be put on the spot, but also I think that sometimes in order to give advice we feel as though we have to have it all figured out and that's just not true. You never "figure it all out" we are all growing and learning new things all the time, and relationships are no different.
      So after the last time this happened I sat down to think about it a little bit.  I know that I've learned a lot of helpful things along the way, so what are they.  If I can't cognitively remember the things I've learned, how am I supposed to remember them in the heat of frustration?  So, for my own sake, I made a list.  And for the sake of anyone in any kind of relationship I've decided to share that list.  No promises it will be helpful to you, but here it is.

1.  Make an effort to appreciate each other's hobbies.  Notice the language here.  You don't have to love, or even enjoy your spouses hobbies, but if you put a little effort into learning about them you might surprise yourself.  At the very least, try not to roll your eyes and resent them when they come up.  A few months after Seth and I first got married I commented that we never just sat and talked anymore.  To my surprise,  he said to me "I know. You're not interested in the things I'm interested in."  Seth really enjoys working on old cars (not cool old cars, ugly old cars) and not being a mechanically minded person, the whole subject bored me to death.  After he said that though, I decided to make an effort.  I asked questions, I watched youtube videos with him.  I learned what a transfer case was, I learned how to tell if a truck is a 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton or 1 ton and so on (oh how I always wanted to know that!) and now I love cars...Oh wait, no, I don't.  However, now that I understand more I am not near as bored when he talks about them.  I can picture a little bit what he's talking about, I can respect his interest and I can get excited with him.   I don't hate watching car shows, though they're not my first pick. Now that I have more knowledge I can also veto expensive unnecessary car parts without much argument.  More importantly, because I made an effort to care about what he cares about, he did the same to me, and we found ourselves naturally talking to each other again about the things we were excited about, both individual and shared interests.

2.  This one comes off of the first, but it's worth mentioning.  Find the hobbies you enjoy doing together and focus on those.  Don't have any?  Create some.  Seth and I both love the outdoors, but you really have to plan that or it doesn't happen. We decided to camp once a month all year long.  And we did. This is how, we pulled out the calendar in January and marked off 12 weekends.  If something came up later in the year (which happened much less often then you'd think) we would simply re-schedule it.  We got the stuff together we needed to camp comfortably for us and our children (at the time it was only one child) and we had a blast.  After two years we found ourselves going just because we said we'd go and realized winter tent camping isn't for the faint of heart, and wasn't our favorite family activity, so we changed it to once a month (or more) May through September.  What happened is that we created a camping culture in our family and it's stuck.  Our children love getting out in the woods and so do we.  
    Another hobby we've taken up is bow hunting.  Well, Seth has.  I've never been a hunter and I'm still not, but when Seth got a bow and started target shooting a lot we quickly realized that this could be very time consuming but that archery could be something our whole family could do together.  Especially since we live out of town and can shoot our bows on our property it's become a shared activity we all enjoy, even the kids.  I find it very stress relieving to go outside and shoot my bow,  even just for 15 minutes or so.  Once they get better I think the kids will really like it, right now they enjoy it for about ten minutes.  Hobbies can draw you together or push you apart.  They take time, money, and energy.  They are important but shouldn't isolate you from each other too much.  It's totally fine to have hobbies you do alone, but talk to each other to find a balance of your activities, their activities and shared activities.  I think this becomes even more important when children to come into the picture, specifically for women, because children can unintentionally become their only hobby and that's both overwhelming and unhealthy.  We all need a break sometimes.

3.  Learn your spouses love language.  If you're not familiar with the five love languages I would highly recommend the book "The five love languages" (go figure) by Gary Chapman.  At the very least I'd suggest taking the free online quiz.  The idea is that we all feel love in different ways and we all show love in different ways.  For me, Quality time, Gift giving and Acts of Service are very high, while words of affirmation is low and Physical touch is virtually non-existent.  Seth however is highest in Physical touch.  You can see how this could be a problem, mostly if I was not aware of it (which I wasn't for about five years.)  Naturally we tend to show love how we receive it, but not only is it not helpful, it can be detrimental.  I would be sweeping the kitchen at the end of the day and Seth would come up, stop me, and give me a hug.  I literally thought he was trying to sabotage me.  He had no clue why I was frustrated, he was just trying to say "I love you."  Now I still fight the urge to be annoyed when my productivity is squashed by an embrace, but I recognize his goal is to show me love.  Also, he tries to remember this and helps out more than he used to.  If we continually spend time and energy to show love in ways our spouse does not appreciate we will feel frustrated and annoyed, and they will still feel unloved and in some cases, feel unknown.

4. Don't ask questions to trap your spouse.  This comes up most often during arguments, and it's most commonly (but not exclusively) done by women.  Questions like these, "Don't you love me anymore?"  "Do you think I'm fat?" People joke about stuff like this, but honestly It's not funny if you're holding a grudge.  If there's no good answer than it's a trap and it's detrimental to your marriage.  No good can come of it.  I have only done this once.  We had been married less than a year and we were arguing about something and I was feeling hurt.  I turned to him and asked "Are you sorry you married me?"  There was a pause.  Then he said no, but it was too late, the pause was too long.  For a moment I felt justified in my pain, he doesn't care about me the way he used to! Then, clearer than I ever have I heard the Lord before, I heard him tell me (not audibly) "Don't do that ever again." It was as though he'd spoken it out loud.   Don't ask questions in anger that have no good answer, all they bring is hurt.  They never help anything.  Seth had paused because he was mad, not because he didn't love me and not because he was sorry he married me. I had wanted to wallow in self-pity, but it was not helpful.  If it's not going to bring life to your marriage, don't ask it.

5.  Go to bed at the same time.   This is actually a piece of advice some friends gave us right before we got married and it has served us well.  There are times when we don't go to bed at the same time under special circumstances, but in  general, we do.  It's such a positive connecting time, some of our best conversations have happened when we were going to bed.

6.  Don't have serious discussions after 9pm.  I have heard people say not after 8, but since our kids don't go to bed until 8 that's not practical for us and as long as it's before 9:30 or 10 it usually goes well.  The key here, no matter the hour is to not be having serious discussions when you are really tired.  You become more sensitive, less logical and much more reactive when you are tired.  If you find yourselves going in circles take moment to stop and see if you can peacefully agree to come back to the subject at another time.  Sometimes we find that in the morning it's actually not even an issue anymore, we were simply feeling exhausted overworked and under appreciated by one another and in the morning we could see that we were both doing all that we could and that sometimes being a grown up (and especially a parent) is just plain hard, but it looks better with rest.

7.  Take time to share with each other how you process information.  If you haven't already done this in some way I would encourage you to.  Seth and I already knew we processed things differently but a few years ago on a road trip we had a long discussion about it, and discovered a lot.  I am a verbal processor, I have to sort things out as I am saying them most of the time.  Often times I repeat what I have said several times, changing it just slightly.  This is not just to make a point, it's because I'm editing myself.  I might say something and realize that's not quite what I meant and restate it.  Or I might say the exact same thing twice, the second time is me reiterating that's what I meant.  Seth does all this processing mentally.  It's like he has a big chalkboard in his head and he's sorting everything out before he says it.  Just thinking about trying to do this makes my head hurt.  Two very different styles, but now that we know, at least in a nutshell, how the other person thinks we have much more grace for one another.

8. When you feel drained, don't be a martyr.  Think about what you need or what would be helpful, specifically, and ask for it.  If we don't know what the other person needs it's very hard to help them.

9.  Frequently take time to remember the things you love about your spouse.  Tell them these things.  Encourage one another.  It's easy to get so busy doing life that you start to feel more like coworkers than spouses.  Don't make this mistake.  When it seems the hardest to find time to enjoy one another, that's when you need it the most.  Never stop making each other a priority.

So there you have it, these are just a few of the many lessons of learned this past decade.  If you have any nuggets of wisdom you've picked up I'd love to hear them as well