Saturday, August 29, 2015

The grace of God in my life - received daily

"Today I feel inadequate.  I feel tired, sad and overwhelmed.  Today I don't want to be mom.  I don't want to clean my house, put stuff away, set up the tent (which is wet from camping) or settle arguments.   I definitely don't want to get out the paint spinner Mikaiah is begging me to play with.
      I don't want to explain why I did something totally stupid (set up the tent in the wrong order - which as stated before I didn't want to do in the first place - and broke a pole.)  
      I don't want to cook dinner, think about cooking dinner, (not to mention lunch) and I don't want to talk to anyone under the age of 20.  Today I want to be selfish and disappear and not do anything.  But I won't .  I will pick myself up and take care of my children and my house."
     This is a journal entry I wrote this past monday at 10 am.  I had woken up early to have quiet time, and my children woke up ten minutes later.  I had not put away camping stuff or cleaned up from the day before (unusual for me, but I was too tired) and thus had a large mess and even bigger list of "to do's" than normal.  At this point in the day I was completely discouraged.  Then, as I was writing that last sentence a friend knocked on the door.  She had come to ask if I could babysit her daughter, but upon seeing me changed her mind and prayed for me instead.  Later a good friend came by with her girls (who entertained mine) and encouraged me as well. This is the grace of God in my life. Not that I am superhuman, or that I always have everything under control, but that he gives me the grace to do what I need to do and then blesses me abundantly on top of it - if I have the eyes to see it.
       My day was not perfect from then on out, my children still argued and I spilled an entire box of baking soda on the kitchen floor, but I was strengthened from within and that was just what I needed that day.  So glad to know I am never, ever alone.  
       Please note that I do not like sharing my flaws with everyone, I would rather pretend I have it all together, but that's not reality and I think we all need to know at times that we are not alone.  We are all flawed and that's okay, because we have a perfect savior.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Rising above mediocrity

    All my life I have been an average girl.  Average, or just above average in pretty much everything I did.  Now before you think I'm cocky let me tell you there are a lot of things that I am way below average at, but have never really pursued, even if I've done them from time to time.  For example, pretty much anything musical would go in that category, though I do love music and appreciate it from afar.  I was an average student, athlete, and game player.  I played a lot of sports but wasn't great at any of them.  I actually swam for 8 years, but always leveled at the top of the JV and bottom of the Varsity.   I have never been super popular, but always had good friends I could rely on.  I like games, but don't always win, nor do I feel I have to.  I have never been a prefectionist, and I don't really want to be one, though the ability to do quality work when I choose to is something I am working on.  I like being okay with "a good effort," that is usually enough for me. I have never considered myself competitive, but the truth is that I would rather be okay with losing than put in the effort needed to win.  I have never been described as thin or super fit, but most of my growing up years I was pretty strong and for a while had pretty sweet biceps (thank you swim team for that)  and I was okay with that.
      There is absolutely nothing wrong with being average or mediocre at some things, however, I have found that I have become so "okay" with not ever doing anything really well that I have lost all drive to do better.  I will push hard to reach a goal, to get to that above average spot, and then I would coast.  I remember realizing that I could swim my entire two hour practice without ever getting really winded or pushing myself.  I could have kept on swimming for another two hours, I was just coasting along.  While this takes a lot of work to achieve, it should not however have been my goal.  When you stop pushing yourself, you stop improving, and when you stop improving, inevitably you begin to slip.     
      Lately I have been feeling the building affects of years of "slipping" coming down on me, in several areas of my life.   When I lived in Bend, Oregon I was single, I lived with active roommates, in an extremely active community.  Going cross country skiing, hiking or rock climbing were second nature.  I loved it.  I kept myself busy, but not too busy.  I worked as a nanny, I hung out with my friends, I had quiet evenings to journal and spend time with the Lord, and I was aware of the food I put into my body.   In short, I was living a pretty healthy life.
       Fast forward six years, one husband, three children and lots of legitimate excuses and I struggle just to go for regular walks with my kids.  It's a lot of work to wrangle three kiddos in between nap times, meal times, and errands.  I go through phases where I do really great, I go to the gym, I ride bikes, I rid myself of eating evil sugar and carbs, and I feel great.  Usually however, I get burnt out.  After a month or two (and possibly another pregnancy or child later)  I shut down completely.  I'm just going to "take a short break" I say.  I run on high and short circuit, often leaving myself feeling the same or worse than before.  Every time I try again I struggle to push all of those past failures out of my head.  Every. Single. Time.  Man that's hard.  Failure seems to be my worst enemy and my biggest fear.  If you're not going to succeed, why try? Right?  It takes a lot of effort to try.
     This is where I find myself these days, struggling with the will to go past being borderline unhealthy and inactive (physically and spiritually. ) Struggling to push myself to risk failing...again.  I wish that I could isolate these areas in my life.  That I could be failing in one area, such as eating well, but would be super active and could make up the lack.  Or at least that I could be focusing on what the Lord is showing me in my life and spending time listening to him, even if I wasn't very active.  Somehow though, all these disciplines seem linked together for me.  When I spend time with the Lord, I am more motivated to exercise, and when I exercise I am more motivated to eat well, and when I do all these things, I am a kinder, more understanding mother, wife, and friend. The reverse is also true.  So why do I spend so much time on the downward spiral?  In a world that thrives on instant gratification being disciplined and pushing oneself, while admired, are not things we tend to strive towards.  Too much work.  We are always looking for short cuts.  The problem with using too many short cuts is that eventually you forget how not to use them, and when you try to do something the hard way you often find that you don't know how.
    So where does that leave me?  I have trained myself to "just get by" and now that I know I need to change I barely know where to start.  Ahhhh! But we are not alone!  Today I was reading in Ephesians 3:14-21 and it says " For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
      I do not need to give up!  I do not need to fail.  If he who created this earth has strengthened me in my inner being than I need to embrace the call of God on my life, to be healthy spiritually and physically so that I can love and serve others to the best of my ability.   If I give all that I am to my children and to the people around me, but have nothing left to push myself to be where I need to be than my balance is off and something needs to change.  Right now the first thing I'm changing is the focus I have put on the lie that I will never succeed.  I cast that off and step one foot at a time, staring down my weaknesses and pushing myself past this mediocre place in which I have settled.  Today I went for a swim, and that was a start.  A small start, but a start.  So please, if you see me falter and start to settle, encourage me onward.  I don't need you to give me excuses why it's okay not to push myself (I have enough excuses on my own.) I know I can do more. I know that he who is in me is greater than my weaknesses.   I just need a gentle push and maybe someone to come beside me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Love one another

     Every day I do a thousand things over and over and many of them  undo themselves faster than I can turn around.  As a mother of three almost nothing is easy, and there is no such thing as a "quick errand."  Unless of course I happen to be going by myself, which happens about as often as the solar eclipse.  While these trips with my children may not be quick, I have pretty much mastered the art of child wrangling while running whatever errands I may have to do.  With one child in the Ergo baby carrier, another often on my shoulders and the third held tightly by the hand I am quite the site to behold.
     To some I may look like a three ring circus (believe me, I do get those looks a lot) but to many women (and some men) I am just another mom in the same position they're in, or in a position they have been in in the past.   Hungry children, but groceries to buy.  Tired babies, and packages to send, etc.  Even with all these skills however, even the greatest of mothers loses it at times.  Sometimes it is just. too. much.   My needs are often pretty obvious to those around me, screaming children or arm loads of groceries and a child yelling they have to go to the bathroom are hard to miss.   I often find compassionate people willing to help me, especially those who have been there before.  They offer to load groceries, take my cart back for me, let me go ahead in line, or even just offer a sympathetic gaze as my child loses it.  (Hypothetically speaking of course, since my children are of course angels.)  Whether or not I accept these acts of kindness (I usually do) they are greatly appreciated.   Knowing someone is standing in the gap, caring and reaching out, especially when they don't even know me, is huge.  It encourages me and gives me strength when I need it most. 
       A while back while watching another parent struggle with their load of children/groceries/etc. I remember thinking "I have my arms too full to help now, but I hope that when I am out of this stage of life I will look for these situations and offer a helping hand."   I see these situations often, and am aware of them more than many people because I can so easily relate.   But here's the thing, this is not the first time I have struggled.  (Shocker!) When I was a single person living in Switzerland I struggled to make friends, to learn the language, and to be known by the people around me.  I told myself, when I get home I will look for people in those situations and will reach out to them.  When I returned to the states and moved into an apartment with a friend while working as a nanny I had lots of friends around me, but I struggled to pay the bills or to have extra money to go get coffee with friends.  I also struggled with loneliness at times and lack of vision for my life, but I tried to help out others in my own situation.  I would get up early to meet with a friend going through a hard time or buy a special "just because" gift to someone feeling low.
   Before all of this I struggled in high school as well. I struggled to keep up with my homework, social life, and work.  I was so busy that sometimes I longed for someone to just come and force me to slowdown and enjoy an afternoon laying in a hammock or maybe go for a drive to the beach.
    I could go on, as could we all, with the different times in our lives and the different struggles that accompanied each.  I can't even remember most of these struggles and as such it would be hard for me to recognize them in others.  As an 18 year old with a job I was often very willing to help out my younger, jobless friends and drive them around town or pay for them to go to a movie with me.  I did this because I empathized with them.  I could remember what that felt like.  Now I look at people in those same situations and think, "Well maybe you should get a job then so you can have a car and drive yourself!" or whatever the case may be.   I don't want to keep forgetting the struggles I have gone through and only helping those who are in a similar situations as myself, I want to see people for who they are and for what they need, not what I think they need.  This is how we love one another.   I don't want to keep waiting until it is convenient for me to help others or it will never happen.  I want to give sacrificially, love deeply and share generously.  I want to be able to look at the person in front of me and see them as God sees them, not how facebook sees them.   I want to walk day by day with compassion and understanding, serving more than I am being served.  In doing so I believe I will not only be fulfilling the Lord's commandment  "You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27" but I will also be touching the lives of those around me, and in turn my own.  Sometimes the things we struggle with aren't obvious, people don't like to talk about their weaknesses, neither do I.  They make us vulnerable and that can be uncomfortable, but by opening ourselves up and being vulnerable, letting others help us as well as helping others there is healing and there is life.  It is a good thing to have those you can trust in your life, and being someone people can trust is a good place to start.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Extraordinary changes in ordinary life

It is 5:00 am and I am awake.  This is due in large part to the 38 week old child with a case of the hiccups that I happen to be carrying at this particular time, but is aided by the general discomfort that this condition gives me.  I would rather be asleep right now, but instead of fighting it I decided to take advantage of it and do a little writing.
       The past few months have been a bit of a haze, filled with getting ready to move, house sitting, moving, settling in, birthdays, and the day to day raising of two little girls all covered over with the impending birth of this child and all that this brings.  It's a crazy, busy, exciting, exhausting time (which, for the past few years, seems to just repeat itself and never really end) but I am trying to enjoy it.
        I have an incredible support system of friends and family around me and am ever reminded of the amazing community the Lord has placed me in.  These past few weeks as the waiting game has really begun and my discomfort has become ever more apparent I have felt it even more.  I am in the midst of some amazing people and I know it.
         As I face life day by day I often feel like I'm simply treading water.  Not in the I'm going to drown kind of sense, but more in the I'm not really going anywhere or doing anything of significance on a day to day basis.  For example, yesterday was taken up almost entirely by washing, drying, folding, sorting and putting away laundry.  The. entire. day.  Until 11 pm.  No kidding.  Interspersed with meal prep, clean up, the care of the my children and husband, random errands and a lovely visit from a friend of mine and her three little boys.  This is not uncommon.  The thing is, other than a cranky 21 month old who didn't sleep during her afternoon nap, it wasn't a bad day.  It was just an ordinary day where I focused on me, my family and my home the whole day.  The problem I am finding however is that being so inner focused (something our society actually encourages many times, putting yourself and your family above all others) is not something that is very fulfilling to me.  It causes me to feel like my time is wasted and, if it's a bad day and things didn't go well, that I am failing in most of my life (since this IS my life right now.)  Now whether you're a stay at home mom, a working parent, a student,  or have no family but just work (or whatever stage of life you're in) I think it's common to feel this way.  That we just keep going through the same motions and end up feeling a little futile.
        As Christians, I believe that we are called to live for more than just ourselves.  I believe that we are called to serve others and to daily love those around us selflessly.  Easier said than done.  But we have one great example of this, Jesus.  Sometimes when I look at the life of Jesus and think about following him I only see the last three years of his life (because that's mostly what the bible covers) and how every day all day he was traveling around on a 24/7 ministry, which looks very different from my life.  However, I must remember that for the first 30 years he was an (almost, but not quite) normal person living life in the daily grind, just like you and I.  He was a carpenter, and yet because of his steadfastness  and unchanging character I have a feeling that he was all of the serving, loving, compassionate person who lived beyond himself and focused on others even before his ministry officially began.  This is what I need to remember.  I am not waiting for my life to begin to start focusing more on the people around me than I do on myself.
        The question remains however, how do I do this?  As I have been pondering this lately the answer (as pointed out by a good friend of mine) is actually quite simple.  You start with where you are and look for the people in front of you, and then simply ask the Lord what he would have you to do. (I said it was simple, I didn't say it was easy.)   The past few weeks I have really tried to do this, and have been incredibly encouraged.  What does this look like for me?  Well, it looks much the same as my life did before.  Waking up, feeding my children.  Checking facebook and noticing a friend needs a babysitter for a few hours and volunteering to meet that need.  Cleaning my house and getting ready to run to the store, talking to a neighbor as I leave who happens to be sick and offering to pick up groceries.  At the store making eye contact with the cashier and sincerely asking about them (without being on the phone, completely distracted by my children, or too focused on the things I have to do that day to hear what they have to say in response, and to care.)  Now many of these things I have been doing for years, off and on that is.  I am a fairly thoughtful person (or try to be) and these things can come naturally to me, when I am in the mood.  The difference is that when things aren't going well or I feel overwhelmed they are usually the first to go, leaving me feeling even more self focused and overwhelmed by the everyday than normal.  (I am not someone struggling with depression, nor do I feel my life is pointless, so please don't take this the wrong way, I am simply a normal person who has a tendency to get overwhelmed by the everyday and feel as though I am always waiting for "life" to begin.)  The past few weeks have really been changing how I feel about this because of one big change.  Intentionality.  Instead of just letting this awareness of others happen when it feels convenient I have simply started looking for the person/situation in front of me and asking the Lord what I should do about it.  The most encouraging thing of this whole "experiment" for me has been that I don't have to take on more things in my already busy life, I simply have to look for the opportunities that are already there.  This is something every single one of us can do, no matter where we're at or what state of life we're in.  That is something I find very empowering and effective.  It is also something I continually benefit by as the people around me do the same.  So whether I'm folding laundry and receive a phone call from a friend in need of some advice or even just empathy, or whether I'm in the hospital holding my new son and am interacting with a nurse having a rough shift I will try to focus more on what the Lord has for me to do in that situation than what that situation has for me.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Overcoming that things that stifle us

      I never cease to be amazed at how much our physical circumstances affect us mentally and emotionally.  I simply can't seem to separate these areas from one another, no matter how hard I may try.
    For the past 3 1/2 years Seth and I have been living in a little 600 sq ft trailer near downtown Corvallis.  Although the idea of living in a trailer had never been a dream of mine, when we decided to move in with our then 3 month old daughter Mikaiah it seemed like a perfect, low budget fit.  And for a time it was.  We enjoyed getting to know our sometimes quirky neighbors, being a part of a community garden and having "river front property."  Those were good days.  Even from the beginning though space was a bit of an issue, not much storage or places to put things, but we made it work.  Fast forward two years and another child later and it was beginning to wear on us.  With a baby and a toddler running around I found myself slowly going crazy while the amount of baby stuff/toys/tools/other things we accumulated continued to grow until we knew we were going to have to leave.   Fortunately some good friends of ours who had just bought a fixer upper in Philomath were planning on leaving the cute 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home (also in Philomath, just 3 miles from Corvallis) they had been living in, right next to some other friends of ours.  How perfect!  Unfortunately as remodels sometimes (often) do it ended up taking longer (much longer) than expected.  One move in date got changed to another and with the anticipation of moving already there the space we were occupying no longer felt just "small" it felt stifling.  The Lord is faithful though and he never gives us more than we can handle.  We were blessed with a big house to house sit in for a month over Christmas giving us a much needed break, and then just a few weeks after we had returned to our trailer were finally able to move into our new home.  Sitting here in our nice spacious living room I feel my entire body relax and I finally feel as though I can breathe again.  We are still getting things put away and organized, but we have enough done to be able to truly enjoy our new space.  We were also very blessed with lots of help from friends and family as we packed, cleaned, painted, moved, unpacked, and cleaned once again.   Not to mention all those that generously watched our girls while we were doing the aforementioned things.  It feels so nice to be settling in, but even more than that it's so encouraging to know how many people are surrounding us (and have been for a long time.)  I am so used to this wonderful little community we have that I often forget how many people do not have people surrounding them, and then I try to be even more grateful and aware than I already am.   Thank you friends! 
      As I have been pondering these things, it has made me think about all the many areas of our lives that have the same effect on us that that small trailer had on me.  Whether it's work that is all consuming, or needy relationships, or even being burdened by too many possesions or financial debt, that are so many different things that the enemy uses to overwhelm and restrict us so that their burden weighs down on us so much so that it runs into every area of our lives, bringing with it a suffocating fog and keeping us from living life fully.  Unfortunately, since it is often not as obvious as a house you have clearly outgrown, many times we don't even realize what it is doing to us until we are either already "waste deep" or until we have somehow found our way out.  We were not meant to live this way however, whether it's physically, mentally or emotionally and if we let him, the Lord will (and does) free us from the things we have gotten ourselves so overcome by, we just have to be willing to take that first step and recognize the problem and then continue to work at it until it is resolved, no matter how long it may take.  We also have to be willing to accept his help in whatever form it comes, be it good advice from a good friend on a touchy subject, or physical help paying bills, whatever it is I am convinced that if we want to move past the fog we've found ourselves in we must first accept help in whatever form i is sent.  Easier said than done, I know, but always, always worth it.