Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Back at 2013

The week after Christmas is my favorite week of the year. There is something so satisfying about settling into the quiet with my family after the busy holiday season, cleaning and organizing my house, and preparing my heart and mind for a new year. For me, a big part of this is to look back at the past year-- the challenges and the joys. It is always amazing to see how far we've come.

This has been a year of changes. Although, as I get older, I am finding that most years fit that description. I'm also finding myself less afraid of change, because even though it can certainly be scary at first, I have learned that change can always lead to growth. Even the most difficult circumstances can bring valuable change and growth; in fact, I wonder if these are the circumstances that bring the most growth!

So, here's a look back at our year:

Unfortunately, our family's year has been bookended with illness. We started the year with the norovirus that wouldn't quit (although it finally did after I bleached my house!), and we've spent the last couple of months with various ear and sinus infections, stomach bugs, and the flu. I think we're finally on the road to recovery, though. Hopefully 2014 will be a healthier year for us all.

I spent all of 2013 as a master's student, and I've (mostly) loved it. I'm officially halfway through my program now! If there was any shred of doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a school counselor, it was quickly put to rest when I began my school observations in the fall. I particularly fell in love with the elementary school kids, which came as a surprise to me considering I had always assumed I would work with teenagers. My classes have really energized me as far as my personal interests that tie into school counseling; I have greatly enjoyed learning more about counseling theories, child development, education, and working with those in poverty.

A big change came for me as a parent, as all three kids are now in some form of school. If you had told me a few years ago this is what we'd be doing now, I would have quite frankly been horrified. I've realized that for a couple years there, I rode around on my high horse fed by ideals, without taking into much consideration how realistic and beneficial my ideals actually were for me and my family. I had it in my head that the only way I could personally be a "good enough" parent was to be a stay-at-home mom.

I finally admitted to myself that while being a stay-at-home mom is truly an amazing thing for many moms and their kids, I am actually a better parent when I'm not at home full-time. I'm more capable of being patient, focused on the moment, consistent, and authoritative. So the kids are in school; Elijah (11) is in fifth grade, Isaac (5) is in pre-k at Elijah's school, and Joshua (2) is attending the Montessori school. This has also been necessary for me to be able to focus on my school responsibilities such as doing school observations.

Lesson learned here? Ideals are good, as long as they are balanced with the realistic needs of the family and each person in it. We are all truly thriving now, and I'm thrilled!

Some other major events of the year:

I participated in my first 5k in March: Color Me Rad. Then I didn't run another step. Gotta get back to that...

In June, my husband and I went out of town together without children for the first time in six years, and only the second time in a dozen years of marriage. It was just one night in Nashville, but it was really lovely. I hope we'll be able to take another trip together soon.

 In August, the church we were part of for six and a half years stopped meeting. You can read more about that here. We've found another church that we like quite a bit, but we haven't been able to attend much recently because of sickness. That's something I definitely want to change going into the new year.

In November, Clark was admitted into the nursing program, and he'll start nursing school in a couple of weeks.

We celebrated twelve years of marriage in December! We have been through a lot in twelve years, and I'm so glad we've been through it together. I wouldn't trade my husband for anyone, that's for sure. :)

My hair grew a lot. Maybe that seems like a silly thing to include in my post, but it's a big deal for me after swearing for years that I would never grow my hair out again. ;) For comparison, here I am at the beginning of the year, and now. I can't wait to see how much longer it is by the end of 2014!

Gotta brag about my kiddos a little bit, too:

Elijah was invited to a Lego STEM camp at the local community college during his fall break, which he loved. He got the opportunity because his science and math test scores are so high. So, I guess this is one of those times where I will actually have to say hooray for standardized testing...

Elijah also started an after-school program for academically talented kids, and he chose to participate in a music class. The kids learned to play various percussion instruments and performed at the school's Christmas concert. He looks forward to continuing to learn more about music!

Isaac played his first organized sport this year: pee-wee basketball at the Y. He had lots of fun! He's also loved being in pre-k this year.

As for Joshua, he weaned in September at the age of 21 months. While it was somewhat bittersweet for my last baby to stop breastfeeding, I was ready for him to wean. I'm proud of how long we nursed! He's also loved being at Montessori and has done very well.

So there's a look back at 2013 in our household. I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store. I have a feeling it will be grand.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Several months ago, I began an attempt to write down things I am grateful for on little slips of paper, and thumbtack them to a cork board. It was meant to be a visual reminder of the large and small ways God has provided for me and my family. Unfortunately, it was a failed attempt because the board ended up getting buried under other stuff on my desk and I forgot about it. :-/ However, I'm getting ready to try it again, this time with the board hanging on a wall in a common room of the house so everyone can see and contribute to it. And no more thumbtacks and little slips of paper; ain't nobody got time for that. I'm just putting a posterboard over the cork board and we can write things directly on it with whatever is handy.

But as I think about praise, I realize there is so much more to it than I think about most of the time. It's not just about praise for material and financial provision, or for health-- although those are most certainly worthy of praise!

There is more.

Psalm 148 is a beautiful piece of poetry that talks about all of creation praising God. It starts by speaking of heavenly beings such as angels, then works its way down through nature itself: the sun, moon, and stars, the animals, the mountains, the trees, even the weather. And then humanity: the kings and rulers of the world, men and women, and finally children. Each aspect of creation is described as being created at the commandment of a God whose majesty is above both earth and heaven. And God's entire creation is poised to praise him.

But the imagery in the psalm takes on more meaning for me when I consider the heights and depths of the universe experienced by Christ: from the heavens all the way down to being a human infant, taking on flesh and blood, and experiencing temptation and suffering. God humbled himself to our position-- then gloriously defeated death. Hebrews 2 describes this so beautifully, with a reminder that Jesus destroyed the one who has power over death. The implications for our spiritual freedom and deliverance are enormous! This is certainly worthy of praise.

But there is, again, more.

This is where my mind is blown every time I think of it.

Presumably, Jesus could have stayed safe in the comfort of heaven, but he didn't. The act of coming to this world as a human being, taking on flesh and blood, suffering, and dying so we could be redeemed... this is such an amazing display of God's compassion, mercy, goodness, and love that I am nearly speechless when I try to fathom it.

The tendency toward sin is woven through humanity; it is egregious and tragic. But God, rather than being put off by it or throwing his hands up in the air and giving up on us, opted instead for marvelous grace, mercy, and compassion to make a way for us. Because stronger than our sinfulness, is God's love for us.

Let me try to put it in human terms I can wrap my head around more easily. It's like seeing my child fail repeatedly at meeting adult standards. As a parent, I see his limitations and immaturity, so rather than giving up on him or punishing him, I come alongside him to help him meet the standard. That's a very dumbed down explanation, but it's one I can easily understand.

The love of a parent toward his or her child is humble, self-sacrificing, compassionate, and merciful. This is a beautiful picture. When I blow it up to the proportions of a perfect creator and fallen humanity, it becomes that much more beautiful. 

Look at the love God has lavished on us. How amazing that God has made a way for redemption for people who are incapable of doing it on their own.

God responds to our failures and sins with compassion and mercy! Not with fury, disgust, punishment, or turning away from us. But why?

Because of the "abundance of his steadfast love" (Isaiah 63:7).

And that is worthy of praise.

If you are interested in reading along, the passages from the lectionary that inspired this post are: Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, and Matthew 2: 13-23. They can be read at

Friday, December 20, 2013


I have felt my personal Grinch level creeping higher and higher this holiday season. It seems as though time speeds up every year, so last Christmas doesn't feel like it was very long ago. Plus we have struggled financially this year, which makes it difficult to buy gifts for people. And then there is my increasing feeling that this Christmas thing has become so hollow that there is almost no point anymore. After all, at least the way we tend to celebrate it, it has become a social expectation and obligation. Buy stuff, bake cookies, eat food, go lots of places, and then do more and eat more and buy even more!

I once read someone talking about a store putting out merchandise for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all at once; she referred to the combination as Hallowgivingmas... pronounced "Hollow giving mess." And that is exactly what I have started to feel. Like I said in my last post, I have never been the kind of person who likes to do things just because I "should" or because that's "just how it's done." Tradition is fine and dandy as long as I can feel the meaning behind it. But celebrating a certain way simply because it's a cultural expectation... that doesn't really work for me because my heart isn't truly in it.

So I've been Grinchy.

At the same time, I feel the urge to rediscover the anticipatory feeling I once associated with this time of year. As I child, I recall feeling a sense of wonder around Christmastime. Sure, some if it had to do with the idea of Santa, because wouldn't it be so COOL to wake up just in time to hear sleigh bells in the sky or reindeer hooves on the roof? But more than that, it was a feeling that something special was happening. Something sacred. There was a different feeling in the air, a feeling that miracles could occur, a sense of awe and wonder.

I miss that and I want to feel it again.

So when I read through the first couple weeks of the Advent readings in the lectionary, it seemed to be exactly what I have needed. For the first time this season, I began to feel more anticipatory and hopeful-- which is a welcome reprieve from the stress and frustration I had been feeling!

For me, these readings have put words to what my heart already knew: it is time for me to wake up spiritually. I have let myself fall asleep the past few months, and it is time to awake from my slumber and prepare my heart for worship. Not just worship in the sense many people think of, such as praise and worship songs at church, but worship in the sense of recognizing and glorifying God with my life.

Around this time of year it is so easy to become distracted by material stuff and expectations that I forget about the peace and goodness inherent in this season. How often do I pray for peace in people's lives and hearts? How often do I do my part to bring peace by seeking the good of others? Not only doing doing good for others, but also intentionally focusing on the good I see and offering love and encouragement.

When I feel God's peace, joy, love, and hope, my heart is softened, my soul is stirred awake, and I am more prepared for worship. And this makes me wonder if I can help others feel the same by seeking their good and helping bring peace.

And that, for me, is exactly what this season is about. I lose focus on it too easily, but there it is. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. I look around and see so little of that sometimes; at other times, I see it everywhere. Maybe it just depends on what I'm looking for. But I know that when I see it, I again feel the wonder and sense of sacredness of this time of year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Beginnings

Before my previous church stopped meeting together, we were attempting to move toward following the liturgical calendar. Because of this, I spent the summer as part of a small group of people that met weekly to discuss the readings from the lectionary in order to help prepare the message for the upcoming Sunday. This was very helpful to me on a personal level because it kept me engaged with scripture. I also loved how several passages from different genres of scripture tied together around common themes. This always inspired a lot of thought for me.

Unfortunately, once our church stopped meeting, I stopped reading. Not just the weekly passages from the lectionary; I will admit I stopped reading the Bible entirely. I have found that having some type of structure-- such as the lectionary-- is very beneficial to me. And at least for now, without that structure to guide me a bit, it is too easy for me to get out of the habit of reading.

Recently I have realized that I truly miss reading scripture. I know most people who have spent time in church have heard that they “should” be reading the Bible; however, I have never been particularly interested in doing something just because people say I "should." My apologies to my parents. ;)

Instead, I realize more and more that I want to read scripture because is helpful and inspiring. When I start reading, I immediately feel how the words of scripture speak to my heart. I remember how it feels to truly worship, to have hope and joy, to feel a connection to something greater than myself.

You may not know this about me, but I’m a sucker for new beginnings. I love new years, new months, even new weeks! So I'm taking advantage of a happy new beginning. The liturgical year begins with Advent, the first Sunday of December. Obviously that has recently begun. However, the Revised Common Lectionary follows a three-year cycle of readings, and the beginning of this month just so happens to also mark the beginning of a  new three-year cycle.

Ahh. I love it!

So... because I miss reading scripture, and because I like having a bit of structure, and because I enjoyed following the lectionary previously, and because this feels like a great time for a new beginning...

I have decided to attempt to not only read the passages from the lectionary each week, but to write about what they have meant to me. A few disclaimers: This is by no means supposed to be a way to tell everyone what the passages should mean to them, and I am certainly making no claims of being a theologian. These posts will simply be my thought processes based on what I have read and what it has said to my heart.

I’m getting a bit of a late start on the posts, so I will post my thoughts on the first three weeks over the next few days, then the posts will be weekly. I hope you’ll get involved! Read along, share your thoughts, and most of all, let scripture speak to you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Where You Invest Your Love

We sang one of my favorite songs at church yesterday: Awake, My Soul by Mumford and Sons. And while I always love this song, it was especially meaningful yesterday as we sang the line, "Where you invest your love, you invest your life."
For the last six and a half years, my family has invested our love and our life in our little church, The Exchange. And the people in the church have likewise invested in us and each other.

At the very first service I attended back in the beginning of 2007, the message was about the two great commandments: loving God and loving others. And all along, the church's mission has been to help people take their next step toward God, whatever that step may be.

And boy, has this church ever lived out those beliefs. 

Over and over I have seen God's love in little ways and big ways. Over the years, the people in this church have pulled together to provide money to meet the needs of those who are struggling. We have signed up to bring a week's worth of meals to new parents after the birth of a baby. There has been emotional support for people who are going through divorce, addiction, depression, and doubt. People have come to us discouraged, angry, and scarred from their past church experiences, and they have found a place of healing and hope. Each of us are different people than we were when we first started attending. We have grown in love, faith, and community. We have all been ministered to and we have all ministered to each other.

And yesterday, The Exchange met together for the last time.

Many of us felt that this particular ministry had run its course. Yesterday's service was a celebration of how we have been loved and healed through this church, and it was a commissioning of sorts. I believe the people in our little church have experienced an amazing, loving community-- and now it is time for us to branch out and bring the love, grace, compassion, and healing we have experienced to the people we meet in other churches. So while I am certainly sad about the loss of our regular Sunday gatherings, I have to admit I am awfully excited about the opportunities before each of us.

May we each go forward and invest our love and our lives in other people-- not just in our churches, but at our jobs, at school, and anywhere else we may go. May we always reflect God's love to the people we come across as we love the way we have been loved. May we show grace and compassion to those who are struggling and suffering. May we be an encouragement to others. And may others know we are followers of Christ by our love.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Maturity Takes Time

Today my oldest son and I were talking about planting trees. He seemed interested in the idea of planting an apple tree in our yard, and I told him perhaps we could. Of course, I added, it will take several years before we can get any apples from it.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because it takes a long time for a tree to grow mature enough to produce fruit."

The words were not even fully out of my mouth before my heart felt the deeper implications of what I had just said.

Because for me, the significance of that truth goes much deeper than just talking about trees.

Let me explain...

My boys are 1.5, 4.5, and (almost) 11. I would say they are all going through challenging stages, but if 11 years of parenting have taught me anything, it's that every stage is challenging in its own way. So really, they are simply kids at various stages of development-- and shockingly, not one of them is at the adult stage. ;) That means that despite my best efforts, wishes, and occasional despair-- they act like kids who are 1.5, 4.5, and 11.

Curious hands and bodies eager to figure out the world around them sometimes make messes and get into things they shouldn't. Developing vocabularies and cognitive abilities lead to constant chatter and questions, and a developing-but-not-yet-mature ability to express one's feelings without screaming. Increased logical reasoning and awareness of one's own opinions lead to debate.

Sometimes I feel frazzled, pulled in so many directions at once... preventing messes, teaching how to clean up messes, enforcing boundaries... answering questions, teaching an angry child to take deep breaths and use words, enforcing boundaries... explaining why things are the way they are, explaining others' perspectives, enforcing more boundaries.

And I get frustrated. I do my very best to teach, guide, and model... and yet, they are still acting like kids.

Well, of course they are. 

Because children, like apple trees, take a long time to grow mature enough to produce fruit. 

So I renew my commitment to "water" them and provide a rich environment for optimal growth-- patience, understanding, boundaries, love, grace. I cannot force them to mature any faster than they are developmentally capable of at any given time. All I can do is keep teaching, guiding, and modeling, all the while believing that in the end, fruit will be produced. And it will, but it takes time. Already, if I look, I can see areas where they each are beginning to produce fruit in their own ways. I look forward to the days when they are fully mature; I think my sons will grow up to be amazing men.

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." -Galatians 6:9

This photo was taken when my now 4.5 year old was only about 17 months old and we were planting a garden. He wanted to be planted, too. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Coming Out of Hiding

For a long time, I haven't been able to bring myself to blog. Of course I'm busy with school and parenting, but that isn't the real reason I haven't been writing. The truth is, I've been feeling self-conscious about sharing my thoughts with other people.

I have been reluctant to share because I fear how I'll be perceived or that I'll unintentionally hurt someone. Some examples... If I post something about parenting, what if people feel like I'm judging them or stepping on their toes? If I post about faith, what if I say something that is unintentionally wrong and therefore misleading? If I am vulnerable about my feelings and struggles, what if that comes back to bite me somehow? And really, isn't it kind of arrogant and self-centered to assume that I have things to say that will help or encourage other people anyway?

So I have become quiet. I've written some things for myself, but I haven't been sharing them with other people.

It bothers me, though. I have always loved to write, and my writing has rarely been something I have kept private. It is cathartic for me to write about my thoughts, feelings, struggles, and successes, and I have always enjoyed hearing input from other people on these things.

I have read two blog posts recently that have really inspired me to want to start blogging again. The first one is about surviving as a sensitive person, one who absorbs the emotions, beauty, and pain around them. (I am such a person; it is both a blessing and a curse at times.) One of the tips the author gives is to create:
Sensitive types and creativity go hand in hand, because their rawness and innate ability to pick up on information and energy that others don't feel can easily be translated into art and passionate expression. So rescue that fleeting gorgeous moment, then recycle it through your chosen medium. Perhaps you can make your guitar cry, or weave beautiful cloth into wearable clothing or drip powerful words like blood on a page, or capture that perfect light with your camera before you. Just create, create, then create some more so other people can see through your eyes, sensitive person.

This is so beautiful to me. I do not feel wholly myself when I absorb all these things around me and never let them flow back out of me. I am not a musician or an artist, but I am a writer, and I have always used the written word to process beauty, pain, tension, faith, and love. My fears of being misunderstood, judged, or taken advantage of by others should not stop me from engaging in something I love.

Which leads me to the second post that has inspired me, a post I read today by my friend Jaime. (Who is an awesome artist, by the way-- you should check out her website!) Lately she has been setting up her art at various markets and art shows, and she has written about the vulnerability that comes with sharing one's art with the world. This quote really spoke to me:
I remembered why I love this.  Paintings weren't meant to be hidden away.  Instead they are supposed to be shared with the world.  Art connects us.  And, I love that feeling of connection. When I sell a painting or a print it is like sharing a part of my heart.
That is what writing is to me. I can write just for myself and hide it away, and I do still get some of the benefits that come with processing through the written word. But when I share it with others, when I have the chance to inspire someone or to connect with someone who can relate-- that means so much more to me.

So I will try to start venturing out into the blogging world again. Not because I think that what I have to say is earth-shatteringly important, but because I feel more like myself when I share my writing with others, and because I am tired of shying away from it out of fear. I hope you will come along with me.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Am Weak

As a parent, I am suffocating under the "shoulds" that continually pile up on my chest.

I have high expectations for myself, especially as I learn more about child development. And that's where the shoulds tend to creep in. The kids should have less screen time. The kids should do more chores. I should spend more time reading to them. I should make sure they have more educational opportunities/play. They are learning from my example, so I should always be patient and kind and gentle and empathetic.

Should, should, should.

But the crushing truth of it is, I can’t do it all. I just can’t. On my own, I am not enough. I cannot provide a perfect environment at all times, no matter how much I believe they deserve it and would benefit from it.

Instead, my kids have to live every day with my imperfections and screw ups. I do my best, and it still doesn't feel good enough. They bear the brunt of my impatience and frustration. They see me escaping in front of a computer screen way too much. I try to implement chore charts and screen time rules, and it all falls flat on its face over and over again. There are days where I feel so exhausted just from parenting that I let them keep the Wii on for an extra hour so I can collapse in a heap on the couch for a little while. I try to instill patience and kindness and unselfishness, and then I yell or say something unkind or snap because I just want something to go MY way.

I feel like a hypocrite.

I fear that I’m screwing them up developmentally, setting them up for bad habits, teaching them negative attitudes and responses... because I am SO far from perfect in the examples I set for them.

My boys

I want my children to be generous and unselfish, to help others, to treat others with love and respect, to be patient, to be responsible and hard-working, to sincerely seek to make amends when they've wronged someone.

As I wrote that, it struck me that I put “sincerely seek to make amends when they've wronged someone” on the list. And for all the things I feel like I mess up, this is one I feel like I do pretty well. When I realize I have wronged them (with my words, actions, or attitude), I sincerely apologize. I identify exactly what I did and why it was wrong, I explain what I should have done instead, and I seek to make amends. They have heard me do this many, many times and I’m sure they’ll hear it many more times. That, at least, is a good example I feel like I’m setting for them. But it bothers me that I have to mess up at these other important things in order to set that example! I worry that I will fail to teach the other positive qualities I want them to have.

Love, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, all those things are impossible for me to perfectly attain. And if I can't do it as an adult... immature and still-developing children certainly can't either. Truth is, when my kids mess up, I can identify with them... because even as an adult, I’m there too.

Yet I’m still loved and accepted, I’m still forgiven, I’m still a recipient of God's grace. 

Perhaps my children and I are gaining a deeper understanding of grace, mercy, and forgiveness... and we learn these things as we mess up, or break the rules, or have an attitude, or act selfishly and impatiently.

And maybe our screw-ups and immaturity are necessary components of understanding God’s grace and allowing love and humility to take root in our lives.

Perhaps instead of feeling angry with myself for falling short of my ideals so often, I could “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me... For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Thursday, February 28, 2013


I feel like there were some things I neglected to say in my last post-- probably because I wrote it over the span of several days, and because most of it was written with at least one child climbing all over me while I typed one-handed.

And I guess I could just go back and edit it, but it's a long enough post as it is. And honestly... after working on writing it for nearly a week, I was sick of looking at it. :-P

But I do want to address some of the things I left out, because I think they're important. I think the overall point was mostly clear-- that life experiences build a person's endurance, and those who have "been there" and have come out on the other side need to encourage those who are struggling currently. But I'm afraid I might have given off a subtle implication that those who have been through things that have built their endurance are now doing great and can handle whatever life throws their way. I never came out and stated that (because I don't believe that at all!) but I fear it could have been read that way because I didn't say a whole lot about current challenges.

It's not easy.

I definitely don't want to be one of those people who gives the impression that I can do it all, or that it's easy. In my last post, I gave a brief overview of some of the things that are currently going on in my life, and I mentioned that it's hard work and that I struggle.

But what I didn't tell you is how much I struggle. It's a lot more than I'd like to admit, and a lot more than people seem to think. I am definitely not some kind of superwoman. Come over at midnight and see me nodding off over schoolwork with dinner dishes that still need to be washed, or see the schoolwork pile up as I take care of a child who has his third stomach virus this season, or watch me try to keep up with a very active one-year old in a waiting room for three hours while his brother is in therapy appointments, or be there for one of the times I lock myself in the bathroom and cry because I feel like it's all too much.

What I do is so rewarding-- but it is also hard. Where I am in life right now is not easy. Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning. Sometimes I want to quit.

This is where my realization about life experiences and endurance comes in. Because I have been through difficult things in the past, I know from experience that it might be hard but I can get through it. And I know that those difficult times have increased my strength and endurance, which makes my current situation difficult but not crushing. What's more, I know that I will get through this too, and my strength and endurance will continue to be built up, which will then help me through the next difficult time.

So let's get back to my larger point here:

I think a lot of times when people are struggling, they have a hard time admitting it because they think they "shouldn't" be having a hard time. I've been there... telling myself I must be a wimp or a baby for struggling when I can see for myself that other people are able to handle so much more. I had that thought a LOT after my second child was born and I was going through postpartum depression. "I shouldn't be having such a hard time. Look at all these moms with three or four kids, or more, and they're able to handle it better than I can handle having two. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be a mother."

No. No, no, no. What I was going through was legitimately difficult in relation to my own journey at that point. I think people who are struggling need to hear that validation from others: Yes, what you are going through is really, really hard. But they also need encouragement: You can do it. You are doing it! 

Our past struggles and experiences have equipped us for the future. We have grown stronger, and even when we feel broken and desperate, we are growing stronger simply by continuing to move forward. Even when we can't see our growth because we're blinded by the pain and difficulty.

Your struggles are not a punishment from God, or proof of your inadequacy as a person. But neither are they without any meaning whatsoever. They are shaping you, strengthening you, increasing your endurance... and not only will that equip you for your future, it will also give you the ability to empathize with and encourage others who are hurting.

There is always the potential for hope and growth. You are strong and becoming stronger.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Be a Cheerleader

Ever since I've started running, I've become one of those people who think in running metaphors because it provides some great thoughts about life in general. And one of the things that has been on my mind is how endurance increases over time; what was once really difficult begins to feel easy, and what is difficult now won't be so hard in a few weeks. In conjunction with that, I've been thinking about how important it is to cheer people on at every place in their journey.

I'll start with the obligatory running example, but then I'll move on to other stuff, I promise. ;) When I first started running earlier this year, I had a hard time running one-minute intervals. But I kept going, and now I can run eight minutes pretty easily. (Obviously I still have a long way to go.) But I think about the people I know who have been running for a while, the ones who can run a 5k or a half-marathon, and not one of them has acted like I'm ridiculous for struggling to run one minute, or five minutes, or eight minutes. No, actually, they've been my cheerleaders, asking me how things are going and encouraging me to keep running. It would be really jerky of them to give off an attitude that says, "You think that's hard? You don't know what hard is; that's so easy!" But they don't do that, because they've been where I am and they know what I'm doing is hard for me, even if it wouldn't be hard for them anymore.

But then I started thinking about how this applies to life struggles. No doubt about it, what I'm doing now is difficult, and I am working hard. I have three children, and as you would expect in parenting, they all need me in different ways, day and night. Besides the typical needs of children, one of them has Asperger's. Another has sensory processing issues and speech apraxia, and I take him to multiple therapy appointments each week with my one-year old in tow. My husband is away a lot because he goes to school part-time on top of working full-time, so I do a lot of parenting and appointments on my own. I'm in a master's program part-time, so after the kids are in bed, I'm up reading and writing papers.

I think back to ten years ago and I realize that what was difficult for me then (as a newlywed, an undergraduate student, and mom of one child) is vastly different from what feels difficult now. What took a lot of hard work then would probably seem a lot easier to me now.

Does that mean that what I was doing ten years ago wasn't hard work after all? No way! Given the experiences I'd had up until that point, of course it was hard work! It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done.

What has changed over the past decade is similar to what has changed as I've started running: my endurance has increased due to various life situations and experiences. I've realized that my perception of hard work is relative to what I've experienced thus far. I'll bet that in a few more years, what feels really difficult today will feel much easier... and that doesn't make my current struggles less valid at all!

I think people whose endurance has been built up over the years have a responsibility to encourage and mentor those who are standing in the places we once were. They need people to validate that their struggles really are difficult and to recognize their hard work. So many people feel worn out and hopeless, like they're barely keeping their head above water. They need people who have been there to come alongside them with encouragement and validation as their endurance and strength increase.

And that is something I want to do (and try to do)-- be a cheerleader.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Keep Going

I was so ready to give up on running last week. After struggling with a Couch to 5k program for weeks, I still couldn't run for five minutes straight. I was discouraged and felt like I wasn't making any progress. And then last night, I had a breakthrough. I started a new week of training, and suddenly I was able to run five minutes without stopping... and I did it three times! I had just been on the verge of quitting, and then I was suddenly able to do what had been too hard last week.

Then I realized how true this seems to be across life situations.

It reminds me of labor, which gradually increases in difficulty... and then you get to the transition stage and it seems too hard; you just want to quit. But the truth is, when you feel like you cannot handle any more, it's actually a pretty foolproof sign that you are just around the corner from relief-- having the baby!

And I think of other situations in my life and in the lives of people I know, where we have gotten to the point that we feel like it's too hard, we have been pushed to the limit, and we just want to give up... and then, a breakthrough happens. Something changes, maybe in the situation, maybe in our own level of strength and endurance, but we turn a corner and it doesn't seem so hard anymore.

So I just want to encourage you: if you are in the place where everything feels too hard... if you are ready to give up because you don't think you can handle it anymore... keep going. Don't give up. Because you could very well be just around the corner from a breakthrough, steps away from relief. Whether you realize it or not, your endurance is building and you are becoming stronger. You can do it. Keep going!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Birthday Reflections

So I had a birthday yesterday. It's funny how much more low-key my birthdays have become, and yet it was pretty perfect just the way it was. In the past week, our washing machine and coffee pot both bit the dust... so for my birthday I got a brand-new washing machine and coffee pot! ;)

On Saturday, my parents watched all three of the boys so my husband and I could go to a play. It was written by our friend Dan and several of his theater students, and it was incredible. I really enjoyed getting a chance to see it, and it made me miss acting so much. The previous weekend, I went to see another friend's dance performance about creation and redemption, which was also beautiful. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on how significant art is to the human experience. We feel and think so many things, and theater, dance, music, and other creative arts express those things so poignantly and beautifully. I have often wished to be an artist, and my husband reminds me that the written word is a powerful form of art as well. Over the past year or two, I have let myself become so busy that I've neglected my writing. For the most part, I really do enjoy being busy, but I need to make an effort to carve out time for writing. It's something I've always enjoyed and I don't want to overlook it.

Anyway. My birthday weekend was pretty awesome. Of course there were the new appliances and the play, but there were also other special little things. I got a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my boys, and my eldest brought me coffee in bed on the morning of my birthday. After a delicious breakfast made by my husband (he's an awesome cook!), we went to church, where they sang an impromptu Happy Birthday (and my face turned about a million shades of red), and a few people said some really kind and special things to me. If you're familiar with the love languages concept, words of affirmation is definitely mine... and it seriously brightened my day to hear their kind words. So often I move on from one day to the next, knowing deep down that I am loved and appreciated, but feeling a bit starved for the words of affirmation my soul so desperately needs. (I don't fault anyone; I think many people-- myself included, actually-- struggle to communicate words of affirmation because it feels kind of awkward and vulnerable. I get that. But when the words are spoken, they are so deeply appreciated.)

I went out to a local frozen yogurt place with my family after church, and I had a blast watching my boys fill their little bowls with as much yogurt and toppings as they could stand. Joshua, my one year old, didn't get his own bowl-- I just let him eat from mine. He was hilarious, yelling, "More! More!" after every bite. The truth is, although I do enjoy frozen yogurt, I chose to go there mostly for the kids. I know they love it, and we don't go there often, and nothing brings me as much joy as doing things that make other people happy. It was great.

My husband and our three sons, my other family members and friends, giving to others, spending time with the people I love, writing... these are all the things that make my days special, whether it's my birthday or a "normal" day. I feel so loved and blessed. It was a happy birthday indeed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kids and Media

I suppose it's one of the classic dilemmas of parenting: how do you navigate the pressure to allow your children to do things that you may not necessarily want them to do? How do you draw the line in a way that is respectful of your own rules and values while also respecting your child's desire to fit in? And for that matter, where do you draw the line, particularly as kids get older and more capable of making decisions for themselves? How do you decide whether the issue at hand is a "hill to die on" or not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things?

I'm quite sure every generation of parents runs into this dilemma. I have recently begun encountering it more myself, and it's definitely a tricky situation to navigate. For me, it's been coming up lately in regards to media. It would seem that I am fairly strict about what I allow my oldest son (age 10) to watch and play. As a general rule, we haven't allowed M-rated video games, R-rated movies (and truth be told, we rarely allow PG-13 movies-- the Marvel movies are the major exception), or TV-14 shows.

I can keep being strict. I would be completely within my rights as a parent to do so. But at the same time, I do understand that kids desperately want to fit in with their friends. And while I'm certainly not going to do whatever it takes to make sure they fit in, I do want them to at least not be totally left out when other kids talk about TV, video games, etc. I know there are bigger, more significant issues ahead of us... so I want to be able to take a stand on the ones that are VERY important to me, and perhaps not put my foot down on every little thing. Because I understand another thing about children: as they get older, they will start making more and more decisions for themselves, and I want them to be able to determine what they value and make good decisions for themselves. I don't believe that restricting every single thing that I don't 100% agree with will help them move in that direction; in fact, I believe that if I try to strictly control all these things for too long, they will end up sneaking around while they're still young and/or making poor decisions for themselves when they do reach adulthood.

So here's what I'm trying to do. I have no idea if it's the "right" thing to do, but it feels like the best approach to me so far, and as the parent, I reserve the right to change things if needed. ;) I'm starting to allow a bit more freedom in these areas-- interestingly, while it's more freedom than I'm totally comfortable with, it still seems that I'm stricter than many other parents.

For example, I recently made the (very tough) decision to allow my ten year old to play a video game I wasn't entirely comfortable with: Halo. Most of his other friends are allowed to play it, and he had been invited to a sleepover where I knew the kids would want to play this particular game. It was quite a dilemma for me. I talked it over with my husband, looked it up on Common Sense Media, read reviews, pondered, deliberated... and finally decided to allow him to play it at the sleepover. However, we made it clear that we would not be buying the game for our house, and that several other games were still absolutely not allowed. (Like, um, Call of Duty? Absolutely NOT.)

Would other parents disagree with my choice? Probably. Some would say I'm being too lax by allowing him to play Halo at his friend's house; others would say I'm being too strict by setting limits at all. I personally still don't like the game... but I don't feel like this particular issue is the hill to die on. Not at this age, and not with the other issues I know will be coming our way over the next several years. Pick your battles, you know? I can't control these things forever, and I believe we're getting into the years where I have to start relaxing a bit and allowing him a little more freedom. Of course it's important for us to talk about the elements of the game that are objectionable and why-- and not just in a way where I'm telling him what I don't like. I want to hear his opinions as we work through the issue. He needs to learn how to critically think about these things for himself. For that matter, I think that's also true for movies, TV shows, and music: let's talk about this stuff together. What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? What do you agree and disagree with, and why?

Obviously I'm still pretty new to this, but I'm doing the best I can. It's difficult to balance my own ideals and values (I detest violent video games) with culture and my child's desires. It's going to get even trickier as he gets older. There are some areas where I will allow more leeway as he gets older; there are other areas where I know I will have to put my foot down even though he will hate it.

I have so many more thoughts about children and media, but I think I should probably stop here for now. Maybe another time. ;) But I would love to hear from you guys, particularly parents who've been through this. How did you navigate similar struggles with your pre-teens and teenagers?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's Important to Feed a Hungry Baby

In my classes, we've talked about so many topics that are interesting to me (and I'd certainly hope that's the case; it would be silly to get a master's degree in something that doesn't interest me). A recent discussion in my human growth and development class has been on my mind.

We were talking about Erikson's eight stages of development, specifically the first stage (trust vs. mistrust). In short, this is a very important stage that babies go through; it sets the stage for so much more of their lifespan development. Children come out of this stage with a sense of whether or not people can be trusted in close relationships, and this is determined largely by how consistently their needs are met-- particularly hunger. This says a lot to me about how important it is for parents to respond to their babies' hunger cues rather than implementing a strict feeding schedule! For babies, responding immediately to their hunger is about more than just nutrition; it helps them understand that their parents will respond to their needs. 

But we also discussed breastfeeding-- both the benefits of it and the struggles many mothers face (physical, emotional, lack of support in the workplace and culture, etc). And an interesting thought occurred to me. I haven't researched it extensively, but I think it makes sense...

Many women struggle to make enough milk for their babies, and many babies have trouble gaining weight. This often causes moms to discontinue breastfeeding. Obviously there could be a variety of factors at play here, but I wonder if one of these factors could be scheduled feedings. A mom's body makes milk on a supply-and-demand basis. So suppose the baby is hungry, the mom's body has the milk all ready, but the baby is not nursed until a set time. It won't take long for the mom's body to scale back milk production based on when the baby is fed (which in this case would not correspond with the baby's initial hunger). But I wonder... could that possibly lead to a reduction in supply to the point that the baby isn't getting enough milk, or isn't gaining enough weight because he/she is being fed at scheduled times rather than immediately upon becoming hungry? I wonder how often supply problems or weight gain problems could be remedied by nursing on cue rather than on a fixed schedule?

Like I said, I've not put a lot of research into this, and I'm certainly not saying that's the only reason these problems might occur. But I do think it's a possibility worth considering if the mom and baby are having these issues. 

At any rate, regardless of whether parents are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, feeding on cue rather than on a schedule seems like a biologically appropriate choice when you take into account a baby's physical and emotional needs. I would personally be very, very cautious about advice to schedule a baby's feedings. Some babies naturally fall into a predictable pattern, some don't-- but that's okay! Being responsive to their needs builds trust, which is very important throughout life. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Tentative Return...

So... a couple years ago, I got this idea. I had been blogging for a long time at that point. Things had been going pretty well on my little blog here; I had several readers, and some really thoughtful and interesting conversations took place in the comments. So I decided it was time to step it up a notch, purchase my own domain, and become a Real Blogger. No, that's not a thing, but in my mind it was this level of blogging awesomeness that I simply had to achieve. ;) My own name was available for purchase, so I did it.

But it's just... not working. I wish I could explain why it's different, but I can't. I mean, part of the problem is that I posted less frequently and I didn't do much to promote my posts like I had previously. I think I just felt... scared and overwhelmed, maybe? Whether it makes sense or not, there is something incredibly intimidating to me about having my own name in the web address. Like... everything I ever post there has to represent exactly who I am, and I feel like I have to be so cautious and careful about what I say and how I say it, because what if I accidentally misrepresent myself? Or what if I say something and later change my mind, but now that opinion is out there with my name all over it for anyone to see?

That last one is kind of funny because that's a risk I run as I return to this blog. I've looked back over it, and while there are many things I've written that I still totally agree with, there are other areas where my views have softened or strengthened due to further thought or life experience. I guess that's how it is with life, but when we live so much of our lives online, in such a publicly viewable way, it becomes even more obvious.

So if you are looking back and you see anything that doesn't quite sound like the me you know, take it with a grain of salt. Whenever I write something, all I can do is draw on my experiences up to that point. For that matter, I could say the same of anything I write from here on out. Where I am today may not be where I am in six months, or a year, or five years. I hope not, anyway, because that would indicate a level of stagnation that I'm not comfortable with. ;)

I was going to try to quietly move my posts from my newer blog back over here, and just keep the original dates on them so this one is seamless and doesn't have a two-year posting gap. Now that I've put the first few of them on here, I see that they are going to flood Google reader as though they're brand new posts, even though the post date is from 2ish years ago. So... um... sorry about that. You might be seeing a lot of posts from me over the next few days/weeks as I move stuff over here.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to posting here a lot more!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Little Things

The question was posed to me: What would you most like to hear God say to you when you get to heaven?

I knew almost immediately what my true answer was, but it felt too personal to vocalize at that moment; I felt vulnerable. So I opted instead for a funny answer. Humor is all too often my go-to response when I feel like the conversation could be approaching some of the more tender spots in my heart. Defense mechanism, I suppose.

But I’ve had more time to think about it since then, and I want to give my serious answer.
I would love to hear God say, “I saw all the ‘little things’ you did and said, the sacrifices you made, the things you thought no one else noticed or appreciated… and I want you know that those things really did matter.”

Deep down, I know that I make choices based on what I believe in my heart is the right thing. It’s not about praise or affirmation from others. I’m not in it for recognition or appreciation. But every now and then, in those moments where I am feeling the most tapped out, when I feel that I have given and given until there is nothing left to give– yet more must still be given– in those moments there is something within me that desperately wants to know that it matters. That someone notices. That what I do/say/give is appreciated. That it really does make a difference. I think sometimes, if I knew that, it would help renew my energy and I would not feel so depleted.

And so part of me hopes that God notices, regardless of whether other people do. I hope that someday God will say to me, “I noticed. I saw. I heard. What you did mattered. It made a difference. Well done.”