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?