Monday, October 20, 2014

Feeling Overwhlemed?

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As a parent, it's so easy to become overwhelmed.  If you are a dad you probably work full time and then come home and (hopefully) help your spouse and spend time with your kids and have meetings and deadlines and all the stresses of work on your shoulders.

If you are a mom who works outside of the home or even from home, you have a boss to contend with and co-workers that don't always pull their weight and all the responsibility of doing your job at work and then all of the home stuff like errands and cooking and laundry and remembering doctor's appointments and paying bills.

If you're a stay-at-home mom you are most likely the primary caretaker and have children gnawing at your ankles all day long, ripping you limb from least that's what it feels like most of the time. Plus there's all that glamorous daily grind sort of stuff like dishes and dog's bowls filled with moldy food. 

The other day I made cookies and accidentally dropped a bit of flour onto the floor and was so overwhelmed with everything else that needed done that day that I stood there and looked at the flour and was all, "I just don't have it in me to bend over and clean that up right now."  And it stayed there for THREE DAYS! The work never seems to end for any of us.  It's a rat race amiright?

And in all of that madness it's so easy to forget our calling.  What are our gifts?

Mine get stuffed at the bottom of my entryway closet, behind the vacuum attachments, random flip flops and dust bunnies.  Where is my gift? I don't a box in the basement somewhere perhaps.  I can't find it at the moment.  I don't have time.  I'm busy putting on the breathing equipment that will help me climb to the top of the laundry pile in the bathroom, where the altitude is so high that the air is thin.

Add to that my struggle to say "No" when people ask me to do stuff and you've got a recipe for disaster.  Like, a recipe that leaves flour, sugar and eggs not only on your floors but on your cabinet doors and caked to my backsplash. We're talking explosive mess here.

I mentioned this explosive disaster of a situation to my friend Sally who, bless her heart, has four children under double digits and who is intimately acquainted with the feeling of being overwhelmed.  I knew she would pat my head gently and sing me a lovely song in her southern sweet-tea accent and make me feel all better.

Sally is a therapist by profession and so I often weasel my way into cheap therapy by making her feel sorry for me.  But don't tell her cause then she'll catch on!

And so after Sally listened to my plight she took her squirming baby into her arms, offered him her boob, took a deep breath and told me a story. 

She said, "I once went to a women's thing where they acted out this little story.  It was about a girl who had a gift that God had given to her.  Her gift was dancing.  And God told her to share her gift with everyone so she was on her way to a place in town where she was going to dance in front of some people and share her gift.  On her way there, someone saw her and they handed her a box and said, 'Hey! Since you're going that way, I was going to give this to the poor, could you drop this off on your way?'  She said sure and went on her way. 

A little bit later she came upon someone else who asked her where she was going and she told them she was off to share her gift of dancing.  They smiled and handed her another box and said, "Great! Since you're headed that way do you mind dropping this off to the poor?"  She hesitated because she already had a box in her hands but she agreed and took the second box.

This happened to the girl a couple of more times until she was completely weighed down.  She dropped everything off and headed to share the gift of dance that God had given to her but by the time she got there, she was too exhausted to do anything.  She couldn't even move and therefore could not fulfill God's request and didn't share her gift with anyone.

Then Sally sat back and smiled and that was all that needed said.  I totally understood what she was telling me. I am laden with packages for so many people and I'm not always diligent in sharing my gift because I'm so exhausted from everything else that needs carried. In the moment, taking on another thing seems like the right to do.  I mean, the girl couldn't say "no" because the people where trying to give to the poor and what would that mean if she wasn't willing to help!?

It's a hard lesson because it feels like the right thing to do is to help people, to give and give and give until there is nothing more but I've done that it doesn't work.  I end up letting everyone down in the process, including God.  And my gift sits unused, buried.

It's okay to say "No."  It's okay to not be able to finish everything and help everyone.  It's not selfish to take care of myself and to invest my time where God leads.  My hope is that if you are feeling overwhelmed with everything that needs done and have said, "Yes" so many times that your gifts are buried in a dusty heap in the back of a closet, that you might be inspired to put down some of your boxes, dig out your gifts, blow the cobwebs off of them and go and share them today.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Oh October

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I have a beautiful friend named Sheryl who shares my apprehension of October.  This month seems to be particularly rough on us. For me, October often feels like a summer hangover, like all those days of sunshine have caught up with me and a cloud of darkness descends and a base drum of pain starts pounding through my whole body.

Last October totally sucked.

But the other day Sheryl and I were sitting together in a cold, artsy warehouse of sorts.  I was being swallowed up by the couch they have there, an enormous, red thing that always grabs a hold of my body and never wants to let go, not that I put up much of a fight.  Sheryl was curled up in a corduroy chair and we started talking about October and how we're sort of just waiting for it to rear it's ugly head but it's not and we're overjoyed about that.

This October is proving to be different, better.

Here we are, October 9th and sure, we're only a little more than a week in but by this time last year I was curling my toes and begging for November to rescue me.  This time around it's been different somehow; peaceful and unexplained, sort of like a miracle.  It's like when you show up to pay your taxes and you find out that you're due a refund, a happy surprise.

It's a beautiful fall here in Connecticut and because of my lack of allergies and the absence of my cloud, I've been able to fully appreciate it; the boundless blue skies peppered with a palate of orange, red and yellow, the sunshine...oh the sunshine, the stuff of dreams.  It's the kind of sunshine that people write about in epic poems, the backdrop to love stories and the warmth of God himself.  We've taken countless walks in the woods and admired the sheer beauty of it all.

It's strange, really....this feeling of complete contentment that surrounds me like a bubble.  It's surely welcome but still strange.  It is so because my mother-in-law is dealing with cancer and by default, so are we.  It's surely not glamorous.  We speak of words now like pathology and radiation; surgery, infection, rehabilitation and prognosis.  So far we are surviving on prayers and you know what? They are working! I thought for sure that dealing with this in October would be my un-doing but to the contrary.  We're crowdsurfing on a mosh pit of prayer warriors.

Her surgery went well and while we have more to come and other worries on our shoulders, there is still the sunshine and the crisp, fall air and I still can't get sad or angry no matter how much I think I ought to be.

I've also been missing Ruben a great deal.  He's my friend who passed away in April. We used to speak every few months as we did for the past 20 years, it was just the nature of our friendship and enough months have passed that it would have been time for a call, for a connection and there is none, just silence and dreams and longings.  I wish I would have kept his phone messages so I could hear him say, "Hey, que paso!?" just one more time.  Or many more times, over and over again until it made me not miss him so much.  And I do miss him...but still, happiness. Happiness because the last time I talked to him I told him how sunny it was and he said, "that's because I'm smiling" and ever since then I think of him when the sun shines brightly. Last year, the grief of this would have sent me running, out of breath, to the Alprazolam.  But not today.

I pray for Sheryl and I, for us to glide through this October and change the momentum of our Octobers forevermore.  While the peace that finds us is not our doing, we'd be silly to say that there is no reason.  We are both clinging to the cloak of Jesus, like eager, bleeding women, desperate to touch just a seam of his power.  And naturally what we are finding is how much healing is in that reach, that the act of desperate faith leads to a miraculous change of course in our lives.

Oh October, we may finally have you beat, not by our own power but by His.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Are You Happy?

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I was recently contacted by an organization called TCS who helps counseling students with resources in order to pursue their degrees and they shared an article they had recently posted to their site. You can check out the article HERE.

It's a statistical analysis on happiness in the United States and I have to say, I wasn't surprised but it made me very sad to see it all in numbers.  In the study, they used five categories to measure happiness: Purpose, Social, Financial, Community and Physical.  And sadly, nearly half of all Americans described themselves as "Struggling."

On top of that, only 1 in three people in the survey rated their overall lives as "happy."  Only half are satisfied with their jobs, over 130 million people are dealing with a chronic disease, over 6% are unemployed and 3.5 million people are homeless. That's up significantly from a study conducted in 2009 by that showed our homelessness at 2.5 million.

While we still rank as some of the happiest people in the world, it's startling to think that on a scale of 1-10, most Americans ranked their happiness as 7 and most people in Nigeria ranked their happiness at 5.5.  Interesting, no?

So are you happy?

I believe the pitfall I often fall into is that somehow my situation is tied to my happiness...which is a complete lie.  Happiness can be found in the midst of pain and suffering, in struggle and conflict and even despair.  We have tremendous power over our happiness.  Our situations are what they are and many times we are powerless over them but our happiness is definitely in our control!  Don't believe me?  Try it!

Choose to be happy.  Choose to focus on the good instead of the bad. Choose to let go and let God.  Also, check out this article that shows there is now scientific proof that shows we have tremendous power over our happiness!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Mid Semester Progress Report

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Well, I've officially become a blog slacker!! I'm sorry, ever so sorry! I've been terrible at consistency these past couple of years.  The big change? Homeschool!

The kids and I have such a good routine going and we are constantly going somewhere or learning something so every ounce of my energy is poured into my family and close friends and so the blog has sort of fallen by the wayside until I muster up time to sit and write it.  Plus, if I don't really feel I have anything important to say, I don't say anything which I guess is sort of stupid because the blog is supposed to be the place I go to vent.

On the plus side, the kids are THRIVING! Last year was great but it was definitely a test of endurance and fear because homeschool was totally new to us and so it was all we could do to keep our heads above water.  This year is much more relaxed and it's sort of ironic that despite the more relaxed tone, the kids seem to be accomplishing more.  Weird.  It's a paradox but I'm not going to question it, I'm just gonna roll with it.

My 7th grader has already finished two of her curriculum books this month.  I had to upgrade her from the 6-8th grade to the 7-12th grade books to challenge her and she's doing spectacularly.  Along with that, she's taking courses in woodworking, crocheting, freshwater ecology, singing, piano, writing, animation and improv.  Mostly these are through co-ops but there are a couple of extracurriculars.

She's shown quite a dramatic interest and talent for drawing and so she sits for hours (when she's not on the phone of course) and just draws and draws. She's made a connection with a local cartoonist and is excited to work with him on some upcoming projects. She's even joined a talent show at a nearby middleschool and will be performing in November! 

On top of that, her social circle has nearly tripled! She met a best friend this past summer.  She's always had good friends but we all know what that's like when you meet that one person who gets you and how it changes your whole world.  And that just set off a chain reaction over the past few months and she kept making connections and the girls all loved each other so now there is a group of six of them who are in that middle school tight group of girls where they all start to look and sound the same so that you can't tell them apart. It's all giggles and hysterics and singing at the top of their lungs.

Every single day she bounds out of bed completely filled with joy and this of course makes me incredibly happy for her and I can't help but feel relieved that she's home and having this kind of experience because I know middle school can be tough on girls! I love that she's building good self esteem, that she's adored by so many peers, that she's feeling confident. I mean seriously, if you can marinate a teenage girl in love, self-esteem, confidence, acceptance and understanding, I can't help but think that she will turn out tender and delightful.  She also has the benefits of continued friendships that keep growing and deepening which is of course, such a blessing.

My son has also tripled his friendships and has blossomed.  He's turning into such a little man and has shown some serious interest in engineering.  I've been encouraging him to keep going and am sometimes astounded by what he creates.  He learns very differently from the girls and I have to keep reminding myself of this and remembering to be patient.  He's methodical and analytical and sometimes mindnumbingly slow but this is my problem not his.  When I tap into that sweet spot where he has full understanding, the sky is the limit for him because he can cruise through pretty much anything.

In school, math was always a thorn in his side. Nowadays it's one of the things he loves.  It makes sense, all the angles and lines he uses in his creations can be translated into numbers and when he understood that it lit a spark of interest.  The other major break through has come in his confidence.  Sure, there are still times when he's nervous but mostly, he's so much more sure of himself.  He used to be terrified to be in front of people and now the boy is performing puppet shows and acting in plays!  He's engaging new people, especially peers, and each time he does this he gets a little taller.

He's learned how to cook completely alone using both a recipe and by memory, has mastered countless life skills and read more books in a month than the previous two years combined! Now, if only I could get him to take a shower!!

My youngest is also my wisest.  Or maybe she's an old soul.  She gets up early and checks the weather and always packs an umbrella if there is even the slightest chance of rain.  She's a planner and an organizer.  Her closet has two neat rows of shoes that are lined up just so because "it makes them easy to find."  She's great at remembering appointments and will not let anyone eat supper until they've said grace.

On Sunday mornings she wears high heels, dangly earrings and clutches her bible under her arm.  If she wore Channel #5 you'd swear she was 77 instead of 7.

She too has plowed through her curriculum books.  Every once in a while she'll get stumped and flustered but that happens so infrequently anymore that it's hardly a blip on our radar.  When it happens it's just an opportunity to encourage her.  We recently had a family meeting where we expressed our needs and shared our love languages with one another, that is...the way we feel loved.  Hers was small gestures and so I've been focusing on picking her flowers and saving that extra slice of pizza for her and making her favorite breakfast.  This has made her happiness skyrocket!

Her reading has improved as well! She had a tendency to rush and skip words when she read out loud and so we came up with a really clever way to help her slow down.  In her reading comprehension workbook, I had her highlight the paragraphs.  The first word in a sentence was highlighted green, commas were yellow and periods were red.  We called this her "stop light reading" and she understood that green meant to go, she paused at yellow and then stopped at the end of the sentence.  This improved her reading cadence significantly and she was so proud!  I was pretty proud too :)

She's taking piano, sewing, art, holiday crafting, biology and participating in a play.  Along with that she continues to do girl scouts and recently attended her first Awana meeting and loved it so she'll probably be joining that as well!

We've read several classic books including Treasure Island, Black Beauty, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Where The Red Fern Grows and we've also been listening to Adventures in Odyssey which the kids seem to love!  We've been participating in our state's library program and the stacks of books we've checked out is as high as my thigh.  We've ridden the ferry across the river, we've gone to our science center, have been rock climbing, hiking and joined friends for other adventures.

As you can see, between school and co-ops, activities and outings we've had our hands full in just these first six weeks of this new year.  We are due for a break as we do a 6 week on, 1 week off rotation and have lots of fun stuff planned.  We are off to a great start and I hope and pray that we continue on this course!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Faith Feels Like

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I've just finished the first book of Chronicles.  I have found it quite tedious.  I'm fighting with all my might not be be like, "Yeah, yeah...I know all these stories!"

Do I really need to know who begat who? Is there going to be a pop quiz when I get to heaven?

And just when this feeling of arrogance had reached it's zenith, God came and pricked my bubble ever so gently and sent me reeling. 

I found a story about David that I don't remember reading in the books of Samuel. I say I don't remember reading it because maybe I did and it fell out of my brain and landed on the floor with a splat!  But God knew I needed to hear it so it jumped off the page and into my eyeballs.  It was tucked away between genealogy lists and job titles. 

In this little story God becomes angry with David because he decided to take a census of his military.  He didn't do it because the paper-pushers in Jerusalem needed up-to-date paperwork or because of any other reasonable cause.  No, he did it because he wanted to count out how awesome he had become.  Back then, Kings measured their worth by their military and since David had a pretty bangin' military he wanted to line them up and count 'em so he could feel strong and superior.

He wanted his main man Joab to come back with a report of thousands upon thousands so that he could stand tall and say, "I am awesome sauce!"

And God wasn't cool with this because of course David wasn't awesome, God was.  David wasn't the one who was securing victory, God was.  And David was starting to rely on himself more than God.

Oops.  Sound familiar?

Sorry God.  My bad!

There is a pocket of existence in which we should strive to live and that place is where we depend solely on God while being active in our faith. Any slight turn either way from this place is not healthy.  It's that great dilemma Jimmy pointed out when he said that faith without action is dead. Of course the flip side to that coin is that I have a tendency to put my hand in God's face and say, "Babe, I got this!"  By the way, if you've figured out how to remain in this balanced sweet spot of dependence and action for more than five minutes at a time, please email me with instructions because I just can't seem to keep hold of it.

This scripture was just another reminder that I've got to keep trying, constantly checking myself because I'm prone to veer into a ditch.

I wish I could say that God slapped David on the wrist and put him straight but that didn't happen.  Instead, God cut David off at the knee, literally crippling him for a long while when he gave him three choices as a consequence for his disobedience.  At David's choosing, God ended up destroying David's army and making him temporarily weak.

God has a way of knocking me to my knees as well.  Always in a loving way of course.  More and more I'm learning not what I should do but what I shouldn't do!  You know that feeling you get when all seems right, like things are going well and everything seems in place and you take a deep breath and feel all is good with the world?  Yeah...RUN from that feeling!

Run fast!

That feeling, when it comes from having enough money or just the right friends or pat on the back from someone or anything short of God himself, is a problem.  I'm slowly learning this.  I've spent my life running towards that feeling. It's clean, crisp and comfortable and I WANT IT!! 

As you probably already know, that feeling is fleeting.  There is never enough money, the house always falls apart, something goes wrong, things don't work out.  When we count our armies and feel proud of ourselves, God cuts them down.

The alternative is for me to find that security in Him alone and I'm still getting used to the feeling of it all.  The water is cold here and I'm not totally used to how it feels but I know I will adjust. 

It's so hard to imagine how everything can be falling apart around me and I'll still be able to take a deep breath and feel at peace. It's like walking in the dark, unsure whether there is secure ground under each step.  Scary!  Yet, I know it's possible.  I've experienced it first hand.

Last summer my family and I traveled to Chicago and stood at the top of the Willis Tower which has these four foot glass boxes that hang off the side of the building.  You can see over 100 stories down to the street through the glass floor and standing on those things made my stomach turn.  I got dizzy and flushed even though the attendant assured me that they could withstand over four tons of weight.

It made me terribly squirrely.

That's the feeling I should be striving for, that scary, turn my stomach, heart beating fast, flushed with sweat, breathing hard kind of feeling because that's what faith feels like.  That's what dependence feels like.  That's what surrender feels like and that's the sweet spot.