What now, 2014?

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I’ve started three posts and deleted them all.  Suffice it to say, I’m feeling a little like the girl ready to sing in the cherub choir in this picture.  She’s me, just about 3 decades ago, maybe a tad more.  She looks so confused and I’m sure the boy, who’s name I have forgotten is trying to help her but, she’s just not sure she wants help. 

Recently, I have been transforming my Dad’s old slides into digital images and it is time consuming and nostalgic and fantastic!  My family hasn’t seen any of these pictures since they were taken!  What all these pictures create is a tapestry of my past.  The boxes are mixed up, so one box is full of animals of our time in Africa, the next flies forward into high school in California and formal dances and a youth group trip to Catalina.  Then back to Belgium as a toddler, and again, back to pictures of petting a cheetah at a sanctuary in South Africa.  My brain automatically jumps from moment to moment, as my memory fills in pieces of the days the pictures tell only a fraction about and I am swept away remembering lessons learned and memories created.

So, what now?  Now, I build on all that has happened in my past, good and bad. Here are my beginnings, I’ll be checking back on this post at the end of the year and maybe even a couple times in the interim to see how I’m doing with all my different projects.

I’m starting to write 500 words a day to get back in the groove of writing regularly.  (Hopefully, this blog will reap some of the benefits.) After all, I have two books in the works and although it scares me to get to the point of preparing them for publishing, I’m finally ready to risk it! 

I’ve started a reading plan to go through the New Testament of the Bible and I’m sticking to it!  Hey, I believe in celebrating success early and often!

I’m starting a new leadership position in an excellent weekly ministry series for jr. high and sr. high students, called “I am Second”.  If you haven’t heard of it, check it out for fantastic, current resources to help our youth deal with priorities and be set apart in our entitled world.  It feels good to be part of an outreach again.  Actively participating in young lives is a passion and a calling for me. I can’t wait to see lives transformed by God Himself!

My monthly writer’s group is starting up again and we have some great plans for this year.  Challenges and growth, community and encouragement.  And of course, writing! 

I’m planning on running, (jog/walking?), a race or two and competing in Eppie’s Great Race, the kayaking portion of this fantastic triathlon, which I have missed sorely the past couple of years.  This involves training and again, regular activity. Maybe the new trampoline in my backyard will help, when my children let me use it!

Surrounding this all is a net of school involvement, art docent for my children’s classes, field trips with both of them and, whatever class participation with parties and plays and special events goes along with doing my best to be an engaged, hands-on parent.

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution and I’m not going to start now.  I don’t make lists, it’s too confining for my scattered personality.  This is a plan however, a rough outline of things I know will benefit me if I stick with them, and maybe writing them down will make an indelible mark on my brain and create an accountability by sending this out into the vast cybersphere.

What’s your plan?  How do you stay accountable?  I’d love to know your ideas on what’s going to happen to you this year!  I wonder how the little girl in the picture would respond to the big girl writing this blog!  I think her expression would probably be the same!

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NaNoWriMo, no more! Until next year…

Wow!  Just when I thought I could write no more, I’m writing a post about writing so much, my wrists are no longer my friends!  This past month, I decided to try something new, like abandoning my blog, yes, I know.  Some of us, including me might think it would be a new recipe, a new book, a new sport perhaps.  No, no, no, I decided I’d try this great new challenge, to write a 50,000 word novel.  How long did I have to complete it you ask?  Oh, you know, a month!  Crazy, right?  But, I did it!  And, since it was my first year attempting it, I was a little lackluster in my effort the first week or two or three and so half of my words happened in one week!  That’s right!  And, it’s important to know now I can do that much if I feel it’s important to me and I prioritize my life to reflect that goal.  This experience will stay with me as a metaphor for a lot of different challenges I will face in life. 

Two things made it unique for me, aside from the obvious accomplishment.  My mom is excited about writing a story next year and my daughter, who is 7 years old, walked up to me as I was standing in a rare moment of pause and she looked up at me with those sweet eyes of hers and said very simply; “Mama, you inspire me, I think I can write a book now too.”  I gave her a big hug and told her how much it made my heart smile to hear such a wonderful thought, and she was on her way nodding, saying; “Yes, I think I can do it now.”

It’s all relative…until it’s your relative.

As the holiday season is already swinging into high gear, so are the many emotions of infrequent, high pressure gatherings, and even the “casual” get togethers have their own unique brand of lunacy.  Let the roller coasters begin!  All over the world, rituals are being started, discarded and in too many cases squabbled over for dominance, all in the name of sacred tradition.  One of the saddest movies I ever saw was Holly Hunter’s “Home for the Holidays”, back in 1995.  Not a happy, fuzzy wuzzy, feel good, kind of holiday movie and I know so many people who liked it but, when it came down to explaining why, the answer was peculiarly similar for ever person.  “It was smart and funny and, it was just so real!” came the reply, the last part almost verbatim from people with all different backgrounds and families.  The only other common answer was something along the lines of:  “I’m glad my family isn’t like that!”, or “That movie makes my family look sane!”.

It’s messy and dreadful and weirdly poignant, just like real life!  Awkward moments abound when family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving meal, there are many issues dying to come out, siblings protect each other from enemy fire, and it is probably best portrayed by Holly’s character, Claudia when she says: “Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom.  That’s what the holiday is all about.  Torture.”

I remember Thanksgiving as an impossibly long routine of going to the grandparent’s house, having an age appropriate drink, minimal socializing and then being dismissed to watch the Twilight Zone marathon on television while the grownups chatted for at least 4 or 5 episodes and then, finally, we ate.  This was followed by more socializing, and then long farewells and hugs and kisses and out the door until a month later we gathered for Christmas.  I loved seeing my family, we had lived overseas for 9 years and missed out on all routine traditions families usually gather for, except for home leaves at Christmas, and then everyone is on their best behavior and there are presents to distract and detour any head on collisions.  Holidays are unique ecosystems unto themselves.  Snapshots of chaos, blown into historical proportions as stories are exaggerated and spread each year to newcomers about what happened previously to any number of people present.

As any family tree splinters off into smaller, greener branches, the separation can be difficult, perhaps because the paradigm is shifting and the children who were not in authority are now grown and so become authority.  This means the ones used to being solely in authority now have an obligation although not always a willingness, to share the podium and acknowledge what before they could simply control without question.  It makes for an interesting scene as perceptions are skewed and observations are made, both good and bad.

This holiday season, whatever holiday you’re celebrating, give yourself a break and just enjoy where you are and who you’re with, you just might surprise yourself…and everyone else!   Merry Christmas!

Progressive faith or how to count down your blessings.

If you asked me 2 months ago if I was a runner, I would have laughed and said, most emphatically: “No!  Unless I’m being chased.”.  I dislocated my knee and had two (unrelated) surgeries, all in one year, I’m a little out of shape. Yet now, I’m running a mile and a half twice a week with my children at their school’s running club.  Okay, my participation is more a run-walk-jog-walk-run but, every week I’m running more and walking less. 

If you asked me 12 months ago if I was a writer, I would have been too protective of my written thoughts to reply with anything affirmative. Now, I have a blog, I’m part of a writer’s group and I’ve done the scariest thing ever for me!  I shared my written creation with others!  For critique, no less!  Not just a book I’m working on, but my heart’s most inner thoughts, my poetry!  This is coming from a former high school student who once wrote a fantastic story (so she was told), and took an F because I would not, could not, stand up in front of the class to give an oral presentation.

5 years ago, I was not a public speaker, now I speak to church groups, and young people in the ministry groups I help lead and with young women outside of the groups through mentoring I do with them. 

10 years ago, I was not yet a mother, now my life is so full with two gregarious clones of my DNA!

30 years ago, I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive what was happening to me at the hands of someone I should have been able to trust. Now that pain gives me empathy and a sad, sincere credibility to others looking for help in their own private hells.

This looks like a scattered countdown of the past but, it’s so much more.  I can see now where the impossible became possible and where I took a chance and let God work.  I am not arrogant enough to suggest He was just on the sidelines and I was doing it on my own.  People were praying for me all along without knowing specifics.

Rather, I am grateful for Him continuously weaving his river of life throughout my history unbeknownst to me, while He awaited my free will to choose to change my heart to trust Him. I know I was under His protection when things could have been so much worse, although that was hard to believe at the time.

It’s scary and humbling to think there are people being affected by what I say or write. It is incomprehensible to me how my life experiences are being used to effectively impact people today. It is hugely reassuring to stand vulnerable to my God and ask for and receive His grace, time and time again.

You matter! I’m sorry for the pain you’ve been witness to and my heart breaks for the suffering you have been subjected to, whether in the past, present, or both. I can’t take that away. I can’t tell you it will ever completely go away. Here’s what I can tell you.

People out there have walked a similar path and are waiting and willing to share your pain and show you love and build a relationship with you, pray with and for you. If you invest yourself in those relationships, you will get better and stronger. As long as Christ is a priority and a major part of your recovery, you will put distance between you and the pain. There will be a time when you too, can count down your blessings.

If it’s too painful to talk about, write about it. Drop me a comment and let me know what you’ve been able to count down in your life.

Thick or thin, the battle within.

Thick skinned apathy or thin skinned empathy?  Ha, you thought this was a post about weight, didn’t you? Only in a metaphorical sense.  We hear a lot about thick vs. thin skin and it is even somewhat of a mantra in many households.   Parents tell their kids they better get it or life will be just so much harder to survive.   Companies tell their employees to not be so sensitive about rejection or what anyone else says. Thin skinned people seem to be perceived as weak and too fragile to deal with real life. And then there’s sensitivity training for those who have built the proverbial thick skin they were chastised for not having in the first place and then expect everyone else to have the same rhino-esque qualities.  A bit confusing, isn’t it?  I say rhino-esque because it’s exactly what I envisioned as a small child when I heard someone tell me I’d better grow a thick skin pretty darn quick if I wanted to survive in this world.  I was so confused and as usual, my visual brain waltzed away on a safari of vivid images depicting what I would look like once I had gained this as of yet, undiscovered “thick skin”. Since I was in Africa at the time, and studied, exhaustively, all the amazing animals I saw on our adventures to Kruger Park, I pictured myself as that skittish antelope, the Impala.  Attentive to everything and yet still, probably destined to be eaten, I slowly developed the deep gray wrinkly skin of a rhinoceros which then impeded my movement and speech, as I also saw myself growing heavier and slower, cumbersome even.  I remember thinking I would then not care about anything anymore and just ram right through any situation I didn’t directly care about using my new found strength and impenetrable hide.  Did I mention I have a highly overdeveloped sense of imagination?

I also remember as soon as I had fashioned that vision in my head, I completely rejected it!  I didn’t want that level of apathy at all.  I cared deeply for people and I still do today, whether they be rhinos or antelope! It’s caused a lot of pain and welcomed an unbelievable amount of joy.  I couldn’t have explained it as well back then but, there was always an innate awareness in me of how others felt around me and how my choice of actions would affect them.  It’s a slippery tightrope of empathy and codependency, and it’s not easy to walk, even now.   I judge others, I have been through life experiences that left me raw and trying my best to build walls against anyone else wanting to know me past the acquaintance phase.  I stay tender only through my faith.  Ephesians 4:31 and 32 keep me coming back to a more humble light.  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”   I find it the hardest to let go of the bitterness when I especially feel I’ve been wronged and deserve to hold on to that anger!  I need that reminder all the time and I need to pursue that all the time.  What keeps you grounded?  Where do you go for reminders of who you want to be when you aren’t sure who you are?  If you can’t answer this question in under a minute, I encourage you to take a deep breath and take whatever time you need to pursue a different path.

Save gas? I can’t even save my own sanity!

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This was me yesterday.  I look so peaceful don’t I?  I could have napped all day!  It was actually just posed long enough for the shutter to snap a picture to play a prank on a dear teacher friend of mine.  The rest of the day before and after this, was spent running almost 400 children and staff through their fall pictures, group and individuals, followed by my son’s soccer team pictures that evening.  I thought that was a busy day.  Fast forward to today, not just the plain old VCR fast forward but the fancy, press the remote 11 times to fly by commercials in warp speed so you can get to your favorite show’s result announcements as quickly as possible speed!  My day began with me going to bed after midnight due to reading a brave new friend’s manuscript sample, which I was thrilled to read and wanted to give feedback on as quickly as possible.  A few measly hours of sleep later, read that as 1 or 2, and I was awoken by my husband looking out our bedroom window at the police officer questioning a man just wandering around the neighborhood in the middle of the night.  Comforting, yes?  Had I not been so tired I may not even have been able to get back to sleep, paranoid as I am, and yet, Snoopy says every cloud has a silver lining and I along with my silver lining, collapsed back in bed.  Even later, another hour of sleep or two and I turn off my alarm instead of hitting snooze, sigh.  My daughter climbs into bed with enthusiastic cries of: “Ohhhh, I love you so much!”, and we promptly fall back asleep.  I awake again too many minutes later to discover I have slept in and need to leave the house in an hour!  As I get up I have missed a text from a precious family member expecting their first child and they are at the hospital!  I’m not close enough to drive so I have a one handed texting conversation while cooking eggs and making toast, (no I don’t recommend this method for either activity).  Kids are dressed, full of breakfast, hair done, lunches packed, off we go!  No shower for me is alright since I’m working out for the first time since my knee dislocation a few months ago anyway.  As I start the truck, I’m somewhat proud of my still half full gas tank, I only went two places yesterday and I’m sticking to some sort of fantasy budget in my head of not having to fill my big green beast before payday!  Yay me!  Get to school, remind my son I am picking him up for his orthodontist appointment at 11:15ish, remind my daughter to bring her backpack tomorrow because she has forgotten her folder again, kisses and hugs and I’m off to work out.  A glance down the corridor and I have a split second thought of something I’m forgetting but, I’ve already reminded my son, (what else could it be?), all is well, and I take the opposite corridor back to my truck.  I’m at home, after texting my family, finding out the baby is not coming today, it was just a false alarm, to which I replied everyone needs a dry run and I’m off to feeling the burn of neglected muscles stretching in protest to the beat of happy music and shiny people when I am interrupted by a phone call from the school.  That’s never a good feeling is it?  I JUST LEFT!  What could possibly be wrong with either of my children in a half an hour?  “Are you coming to get your TB test checked today?”, comes the sweet voice of a woman way more organized than I could ever dream of being, and I think this post proves it unquestioningly!  GASP!  “Yes, of course I am!”, I blurt out as I yank at some more appropriate attire while hopping around like a whirling dervish, phone still attached to my ear, no I did not think of speaker phone.  “And you’re coming right now?  Drive safe!”, she says cheerfully with a chuckle because she knows me!  I race out the door, knowing I still have gas in the tank but, now it will be quite depleted because I will have made 4, yes 4 different trips to school today!  Good thing I stayed all day yesterday, it all balances out in the end, doesn’t it?  I get my test read, all of 10 seconds at the school, 1 second for the nurse to read, 9 seconds of me apologizing profusely for keeping her there, although I did notice mine was not the only unresolved application on the pile, hey I’ll take consolation where I can!  Back home, switch outfits, finish very short workout, shower and look, I’m off for my third run to school and it’s not even noon!  I wonder what my tank will say after gymnastics today?  

Love your life better.

This is my son’s hand on our most recent camping expedition, which he said had it’s very own smiley face!  I love his view on life!  I actually saw the face before he mentioned it and I was thrilled he could see it too.  But then, he could find a rainbow in a swamp! Which is funny because he is also quite capable of the reverse.  He is an optimist at heart but, after living almost a whole decade on this planet, he has learned things can take a turn for the worst and so he harbors doubt and a pessimistic streak, (honestly inherited from his mother) but, when we are camping and away from the norms of obligation, except when he still had to take the trash away from camp to the dumpster much to his chagrin, he visibly relaxes and the world is his to manipulate into a series of joyful events.  Especially the ocean, he tells me the smell relaxes him. Agreed!  After all, it’s my ocean!  (In the same way it was his Ireland in Braveheart).
 
I was reading a comment on a blog of Mike Rowe today and as so often happens with auto correct and lack of proofreading, someone mistakenly wrote how Mike is a great philanthropist who helps people to “love their lives better.”  I am one of those…yes the one of those who expect some sort of review before posting something and cringe at the misspelling or just plain misuse of verbiage all over.  But, I am improving in my area of raising awareness.  My children are corrected because they are learning the right way to present themselves in written and spoken forms, the rest of you grown ups, I expect a little more from, really but, I have ceased pointing out the glaring errors and focus on polishing my own glass house, stones and all. For the most part we can all translate the correct intimation of what was written and said and go on our merry way.  And sometimes, errors lead to whimsical enlightenments never achieved with absolute correctness.
 
So, I know the author of this faux pas meant to type “live” but, I also like the quirky syntax of “love your life better”.  Hence,  I immediately thought of the picture above. Time and time again my son, minus his cynical side, chooses to love life better.  It’s not just seeing a smile in the sand.  He was at the ocean, what’s not to be cheery about?  He makes a subconscious effort to make life better.  If, (really it’s more of when) he hears his sister make a terrific noise, possibly registering on the richter scale and he does not hear her characteristic “I’m all right!”, he is usually faster than me in investigating and comforting she who has fallen.  When, being the gentleman he was raised to be, he holds a door open for me, I may have to wait another full 2 or 3 minutes because he saw someone half a football field away, who may need use of his particular door, of the 4 in a row surrounding him.   I’ve never hurried him, just encouraged his desire to help others.
 
I am in constant awe of his perspective of life’s little disappointments.  He opened a deck of cards with biblical people featured on each one and the Joseph card was torn, brand new deck, just one torn in the middle of the deck.  I’m thinking sarcastically, “good quality control”, especially after he tells me his last deck has the same card torn the exact same way.  He considers it a moment and says, “Honestly, I can understand why it’s torn.”  I’m thinking to myself, how on earth can he understand this, what’s there to understand?  But, I say out loud: “You can?  Why would it be torn?”  The reply comes out smooth and unassumed, “Well, because Joseph’s brothers tore his coat when they threw him in the pit so…it fits!”  And with a shrug of his shoulders, he is off to inspect whether the two Joseph cards are indeed torn the same way. 
 
I can honestly say my mild mannered son makes me love my life better.  He makes me look deeper and I’m an analyzer at heart but, he helps me keep my bitter side in check.  Are you able to weave the little disappointments into a bigger tapestry of joy? If not, do you have someone who can show you how?  Share the silly things in life, see a smile in the sand and share it with someone else, the memory is made all the sweeter when someone else shares your point of view.