“Eye” Opening (A Lesson in Perspective)

The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you see them in the rearview mirror. -Levi Lusko

It had been a long season…one of more “downs” than “ups.”  Sometimes life is like that.  They say that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child…and, wow, do I get that now.  Still, I held out hope (even if it was just the tiniest glimmer.) I had been looking forward to this day, a day where we could all unceremoniously start a new chapter.  It had arrived…without fanfare and without jubilation.  Only numbness and fatigue.

I had gotten so used to the old pattern, the barely breathing pattern where the emotions were so close to the surface that it was practically a miracle if no one noticed.  The questions still resounded in my head, “if only…could I have…and what if?”  Pointless questions really.  I had gone over them a thousand times in my mind. Day after day.  I prayed.  And I kept praying.  I trusted that the lesson would reveal itself.  Maybe.  Someday.

In the quietness of that afternoon I found myself searching out a needle and thread.  Crossing a “finish line” meant that I could now tend to things that I had put off.  The scattered stuffing of the basement tiger could no longer be set aside.  I asked, “Don’t you think it’s time we got rid of this?  Maybe it’s time to throw the tiger away….”  No.  It was a gift.  It was still useful.  It was a part of the family.  In reality, it was huge, it had a hole, it was getting stuffing EVERYWHERE.

When I finally found the sewing supplies I needed, I headed downstairs.  Needle in hand I realized that I forgot to bring my reading glasses.  “There’s no way you’ll be able to thread the needle without them,” the voice in my head noted.  Uggghh.  I tried any way.  Nope.  Tried again.  Ain’t happenin’.  On the third attempt I adjusted my perspective.  Moving the needle in front of the golden belly of the tiger changed the background just enough…allowing me to focus.  Suddenly the eye that had eluded me stood out clear as day.  The black thread easily went through.  Victory.  (I needed that.)

I stitched up the stuffed tiger and ran my fingers over its new battle scar.  Not bad.  For the most part, the new stitches were practically undetectable…that is until the last few.  Probably where the hole started, I thought.  Damaged faux fur, but totally fixable.  With the right perspective…totally fixable.

For I know the one in whom I trust.  And I am sure that He is able.  2 Timothy 1:12

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Love Story: The Pen Remains Mighty

More than kisses, letters mingle souls. –John Donne, author and poet

When my children were little, they loved to sing this little ditty from Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues:  “We just got a letter, we just got a letter, we just got a letter…I wonder who it’s from?”  Maybe you’ve heard of it? (And if not, sorry for the brain worm!)  They would sing this song on the way to the mailbox daily.  The song continued no matter what kind of mail had arrived.  Electric bill…sing.  Junk mail…sing.  Not at this address…sing.  You get the picture.  When an actual package, card or letter would arrive (grandmas are awesome for this,) there would be absolute pandemonium–sheer unbridled jubilation!  As holidays approached, especially birthdays, the anticipation level in the house was off the charts.  Today, they’re “super chill” teenagers, but I can still feel this same anticipation meter slowly (and in the most cool manner ever) rise like in the “old” days! It makes my heart smile.

I had one of those heart smile moments just the other day at church.  As part of our CARDS ministry, a large display sits in the gathering area outside the Sanctuary.  This portable, mini Hallmark booth houses handmade greeting cards for all occasions.  Anyone is welcome to browse and choose one of these colorful creations in exchange for a $1 donation to the larger ministry which sends these amazing little gems overseas to our service men and women (who then fill them out and send them home to their families and loved ones.)  It’s a beautiful circle of love, one that mutually benefits the card crafters, our country’s service personnel, military families and friends, our church community and, above all, brings honor to our Creator.  It’s such an amazing mission ministry, but here’s the part where my heart smiled.  While walking through the gathering area with a group of elementary girls, one young lady stopped to pause.  And while it’s not unusual for the kiddos who participate in our Wednesday night children’s ministry programs to check out the display, she pointed several out to me, and shared that she had recently bought one herself.

I was taken aback, fourth graders aren’t your typical greeting card shoppers.  She said it was for her mother’s birthday.  Later, when I had an opportunity, I asked her about the card.  She told me that she had been scoping the cards out for weeks, trying to pick the very best one.  At the same time, she started saving her coins.  When her mother’s birthday arrived, she had reached her $1 goal and chose a card.  She said, “I’m a kid.  I can’t go to the store…I wanted my mom to have something beautiful to open on her birthday.”  And just like that, the mission field expanded.  Heart smile…can you feel it?

I always tell people that amazing and wonderful things happen at church!  And while I believe God is truly everywhere, it seems as if the Holy Spirit is palpable here…how else could we get filled up each week, ready to share the Good News and be Light to others?  When I went home that night, I thought about that little girl and the card she gave to her mom.  As a mother myself, I know what treasures these gifts are!  Written on that card in ink pen she would find more than her sweet child’s fourth grade handwriting and autograph, she would experience thoughtfulness, a child’s innocence, and unconditional love.  Words written on mere paper, yet guaranteed to leave a permanent mark on a mother’s heart.  In an age of texts and emails,  it is gratifying to know (that on so many levels) the pen remains mighty indeed.

 

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.  Proverbs 3:3

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 15

Laughter is an instant vacation.  –Milton Berle

Me in Hawaii…being eaten alive by tropical mosquitoes. Yay!

Have you ever tried vacationing with an introvert?  It’s the absolute worst!  I know because I am THAT introvert.

Basically, I’m a home body.  I’m perfectly content with staying inside ALL DAY.  This becomes problematic when your entire family is made up of extroverts.  They like to do things (like go out of the house,) hang out with friends, see new things and try adventurous stuff…in the HEAT of summer!  Ugggghhh.  I’m not “anti” all of this…I’m just a lot more particular about how it all gets done.  Thus, the worst introvert to vacation with.  EVER.

So what does this have to do with the last song on my summer playlist?  A lot actually.  “Vacation” by the Go Go’s was a smash hit in 1982.  Quirky, fun-loving, and surfy…these girls really nailed the pop/punk rock/girl power kind of sound.  A tune about trying to use a vacation to get over a guy–well what could be more practical than that?  (Introverts LOVE practical!)  “Vacation” further cemented the popular girl group as 80s icons resulting in the song earning the number eight spot on both the Billboard Top 100 and the Rolling Stone Best Summer Songs of All Time list.  And while these ladies seem like the “vacation” type, interviews and soundbites reveal that they were actually a little salty.  Group members wrote their own songs, learned how to play their own instruments, scoffed at the record label executives, and basically did everything on their terms.  Which sounds a little bit like my approach to vacationing…why do we need to go, what will we see there, how much is this going to cost, is it really worth my time, is it safe and (my favorite question) how many people are going to be there?  So who wants to travel with me now?

Seriously, I love this song and remember thinking as a kid how cool it would be to perform synchronized water-skiing with my best girl friends.  We all wanted to be Belinda Carlisle and the catchy chorus still brings a smile to my face.  Besides, the music video actually depicts the best kind of vacation ever–virtual!  Enjoy YOUR summer!

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 6

Sometimes the best vacation is a staycation.  –author unknown

I love the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” for many reasons…but especially for the line,”there’s no place like home.”  It’s just so true.  Of course, one never knows just how much they love home until they move away.  At least that’s how it was for me.  That’s why this next song made my summer music playlist.  I can remember coming home to visit my parents and my dad blasting this song on repeat FOR HOURS AND HOURS in the garage.  The funniest thing was that no one complained.  In fact, there were many times that I caught family members singing along!

“Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys came out in the summer of 2004.  I was in my late 20s, married with one child…and I was pretty much anything but hip.  But there’s something about this song that just makes you feel cool–regardless of age.  “Heaven,” written by a trio of brothers from Texas, captures a laid back summer vibe with its infectious chorus.  Peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 100, the tune went on to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for 16 weeks.  Interestingly enough, the song also registered on the country music charts, too.  The song eventually led to two Grammy nominations and one win in 2005.  Their biggest hit to date, this song set the tone for so many that summer.

It doesn’t take much for me to remember that afternoon at my parent’s house.  It’s always a party when we visit!  Lots of family, food and laughter.  I can still see my son (a toddler at the time) working his dance moves outside in the garage with my dad.  Whenever I hear “Heaven” it puts a smile on my face and I am grateful for both summer and a place to call home!

Up Next:  SONG 7…”That’s when I had most of my fun….”

Rated “M” for Mature (Or Maybe Just “O” for Old)

We age not by years, but by stories. ― Maza-Dohta

There’s a big difference between “growing up” and “growing old.”  Each process garnering its own tension (and with any luck,) eventually leading to some sense of solace and peace.  Still it seems that in today’s culture, “growing old” is definitely the greater evil.  In fact, I listened to a podcast recently that basically laid out just how taboo aging has become (I realize the mere mention of the word “podcast” clearly ages me as well!)  Let’s face it, at 40something I’m way past the “growing up” stuff.  So I guess this just leaves me mired in the murkiness of “growing old.”  Sigh.

Honestly though, I’m finding more happiness than heartbreak with each passing year.  It’s not necessarily fun watching the wrinkles and the gray hairs appear, but mentally and spiritually I feel like I’m in a good space.  A place I wouldn’t trade for being a teenager again (I’m still apologizing to my mother.)  And as tempting as it sounds, going back to my college years just doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to.  They say you’re only as young/old as you feel.  And as a self-proclaimed “old soul,” I figure I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Still, crossing onto the other side of the BIG 4-0, I strongly believe I’ve gained some insight.  While I haven’t exactly reached curmudgeon status (I’m working on it,) I certainly classify myself as “old enough to know better,” “wise enough not to fall for that” (again,) and filled with enough “I told you so” stories to write a “how-NOT-to guide.”  Hopefully this makes me “M” for Mature, but more realistically, most would just rate me “O” for Old.  Still, I will not be deterred.  So whether you asked for it or not, let me drop a little wisdom here…because I just might know something.  Perhaps even something worth sharing….

  1. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.  As a kid, I hated going to sleep.  I thought it was a huge waste of time.  Add to that my overactive imagination, frequent nightmares, and night owl tendencies…and it becomes clear that sleep was not high on my priority list–EVER.  Still, I have really come to value the power of a good night’s sleep.  I especially appreciate sleeping in my own bed.  To be honest, I have a really hard time sleeping anywhere else.  Something about MY pillows and MY blankets.  This is a safe haven.  No TV in the bedroom. No scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix in bed for me.  When my head hits the pillow, I’m out.  Beautiful, peaceful and restorative slumber…in my own bed.  I’m all about it!
  2. Moisturizer is your best friend.  I have always made it a priority to take care of my skin.  Never EVER sleeping in make-up (especially mascara!)  Always wearing sunscreen (something I had to learn the hard way after acquiring a horrible sunburn while working a car wash fundraiser in high school.  Ewww…blisters.)  I’m a Noxema girl and a sucker for its eucalyptus scent.  A family member suggested wearing night cream as well as day cream after college graduation.  Great advice…I am eternally grateful (so is my skin.)
  3. “Respond more.  React less.”  Not my quote, but a great little ditty nonetheless.  Basically, the idea is that we take a moment to process a situation, instead of just going off on someone.  In a world where every feeling is justified for its mere existence, there is something to be said about thoughtfulness.  Look, I’m not talking about being a spineless, doormat…instead let’s hash out our feelings before we broadcast them.  It could save face and maybe even some stress and heartache.  “When we respond, rather than react, we actually communicate from our highest principles and deepest desires.  Reactions on the other hand, come straight from our most shallow anxieties and fears.”  –Hal Runkel
  4. Be generous.  It’s such a human tendency to want to keep things for ourselves.  Some of us do it out of greed or maybe even fear.  Others can’t let go of things because of guilt.  We all have our own reasons, but I have found that generosity is its own reward.  And it’s important to remember that giving isn’t necessarily limited to money either.  Being generous is about a willingness to offer time, energy, attention, advice…the list could go on and on.  Putting others above yourself is Biblical and a little goes along way!
  5. Seek out healing people and places.  There’s no substitute for peace.  As a twenty something I remember meeting a woman who absolutely made the hairs on my arm stand on end!  She was an older woman, polite and wonderful with kids, so when this gut feeling struck…I had no real explanation for it.  In fact, I felt guilty every time the feeling came on.  After some time, I was able to figure out exactly what was going on.  She had an energy that just didn’t jibe with mine.  Her jumpy, antsy disposition made me feel anxious.  Her energy level actually drained mine.  It wasn’t about judgement, we remained friendly, however it was just a gentle reminder for me (all of us) to seek out people who lift us up, people who help us to be our best self, and whose company is soothing to the soul.  You don’t have to be BFFs with everyone on the planet.
  6. Look deeply.  This is a new one for me.  An idea that has just become very important to me in the last year or so.  You see, my kids are growing so fast.  As hard as it is to believe, they actually change in some ways every single day.  This is exciting and completely terrifying!  They say “don’t blink” and wow, that has never been more true.  The idea of looking deeply extends past my children, too.  Sometimes I walk in my front door and just stare at my living room (piles of kid shoes, backpacks everywhere, bulky baseball/softball bags, etc.) and realize I am blessed.  Sometimes I chase down the “deer moon” on a summer night (ask my kids about that one!)  Often, I take photographs of seemingly mundane things just because I don’t want to forget the moment.  If you catching me staring at you…please consider it a compliment!
  7. The grass is never greener.  I know that’s not exactly how the idiom goes, but it’s the truth.  I cannot think of one time when this has EVER panned out.  I’m not into comparing myself to others.  I don’t want what you have, I’m too busy to play that game.  It’s not healthy and it will get you absolutely no where.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough one.  The green-eyed envy monster is for real.  And it will wreck your day (and even your life) if you let it.
  8. You can say “no.”  They never tell you this.  From the time we’re babies, people are always telling us “no.”  “No” you can’t have that, “no” you can’t touch that, “no” can’t do that either.  But no one ever tells us that we can say “no,” too.  “No” I don’t have to go along for the ride.  “No” I don’t have to sacrifice my well-being and happiness just to appease you.  “No” your choices don’t have to be my choices.  You get the picture.
  9. Laugh often.  I love sitcoms and comedies.  I honesty live to laugh.  I also have a strange sense of humor and value sarcasm.  Just a look or an odd phrase will have me in giggles.  “Smiling really is my favorite” (ELF.)  It probably helps that I’m easily amused.  Life really is too short not to spend a good chunk of it laughing.  It’s a funny world we live in…seek out your own joy.  And when you can’t find anything to laugh about…laugh at yourself.  It’s humbling and good for the soul.
  10. God is everywhere.  “Life in real-time is messy.  The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you look at them in the rearview mirror.”  Levi Lusko is the author of this quote and it has really shaped how I view the world.  At 42, I already know that God is all around us…what a blessing it is to purposefully seek out His presence on a daily basis.  It sounds lofty and maybe even hard to do, but it’s possible and so incredibly rewarding.  The more we tune our spirit into seeking out His hand, the easier it becomes to discern His handiwork.

None of us can turn back time (although I’m willing to spend a small fortune trying-lol!)  And while the world is telling us that 40 is the new 30, I’m not so sure I buy it…at least not wholeheartedly.  I can’t help but think of so many who exemplify aging gracefully and I just pray that I can grab a little bit of that for myself…all labels aside (especially “O.”)

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.  Proverbs 16:31 

Shout Out to Other Mothers (THANK YOU!)

MOMS.  Because not all superheroes wear capes!  -author unknown

WOW.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!

Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day.  I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today.  I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!)  But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.

Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet.  Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!)  Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone.  We need each other…sometimes desperately.  I need you to be my eyes and ears,  I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions.  I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial.  I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations.  And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed.  And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club.  It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.)  There’s no pre-mom exam.  No age limit.  No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go.  Others clamor to get in.  Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly.  Many of us trudge through.  And some of us never quite find our place.  Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN.  And there’s no guarantee of success in this club.  There’s no real manual.  No graduation.  And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place.  I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into.  Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready.  In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother.  I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task.  At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!

We all know that our bodies change when we have a child.  Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all!  While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately.  Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes.  What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood.  The wins and the losses.  The ups and the downs.  I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window.  Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern.  What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.)  Uggghhh.

Photo of a soccer birthday cake (or at least what’s left of one) that a sweet “other mother” made for my son on his 15th birthday.

So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers.  Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be.  I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide.  Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement.  Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift.  I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own.  And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community.  You all ROCK!  BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans.  Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions.  Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded.  Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing.  Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.”  Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love.  Thank you for including them in your family life.  And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.

So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense.  And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos.  Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant.  Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others.  Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children.  I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!

We truly are on each other’s team.  Happy, happy Mother’s Day!

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  Proverbs 31:25

 

 

In These Desperate Times

Are we not all desperate one way or another?  Taylor Caldwell, author

The funny thing about standing on the edge is that there’s typically little to no warning that you’re about to go over.  No countdown.  No alert system.  I usually only realize that I’ve arrived at this point when one foot is dangling and the other is making every crazy attempt to stay planted.  It’s a dance I’ve seen countless times and one that I’m not proud of.

Lately, this idea of desperation has been rearing its ugly head in all kinds of places.  I see it everywhere–in my home, overheard at the grocery store, on television/radio, it’s become a mainstay on social media, I hear it in the voices of my closest loved ones and it even stares back at me from the bathroom mirror.  It’s become practically inescapable and totally overwhelming.  And it appears to be the new norm.

What I hate most about desperation is that it clouds decision-making, muddies our sense of right and wrong, and worst of all causes us to say/do things we (should) almost immediately regret (although that’s not always the case.)  And “desperation” has become so incredibly clever.  Nowadays, it masks itself as “urgency,” “FoMO” (fear of missing out) and even “self-righteousness”…often times creating an anxiety that holds us captive.  This type of desperation not only leaves us hopeless but it creates fear, anger,  and sadness.  Desperation puts us in situations we could have never imagined…poisoning ourselves and everything around us.  Numb and cowering like a defenseless animal, we can only respond by lashing out at one another or internalizing our darkest fears.  When these feelings reach their peak, one is left feeling incredibly alone.  And yet, we keep coming back to the same well.  Doing the same things.  Repeating this frantic pattern over and over.

Where is the faith, the peace, the hope?  As a Christian, I think it’s in the same place it’s always been–Jesus.  I’ve noticed that as our culture continues to distance itself from God…the only truly content people I can find are those who consider themselves followers of Christ.  In fact, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Christianity was the sense of peace that Jesus offers.  Picture the most devout person you know and I’m willing to bet that person just exudes peace.  Shining, content, grace-filled peace…in abundance.  The kind of peace we hope to capture for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that peace is elusive…only attainable after years of practice.  We’ve been told that peace is for the enlightened, those who have achieved some higher level learning.  We’ve been advised that peace is for the naive.  And we’ve been warned that peace simply cannot exist.  And I think that’s exactly what the world wants us to believe.

There are no quick answers here, only prayer.  Distancing ourselves from desperation requires discipline and personal growth.  I imagine it’s a lifelong endeavor, but one well worth every effort.  I refuse to drink from the world’s cup and fall prey to these desperate times.  I will continue to seek out those whose grace-filled examples serve as encouragement and inspiration.   And I fully plan to surround myself with only His perfect peace.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13