Obligatory New Year’s Post

I have to be open about my disdain for New Year’s resolutions. They never cease to make me feel like a loser. I worry that my reflection on the year gone by and my hopes for the year ahead will fall flat. Which is probably why January 3rd 4th 7th  10th* has me finishing up my Obligatory New Year’s Post.

There’s no way to wake up on December 31 without thinking about what lies behind you, and what may lie ahead of you. As a child twelve months seemed like an eternity to me. At 43 I now how quickly the calendar pages turn.

I am a history lover. Not in the sense that I memorize facts and dates, mind you. I don’t. I do love reading about the past, though. I’m often astounded at how inventive and genius ancient people were, but also humbled at how little they knew. I know that others will look back on my present as their history and think the same. I also don’t think you can move forward if you don’t accept where you are and where you’ve been.

I’m advocating reflecting, not dwelling.

I don’t always share it, but I usually pick a word for the upcoming year, one that I feel that is in line with the Holy Spirit’s desire for my life and one that I feel will encourage me. Last year my word was JOY, and I have to say 2016 was quite a joy-filled year for me and for our family. We found community, friendships have blossomed, and life just feels more…settled.

As I look back on that we’ve learned this year I see that we have grown so much. We learned some hard lessons about harmful relationships and some wonderful lessons about healthy relationships. We rediscovered the treasure of older friendships, too. Keeping up with friends after moving to a different city is tricky, to be sure, but SO worth it.  It’s interesting that each of us has stepped out and made friendships on our own, too. This is new for my introverted people.  2016 was our year for relationship maintenance and formation.

Not every moment was joyous, but every moment added to my joy. Even the tough stuff.

As 2017 was a approaching at warp speed I decided it was time to figure out my word for the upcoming year. I woke up on December 31st and knew that my word for the New Year would be ACCEPTANCE. It fit for so many reasons. Here’s a few:

Accepting where I am in life, what my life looks like, is important to keeping me from feeling down. Always wishing for something else, or allowing myself to feel that some other kind of life would be more ‘normal’ keeps me trapped somewhere that I just cannot be.

When I accept  myself, my flaws and my good qualities, makes me feel way more relaxed.

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Accepting my family for who they are as individual helps all of us who live here. It goes back to wishing for something else – my people are who they are and desiring them to be different doesn’t give me room to embrace who they are. It also doesn’t give them room to embrace who they are. 

Accepting that tidy is not permanent, that Legos can be scooped up, and that pee can be wiped off the seat helps make me less crazy.

Accepting who was voted in as President makes it easier to make a plan for how to move forward as a citizen of this country. 

Accepting that people I love voted differently than me, hold religious views outside of my own, and parent  their kids differently can be…tricky. Remembering that we’re all doing our best, though, makes it less so.

I accept that my hubby will be offered an amazing job in 2017 – and that he will accept it. 

I accept that each day is different than the one before it and that having a plan does not mean that the 24 hours will go the way I planned it.

Well, I’m learning to accept that one.

 


 

It’s easy to get into the habit of always striving, always working toward something else. I feel like it’s trending right now, this whole ‘accept where I am in life and embrace it’ mindset. Maybe it’s because I read a lot of almost-forty or definitely-forty authors and bloggers. I don’t know and I don’t care. If being 40-something means it’s easier to accept the life I have then yes, please and amen!

Goals aren’t bad, and I will continue to have those, BUT  I need to be realistic about where I actually am before I can move forward.

Like, I’m overweight. I accept that now. Especially after I stood in front of the mirror, naked, for 30 minutes.  I now also accept that I have gotten here by overeating and not exercising (much).

Up until 2017 (give or take) I was convinced that I was not that overweight, that sizing had just changed. That I had a metabolism problem. That no matter what I ate I gained. That it’s just baby weight (but now my baby is 7).

Nope. Turns out that eating a lot of sugar and thinking of house cleaning as cardio does not make you Cindy Crawford even though she said that’s how she stayed in shape.

That woman lied in her Cosmo interview 25 years ago.

Anyway, now that I’ve accepted where I am I can decide if I want to do something about it. 

I may. I may not. I don’t know. I’m still at the acceptance phase of my weight loss journey so I’ll let you know.

Though, honestly, since I’m already 43 I’m prone to just wait til I get to heaven to get a new body.

Size 8, please.

I have to acknowledge, though, that 50 is the new 40…so in reality I have 7 years before I reach true middle age. Now I have to accept that and consider doing something about it.

Considering now.

 

In the meantime, I’m fine with how I look and who I am because I know whose image I’m created in. I accept that this body isn’t permanent.

 


So, 2017 will be my year of ACCEPTANCE.

I’m going to accept the good and the bad as part of being human.

I accept that I’ll get some things right and some things wrong.

I accept all the grace that Jesus has available.

All. Of. It.

I accept that sometimes I want to be around people and sometimes I don’t.

I accept that I pretty much always want to do the thing I shouldn’t want to do and don’t want to do the thing I should want to do, just like Paul said.

I accept that I’ll probably never get the lyrics right, that I’ll never be a football fan, and that, at times, life may be harder than I would like.

I also accept that Jesus will always be my soft landing.

Always.

 


 

So, do you have a word for 2017? Let me know by sharing in the comments.

Or maybe you hate that kind of thing? Perhaps you find it forced. That’s okay too. I accept you whatever your likes and dislikes.

 

And, if you like what you read here, share it with your friends, too. 🙂

 

In the meantime, stay warm, and be brave.

 

 

*Our internet went out last night just as I was ready to post. Seriously. That happened. Dad and I fixed it though. All is well.

 

How to Connect with Your Teens

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my journey into accidental mentoring. I’ve put a lot of work into my relationship with my young people, and sometimes connecting with my teenagers can be hard. Every now and then I look at my adult or almost adult children, and wonder who the heck they are. It feels like one day you’re wiping bottoms and the next day you’re sharing coffee and arguing about politics.

Here’s some things I find really useful when I’m wanting, or, needing  to relate more to my teens.

1. Remember who they are.

Nothing cures disconnect like pulling out baby pictures. It’s good for the kid that was the baby, and it’s good for the parent. Looking back at baby pictures also transports me to the time when connecting was simple. I just picked up my baby and loved on them. We shared everything when they each were little; food, stories, beds (and sometimes we still do!). It was a simple, exhausting time in our lives, but also a period in our lives that solidified our relationship.

This is Liam. I can’t figure out how to scan the others in. You get the picture. (pun)

There’s a lot of debate on when a child’s personality solidifies, but I think that even as babies their personality shines through. I look back at how each of my learned how to walk and talk, how to ride a bike, and I find myself nodding and saying, ‘yep, that’s how they’ve always done it’.

During rough patches I pull out pictures, show them to my kids and say, “Look at you!” It reminds me of who they are, but also reminds the child of how much they are loved. It’s fun to recall memories or fill in the gaps on my kids’ memories. I love seeing their faces as they look back on their personal history, their sweet baby faces still reflected in their almost-adult faces.

(Mental Note:  get #4 child’s baby photos off of Facebook so that I have actual pictures to show him when he is a teenager in 6 years. Yikes.)

 

2. Participate in their life.

It can be easy to drop them off and go, but kids want us in their lives even if they’r not super wiling to admit it. When your kid looks at you, though,  to make sure you’re watching  you know you’re in the right place. Especially when that kid is 14.

Having a house full of teenagers can be loud and require lots of food but is a ton of fun. I want our house to be a home where kids know they can eat and drink and hang out. It’s not always convenient but it is always fun.

I take the time every week to hang out in my kids’ rooms. I read somewhere years ago that laying in your child’s bed helps you see their perspective. I think it’s true. I also learn more about what makes them tick, about what they love and what they think is beautiful. Remember that Beach Boys song In My Room? There is something cool about your room when you’re a kid.

 

 

I’ve also learned to love listening to my kids’ music. Somewhere between 10 and 12 each of mine has expressed wanting to listen to their own kind of music instead of audiobooks or whatever I’m into at the time. I let them make their own choices when it comes to music and books, mostly. Between 12 and 14 there were a few books I said no to after reading first, and several artists that I said absolutely not, ever, ever, ever even when Jesus comes back, to. They were cool with that.

Thanks to my girls I’m Twenty One Pilots’ oldest fangirl, I know who Panic! At the Disco is and I’ve fallen head over heels for YA fiction. Thanks to my boy I love Minecraft, Weird Al (again) and Legos. Thanks to me they know the lyrics to Queen songs and appreciate Jane Austen. Thanks to their Dad they love the Beatles and understand the complexities of 80’s music. I think connecting through art, art that we love, teaches us a lot about each otters.

I’m always shocked when one of them wants me to hang out wherever they are, even if it’s for just a little bit. I do remember being a teen and being secretly pleased that one of my parental units was at an event. Which leads me to the next one…

3. Think back on your own teenage years.

I know,  I know, it’s not necessarily the favorite time of life to look back on. I do think it’s important to remember the feelings, the tumultuous, overwhelming, wonderful, maddening feelings, that ruled life during those years. It’s a time of extremes to be sure but it’s also a time of growth.

This is a good time to pull out pictures of you as a teenager. Share music, books, and movies that you loved. There’s nothing better than watching your kid’s jaw drop when you know all the words to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. Reveal worst and best moments. It levels the playing field, helps them see that you as a fellow human.

 

My friend Autumn took this one when I was 17.

It’s good to remind your kid that you really do get it – that you’ve been there and survived. Sharing my teenage (and current) insecurities gives my kids insights into who I am. It’s way easier for my kids to share their stuff with me after I tell them about the time I had my period all over my chair in World Civ class in 10th grade.

I should warn you that hard questions will be asked when you go this route. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

4. Allow them to explore their passions.

This is the age when most kids struggle with who they are, what their skills are. I think it’s pretty typical to be plagued by thoughts of not being good at anything and feeling like a failure at life. You, the parent, have the best insight into their passions. You know better than anyone what they’re good at, what fuels them. Use this knowledge to your advantage to feed their passions.

It’s inevitable that they’ll have days that feel crummy, it’s part of being human. I remind them of the things they’re good at. I may encourage them to keep trying or to take a break, whichever is most needed.  We find personality tests to take, talk over tea, snuggle and discuss favorite books or movies.

Allowing my kids to try things that I maybe wasn’t so sure about has also been revealing. I didn’t understand computers or YouTube, but my oldest daughter wanted a YouTube channel, so she taught me. I didn’t like science much when I was in school but child #2 really likes it, so we’ve ventured way more in that area than I would have chosen. Turns out I do like science!

Child #3, who will be a teenager next Friday (eek!!!) grew interested in carnivorous plants. He’s always loved nature – dirt, frogs, turtles, rocks, they’ve all resided in our bathtub at some point. My mom bought him a little greenhouse and he’s  learned a lot. Like, adults ask his advice about their plants or animals. I love that!  These may not be things they stay attached to permanently but it’s been so fun to watch them explore the world.I learned that my discomfort or ignorance of a subject was no reason to hold my kids back.

 

Spencer, his own drummer.

 

5. Let them be who they are.

Shoulds and and have to’s have taken up more space in my life than I like. I had no idea how much I valued other people’s approval until my children became their own people. I mean, they were always their own people, but as young adults they begin to assert their opinions and feelings ALL over the place.

I learned real quick that I had to get rid of every should and have-to in my life. I did not realize that I wanted my kids to learn certain things, dress a certain way, and talk about certain things because I wanted others to be impressed with my parenting. Waking up to that realization was u-g-l-y, friends. I had to walk right away from that business because that kind of thinking, that kind of ideology, is only going to cast the shadow of shame onto my kiddos and that has no business in my home. Everyday I remind myself that I, and my children, and everyone, is made in the image of God. Fallible.Correctable. Transformable. Loved.

Boom.

Welcome home to grace.

So, they want to dye their hair, dye it. Just clean up the mess and find the least chemically stuff out there. They want to wear mismatched shoes. Yo, it’s a free country. I still want respect and kindness out of them but who they are is who they are. I don’t want to force them into some mold that wasn’t made for them.

While they live with us I want them to explore their doubt about God, their faith, their education, politics, and literature. I want them to know that under the shield of our family they will always be safe, free from shame. 


I have to say, I really love my teens. I enjoy parenting them much more than I intended. I respect them each so much, and Lee and I never pass through a day without commenting how cool they are.

If you have or had teens in your home, what are some things you do to connect with them? If you don’t, what are some things that scare you about having teenagers? Let me know in the comments.

The Reality of Christmas

We made a quick trip to visit dear friends on Thursday, two days before Christmas Eve. It seemed irresponsible to do that, but we don’t visit family and I miss the hustle and bustle of packing and going. So we went and it was fun, and one more memory with my kids’ almost-cousins is catalogued on my phone.

I love traveling.I especially love traveling with my family. Lee couldn’t get off work so I had to navigate the highways on my own. My 18 year old daughter, Kiley, was the co-pilot calling out directions, talking me down when my voice got screechy.

I’m not a fan of heavy traffic.

Photo Credit: KW BOY Flickr via Compfight cc

Kiley said she didn’t feel very Christmas-y, and I could only listen, because some years are like that. She admitted that her sister told her that it was probably because she’s older now, almost 19. I agreed that was probably part of the problem. I thought back to the year I was 18, maybe 19, and recalled that on Christmas morning I didn’t have the excited pit in my stomach, or the urge to jump out of bed at 5 a.m. I think that was year that I had a cross-stitch to finish and was up until 3 a.m.

I also remember that I received a wide-brimmed felt hat from Santa, which I loved. It had a beautiful purple silk flower pinned to it. I wore that hat a lot that winter.  However, sitting on the floor playing with a felt hat doesn’t have the same draw as sitting on the floor tinkering with the Glamour Gals Cruise Ship. Not the same thing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun, and that cross-stitch I nearly went blind completing hangs in my parent’s room today. I enjoyed watching my brothers with their loot. They were 15 and 11 so still got toys. For me, though, the sparkle was missing. Not even my memories of those early adult years  are glitter-covered.

I didn’t feel very Christmas-y.

Lee and I married and had babies and still Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. We were stuck under Should’s and Have-To’s and and spent a lot of time trying to please others. We didn’t have a lot of money, either, and I sometimes had the feeling that we weren’t doing enough. I may have even felt shame over a few of the gifts that we gave family members. The message of the Little Drummer Boy was lost to me.

Then I met Jesus.

I used to scoff at people who claimed to be ‘saved’ thinking that they were a little goofy – in a quaint way, of course. I loved the ritual of putting up the tree, hanging decorations, visiting Santa at the mall, and wrapping the gifts. I still love it. Going to Christmas Eve service at 11 p.m. with Dad became a ritual, too, one that I looked forward to and picked out a new dress for.  When we turned all the lights out in the church, singing Silent Night with no help from the organ, passing the flame from candle to candle until the sanctuary was well lit always gave me goose bumps.

Those things may  seem like empty rituals, remnants of liturgy without meaning behind them to a non-believer. My encounter with Christ, though, brought all of those things together like puzzle pieces that had been scattered, just waiting for their moment to come together forming the word HOPE.

 

Getting to know Jesus revealed to me His glory, revealed to me the Reality of Christmas.

Christmas isn’t a feeling, and it’s not a time of year.

Christmas is a fact.

Our God loves us so much that He came to us in the most vulnerable way; as a baby.

Christmas is vulnerable.

Our God loves us so much that he came to have relationship with me, with you, with everyone, no matter what they look like, smell like, or act like.

Christmas is relationship.

Our God loves us so much that he supernaturally interceded on our behalf, freeing us from the law and binding us to grace forever. He didn’t come to live the good life, he came to live THE life, and then give it away painfully, freely for us. He never planned on celebrating anything in his life, certainly not his birthday. His Christmas wish was that we would be free from sin. Our Christmas miracle is Jesus.

Christmas is supernatural.

Photo Credit: Design_Ex Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Once I was exposed to the Reality of Christmas the sparkle was back.

For the most part. Every now and then I can get bogged down with expectations for the most wonderful time of the year. The should’s and have-to’s creep back up on me and my calendar can swallow me whole. That’s when I have to make like a Shepherd and follow that Star. I have to be intentional about putting Jesus first, remember His reality, and allowing all the other stuff to fall into place. It’s all just stuff in the end.

Still, the Reality of Christmas has changed me from the inside out. I may not look sparkly but I sure feel it. These days I rarely sleep on Christmas Eve, that excited pit in my stomach and unstoppable grin keeping me company through the night. (Coffee is my Christmas miracle, too) It is so fun to give gifts to my people. Watching them open their little presents always makes me reflect on how our Lord must feel when we accept His gift.

I know that Christmas does not only come in December.  Some of my favorite Christmas gifts have come in the other months. Heck, I know that Jesus wasn’t born in December, but I understand why the early church opted to remember the Light of the World’s entrance during the darkest month of the year. Symbolism is not empty if you know what it means. 

Sometimes I can get a little bogged down in wondering and worrying that the culture has a hold on Christmas. I read the books and blogs the Facebook meme’s demanding that we save Christmas.

I’m just not sure Christmas needs saving because you can’t change reality.

The Great I Am will always be.

So I choose to be part of His Story. I choose to know His light even in my dark. I choose to be awestruck by His goodness and mercy even while horror takes place in the world. I choose twinkly lights and sparkly paper because it cheers the dreary, gray days. I choose traditions and rituals that remind me of the King of my heart and His bold move to save us. 


Not every Christmas will feel holy.

That’s a reality, too.

Some Decembers will find us sad, out of sorts, in the hospital, or without family to love us. While Christmas may not always feel holy, the Holy One is always with us – no matter what we look like, smell like, or act like. The Reality of Christmas means that we get to reflect on Him every day, all the time. There are no mess-up’s with Jesus.

I pray that tonight, on Christmas Eve, you can find one candle to light, one song to sing.

Photo Credit: m.rsjoberg Flickr via Compfight cc

 

May Christmas be real to you, today, tomorrow, and all the days that come.

May you be real, vulnerable, and have loving relationship in your life, and may God’s supernatural love be tangible in your life.

Be brave, misfits, and Merry Christmas.

Lessons Learned In My Real Life (IMRL)

Sheesh. It’s been a month since I posted.  Once it’s been a week it’s easier to take a longer. When I move into the ten day territory of no writing I become paralyzed. I stack up all of my failures and block myself in. I let that bleed over into my every day life and before I know it I’m binge eating chocolate something’s and avoiding contact with humans.

Me hiding from the world.

There may also be lots of Minecraft going on when I am over affected by life.

One of the many things I learned in counseling is that reframing my situation is vital to moving forward.  So I had a little chat with myself.

“You’re not failing, you’re taking a break. You’ve had a lot to process this month, a lot of school to do with the kids, and lots of check-up appointments. Take this time to re-energize yourself by filling up with good stuff.”

Easy peasy.

I read  for pleasure not just improvement, and I started an online course I purchased last year but didn’t get around to (telling myself that I can go at my own pace). I had a couple of nice, long chats with friends, shared some stuff that’s been weighing on me, and felt a thousand pounds lighter. I baked cookies and made some recipes I had tucked away to try. The yard got some TLC, as did my school area, and I got a haircut. I went on a spending spree with coupons at Walgreens and bought myself some mascara and facial moisturizer and I didn’t even feel guilty about it. I quit Pinning and starting doing.

I think taking a break for a few weeks after Thanksgiving will become a tradition.

I’m finally learning that it’s okay if it all doesn’t get done. It really is. There were years when I packed kids who were literally puking into he car, made them hold a tupperware dish to hold their rejected bodily fluids, and drove 8 hours to be with family for Thanksgiving. They aren’t scarred are anything, at least not by that trip, but why did I push so hard? Two words, friends: people pleaser. I did not want to disappoint. Or fail. Or not be good enough.

People pleasing is an endless traps that ends feeling worthless. What’s weird is that the people you think you’re pleasing might not even know that you’re trying to please them. They might not even care if you please them. They might not even want you to drive yourself bonkers trying to do it all right.

The moral of the story is:  take a break if you need to. Don’t pack puking kids into the car for an 8 hour drive. Don’t drive your family crazy cleaning the house for people who don’t care if your house is clean. Don’t kick yourself for not getting cards in the mail, or buying the right gifts, or baking the right cookies, or making the best meal ever.

Grace.

Grace.

Grace.

Watch Christmas Vacation and laugh at how ridiculous and true it is.

Play board game with your kids and do the dishes later.

Call a friend and tell them that you miss them.

Seriously. Take a break. Enjoy the view from where you are now.

Revel in the knowledge that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, that the sky is full of stars, that the ocean is always there even if you cannot see it, and that you are loved beyond measure.

Go on now. Get your revel on.

I dare you.

 


Other goings on In My Real Life:
  1. During my shower a couple of weeks ago I noticed a black thing in the corner of the tub. Further examination revealed that it was Spencer’s sock, his dirty sock, with a bar of soap in it. I was lamenting to my daughters the grossness of that discovery when I noticed Laurel’s extremely guilty looking face. I asked her what was up. She said, “I know what the sock was from. Spencer and I were playing hunger games…” I stopped her there and asked her not to explain any more. Ever.
  2. My husband found a library book that has been missing for three months. It was under our bed, where I have looked multiple times. I suspect he is gas lighting me.
  3. I have no socks. I’ve been wearing my Dad’s or my husband’s, alternating days so that they don’t catch on. I think they’re onto me.
  4. My youngest is 7 and still has not outgrown poop jokes. I fear he never will, because poop jokes are actually funny. Like, no matter what question somebody asks answering with ‘poop’ always elicits a laugh. From me.
  5. Speaking of poop, farting is also funny. Especially when I lock the windows on the van so that they’re trapped with the odor. Especially when I’ve eaten salami.
  6. I’m sorry about #5.
  7. We had our 21st wedding anniversary, which was not nearly as exciting as turning 21 was. On the upside no one threw up. Happy Anniversary to me! and Lee!
  8. While at the grocery I realized I still have some work to do. I loudly complained to my daughter that $6.99 was too much for baby potatoes, but that I really wanted them. As I cradled them I noticed the produce man was giving me the side eye and I worried that I had hurt his feelings by yelling about the overpriced produce. So, I did the normal thing and put them in my cart, only to circle around and put them back. PEOPLE PLEASING BEHAVIOR ALERT.
  9. I miss not living with my parents. Not because I don’t want to live with them, but because I used to take their stuff when I came home to visit. It cracked me up when Mom would say, “Oh, we have those same towels!” or “I have that exact picture at home.” The thrill is gone now and I’ve been reduced to hiding the spoons.
  10. I am trying to apply more fashion sense to my life because I’m 43 now and for goodness sake that’s what grown women do. Honestly, though, it just takes too much effort and the kids say that I cannot just knot a fancy scarf around my neck and call it fashion, particularly if I’m wearing pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. They want too much, I tell you. The Coldwater Creek models make it look so easy.

 

Here’s to Sunday nights, Monday mornings and real life.

The Gratitude Project: Week 4

Last night I surprised myself and got excited about Thanksgiving.

Like, really excited.

We didn’t do anything special or even different this year, but all of a sudden I found myself looking forward to cooking with my Mom and kids, playing board games, and hanging out. We ate, we drank, we told fart jokes.  We drug the Christmas tree up from the basement and watched a cheesy holiday movie.

It was so good.

The truth is nothing happened this year that hasn’t happened in years past. This Thanksgiving just happened to fall during a happy time in our lives. Lee and I have been married for 20 Thanksgivings. Some years we’ve seen two meals in one day, requiring a mad dash from relative’s house to relative’s house. Some years we had to ditch plans because of sick kids or car trouble. Some years we ate well, some years we didn’t. Some Thanksgivings found us sharing a meal at a friend’s home, sometimes friends and family found their way to our table. This year it was just us, and I’m grateful for it.

What I’ve learned about gratitude since I’ve started this little project is that you don’t have to feel all the good stuff to know that it’s good stuff. Even though we went through some Hard Times I still made great memories with my kids, I still loved the moments of my life, and the turkey always tasted amazing.

You can experience gratitude even while walking through Hard Times.

So if you felt sad this Thanksgiving that’s okay. If you’re dealing with some anger don’t fight it (but be nice). Maybe you’re dealing with heavy loss and can’t feel much of anything. It’s okay. Feel your feelings no matter how cliche that little line is. You’ll be making memories regardless of how you feel.

Take our family’s Thanksgiving last year, for instance. Our family was still uncertain about everything from job situations, to friend situations. Our lives felt very up-in-the-air. I was still mourning my things being packed away in storage, and Lee was still trying to figure out the job situation.

My brother Erik had been living out of my parent’s house for about 7 months. His meds still were not right. He had transitioned from being a fairly docile, easy to to be with guy to an unpredictable time bomb. My mom and I were still dealing with a lingering cough leftover from a flu that had gone through our family, and we had both just gotten over a nasty UTI. The thought of cooking left us exhausted. We thought going to Natural Bridge State Park for our Thanksgiving meal would be an easy solution. Who doesn’t love a buffet?

We couldn’t make reservations, so we decided that after lunch would probably be a slower time. I felt a little worried when we had a hard time finding parking spaces. I felt very worried when I saw the number of people hanging out. I felt a little relief when I saw the platters of meat, cheese, and veggies for snacking while you waited for a table to become available.

The kids were mildly grumbly about the wait, though two had brought a book along. My parents are generally content to do whatever. I had food and strangers to converse with, two of my favorite things in life, so I had no issues.

Erik, though, was a different story.

Crowds have never been his thing and last year, when he was still riding the ‘find the right medication train’, was no exception. Anything could set him off crying, or yelling, or talking about violent things he believed happened to him. Fortunately he has a pretty serious speech impediment so strangers can generally only recognize every few words. Unfortunately, ‘knife’, ‘murder’, and ‘gun’ are all fairly easy for him to pronounce.

Because I’m the low-key one in the family, best equipped to deal with his brand of weird, Erik was my companion for the afternoon.

Actually, I think it’s because I don’t embarrass easily.

Erik experienced a novel’s worth of emotions in a 3 hour period. I think the only thing that got me through was knowing there was a massive pile of banana pudding waiting for me at the end.

Erik and I walked laps together, the whole while he recited middle school memories, flashes of CNN headline news, and made up events. It went like this:

Erik: When I was in middle school kids took my lunch money.

Kara: How about a happy memory?

E: Yeah. The police shoot people who are bad.

K: Just tell people Happy Thanksgiving, please. People are here to have fun.

E: Okay. Happy Thanksgiving! (in angry Archie Bunker voice)

K: (eye roll) I’m going to eat all the banana pudding when we get up there.

E: Yeah. Me too. (Short pause while he gathers his thoughts) If there’s  a knife up there, though, you should take it. My mom said I’m not allowed to touch knives.

K: Maybe we should go outside…

Seriously. That’s how it went.

The first few laps people would try and talk to us, but after the third or fourth pass people knew to just keep their heads down and not make eye contact with the two nutters mumbling about being beaten up and banana pudding. My kids were simultaneously flustered and furious with their uncle. They were also hungry. Unlike me, however, the veggie and cheese trays did not satisfy their hungry tummies.

I’m not sure how long the wait was, but we finally made it to our table.

The first thing we do when we’re eating out with Erik is try and block him in. Unfortunately we were at a table in the center of the room, so not only was there no trapping him, but we were at center stage. To make matters trickier there was also a piano in the room. Musical instruments are like a magnet for Erik and he lacks impulse control and does not conform to social norms. We knew if he started playing we were done-for. He starts playing and people are like, “Oh, that nice gentleman who seems a little different is playing the piano. Let’s clap and really get him going so that his family is forced to deal with not just him but us, too.”

Maybe that’s not quite how it goes. If you see him playing piano out somewhere you can clap. I won’t be mad.

At any rate, we spent most of the meal bribing him to stay away from the piano, getting our youngest to not run laps around the dining area, and praying that only one drink would spill. When I was finally able to go up for desert all of the other cotton-headed-ninny-muggins celebrating Thanksgiving at the buffet had taken all of the banana pudding. Only the meringue was left. Who does that?

I confess that I thought, “This is my Thanksgiving?”

You know what, though? Looking back on last year makes me smile, even laugh. Mom and Dad didn’t even remember how weird it was. I look back and think, “That was a good Thanksgiving.” This year is different. This year Erik is much more settled, thanks to the miracle of medication and behavior therapists. My kids are happy and have friends, and we have a new community to lean on. Life is good this year, just like life was good last year. There were just different things going on in our lives.

Next year there will be other different things going on.

My point is we’ll be making memories regardless of what’s happening. Holidays just come, they don’t care what’s going on in our lives. Some of the memories of Thanksgivings past may make us smile, some may make us cry. The point of memories is just to remember and savor whatever stuff is swirling around in your life.   It’s not about making the day perfect or special. You know, you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life.

That’s an actual quote from the The Facts of Life theme song. I never knew how true and how poignant that song was until this moment. 

At any rate, I hope like heck you had a great Thanksgiving, that no one fought with turkey legs about politics or family history, and that you were able to breathe in deeply and know you were with people who love you.

Accidental Mentor

Sometimes I feel bad when I hear parents complaining about their teenagers, like I should join in. I have nothing to complain about, though.

I’m not saying it’s not difficult to parent kids in their teenage years. It is, and it isn’t. It’s complicated. The tension between keeping them close versus  pushing them forward is real. I want to protect them but I also want them to experience life. As a homeschoolerI have to be much more intentional in encouraging them to be in the world, always with the prayer that they not be of the world.

The public library could easily be the only place we go, but that’s not doing them any favors.

I want my kids to be in situations  that will push them, force them to know themselves, and maybe even make them uncomfortable. Lee and I have worked very hard at having the kind of relationship with the kids that allows them to share the hard stuff, and most of the time they do. I find it easy to talk with my teens. I share my heart, they share theirs. I have never believed that they have to think the way I think or believe what I believe. I hope they follow Jesus, but it is not a requirement. I encourage them to explore deep truths for themselves, praying for them to find friends who are godly, and mentors who have admirable character traits.

The fact is I love spending time with my teenagers.

Still haven't mastered the art of the selfie.
Still haven’t mastered the art of the selfie.

A few years ago, when my children were emerging teens, I realized that I was not so much parenting my kids as mentoring them. I have our years in youth ministry to thank for that.

Twelve or thirteen years ago, when we fell into youth ministry, I did not like the company of teenagers, especially when they were in a large group. It brought back junior high feelings of inadequacy. I felt I never had the right clothes or shoes, or fit in anywhere. I had flashbacks of walking into the school cafeteria for lunch and looking for a seat. Ugh. I can’t even go there.

Those youth group kids, though, they broke down those memories and dove straight into my heart. I fell in love with their over-honest ways, their answer-seeking questions, and the effort they put into growing up. Those youth group kids drove me completely crazy while winning my friendship. I figured out that they didn’t want me to be cool, or to impress them. They liked me just like I was; a young mom who was a little lonely, and really uncertain, but also eager to learn about the ways of Christ.

So we learned about him, and his ways, together.

Sometimes things were easy and I didn’t mind when youth stopped by wanting a peanut butter jelly sandwich, or just to hang out while I did the mom thing. They might even play with the kids or help me run errands. Other times kids from youth group would stop by and it would feel inconvenient to me, like one more irritation in my already irritating day. I wasn’t so great at saying no, though. Plus, life is always a little easier with company.

I’m so glad I allowed room for the interruptions. There is not one time I regret having a kid come into my home. In fact, I learned to find relief in the young people who became my friends. There were a handful of young women, in particular, who came to me the world to me. These young people became like family during a period of time when my life was not easy, and I’ll always been grateful to them.

That’s how I became an accidental mentor.

I didn’t know it at the time but these young people were teaching me how to mentor my own kids. Somewhere between 10 and 12 you transition from parenting to mentoring. You cannot force an adult-sized child to brush their teeth, shower, do their homework, get their chores done, or go to sleep – nor do I believe you should. I have high expectations for them, though, and the natural consequences of not doing the things they are required to do are the best teachers at this age. Real consequences are far more effective than any punishment I could come up with. (A huge shout out to Dr. Kevin Leman for all of his awesome books on parenting. (affiliate link) I love his Have a New Teenager by Friday, if you’re looking for some help.)

I love coaching my people in their teenage years.

It’s so exciting watching from the sidelines as they develop their own life skills, deepen their sense of self, and form relationships that will hopefully last a long time. This can be the hard part, though. It can be tempting to jump in and rescue them from themselves or bad choices or both. This is where prayer and faith come in for me – and hopefully for them, too. This is also where mentoring skills come in handy. Because I’ve helped other young people walk through decision-making I feel like it’s easier for me to act as observer in my own children’s lives as they get older. I’m learning how to ask questions rather than make demands, and how to wait on them to figure out what’s best rather than force them to do what I think is right.

Mentoring means accepting that the life your child lives will look different than the one you imagined. Mentoring means making room for your child to be their own person. Making mistakes is how I figured out some of the best stuff about myself and I want to leave room in their lives for them to do the same thing. Mentoring means not groaning when they say, “I think I might not go to college” or “I really want to major in music theater” or “I’m moving to England as soon as I turn 18”. No eye rolling, no laughing, or pointing out how out of the realm of possibility any of those things are.

Mentoring means supporting in success and failure.

I had to learn to face my fears of my kids failing. I remembered when some of the kids in youth group had huge blunders. While those moments were painful for them those experiences were also a huge catalyst for growth. That’s important to remember.

I’ve learned to get comfortable with phrases  like, “You know what’s best for your life” or “You have good judgement, I trust you”.  Young people know when you don’t feel they are capable of something. If I find myself wanting to step in for my kids, help them with a task, I have to remind myself of the message I’m sending when I do that. That’s not to say I don’t step in occasionally; I do. There are times it’s been necessary because I want them to feel supported not abandoned.

Mentoring means helping your kid find their dreams, no matter what those dreams are.

Part of the job as mentor is to help your child hone in on their skills and passions. Not many people know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they turn 18. I have to remind my kids of that all the time, and I think this is a major advantage in homeschooling. They don’t have to know their college plans by their freshman year of high school. We are able to explore their interests in a variety of ways, meet other adults who do things that are unlike anything my husband and I do, and experiment with jobs in a low key manner.  I don’t think college is essential, and I certainly don’t think it has to be completed in four years between the ages of 18 and 21.

It is not easy, choosing this way. It would be much easier if I forced them into my way, made them learn from my mistakes. Our relationship would suffer, though, and that is a thought that I cannot stand. Years ago I chose relationship with my children over success in school. I told them their grades would never be as important as our relationship, and I meant it. What’s cool is that neither suffered; they each succeed in their own way in school and we still have a great relationship. We have rocky times, too, encounter stuff that we have to work through, but our foundation is solid.

Never sacrifice your relationship with your child on the altar of success.

It is not worth it. Who cares if they’re ahead in three subjects if they don’t know where they stand with you?

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Next week I’ll talk about how to connect with your teenagers, as well as some of the unexpected joys that come with having teenage children.

Be brave, misfits and embrace the adolescents in your life. 

 

 

 

 

The Sun Will Come Out…

A couple of months ago I fell for the hype that the media is stirring up. I found myself unable to sleep with the worry of who would be our next president. I was doing research, i.e. falling into the rabbit hole that is the internet, which only deepened my uncertainty.

One day, or maybe slowly over a few days, I quit caring so much. I think it started with looking into immigrating to Ireland. Don’t judge, it’s where my people are from. From there I got hooked on Ireland travel vlogs and videos explaining the different accents. Those videos inspired me to start planning a family to trip to the Emerald Isle in 2019, which led me to the realization that the world is going to keep spinning regardless of what joker is voted in as president.

Ireland, for your viewing pleasure:

 

Photo Credit: Crash Test Mike Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Crash Test Mike Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gustav Bergman Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gustav Bergman Flickr via Compfight cc

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Don’t you feel better already?

I use Tapestry of Grace in our homeschool, a unit study curriculum focusing on history and encompassing classical studies. I can’t say enough awesome things about this curriculum, my favorite being the perspective that ultimately the events of history will unfold as they will bringing God’s perfect plan into action. No matter how bad things look, historically speaking, the will of God is being worked. His plan uses difficult circumstances to deepen our faith, spur us into action, and grow the Church.

So I calmed the heck down about it all and applied my favorite quote that can be applied to everything:

If you can’t make it better, 

you can laugh at it  ~ Erma Bombeck

I know people are passionate about all that’s going on right now. Some of that passion is not misplaced. Some of it,though, is hoopla brought on by too much time on the internet or television or talk radio. If you think about it, though, there is so much to laugh at this election cycle.

Here’s some other things that you can do to help get through the next 48 hours:

  • Read this from PBS News  or this from one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Simple. These are both survival guides that add some much needed levity.
  • Watch some Bad Lip Reading videos. If at least one of those doesn’t have you crying and/or peeing your pants something inside you is broken. I’m not kidding. Go to the doctor if you don’t find these funny.
  • If you find yourself getting so mad that you are unfriending people on social media…it’s probably time to take a break from social media. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind at this point, and it’s doubtful that anyone is going to change your mind. Hitting share in an attempt to shock others into sharing your opinion isn’t going to further any healthy discussion.
  • Take a moment to get out in the world and talk to people. Don’t talk about the election for Pete’s sake, just talk to them. Say hello to strangers, ask the person checking you out at the grocery how they are, chat with the person behind you at the coffee shop.
  • Sit at a park and watch kids play, taking special notice of how they work stuff out. I believe we’ve still retained the ability to do the same thing as adults.
  • As a Christian it’s important that I know who’s Lord of my Life. My friend David Wu preached a great sermon reminding me that loving your neighbor, even one with conflicting political views, is a simple task when Jesus reigns in every area of my life.
  • Remember that tomorrow will come, and that the day after the election we will have to look one another in the face. We’re not all going to be happy, and some of us may feel scared, and most of us will be tender. Let’s remember that and practice kindness in the coming weeks.
  • Put this song on repeat.

 

Ultimately, the sun will come out tomorrow. Yes, that’s a Little Orphan Annie quote, because I’m an optimist. Knowing that the sun WILL come out no matter who will be taking office reminds me of who is in charge. That is more awesome than anything else happening in our world at this time.

Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scott1346 Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scott1346 Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Be kind to one another, misfits. Sometimes that’s the bravest act of all.

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude Project~Week 1

I’ve always found comfort in drugstores like Walgreens. The aisles are tidy, sales are fun, and you can get in and get out relatively quickly. Last fall and winter, though, I found myself frequenting our local Walgreens.

A lot.

Like, two and three times a day sometimes.

The familiarity was comforting, but even more it was that the people there knew my name. They knew my kids. Especially Ken, one of the men that works there, knew who we were. There were a couple of others, too. Ken, though, treated me like a friend. He would do things like tease us about how many times we came in, ask me how I was and then listen for the answer,  laugh with the kids, or congratulate me when I got out alone.

I know, it says something about my life that when I got time to myself I went to Walgreens.

But there you have it. That was the best I could do. Sometimes I would buy a magazine and candy bar and go sit in the car and thumb through the pages while I enjoyed my chocolate.

Other times I just sat in the car and cried. I knew I was depressed but I wasn’t really sure what to do. All of my feelings were numb. I couldn’t feel happy or sad or even mad. I just felt kind of like a blob of nothing. I watched everything go on around me, and it would register that I should be feeling something. It was like a watching a movie but feeling none of the emotions that the director and producer and actors had worked so hard to achieve.

Sometimes you just have to be in Hard Times, there’s nothing to be done for it.

I started seeing a counselor in January and as I slowly came out of the depression I woke up to a lot of stuff that I’d been sleep walking through.

Some of that stuff was people – and Ken was one of those people.

I realized that it wasn’t Walgreens that gave me comfort; it was Ken. Ken provided relief from depression for a little bit because he knew me and he liked me and he gave me hope.

Hope is so good.

I knew that gratitude was the inoculation I needed. I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts a few years ago and loved her words on gratitude. I knew what Paul said about persevering, about being thankful in all circumstances. I have scripture about being grateful on sticky notes all over the house.

There’s a difference between knowing something in your brain, though, and knowing something in your heart.

With the help of my awesome counselor I learned that thinking negatively contributes to depression. Looking back over the years it became clear that I’d accidentally allowed my thoughts to focus on the bad things that had happened in my life rather than the good. In particular, I ruminated on lost and failed relationships.

The cure seemed to be to focus on positive, life giving relationships, to be grateful for the enjoyable relationships.

I’ve told you that after our family moved to Lexington a couple of years ago I just felt spent. In the beginning I put in a lot of effort into finding a homeschool and church community that would give my family the support that they needed. Looking back I can see that we needed rest more than anything, and that I was just spinning my wheels. That’s where Ken from Walgreens came in.

I needed people and Ken and the crew up there were my people for that time. 

In fact, they kind of still are my people.

I still love Walgreens, and always will, but I don’t go up there every day. For the last few weeks, whenever I entered the doors, I felt the urge to tell Ken thank you. I had already started the Gratitude Project by writing notes to people who have been important in my life in all kinds of ways. It just felt important to let  Ken to know that he made a big difference during a pretty crappy time in my life.

Every time I started to say something, though, I choked. I felt embarrassed or worried that others would overhear me. Then a couple of weeks ago when I wrote a post on forgiveness  some of the shame I had felt about being depressed disappeared and I felt courage blossoming in my chest.

My kids were milling about looking for sale items. I walked up to the counter where Ken was waiting with a smile.

“Hey, I just wanted you to know that last winter I went through a really lousy time. I was really depressed, and you were always so nice to me. I think it’s why I came in here all the time. I just wanted to tell you thank you, that it really means a lot to me that you were so kind,” I told him. It was not awkward at all.

“Wel, thank you for saying so,” he said, as reached across the counter to take my hand, and he said some other things that I don’t quite remember.

Then I told him I was going to start crying and had to go – we both laughed and wiped our eyes a little.

That was not a life changing moment for either us, I’m sure, but I do know it made me think a little more about small actions. I hope it reminded Ken of how important he is in the world.  A simple thank you can carry a lot of weight.

Acknowledging good someone has done in your life, for your life, helps us to remember that who we are, and how we treat others, is far more important than what we do.

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I’ve noticed since starting the Gratitude Project I’m more careful with my words, I notice the efforts that others are making, and I’m much more gentle with myself. It would seem that being grateful magnifies the good in the world, something we are sorely in need of.  I’ve also noticed that I feel happier, lighter, like the world might actually be an okay place to reside in. That can’t be bad.

I’m sure we all have failed relationships that we grieve, or maybe even wish we could have skipped over. Difficult relationships should be overshadowed by the special, caring relationships God sends our way. We can do that by choosing to remember the good ones. What relationships do you find yourself especially thankful for? I’d love to hear…and I’m sure they would, too. Join me in the Gratitude Project? If you send a handwritten note or thank some one in person I’d love to hear about it. You can share here or on Instagram – just use tag me @karakshepherd.  🙂

Be brave, misfits!

P.S.

Look what came in the mail today! For reals!!

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A thank you card from….
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WALGREENS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Suddenly Comes Around

Life is really all about waiting.

 

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When you’re a little kid you wait to grow up. Upon growing up you wait to get married. After  waiting to get married you wait for the right moment to have a baby until you realize that there is no perfect juncture to adding a new life to two . It just happens and you go forth into the adventure dumber than you realize.

Once the baby comes along you’re waiting for rolling over, coos, and giggles. You can’t wait for baby to sit up or crawl, or whatever milestone you’re expecting.  It’s all so exciting to think about, and then suddenly it’s happening. The milestones have been met and baby is moving on and you’re waiting to see what’s next.

Exhaustion is a fiend that hunts you, each day bringing a round of waiting. Waiting to not be tired, waiting to take a shower, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth. Waiting for snacks, for meals, for lunch, in line at the bank and the grocery and the library. Waiting for your kid to sleep through the night (the cruelest lie the world ever told!), waiting for a schedule to kick in, and for someone to tell you that you’re doing things right. In all of that waiting the world keeps spinning and you find yourself in love with the craziness of it all, even while secretly wishing it all away.

You potty train, spending  countless minutes and hours waiting for the kid to do what they’re supposed to do on their little potty. Books are read, dances and songs invented, and modesty is lost during downtime in and outside of the powder room.

Even after potty training happens you’re still on watch outside of bathrooms everywhere you go. One kid is scared of falling in, another one doesn’t want their tushy to touch the seat and learns to go while you dangle them by the armpits over public toilets. All this time  spent in bathrooms triggers your need to pee so it becomes a family affair, with your kids all piled in the stall with you announcing to strangers about the color of your underwear or size of your bum.

You may even make friends in the restroom.

The kids get older and the waiting is different, but still waiting. Tying shoes, riding bikes, reading books all happen with us parents lingering in the background, coaxing the kids along, encouraging them on their journey of learning to do stuff they need to know how to do.

You wait and you wait and you wait…and then suddenly comes around. The kids are big and doing life on their own.

Piano lessons, play days with friends, overnights (or almost overnights), classes; you bide your time during all of the activities that kids get to enjoy. You get your things done (or nap in the car) while they’re getting their other things done away from you.

You are less and less of the equation in their lives – still there, but different.

“Nothing,” becomes the standard response when you ask them what they did, because you are a little less welcome in their world as they discover who they are away from you. And because sometimes they literally don’t remember what they did.

Maybe some really hard things come your way, things you weren’t on the lookout for. These things might be hardest because you’re watching while life happens to your kid. It’s one thing for you to be in the belly of the whale but entirely new and dreadful thing to be a bystander while your kid struggles in the dark. It may even dawn on you that it’s not your hand they need and you turn your prayers in another direction.

Then suddenly comes around and that kid is just fine,and soaring and you’re onto the next one getting them through their own personal pit.

You find yourself able to think more and more about yourself during the time in between. You may even discover that  you’re on standby for your adult life, too, You may wake up at night with the feeling like you left the oven on, that there’s something you’ve forgotten. Perhaps your nerves are shot because do they know about present perfect tense and algebra and who the minor and major prophets are?  Do they? You may start to wonder just what the heck life is all about and if you can make it and how you’re going to get these half grown people of yours the rest of the way there AND JUST WHERE IS THERE?

Where will they end up?

Then God will remind you through whispers and sunshine-filled days, and rainy days, too, that he’s got this and that your job is in the waiting, and that he will do the work.

…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

Where they end up is where you wait on the Lord – you trust in him to get them there because not everything is your job. Sure, you can worry about not doing everything right, about not filling them up with everything that they’ll need to get through life unscathed but that’s not the point, is it?

Life wouldn’t be life without skinned knees, broken hearts, and massive failures, and God wouldn’t be God if he couldn’t handle it.

He’s got this. Really.

Water to wine, fishes and loaves – something called the Universe… from nothing.

Remember?

So let him handle it, and while you wait teach your heart to trust him. He is good, so good, and faithful.  So faithful.

His promises are true.

Whatever you find yourself waiting on, and I’m preaching to myself here, trust that its going to turn out. Jobs, kids, husbands, wives, presidents, school, peace…wait, and find your strength renewed. No need to be weary or faint, or to consider running away from home, because you were created for this life, the one that you’re living right now.

Be brave in the waiting, friends…

 

because when suddenly comes around it’s going to be AMAZING.

 

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On Forgiveness

Since walking away from shoulds and have-to’s this year, I have to say my life feels a lot lighter, a lot less complicated.

One thing that’s been plaguing me, though, is bitterness.

Something about being 40 causes me to ruminate, but if I’m truthful it’s always  been something I’m good at. I think the kids being older has given me more time to process the last 20 years of my life or so. While I don’t find I’m filled with regret, it recently dawned on me that my heart had become unforgiving toward some people and situations in my life.

I got to spend 24 hours away with a friend this weekend, a friend I haven’t seen in over a year, and it was wonderful. I had a 90 minute drive to myself with a lot of quiet (and a little loud singing)  to let my thoughts roll around.

I caught myself reliving some of my most painful memories and wishing that some of that pain could be bounced back onto those who hurt me and mine.

Ah, I thought, there it is. The thorn that’s been keeping my heart from moving forward is called bitterness and I’ve been unknowingly feeding it over the years.

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I have a strong sense of justice, but like Jonah I forget that God’s ways are merciful, that his desire is to his bring us all into relationship with him, even the worst of the worst.  I should be thankful that I don’t receive his justice rather than pondering the justice I feel others deserve.

I’m sure there’s a thing or two about that in the Bible.

 


 

We both arrived at the Inn we were staying at, after exploring all 14 rooms decided we needed to eat.  Shanna still has little ones, three under 4, plus  three others from 7 to 15. Her large number of children combined with my four means  we can swap funny stories and parenting tips fairly evenly.  We discussed kids, homeschooling, husbands, politics, and religion.  I’ve always loved talking to Shanna because we can talk about Deep Things but never lose sight of the only thing that matters: our faith in Christ.

Everyone should have friends like this woman, and I’m grateful to have her, and several others, in my life.

After we finished our meal and a desert we didn’t really like I confessed that I had a forgiveness problem. I confessed that I wanted to write mean letters to people who had caused pain in my life and let them know I thought they were douche bags.

Is douche bag a dirty word?

I think it might be.

It turns out that Shanna had recently listened to a sermon on forgiveness.

“Forgiveness means that you can see that person and treat them as if they did nothing wrong,” she told me. I nodded because I understood, not because I thought that would be an easy task.

I told her of how hurt I was by people who I had mistaken as friends, who I had invested in, only to have them choose malicious actions. Something terrible happened to our family ten years ago, something that cost us what felt like everything. While we continued to move forward my heart was still broken,  and every negative event that came after stacked up on top of that crack, even sinking into it, deepening the fissure. I didn’t realize I was only stacking up the hurtful moments.

Even after all this time recounting the events that unfolded caused me pain, deep pain, and a rash of hives.

“But think about it,” Shanna said, “You’re hurting more than they are. You’re thinking about it and they probably don’t. They’ve moved on.”

Our conversation took us other places, then we were tired and ready to go back to our room so we could climb into bed and talk more, which we did.

 


 

In the minutes before I fall asleep I always pray, and thank God for getting through the day. As I lay there that night, after our conversation on forgiveness, I asked God to help me find grace and mercy for those who had hurt my family, and for a reprieve from the bitterness. I asked him to help me forgive.

And that was it.

I fell asleep quickly and I woke up with a much lighter heart.

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Seems that it is as easy as that. Turning away rather than turning towards the painful moments in my life is all it took. My shoulders didn’t feel heavy and I was no longer stacking stuff up on top of hurt.

Here’s the rub: I can go back to that old way any time I’d like; if I CHOOSE to. The decision is mine. I can tend the root of bitterness or I can cut it away and plant something more life giving, like grace and mercy. It’s muscle memory, really, and I’m retraining my brain muscle. Every time I encounter acerbic thoughts I must turn away. Every single time.

My shield of faith is taking a few knocks, to be sure.

In my own strength I could not defeat my vengeful thoughts, but allowing Christ to do the work for me, with me, gets the job done. It’s only been four days but I’m reveling in the beauty of forgiveness, of letting myself move away from the trap of of the past.

The thing that has surprised me the most was how ungrateful I had become. I thought I had long ago conquered that beast. I thought I had figured out a thing or two. I think it’s like this: sometimes pain is a companion. I treated my hurt like a badge of honor, like I’d really been through something.

I had accidentally begun to downplay all the really awesome people God had put in my life and I was making idols of the ones who had not been so awesome.

So I’m starting a Gratitude Project.

I’m going to let people know how much they mean to me. I’ll write handwritten notes, Facebook messages and e-mails. Today I took a deep breath and thanked someone in person for what they meant to me,  and that little act unwound something that had been binding up my heart. It was so good I can’t wait to do it again.

I’ll keep you posted as I go, and maybe you’d like to join in as well? 

Projects are always better with friends.

 

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