Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 Bags in 40 Days: This Mama's Lenten Experience

Today marks the first day of Lent. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Lent is the 40 (or so) days prior to Easter. Catholics count Sundays in the 40 days while Protestants do not, so the dates differ a little. This is a period of time marked by sacrifice or fasting where Christians can grow in their dependence and reliance on God. Catholics fast from meat on Fridays, while many others also "give something up." Lent is a pretty big deal in the Catholic community, though there are plenty of Protestant churches that see this time as fairly significant as well.

I grew up in the Catholic culture, but never really "got" Lent. I always gave something up (lying, gossiping, chocolate, soda, etc.), but it was mostly because it's what I was supposed to do. When I would inevitably fail, I'd feel crazy bad and hope my dozen Hail Mary's would cover my sin. We didn't even abstain from meat on Fridays and eat the approved  fish meal because of my mom's fish allergy. (I was a pretty crappy Catholic. Questioning the Pope's spiritual authority in my life was also particularly frowned upon, but I digress)

Even in my non-spiritual stage ranging from my teens to early-twenties I continued to give something up for Lent because it was a ritual ingrained in my brain, but it wasn't until our Methodist preacher really broke it down for me. He said that giving something up - or NOT giving something up- does not change our status with God. He loves us regardless. If we have accepted Jesus as the atonement for sin, then how we celebrate Lent doesn't affect that. However, if we decide to abstain from something during these 40 days, make sure it's something that will draw you closer to the Lord. For example: if TV infringes on prayer time or has become an unhealthy habit, then giving it up and replacing it with prayer and meditation is appropriate. Giving up soda just to give up soda isn't.

In  Lents past, I've given up social media (it is a huge distraction for me), I've given up certain foods which cause temptation, while pregnant with my fourth child I gave up precious, precious sleep and woke at 5:30 every morning to spend time with God in the Bible and in prayer.

We are getting rid of 40 bags of stuff
during the 40 days of Lent
This year, I've been in prayer in the weeks leading up to this point asking God what He sees as a distraction in my life.

We live in a society dominated by consumerism. More stuff equals more happiness. My life and my house has revealed the truth of which I think a lot of Americans are experiencing but are afraid to admit.

Less is actually more.

My twins are in the choir at school and they came home singing "Tis the Gift to be Simple," a wonderful Shaker hymn. And the words have been running through my head, "Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free." It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Simplicity is a gift from God.

My house, my life, is not simple. It is cluttered and distracting. It is filled with stuff that causes fights and falls as people trip over left out knick knacks. We don't need half of what we have and greediness and gluttony has crept into our hearts like a cancer. God's Spirit spoke to my heart and impressed upon it what I'm giving up for Lent. What my whole family is giving up...

In one word. Stuff.

Forty bags in 40 days to be exact. Every day we will fill bags with stuff we no longer need, or want, or that can be thrown away. Everyday will be a step toward simplicity. Sunday's will be a day of rest. The whole family is in on this. And while there is a degree of sacrifice here, it is nothing to the freedom that will be attained when we're not tied down by junk.

We'll be cleaning out junk drawers and closets, purging toys and clothes, throwing out makeup and markers without caps. We'll be going through cabinets and bookshelves, bathrooms and jewelry boxes. No nook or cranny will be safe.

Check back periodically to see how we're doing and I'm curious...are you giving up anything for Lent? I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is it Ever Too Late?

I'm going to tell on myself here: I'm pretty crappy in a whole lot of areas. For example, I still have my mom's Christmas AND birthday presents sitting unwrapped in my bedroom...I didn't even send her a card. My kids have a pen pal in San Francisco and they wrote to her at the beginning of December...I still haven't sent their letters. At church we have a "Secret Pal" program where folks are paired with widowed individuals or those home bound or in the nursing home. The whole point is to let your Secret Pal know someone is thinking of them throughout the year. Last year, I managed one month. One. Month. It's pathetic! I was given another pal this year (they admitted they just really needed the help.) And here it is January 31, and I JUST got my pal's card in the mail. I try to post here weekly and it's been, well, four months. And, by the way, my Christmas tree is still up. Oh goodness I'm embarrassed admitting all of this. Everything just sort of piles up and I think, "It's just too late!" 

But is it? Is it too late? Is my idea of perfection hindering any sort of progress? The crazy thing is that I know I'm not perfect; I admit I'm far, far from perfect. Nevertheless I harbor perfectionism. The idea that if something is not done "right" or in the "right time," it's not worth doing. My plan was to take the tree down shortly after the New Year. My plan fell through so the tree is still up.

I guess the good news is that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. But I have to TAKE the step. Staying in one place equals defeat. My goal needs not to be perfection but progress. As I crawl, stumble, stagger toward the goal, I have to keep in mind that I'm moving forward. Any inch gained is an inch closer to the person I want to be.

Are you like me? Do you harbor inner perfectionism? Maybe you need the house cleaned a certain way and if it's not done that exact way it's not clean (even if it really is clean by most standards.) I have a friend who would completely re-write her notes from class if she thought a word or two was "messy." Perfect isn't reality. Reality is messy, and thankfully God doesn't call us to perfection. He calls us to completion.

James 1:4 (NIV) says, "Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Notice it say nothing about perfection finishing its work, but perseverance. To persevere is just to muddle through; gaining ground toward the finish line. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "to continue doing something...even though it's difficult." There are seasons when it seems that everything is difficult. (Obviously taking down the tree has proven difficult or I would have done it a month ago.) But God is calling me to persevere because it's not too late.

It's not too late to...
  • Mend the relationship
  • Make the phone call
  • Say "I'm sorry"
  • Pray more
  • Get healthier
  • Yell less
  • Smile more
  • Try new things
  • Go different places
  • Admit you were wrong
Friends, stay your course, whatever it is. The road is going to get rough at times and if you're banking on perfection then expect to be broke. One foot in front of the other.

Perfection is a myth, progress is the goal, perseverance is the key.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Apparently, I Need to "Let it Go."

"Let it go! Let it go!"

Yeah, I'm singing it too, but this isn't about the catchy tune that is currently pulsing through my head. It's about the message that has been thrown at me today.

You see, I've joined the Crazy Mama Challenge over at I've also joined Hannah's 7-Day Mom Stress Cure. (See a pattern? Crazy mama? Mom stress? Anyway...) The crazy mama challenge for today was to...let it go. Whatever it is that is holding you back, whether it be clothes in the closet, bad attitudes, a sense of perfectionism, clutter, whatever, you're supposed to let it go. That's it.

Then when I opened my email to see what was in store for Day-4 of the Mom Stress Cure, it was a challenge to...let it go. Let clothes go? Attitudes? Clutter? No, this was more about making a list of external stressors and figuring out which of them can be pulled up by the roots. Many moms have "yesitis" in other words, we can't say no. So, it's time to let go of those things that are holding us back from being the moms we want to be.

Anyone at anytime can sign up for the 7-Day Mom Stress Cure. I just happened to sign up at the same time the Crazy Mama Challenge was happening. It was pure coincidence that these two "Let it Go" challenges landed on the same day.

Oh, wait. I don't believe in coincidence.

So, what is it that I need to let go of? My list of committees, and church obligations was longer than I expected, but not crazy. The list of relational obligations was, well, non-existent. And the domestic obligations were actually shorter than it probably should be.

Nothing was glaring at me in the face saying, "I'm dragging you down, mama. What'cha gonna do about it?" I prayed about it; asking God to reveal what needed to go, and still there was nothing. Or was there?

I have a crippling sense of insecurity. If I'm not somebody's all then I'm nobody...Ridiculous.

I'm going to let it go. Because I am somebody no matter what others think about me (or don't think about me.) I am a child of the most high God and that is something.

Let it go!
I have a major pride issue (which ties in with the crippling sense of insecurity).

Time to let it go. Pride comes before a fall and I don't want that to happen. I also need my children to remember that they must love others above themselves. Low self esteem is NOT the same thing as humility. In fact, it's most likely a source of pride. If you think poorly of yourself all the time, you're thinking of... Yourself. That is pride.

I have a comparison issue. Why isn't my house as neat as theirs, my kids as well behaved, my dog as well trained? Because they're not.

Letting it go. I'm doing what I can do, and while there is always room for improvement, I'm not who I used to be either.

What's dragging you down, friend? Is it physical? Make a plan and start letting it go. Is it mental? Start releasing the strings that keep you tied down.

Let it go. Let it go. Can't hold it back anymore!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nothing Says "Crisis Clean" like a Camera Crew Coming to Your House

Why, oh why, did  I say they could do an interview here? I don't know what I was thinking, but now, I feel a little like Bilbo regretting ever inviting Gandalf to tea, but the deed was done and a camera crew was coming to my house. Have you seen my house? Not good.

Let me back up a little...

My phone rang as I was settling in for a mid-morning siesta. The local ABC station called and wondered if I'd be interested in helping them with a story about getting children on a good schedule for the school year. "Of course!" I replied. Coincidently, I had just updated my children's morning and evening routines and would actually be able to supply something of value to the story.

But then, THEN, she asked where I'd like to do the interview. And I said..."How about my house?" I cringed as the words escaped my lips. I had just invited a reporter and a camera man into the abyss of messiness. Oh. My. Goodness. The siesta, my friends, was over.

Frantically, I cleaned up what I could. Areas that hadn't been touched in eight years were vacuumed. Clutter was picked up. As scary as it was to have my house displayed on TV it was definitely a motivator to get cleaned up.

They were waiting for me when I pulled up with the kids and my nerves were pretty shaky. The reporter, Whitney Delbridge, and her camera man were so kind and great to get along with. They made a nerve-racking experience very enjoyable. For the most part, my children were super well behaved. Two of them sat and did their homework and pretended the camera wasn't there. I'd say we have future in reality TV if Lincoln hadn't decided that it was more fun to stick his face right in the camera, and make noises to get noticed WHILE I was doing the interview. The editing team earned their money that day.

All in all, it turned out wonderfully. The camera only added 6lbs instead of the whole 10, and my house didn't look like a hurricane had hit...only a mild fall zephyr.

Let me know what you think! Watch the report here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Guide to a Happy Marriage

My sweet husband and I recently celebrated our 11th anniversary. While I know this doesn't sound like a lot to some of you, in this age of quickie divorces I'm pretty thrilled to have made it this far. So, I got thinking, what advice could I give a newlywed or someone thinking about getting married?

Well, here it is (in no particular order):

My Guide to a Happy Marriage

1. Make Sure You Like the Person You Marry
    You might be thinking, "Duh, of course I LIKE the person I'm going to marry." But do you? Do you really? If you put away the butterflies and the mushy gushy feelings, do you like them as a person? In my opinion, it's more important to marry someone you consider a friend than it is to marry someone who sets you on fire!

2. Be OK With Your Spouse's "Habits"
    Everybody has little quirks that make them unique. Some are annoying; some are endearing, but we all have them. (I totally drool when I sleep) Despite what you think: THEY WILL NOT CHANGE. If your man is not  lovey dovey now, please don't think that he is going to start being Mr. Romantic after the vows. It ain't gonna happen. If you don't like the way your lady leaves her keys laying anywhere and everywhere, chances are that's not going to change. Either learn to live with whatever annoys you or don't take the plunge, but do not go in thinking you can "fix" the other person.

3. The Seven-Year-Itch is a Real Thing
    I don't know what it is about seven years, but I have talked to several folks who say the same thing. The seventh year of marriage is HARD. Really hard. Just trudge through it. Don't get discouraged. It can feel very lonely when you're going through a rough spot in your marriage, but know you are not alone. Seek the godly counsel of a friend who has already weathered the seventh-year-storm, seek couple's counseling if necessary. Keep James 1:2-3 close to your heart, "Consider pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." Don't give up.

4. Don't be Disillusioned When it Comes to Kids
  Having a baby will not fix a troubled marriage and it will stress a healthy one. My husband I knew we wanted children. What we didn't know is how much they would change our marriage. We had planned to wait five years before having kids, but three months after our second anniversary we were pregnant with TWINS. Yeah, talk about a culture shock. We went from being basically newlyweds to a family of four. If you want to have kids because you think that precious being will pull your tired, crumbling marriage from the brink of collapse, think again. The stress of raising a family can push it over the edge. Think your marriage is solid enough to weather any storm? Children turn storms into hurricanes. Without a doubt, children are a major blessing, just know, be prepared, be mindful: A BABY CHANGES EVERYTHING.

5. Don't Try to be Their Parent
   You are both grown-ups and while it's tempting to try and parent your spouse when they're acting like a complete baby, don't. It only makes it worse. It also serves to belittle them in the situation. Remember that as ridiculous as they are acting, chances are that you'll act equally as ridiculous at some point in time.

6. Take Time for Yourself
    No matter how much you love your partner or how much you love spending time with them, being around someone 24/7 can get irritating. Find something you enjoy doing by yourself and take the time to do it. Go in a different room and read your favorite book, or go fishing or do anything that allows you to recharge your batteries. I sing in an interdenominational choir which practices once a week. Those few hours away from home doing something I enjoy makes me a better wife and mother.

7. Recognize That Different is Not the Same as Wrong
    When two people, with two personalities, live under one roof, things are going to get done two different ways. That's ok. If he doesn't fold the towels (or the shirts, or the underwear) the way you like them folded, please don't fuss. HE IS FOLDING THE LAUNDRY. Just because things get done differently, does not mean they are done wrongly...wrong...wronger (I dunno). Let go of your perfectionism and allow the other person some breathing room. Men, this goes for you too. If your lady decides to fix the toilet that runs constantly, please don't give her a play by play of how YOU would have done it. Instead, thank her for a job well done by taking her out for dinner. Ladies, just a heads up: men parent differently than women do. In our house that means a lot more TV, but as long as everyone is safe, healthy and happy, I have to's NOT WRONG, JUST DIFFERENT.

8. Explore Your Spouse's Interests
   Chances are you and your partner enjoy similar activities, but you also enjoy very different hobbies. My husband likes to fish and hunt. While I don't mind doing those things, I can think of activities I'd MUCH rather be doing. I like to sit and have meaningful husband doesn't. But if a marriage is going to work, it's important to explore what makes the other person happy. I've gone hunting and fishing with my man; what he remembers is that I got out of my comfort zone to do something that was important to him. My husband is rather socially awkward, but I can't count the number of times he's gone with me to gatherings when he'd rather be at home playing video games. When you do something that is meaningful to your partner, you are saying, "I love you" without having to say a word.

9. Go on Dates
   Because we DON'T get to do this very often, I know how vitally important it is. Consciously setting aside time to rediscover each other helps remind you why you fell in love in the first place. If you can
go out on dates, or away on weekends, PLEASE do it. We don't have the money or the babysitters to do either, but we can still set time to watch movies after the kids go to bed, or play a board game, or just talk. Again, because we're not good at this, I know how important it is.

10. Be Aware of the Seasons
   Winter, Summer, Spring...? No. Your marriage is going to experience seasons. Seasons of plenty and seasons of want. And I'm not just talking money here. There are times when you cannot wait to get home to your fella or your woman. Then there are the times when neither of you are acting particularly loveable and you'd rather go lock yourself in the bathroom with a Hershey's bar than be around THEM. There will be seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. There will be seasons of sickness and health. (This sounds a lot like marriage vows. Hmmmmm, coincidence? I think not.)  Thing about seasons is that they pass. The good times can't last forever, but neither can the bad times. You've got to walk through the shadows of the valleys to see the sunrise from the mountaintops. You can't give up just because it's hard, and you can't grow complacent because everything is awesome. Seasons change.

11. Marriage is Not 50/50
   Contrary to popular belief, each half of the marriage union needs to give 100%. Enough said.

12. Put God First
   There should be three people in your marriage. God, you and your spouse. If God is the head of the household all else will fall into place. When you honor your spouse with your life and your love, you honor the One who said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18). When both spouses see the need depend on God rough seasons are easier to get through and seasons of plenty are that much more joyous (See #10).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What If?

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13) 
What if you didn't know today could be any different than it is?

I mean, what if there was no Facebook or Twitter telling you what was "trending" right now (which makes it painfully obvious that nothing about you IS trendy)? What if you couldn't go straight from your laptop to the beaches where so many of your "friends" are having a fabulous time while you're cleaning up dog pee...again? What if there were no advertisements reminding you that your life is not complete because you don't own this or your looks are lacking because you don't wear that? What if there was no way to compare your way of life to someone else's?

What if?

What if we truly took life just as it is? Life with all its bumps and hills and mountains and valleys. What if we just took OUR road without detours to another's reality?

What if the girl down the street who ran out of diapers (and money to buy diapers) just started potty training or went to cloth diapers? No complaints, no tweets to the world that everything is against her, no "woe is me."  She just did what she had to do because that's what she had to do.

What if the man next door just started taking the bus or riding his bike when his only mode of transportation breaks down? No whining, no self-pity, just a determination to get to work because he has a job to do.

What if the elderly gentleman learns its cancer and immediately starts looking into options because his time is limited and he knows his life is his alone. Moaning won't make the cancer go away, but chemo may halt it.

What if the mother stopped Google-ing every parenting technique under the sun because she thinks her kids aren't measuring up? Because she thinks SHE isn't measuring up. Because all the other mothers parent waaay better than she does.

What if?

What if we started living our lives instead of wanting to live his life, or her life, or that rich couple's life? What if losing was as rewarding as winning because we knew it had the potential to make us better? What if we stopped asking, "Well, why does she (fill in the blank)?" or "Why does (fill in the blank) ALWAYS  happen to me?"

What if everything we do was to the glory of the One who made us? What if He were the only one worth impressing? What if our lives were authentic? Not a show for the congregation, or Facebook friends, or Twitter followers, or mom groups or work colleagues.

What would all of that look like?

True contentment...

Friday, July 11, 2014

What Do You Choose? (Pt. 2)

I sit here still thinking about JOY.  How I have to step out of myself to choose joy. Today, right now, this minute.

It's been a week since we buried our precious Jesse. Sorrow and mourning have outweighed happiness 2:1. There are times when the pain is so raw it feels as though I'm being ripped apart. But then it occurred to me:

Happiness is not the same as joy.

Feeling happy is based on the situation, based on emotion. As much as I would love to, I can not be happy all of the time. It's impossible.

But I CAN be joyful...All of the time.

Why? Because joy is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Joy is knowing God. Joy is knowing He holds your hand while happiness is fleeting. Joy is a choice because it is not based on emotion. Joy is the act of thanking the One not because things are going great, but just because He is.