Little Bits of Hope: March

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Are you out there, God?

 

“Yes, Father, I still believe in your goodness, despite what I see with my eyes;

Yes, Father, I still believe you have a plan for my life, despite what I feel in my heart;

Yes, Father, I still believe my best days are ahead of me, despite what my enemies and friends and family and loved ones say to me;

Even if you ask me to live in mystery the rest of my life, I will wake up every day and say yes, Father, I still believe in you (page 154). “

When I was a teenager I went to a Christian camp, where the theme was Where is God When Bad Things Happen? He’s On His Throne. Although, I wanted that to be enough for me, I couldn’t believe it was that easy. And if it was, what did it really mean? To me, it sounded like God was aloof in his safe place, while all of us down here really lived our crazy stories and hurt in unimaginable ways. What kind of God was he anyway? I felt alone.

As an adult, I eventually picked up Second Guessing God: Hanging On When You Can’t See His Plan by Brian Jones. If, like me, you’ve cried and begged, angrily wondering where God is when devastating things continue to happen every second, practically every place in the world, take a look at this relate-able book. His prayer (above) is so honest, choosing to trust when he can’t make sense of all that’s around him; it’s refreshing to to have an example like this, since he leans toward God, when times are mysterious and scary. Written with humor and transparency, Brian is a Jesus follower, who actually admits he does not know all the answers and lays out his struggles with what he sees around him. No worries, I’ll share my copy with you but will expect it back at some point (it’s just that good!).

Happy WOMEN’s Day!

As I walked into our favorite breakfast restaurant this morning, I was wished a happy Mother’s Day and given a rose by an employee. “Thanks, but I’m not a mom,” I said, and the girl let me know the flowers were only for mothers. So, on the way out the door, my sweet Brian handed me the prettiest lavender rose. He got it from the same girl (who was just doing as she was instructed). “I need one for my wife,” he told her.

photo(10)SO, happy WOMEN’S Day to all women, not only in the U.S. (where we have this joy and pain-filled Mothers Day) but everywhere. This includes those who are single and those who have partners. Those who have given birth and those who don’t want to, those who adopt or foster and those who don’t want to, those who work with children and those who don’t want to, those who love pets and those who don’t want to, those who are trying all they can to have children and those who don’t want to.

This includes those who are fighting for their voice and their freedom.

This includes those who have lost special women in their lives, and EVERY woman…for simply being who you are.

My heart is with each of you, with us.

You are loved (and don’t let Mothers Day make you think you aren’t)!

Moving to the Edge

Our dog Glory loves riding in the car, but it hasn’t always been this way. When we adopted her, she trembled in the backseat until we got home, even though my friend talked to her gently the whole time. She’s had a lot happen to her; much of it we’ll never know. She came to us with scars on the inside and fears of all kinds. In those days, it was mostly about being abandoned.

Things are different now with two dogs, but there are times when those old fears return. When we went to the dog park, what should have been fun with other dogs seemed scary to Glory. After walking around the fence with us once, we took her off the leash, ready to let her run. Instead, she made her way to the front gate and just sat there. Eyes red and breathing deeply, she did not, would not move, no matter what we said. I guess she connects that kind of freedom with being left without her family. I want to tell her what I know about the dog park: This is fun. Dogs LIKE this place. You are safe, and we’re right here. And I feel sad because she doesn’t understand. Maybe she will one day if we keep trying.

I wonder if God sees us the same way. He leads us to a place that might ultimately bring us more peace than we’ve experienced, but all we know is we don’t like change. Yet, we try it out, tiptoe-ing down that bumpy path and turning back when it gets too hard to navigate the way. After all, we make a cozy bed in our comfortable place, put our feet up and prepare to stay for a long, long time. Things aren’t bad there, right? We become used to okay. I wonder if God feels sad about this because he knows things could be so much better for us.

When I am challenged to move to the edge of what I know, I am like Glory–heart pounding, deep breathing, trembling. My head believes even this has meaning, but all I really want is to burrow into my still-warm bed and hide my head under the weight of the comforter. I don’t know how I will handle feeling lost, and I worry I will be unsettled forever because somehow this is hauntingly familiar. I trust there is goodness on the other side; still I am scared. Why would anyone want to revisit this?

And then comes my reassurance:

Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

It’s when I remember right smack in the middle of my wavering– God is here, too, and has never left–that I start to loosen my grip, one finger at a time. This is a long, slow, seemingly never-ending process because I move forward, push back, take a step, jump back, want to control. I cry and breathe and pray.

Then, I’m shocked because I realize I’m fighting against my own release.

And although my fear makes sense to me, pulling away from what I ultimately need does not. So, I bravely push back the covers and get out of bed. Once again, I’m taking one step at a time further and further into the unknown but closer and closer to the edge of freedom.

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Learning With Paintbrushes, a Canvas and Life

photo 5I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!

I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.

This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.

In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.

So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do like the everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.

What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):

1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.

“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.

It's messy.
It’s messy.

2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often do we look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them. When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.

3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.

I'm a work in progress.
I’m a work in progress.

4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.

5) Relax and go with the process.  I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.

painting8Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.

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You’ve Always Been There

Dear Body of Mine,

It’s been up and down with you through the years, hasn’t it? Always, there have been parts of you that I have treasured, like my loving heart and the way this brain provides the ability to laugh and think and learn and BE among all the other amazing things you do (you’ve helped me through a lot of adventures). It’s true, I love all kinds of people well and need to love some better. This includes you.

My green eyes, a child-like explanation for feeling as if I didn’t belong with family members who circled around me, were a quality I came to love–because they were different than everyone else’s blue.

Freckles that sprinkled my face and arms and seemed to multiply each summer after long hours of playing outside. My mom singing, “She has freckles on her butt she’s pretty (rather than but, as if freckles cancel out beauty) helped me see how in this way, I am also like her. Her father sang those same words to her when she was a kid.

IMG_0595Hair that would not grow to be as long and straight as that of my friends. Oh, the prayers for long hair…starting when I was five. It’s sad that I wasn’t okay with my hair then.

Short, fat, all-the-same-length toes that have been a source of laughter (I’ve been called Surfer Toes since the nails on my big toes curve upward like an ocean wave).

IMG_0587A smile so big that my eyes seem to close simultaneously to contain it. I used to complain about these sometimes–slits, but now, I realize just how happy and sleepy content I always looked.

Crinkly eyes and a line-y forehead from all that smiling and crying and laughing and searching and studying and wondering and hard-fought battles.

Oh, green sequins, who cares what people say. You were a good idea for prom at one time.
Oh, green sequins, who cares what people say. You were a good idea for prom at one time.

Stretch marks (how does that happen without having kids and always being small?)?! I’m human; I pretty sure that’s all that means.

I have put a lot of pressure on you to be what I thought you should be OR what I thought others wanted you to be, thinking that straighter hair or bigger breasts or more defined muscles, longer eyelashes, less freckles, smaller thighs, smoother skin, and on and on, would make me happy and/ or keep people around. I didn’t make physical changes I deeply wanted to because I didn’t think I would be accepted by those who loved me most. Because of my looks.

Just wow.

Choosing oh-so carefully how to nourish you after cursing you for all the pain and puzzling mind-fogginess and months of rashes and adult acne (who came up with that idea?). And yet, through all of this, you have shown me how strong and resilient you are, many long prayers answered like a single, twinkling star on a stretch of dark, cloudy nights.

Ever evolving into me (inside and out) and taking care of you in all the ways I am learning to is a challenge everyday, but I am REAL in that challenge. And I mess up. A lot. And more and more, I succeed.

And I remind myself that we are beautiful the way we are and comparing myself to others truly steals every ounce of my joy. I know it. I believe it. I feel it.

So, I am grateful for all you do for me. And I am especially thankful to God who has always been there through every bit of me as long as I have been me. Thanks for helping me to see the beauty in being who I am–loving, curly hair, pale Scotch-Irish skin with freckles, Vienna sausage-toed, smart, green-eyed, adventurous and brave ME.

IMG_0569P.S. Don’t forget to tell me when I can have gluten again. Just a thought. Oh, and ice cream would be nice, too. 

I recently came across this series over at SheLovesMagazine and was inspired by the touching stories I read. Who cares that the deadline already passed! It’s never too late for some healthy positivity.

Like Oil and Water

But I don’t want to jump into something new!

Funny (or irritating really), this pattern I have noticed. It has become fact that when I post something, my words slap me in the face the next day or few days or over the past week. It stings a little and sometimes a lot, mostly because I feel like I have figured out some things.

For example, I called my last post Nothing Changes Unless We Do, so naturally, most of last week I wanted to rant and complain…about the change that was coming, ready or not.

I love my job working with children and parents and teachers. Like any job, there are good and tough days. For me, I am blessed that the good widely outnumber the bad.

However.

This summer has been amazing (as summers usually are). I have relished time for me, time to sleep, time to write, time to travel, time for friends to visit, etc., etc., etc. Over a week ago, I went back to work–to school in July.  I know, I know, all of you who read this and work year round have no sympathy, and I get it. Just try to understand.

I DO NOT like change.

Change and I just don’t go together like oil and water. Last week, I turned into a whiny, teary, dramatic weirdo. I was exhausted and felt annoyed, oh, about just everything. You know, it was like wearing a tight, itchy sweater with sleeves that are too short.

In less than a week, I felt overloaded by things I routinely would have done and haven’t (including a blog post) or all I hoped to do and still haven’t (blog post done!). Suddenly I felt like I was complaining constantly and worrying– tightening my grip around all I could. I must have apologized to Brian at least 10 times…and then turned around and had to do it all over again.

So, over the weekend, I realized again (as I do every time I go through this) that awareness is part of the process. Just recognizing that I need to be open to the change rather than fearing it is important. Then, opening my mind and heart, loosening my grip on everything, and asking God for peace and strength and direction make a world of difference. After all, the dread over the coming change is ridiculously inflated in relation to the actual event.

Yesterday was the first day of school for our students, and I loved seeing the smiling faces I realize I’ve missed over June and most of July.

I think I’ll go back tomorrow.

Nothing Changes Unless We Do

Based on a recent phone call, I am aware that my last post on seeing all people as precious brought up some stuff. So, here’s my response:

1) Yes, I am aware that most of us have driven past someone who is stranded on the road.

2) I don’t know anyone who gives money to everyone on the side of the road asking for it.

3) I do not expect to and know I cannot possibly help everyone I see who is hurting in some way or another, but…

4) I can do MORE to help make this world a better place every, single day.

We’ve spent months hearing the news regarding the Penn State sexual abuse scandal and then the devastating Colorado movie shootings last week. Every day, it seems there are tragedies that remind us that life is short and unpredictable and messier than we thought the previous day.

At the gym the other night, I wondered how many people were there trying to relieve stress. It’s ironic that the day’s headlines were plastered on practically every flat screen TV that spanned the enormous room. It seems even at the gym we can’t escape the negative yuck that is swirling around us. Sometimes, we may even feel like there is nothing good or safe or happy in the world. While we can’t ease everyone’s suffering or snap our fingers to take away pain, all hope is not lost.

My God calls us to love one another. There are big ways and small ways we can do this. Every day, choosing to make more of an effort to show love to people all around us proves that we can make a difference. All is not lost. There is hope. There is good in the world.

However, focusing on others is not always easy for me. I am polite. I smile and chat with strangers, but I am usually lost in my own thoughts, which sadly (but honestly) also usually have to do with me. So, this means slowing down my pace in the grocery store or wherever I happen to be and seeing with fresh, interested eyes all that is happening around me.

I heard someone say that nothing changes unless we do. So, here are some easy ways to spread kindness–randomly or not and potentially change someone’s day:

  • Write a thank you note for your mail carrier/ garbage collector and leave it in the mailbox or on top of your trash can/ recycling box (no stamp needed)
  • Buy a box of popsicles and share with those who are working outside on these terribly hot days
  • Open the door for someone
  • If you still write checks, scribble a quick thank you 🙂 in the memo section
  • Help someone load groceries into the car
  • Cut up some fruit and take it to a neighbor’s house/ apartment (it’s a great way to meet those living around you)
  • Write a quick note for your coworker, friend, significant other, or kids on a post-it (they’re inexpensive and you have a pretty good guarantee that it will stay where you leave it)
  • Give a stranger $5 just because
  • Smile

It’s interesting how helping others does something internally for us, as well. Giving someone else a tasty treat can also be a treat for you!

What are some ways you fight negativity and selfishness, in order to bring more love into this world?

*Image from Google

An Unexpected Lesson (Review)

A couple weeks ago we were on our way to sun and fun. Swimsuits, flip flops, beach towels were packed (sunscreen was forgotten–isn’t there always something?). Despite the packed cooler filled with goodies for the drive, we had to make a stop for M&Ms and kettle chips. Oooh, junk just adds to the fun of going on vacation!

It was my turn in the driver’s seat, and Brian settled in for a nap.

If you’ve never driven through South Carolina, let’s just say there’s nothing redeeming during that journey. Flat and boring, boring and flat. If you have to go to the bathroom, take some toilet paper since you might drive for hours without finding an exit or even seeing a billboard. This particular drive felt like the real neverending story without that almost-cute-but-just-too-strange dog-faced creature (children of the ’80’s, do you remember that movie?).

So, I drove on and on and on and saw a green and yellow car on the side of the road, flashers on. Whew! That sucks. It’s such a hot day, I thought and then actually closed the vents, since the A/C was a little too cold. As I passed, I noticed the lone driver was pregnant.

I continued on. We have vacation to start! Yet, as I tried to forget her, I felt a little less excited about getting there and a little more like a heartless heap of snot.

Why didn’t I stop? What could have I done anyway? Who knows if and how far she would have needed us to drive her? This could take all day!

And then, I realized even if I did nothing else, I could have given her a very cold bottle of water from our cooler packed with goodies.

But I didn’t. And I didn’t go back (I felt better since there was no exit anywhere nearby to turn around, but then I felt even. worse. for her since there was no exit nearby).

About a hour later, I passed someone else whose car was parked on the side of the road with the hood up. As I kept driving, he was walking…walking down this monotonous road on this incredibly hot day. At least there actually happened to be an exit about half a mile away.

Once we reached our destination and for days filled our stomachs with deliciousness, I walked past a woman crying for food in a place where people spend money like it truly does grow on trees. Ah, I didn’t have my wallet with me and couldn’t have helped her. So glad I dodged that one! It can be so… awkward.

You know, I still wonder how it would have been if I would have just stopped to talk to her like the couple I later saw who did that very thing. Oh, and on our initial drive, eventually, that green and yellow car sped past us, but I didn’t feel much better.

I was reminded that I have been on the side of the road with a flat tire waiting for help to arrive. No strangers stopped to help me, either. As I sweated in my car for close to a hour, I saw hundreds of cars and trucks speed past my own with a force that shook me.

I have not, however, been the crying woman asking for food.

If I needed money so I could eat, I would want to be seen and heard and treated like a living, breathing and very hungry person.

We see these kinds of situations everyday. While at times I’d like to jump in and help, it’s true to say that most of the time I don’t. Is it just easier to walk as if we have blinders on or to tell ourselves that it’s “safer” to stay away? After all, we’ve heard the stories of people who make the choice to beg for money instead of taking an available job or appear to be homeless with a nice car parked around the corner. And oh, the dangers! (Really, I am aware that putting myself in certain situations is not safe, but this is not my point.)

Our vacation was fantastic for a lot of ways. One unexpected reason is that I have remembered what I teach my students and apparently, need to keep learning and practicing.

We are all people with very real needs and hurts with a desire to be seen and heard and loved. Everywhere I look, I want to really see and treat people as if they are in fact, precious. And newsflash: It’s just not my job to decide if they are being authentic or not.

So, giving money doesn’t feel right? Well, even a kind word and a smile can make an impact.

Is this something you struggle with, too? How do you decide in those moments how to deal with it?

Get in Line!

“Get in line!”

About a decade of teaching elementary school reminds me of the no less than hundreds of times I’ve said this to my students. I expected a quiet line, straight and orderly–I guess because I was supposed to show I had things under control (in education, that’s called effective classroom management). Well, all that changed the year I had #8, who acted as if he thought he was Michael Jackson in more ways than one–dancing. attempting to moonwalk, grabbing…himself. Now that I think of it, he might have even tried the one glove (mitten) look. That year I had the student, who every teacher passed by me with a WHAT is he doing?!?!? look on her face. By the end of the year, I couldn’t care less if #8 was out of line. As long as he wasn’t doing anything horribly inappropriate, all was well in my book.

That year, as much as I yearned for quiet, peace and relaxation, things didn’t seem to work the way I wanted them to. I definitely have the tendency to always want things just right, to have my ducks in a row. It’s great to have a plan, work hard toward goals and to be organized. I like my house to be clean, be happy with my hair/ makeup and feel like I’m put together. In fact, I was the high school kid who had to have her bed made before she could begin typing papers or studying for tests. I also remember my brothers, sister, mom and I running around, cleaning, like crazy fools before someone was coming over to visit. Oh, and I used to put on full makeup before going to the gym. The bottom line is: being OCD about appearing to be put together just to cover up the fact that we are swimming in a sea of all things opposite is just not authentic.

My plans are challenged on a daily basis; it’s just part of life. Whose aren’t? At times, I don’t even feel as if my ducks have their feathers in place, so I fall into a fog of complacency and just quit trying. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all about looking fear in the face and doing what I thought I couldn’t do; however, I can be perplexed about these web-footed creatures when I’m struggling under that heavy fog. If they’re not where I want them, waiting a while for things fall into place might be the answer. Sometimes, though, there is so much waiting (to do things that I am in control of) that waiting = missing out. It’s as if putting things off repeatedly is somehow better than even trying because there’s the possibility of gasp!…failing. I’ve learned something through every failure, so why do I fear it?

Happily, I am becoming more and more comfortable with the dust bunnies mixed with dog hair around my house, essentially, I am becoming calm(er). I feel more at peace with who I am and where I am in life, too, so there is less of a desire to make everything perfect.  I’m planning ahead for when the ducks are scattered and going off in their own directions, to stand back and smile and then take the tiniest of steps forward out of the fog.

Photo courtesy of http://www.free-pet-wallpapers.com