Day 21: The Hard Days (31 Days of Simple Truths)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsSo, I read this post from Lisa-Jo Baker tonight and promptly dissolved into tears.

This has been a ROUGH parenting week. And it’s only Wednesday (Lord, have mercy on my soul!). It’s one of the those weeks where I feel like I’m screwing everything up and utterly failing at motherhood. How on earth will I ever prepare these little humans (who I so fiercely love and who are so fiercely making me want to pull my hair out right now) for life? How can I possibly do this when I feel so unprepared myself? When I mess up on the very thing I was just trying to teach them?

There are a lot of moms in my life who make me feel insecure, but really it’s my own fault for falling into the comparison trap. What I want more than anything is to be fully confident that we are doing the best we can for our kids, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. We’re not responsible for their families, only ours.

I am the worst about admitting when I am un-fine. And I am definitely guilty of finding something to criticize about other mothers so I can feel like I’ve got some edge up on someone, somewhere. I try really hard to reserve these thoughts for strangers, not friends, as if somehow that makes it better. (Um, no. I promise to encourage the next stranger-mom I’m tempted to criticize in my head.)

Sometimes I am afraid to voice the struggles because I’ve heard single or newly married friends say that all the honest, tell-it-how-it-is mommy blogs out there have made them terrified to ever have children. I get this. I have kids and it scares me that some day I might refer to them as chaos-causing little monsters who are turning our home into a frightening, trashed-out wasteland. At what point do we lose our minds and cross that line? Please, God, don’t let it happen to me!

But no, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because my kids most certainly aren’t monsters and they are most definitely treasures. Still, it’s hard right now. Really, really hard.

But first I am reminded that I am not alone. And then I’m reminded that suffering in silence is no good for anyone, ever. And finally, I’m comforted by suddenly recalling a conversation I had at the beginning of September with a sweet couple, now retired and in their 70s. They raised a few kids and lived to tell about it. I shared with them about our upcoming move and other changes on the horizon, and the man smiled at me, eyes twinkling, as he said, “This is a season for surviving. Some seasons are just like that, when surviving doesn’t mean you’re failing and barely scraping by, but it means you’re do something right and pulling the family through a hard place. There will be time for establishing standards, raising the bar a little, but right now, you just have to survive and keep loving each other through it. And that’s ok.”

So I take a deep breath, maybe shed a few more tears, and maybe a few more tomorrow too. But it’s ok. Because we are surviving, and this too shall pass. And we’ll be a healthier family on the other side of it.

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Day 20: Date Night (31 Days of Simple Truths)

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(Obviously, we’re not watching NCIS here. But we’re cute anyway!)

Tuesday nights are probably my favorite night of the week.

My husband and I have been fans of the show NCIS for all of our marriage. He actually introduced me to it on the flight home from our honeymoon—awwww! It’s been our weekly ritual for our entire marriage (except during the summer, the annual State of the Union address, a few random by-weeks, and severe weather tracking—so sad, although we do have a funny story about the weather tracking one. Maybe another time!).

But there was a small wrench in the plan once we had kids who were big enough to not sleep through the whole thing or go to bed at 7pm. It’s not a kid-friendly show.

Separately from that, we were living far from family, he was working crazy hours, finances were strained to the max, and date nights were extremely rare.

So Tuesday nights became our thing. We told the kids that we needed a stay-at-home date night. They would have to go to their beds early, but they could have books, coloring things and a toy or two until we came to tell them “lights out.”

We fiercely protect this time. No, we cannot do anything else on Tuesday nights! And we try to make it special—a bottle of wine, a special dessert, a pint of ice cream, or even a cup of tea. It’s a chance to laugh together, to just be, to not feel the weight of all the hard, life, grown-up things.

And this I know for sure, relationships—any relationship, but especially marriage—take some creativity in order to maintain connection through every hurdle that manages to line up in front of us. It is worth the effort, and it is definitely worth prioritizing.

What relationship needs a little creativity from you these days?

As a weird sort of P.S.: Over the past few weeks of this NCIS season, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of the commercials during the show are aimed at senior citizens. What does this say about Jonathan and me? Are we watching an old people show? Are we old? No one told me! Oh well! We love Gibbs!

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Day 19: Kitchen Therapy (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Food Network's image of the cookies we made. I forgot to flatten mine slightly, but they still came out good, just probably a little more chewy.

Food Network’s image of the cookies we made. I forgot to flatten mine slightly, but they still came out good, just probably a little more chewy.

In spite of my best efforts to slow down and take my time, most days I feel like I end up in a hurry. It’s a race against time to squeeze in all the things that need to be done. I tend to be a more task-oriented person. I used to be feel guilty about this, but that fades more and more all the time, mainly because the world would never get anything done without people like me in it!

Still, especially when it comes to my family, I have to be very intentional about slowing down and letting the moments of connection take higher priority over the to do list. And one of the things that helps me make that happen is cooking.

If I’m in the kitchen, inevitably one or both of the kids want to come help. Or even if they don’t want to help, they tend to gravitate into the room anyway, a coloring book or toy in hand. They’ll sit on the floor and chatter away to me while I do my best to not trip on them or spill anything on them. I love it.

On top of that, cooking forces me to slow down. There are so many things in the kitchen that simply won’t turn out right if you try to rush them. Things like kneading bread or even making mayonnaise (SO easy! Who knew?) become holy moments as I take a deep breath and let go of all the other things begging for my attention to simply focus on the task in front of me.

And whatever’s happening, whoever is gathered, you can be sure there are taste testers always at the ready. So we linger, munching bread or cookies fresh from the oven, getting a spoon to dip into that sauce, sniffing the spices to see what else we should add. It is sacred and nourishing, not only to our bodies, but to our souls as well.

We made these cookies tonight (again!) and this time added 1/4 t. of ground cloves as well. Perfection!

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Day 18: Holding Hope (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image: Autumn Mott/Unsplash

Image: Autumn Mott/Unsplash

Tonight, my words are few.

I’m aching and weary in my body from sleeping in a tent all weekend. I’m aching and weary in my soul from allowing myself a little bit of space and time to feel the magnitude of loss and uncertainty stirred up by our recent transition.

But I’m also reminded that my word for this year is redemption. All things new. And sometimes in order for all things to be made new, some things have to die. Isn’t that the lesson the seasons teach us? Isn’t autumn about the beauty of releasing the dead things, to lay down the burden in preparation for deep rest and new life?

So tonight, I offer you the words I am whispering to myself: Choose hope. Even in the dark, even in the land of question marks, choose hope. And keep your eyes open for redemption.

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Day 17: Getting Away (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re camping this weekend. It was a chore getting ready for it, but I’ve been really looking forward to this time. I need to get away, even if it’s short and sweet.

While being self-employed offers a good bit of flexibility, one of the downsides is no paid time off or holidays. If I’m not working, I’m not getting paid. That might be nice if I ever write a best-selling book or something, but right now, it’s hard. Any “vacation” time is preceded by piling in the work hours to make up for when I’ll be off. Not so fun.

Sometimes, I can use it as an excuse to not get as much rest as I really need. And sometimes, it’s a legitimate excuse. But just because something is tricky or complicated doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means a little creativity might be required.

Because long periods of extended rest are not really an option right now, I’ve learned to weave patterns of rest into my days, weeks, and months. But more importantly, when there’s a chance to get away, I take it.

A change of pace and scenery does wonders for the soul. So I’m fully embracing the fresh air, the hiking, the playing. (Maybe not the tent sleeping, but hey, you take what you can get!)

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Day 16: The To Do List (31 Days of Simple Truths)

20151016_160110I have a love/hate relationship with to do lists. On one hand, I get almost giddy about checking things off. I’m that weird person who adds things to the list if they weren’t on there, just so I can cross them off. It feels good!!!

And they keep me organized. I’m a paper and pencil kind of girl. Writing it down helps me remember and think it all through. In an age of all manner of gadgets and apps, this approach is still my favorite. It works for me.

But it’s easy to give to much power to my list. I tend to be overly ambitious, and then I feel inadequate when I can’t manage to get it all done. I especially tend to get overly ambitious about how many things I can do for other people, although it’s safe to say, I’m finally becoming a lot wiser about that.

Today I overwhelmed myself. There were too many things written down, and I knew it right away, yet still tried to convince myself I could do it. But early afternoon, I had a moment of clarity and picked a few things that could be let go. Instant relief.

It’s hard sometimes to accept that I can’t do it all, but there is so much freedom when I finally do. I’m always going to be a list maker, but every day, I get better and better at listening to myself, listening to the Holy Spirit, and accepting what I can or cannot bring to the table.

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Day 15: The Joy of Books (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Growing up, I was the kid who would rather be reading a book than doing pretty much anything else, with the exception of playing music. Books were magic. Characters were friends.

I was the rare kid in high school who read every single book that was assigned, plus a few extra. I remember we always had to report on so many pages of additional reading, and while most of my classmates moaned and groaned about this, I didn’t even think twice about it. I knew I’d be able to complete the “assignment” without trying.

In college, I was lucky enough to have a roommate who also loved books, a lot of the same ones I loved and a few new loves she introduced me too.

But then, somehow, into adulthood, the passion began to fade. Maybe it was the demands of teaching and all the time it required. Maybe it was having babies and all the sleeplessness that ensued. I know there was a spiritual leader I admired who made me feel like fiction was a waste of my time and possibly a poison to my spirituality. But then all the non-fiction Christian books started sounding the same. I just couldn’t do it. I stopped reading. And then, without even realizing the connection, I stopped writing too. No more journaling, no more poetry, no more songwriting.

So when I reconnected with a childhood friend and joined her writing group, I found myself so frustrated because I felt like I was choking the words out. They were stiff. They were lifeless. This was not a problem I’d ever had before in my whole life. Writing had always been like breathing, but not anymore.

I was a little slow getting the hint, but it dawned on me one day—words my teachers had said to me, words I had said to my students: If you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader.

Last year, I set a goal for myself to read 25 books before the end of the year. It felt embarrassing alongside the lists from friends who were reading 100 books. But it was what I thought I could manage. I made a list and chipped away at it, plus a few extras, and ended the year with 29 books in my brain and a torrent of new words in my heart.

This year, I upped my goal to 50, and I’m well on track to pass that again. And my creativity continues to come alive. Books are my obsession again. If I can’t manage any other creative pursuit because of life’s craziness, I can’t give up reading. It keeps the fire burning until I’m able to write or sing or art journal again. And no one will ever be able to convince me again that fiction is a waste of time.

Stories matter. Far beyond the craft of writing, stories have unlocked empathy and compassion on me. They have given me insight into people and situations. They have given me an outlet when I couldn’t find a way to express what needed to be said. They call me into rest when I would be tempted to push myself too hard. They offer points of connection and relationship. And yes, I’m pretty sure they make me smarter, and I won’t object to that.

So when my six-year old daughter comes to me and says, “Daddy told me you read almost every night before you go to bed. Do you think I could do that too?,” you’d better believe I said, “Yes.” And smiled inside because I’ve been waiting for this day.

Read, people. For the love of all that is wonderful in this world, just read. And tell me in the comments what some of your favorites are; it’s time to start planning my list for next year.

Also, my friend Suzanne is doing a super fun 31 days series on “shelfies”! Check it out and add some books to your list.

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Day 14: Dreams Matter (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image Source: Unsplash

Image Source: Unsplash

This morning, these words arrested my attention:

“May He grant the dreams of your heart and see your plans through to the end.” (Psalm 20:4)

It’s a beautiful prayer, and I sat with it awhile, breathing it in and out, letting it unfold in my heart.

And I realized that sometimes I’m not sure if my dreams matter if they don’t seem spiritual enough or selfless enough. Would God grant the quiet dreams, the ones tucked away for only me, or the ones that maybe wouldn’t change the whole world but might change my world? Do those dreams matter too? Or do all my dreams have to be big, kingdom dreams?

I’m not suggesting that God is some kind of wish-granting genie. But as I let the verse soak into my soul this morning, I felt wrapped in a whisper from the Spirit that said, “All your dreams matter, Adela. Big and small. Simple and profound. All of them.” 

And the thing is, if I know my dreams matter to Him and I know that I matter to Him, it becomes a lot easier to trust Him with the outcome for all of it. Because it all matters to Him.

So, friend—what dream have you been afraid might be too silly or too small to dream? Go on and dream it. It matters.

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Day 13: Listening to Anger (31 Days of Simple Truth)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsAnger can be a tricky emotion. None of us are immune to it, but some of us are more volatile than others. It’s an emotion I was afraid of for a long time because it’s not always easy to know what to do with it. The intensity can be . . . well, intense. Explosive. And often, justified.

Both of my children seem to have inherited my strong emotions (Lord, help me!), so dealing with anger that flares and escalates quickly is a regular occurrence. I was trying my best to help them, and I found myself saying, “There’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. We all feel angry sometimes. But it’s what you do with your anger than can get you in trouble. You have to handle it the right way.” And then a teary-eyed child said, “Well, what’s the right way?”

Long pause. Blank stare.

I didn’t know. I’ve spent my life mostly burying it and trying to not explode. When it gets to be too much, I take a shower and have a good cry. I knew how heated my anger could be, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone with it or give the wrong impression or not be a good, gentle lady. So I adopted a cycle of “bottle, sob, berate myself for feeling things so strongly, repeat.” Not particularly helpful or healthy. And now I have two children who also feel AllTheFeels. They needed help, but I didn’t have any to give them.

So I’ve been learning, right alongside them, reading and studying and listening to people who seem to know what they’re talking about. We’re making progress, all 3 of us, although some days, the progress feels painfully slow.

Perhaps the most helpful thing for me so far has been learning to listen to what my anger is trying to tell me, to take those emotions and turn them into a question: what is it I am actually reacting to? What mattered so much to me that it provoked such an intense response?

I had the chance to practice this very recently. Something happened last week that made me angrier than I have been in a very long time. I was shaking with how upset and frustrated I was. And for once, I didn’t bury it or dismiss it or try to spiritualize my way out of it. I gave my husband a heads up that I was furious and it wasn’t his fault but I was going to need to unload (another wise lesson I’ve learned – give the poor man a heads up!). When we were finally able to sit across from each other and he said, “Ok, let’s have it,” it all poured out in torrents. I let myself feel it all and say it all. But as the layers of what happened and who said what and how I felt in the moment and what I wanted to do and what I actually did peeled off, suddenly something shifted in the conversation. I was able to see something clearly about my own heart and what I am passionated about that i had never really identified before.

In the days that have followed (much calmer), as I’ve continued to process and think, the clarity has continued to come. And what could have either been damaging or another thing buried is turning into something that is going to significantly impact my life and some choices ahead of us. It’s been kind of amazing.

i’m no anger expert, that’s for sure. I’m fumbling my way through it as I learn a better way. But one thing I am certain of, our anger is rarely isolated—just anger for no reason. There is something waiting to be revealed about our hearts if we will listen to it, rather than bottling it or letting it poison us.

P.S.: If you know any good secrets for helping children process their anger, I’m all ears!

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Day 12: Words (31 Days of Simple Truths)

20151012_220919I love words. I always have. I don’t even have to know what they mean to enjoy saying them and pondering them.

They’re powerful. The right combination at the right moment can quite literally change the world.

Yet words can be really frustrating too. Trying to find the right ones, and the right moment to communicate them, for starters. But more—whatever their dictionary definition may be, words tend to take on a life of their own. They become “buzz words.” They develop volumes of connotations and suggestions depending on the context of who says them or what other subjects they were linked to. The speaker intends them one way; the listener hears them in a completely different way.

There are always those stubborn few who don’t care if the words have taken on another meaning or not; they’re going to say what they want to say, and that’s that. But for the rest of the wordsmiths, we wrestle with this. We are careful with this. Because if we’re not, we end up isolating the very people we were hoping to reach.

It’s a fine line. There’s always going to be someone who misunderstands or misconstrues; if you worry too much about them, you’ll tie yourself up in knots and compromise your voice. Still, it is ultimately on the writer, the speaker, the vision caster to carefully weight the words they want to say, to consider if they are only using those words because they are comfortable and familiar, or because they are truly the best words to reach the hearts of the listeners, truly the words we most wanted to say.

It’s a huge responsibility to carry, one we cannot take lightly.

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