Mom Life

Living With School, Married Life, Mom Life, More Posts

New Plan: Be Content With Simple Things

Survival & SimplicityThere is value to simple fun; fun that costs nothing other than free time and a place to play.

When I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t play soccer, take ballet, or do art classes. I went to school, came home, played in my yard, and planned various ways to spy on my teenage sisters. 

I was frequently bored, and had to find creative ways to fill my time, like pretending the rock garden in our back yard was actually a kitchen; or finding a packet of morning glory seeds in my mom’s junk drawer and planting them next to the pillars on our side porch. My mom stared at them in disbelief when they began to work their vines up the pillars, wondering how they could have possibly grown on their own.

We had three very old out buildings behind our midwestern farm house, and I would endlessly examine their floors and corners, looking for treasures from the families who came before mine, but usually just found disturbing spiders.

I have always had an active imagination, and I think most of that is because I had to entertain myself as a kid. I had to create my own simple fun. This was common amongst children when I was growing up.

Kids of today have different childhoods. “Fun” is often organized, planned for, and often paid for. Trampoline arenas, climbing gyms, pottery painting, Chuck E. Cheese…As my friend Delissa once said, it’s a “Pay to Play” era. Somehow having my kids at home, all of the time, has made me realize how much I seek entertainment from the outside world, and I have conditioned them to do the same.

I am also becoming more and more aware of a monologue in my brain that is a bit neurotic. It’s a compulsion to do something; to fix things; to remove boredom; to invest in my kids’ education; to give them another experience. It goes something like this:

“Have my kids done their homework? Have they answered emails from their teachers? Did I buy the snacks I promised for the kindergarten classroom?” Oh wait, there is no school.

“My kids haven’t moved enough today. We need to enroll them in something, anything. Rock climbing? Tae Kwon Do? How much would that cost every month?” That’s right, there are no classes right now.

“He’s interested in coding. I wonder if there are any coding camps he could do this summer?” Oh…yes, most camps are cancelled.

“He’s been on his screen too much today. This isn’t good!” Oh, but that’s the only way he can do his school.

“Has he seen his friends lately? We should plan a playdate. What about socialization?” Oh, that’s right, we aren’t allowed to see anybody!

So often, my answer to each perceived problem is an action; it’s DOING something. But in an era when we literally can’t DO anything with our kids outside of our home, this dialog is completely useless.

So I’m having to resort to new thought processes. I have to be OK with many things being broken; or different; or just kind of existing as is. Here’s what I’m noticing:

Our lives are far less chaotic. We are lingering at the dinner table instead of racing through to get to an activity.

It’s a nice break from the outside world of teenage pressures. I feel like my teenagers can be themselves in a way that isn’t possible when they are out on the town, perpetually embarrassed by their parents and little brother.

We are all getting a little crazy, and the craziness looks different on each of us. If you are  trapped in a house with your kids and your spouse, you know exactly what I mean…if not, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

My kids are remembering old interests, and are spending time doing hobbies that had been set aside because of the busyness of school. They have been reading books for fun again.

In many ways, this time is reminiscent of when we homeschooled. On the days when I work from home, we eat all three meals together; we share stories; we talk about old memories from when they were little…

And it’s kind of like a family vacation because we are all together on this adventure, with little interaction with the outside world.

But there is also an overwhelming sense of unrest. As much as I love having my children at home, and all of the family time we’ve had, things aren’t as they should be. Teenagers love to be with friends. My kindergartener misses going to the park. My parents have been in isolation for months now, with no reprieve in sight. Things aren’t right.

A difficult season calls for a different plan. So I’m working hard to adopt a new approach to life, and to school, during COVID-19. Here’s my new plan for the remainder of this season. It’s based on embracing simple things, and easy expectations. Maybe it will resonate with you:

Activity #1: Survive as well as we can. Let’s face it, shopping with gloves and a mask is no fun, especially when grocery stores are depleted. Contracting COVID-19 is even more scary. I’m here to say SURVIVAL IS ENOUGH. But just surviving can get boring and repetitive, which leads to the rest of my list…

Activity #2: Bake cookies and try some new recipes. When my dad had a heart attack at 43, I remember my older sister telling me to stop crying, and then pulling out the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies with me. Doing something ordinary like baking distracted me, easing my spirit, and made the time pass more quickly. It is the same today.

Activity #3: Do the little things that give us joy. Like baking. Or watching the baby bunny in the backyard. Or looking at old family photos.

Activity #4: Do the school work that must get done, but realize that the majority of the “work” in this season is character development. We are all learning about endurance, patience and being content in any circumstance. I, for one, like seasons like this to pass quickly (which illustrates why I apparently need more practice learning those character traits).

Activity $5: Exercise and breathe fresh air. Exercise is my Prozac. If I don’t move, everyone suffers.

Activity #6: Focus on our blessings more than our hardships during this season. This is a lesson I’ve had a lot of practice in since the closure of our small business three years ago. It has taught me that gratitude is a choice, and it is something that has to be practiced. When I practice being thankful, I realize that, though there are a lot of hard and unsolvable things in life right now, I am also surrounded by blessings. It’s a constant, repeated choice to choose gratitude over grumbling, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Activity #8 Embrace the simple fun. Card games; binge watching a Netflix show; reading books; making the cats chase after the laser pen…my kids have the chance to live my childhood for awhile. I’d like to enjoy it with them. How about you?

Living With School, Mom Life

Truths About Schooling During COVID-19

Truths for Schooling During Covid-19First of all, let’s be clear: This is not homeschool.

We are six weeks into COVID-19 distance learning and I feel more overwhelmed with educating my kids than I ever did as a homeschool parent. The schools are calling, texting, and messaging repeatedly, with updates, reminders, and new ideas on how to educate our children at home. It’s helpful, and it’s necessary…but it’s also overwhelming.

I homeschooled my children for eight years. They’ve been in public school for the last three. With this kind of background, you would think I’d take this change in schooling in stride, but I am here to say: I’M HAVING A HARD TIME WRAPPING MY BRAIN AROUND COVID-19 SCHOOLING!

When I homeschooled, I spent hours researching curriculum and planned school for each of my children, modifying based in their needs as we went through our school year.

When I sent them to public school, I did my best to reign in my control-freak nature as they learned how to navigate teachers who were not me…the hard ones who challenged their skills; and the ones who assigned consistent busywork.

COVID-19 school is a weird hybrid of the two. Though my kids are enrolled in public school, they must do their school work at home. In our school system, the work is optional, and it’s not graded. We can log in to see the assignments…or not. Though this alleviates the pressure of worrying about their grades, it introduces an entirely different type of pressure.

My lazy parent (and child) voice says, “Do they actually need to do the assignments? Why make them, if they aren’t graded? None of their friends are doing them…”

The over achieving voice says, “Of course they need to do their assignments! If the teachers are still giving assignments, my students should be doing them! They are home all day anyway…what else do they have to do?”

The hard part is that, unlike when I homeschooled, I now have a full time job. My husband works full time from home. OUR work has continued, and is busier than ever…and now we need to add schooling into the mix. The opportunity for mom guilt is endless, and at times, it feels suffocating.

As I pondered the overwhelming emotions that have come with parenting during this season, I asked myself, “What is true?” And I began to make a list. And as I looked at the list, I thought other parents might find it to be helpful too. That’s why I’m sharing these truths about having children during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Truth #1: This is temporary. It will not last forever. School and normal life will someday resume to a (new) normal. Take heart.

Truth #2: Our kids are learning a lot while living through an historic event, and watching how we and the world around us respond. They notice EVERYTHING. Don’t freak out.

Truth #3: This virus has upended every area of the WORLD…So it makes sense that this aspect of our lives feels so unsettled. We aren’t alone.

Truth #4: My kids are learning, growing, and are spending more time together than they have since they started public school three years ago. They are closer, and our family is closer, than when the safer-at-home orders went into effect. This is a gift.

Truth #5: The schools truly have our best interests in mind, and I am so thankful that they are diligently trying to instill some normalcy into my children’s lives, when everything else is abnormal. This is grace.

Truth #6: IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, or my kids, or school! With COVID-19 risking so many lives, cancelling school and having to figure out how to do life in a new way is a necessary sacrifice. My kids being at home means life for someone else. This makes the discomfort and confusion worth enduring. This is necessary.

Truth #7: THIS IS NOT HOMESCHOOL…but it is a chance to approach “school” differently (which is my next post!). As I told my kindergartener this morning, learning doesn’t just happen at school. It happens everywhere. Sure, he has assignments from school, but he also has been building impressive Lego creations, playing ball with his brother and Daddy, and studying the bunnies who live in our backyard…and those are all fantastically worthwhile for a six-year-old to do!

Truth #8: Parents, we are doing something unique, and hard, and rather illusive: trying to come alongside our kids during a difficult time in the world. It’s going to look different in every family, because every family has different needs and demands. We need the peace of knowing that, with school, and with every aspect of our lives, all we can do, is all we can do. And truly, that must be enough.

Faith, Married Life, Mom Life, More Posts, Work

Excellence Matters: Embrace Your Calling

Home ownership came with a lot of life lessons, especially concerning our septic system. As a kid, I’d always grown up with the convenience of sewer lines…you flush the toilet, and it all disappears.

It turns out that septic systems require a bit more attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until four years into home ownership, when our septic lines started failing, leaking sewage into a nearby stream. It wasn’t good.

I don’t remember the name of the man who taught me how to take care of my septic system, but I remember one thing: He was passionate about them.

As he sat on the tailgate of his pickup truck, his dusty cowboy hat framing a nearly toothless mouth, he taught me that I had two septic lines, and I needed to manually switch them every few months. He taught me about things like bacteria and leach fields and sledge layers, and what happens when the sledge layer makes it into the leach fields (it’s not good).

I sat there, soaking in this new knowledge as if I were learning the most riveting subject matter, and walked away understanding how to take care of the intricacies of this system that I had purchased with my house, but had formerly known nothing about. Even better, he fixed our septic system.

Four years before that, I sat signing my mortgage papers with my friend, Terri. Terri is a fellow mom, with kids near the age of mine. We spent years in our Bunco group sharing the details of our lives. But seeing Terri in action in her job was inspiring to me.

At the time, she was a mortgage broker, and over the course of an hour, she distilled 30+ pages of contracts into easy-to-understand nuggets. She reviewed each page with a critical eye, showed us where to sign, and explained the subtle nuances of the fine print. That day, I gained a new appreciation for the gifts my friend brought to her job…and was again, amazed at what a well-embraced calling looked like in action.

I can think of countless times I’ve been amazed, watching a person’s gifts at work:

  • The surgeon who mended my son’s cleft lip into a complete smile.
  • The nurses who expertly guided chemo into my husband’s body, and watched over him with an experienced eye.
  • The photographer who decided sandhill cranes were something worth preserving, celebrating and documenting…so he spent a chunk of his life doing just that.
  • Another photographer who gave his time, talents and money to the Raw Sea, helping preserve the last untouched ocean on our planet, allowing scientists a space to study and learn, so they can help the areas of our planet that are anything but untouched.
  • The barista at the coffee shop who made a pretty picture in the milky foam during a particularly trying day.
  • The mom of four kids who somehow managed to keep a calm, steady voice, though her kids were running circles around her…

Excellence matters.

Deciding to be a master at your trade blesses people and our world.

I’ve seen so many people coast through life, giving a half hearted effort as they punch a time clock. What if we embraced our lives; our jobs; our roles in life; as more than a means of making money? What if we saw it as EXACTLY where God wanted us to be, at this point in time, for a unique purpose? What if we saw it as a divine appointment to make the world better, or to simply make someone’s day a bit better?

The longer I live, the more I’m realizing that embracing my callings, for all they are worth, is the one single thing I can do to improve our world. Because no one else has my unique background, skills or desires.

And no one else has yours.

Today, I challenge you to embrace your calling, wherever you are at this exact moment of your life, and use it to bless the world — whether it’s as a mortgage broker; or repairing septic systems; or protecting a corner of our planet; or a person or animal in need; or momming your kids; or making a good cup of coffee for the tired person in front of you.

If we do our life’s work with our whole hearts, it will make the world a different place around us — and beyond us, as we inspire others to do the same.

Colossians 3:23
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

Faith, Living In Tennessee, Mom Life, Work

A New Plan: Be Hope

“Where do you work?”

This simple question has a way of turning into a serious discussion, when you work for a nonprofit organization.

“I work for an organization that fights the sex trade in Cambodia,” the woman said to me.

Just like that, the small talk was over, because how do you say something trite like, “How interesting!” when you realize that someone is taking their very best talents and applying it to helping…truly helping…helpless people?

She told me American businessmen go to Cambodia to have sex with children. When the founder of her organization first went to Cambodia, a little boy ran up to the plane and tried to sell his sister for sex.

“The couple who founded the organization…they came back to America and knew they had to try to do SOMETHING, so she started our organization,” she told me in a calm, even voice. I could tell she had this conversation all of the time. That the story no longer shocked her because fighting the horrid reality was a part of her daily life.

A man joined our small circle, and I asked, “How about you? Where do you work?

“I work for a nonprofit that provides beds to orphans in Uganda.”

Orphans in Uganda.

I found my vocabulary to be limited, and my ability to share stories to be non-existent. So I just listened, and asked questions, and felt somehow like I had stepped onto foreign, holy ground…ground Christened with the time and talents of people who gave up pursuing monetary riches, for pursuing something profoundly deeper.

I didn’t expect this.

As far as I knew, my afternoon was going to be spent attending an HR conference on harassment, and how to protect your organization. It sounded like a dry meeting, and I was more excited about the Starbucks latte I bought on the way than attending the actual class.

I learned a few things from the class, but what I learned most came from listening to the other participants. Within the first five minutes, I felt something change in my heart…and as I walked out of the church where the meeting took place, I knew something had fundamentally shifted in my life focus.

For twenty years, I spent my time and talents growing a business. I was aggressively pursuing and living the dream my husband and I had set out to achieve…working for ourselves; traveling; having a solid income to provide for our family; being able to afford a house, a business and all of the things that go with it. We had built a life that provided us with a huge amount of control over our family and our time.

When that life faded away, I was left wondering what God’s next plan was for us; for me; for our children.

That day at the HR conference, I felt the solid confirmation that I was meant to be working in a Christian nonprofit. That God had put me in the exact place, for His exact purpose, in this exact time for a reason. I felt profoundly grateful to have a job where I am paid to help carry out His plans and His blessings for our community. Instead of investing my time and talents in growing riches, I want to lavishly invest it in helping people who cannot help themselves. I want to be hope, and light and an answer to someone’s prayer.

This road is not easy.

I don’t have control over my family the way I did before…which means I am learning how to trust God; that He loves my children even more than I do, and He has a unique plan for each of them, that is NOT ALL ABOUT ME, and my dreams for them…

As I drive to work each day in NASCAR traffic; or walk across the parking lot at work and look at the large storage silos of the concrete company across the street, I wonder HOW THE HECK DID I GET TO NASHVILLE, and WHY AM I HERE? I miss the mountains, the dramatic beauty and MY FRIENDS!

I always envisioned myself being at home with my kids while they were growing up…I honestly didn’t expect this plot twist, half way through parenthood…

But I also didn’t expect that half way through my life, my eyes would be opened to the world’s great need in such a dramatic and undeniable way. I feel like I have only seen the smallest glimpse of the amount of true need in this world, and it leaves me breathless. Truly, the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

Matthew 9:37-38 “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

My plan is to be one of those workers, wherever God sends me.

 

Faith, Joy, Mom Life

Sowing and Collecting Seeds of Hope

I sprained my ankle in Memphis, which meant my life in Tennessee began with a large black boot on my left foot.

As I hobbled around our house, trying to unpack, I lifted a box of bubble wrapped dinner plates from a box, and was suddenly struck by a searing pain in my lower back that felt like I was being stabbed by a knife. The horrible, guttural scream that erupted from my body brought my family running to my side, one grabbing the stack of plates from my hands, the others trying to move me to the couch.

I spent the next two weeks unable to bend from the waist, down, and resigned myself to weeks of living surrounded by boxes and having my children be my hands and feet.

2017 contained so many truly challenging days.

But then there were the seeds of hope.

Like the checker at Walmart.

With my back out and my black boot on, my family and I navigated the local Walmart to buy groceries for our empty kitchen cupboards. It was the first big shop after our move…the kind where every condiment and spice needs to be purchased. As we stood in line, I suddenly found I just couldn’t stand anymore. I hobbled over to a bench and collapsed down, and I must’ve looked very miserable.

As Rich checked out, he began chatting with the cashier. She told him she moved to Murfreesboro from Australia…that God had randomly given her and her husband a vision of a church in Middle Tennessee. So, they left their comfortable, well-established life, and moved across the world. Within days, they found the church they had envisioned, and were settling into this new calling, and this new life, in Middle Tennessee.

She was working as a checker at Walmart, and said she felt like she was working exactly where God wanted her to be, because it gave her the chance to see so many people.

She looked over at me, and asked Rich, “What’s wrong with your wife?”

He explained that my back had gone out. She looked at her line of waiting customers, looked at me, then said, “I will probably get in trouble for this, but I can’t see a sister in so much pain and not pray for her.”

So, she prayed for me…and though the pain didn’t leave, I suddenly felt so much less alone. I felt seen, and as if someone actually cared.

When does something like that EVER happen at a Walmart?

When I think about it, my life has been speckled with those types of incidents…those seeds of encouragement that got me through.

Like the guy at Dollar Rent A Car who gave Rich and I a ride to a hotel the night our car broke down…he had moved to San Jose from Chicago, and was a Cambodian refugee. His family was brought over from Cambodia in the 1970s, and a church sponsored them, paying their rent, teaching them American customs, and helping them learn a new way of life in a new country. He said he wasn’t really into religion, but he always looked for ways to help people, because of that church, and what they did for his family. He drove us, perfect strangers, from the air terminal to our hotel a few miles away, in his personal car, at the end of his shift. When does that ever happen at an international airport?

On a Proverbs 31 podcast, Founder Lisa Terkheurst talked about her husband, who vowed one Christmas to do something each day to help or encourage someone mentally, physically or emotionally.

I loved that vow because if you do that every day, it means that 365 people will be blessed by the end of a year. That’s 365 people walking around, feeling seen, and valued and loved.

That’s what the Walmart checker did…and the guy from Dollar Car Rental…and many, many more friends and family who have served as little points of light and hope during the many seasons of my life.

There is power in one person’s encouragement.

Sometimes a smile, a prayer, a car ride, or someone who offers to sit with your kids while you order your Chick Fil A…is the little seed of hope you need to get you through.

Faith, Married Life, Mom Life, Work

Surrender: My Life Is Not My Own

“Your life is not your own.”

The first time I heard that statement echoing in my head was in 2015. I had a new baby, two kids I was homeschooling, and I was helping my husband run our small business during the busiest season of its existence.

As I tried to balance working with teaching and running my home, it seemed like my life never stopped. I felt like a circus performer, constantly turning to the next act, keeping the balls spinning, trying to keep everyone happy, and all of the details accounted for.

I felt like I was failing at everything.

As I sat in my home office, looking out the window, wondering how long I’d need to keep this pace, I heard a calm, steady voice say, “Your life is not your own.”

I’d like to say it gave me instant peace; an a-ha moment; a sense of, “Yes! It’s true! Now I can go on living like a crazy woman because I know MY LIFE IS NOT MY OWN!” But that wouldn’t be the truth.

Instead, it made me feel tired. And annoyed.

If pouring myself out for everyone, all of the time was what I was supposed to do…I was tired of doing it.

I mean, I know the Bible says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; to serve one another in love; and to lay down our lives for one another…but could I just get a few hours to read a book, just for the fun of it?

Women’s magazines tell you about how important it is to make time for yourself; to take care of yourself; to do things for YOU. And I agree…But the fact is that some seasons, if you have to choose between a shower and reading a book, the shower wins. You can give up reading for a few years, but you really can’t give up showering for too long before people start to notice.

When I was done feeling tired and sorry for myself, I felt a sense of surrender. Surrendering to this busy season of life. Surrendering my ambitions and dreams and idea of what life was SUPPOSED to look like, and instead resting in God’s plan.

When I think about all of the things that cause me stress, me wanting to do life MY way, according to MY plans is probably right at the top of the list. My natural inclination is to become frustrated when things don’t work out quickly enough; or if I have to break plans to accommodate a last-minute need; or if life doesn’t stay in the confines of my perfectly laid plans.

But here are some things I’m learning about planning:

– Plans get broken.

– The best-laid plans can lead to disappointment if you hold them too tightly.

– Planning can make you into a control-freak…because when there IS NO PLAN, you have to trust God, and surrender to the fact that His plans for your life may look very different than yours. And then surrender to the fact that His plans are perfect. And are for your good. And…here’s the kicker…they are not all about YOU! You are not in charge of finding the perfect plan…you can leave that up to God, and simply do each day’s work, and enjoy each days’ blessings, as best as you can.

I’m becoming aware of the fact that God is much bigger and active than I realize, and He is working on details in EVERYONE’S life ALL OF THE TIME. In fact, I think the more people you have in your life; the more He will use you to affect change in the community around you.

If you have children in your home…God will write chapters into your life to grow THEM and change their lives…

Which means there will be hardship to grow THEM. There will be challenges to write a new character trait into their lives…or my husband’s life…and inevitably my life, as well.

So, sometimes God might have you move across the country to align your child’s life for their next step.

Sometimes He might write a broken leg into your life, or a trip to the hospital, just so you can meet a mom who really needed a friend just like you.

Sometimes, He might allow relationships to break because you rely on them in a way that only He should be relied upon…

And sometimes, He writes in a vacation where you have time to FINALLY READ A BOOK just for fun!

After the craziness of the last three years, I am fully aware that my life is not my own…it is His. And as I learn to surrender more and more to His plans, I find a new sense of peace and rest, even in the busyness of this season.

Mom Life, More Posts

Ten Truths for Moms Who Are Sick

It’s inevitable. Despite the copious amounts of Airborne I have injested in the last five days, my body has succumbed to a cold. It’s a nagging, dragging sort of cold that leaves me wanting to do nothing other than sleep. Except I’m a mom…and everyone knows motherhood doesn’t stop, just because you’re sick!

And I am sick.

Still, work must be done, dinner needs to be made; the dishes need to be washed; and kids need to be read to, and kissed goodnight, when all I want to do is go to sleep.

I’m partly writing this blog post to whine…because really, it’s so unfair to be both sick, and a mother, at the same time.

But the other reason I’m writing it is to share this unique experience with other moms…so when your time comes to get sick, you will know you are not alone in your misery! Here is my list of truths about being sick as a mom:

ONE: You will get sick – I know you don’t have time for it. Your schedule is full. Life doesn’t STOP when you are a mom, ever…but you WILL get sick at some point, and likely at a very inopportune time.

TWO: You will do your best to not acknowledge the fact you are sick for as long as possible. This is because (once again) you are a mom and your life doesn’t stop, and you just don’t have time for it. Generally, this truth leads you to the next one:

THREE: When you finally do acknowledge it, you are so sick, you go a little crazy because you have pushed yourself to physical limits far beyond what is wise. Maybe this causes you to blow up at your kids; maybe you come home from work and lay down on the couch and do not move, even though children are literally jumping on top of you; maybe you look at your husband and make some sort of primal sound that means, “I am so sick I can’t verbalize my misery right now.” Hopefully he understands your primal sounds.

FOUR: When you finally acknowledge you are sick, others in your family will start to feel sick. Especially your husband. If you are a husband reading this, please understand YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE SICK AT THE SAME TIME AS YOUR WIFE. And if you are, DON”T TRY TO BE MORE SICK THAN YOUR WIFE, just to get out of doing whatever household chores must be done while she’s down for the count.

FIVE: While you are sick, your house will get messy, and probably kind of gross. You will spend your time thinking about how, if you just had energy, a quick run with the vacuum would do wonders for the house…but you don’t have the energy, so all you can do is think OCD thoughts about cleaning, and how you would clean if you could clean…

SIX: Life won’t stop. You will still need to figure out how to get your kids to school, go to the grocery store and make dinner, even if you feel awful. Hopefully your husband or a good friend will lend a hand…but if not, rest assured: Children can live a LONG time on microwaved chicken nuggets, canned green beans and toast. Ask me how I know.

SEVEN: The laundry piles will grow very high. You will have the same OCD thoughts about your laundry as you do about the rest of your messy house. You will fantasize about someone coming to pick up ALL Of your laundry, taking it to the laundromat, and returning it to you, folded and fresh. You will close the laundry room door, and pretend it doesn’t exist.

EIGHT: Your children will get sick, if they aren’t the ones who got you sick in the first place. One of the cruelest parts of parenthood is that, as soon as you start to feel better, someone else in the family is down for the count. In seasons like this, it seems like mere survival is a lofty goal.

NINE: You will miss out on time with friends. I remember one of the hardest parts of having small children was having to miss my local MOPS meeting when we were sick. It was my ONE chance to see other adults each week. See how sad this can be?

TEN: You will get better. And once you do, you’ll be amazed at the energy your healthy body has. Cleaning the house will not take long, and that room full of laundry will be tackled in one day.

The irony is that, once you return to the busyness of your “normal” life, you might just wish for a sick day so you can cancel all of your plans and just stay home…

Married Life, Mom Life

Ten Years After Cancer: Life Lessons that Remain True

In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer. It presented as a 10cm tumor near his right kidney, and he was extremely sick…so sick, I thought he was going to die. We were parents of two small children. We owned a small business with a staff of 17.

Rich’s cancer diagnosis coincided with the recession of 2008/2009…the time when people were losing their homes, foreclosures became commonplace, and bankruptcy lost some of its stigma because so many people had to file.

My husband grew sicker as the chemotherapy began to do its work of “melting the tumor like butter,” as Rich’s oncologist said. As he endured infections and nausea, I  fed him a steady diet of milkshakes and omelets because that’s all he could keep down.

I watched our business’s sales plummet by 40%, and I thought we were going to lose everything. I kept this from Rich, because I didn’t want him to worry. I just wanted him to get better.

One night, as I sat down to journal, I began to make a list of business ideas and promotions to help spur our sales. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with the magic fix that would save us from the plummet. As I wrestled with ideas and tried to figure out how to implement them, I asked for God’s direction…I asked if these ideas would work. I asked for His blessing on them.

I heard in my spirit His still, calm voice:

“You could do all of this work, but the outcome will be the same.”

What do you mean, the outcome will be the same? If I could just do more, or perform more, or come up with one magical idea…things will be okay. I can save the day.

“You can choose to focus your energy on your business, or your husband. You can be up all night programming sales into your website, or you can rest, so you can take care of Rich and your kids. The outcome for your business will be the same.”

At that moment, my priorities came into immediate perspective.

Rich came first. Taking care of him and being there for him however was needed had to be my very top priority.

My kids came second. This was a huge change for me, because ever since I’d had my daughter five years earlier, my kids took the number one position in my life. I realized that God was giving me the opportunity to teach them that we all are important, and when one person is going through a hard time, the rest rally to help lay a firm foundation of love and care beneath him.

I came third. I wrote in my journal, read my Bible and began working out every morning…a half hour exercise video served as my prozac. With Jillian Michaels, I punched, stomped and kicked cancer and all it was doing to our family and life. I got into good shape!

Everything else came after that.

That’s the year I learned how to not do everything, because there physically was no way I could do everything.

That’s the year I laid down my ideas of how life was supposed to go, and instead accepted that God had a different plan.

That’s the year I learned that hard things happen, even if you do everything possible to avoid them. People will ask lots of questions, pondering ways you could have avoided the bad circumstance (What was Rich’s diet? Does he exercise? Is there any family history of cancer? Does he carry his cell phone in his pocket?)…but in truth, some hard chapters are just there to live through, and if you choose to, they will grow you closer to God in ways that easy chapters never could.

That’s the year I learned that, when you stop doing everything, some people will come alongside you and hold your hand, telling you that surviving is enough…and others will be there, reminding you of all the ways you are failing.

That’s the year I learned that my performance is for an audience of one: God. And if I’m listening to Him, and earnestly trying to follow His lead each day, then it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, or what other people think of me…it’s between them and God.

That’s the year I learned that God is my provider…not my business, and not my husband. Gifts and money came from unlikely places, sustaining us through one of the most challenging seasons of our lives.

That’s the year I learned that nothing in this world is guaranteed; that health, good fortune and our livelihoods are temporal. You can’t base your peace or sense of worth on any of them.

That’s the year I learned that the one solid thing I can hang onto is God’s faithful love and peace. Despite all human reason, God’s presence persists through it all, providing each step, one minute at a time. Sometimes those steps are dances of joy…and sometimes they feel like I’m trying to walk with two broken legs. I’ve learned that both types of steps are okay as long as they move me forward, and closer to God.

I never wanted cancer written into my life. But nearly ten years later, I can say that God wove deep truths into my life during that time; truths that continue to echo in my spirit today. Remembering God’s faithfulness and grace continues to encourage me when difficult circumstances come my way. Because They never fail.

2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Mom Life

Ten Tips For Living A Gluten Free Life

Growing up, my mom cooked one meal for the entire family, and if we didn’t want to eat it, we could make ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was rare to know of a family with a food allergy.

Those days are gone. My kids go to schools that ban peanuts, and in my own family we have allergies to gluten, milk protein, fructose and almonds…a combination that makes cooking a challenge.

I gave up gluten about three years ago. After having my last baby at 40, my body began to revolt with auto-immune issues. I was unable to wear my contact lenses because my corneas swelled; I had spots of psoriasis appearing on my arms; and I had chronic migraines. My daughter was also experiencing food allergies, so I went though an elimination diet with her. The improvement from not eating gluten was so pronounced, I decided to stop eating it altogether.

For those of you who are thinking about going gluten free, or who have someone with a gluten-free diet in your life, here are some thoughts about living and cooking without wheat:

1. Think from the perspective of ingredients, instead of recipes.
What ingredients CAN you eat? If you can eat chicken, think of ways to dress up chicken that still fall within your diet. Think of vegetables you can eat, and then look for creative ways to use those vegetables.

2. Don’t overlook simplicity.
A simple grilled chicken breast with steamed veggies and some butter is delicious and filling. So is pot roast with potatoes and carrots; or meatloaf made with oatmeal instead of bread crumbs; or chili with some tortilla chips; or a taco or baked potato bar, where each family member can put whatever ingredients they like on their plates.

3. Soups can be a great choice…but watch out for sauces!
Broth-based soups are your friend if you are gluten free, as long as they don’t have pasta in them. Cream of anything, and any type of bisque will probably have flour and milk. Also, watch out for flour and wheat in sauces, including soy sauce. Use corn starch instead of flour to thicken gravies and sauces.

4. Salads make a good lunch.
You can put all kinds of things on top of a salad…grilled chicken, shrimp, veggies, nuts, seeds, olives, dressings (just watch the ingredients in salad dressings).

5. Use your spices!
Pre-packaged spice mixes contain a lot of preservatives and random ingredients. Taco seasoning, for example, has flour in it. You can make great spice mixes from spices in your cabinet. Here is a yummy taco seasoning that does not have flour, and our family likes even better than the premade packages.

6. Think of alternative starches to eat.
Even if you are gluten free, you can still eat all kinds of potatoes (chips, fries, mashed, baked, fried); all kinds of rices (a rice cooker is VERY handy); oats (Cheerios and oatmeal); and corn (including corn tortillas and tortilla chips). As with all food intolerances, you can go to varying levels to avoid the culprit food. If you are looking to go ABSOLUTELY gluten free, then look for the “Certified Gluten Free” label to ensure the grain in your food did not mix with wheat gluten while growing in the fields, or in the food processing equipment.

7. Watch out for sneaky ingredients.
Ingredients are easily hidden in restaurant food and your friend’s cooking. Battered fried food; sauces; soups; meatballs are likely gluten culprits…some candies also have flour on them to prevent them from sticking to other candies. If your friend has Celiac Disease, then be mindful to disclose any and all flour you used in their meal…it can make them seriously ill.

8. Be strategic with your desserts.
You get used to the texture of gluten free baked goods after awhile. But baked goods that don’t require flour are better. Desserts like chocolate mousse, or chocolate tortes, no bake cookies,or those little peanut butter buckeyes…are awesome.

9. Good places to learn more:
Paleo websites are great places to find recipes and cooking ideas. The book The Paleo Approach is also an excellent and educational book and talks about using food to heal auto-immune issues.

10. Tell restaurants about your allergy!
If you have a true allergy, then always tell the restaurant when you order. Good restaurants will change their gloves/cutting boards/etc. to avoid cross-contaminating your food with other foods in their kitchen.

What happens if I eat gluten? I don’t have a Celiac diagnosis, so my symptoms are more annoying than debilitating: fuzzy thoughts, my hands hurt and I get migraines. Yesterday I went off my gluten free diet because I had high tea with my sisters, AND my sister made my mom’s brownie sheet cake (I really could not resist it!). Today I have a low-grade migraine and feel super sluggish…so…back to gluten free I go.

Faith, Mom Life, Work

How Do You Eat An Elephant?

After 19 years of business ownership, homeschooling two kids, and completely rewriting my life over the past year, I am intimately familiar with being overwhelmed. I know what it’s like to see a full slate of work ahead of me, and realize the only way to get it done, is for me to physically do it. Since I find myself in this situation frequently, I have a great question to pose for my next blog post…and that is:

How do you eat an elephant?

An elephant is an overwhelming circumstance or situation. It’s a series of fires that have begun in your life and orchestrated themselves to simultaneously scorch multiples aspects, often at the same time. It’s when you find yourself completely overwhelmed at your life situation, and at the realization that there is no easy way out…and no matter what path you find to walk along, it’s going to be a long haul.

It’s when my husband was diagnosed with cancer at age 37, when we thought he just had a hernia.

It’s when my son was unexpectedly born with cleft lip and palate…a birth defect that is very fixable, but requires a childhood of surgeries and interventions.

It’s when I found myself driving down our mountain road, knowing that the end of our business was near, with no clear path how to sell it.

It’s when I realized that the only things standing between our life in California and the new life God was calling us to in Tennessee was selling two houses, closing down a business, packing up the contents of the houses, finding a new house in Tennessee, loading our moving trailer, and then actually physically moving our family across the nation…Any one of those things should take several months to accomplish, and they all had to happened at the exact same time.

In the last year or two of our business, I had the same disturbing dream, over and over again. Initially, it caused me great anxiety each time it emerged in my sleep…but by the tenth or eleventh time I had the dream, I had grown so used to it, I’d think, “Oh it’s my stupid anxiety dream again,” even while I slept. The dream had lost its power.

I think there is something similar to navigating the elephants in life. At a certain point, you stop thinking “OH NO! AN ELEPHANT!!!” and instead think, “Ok…there’s the next elephant…here we go, God…”

I’m several elephants into my adult life, and have come up with this step-by-step elephant-eating plan for anyone who finds themselves in similar overwhelming circumstances:

Step One: Size up the elephant. Take a good look at the circumstances and the complete and utter chaos you have found yourself in. It’s nuts, isn’t it? I mean really…who could do well navigating a challenge like THIS one? Allow yourself the freak out moments, because it will lead you to the next step:

Step Two: Acknowledge you can’t eat the elephant alone. It’s going to take other people to help you…and most importantly, it’s going to take God’s help and direction. Other people may tell you to eat the tail first; or the ears…but then you will find God putting your heart into conquering another aspect. Listen to God’s leading. When we moved to Tennessee, I had competing voices in my head (and in my life) telling me to prepare our house to move; do the final paperwork for our business; make sure our children were faring as well as possible, given the chaos; look for a house in Tennessee…the only way I was able to successfully move from point A (California) to point B (Tennessee) was to follow God’s steady voice, one step at a time. This leads me to the next concept:

Step Three: Take one step at a time, and one day at a time. Most of my days are written for me before I even wake up. I know when my kids need to go to school, when I need to go to work; what waits for me at work, and I also know the overwhelming number of things that must fit in alongside these daily realities. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What is the very next step I need to take?” And then I do that step. It’s amazing how doing this one thing, over and over again each day, truly does move life’s mountains.

Step Four: Don’t look too far ahead. When you are in an overwhelming circumstance, what you MOST want to know is when it will be over…when you will have some semblance of control over your life again, and can go back to worrying about what you’ll make for dinner, instead of how to pay for the food. When I find myself worrying about the future, or wanting the five or ten-year plan, I take stock of my life at that exact moment: If I am fed, in a warm house, and have clothing on…and so do my children…honestly, everything else is a bonus. The Lord’s prayer doesn’t say, “Give us this day our next ten years’ worth of bread,” but simply “daily bread.” And sometimes remembering His faithfulness with daily bread makes it easier to trust He will continue to provide it as we live out the years ahead.

Step Five: Don’t be afraid of hard work. There was a point in time when I would shy away from a project because it seemed too overwhelming. After years of business ownership, and especially after navigating my past year, I know the power of diligently accomplishing one thing at a time, one day at a time…you can do impossible things by simply rolling up your sleeves, and actually doing the work. Stop thinking about how overwhelming it is…and just DO THE WORK.

Step Six: Don’t fear exhaustion. Exhaustion comes from hard work and intense living. At some point, you will have time to sleep again. If you become too focused on how tired you are, it robs the energy you need to actually navigate through your situation. Accept that exhaustion is a part of life sometimes…and you will survive it.

Still, even with all of this advice, sometimes you just get sick of the elephant. You want it to go away, or disappear, or be replaced by something delicious and decadent and not have to eat more of the STUPID STINKY ELEPHANT…MAKE THE ELEPHANT GO AWAY!!!

That’s when you do the most important thing:

Take a bit of time to take care of yourself. Sleep in. Do something fun, just for the sake of having fun. Go for a walk. Look at the stars. Eat a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Allow yourself time to dream…sometimes the best way to eat an elephant is to allow yourself time to stop looking at it for awhile, and focus on things that give you joy. It reminds you that eventually the elephant will go away…this too shall pass..and all of that elephant wrestling will leave you stronger, wiser and able to enjoy the sweet things of life even more.

View More