Joy 2017

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A year comes and goes. 2016 has flown by in a flurry of fun and activities and work and responsibilities. The kids have sprouted up and I have felt the shift of our parenting and family culture changing with kids growing in independence and maturity. Which honestly, is mostly just plain fun.

I turned 40. It felt good and natural and comfortable. I can use 40 as an excuse to care less about what other people think and embrace the person I know myself to be. Or to put it more accurately, embrace the person I am discovering myself to be.

The past year did bring many thoughts about how to spend my time. A beginning of a rediscovering of myself now that I have time to spend in whatever way I chose. (Mama’s of young ones, I know this seems like a dream but it happens quickly!) I admit to using a bulk of that time in binge-watching Netflix and generally wasting time. But I am feeling a shift, a desire to learn and grow and explore. Who am I now that my kids aren’t taking up every extra minute of my spare time? What things inspire me? What do I want to do?

I chose a word for last year. But I didn’t really pay much attention to it. I didn’t really live very intentionally last year, mostly just letting events happen as life washed over me. And that’s okay. I obviously needed that, a year to exist and enjoy without putting too much deep meaning and thought into it as I am usually prone to do. There is a good lesson in taking one day at a time without picking everything apart and worrying about every motive, outcome, or long-term consequence to every choice I make.

However, the past few weeks have been challenging me as the word JOY has been coming up again and again. I have fallen into habits of complaining and being easily irritated and frustrated lately. I told a friend “everyone is irritating me!” Not cool. I have also been very judgmental lately. I have been quick to see the negative, and assume the worst. I am not a naturally joyful person. I am a combination of Eyore and Rabbit – which does not a joyful person make. In fact, that combination makes an irritating person. And I don’t like that about myself.

I don’t know why I struggle to be joyful. And by joyful, I don’t mean fake happy, or always laughing, or irritatingly positive. I mean peacefully and purposely the kind of person that lives present in the moment, wants what is best for others, and builds up. The kind of joy that smiles and sees the best instead of picking apart the negative. The kind of joy that is comfortable and confident in the person that I am and what I have to offer the people around me. I don’t know why that kind of joy is a struggle for me, but it is, and I would like to

I don’t know how to “find” joy, but I feel in my bones that this is my word for the year. I feel strongly that God has something to teach me in this area this year.

I struggle with the idea of blogging. It seems self-indulgent and self-important. And yet, I like to document my thoughts, I like to read through my past blog posts and remember what I was learning. I like to write and I would like to make more time to write. Writing might be something that brings me joy. But really, what do I have to say that hasn’t been said already? See, my Eyore and Rabbit thoughts right there!

A new year lays fresh before me. I think I am ready to stretch and grow and maybe even practice some disciplines. I am hoping to process some of the journey through writing in a way that will edify and uplift.

So, help me out. What books or resources do you have for me on the topic of Joy?

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December Photo Project: Week 1

I decided at the last minute to jump in to another little challenge. Every December I have seen some of my friends participate in the December Photo Project. I loved seeing them post one picture a day in the month of December. So this year I decided to jump in. It’s a great way to challenge myself to see something new every day, and dabble a bit in photography, which has always interested me. And this year I have a smart-phone (yay!) so my pictures will be made with my phone. I am going to post the pictures here on a weekly basis.

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Day 1 – Early morning reading time. Waking up early is never easy for me but those quiet early morning moments are becoming my favorite of the day.

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Day 2 – My Japanese Maple flaming in afternoon light.

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Day 3 – One of my favorite things about the Advent season is the extra time to snuggle by the twinkling lights and read special books. We add a book or two to our Christmas basket every year. There are lots of memories here.

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Day 4 – I love seeing the morning sun pierce the trees and light up our dining room.

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Day 5 – Nathaniel (in the red) running on ahead of me in his first race. It was a beautiful morning and a really fun run in our little town. It’s sure to become a family tradition.

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Day 6 – My nightstand. Because I suddenly got sick and this has been my view for the afternoon. Sickness frustrates me but I am trying to rest.

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Day 7 – My view this afternoon. There are piles of laundry, boxes of stuff that need to be organized, and so many things that need to get done which is frustrating when I have no energy. But the sun is shining, and my husband took the day off of work so I can rest so I am trying to see the good in that.

See you next week for more December Photo Project pics!

For more about the December Photo Project and to see other participants visit tredways.org. Also follow #dpp2015 on Instagram.

Running Together

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A year ago, on Thanksgiving, I ran my first 5k. I had only been running for a few months and that first race felt like a huge accomplishment. I never imagined myself running, let alone enjoying it. But there I was, crossing the finishing line in snow and freezing temperatures and having a good time! My sons had watched me train for that race. I had brought them with me to the track and while I ran they would ride their bikes and play. They watched me plod out the miles. They watched me sweat (“Why is your face purple mom?” and they watched my elation when I added more distance and completed a goal. When I approached the finish line of my first 5k my youngest son was sitting on my husbands shoulders, cheering me on, and so of course I got teary eyed and choked up. I was proud of myself and I was happy that my son got to witness my accomplishment and my pride.

Lately my Nathaniel has been training with me. He has wanted to run a race. So as I have been circling the track he has been too. He runs lightly and chatters away the whole time. He’s been talking about how far he wants to run (he decided to start with a 1 mile fun run) and asking me questions about the details of race day.

This morning we got up and walked a block down the road to an annual race here in our own little town. The air was bracing but the sun was shining. It was a gorgeous morning to run. Nathaniel had questions about the start, the finish, how he would know where to go. He kept a close eye on the timer counting down to start time, updating me on our time every few minutes.

We did a group warm up to upbeat Christmas music and then we were in the pack, ready to go. He was insistent, he wanted to run the 1 mile race on his own. Suddenly we were off. As we turned down the main street I watched my little guy take off. He was ready. He was determined. He was having fun.

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(Nathaniel, in red, ahead of me.)

There was some confusion about where he was supposed to turn off for the 1 mile run, so my husband went with him and I continued. It was a great route; down our main street, through the golf course sparkling with frost, back up past the library and courthouse, and my energy was high. There, by the final turn were my boys waiting for me. I waved Nathaniel over and together we raced across the finish line. It was so much fun!

People always say “Your children are watching what you do. They pay more attention to what you do than what you say.” That makes me nervous because I am usually acutely aware of all the ways I am failing. Most of the time I am pretty sure that I don’t want my kids to mimic me.

But not in this case. In this instance I am proud that my kids are watching me. I am glad that they are learning from me that they can work hard to achieve things that they never thought possible. I hope they are learning to take care of their bodies. Maybe they are learning that it is always worth it to take time to do things they enjoy in order to nourish their spirits. I hope they are watching me enjoy the fresh air, being outside, noticing beauty around me. I hope they will remember watching me set goals and push myself to accomplish them.

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(Obligatory post-run selfie.)

Nathaniel finished his first race today. He has his sights set on the 5k next year. I am proud of this guy. He did good. We made good memories today. As for me, I have my sights set on a 10k and am even daring to dream of a half-marathon. Why not?

Five Minute Friday: Seasons

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Five Minute Friday is a challenge to write for 5 mintes. No over thinking. No editing. No worrying about it being perfect before hitting publish. Just 5 minutes to write.

This weeks prompt: Seasons

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I love the changing of the the seasons. It satisfies something in me. It is a physical reminder of a deep seated need to mark the constant changing of me, the turning of time. Moving mindfully with the seasons gives me permission to move on, to let go, to look forward.

The season of Advent has begun and for me it is a season of rest. The bustle of fall is over and the cooling air and early evening darkness encourage us to cozy up at home. I putter around the house stringing lights and putting things in order. I want to create an environment that the boys will remember with fondness. I want them to remember the season of waiting. The lights, the candles, the Jesse tree in the middle of the dining room, the evenings spent reading special books by the twinkling lights. There is magic here as we wait for the birth of Christ.

It is a season of reflection. I look back on the year that has passed and see the good, and the bad. I think about the ways I have changed and the things I have learned. I scribble notes. I marvel at the wonder that is “God with us.” Always, out of love, and even on the darkest of days, God is with us.

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To see other Five Minute Friday writings, or to link up your own, go here.

November

IMG_2357November has already passed. I never finished my 31 day writing challenge in October, but I wrote all but three days I think, so that is something. I still haven’t decided if writing on a blog is something I want to keep doing. Honestly, I have so many thoughts swirling around like leaves in my head and I don’t know how to pin them down. Most days they remain illusive.

November is a tough month for me these days. Three years ago in early November we rode the roller coaster of being matched with a potential foster-to-adopt placement and by the end of the month we had decided not to actively pursue adoption any more. So guilt lays heavy on me and I feel the lethargy and apathy that signal the onset of a mild depression that shades my days grey. Some days it just seems easier to numb myself with a screen and mindless entertainment. Yet the autumn sun shines crisp and the world around me is aflame with color. I wrestle with the dichotomy of feeling in the depths of me that we made the right decision but also feeling like I failed somehow.

And this November horrible things were happening around the world. My Facebook feed became a battleground of opinions and name calling and destructive criticism and condescending memes.  My mind and heart couldn’t disengage and I finally had to just turn it off.

Last week we celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It is an opportunity to gather with friends and family, reminding each other of God’s goodness. We need to remind each other. We need to speak thanksgiving out loud because sometimes we forget. I have let myself forget about the goodness of God as I have let the anxiety and doubt take over.

“Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see — how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to him.
Worship God if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.”
-Psalm 34:8&9 (The Message)

There is the reminder – my guilt and anxiety are a result of me looking at myself. They are a result of my pride, my need to accomplish, my desire for people to think well of me. Me, me, me. Speaking thanksgiving takes my eyes off of me. Worshiping God through thanksgiving reminds me of who He is.

Last week we were running around the track. The sky was grey and we were struggling through our miles just going around and around. As I turned the corner I lifted my head and saw the clouds part long enough to show me a sky colored pink and purple. On my next lap the color was gone, swallowed up again by the clouds. I had almost missed it.

I don’t want to miss want God is doing. I don’t want to get so caught up in my own thoughts, despair, the daily grind that I miss the beauty that God is working in the world. I want my eyes to be open to see.

Sea (Day 29)

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Day 29 of 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writing

Today’s Prompt: Sea

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The morning started rough. Everyone seemed irritated and off balance. We were running a bit behind schedule. I was feeling a bit grumbly as I did my usual post-breakfast clean up run through the house: pick up stray toys, make sure the boys have put away tooth brushes and picked up pj’s, wipe down the dining room table, determine whether the floor needs to be swept, open curtains and blinds to let in the light.

As I looked out the windows I was knocked breathless by the wonder. A sea of bright light is setting the autumn trees a blaze. Against the dark shadows that lurk in the trees the red and yellow leaves are shining like gold. The very air shimmers. The color shines more brilliant because of the darkness that surrounds it. Everything flames with glory.

What can I do but stand and take it all in?

I call the boys and together we stand on our front step, dazzled.

The moment slips by as the sun crosses the tree line. We continue our day thankful for the glimpse of the flame of the divine in the grey sea of our ordinary moments.

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I am participating in the 31 Days Writing Challenge. Click here to see all posts in this series.

Hope (Day 28)

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Day 28 of 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writing

Today’s Prompt: Hope

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I know I am a day or two behind. That’s okay. Some days the words just don’t come. I sit and stare at the screen and everything that comes into my head seems silly or cliche or trite or just plain dumb. Sometimes I simply don’t have time to flesh out a thought and so it seems best to let it lie.

Hope is one of those words. There is just so much there. I have been mulling it over for days and it remains illusive. And maybe that is a good illustration of hope. Hope is an expectation, a desire. Expectations and desires change. We hope things will happen a certain way, and then they don’t. We expect things from people and they don’t live up to that expectation. We see bad things happen to good people and the idea of hope seems like a joke.

But to hope is also to put your trust in something. Putting trust in our own expectations and desires can be dangerous because we will be let down. The Bible speaks often of hoping in God, of the hope we have within us. This hope holds us fast when the hope of our temporal expectations and desires shift and disappoint. God doesn’t change. His “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” is what we hope in. Continuing to hope in the darkest of times (like Job) seems crazy to those who don’t know this Love. Without the knowledge of this Love hope seems fragile and fickle.

It’s time to stop and I don’t know how to wrap this up. I am rambling.

The world seems a very dark place these days. Friends are walking through terrible trials. The news is full of a world hurting and breaking and groaning. To speak of hope seems like a silly thing.

And yet…hope is there…sometimes just a flicker…

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“Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” is a phrase in the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. It has become an often repeated phrase in our house.  

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I am participating in the 31 Days Writing Challenge. Click here to see all posts in this series.

Perhaps (Day 27)

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Day 27 of 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writing

Today’s Prompt: Perhaps

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Three years ago a perhaps that we had been preparing our hearts for didn’t happen. Two sweet, energetic children who were perhaps (we were told probably) going to join our family – didn’t. A quick phone call and just like that we were expected to move on. Grief in that instance seemed silly (after all we had only met them a handful of times and shouldn’t we be happy that they had gone back to their birth family?) but it was a reality.

I grieve the loss of two children every year in the fall. This fall she would be 9 and he would be 8. What would their interests be? What would bring them joy? Are they safe? Do they have what they need? Are they loved? I grieve the loss of their bright eyes and happy chatter and their little arms encircling my waist in a hug. I grieve the loss of the perhaps that our family might have been – six seats around the table instead of four, four little ones to tuck in at night, a daughter who I could have read “Anne of Green Gables” to, another son to add to the wild chaos that is boys. I don’t allow myself to dwell on the picture of what our family could be with them in it for too long. It hurts and feels self-indulgent at the same time.

Perhaps I will see them again some day. Perhaps I will get to know what happened with their lives. Most likely I never will, and that hurt is deep. Perhaps my constant prayers are covering them and keeping them. I hope so, since my arms can’t.

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I am participating in the 31 Days Writing Challenge. Click here to see all posts in this series.

Whisper (Day 26)

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My running shadow. 

Day 26 of 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writing

Today’s Prompt: Whisper

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Voices whisper in my head telling me I am not good enough, telling me I am failing, telling me that I am not worthy of love. I am learning to talk back to those whispers.

One of my tools is running. As I challenge my body, I challenge my mind. I get stronger and better at controlling what voices whisper to me.

The first mile is always a challenge. My legs burn and my lungs struggle to gulp air. I say to myself, “I can do this. This discomfort is temporary. In just a few minutes I will hit the sweet spot and be thankful that I started.”

The second mile is my favorite. My pace has found its rhythm and my muscles are no longer tight. My lungs fill with fresh air and I am able to look around me and enjoy the scenery. I am full of energy. I notice the beauty around me in the color of the fall leaves, or the sun rising over the parking lot. I say to myself, “You are loved. You are noticed.”

The third mile and I begin to slow a little, getting a bit tired but I have a goal of more than 3 miles so I start talking to myself, “You are strong. Keep your goal in mind. You know you want to post your accomplishment in your Facebook exercise accountability group so keep going.”

The final mile of my run is a battle between the voice whispering at me to stop and the one telling me to finish up strong. I say, “Do not stop. You are so close to your goal. You will feel so proud of yourself when you are done. Just keep going.”

It isn’t easy to take control of those negative whispers that cloud my mind and effect my actions. But I am getting better at it. I am getting better at fighting back with God’s Word and speaking back to those whispers that are lies.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

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I am participating in the 31 Days Writing Challenge. Click here to see all posts in this series.

Crash (Day 25)

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Day 25 of 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writing

Today’s Prompt: Crash

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I have a son with and iron will. I am pretty stubborn myself. There were times when I believed the crash of two wills colliding would damage our relationship forever.

There were people who thought I was too tough on him and others who thought I wasn’t tough enough.

There were nights when I went to bed in tears after a day of countless relentless battles of the will. The guilt I felt over my mothering of this child was immense. I was sure I wanted to teach him self-discipline and respect for others, but I thought the process might cause serious harm to our relationship.

So I prayed. I wept. I begged God to show me how to guide this young soul I had been gifted with. I asked the Holy Spirit to soften my will where necessary and strengthen it when needed. Above all I begged God to show me that we could have a positive relationship, despite our clashes of will.

(My time is up but I am going to keep going.)

Can I tell you that God is answering my prayer beyond my wildest imaginings? We are enjoying each other! We laugh and joke and the other day I even got a spontaneous hug! I have recently watched this boy tenderly pay attention to and play with children years younger than him. I have watched him control his temper. I have watched him exercise self-control and show genuine respect toward other people.

As God changed my heart, softening my will and taking away much of the anger in my heart, He also changed the heart of my son. Our clashes are few and far between now. I don’t know what the future holds but I know I can continue to trust God to guide and lead us. I can trust the Holy Spirit to work because he loves us and cares about us.

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I am participating in the 31 Days Writing Challenge. Click here to see all posts in this series.