Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Farewell to Oprah

Right now I am at a place in my life where I feel truly, authentically, and completely happy. I have said that at other times in my life, but I don't know if I really believed it before. Overall, I've had a pretty great life, so it's not that I was unhappy, just that I didn't feel completely fulfilled until recently. I didn't know what changed until Wednesday when I sat down to watch the final episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. When she said, "...that's what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing." As she spoke that sentence, Reese climbed across my legs and sat in my lap. I had a brief flashback of all the time I've shared with my daughter this year; all the things I taught her; all the things she taught me; how much I've enjoyed my job as a full-time wife and mother; and how much I've grown as a woman. With teary eyes, I scooped her up and kissed her. That was it. That was the change. I had answered a calling. I listened to "the voice bigger than myself" that led me to leave my career and serve my family. At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. And then I realized that I just received my last "aha moment" from The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Over the past 30 days, I have been religiously watching the final episodes. Each day, I cling to a box of Kleenex and experience wave after wave of mixed emotions... I can't believe it's over. However, until the last 30 days, I wasn't a regular viewer. I always knew Oprah was a special person and that she was doing special things, but there were plenty of times when years would go by and I would catch only a handful of episodes. Needless to say, I never expected to spend this entire 30 day countdown glued to the TV, tears coming and going, feeling more and more disbelief as the number of remaining episodes got smaller and smaller. As 30 became 20, and 20 became 10, and 10 became 1, I have been growing more sad and trying to figure out why I'm so upset about a show I hardly watched.

Although I was never a regular viewer, I was still among millions of kids who knew Oprah Winfrey as a household name. I remember seeing her on TV when I was in grade school, high school, college, and now as a wife and mother. Through every season of my life, there have been few things as constant as The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was as ever-present as the tree in the backyard of my childhood home. Its roots keep it firmly planted on the ground while its branches reach for the limitless sky. With modesty, humility, and grace as her roots; and hope, freedom, and inspiration as her branches, Oprah is the metaphorical tree in the backyard of so many childhood homes. I may not have looked at my tree every day, and I may not have always appreciated it, but I took comfort in its unchanging presence and it's constant reminder that the sky is the limit.

The 30 day countdown felt like the destruction of that tree; each passing day was an axe swinging against its base. Only it's not just any tree. It's a tree whose roots run so deep that they connect people on every corner of the planet. It's a tree whose branches reach so high that everyone can experience the safety and comfort of its shade. Everyone who is striving to be a better person; everyone who is recovering from abuse or addition; everyone who has been plagued by depression; everyone who has suffered a loss; and everyone who is desperate for hope can gather underneath it for an hour a day and be reminded that "What I say matters" and  "I am not alone."

If Oprah's goal today was to tie a beautiful bow around 25 years of inspiration and encouragement, she succeeded beyond measure. Even as only a sporadic viewer, I have shed countless happy and sad tears. I have been encouraged to live a better, fuller life. I have been inspired to make a difference. I have been amazed by the resiliency of the human spirit. And I have been reminded to completely disregard all that we are taught to see as impossible. 

Most endings come with another beginning - the next big thing, the next Oprah Winfrey. But the reason we are all so sad is because there will not be a next Oprah. A person with the combined spirits of Mother Teresa and Santa Claus comes only once in a lifetime. I believe that the 25 years of the Oprah Show were a phenomenon that will only be experienced by the generations fortunate enough to have been touched by it. And as sad as it is, I know that Oprah doesn't want us to be sad. She wants us to go out and continue her legacy of hope and inspiration by encouraging each other to keep rising from the ashes, lifting veils of shame, making big differences, and "using our [callings] to serve the world."

Thank you, Oprah, for 25 years of serving your calling and for validating my pursuit of mine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Woman Behind the Camera

Over the last month or so, I have been working very diligently on the scrapbook of Reese's first year. I'm hoping to avoid a repeat of our wedding and honeymoon scrapbook, which took 2 years of procrastination and a large pregnant belly before I actually got my act together and finished it. I started my most recent scrapbooking marathon by going through the pictures I have for each month to decide which ones would make the cut (no pun intended). As I was sorting through them, I was disappointed by the lack of pictures of Reese and I together. In fact, there are a couple of months where I don't appear in any pictures at all!

But then something occurred to me. Even though my face appears in only 5 percent of the pictures, I was holding the camera 95 percent of the time. Most of those smiles are directed at me. I created most of those moments. And I captured most of those memories. My face may not be in every picture, but my heart and soul definitely are.

As I think about it on an even deeper level, it's such a beautiful analogy for my role as a mother. We see a beautiful picture and we usually focus on the subject of that picture. Few people think about the person behind the lens and all the work that goes into getting that perfect shot. But without a photographer, there would be no picture. If the picture represents our life, then I am the photographer who shapes it. I work behind the scenes so my family can shine in the spotlight. I slave in the kitchen to give my family delicious meals. I clean the house to give my family a relaxing environment. I do all the dirty work to give my family more quality time together. And although my work sometimes feels invisible, its effects are very real.

So when you see a picture-perfect image of a newborn sleeping peacefully in a crib....


or a laughing toddler throwing spaghetti...

or a special father-daughter moment...


Remember that somewhere there is a mom creating those smiles, capturing those moments, and working hard to be the woman behind the camera.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kitchen Magician

I recently became a blogger for Hearts at Home, an organization that supports moms through every stage of motherhood. (It is through this organization that I got inspired to stay home despite my financial fears and rediscovered my passion for writing). So here's how this works: on the third Thursday of each month, all of the Hearts at Home bloggers will blog about the same topic. Each of our blogs are linked to each other so every month you can read a number of different perspectives on the issue. The topic for May is "share a favorite homemade dish recipe." And here goes...

I always thought of my  mom as a magician - whether she was making a meal, healing a wound, even knowing when I was lying, everything seemed like magic. I was especially impressed when she cooked. It didn't matter if it was a Thanksgiving turkey or a pot of Spanish rice, I always wondered how she knew what to put in it or how she could tell it was done. I rarely saw my mom use recipes and she made everything from scratch. I was always in awe of her ability to make something delicious from a pile of ingredients. To me, cooking was a mystical process that required great talent, like painting or playing an instrument. So when Matt and I decided that I would stay home, I became the official family head chef and I wondered how I would manage without knowing all the tricks of the trade.

As a gift, my mom gave me a cookbook she filled with recipes I enjoyed as a kid. (Ya know how once you learn all the ins and outs of something, it becomes completely de-mystified - like when you learn the truth about Santa Claus or see how a magic trick is done? If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch an episode of "How It's Made" on The Science Channel. Those people de-mystify everything from toothbrushes to calculators). Well, that's what happened to me when I learned to cook. As I flipped through my new book, I couldn't believe how easy it was to make some of my favorite meals. Some things required just a handful of ingredients! I looked at some of my favorites: chicken soup, stuffed peppers, spaghetti sauce (the best spaghetti sauce ever, might I add), and I thought, "That's it? That's all there is to it?" And just like that, the magic was gone.

Only it wasn't really gone. I just don't see it anymore because I'm in on all the secrets. And I learned that good food doesn't always have be complicated. Now my family can be just as mystified with my food as I always was with my mom's. Next week marks one year in my new position as a stay-at-home-mom and official magician of my kitchen. So in honor of my anniversary, I would like to de-mystify one of my childhood favorites: stuffed green peppers. Enjoy!

1. Start with 4-8 green peppers (it depends a lot on the size). Cut the tops off and clean out the insides.

2. Take 2 pounds of ground beef (raw) and mix in 3/4 cup ketchup, 3/4 cup grape jelly, 2 eggs, and 1 cup of instant rice (uncooked). You pretty much have to mix it with your hands, so if this is a problem for you, I suggest you stick with Hamburger Helper meals.

3. Fill each pepper with the meat mixture (really cram it in there).

4. Put the peppers in a pot/pan and pour in enough tomato juice to cover them at least most of the way (some people find tomato juice to be too thin. You can mix it with canned tomato sauce to thicken it up). There are several ways to cook them: (1) In a large pot, cover and simmer 45 min to 1 hour. (2) In a roasting pan, cover and bake at 350 for 45 min to 1 hour. (3) I've never used a slow cooker to make this recipe but I know you can. Just guess on the time. It's hard to mess stuff up in a crock pot.

5. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just Slow Down

This probably won't come as a huge shock to most people, but I am always on the go. I'm not necessarily "on the go" physically at all times, but I am constantly "on the go" mentally; always planning for the next hour, the next minute. I'm an extreme list-maker, multi-tasker, and schedule-keeper. It's a struggle for me to relax because of the constant nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I should be doing something productive. Even if I don't have anything to do, I will invent a reason to feel busy. I begin every day on a mission to do as much as possible. I measure the success of my day against how much I accomplish.

Because of this, one of the things I was most excited about when I decided to stay home was finally being able to relax. I wanted freedom from my old schedule, freedom from always feeling like I needed to be going somewhere or working on something. But I quickly learned that changing your lifestyle doesn't automatically change your personality. I still always feel like I have to be on the go. I still struggle to relax. I still try to accomplish as much as possible every day. At times, it has caused me to be less attentive to Reese (like when she almost swallowed one of my rings while I was sending an email), or to Matt (like when I agree to watch a movie with him but then clip and organize coupons the whole time), or to my own needs (like when I skip lunch to get more cleaning done). Finally, God sent me the reality check I definitely needed.

Last Friday, the guests on Oprah were people who learned important lessons from other past guests. One was a woman who left her two-year-old daughter in her car on a hot summer day. She had planned to come right back out and get her, but she got distracted and too much time went by, and the little girl actually died. Matt overheard the story and said to me, "how does that even happen?" I'm sure he expected my answer to be equally full of shock and confusion. After all, how does that even happen? But I wasn't confused or shocked. I was horrified and upset. Then I started to cry. Although a part of me was crying simply because I can't imagine losing a child, let alone feeling responsible for that loss; another part of me was crying for a much more serious reason.

As I was listening to her story, I had a horrifying mental image of myself in her place. My house. My car. My baby. It obviously wasn't totally unimaginable to me because there I was, imaging it. Never in a million years would I think that something like that could happen to me. But the picture in my mind came way too easily. The story upset me way too much. The possibility seemed all too real. And that tells me only one thing: I absolutely have to slow down. So as a result of my reality check, here are a few of the things I know I need to change:

#1. I move entirely too fast. My driving habits are a great indication of that. I drive too fast. I follow too close. I pass people for no reason. And why? I don't know. I'm a stay-at-home-mom. I don't have anywhere to be. And even if I did... it certainly isn't worth the risks I take to get there a few minutes (or sometimes even a few seconds) sooner. I can't imagine the guilt I would feel for the rest of my life knowing something that happened might not have happened if I had just slowed down.

#2. I do too many things at once.There's nothing wrong with multi-tasking... as long as you know your limits. I forget my multi-tasking limits all the time. The more things I'm doing at once, the more likely it is that at least one will be forgotten mid-way through the process. I'm constantly doing things with half of my brain because the other half is either still working on the last thing or trying to plan the next thing. Last week, that resulted in burnt garlic bread, but next week it could be something that actually matters.
#3. My to-do list is always unrealistic. I make long lists because I'm always afraid I'll forget about something important (note the irony in that situation). I put things on my list that don't need to be there and then I get all worried because I'm "so busy." Busy with what? I don't know. I truly think the problem is not that I'm actually busy. It's that I have such a need to be busy that I create busyness.

I'm amazed that I have so willingly given up so much for Reese (my body, my money, my sleep, my freedom, my career), but I haven't been able to entirely let go of my time. Looking back, I'm so incredibly thankful that God delivered the message in this way and spared me a very painful lesson. Maybe now I can finally start choosing the quality of my time over the quantity of what I get done. Maybe now I can remember that I am human and I am not invincible, no matter how hard I try to be "Super Mom." Up until Friday, I started every day with a list. And I know it's not realistic to say that I'm just going to stop making lists. It's a part of my personality that keeps me very well-organized and is one of my greatest time-management assets. However, I am definitely going to work on making realistic lists and not attaching a time limit to their accomplishment. And I am also definitely going to make sure that the first item on every list I make from now on will be "just slow down."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Giving Up Control

Matt piles stuff on top of his side of our dresser. It has always bothered me. Right now, there is a pair of shorts, a polo shirt from work, a package of new underwear, and a large envelope containing some old farming magazines. (Yes, I inventoried the "pile" for purposes of this post). I've tried everything to get him to move the pile but most of the time I would just try to ignore it because I've pretty much learned that no matter what I do, stuff still seems to find its way back up there. Allow me to present a visual (and I should add that when I put the flower pots up there, I secretly thought they might serve as a deterrent to the pile. They did not).

Well, not long ago I was moving stuff up off the floor to vacuum. As I moved around the room, I came to my side of the dresser where I scooped up a pile of "stuff" and set it on the bed. And now that I think about it, there are always at least a couple of things in that spot. How interesting that Matt's pile bothers me but I never even noticed my own. I started asking myself why that is - because to an outsider (or an angry husband) it looks like I think I'm the only one allowed to make a mess. As I thought about it, I found the real reason. My pile doesn't bother me because I have control over what I put there, when I put it there, and how I long I wait before I clean it up. His pile bothers me because I don't have control over it. Suddenly I realize that this isn't really about him and his mess problem. This is about me and my control problem.

Ok, I admit it - I tend to want to be in control of things. I like to hold the instruction manual, the map, and the remote. I'm a here-just-let-me-do-it kind of person and I have a very hard time with we'll-just-figure-it-out-later people. I do my best to keep it within the confines of my own life, which is great for other people but not always so great for the person who has to live with me. Although Matt finds my need for control to be bothersome at times, we almost never argue about it. I attribute that to two things. One, Matt is incredibly accepting of it. Two, I am incredibly aware of it. And because of those two things we are able to compromise our way through it and get a lot of laughs in the process.

Matt has always been so great about allowing me to be myself and in return, I owe it to him to allow him to be himself. He lets me make schedules and lists and yes, he even lets me hold the remote most of the time. (I know, what a saint). So I do my best not to take control of his life the way I take control of my own. Unfortunately for me, that also means leaving his pile of stuff alone. As long as he doesn't make a mess with the expectation that I clean it up, then it's his house too and he should be able to put things where he wants them (which is a lot easier for me to type than to believe. But at least I'm working on it).

One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a person who likes to be in control is that I only have the right to control myself. Each time I discover that something is part of my control problem, I have to redefine it in a way that puts the control back on me. It's not my job to control his mess. It is my job control how I react to his mess. So the reaction I chose was to just let it go (which is very different from trying to ignore it. When I ignored it, I just didn't say anything about it but it still bothered me to look at it. I had to let it go, which meant that I would free myself from being bothered by it). Once I did that, it bothered me less every day and now I really don't even notice it anymore. And now, before we go to bed Matt will throw his shirt up on top of the dresser, and then look at me and say, "so what's the schedule for tomorrow?" And we're both happy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bittersweet Milestones

On Sunday Reese took her first steps. (Yes, on Mother's Day. What a great gift!) We were picnicking at the park when she stood up and took about 5 steps toward Matt. I yelled, "Oh my gosh! She's walking!" and everyone in earshot turned to watch. A few people started clapping. Then she clapped for herself. What a happy moment, right? Well, yes and no. The past year has been filled with one exciting first after another, and while I feel so much joy and pride as I watch her grow and gain independence, I can't ignore the sting in my heart that comes from knowing that she is also growing up and gaining independence from me.

It all started the day she was born. I was so excited to go in for our induction but there was a tiny part of me that was sad for the end of pregnancy, sad for the end of this phase of her life. From that day on, it was one bittersweet milestone after another. There have been happy firsts like sitting and crawling and first words. There have been sad firsts like the first time she tried to squirm out of my arms to go play or the first time I had to say "no no." And there have been a lot of happy beginnings accompanied by sad ends. I was happy when she slept in her crib, but I was sad that she didn't need to be close to me at night anymore. I was happy when she ate solid food, but I was sad that I was no longer the only one providing her nutrition. I was happy when she started using a sippy cup, but I was sad when she nursed for the last time. And now, I am happy that she is walking, but I am sad that soon she won't want to be carried anymore. Most of all, I'm sad that somehow my newborn baby became an infant and that infant became a toddler, and I hardly blinked in between!

Sometimes I wonder if it's normal to feel sadness at such happy events in my child's life. I should be thankful that she is happy and healthy and doing the right things at the right times in her development. But just because I'm sad, doesn't mean I'm not also happy and excited and thankful. That's why I can't describe these moments as anything but "bittersweet." I'm excited for the start of the next phase but I'm sad for the end of this one. I'm happy to be celebrating these moments but I'm sad that they are coming and going so quickly. And even though I'm sad when they're over, I'm thankful for the memories we're making along the way. With Reese's first birthday just around the corner (less than 3 weeks away), I am preparing my heart for another collision of conflicting emotions as my baby approaches the next of many bittersweet milestones.

(On a quick side note: If you would like to receive updates on new posts through email, simply enter your email address in the bar at the top right hand side of this page (where it says, "Follow by Email"). I also want to extend a huge thank you to those who are reading and/or following. I have been excited and honored by the incredible support from my family and friends. Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Yesterday I was standing in the greeting card section at Meijer picking out a Mother's Day card for my mom. I always struggle to find a card that sums up what I want to say to her on this special day - and don't even get me started on finding the right gift. It's just not possible to represent that much gratitude in such a simple gesture. Although I've always had a hard time finding the right way to thank my mom on Mother's Day, this year it is especially difficult.

This year I am a mother too, and I have spent the last 11 months (20 if you count pregnancy, which we all should) making the sacrifices for Reese that my mom made for me. Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood have had many side effects on me, one of which was a new appreciation for my own mother. That appreciation grows with each passing day as I travel the same road my mom traveled with me some 28 years ago. Even only 11 months into the journey, I'm so much more appreciative of the physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial sacrifices my mom made for me. I can only imagine how my gratitude will grow in the years to come, and how much harder it will get for me to fully express it.

I'm not sure I can ever fully thank her for enduring morning sickness, labor pains, and stitches (oh, the stitches!) to bring me into the world. And I'm not sure I can ever fully thank her for all the years of sleeping in my room when I was scared, comforting me when I was sad, and nurturing me when I was sick. As I tried to come up with a new way to share my feelings, I did the only thing I know how to do - I sat down and started writing. It began as a list but evolved into a poem...

A Thank You Note to My Mom:
There's nothing I can do for you and nothing I can say
To express how much I thank you that I turned out this way.
You've taught me so much through the course of my life,
How to make choices, what's wrong, and what's right.
Through bruises and scrapes and occasional bumps,
You were the one who bandaged me up.
Through boyfriends and dates and broken hearts,
You talked me through it when things fell apart.
You comforted me and you wiped off the tears.
You helped me through struggles and calmed all my fears.
And when I felt lost, you helped me stay strong.
You gave me the courage to keep going on.
Through achievements and illness and times good and bad,
You gave me the best of all that you had.
And nothing I do could ever repay
The debt that I owe you still to this day.
I just hope that you always know
When I say "thank you," how deep those words go.
Because there will never be any other
Quite like the hero I see in my mother.

Wishing every mom a very happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Lesson in Patience

I have always struggled with my patience. I used to hate waiting at red lights, grocery stores, and anywhere else that didn't instantly get me on my way. I also had a system for everything which meant that I hated interruptions as much as I hated waiting. I would often stop and think, "I am in so much trouble when I have children." Needless to say, when we decided to have children, I prayed for patience almost as often as I prayed for a healthy baby and a smooth delivery. If I can't wait at a red light without tapping my toe and muttering "any day now," then how can I possibly handle midnight crying, diaper blowouts, and temper tantrums? I prayed in the hopes that God would give me a lesson in patience to prepare me for parenthood. As it turns out, parenthood was the lesson.

I used to say that I didn't know if I could handle certain aspects of parenting. People would say to me what every parent says to every non-parent, "it's different when it's your own kid." For as cliche of a statement as that is, wow, is it ever true! I never thought I would sing my way through poopy diaper changes, or laugh as an entire bowl of applesauce hits the floor. I never thought I would excitedly grab the camera when I discovered that she had unfolded all of  my clean laundry, or sing about all of Old McDonald's animals multiple times a day. And I really never thought I would find just as much joy in the difficult times as I do in the easy ones. It really is different because it's my own kid. And as I get more and more patient with Reese, I get less and less impatient with everything else. After all, by the time I change her diaper, rinse the poop off her old clothes, wrestle her into new clothes, clean the applesauce off the floor, stop her from unfolding the laundry, and sing "Old McDonald's had a farm..." all the way to the store, who cares about a couple of red lights or a long checkout line?

It's funny how I thought motherhood would totally zap any patience I had left, but it has restored my patience in a way I never thought possible. As I prepare to enter the toddler years with Reese and someday bring more children into our family, I hope I don't forget how much happier I am when I go with the flow and see the humor in my challenges. And I hope I remember that all of my future struggles with potty training, picky eating, discipline, sibling rivalry, and teenagers are all just another opportunity to learn a lesson in patience.