Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just Relax!

In my post from May 13, I admitted to having a little bit of a need to control things. Ever since then, I have grown more and more aware of it, and I'm finally ready to acknowledge maybe it is more of a problem than I realized. It causes me to have unnecessary arguments with Matt, and I'm sure it makes him feel inadequate (especially when it comes to taking care of Reese). It puts me on edge a lot, and it prevents me from being able to fully relax. This last issue is what brought it to the front of my mind today.  

This morning I went for a manicure and pedicure. (I do this once a year before we leave for our annual vacation to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri). As I drove to the spa, I reminded myself to just relax and enjoy it and not worry about how long I've been gone or what's going on at home. Five minutes into my pedicure, I resisted the temptation to call Matt and see if Reese went down for her nap. Ten minutes later, I stopped myself from texting him to say that if she's going to play outside, she needs to wear sunscreen. Then during my manicure, it bothered me that my hands were tied up, which meant that I couldn't call to tell him that I wouldn't be back in time for lunch... and she needs to eat some veggies... and strip her down if she's going to eat the rest of that spaghetti... and if she has juice, don't forget to dilute it with water. By the time I actually got back out to my car, I had been there for almost two hours (and I know this because I've been watching the clock the whole time).

I finally did give in and call Matt to tell him I was on my way home. "Take your time," he told me. "We're just fine. She's eating lunch right now." Since I was on a role with not giving instructions, I decided not to ask what she was having. I got in the car and thought about my original plan to just relax. I guess for people like me, it's not that simple. It's more of a work in progress. Fortunately, I have 7 days of vacation coming up and a lot of time to work on it.

Our last pre-baby vacation (summer '09)

That's my goal on vacation this year - to let go of my plan and go with the flow; to resist the need to monitor the clock and prepare for the next meal, the next nap, the next bath; to forget about everything I should be doing; and to give myself permission to sit down and just relax.

Have a happy (and relaxing) holiday weekend. I'll be back in a week!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Maybe God Has a Plan

In my journey of coming to know God, I’ve always been plagued by one common argument against Him. How can He be ok with a world in which so many suffer? If He loves us wouldn’t He want us to be happy? And if He has the power to make us all happy, why doesn’t He? This was one thing about God that I just couldn’t understand… until I had to start thinking about how to discipline my child.

My biggest fear in parenting is disciplining Reese in an effective and loving way. I want to be firm but not harsh and relaxed but not too lenient. I want her to learn to take care of herself and others. I want her to work hard and make good decisions. I want her to learn from her mistakes and find strength in the midst of her struggles. I want her to learn to get back up when she falls. I want to raise her to be a responsible adult so that when it’s time for her to spread her wings, she will fly and not fall. I have a plan.

Now, I know that in order to accomplish this plan, I will have to tell her “no” and I will have to take things away from her. I will have to watch her fall down and face struggles and make mistakes. And as much as I will want to swoop in and save her every time she stumbles, I will know that it isn't always be best for me to do that. I will have to know when it is right to step in and when it is right to step back. I won't be able to answer every request or give her exactly what she wants every time she wants it. I will always do what is best for her in the long run, and as much as that will sometimes break my heart, I will do it because I love her so much. Because of this, I know that when she is young there will be times when she thinks, “Why doesn’t my mom help me? If she loves me so much, why won’t she do this for me? If she wants me to be happy, why does she tell me no?” But hopefully someday when she is grown, she will say, “Thank you for teaching me all that you did because I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of those lessons.”

Maybe that's why life can be so hard. Maybe that's why God doesn't always answer every single prayer the way we expect him to answer it. Maybe He knows something about the bigger picture of our lives that we couldn't possibly comprehend from the place we stand today. Maybe somewhere along the way, He's trying to teach us something; trying to steer us in the right direction; trying to do what is best for us in the long run. Maybe He wants us to face some challenges and learn to work through them; to fall down a few times and learn to get back up. Maybe we suffer on Earth so when we get to Heaven we will say, “Thank you for teaching me all that you did because I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of those lessons.” Then we will spread our wings and we will fly and not fall. Maybe, just maybe, God really does have a plan. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Starting Over

When we got married, Matt's parents gave us a blue spruce tree as a gift. It stood less than 4 feet high when Matt and his dad planted it on the side of our little farmhouse, and after just 3 years it was already taller than Matt. It was a really pretty little tree, but that's not why I liked it. I liked it because of the way it represented our marriage.

During a heavy storm I would look out the window and see the wind tossing it back and forth, the roots digging deeper into the ground with every pull. I think about some of the tough times we've had and those that are to come, and I'm reminded that with strong roots and determination, we can come out on the other side of any stormy season of life. In the spring I would look out the window and see its noticeable difference in size; a mark of the growth that resulted from the rainy and sunny days of the past year. I think about the good days and bad days of our last year, and I'm reminded that it's all a part of what makes our love grow bigger and stronger and prepares us for more growth in the coming years. I loved that our tree endured hardships, gathered strength, and grew right along with us as we did the same. 

Last week (coincidentally, on our third wedding anniversary), we were having our septic system replaced when a chain broke on a piece of machinery and our tree got destroyed. Now when I look out the window I see flat ground where our tree once stood. Its absence, although sad, has taught me the greatest lesson yet - that even a seemingly healthy marriage can be destroyed by a single crushing blow. It taught me that we should never believe our relationship is invincible; that we should never take each other for granted; and that we should never assume that tomorrow is a given. It taught me that if we get too comfortable, if we forget to nurture our love and protect our marriage, then someday when those crushing blows come, we might not have the strength to recover.

Matt and I have already decided to plant a new tree in the same spot and now every time we look out the window, we'll see the new tree in place of the old tree. It will remind us that even a strong marriage can be hit by the unexpected, but those who have prepared themselves for it and protected their love from it will be left with enough patience and determination to pick up the pieces and start over.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Balancing Act

Allow me to describe a regular occurrence at our house. Matt sits in the living room watching TV while I pick up in the kitchen. (I'm not poking at him for not helping. This situation also happens in reverse quite frequently). He hears a loud crash and yells, "You ok?" I yell back, "Yeah, I'm fine." When I finally come back into the living room to join him on the couch, he says out loud what we both know just happened, "you knock over one of your balancing acts?"

Balancing act... a phrase Matt got from his dad who uses the same words to tease Matt's mom about her clutter. It's quite an accurate description of the condition of my house. You would never know it by walking in the front door though. My house (for the most part) appears clean and organized on the surface, but open any cabinet or drawer or dare to venture upstairs and you will find things stacked poorly on top of other things just waiting for the right nudge in the wrong direction. Crash! Although I often blame my tiny house and lack of storage space, I also need to take some credit for my inability - or perhaps unwillingness - to recognize when a tower has taken on all that it can handle.

After Reese's first birthday, we retired a bunch of clothes and toys and other baby items to our upstairs storage room. As I looked for an open spot, my eyes scanned over all of the "stuff" in that room - kitchen appliances, my yoga mat, cookbooks, baby toys, the vacuum, lawn chairs, wrapping paper... you name it, it's up there. I couldn't help but notice that the storage room looks a lot like my life. Every item represents something that I'm constantly trying to fit into the days and weeks that seem to grow shorter with each passing year. Every crash of a balancing act represents the days when emotions get the best of me as I realize that something's gotta give. And the fact that my clutter is stuffed in cabinets and stacked in closets represents my ability to look calm and organized on the surface even when I feel like I'm scrambling on the inside.

One of my biggest struggles as a mom is finding the right balance of everything. I feel like I'm always lacking in some area, and every time I try to fix it, something else gets demoted to the back burner and another thing falls off my radar completely. The weeks that I try to be better about meal planning are the weeks that I don't exercise. So I try to exercise more, but then I neglect my housework. So I try to clean more, but then I don't play with Reese enough. So I try to play with Reese more, but then I don't cook as much. So I try to cook more, but I don't have any meals planned... and the cycle continues.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a solution to this problem. Even more unfortunately, I think that might be because there isn't one. At the very least, I take comfort in knowing that everyone seems to have the same problem. The best we can do is recognize the limits of our balancing acts, avoid stacking too much in once place, and give ourselves the leeway to knock one over once in a while. Just know that while you're doing this, every other mom you see is doing the same thing. We all look calm and collected on the surface, but underneath it all is one giant balancing act.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Too Shall Pass

It's time for the Third Thursday Blog Hop! For those who missed last month's edition (May 19), the blog hop is a monthly opportunity for all of the Hearts at Home bloggers to write about the same topic. Although we all share different perspectives, we're all Christian moms hoping to support, encourage, and inspire other moms through every stage of motherhood. At the bottom of this post, you will find links to the pages of all the other bloggers.  The topic for June is "if you could go back in time and tell your teenage self one thing, what would you say?"

 When I first started thinking about what to write for this post, I made a mental  list of things I would warn myself about, things I would tell myself to do differently, and things I would tell myself not to do at all. The longer I thought about it, the longer the list grew. By the time I navigated my way from ages 13 to 19, I left quite a wake of mistakes - including some people I shouldn’t have dated, some drinks I shouldn’t have taken, and some choices I shouldn’t have made. I wish I had a little more respect for my body and a lot more respect for my parents. I wish I had spent more energy enjoying good times than dwelling on bad times, and I wish I believed in the saying, “this too shall pass.” I wish I knew that when I looked back, I would barely remember any of the incidents that seemed like the end of the world and that I would forget a lot of the memories I promised myself I would cherish forever. The bottom line for me (and probably lots of other people) is: if I knew then what I know now, my teen years would look very different.

However, I don’t want my teenage self to know any of that stuff. I am who I am because of my past, and I know now what I know now because of what I didn’t know then. All of the elements of my present life are directly linked to events, choices, and people in my past; and to change any of those things would mean changing some aspect of the life I have today. I believe that God gave me certain challenges for a reason beyond what my teenage mind could comprehend. I believe that through those challenges, He led me to the right major, the right career, the right husband, and the right future. And I believe that alone justifies my refusal to live with regrets.  

But if I truly could go back, there is something I might say. For me, the toughest part of my adolescence was the early years, from ages 10-14, when I endured daily relentless teasing about my teeth. (Click the picture for a larger image as the small one gives no justice to the reason). Although the problem was only temporary, the damage done in those 4 years had a devastating effect on my self-image. I would be well into my twenties before I finally made my peace with the chain of events that unfolded over the rest of my adolescent years as a result of my desperate need to feel accepted by others and my inability to fully accept myself. Although I don't want to issue any warnings or make any changes, I do want to offer my 13-year-old self some comfort in the present and some hope for a better future. As I write this, I am creating a mental image of what such a revelation might look like...

I look inside myself and see the 13-year-old version of me crying on the school bus after yet another long day of taunting, the words "snaggle-tooth" and "can opener" still ringing in my ears. I stare out the window and wonder if I will ever believe that I am beautiful. As I pretend to dig to the bottom of my backpack to hide my tear-stained face, I find a mysterious note under my books. Confused, I pull it out and open it up. The handwriting looks oddly like a more developed version of my own cursive scribble… 

If I told you where this came from, you would never believe me, but I need you to know that I understand what you’re going through.  I'm not going to lie, this will be a tough year for you, but it won’t always be this bad. It may be hard to see it now, but you will come out on the other side. “This too shall pass.” You don’t believe it, but it is true. And even though you'll be ok, you’ll also have a lot of ups and downs over the next few years. You’ll face some challenging decisions, and you'll learn a lot of things the hard way. You will need to brace yourself for some loss and some pain and some really tough times. But you’ll also laugh a lot, and love a lot, and learn a lot. And someday when someone will ask you if you would want to go back and change anything. You will think about it for only a moment and then you’ll say no because your husband is wonderful, your family is wonderful, your life is wonderful, and yes, you do believe that you are beautiful.

I read it once and then I read it again. Then I fold it up and put it back in my bag but when I look for it later, it's already gone. For the rest of the day, I mentally repeat the parts I can remember, and even though I don't feel any better right now, I take comfort because I believe that someday I will. 

That's it. That's all I would want myself to know - that every mistake is worth the lesson learned and every challenge is worth the character it builds. When I face difficult times as an adult, I still look back on those years to remind myself that no matter how tough a struggle seems to be, I can overcome it, I will be better for having faced it, and "this too shall pass."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Matt will openly admit that he would be completely lost without me. Although there's a what-would-I-do-without-the-love-of-my-life element to that statement, there's also a much simpler piece. When it comes to running our house, I pretty much do it all. I do the cooking, cleaning, and shopping. I take care of Reese's diapers, baths, and meals. I am the social coordinator, schedule keeper, and budget manager. I also take care of all the fine details. I know that the light blue ring goes on the Gerber bottle and the dark blue ring goes on the Nuk bottle (that's why it's leaking, honey). And I know that the orange sponge is for cleaning the bathroom (so don't use it on the coffee maker, sweetheart). So of course he would be lost without me. And since I seem to be able to do it all so easily, would I say the same of my life without him?

I sometimes wonder if Matt knows how much I do need him and how much he does for our family. He takes his role as our provider very seriously, and he really struggled when I quit my job and money was tight. Like most men, he saw our lifestyle as a direct reflection of his ability to provide for his family. What he didn't understand was that he had developed a very narrow view of the provider role to include only what he could provide financially. Yes, a big part of his role in our family is financial and I'm thankful for the money he brings home. But his contributions go far beyond the money that appears in our checking account twice a month. Here are just a few ways that Matt's actions remind me that the provider role is so much deeper than a paycheck:

He provides protection. On rare occasions when I spend the night alone, I am always reminded of how much safer I feel when Matt's home. Just like he never has to worry about having clean underwear because he knows I'll take care of it, I never have to worry about who's at the door because I know he'll take care of it (and all dirty underwear jokes aside, his responsibility is a lot scarier). I feel an incredible sense of security when he's around, and I never worry for my safety or the safety of our children as long as he is there.

He provides support. Matt might be the most supportive person I know. He supports absolutely everything I do. He supported me for wanting to stay home, and he would have supported me if I wanted to work. He will do anything to help me around the house, and he never makes me feel like his work is more important than my work. Whenever I ask for his opinion on something I want to do, like when I wanted to fly to Georgia or when I was considering teaching CCD, he always says, "if it's important to you, then you should do it, and we'll just figure it out." That's a supportive husband.

He provides love. One of my father-in-law's favorite sayings is, "the best gift you can give your children is to love their mother." If there's any truth to that statement, then our children will be blessed beyond measure. Every day I wake up feeling loved and because I feel loved, I am a happier person and a better mother. Knowing how much he loves me makes it so much easier to forgive his mistakes and to make more of an effort to show him that I love him just as much.

The intangible things Matt provides for our family far outweigh the provisions of even the highest income. Because of the love, support, and protection I get from him as my husband, I have always known that he would also be a wonderful father. And all of those things have proven true in the past 13 months. All that he provides for me as a husband, he now provides for Reese as a father. He loves us both tremendously. He supports everything we do. He is our biggest fan. He is our protector, leader, and provider. He makes us laugh; he leads us in prayer; and he grills a mean steak.

Father's Day is a great reminder for us to thank the providers in our lives. Unfortunately, I don't thank Matt enough for what he does and going forward, I hope I remember to thank him more often than once a year. I hope I'm always able to see how blessed I am to have such a wonderful husband. And I hope he always knows how much I appreciate him, how much I love him, and how lost I would be without him.

Thank you, Dads, for all that you provide for your families. Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Financial Freedom

Most people might be surprised to hear that Matt and I believe that we have financial freedom. A year ago, I left a job that provided half of our annual income, and even though we've spent the last 12 months on a take-home salary that barely breaks $30,000, I do not feel bound by our income in any way.  We thought it would be a struggle, but we are so happy with our life and we live in complete abundance. People keep asking me how we're doing it. Well, I'll tell you....

Livin' it up in 800 square feet.
In May 2009, we saw a house for sale in our town. It was beautiful and very tempting. We took a flier, decided we could easily afford it, and called the realtor. But then we talked about how buying this house might fulfill our dream of owning a beautiful home but it would destroy our dream of the lifestyle we wanted to have inside it. So we canceled our appointment, tore up the flier, and decided that we would pass on one dream to fulfill another. So we stayed in our little farmhouse, and when we had a baby a year later, I was able to stay home like I always wanted. And that was the beginning of our realization that we actually have a lot more financial freedom than we think.

If you start asking people what it means to have financial freedom, you will probably hear a lot of responses about being able to do and buy whatever you want. Therefore, if you aren't in a position to do and buy whatever you want, then you must not be financially free. I disagree. Very few people in this world have the financial freedom to do whatever they want. But we all have the freedom to choose not to do things that don't realistically fit into our budgets. For us, financial freedom is just as much about choosing not to buy something as it is about choosing to buy everything. Every time we are faced with the opportunity (or temptation) to purchase something, we exercise our financial freedom as we decide whether or not to buy it.

I've been waiting to use this picture!
Sometimes we look at a potential purchase and think, "we can't afford that." But that's not true at all. We have credit cards. We have a savings account. We technically do have the ability to buy whatever we want, we just choose not to do that because being debt-free is more important to us. When we make our financial choices from that perspective, we feel empowered by the money we have rather than hindered by the money we don't have. Instead of constantly trying to get more, we've decided to focus on being happy with less. And because we are happy with less, anything extra - like an occasional dinner date or a new outfit - seems like an exciting treat instead of something we do all the time. Since we are motivated by saving instead of spending, we actually want to make less expensive choices.

So that's it. That's the secret. It's all about attitude. It's our attitude - not our income - that allows me to stay home. It's our attitude - not our income - that allows us to live without debt. And it's our attitude - not our income - that gives us our financial freedom.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Journey Back

I apologize for my brief absence. I spent the past week in Georgia visiting old friends and I planned to blog while I was there. (I even pre-wrote a few posts for easy maintenance). Little did I know, the three of us would accomplish nothing outside of reliving memories and catching up on the seven years that separate then and now. At first, I was afraid that the experiences filling the seven-year gap might have created an emotional distance equal to that of the physical one. But it took only a brief embrace in front of the baggage claim carousel to close the gap, melt the fear, and re-open my life to two of the most important people to ever touch my heart.

Allow me to rewind and tell the very short version of a very long story. Katie and Kellie are identical twins, and I met them in seventh grade. For the next 6 years, we would share everything - from secrets and habits to classes and jobs to beds and toothbrushes (gross, but true). We worked together. We studied together. We cheered together. We took each other on family vacations. We shared a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts and a whole bunch of "never agains." We laughed about things no one else could understand and we cried about things we could only tell each other. From 7th through 12th grade, we were completely inseparable.  

Something happened after high school that caused us to go our separate ways. And by separate, I mean that I was at Illinois State and they were just up the street at Illinois Wesleyan. We got together a few times in college, but the visits got shorter and the time between them got longer. We still can't figure out exactly how or why we drifted. All I know is that for the first time in our lives, we actually had to exert effort to see each other. We weren't walking the same halls, taking the same classes, and participating in the same activities anymore. All of our common day-to-day experiences were stripped away, and our relationship was no longer effortless. We thought the need for effort meant that we were drifting apart, and we mistook a bend in the road for the end of the road.

After college, they both moved to Atlanta. In the years that followed, we all got married and each had a daughter. Our friendship was slowly reduced to sporadic comments on facebook photos and random we-should-get-together messages that never became anything (this was before we learned about effort). I decided to come to Georgia on a whim, and I attribute our reunion entirely to the work of God who put the thought in my mind and the urge in my heart. I went there in hopes of rekindling a friendship. I didn't realize that the rekindling would not be necessary. Every laugh, every memory, every part of us that exists inside each other was kept perfectly in tact. I believe that as we navigated through the twists and turns of our teen years, the essences of our identities imprinted themselves on each others' hearts. Last Saturday we learned that, because of those imprints, any distance and any length of time can be erased with a single hug.

We spent the week being just as inseparable as we always had been - we even piled all of the girls in the car so we could all go to Kroger together. I looked in the backseat where three car seats occupied the spaces that once held three cheerleading duffel bags. As we drove, we sang along with the radio and laughed about things only the three of us would find funny. I took comfort in the thought that everything may be different, but nothing has changed. We still strategically planned meals and showers to maximize our time together. We stayed up talking over glasses of wine until all hours of the night, even though we knew the days of sleeping in were over (ok, one thing definitely did change). We talked about the people and events of our past, filled each other in on the gaps, talked about the dreams that came true and those that had changed, and wondered what the next 10 years might bring.

I do believe that if you look back on a friendship that drifted apart and no one can identify a reason, then there probably isn't a good one. It still makes me sad that we let so many years come between us, but I'm thrilled that I finally rediscovered my best friends and a long lost piece of myself. The part of my heart that belongs to them has been missing for seven years, and I didn't even realize it until I spent a week getting back in touch with it. If you have a friend like this in your life, I encourage you to put in the effort to maintain that relationship. If you feel like a part of you is missing without her, then there is probably a part of her that is missing without you. If you lost her, find her. If you miss her, tell her. And if your friendship hits an obstacle, remember that "a bend in the road isn't the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn" (anonymous).

Thank you, Katie and Kellie, for all that you are to me - then, now, and always.