Thursday, February 27, 2014

The what-ifs

I haven't written since Monday. Haven't even sat down at the computer to check my e-mail. (I've been checking it at stoplights. I do not recommend this method of e-mailing.)

Why?

It's that I've worn a track in the same stretch of road between here and my new position as an instructor at our local rec center.

It's that the house is messy and dishes need to be done. It's that homework is overwhelming and kids are needy and my husband has been relinquished to the back burner.

It's that I can't get the what-ifs out of my head. Those nagging, unrelenting thoughts about the things I love the most. They cast a dark shadow of doubt on the things I should be enjoying, but have been caught up wondering if I even should be doing them.

Like blogging. Like teaching a barre class. Like having faith.

It's a heavy burden, that doubt. Makes your shoulders sag and your head drop and your feet shuffle.

I guess the main question I ask myself is this: What if I'm not good enough?

What if I'm not good enough to take over an already-established class? What if I'm not good enough to keep a blog going long term? What if I don't have enough faith to truly see the glory of God? What if I'm not good enough to wear a bathing suit to the pool this summer?

(I know, that last one is kind of shallow. But still.)

What if?

In my more sane moments, I wonder why we do this to ourselves, because I know I'm not the only one.

The easiest one-liner I've ever heard is "Give all your doubts to God."

OK.

If you live in a fantasy world where giving your doubts to God is a one-time thing and you never think about them again.

Don't get me wrong. I agree one hundred percent with the sentiment. It's just a lot easier said than done, and it's not a simple, one-time deal.

For me, it all starts in the head, where those thoughts originate. I have to fight myself every day, because my thoughts are intrinsically negative. Focusing on the positive is like peeling old wallpaper. While I like the end result, the work sucks. That glue is strong stuff.

Old habits die hard. Negative thinking included.

But I do believe that the more I force myself to think positively and to operate from a thankful heart, the more I'll be able to combat those what-if doubts that tend to creep in from morning til night. Turning a thankful heart towards God for all the blessings that flow, from a beautiful sunrise to food on the table, is a good way to see the abundance that is showered upon us on a daily basis.

I have this written on a chalkboard in my house, where I can see it every single day:

 

Monday, February 24, 2014

chase

I'm one week into a new bible study at church called chase by Jennie Allen, and already she's presenting some pretty thought-provoking questions.

Like this: what are some of the things you are chasing besides God?

This is not a hard one for me to answer. Approval of others. Happiness. Direction. Proof of God. Beauty. Worth.

Last night I dropped my daughter off for one of her weekly activities. Normally I walk her in and make sure she is where she's supposed to be, but last night, I was happily chatting away with my sister, so I didn't get out of the car. I just dropped her and drove off, confident that she would figure it out.

Except.

Except that I had the time wrong in my head, and she was thirty minutes late for her class. Which wouldn't normally be a big deal, but the group had moved rooms so that they could do a different activity, and there was no sign on the door to direct people to the right room. Just a big, empty, dark room and one scared little girl.

So she did what any girl would do in such dire circumstances.

As soon as she saw that dark room, the child ran back out into the parking lot, spotted my car driving away, and chased it all the way to the long drive that leads up to the lot. In flats.

That's a big parking lot.

If I hadn't been on the phone, I may have seen her in my rear-view mirror, but I didn't. So all the while she was chasing my car as fast as her legs could carry her, I was just driving away. (Proud parenting moment, by the way.)

I didn't find any of this out until after I had returned to pick her up, and she told me how she had chased my car all the way through the entire parking lot, trying to catch me, and then had to figure out what to do when she saw that I wasn't stopping. And it really made me think about the question I mentioned before, about the things that we chase.

I run hard after things, just like my daughter. Things that I think are good for me, things that I think will make me happy, things that I think will make life better. Things that are within sight but just out of my reach. And the whole time I'm chasing after these things, I'm running from the one place I need to be.

It's time to stop running, and start chasing.

The heart of God.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jeans

I put on my jeans.

They didn't feel right.

I looked in the mirror.

I didn't like what I saw.

I changed my jeans.

They didn't feel right, either.

I looked in the mirror.

I didn't like my reflection.

I put on my original pair of jeans.

I have a healthy body. Lungs that breath.  Eyes that see and ears that hear. Hair I can put into a ponytail. Arms to grab my loved ones and hold on tight. Legs to run until I can't run anymore. A roof over my head.

I am blessed.

I ignored that mirror on my way out the door.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

One Voice

There have been plenty of days where I've questioned my role in the world and if it involved blogging or not. I really love it, but it takes up a lot of time, and when I look around the house at unmade beds (but really, when it's after noon on a Thursday, what's the point of making the bed?), dirty dishes, groceries, laundry, and a million other things that should be done, I begin to question my priorities.

Then I saw a friend at the grocery store today, who, when we began talking about middle school and girls and all those things you talk about in the frozen foods aisle, also told me about a young lady who was hospitalized for anorexia.

And I decided on the spot that it doesn't matter who does (or doesn't) read my blog. It doesn't matter that it takes up extra time a couple of days out of my week. It doesn't matter that the bed isn't made, when it comes right down to it. (Although it still really bugs me. Best to just stay out of that room and avoid the issue all together.)

What matters is that in our body-and-image-conscious world, there is a little girl who is lonely and suffering because she doesn't feel like she fits the mold. And I don't think that's right. So instead of staying silent and not writing about it, even if no one else ever reads it, I'm speaking.

It starts with one voice.

Change starts with me.

google images
I struggle with it, too. I've been through a gamut of extreme weight-loss methods, including not eating, making myself throw up, and taking laxatives. I call myself "recovering" because I'm not sure I'll ever be recovered. It's too tempting a game to play, especially when out of all the voices that shout out, the loudest defines beauty as a physical attribute, and limits beauty to a narrow definition.

Let's see...we can probably all click them off in one breath: big boobies, long legs, round booty, tan skin, flat abs, long hair, sultry eyes, pouty lips, thin physique.

I'd say that's pretty narrow and limited.

But that's what we see and that's what we believe.

From the time we are able to see over the counter at CVS, we are bombarded with images of beautiful women. Exploited, airbrushed, contorted, covered with makeup, and advertised as beautiful.

We've all seen the images, the advertisements, the magazine covers. We've been to mall and have seen a Victoria's Secret store front, and we may even get the catalogue. Maybe we live in a house where the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue comes directly to our mailbox, like does mine. My husband doesn't read it, we just never changed our subscription so we wouldn't get it. But I know that when I see those women on the cover, I can't help but want to look just like that. And I think that a lot of women would agree that if they could just look like that, it would somehow make them happier. More content. Life would somehow be less of a struggle. They could finally be a peace with themselves.

But peace doesn't come in the form of a one-size-fits-all crash diet, a pair of size 1 jeans, or a flat stomach.

Most of us know the rules: you can't compare yourself to a picture. They are airbrushed and Photoshopped. It's not real, it's a model's job to look good, they have resources we don't, blah, blah, blah. Of course most of that is true, but somehow, the rules go flying out the window when we come across a picture and we know we don't measure up.

My mind tells me to go to any extreme, take any measure, to do what I have to do to make myself fit that narrow definition of beauty. My heart tells me there has got to be a better way to live life than to live it as a prisoner of my own private hell, with beauty as the ultimate goal.

You might think me shallow, and that's okay, because honestly, there have been times when I've been that very thing. Shallow. Concerned about looking good, the end. And you know what? I still want to look good. I still want to be the most beautiful me I can be. It's just that over the past couple of years, I've finally begun to learn that being beautiful doesn't always mean you meet Criteria X, Y and Z.

Being beautiful encompasses so much more than a number on a scale or the size of your jeans.

And it starts with what's on the inside.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Homework Hater

I have a friend who, God bless her soul, frequently posts the disadvantages of homework for elementary-age kids on FaceBook. I read the quotes/article. I "like" with gusto! and respond with an enthusiastic comment about how much I hate homework, too.

I was reminded just this morning of how very much I hate homework when I saw The Calendar on my kitchen counter, waiting to be filled out and signed by none other than yours truly. This calendar is an opportunity for my daughter to earn extra credit in math. Who, in their right mind, skips the chance to earn a few extra points?

Us.

Heather Duncan Richardson's photo.
Blank. Perfect.
The criteria are simple: spend 45 minutes per week on a math website called iXL, fill in the calendar with your time each day, and have a parent sign and return. The same week. No back-filling and signing, people. This is not a hard assignment. But I studied this calendar for the month of February (what's today...the 18th?) and not a single, solitary minute has been logged. It's completely blank. Never mind the fact that she has actually done the iXL. Never mind the fact that she's spent 45 minutes doing it. (A feat in and of itself.) We never logged our time, I never signed it, she never turned it in, and her weekly 3 points for the first couple of weeks in February are lost forever.

I think The Calendar has gotten turned in twice during the whole school year.

Homework is not just a kid's job, by the way. It involves heavy parent participation, especially when one's child does not understand/want to do/ is distracted from/could care less about his or her homework. They would quite rather watch paint dry. It is literally the means to an end in our house. A very painful, drawn out, frustrating end.

I apologize to those of you whose children are brilliant thinkers who like their homework. I know you're out there. You probably like doing their homework with them, even though you don't have to. A bonding experience, one might say. You are a good parent.

Then there are parents like me. Parents who didn't get the memo that the old way to do math isn't the new way to do math. (Who knew my way was the old way?). Parents who may have been corrected via written note on this aforementioned "new" way.

Our experience most definitely does not include the words bonding, love, friendship, harmony, affection, affinity, or friendliness.

You might be thinking I should get it together, so let's be honest. I do not want to get it together because I do not like doing their homework with them.

I cannot spend another minute converting fractions into decimals by hand. That's why calculators were invented. I cannot spend another second studying ancient Mali or ancient Rome. While interesting, I have a handy device called a smartphone that can be pulled out when such information is needed immediately, should I ever be in the center of a raging ancient Mali debate.

Teachers.

I could never do what you do. You have one of the hardest jobs I can think of.

Just so we're all on the same page: I know you don't like homework, either.

But now you'll have to excuse me. I've just discovered a sheet of  neatly written definitions laying in the office that I'm pretty sure someone should have turned in yesterday.

Maybe last week.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Only Real Failure

The only real failure
is the failure to try.
The measure of success
is how
we cope with
disappointment.
As we always must.
{evelyn, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel}

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dizzy D

It's not that I'm an exceptionally organized person.

In fact, I am an exceptionally disorganized and messy individual, given to bouts of forgetfulness and stacks of who-knows-what laying around.

You should have seen my room when I was a kid. There were literally paths through all the junk on the floor. Piles of laundry on every horizontal surface. Shoes thrown into the bottom of the closet. Desk drawers filled with everything I couldn't find to put somewhere else.

Obviously, paths through all the junk don't work unless you want to be the next contestant on Hoarders: The Messy Truth. Which I don't.

I don't like visual clutter and chaos. When you have a brain like mine, it's difficult to filter the world at large; therefore, everything you see stimulates your brain. It's not that we have a shortage of attention; it's that we pay too much attention to everything.
This is why, even though my natural inclination is to leave my things lying around the house, I am fanatical about having them picked up. Mine and everyone else's, too. This is also why I love a label-maker. When something has a label on it, which my refrigerator and my kitchen cabinets do, it means that my things have a spot. And when my things have a spot, it's much more difficult for the cabinets or the refrigerator to look cluttered and messy.


Growing up, I was always really ashamed of my inability to process information like the other kids. My school did test after test, trying to figure out what was "wrong" with me (because clearly, when you have a child that doesn't conform to the norm, something is wrong), and they weren't really kind about it. I felt different. I couldn't memorize my math facts. I didn't read out loud very well (a fact my second grade teacher scathingly pointed out in front of my entire class, because I could read faster in my head than I could out loud), and I even though I found social studies and science to be somewhat interesting, I couldn't commit to memorizing all those facts and figures for the test. I found it difficult to be motivated to do something that I was not particularly interested in, even when there was a consequence for not doing that thing.  I didn't learn like the other kids in school, and when people started teasing me about being a dumb blond, I just went along with it. (My middle school gym teacher nicknamed everyone, and mine was Dizzy. Because obviously Ditzy would have been offensive.)

For God gave us not a spirit of fear
but of love, power and a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
 
 The first time I heard this verse, I thought it was a joke.
 
I still inhibit myself in many ways. I don't let my creativity flow like I wish it did, oftentimes because I don't believe I have what it takes to be creative. I let myself get caught up in other things that don't matter as much but seem very, very important in the moment--like weight, appearance and perfection.
My goals this year are to be more generous, have a persistent faith, and take the focus off of myself. But it's hard to do any of things when I'm hyper-focused on the things I think are wrong about me instead of embracing the way God made me and moving on.
 
It requires more than reading a verse; it requires trust. A trust that my life is more than being Dizzy. More than being creative. It's about freedom from my own condemning thoughts and a life-long dependence on the One who made all of us with a purpose.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dear Justin...

Dear Justin Bieber,

I've known about you and have been listening to your music since you were twelve.

Not because I particularly love pop tween music, but because my daughter loves your music, and I listen to what she listens to. She loves the song "Baby", by the way, and absolutely adores the video to "One Less Lonely Girl".

I have to give you credit. You are a talented entertainer, and have found your niche playing the heartstrings of young girls across the globe. I even read that a certain model, at least 10 years your senior, divorced her actor husband just so she could be with you. It seems like you had everything a person could ever want: lots of money, lots of friends, a successful career, world-wide popularity, good looks, and a loving mom. What else could anybody ask for?

So what happened, Justin?

I gave you a pass when I heard that you spit on some fans (even though that's pretty gross), because I can see where you might get tired of people mobbing you everywhere you go. I defended you when my husband said that our daughter shouldn't be listening to your music, not because of the lyrics, but because of your personal choices that are so frequently publicized. I even looked the other way when you urinated into a mop bucket at a nightclub (which, incidentally, I believe that Scott, Kourtney K's boyfriend, did the same thing. I don't know what that says about either one of you, really.)

See, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. You're a kid. I know your mother probably didn't raise you to think that you could pee in anything else but a urinal, because that's what moms do. We do our best to teach our kids to make good choices, even, and I will add especially, when you're under pressure. And I can imagine that you're under an incredible amount of pressure. Maybe that's what makes so many kids in the entertainment industry flop. They can't handle the fame, the money, the gossip, the paparazzi, the groupies, the drugs, the alcohol, the people who use you for what they can get from you rather than loving you for who you are. I get it, Justin, but I can't defend you anymore.

What you don't seem to understand is that in a small town in the middle of a state situated on the east coast is a little girl who loves you, Justin. She looks up to you. She is watching what you do, the choices you make, the things you say, how you act. She believes the words in your songs and wants them to be true. She believes in true love and fairy-tale romances, in boys who want to rescue girls from being lonely. Then she hears the news of your latest antic and she's understandably confused.

You have all the resources to do good in the world, Justin. You have everything you need in life to be a good role model and make a positive impact on people. Think about how many lives you touch on a daily basis. You have talent, you have celebrity power, you have money. You could be speaking to middle schools across the country about bullying. You could be traveling to Africa or the Dominican Republic and offering to help with food, clean water, or building a school. You could make a difference, Justin. You really could. And all it would take is making that brave choice. I know it would take courage, but I also believe that courage is something you possess.

Maybe I make it all out to be too simple. I'm not in the position you are and never will be. I don't know how hard it is to be you.

You'll probably never read this, since you are Justin Bieber and I am a mother who writes a small blog for a handful of people. And because I am the mother of a very impressionable daughter, I have to cut you out of our lives.

We have to be very, very careful of who and what we idolize.

Choices don't just affect the here and now, by the way. They affect everyone around us, even the people we don't know are watching. The ripple effect of the choices we make is far-reaching, and they stay with us for the rest of our lives. And sometimes the choices we make can cause someone else to stumble, and right now, I have to make sure that the person who stumbles is not my daughter.

But this is probably something you have already heard a thousand times, even at your young age.

Good-bye, and good luck, Justin.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Perfect Cut

I have an announcement to make:

I'm thinking about cutting my hair. I'm talking like 10 inches.

This is sure to make "A List of Things to Talk About Besides The Olympics, Will and Kate, Jennifer Aniston's marriage (or not?), and The Kardashians."

Let's be real. Just because I'm thinking about cutting it doesn't actually mean I will. But nonetheless, I've been searching Pinterest for The Perfect Haircut.

(This does not exist, by the way.)

I do not want a "mom cut". (I apologize if you have one. It's like a minivan--convenient, practical, logical, and not for me.)

I want a cut that makes me feel pretty. But so far, instead of finding what I'm looking for, I've found a whole lotta "when you look at this picture, you might start to feel real bad about yourself."

Gorgeous
I don't think she's real. Just sayin.

I should have known. Darn you, perfect Pinterest pictures. What used to be perfection to the snacking and crafting world (football cake, anyone?) has now made it's way over into the hair and beauty category. It seems as though all of Pinterest is one big board of "You Can Pin This But Prepare to FAIL".

Who wants that? Nobody.

Who keeps going back for more?

ME!

I can't seem to stay away.

Hair Inspiration For Your Next Workout From Hair Expert Johnny Lavoy | Beauty High
How is this easy, I'd like to know?
What is it that draws me in? The allure of possible perfection? The promise of "easy"? (As in "The Perfect Easy Up-Do For After A Workout" which looks great in the picture, but somehow gets lost in the translation when I try.) Whatever it is, I need to find a way to cut myself off. It's not that Pinterest is bad. It's that I'm wasting my time and energy on wishing I was something that I am not.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at.
People look at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.
{1 samuel 16:7}

I know, I know. I've heard this almost my whole life. A popular verse for making a girl feel better if there every was one. (The only other verse that might be more popular for making people happy would be Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Tell me I'm wrong.)

But what does the fact that "the Lord looks at the heart" even mean when I'm in the throes of despair over my outward appearance and the fact that it does not even compare to the perfection I see elsewhere? Of course the Lord looks at the heart. I mean, He's the Lord. He's supposed to look at those things, to see beyond the ordinary, to see gold in the dirt and bring beauty from ashes.

It's kind of like the time you were 15 and having a bad hair day and a bad outfit day and a bad break-out day and a bad "I feel fat" day and your grandma still looked at you and said "You're beautiful to me." (My grandma still says this to me, and I have to admit that sometimes I roll my eyes, because I'm thinking "Hey, grandma, listen. I have eyes and I have a mirror. And you're 90.)

Um, okay, grandma. You have to say that. You're my grandma, for heaven's sake, and it just wouldn't do to say anything to the contrary.

Except.

What if grandma was being completely sincere? What if she really did see past everything that you couldn't to the person that she loved and cherished, to the person that was absolutely beautiful, to the girl that, even though she wouldn't listen, had all the models beat, hands-down, because her eyes would shine and her heart was pure?

God knows where to look to find true beauty. He knows that the outward appearance, the kind we so desperately seek after, is fleeting, and if we put all our eggs in the beauty basket, we will grow resentful of time and age, and we will spend all our time, energy and resources trying to stop what is natural and unavoidable.

True beauty radiates from the inside, shining brightly for the world to behold.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A great diet, Pottery Barn and waterproof eyeliner

Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold
{proverbs 8:10}

I used to think that having money (preferably lots of it) and being thin and beautiful would make me so very, very happy.

Used to. Who am I kidding? Even on a good day, I still think a great diet, waterproof eyeliner and Pottery Barn will solve all my problems.

There are days--actually just moments within days--that I realize it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because I've walked through life with my eyes closed, bumping into life's furniture--which is haphazardly arranged, I might add, with no rhyme or reason*--until I'm bruised and weary from the effort of it all.

*So not the way I would do things. But whatever.

Life is like a maze to me. What I see and process is jumbled and mixed up and confusing, so I turn to what makes me comfortable. But life happens whether I chose to ignore it or not. That's when the bruising happens.

It has (sloooowly) dawned on me over time that I need wisdom. I desperately need understanding. I need knowledge. I'm not talking about the kind of knowledge that comes from advanced college courses. I'm talking about the kind of wisdom that comes from God. I need to open my eyes and face the life-maze with some knowledge.

So I thought, I'll ask for wisdom, and He'll give it to me. Simple. Then I can wipe my hands clean of the whole matter, because I'd done what I was supposed to, and move on. But in my heart, I know I'd probably move on to more PB.

 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
{proverbs 2:6}

I can admit that in my life I've been a very prideful person. I even take pride in my blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol numbers.* But life has a way of humbling even the most prideful of hearts with circumstances that are out of our control, just within our sight but not within our grasp. I was (am), in fact, so prideful that I thought I could ask God for wisdom one time, and He'd give it to me for all of my days on this earth. Which means that I'd never actually have to rely on Him again for wisdom, because I'd already have everything I need to live a successful life. I'd have to need to confer with Him on a daily basis, or even seek out His will. I'd have 1) knowledge, 2) Pottery Barn, and 3) the perfect smokey eyeliner. I'd be all set.

*If you'd like to know, I'll tell you. With pride. Except for the cholesterol, I'm not very proud of that number at the moment.

I'm constantly coming to forks in the road. I look left and right, up and down, all around, and I come to the same conclusion: I have no idea which way to go. I'm lost.

And then I realize that asking for wisdom isn't a one-time deal. It's a step-by-step process, and it takes faith, courage, and a humbled heart.

I have in no way come close to figuring any of this life-maze out. Not in the least. But I guess it's not here solely for the purpose of me figuring it out. It's also here to help me grow and mature in my faith. Which I could obviously use some of.
 

 If any of you lacks wisdom,
you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to you
{james 1:5}

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Fraud

I can't even write today. I feel sick to my stomach.

Because I'm a fraud.

I try so hard to write positive messages about love, security, parenting and God, and I really do try to follow my own advice, but then today happened.

Today wasn't pretty. It was ugly.

I was ugly.

The older my kids get, the more they fight. They fight about the stupidest, most meaningless stuff. Like popcorn and and I don't know what else.

My son was on the steps when he screamed--not an "I'm angry" scream but an "I'm hurt" scream, and I raced to find him crouched down, holding his foot. "What happened? What happened??" I asked, cradling him and making sure all parts were in tact.

"SHE pushed me."

And then it happened.

I yelled. Not only did I yell, I screamed. At the absolute top of my voice. "GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW," and it was a tone that she knew meant business. And then before she could even open the door to that room, I went up and yanked her by her arm out of the room and sat her down on the steps.

"WHY?"

He pushed her, she pushed him, she took his glasses (she doesn't know why)...and I yelled. "I'm about to lose it! I'm sick of it. GO TO YOUR ROOM."

She has attitude, but I could tell she was upset by my over-reaction. I mean, your mother is supposed to stay in control, calmly handle infractions and know what to do.

I don't know what to do.

So. I lost it.

They're in their rooms showering now, just like I asked them to do (20 minutes ago, which only leads to frustration). But now there's an elephant in the room called "My Mom Screamed At Me and Lost Her Cool".

Hence the waves of nausea coming on.

Why? Because it's how my own mother would have reacted. She would blow. Scream and yell and throw things and just loose it. I promised myself I would never do that to my kids.

I broke my own promise.

Will they forgive me? Will we have a good night? Will they even speak to me? Do they hate me? Will she tell all her friends what a mean ogre/witch I am?

Can I even face them after the spectacle on the stairs?

The tears flow, but now they don't belong to my children. They belong to me.

I am not what I make myself out to be.

I don't have it all under control. I am not calm or even-tempered or secure or faithful to my God.

I am a mess.

It's hard to think that He might love this mess. This yelling, ill-tempered, emotional, stubborn, judgemental, envious, sometimes downright hateful woman who doesn't have any idea what to do from one minute to the next.

Me.

But He does. Through His infinite mercy and grace, He does.

The showers have stopped. The upstairs is quiet. I pray He gives my children mercy and grace.

I have to go talk to them.


***Update: Apparently, my kids were not as traumatized by my reaction as I was, and they both looked at me like I had three heads when I asked, with tears in my eyes, if they were okay. They forgave without a moments hestitation, and peace has been restored in the R household.

For now.