Still You

still you
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Sometimes we go through things that change our world so much we think we’ve somehow landed on Mars. Or some planet that is most definitely not ours. Because who we know we are doesn’t seem to translate anymore, and it’s supremely disorienting.

The following is a hypothetical situation. Maybe you won’t identify with it at all, but more likely you will:

Things have been a little rough lately, but you’ve figured out how to manage. You’ve built your little house of cards that’s missing a wall, but if you prop up certain others just right, it manages to stay put. As long as no light winds blow your way, you won’t fall apart. And that’s what’s most important.

But then the wind is forecast. It’s less of a light one and more of a tornado. The sweet spot in your job where everyone likes you and your boss is always happy with your work and your goals are on target starts to turn sour when you’re passed up for the promotion you were counting on. At the same time, your mom calls you and tells you she has breast cancer. Not only is this devastating because you love your mom, but she is your full-time day care and now you don’t know who you will trust with your kids full time. There’s no one like Grandma. All of this while your husband is asking for a separation.

With all of the chaos comes the emotions to match. You’re angry and confused and desperate and worried. All the time. And the end isn’t in sight.

You start to act out of character. You snap at people and get a little heavier handed with disciplining your kids and a little less thankful and a little more entitled. You start to stand up to the world, blaming people for your problems and demanding what you are owed. Demanding justice even where there is none.

And then you feel terrible about yourself. And you wonder who you even are anymore.

It’s not that far-fetched a situation for a lot of people. Sometimes it’s not even anything devastating that leaves us disoriented. It’s a dramatic change like switching careers or moving across the country that uproots us from who we thought we were and where our comfort zone was and plants us smack in the middle of something—someone—we’re not good at being. And suddenly we have no idea how to behave.

I have been there–in the midst of circumstances so unbelievable they couldn’t even make a daytime TV drama. But my recent switch to the title of “Mommy” rocked me off my well-carved track in a pretty major way. My close friends can attest to how many times I sobbed to them, dramatically saying “I have no idea who I am anymore.” Because it was COMPLETELY new territory to me. And I was so very uncomfortable.

My daily routine changed, my relationships changed, my reading materials changed, my goals changed, my food changed, my exercise routine changed (disappeared). Good grief. Very little stayed the same.

And in the middle of it, when I was really desperate for some grasp on reality and some anchor in what I considered an upside down world of mine, I felt like the Lord very gently reminded me that I am still me. And He is still the same God, Father, Savior He’s always been to me.

I am the person He’s fashioned me into for thirty years. All of my strengths and weaknesses and interests and cares are all still there. My character and convictions are still the same.

But I still have to choose to be that person. And that was simultaneously freeing and challenging.

It may take more self control than you knew you had in you, but in the moments of crazy, don’t become a stranger to yourself by behaving in a way that isn’t you–by abandoning who God has made you.

There are some practical things that may make it easier than you think. When everything has changed and you feel like your head is on backward, do something that feels normal to you. Go to Target. Make a meal you love. Sit at your favorite coffee shop. Re-read a book that makes you cry-laugh. Do a load of laundry. Whatever is mundane or relaxing or just plain old normal to you—do it and regain a little sanity.

But, whether it’s needing to reclaim some organization in your life or coping with loss, remember you’re still you. Even as you change and grow through life’s experiences, anchor yourself to who God is and who He’s made you.

 

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Grief & Loss, Relationships, Self Esteem | Leave a comment

A Spiritual Life…With Kids?

In the juggling act of life, most of us try to keep multiple balls in the air in order to maintain our mental and physical health. The balls in play typically involve some combination of work, relationships, exercise, relaxation, and spiritual life.

Adding children is akin to lobbing a cannon ball into the mix.

At least, it was for me. After having children, work and relationships were bumped aside, exercise and relaxation fell to the ground and rolled away, and spiritual life . . . how do you maintain a fulfilling spiritual life with young children? Is it possible to have daily “quiet time” when no time is quiet?

For years, I struggled to find time–even fifteen minutes–into which I could squeeze some combination of reading, meditation, and prayer. Our four daughters tend to be early risers; the instant my feet hit the floor in the morning, I was met with demands for breakfast and potty and books. The day was a whirlwind of activities. Naptime was my only chance to wrestle the house into some semblance of order, prepare dinner, and–in any remaining time–write. After the girls were in bed, the dinner dishes washed, and the next day’s lunches prepped, I had a few (exhausted) minutes left over to spend with my husband.

I knew I should be prioritizing God; I knew there was probably something I should drop or tweak to make room for my spiritual life. But I could never quite figure out what, or how, so I just stumbled along, frustrated and guilty.

Over the past year, I thought I’d hit on a solution: Waking up earlier. I’ve always found that my morning–and my mood–are improved if I wake up before anyone else and prepare for the day. Maybe if I woke up just a little bit earlier, I could get everything ready and have some spiritual time for myself. I’d start the day centered.

So, for most of the year I set the alarm somewhere between 5 and 5:30 AM. I was skimping on sleep, but it seemed to work; I could get dressed, organized, and fill my spiritual tank before breakfast.

Then, like they do whenever I’m on the phone or in the bathroom, my children sensed competition and upped the ante. They started waking up earlier . . . and earlier. Daylight savings, with its early light, didn’t help. By the end of the school year, my daily reading/meditating/praying time was almost always interrupted by the pitter-patter of little feet.

I didn’t want my daughters to remember their mother reading her Bible, looking up at them with annoyance, and snarling, “What???”

My husband was having similar challenges. So we went to our pastor for advice.

Instead of suggesting that we wake up even earlier or drop things from our tight schedule, she asked, “Do you have spiritual time together as a family?”

As a matter of fact, we do; we attempt daily singing/reading/praying time with our girls at both breakfast and bedtime. But I’d describe these sessions as more of a “free-for-all” as opposed to “spiritual time”: Usually one daughter’s trying to be “the good girl”, one daughter’s goofing off by inserting scatological terms into the hymns, one daughter’s screaming, and one daughter’s off playing alone in the corner. We’ve tried any number of exhortations and enticements and family devotional guides; it’s always the same scenario.

But our pastor shook up my world.

She suggested that perhaps we didn’t have to think of these family times as separate from our own spiritual lives, especially now that our lives were stretched so thin. She suggested that family worship could, in fact, be part of my personal spiritual life.

And just like that, I realized that I’d gotten it wrong for my first six years of parenting.

All this time I’ve considered the singing, praying, and Bible reading that we do with our kids to be something that we do for them. It’s important to incorporate spirituality into their development, but what we do during those times doesn’t apply to me: It’s like how I play Candyland for my daughters, but Settlers of Catan for myself. After all, during those times with my children, we’re singing children’s hymns (“This Little Light of Mine,” “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho”), reading from children’s versions of the Bible, saying short and simple prayers.

My pastor helped me realize that I’d been arrogant and wrongheaded to assume that my children’s spiritual lives were somehow inferior to mine, that they didn’t count, that I had nothing to learn from them. Don’t I always cry during VeggieTales videos? Hadn’t I heard a visiting pastor, who works with inmates in a South African prison, describe how these convicts love singing the old Sunday school songs more than anything? Doesn’t Jesus say that we all need to become like little children (Matthew 18:3)? How had I missed this?

These days, I still attempt my quiet morning spiritual times, but when I hear little feet running downstairs I no longer feel quite so irritated. I know that, later that day, I’ll have times of spiritual refreshment with my children, and I’m trying to really listen to the stories in those children’s Bibles, to really think about the lyrics to those children’s songs, and to pray with my daughters the way I’d pray alone. Because these times are my spiritual life, just as much as my quiet moments alone.

Has my daughters’ behavior during family spiritual times improved as a result of my attitude change? Not really. But then, so much of our faith is about the long run. In the meantime, I’ve found that it’s possible to have a spiritual life with my children, rather than despite them.

Posted in Family, Parenting, Theology & Philosophy | 2 Comments

Sweet Potato Skins Stuffed with Adobo Chicken, Spinach and White Cheddar

A repost from The Joyful Table, by contributor Noelle Ritter.

Hi there, crazy mom here! We have been enjoying summer and enjoying our family! I’ve been a bit busy chasing after my running toddler. He is now saying “trash,” puts silverware away in random drawers, enjoys when I set off any alarm in the kitchen, and tries desperately to “help” touching the tongs to every surface he can reach. I guess this is a good sign that Colton is enjoying the cooking process. I cannot wait till he can clean too!

We are huge sweet potato fans in my house. They are ridiculously nutritious, beautiful and SO versatile. This recipe was adapted from halfbakedharvest.com as I modified the chili in adobo, and bumped up the greens content. Stuffed skins are a great way to impress with leftovers. Leftover greens, roasted chicken from last night, that last bit of cheese in the fridge. The options are endless.

Sweet Potato Skins Stuffed with 

Adobo Chicken, Spinach and White Cheddar

sweet potato adobo 

3 large sweet potatoes

about 1-1/2 cup chopped cooked chicken

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic minced

1 whole canned chipotle pepper, minced, with 1 tbls of sauce

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp cumin

2 tsp chile powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

3 cups fresh spinach, wilted

5 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

 

For step by step instructions, visit thejoyfultable.blogspot.com 

Happy Cooking!

-Noelle

Posted in Food & Drink | Leave a comment

I Love You Is the New Amazing

word magnets

a.maz.ing/adjective/causing great surprise or wonder; astounding.

Sadly, I no longer like this word. I really like the idea of it; something that challenges my ability to describe it, shockingly exceeds my expectations, and strikes me with awe and wonder, momentarily quieting my mind of everything else.

But unfortunately I live in a world where amazing has become everyday.

That girl’s new hair cut is amazing.

We got a new shower head and, let me tell you, it’s amazing.

Have you tried the new Vanilla Dr. Pepper Freeze at Taco Bell? It’s amazing.

Really? Is it?
Impressive? Maybe.
Different and enjoyable? Probably.
Delicious? It’s debatable.

Over the course of the last decade or so, things that truly deserve the label of amazing, like the sound of a baby’s heartbeat on an ultrasound, an Olympic athlete breaking a world record, or walking away from a car accident where emergency responders never would have expected a survival . . .

things that are truly worthy of awe . . .

. . . are now lumped in with the scent of a new body lotion and lipstick that really stays on through a meal.

I am just as guilty, maybe not with this particular word, but others. It is really nothing new for a word to take on a cultural slang that is other than its classic Webster definition.

What’s sad about this is that its overuse has diluted its meaning so severely that amazing things no longer cause me to be amazed. When someone wants to tell about something amazing, I do not stop what I am doing, with bated breath, expecting to be told about or shown something spectacular and worthy of my time and attention.

I know what we mean. We mean it’s really good, it’s something memorable; that we’ll probably tell our friends about it should the subject come up in conversation.

Amazing, while it’s a top offender, is not what is causing me the most concern. What’s bothering me the most is that I Love You has become the new Amazing.

Please America, of all the words and phrases in the English language, why did we have to choose to overuse, dilute the meaning of, and effectively neuter this one? And I find it is at its most disturbing among our tweens, teens, and young adults. They say I Love You far too often, to far too many people.

As they get off the phone: I Love You. To a friend they have known for a few months: I Love You. To someone they carpooled to camp with: I Love You. Or to the boy they have gone on three “dates” with: I Love You.

And it’s being spoon fed to them. The other night, on a popular dance competition show, a group of dancers had a close call after the group performance round. After barely escaping elimination, they all clung to one another, people who were strangers forty-eight hours ago and who they likely will never see again, and joined in a rousing chorus of I Love You’s.

We know what they meant . . .

I experienced something important with you.

Thank you for standing by me.

I will remember this moment.

But I can say with a fair measure of confidence, even as a casual observer, none of them meant I LOVE YOU.

The phrase comes fast and easy these days. And each time it is uttered, in the place of something less significant and powerful, its meaning dilutes, growing thinner and weaker, until the day that they look into the eyes of their new fiancé, or the sibling they have reconciled with, or the sickbed of a parent, and they reach for something to convey their depth of feeling and commitment, and there’s nothing left.

It makes me long for the diversity of the original Greek language, when they took this into account, and used four distinctly different words to more accurately describe four different kinds of love.

Storge: a natural affection, like that is felt between parent and offspring, and within the family.
Philia: a “mental” love, affectionate regard typical of friendship.
Eros: a “physical” passionate love, with sensual desire and longing, including romance.
Agape: a “spiritual” selfless love, giving without expecting anything in return.

I include this to demonstrate what I wish our teens and young adults knew. Because we don’t have these variations to clarify the types of love in our own language, we need to honor and respect the highest phrase we do have.

What we do have is a wide variety of other phrases that can convey the desired message, while still reserving I Love You for those moments when we are truly ready to use it.

When we know that we mean the words we have chosen.

When we are ready to stand behind those words with actions.

So parents, let’s rescue I Love You! Let’s introduce and suggest other phrases that can take the place of the golden one.

Phrases like . . .

I really like you.
I am thankful for you.
I am so glad you are in my life.
I care about you and what happens to you
.

Use these like the $5 phrases they are. They can be used daily, and to a wide variety of people, and require nowhere near as much forethought.

They are not a promise.

Then, when that day does come, when our kids are ready to acknowledge a new and deep level of affection, one that carries with it an intent to stay beside, to care for beyond feelings and with action, to sacrifice for, and to offer themselves in relationship in a long-term way, they can reach for I Love You, and it will be there, shiny and untainted, heavy with meaning and showing great honor to the one it waited for.

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Posted in Family, Parenting, Relationships, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Hang in There, Baby!

In mid-March, our part of Vermont experienced a late-season blizzard. Winter Storm “Vulcan” dumped about twenty inches of snow on our yard in twenty-four hours.

It’s the time of year when my husband starts dreaming about Florida. Not me; I love snow, and I firmly believe that if you live in Vermont, winter should include lots of snow. I tracked Vulcan’s imminent arrival, checking excitedly to make sure that my weather app still had snowflakes covering Wednesday and Thursday.

Then, around 6 AM on Wednesday, the phone rang. “No, NO, NO!” I muttered as I picked it up. The recorded voice of the school superintendent informed me that school was cancelled for the day.

This was more distressing than an ordinary snow day, because the snow had only begun; the heaviest snow was supposed to come later, which meant that Thursday would surely be a snow day as well. And the day after that — Friday — was already a teacher workday. Friday also happened to be the day my husband was leaving on a weekend work trip, and I’d been counting on Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for three days flying solo with four young children.

So when I picked up the phone on Wednesday morning, it was with the realization that I was now in for FIVE days — days that would include severe weather — with all four children, all the time. Every fiber of my being said NO.

After denial came self-pity. WHY, God?!? Didn’t I have enough to handle when everything in life was chugging along? Why did two snow days have to coincide with a school holiday and an absent husband? It’s not fair!

I wallowed in self-pity, verging on depression, for the rest of the day. That night, when the girls were in bed and I sat down with my husband for our nightly check-in, I was low — I couldn’t find any joy, I couldn’t imagine how I’d get out of bed in the morning, I felt like I was at the bottom of a deep pit, trying to claw my way to the surface.

“Well, at least we’re all together,” my husband said, by way of reassurance. That’s exactly the PROBLEM!! I narrowly managed to avoid screaming.

It may seem overly dramatic that a snow day sent me into this kind of tailspin, but sometimes that’s all it takes. This was not my first such tailspin, nor will it be my last. But I’ve found a way to escape these emotional oubliettes: TIME. In colloquial terms, my approach to the lows can be summed up as: Hang in There, Baby.

Hang in There, Baby was the snappy slogan printed on a popular 1970s poster, over a photo of an adorable kitten hanging from a bar by two paws. The poster’s been reprinted many times, and the phrase “Hang in there” overused until it’s come to seem trite, even unsympathetic. But I’m learning that, when it comes to the hard things in life, “Hang in there” is often the best strategy.

I’ve experienced the wisdom of hanging in there regarding my physical health. As a thirty-eight-year-old who birthed four children in five years, all of whom are currently between the ages of eleven months and six years, I got aches and pains! Sometimes it seems like I’ve signed up for the “Discomfort of the Week Club.” This is hard for me, as someone who’s been in excellent health for three decades. Every time a new discomfort rears its symptoms, I start worrying that I’ll need to see a doctor — something I try to avoid due to a combination of logistical difficulty (four kids!) and an irrational fear of annoying the doctor.

Experience has taught me that usually I don’t need to see the doctor. In almost every case, if I just hang in there for a week or two, I feel better. Our bodies are amazing, and they’re designed to heal themselves. [DISCLAIMER: Common sense is the rule of thumb here; clearly there are many situations when a trip to the doctor is absolutely necessary!]

The same is often true when it comes to emotional discomfort: If I have the patience to sit with the pain, eventually it will subside and I’ll rediscover my joy. [DISCLAIMER: Common sense rule, again! If you can’t get out of bed in the morning, have thoughts of harming yourself or others, etc., do NOT sit with the pain! I’m talking about the doldrums, not severe depression.]

The branch that I cling to when I’m hanging in there is hope: hope that the physical or emotional pain will ease in time, that what oppresses me today will not last forever. And hope that, in the meantime, there’s a God who understands my suffering hanging in there with me.

In the case of my unexpected long weekend, with time I was able to see beyond my own self-pity. And I saw that I wasn’t flying solo, after all. In fact, every one of those five days I was helped by gracious friends: the friend who (six months pregnant with her fourth child) watched my three oldest girls so that I could make an appointment before the blizzard struck, the friend who walked her two children through the blizzard to come play, the friend who (having just given birth to her third child) hosted two of my daughters to an afternoon playdate, the babysitter who stayed with my baby so that I could take my oldest three to a performance — where another mother met me to provide backup in case my girls got wiggly. The only one of those helpers whom I contacted directly was the babysitter; everyone else dropped into my lap.

I thought I’d be flying solo, but I wasn’t even at the controls.

So, my friend, if you find yourself down in the pit, here’s my advice for you: Hang in there, baby. If that sounds trite, check out Psalm 40, which says essentially the same thing (U2 even made it into a song). Sometimes you just need to wait patiently in the dark for a while. And then, when your eyes start to adjust and you can see those little hooks of hope leading the way out, grab onto them.

Posted in Adversity, Family, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Self Esteem, Uncategorized | 1 Comment