Thursday, August 25, 2016

Letting Go

The other day, I was in my garden tying up the tomato plants. This is something I should have done in June. I looked around at the weeds and twisted vines and wished I had spent more time in the garden this summer. I get to this point every year towards the end of August.  The garden is such a mess of greenery I can barely see the vegetables.

I made a mental checklist for next May. Actually, it wasn’t entirely mental. I told the kids what I was thinking, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t paying attention.

I started to get inspired for next year’s growing season. I imagined how great our garden would look next year, when I finally achieved what I’d been trying for years.

Sounds a little bit like the trap I mentioned in my last post, but I didn’t quite realize that at the time. It seemed so romantic and attainable.
How wonderful to grow our own food! It’s like feeding your soul! To pick ripe vegetables and cook and eat them just a few feet away. To be in the sunshine and fresh air! Never mind the sweat dripping down my face and dirt making its way into the new gloves I thought were free of holes. No matter that I could be spending this time reading with the kids. Don’t think about the stress I feel when I look out my kitchen window and see all the weeds I’m ignoring. The “shoulds” and “oughts” that pop into my head when I send my children out to pull them while I stay inside to wash the dishes or vacuum up dog hair.

Then, another thought occurred to me.
I could be writing.

When I got back from the Montrose Christian Writers Conference, I was consumed with helpful self-evaluation concerning my life as it is now.  I wondered what things I could let go in order to allow more time in my schedule for writing.

I told Todd, “I’m just going to be a messy housekeeper from now on. I’m going to stop caring about the mess.”

“No, you’re not!” He laughed at me.

That’s not to say I’m a perfect housekeeper. Far from it. But I cannot ignore messes. Or maybe just certain types of messes. Regardless, that’s something I can’t let go.

I can let go some of the food prep. I can make simpler meals, requiring less time in the kitchen, less cleanup.

Cooking does feed my soul, though. There are times I want to make an elaborate dish or bake an amazing cake. And then I can take hold of that and cook or bake with joy!

But I can let go of the garden. In early spring, when I look ahead to the summertime, I don’t imagine beautiful moments spent pulling weeds alongside my children. That doesn’t feed my soul.

Soaking up the sun while I read on the beach? You bet!
Hiking in the woods? Absolutely!
Kayaking? Swimming? Campfires? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Writing on the porch while the kids play in the baby pool? Perfection!

But pulling weeds? Not so much.

I could let go of the ideal in my mind. It’s never existed in reality. We could join a CSA and eat someone else’s homegrown vegetables. Support the local farmers who are working so hard.
Let the garden become grass next year. Make it a volleyball court.

Like the slow dawn of a new morning, I realized it would be okay if we don’t plant a garden at all next year.

Don’t get me wrong. Gardening is good. Canning your own food is great. In another life I would be a die-hard homesteader!

I would also name my children Journey, Leaf, and Willow.

But we only get one life. Our time on this earth is finite. I want to tell the stories bursting from my heart. I can’t do that if I’m too busy canning applesauce. Or if I’m weighed down by the stress of thinking I should be pulling weeds. So I'm going to let that go for now. 

I'm going to rest in the knowledge that I don't have to do it all. I just have to do what I'm called to. I will keep learning this lesson. And I'll keep sharing it with you.

What can you let go to make room for something better?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Today is the Day

I’ve spent so much of my life looking ahead. Pressing on to the bend in the road—the next goal, the next project. In some ways, that’s okay. It’s good to plan for the future and look forward to the life ahead of us. But for me this has involved some faulty thinking.

I’ve lived with an idea that the next stage would be perfect. It started early. In college, I thought once I was on my own I’d have it all figured out. We all think that to some extent, but this perception continued as my life went on.

When I get married, it will be the real thing.
Once we build the new house, I’ll be able to keep it clean and organized.
When we have kids, we’ll raise them right.
Once we’re out of the baby stage, I’ll be on top of things.
I’m going to stop mindlessly scrolling Facebook—soon.
If I can stop yelling at the kids now, they won’t even remember it.
Once they’re in school, I’ll have more time to . . .

You get the picture. I would be an improved me, a better parent, more organized, more disciplined—at some time in the future. Maybe it’s the disease of perfectionism. I’m not doing things perfectly now, so I won’t even try. I’ll just browse the Internet and tell myself things will be perfect next year. That’s when everything will magically fall into place and I’ll be able to be what I think I should be.

But that’s a lie.
My life is happening now, in all its glorious, redeemable imperfection.

Perhaps the thing that’s finally making this real to me is a dark-haired beauty waltzing around my house. My firstborn is finished with little girlhood. Done. She will be ten soon and I don’t have the ability to go back and parent her again. Those days are gone. She has been mothered imperfectly and it has shaped her for better or for worse. That doesn’t mean I’m finished, of course. And it doesn’t mean I’ve done a terrible job. But more than half her growing up years are over. I spent a lot of them thinking I’d do better . . . soon.

My boy is shooting up at an alarming rate. He’s starting first grade in three weeks. We are raising him now, not at some arbitrary date in the future when I learn to control my temper and stop being distracted. Now. Every day I am making choices that affect him.

The baby is almost three. She is not a baby anymore. All the kids are out of the baby stage. Gone are the days of Moby-wearing and nursing and morning naps. Even afternoon naps are few and far between!

This isn’t a bad thing. As much as I loved having babies, I’m ready for the next stage. I’m excited as I watch the kids grow up and see the wonderful people they are becoming.

But I don’t want to continue with the idea that I will be perfect at some point. I won’t be. By thinking that some day I will be able to do this perfectly, I’m missing out on now. I’m missing the little ways I can do better. I can put down the phone. I can look into my child’s eyes as they speak to me. I can take a deep breath and count to ten before I respond. I can try to see things from their perspective. I can be present right now. I can be grateful for them and choose joy.

Today. Not tomorrow. Not when school starts. Little choices every single day. Because they’re growing up right in front of me. And I don’t want to miss it.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What I'm Into: July 2016

Ya’ll, where did July even go? This was one crazy busy month for my family. Today I'm grateful for the opportunity to link up with Leigh Kramer for What I’m Into!

Family and Friends . . .

I think I spent at least half of July hanging out at my parents’ lake. July 2nd was the biennial reunion for my relatives. It was wonderful to visit with so much of my extended family all at once. It had been a long time since I’d seen some of my cousins and I love how everybody works together to make the Reunion a great day.

Some of my favorite aunts and uncles chilling by the dock.
Since we had a lot going on Saturday and Sunday of that weekend, on Monday July 4th, the five of us stayed home and did one of my favorite summertime activities—a campfire in the backyard. Todd set off some (legal) fireworks and we roasted marshmallows in salute of our great country. Sometimes I get discouraged about the USA—especially when I see the choices we have for our next president. But I must say, when I came back from Haiti I was very glad to be an American. I’m thankful for our independence and the men and women who sacrificed so much for it.
Three patriotic Treats!
Watching her eat this s'more was better than eating one myself!
The next weekend we had loads of summer fun at our church picnic. The kids and I spent about four hours in the pool and then Todd and I started playing volleyball with some friends. It had been years since I played and I was surprised how quickly it came back. We used to play a lot “back in the day”—for fun, not on a team. We are definitely putting up a net in our yard now!
Kids playing in the sand volleyball court while we got our game on.
The highlight of the summer, with almost unbearable anticipation by everyone involved, was a visit from two of my brothers and their families. My sister came for two days also, so we had seven out of eight siblings together to celebrate my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. My other sister put together a beautiful slideshow and the one absent brother sent a video message to my parents. Everything came together to show my parents we love them and appreciate their fifty years together! It was a great day—a little exhausting, but that’s all part of the ride. And that’s how we earn the right to sit around in an inner tube after the festivities are over.
Photo Credit: Amanda Mountain

My siblings were around for four days and we packed those days with fun on the lake, a sibling lunch (just the grownups, please!), and a cookout and bon fire at our house. Whenever family visits, I want to make the most of every moment we have together. As the last of the cousins drove away from our house, Camilla dissolved into tears because we just don’t see them enough. I was right there with her.

Cousin (and uncle) craziness at Grandma's and Grandpa's
Photo Credit: Amanda Mountain
Photo Credit: April Roskos

Writing and such . . .

I made a last minute decision to go to the Montrose Christian Writers’ Conference this year and I’m so glad I did! I’ve attended this conference sporadically since 2000. Montrose is a hidden gem in the Endless Mountains and the conference is always helpful. I made new connections, caught up with old friends, met an internet friend in real life, and learned a ton! This year the conference lit a fire under me. I came home and commandeered Jeff Gerke to redesign the text on the cover of One Traveler. I have great future plans for my blog, thanks to a workshop and private blogging session with Don Catlett. These plans aren’t really visible here yet, but stay tuned!

Also, I’m off to a great start on my next novel. More about that in a future post. I could only attend half of Larry Leech’s workshop on “What to do After Conference,” but his quick explanation of how many words to write a day in order to write a book in six months really opened my eyes. I can do basic math myself, but I guess if someone else does it for me I understand it better? Regardless of whatever warped reasons are responsible, I’m enjoying my newfound motivation! And I'm trying not to be frustrated when circumstances don’t allow me to work as much as I want to. After all, the kids will not be young forever. I’m realizing this more as the years march on. I am resolving to embrace the craziness and enjoy the journey!
Reconnecting with Juliana, one of my "old friends."

What we’ve been reading . . .

Didn’t you just plow through all the stuff we’ve been doing? Of course we haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading! I started listening to Cutting for Stone on Overdrive, but it is super long and I don’t have a lot of no-kids-within-earshot time for listening, so it automatically returned to the library before I finished. I don’t even think I was halfway through. I checked it out again, but now I have to find my place. Sigh. Who has time for that? I was enjoying the story and the language is absolutely stunning, though it is a little slow moving. How could it not be at 560 pages in the print version? I will get back to it, though. I know it will be worth it.

I’m also working on Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is one I could read to the kids, but I’m enjoying reading it by myself. The kids and I are still working on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I specifically remember some of the scenes from this book when I was a kid listening to my dad read it. Some of it really frightened me, but so far my children have taken everything in stride. It’s just taking us a long time due to all the visiting with cousins and late-night s’mores eating.

In other news . . .

The kitchen is pretty much finished! Thank the Lord! And I love it! I mean I really, really love it! We have a few things to finish up and we’re going to replace the refrigerator soon also. I'm sorry about all the photos, but I have to share it in all its un-Pinterest Perfect glory! 

First a photo of the new kitchen in use. This is how it looks most of the time (if not messier)!
Here it is--cleaned up a little bit.
Another angle.
Still another angle. What a joy to be cooking in this dream come true!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Struggle is Real

I started off the month of June in the Emergency Room. A panic attack or acid reflux sent me to the ER in the middle of the night. I had to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. I wasn’t. But Todd and I lost a night of sleep and started the summer groggy and delirious.

The first half of 2016 brought a lot of heartache to our community. Some I’ve written about. Some I’ve kept to myself. But it all contributed to intensifying my battle with anxiety. A lot of the time, I feared the worst. I kept seeing the worst happening to people around me. I don’t understand it. I’ve seen too many young people die this year. Ergo, I couldn’t ignore the chest pains that night and possibly leave my three children motherless. Not if I could prevent it.

Therein lies the rub. I can’t prevent pain. I can’t control life and death. None of us are getting out of here alive. It’s all about eternity. Sometimes I can’t wait till we’re there and this is all over. But I know I’m called to something greater. I'm called to have joy in the journey.

I keep coming back to this: I know my Father loves me. He holds all His children in the palm of His hand.

I repeat these words to myself sometimes. 

I have other mantras, too.

Psalm 91: “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night . . .”

Song Lyrics:
Good Good Father “You are perfect in all of Your ways.”

Whom Shall I Fear “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind.” 

A beautiful song my niece wrote: 
“Oh, how I love You, how I love You.
Oh, how You love me, it’s how You love me.
And I can’t do anything but praise You, Lord.
And everything You do is for my good.
And I just want to sing Your praise,
And I just want to shout Your name in all the earth.”

Following the advice of some wise friends, at bedtime I read some scripture, turn off my light, and go to sleep speaking in tongues. Yes, I’m one of those crazy Pentecostals, too. Surprise!

“Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Romans 8:26

I don’t want to dwell on my infirmity. Some days and nights are worse than others. God is guiding me through this. I feel as though I’m walking in dense fog. I can just make out His shape as I follow Him. Sometimes it clears a little and I can see better. I’m praying the sun will come out and burn the fog away altogether.

June came to a close with my biggest struggle yet. My eldest child was having two teeth extracted July 1st. All the evidence directed me to let anesthesia put her to sleep for the procedure. She didn’t want to stay awake with just Novocain and nitrous to take the edge off. But fear gripped me in its unrelenting vise.

“What about that heart murmur she used to have?” I thought. “What if the anesthesia kills her?”

I couldn’t seem to stop the parade of images and possible scenarios that flooded my mind. The oral surgeon was in the same building as my obstetrician. The same place I’d discovered my third pregnancy was over at 7 weeks. Was I going to lose another child in this building?

I know. I know. Some of you are thinking, This woman is really crazy!

On the other hand, some of you can identify with this pattern of thinking.

Deep down I knew I couldn’t let my fears dictate what was best for my daughter. Making her endure an awful experience because I’m afraid of losing her would be wrong. The breakthrough came when I spoke to my counselor and she talked about neural pathways. It wasn't the first time I'd heard about them, of course. My very simplified way of understanding these pathways is to picture deep ruts in a dirt road. My anxious thoughts get stuck in a destructive pattern the same way a vehicle's wheels get stuck in the tire tracks. I can observe it happening and I have to retrain my brain to have positive thoughts.

I believe Satan plays a role in this. He watches us daily. His goal is to steal our joy. He knows my weaknesses and attacks me in every possible way. In order to establish new pathways, I need to rebuke the Devil and turn my thoughts to things of God. Repeat my mantras. Read the Psalms.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  Ephesians 6:12

I went to the oral surgeon with Camilla on Friday, July 1st, armed to fight my fears and determined to hide them from her. I made sure the doctor knew about her innocent heart murmur before he started the anesthesia. I counted the minutes and prayed as I sat in the waiting room. Before long, I was ushered back to the recovery room where I sat by her until she was ready to leave. She was perfectly fine. No ill effects whatsoever. She wasn’t even sore.

That afternoon, I was so exhausted by my sleepless week, all I could do was lie on the couch and make a pact with myself that I was not going to let this—Satan, my anxiety, my neural pathways—get the best of me anymore. I was done.

The sun came out that Saturday. I was kayaking on my parents’ lake, my two-year-old tucked in front of me. I was myself again. Sunshine on my shoulders. Water dripping from the paddle onto our bare legs.

As I turned the kayak to head into shore, Eva’s toddler voice reached up to me. 

“No, don’t go back yet, Mommy. Go around the whole circle!”

That’s when I felt it. That unmistakable old friend.


I’m not letting go of it this time.