December 31, 2016

2016: Year End Review, Survey Style

I suppose 2016 will go down as the year in history that kicked all of our asses.  Didn't it though?  It just wouldn't stop.  I have yet to meet a person that was like, "Yea!  2016 was my jam!  It did me good!"  I wanted to write something poetic and full of deep reflection, but you know what?  I really just want to tell 2016 to f'*&% off and be done with it. Based on my use of profanity as of late, 2016 has made me into something of a potty mouth.  Regardless, I thought it would be fun though to take a look back at 2016 survey style as I close down ye old blog for the year.  After searching the interwebs about questions to encourage year-end reflections, I found several, some serious and some light-hearted, of things I most definitely want to remember about 2016, and some I also might want to forget.

What am I most proud of this year? 
My health and fitness.  Though I still have a ways to go, I have started and maintained new habits in regards to my eating and exercising that I have never kept up for as long as I've had.  It feels SO good to head into a new year with good habits already in motion so I have a place to keep building on rather than feeling like I have to start from scratch.  My weight loss and fitness goals feel attainable this year and I'm excited to keep pressing on.

Where am I feeling stuck?
My job/career/work.  I am good at my job as a bookkeeper, and it has proved to be a good income for my family.  But I also deeply long to have a job that needs some of my creative talents too.  This is a place I want to be open to taking some risks and thinking outside the box.

Where do I need to allow myself grace?
As a mother.  I am so hard on myself for all that I get wrong or mess up.  I worry about not being all that my boys need me to be and I feel like I'm failing them.

How did I spend my free time?
Netflix.  Way too much Netflix.  There might be a New Year's resolution in there somewhere.

When have I felt the most alive?
At the beach.
When I'm running (to be interpreted as a very slow jog).
During worship.

What is the hardest decision I made this year?
Leaving our church.  It was and remains to be the most gut-wrenching decision we've been faced with in the last several years.  Severed relationships and devastating wounds.  It has SUCKED.

What do I need to let go of? 
Trying to fit in places where I don't belong.

What old habits would I like to release?
Biting my nails.  Comparing myself to other people. 

What new habits would I like to cultivate?
Family devotions on a daily basis where we have a time focused on our faith and prayer.
Creating more time for reading and writing.
What were some of my favorite memories this year?
Getting to be a part of the IF:Gathering even though I was still sick.
My first date night with Todd when I was well again.   
Family karaoke day.
Being at the beach with Todd.
Poppy blowing out exploding candles on his birthday cake.
Christmas cookie decorating with my family.  

What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
My illness, surgery and recovery.

What was an unexpected joy this past year?
After being sick for so long and becoming well again, I have a new appreciation for the things that I am able to do like cooking, cleaning, and exercise.  Just being able to take care of my family and care for my home after not being able to for so long, has brought me so much joy.

What was an unexpected obstacle? 
A struggle with pain medications and alcohol that I never saw coming.  Very grateful for help and healing in this place the last couple of months.

Pick three words to describe this past year 
Expensive.  HARD.  Rewarding.

Who were your most valuable relationships with?
Todd, my boys, Sarah, Shelly.

What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
Facebook, Pinterest and Netflix.  And being on my phone.  *sigh*

What was the best way you used your time this past year?
Playing with my boys, exercising, and having sex with my husband.

What new things did you discover about yourself?
That I can be disciplined, I can do and get through hard things, that I have an inner-athlete that's been trying to get out.  And that I'm not a republican.

What was the best news you received this year?
"Yes, you can eat now." (After months of living on a liquid diet).

What, or who, are you most thankful for?
My husband and boys, a handful of faithful and precious friends, God's unending grace, improved health, and having all I need and then some.  

What was the best movie you saw this year?
Captain America: Civil War.  I'm a superhero-loving geek at heart.

What was your favorite compliment that you received this year?
That I seem so joyful and at peace.  And knowing that it was really true.

What little things did you most enjoy during your day-to-day life?
Morning coffee, sitting around the dinner table with my little family, singing to Jacob before bedtime, building Legos with Tommy, Todd kissing my neck when I'm cooking in the kitchen.

Was there anything you did for the very first time in your life this year?
Other than undergo surgery?  No.  But, I do have a short bucket list of some things I would like to do and try next year. And skydiving is totally on that list....

What was your favorite moment spent with your friends?
Riding on giant stuffed animals in the mall with Tiffany and Canadia.

How did your overall outlook on life evolve?  
I think I could write an entire blog post just on this question.  I think my overall outlook on life changed and evolved in so many different places.  After my illness and recovery, I felt a deeper sense of gratitude to simply go about my every day life.  So many of us take our health and wellness for granted and that isn't something I want to lose sight of again.  After a tumultuous year politically and seeing so many tragic events occur in our nation and the world, I have been faced with overwhelming convictions of my role to bring peace and love and charity into the lives of others who are hurting.  I am beginning to change my passive stance to a more active one.

What advice would you give your early 2016 self if you could?
"It's gonna be a hell of a ride girl, hang on tight!"

What do you want the overarching theme for your 2017 to be?
Reach, strive and don't quit.   
Always be humble and kind.   
Be joy and peace and bring it to others.

What do you want your everyday life to be like?
Continue with healthy eating and exercise habits.
Lose my shit less with my boys.
Less Netflix and wasting time on my phone.
Being more present, even if it hurts to be.  

What are your hopes, dreams and goals for 2017?
Finish a half marathon, take a creative writing course, pay off some debt and save more money, throw myself a big birthday party, go skydiving, buy a sexy red dress, be more involved with my children in giving back to our community and those in need.

It really was a doozy of a year for me personally, but it was also a year of extreme growth and humility as a person, and for that, I am grateful.  Looking forward to a new year with fresh eyes, an encouraged heart and deeper resolve.  May 2017 be filled with an abundance of blessings and unending grace to get us through the hard times.

Happy New Year!

(Oh, and f*%& off 2016!!)                                 

December 28, 2016

2016 Holiday Highlights

 Gingerbread house building, tree decorating, cookie baking, ugly Christmas sweater parties, looking at lights, white elephant gifts, Hallmark movie watching, dinner with old friends, gift giving and receiving, singing and plenty of laughter.  Sweetest of sweet Christmas memories tucked away in my heart this year.  Happy Holidays from my heart to yours.


December 14, 2016

Peace on Earth

I made pot roast for dinner last night.  Mashed potatoes, green beans, and gravy.  We ate a hot meal and filled our bellies.  After dinner, we loaded up the boys and drove to the part of town that has magical Christmas light displays.  We saw twinkle lights galore, a giant plate of cookies left for Santa, creative handmade pieces of nutcrackers and gingerbread houses and Santa's sleigh.  After our drive we came home, bathed our boys and tucked them in their warms beds with clean pajamas.  We kissed them goodnight and Todd and I ended the evening by watching a show on Netflix.

Nothing we did was really out of the ordinary.  It's was a normal evening for the most part, with a fun special outing to boot.  This morning though, as more news and footage and pictures from the travesty in Aleppo continues to be brought to us, I feel this desperate, aching kind of sorrow for our full bellies and clean clothes and safe home and those who don't have them

This picture has been around me a lot today.  These two poor babies.  Tired, scared, dirty, alone.  Probably hungry. Oh, how I want to scoop them up and just hold them.
If I'm honest, these are the pictures I want to look away from.  It's Christmastime.  It's time to be happy and celebrate and have fun and be with our families, eat good things and open presents.  Yet, there is so much awfulness happening around the world and I am one of the millions of Americans who has usually given into the belief that I can't really do anything, so I'll feel sad and utter a prayer and think about my own little life worries.

But, I have been finding it harder and harder to do that.  I can't do that anymore.  I want to sit with the reality of this picture and do more than pray a good prayer or send a good vibe to Aleppo.  I want to help.  I want to this little girl and this little boy to know that I see them and that what they are going through is not okay. 

The Syrian refugee crisis is one that I've felt deeply moved by and called to do something about.  I  believe that we live in this era of technology and social media for a reason.  We don't just hear stories, we can see them right in front of our eyes on a daily basis.  We have a real opportunity to help and be a part of a solution in doing the things that Jesus taught when it came to loving on those in need.

I was reminded of this scripture in the gospel of Matthew.  Jesus is talking to His disciples.  They were both students and friends to Him.  He had this to say them as they sat on the Mount of Olives together just before Jesus was betrayed by Judas and was arrested:

Matthew 25:34-40
"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You a drink?  When did we see you a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison and come to You?'  And the  King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'"

Jesus continues in this passage with a warning for those who do the opposite.  These scriptures have been convicting and have called me to action.  If I am a disciple of Jesus, if I am His friend - He is talking to ME here, just as much as He was talking to His disciples then. 

The needs for Aleppo and the entire Syrian refugee crisis can feel huge and overwhelming.  It's easy to feel small.  But we've made some small changes for our own family, and I think if everyone could do the same things, it could add up to a really big something.

We've trimmed our budget, eliminated some luxuries.  We've researched some really great organizations right now on the ground that our funds and donations can go directly to helping feed and clothe these people.  I have printed some pictures from Aleppo and put them on our refrigerator as a constant reminder to pray and be mindful of those in need as I go about my daily routines in the kitchen that are full of comfort and security.  We have conversations with our children, we show them the news and the pictures - not to scare them, but to create an awareness in the world of those who desperately need Jesus and how we can give life and love to these hurting people.

This time of year we often hear the songs of "tidings of comfort and joy" and "peace on earth, goodwill toward men."  There is no peace on this earth, except for what we have in Jesus.  If we have Jesus, oh let us be the comfort and joy to someone this Christmas.  There may never be peace on earth, but we can be peace to someone else.  Let it begin with me.

December 12, 2016

Poinsettias, Parties and Prizes

I've always had my own unique way of making friends as a grown-up.  I usually hear about a thing that's happening or going on and I totally invite myself to that thing.  Perhaps it's more polite and proper to wait to be invited to a thing, but who has time for that?  And you know what?  People don't usually say no. If you've had the guts to invite yourself to a thing, people aren't usually going to tell you that you can't come, even if they want to.  So my word of advice to you - invite yourselves to the things if you really want to go. 

Also, I just said the word "thing" like 52 times and this is why I will never be a for-real writer.

One of the other ways I make friends is by going to a thing (in this case, that I was actually invited to) where I don't know a single person, and find a way to make conversations with strangers.  And you know what's a great way to do that?  By dressing yourself up as a human poinsettia for an ugly sweater themed party!

There are two kinds of people in this world: 

1)  The kind that go to an ugly sweater party and wear an ugly sweater. 
2)  Those that go to an ugly sweater party to dominate. 

I think it's pretty clear which kind of person I am.....

By the way, my new friend Melissa has purple hair and a dozen tattoos and two boys and we speak the same language and I love her.

We've been attending a new church for a few months and making friends and connections there has been a little slow in coming.  When I heard about the ladies Christmas party they were having, I immediately signed up even though churchy ladies things have historically not been my jam.  But, I need to make new friends and I couldn't have been more excited to go to a party where I didn't know anyone in my entire life. 

Apparently showing up as a human poinsettia was a great idea and I met lots of new people throughout the evening.  My ugly sweater (though more of a shirt really) was kind of a hit and I felt a little bit like the homecoming queen, especially when I won the ultimate prize:
I don't think I've won any kind of contest in my entire life, so I kind of want to shadow box this and keep it for always.  This is a pretty big deal.  Major life accomplishment.

For those that want to know - my costume was made with a red shirt, hot glue, several poinsettia silk flowers, mesh garland and a belt.  I don't sew, but give me a glue gun and I can work wonders.

I also received this beautiful cross made out of holly and pine sprigs and berries and carried it like a bouquet of flowers, holding my trophy and taking my winner's walk like I had just won the Miss America pageant.  I felt a little bit like "the bell of the ball" even though I was more like "the potted plant of the party."  Oh Lord, humility is not my natural state of being.

Anyway, the moral of this story is that if you invite yourself to the things, you might end up as the homecoming queen.  Or something like that.

December 8, 2016

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

I read this little nugget tonight and I've been letting it sinking in. Much like a warm cup of cocoa going down smooth and soft, touching something deep inside, these words spoke to me...

From the devotional Savor, by Shauna Niequist - The Advent Alternative

"Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading, and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don't feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel like Advent.

Advent gives us another option beyond false Christmas cheer or Scrooge.  Advent says the baby is coming, but he isn't here yet, that hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real.  Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we're grieving, without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas, the baby on his way.

Consider Advent a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present this season.  Give up your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights.  Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it's been lost."

This year has left me with gaping holes and for months I've been trying to fill them up and fix everything that has been broken. Late at night when I'm alone and my only friend seems to be Netflix, I sit here with my vodka and drink until I don't feel the holes anymore.  I welcome the buzz and the numbness it brings to the pain my heart feels and the thoughts my mind wants to think.  Fasting from alcohol in addition to sugar and bread this advent, I am more aware of what I've been numbing out to.  I'm present with the empty places and it's wretched.  It's wretched and I also feel very alive, and strangely at rest.

Hope is on the way.  The baby is on the way.  Jesus is coming.  God will be with us.  All that is broken will be mended and made new.  And all that is empty will be filled.

My heart is full of longing.  I'm yearning tonight.  I'm grieving and lonely and waiting for things. 

Are you?

Be near us Jesus and please stay close by....

December 3, 2016

Tidings of comfort and joy

Earlier in the evening, I sat here craving a big warm mug of my Gramma's sweet rice.  I only make it when it's cold much like today has been.  Sweet rice is the perfect creamy mixture of love and comfort.  It sits in your belly and it has this way of reaching all the way out to your fingers and toes making you feel like someone has hugged you from the inside.

I've always found it interesting how food can do that to a person - literally alter how they are feeling about themselves or their day.  A sip of wine, a bite of fresh bread, that perfect crispy apple, ice cold milk, gooey brownies hot out of the oven - isn't there something satisfying to the soul about certain foods?

I've fasted from sweets before.  A few years back, I observed Lent for the first time and gave up sweets for that season.  It was an extremely long 40 days and 40 nights, but after the first two weeks, I noticed my cravings for it subsided.  And as I fasted from sweets, I anticipated Easter Sunday with a new fervor and not just because my fast would come to an end that day.  My time with Jesus was sweet that season.  I still remember what we walked through together and I'm grateful I accepted His invitation there.

Sugar seems to be my nemesis.  Especially if it's found in the form of chocolate.  I've learned over the years that eating sugar begets more eating of the sugar.  Our bodies become dependent on it and call for more even though it's the very last thing we need to put inside of it!  Fasting from sweets this time of year feels absolutely absurd.  It's around me everywhere and the temptations are already astronomical and it's only the third day of the month.  

December usually comes with certain sugary traditions:  Eggnog.  Gramma's sweet rice.  Hot chocolate.  Pumpkin bread. Gingerbread men.  Sugar cookies.  Almond bark pretzels. 

Being someone that has struggled with eating disorders and food addictions for most of my life, I know intimately what it means to go to food for comfort.  The comfort though often would turn violent as I would binge or overeat to the point of actually feeling so full I was in physical pain.  Tonight, my children are in bed, my husband is working and I'm alone in the house with my twinkle lights and snuggly blankets and all I can think about is wanting something comforting to eat.

Maybe I'm just in need of comfort.

I wonder why it doesn't feel natural to go to God for comfort.  The angels came to the shepherds declaring that they had tidings of comfort and joy, or at least that's what we sing at Christmastime isn't it?  The birth of Jesus, this promised Messiah - He had finally arrived and this news was meant to bring comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

That's a lot of comfort wrapped into two verses.

Tonight, I'm curious about comfort.  What parts of me are needing His comfort?  How do sweetness and comfort go together?  I think of our nation, our world - so much hurting, so much sadness and fear and tragedy.  How can I play a role in bringing comfort to someone else?

I'm curious what it would be like to experience Jesus as my comforter.  I wonder if it might feel a little like my Gramma's sweet rice and being hugged from the inside.

December 1, 2016

The Miracle of Christmas

I read tonight that miracles happen whenever we look for shoots of Jesus' love everywhere.  Like a new branch springing forth from an old stump.  And I have to admit, it's hard to not only look for Jesus' love, but it's hard to find it even if you are looking. 

"Jesus comes as your little-yet-big miracle, who whispers to you in a noisy world: Right where you are, look for the small glimpses of my love unfurling around you like a slender leaf, like the branches of a tree, like the seeking limbs of a babe." - Ann Voskamp, excerpt from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

This evening, my boys fought with each other.  Jacob screamed about dinner and my insisting on his eating of green beans.  I tried to jog on my treadmill, though I had to hop off every three minutes to settle a dispute, take someone to the bathroom, and say no to a snack for the seventeenth time.  My living room floor is scattered with dirty socks and Batman toys and throw pillows that always manage to be thrown and never manage to stay on my sofa. 

Yet, I'm surrounded by the glow of our Christmas tree and the scent of vanilla and cranberry candles burning, filling the air with warmth and sweetness.  I am smiling after reading text messages from a new friend.  And I was blessed that my husband washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen after dinner tonight.

I'm somewhere between the beauty of the Christmas season and the reality of my life that is filled with it's own measure of chaos and the load I bear that often wears me out.  And when I stop to notice, there is evidence of His love shooting out. Jesus is faithful to let love grow again.

I don't know if I live like I really believe that miracles happen if we look for shoots of Jesus' love everywhere.  And I certainly don't know if I have a daily posture that not only looks for it, but exemplifies it.  But, I know that I want to.

And the miracle that happened still happens in the heart that will believe and receive the miracle of Christmas.....