Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

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Family / Thoughts

What I learned in 2015, Part I

One sibling photo a week throughout the year. 49/52

Last year, I posted a list of things I learned throughout the year. I thought I would do something similar this year, but it ended up being a lot longer than I expected, so I’ve broken it up into two parts. Here is the first, and you can see the second next week! Updated: Part II of this list

January

I started off the year differently than any other year in recent history. Instead of my usual laundry-list of personal goals, I made just two – one for writing and one for fitness. I have surprisingly kept up with my fitness goal all year, which is a total feat for those who know my impressively non-athletic history, and I put my writing goal to rest in early fall after realizing that my original goal was not very realistic for me.

> I have learned that my quest for simplicity in life continues to benefit me and my family in various ways, some that I expected and some that have surprised me.

> I have learned the difference between struggling to do many things poorly and the success of doing few things well. I hope to continue doing few things well going forward.

> I have learned that being disciplined is a matter of the mind, and is about making decisions that lead to action instead of making excuses for why I can’t or don’t want to do something.

> I have learned that it is ok to put some things to rest. Goals. Relationships. Books that are not interesting. There are times to stick things out, and times to let things go.

> I have learned that intention matters. If I intend (or purpose) to do something, I have a better chance of accomplishing it than if I just think about it.

> I have learned that exercise is a basic need. I need to move my body…and after a year of focused, consistent exercise, I feel better than I ever have in my life – even  at currently 7.5 months pregnant.

February 

I watched a dear friend give birth to a sweet son in February after a long season of infertility, loss, waiting, and fervent prayer for a sweet child to hold. Attending the birth itself was an intimate and moving experience. Having walked through low days with this friend, it has been a total delight to see how her world has lit up this year with her son’s presence and bright personality.

> I have learned that sorrowful seasons do not last forever for those who wait and hope in the Lord. His gifts are good, and are never late.

> I have learned that waiting is not fun or easy or comfortable, but good things are worth the time it takes for them to arrive.

> I have been reminded that traveling through life with trustworthy, life-giving friends is a complete gift that lifts the soul when one is weary.

> I’ve learned that friendship is about showing up. The few things you need in common is that you care to connect, share in life’s ups and downs, and encourage your friends whenever you get the chance.

> I have learned that rhythm and routine go a long way to establishing peace in our home.

March

We have a pile of birthdays in February and March, including my own birthday. We celebrated one, three, seven, and thirty-two.

> I’ve learned that celebrating life is something that should happen every day. Cake and candles and presents are not needed to recognize the gift of life…Each day we can give thanks and celebrate the small things — that we breathe, love, and grow together through every season.

> I have learned that throwing formal birthday parties is not something I enjoy…in fact, it stresses me out.

> I have learned that for me, parenting is a journey toward ever greater patience and tenderness with my kids. I have more than I used to have, but I continue to strive for more.

> I have learned that having a very busy one year old can make the days very interesting. You never know just what mess you will find waiting around the corner.

> I have learned that looking at the world through the eyes of a child helps me see things I would miss every time with the eyes of an adult. For this reason, I am thankful I have so many children to learn from.

April 

In April, I published my first prayer guide on the topic of “Strength”. I meant for it to be one of several guides shared this year, but I haven’t been able to prepare any others for distribution yet. This is on my list to tackle in 2016.

> I have learned that it takes only small, intentional efforts to help others feel heard and supported. We so easily overcomplicate things.

> I have learned that no matter how many terrible things I hear about happening in the world, every time I read about a new one, my heart breaks again.

> I have learned that in the midst of a very scary world, there is refuge in Jesus for the anxious heart.

> I have learned that it is ok to be sensitive. I am, and while I’ve always struggled to accept that about myself, I also think its a huge asset in some areas of life.

> I have learned that I am able to influence the tone of my home by keeping my own attitude in check, and helping my children to understand how their attitudes affect them and those around them.

May
In May, my second son (third-born child) was baptized. It was a pleasure to stand in the water with him as he made a public declaration of his love for Jesus.

> I have learned that I can simultaneously honor the mysteries of God (what I do not know or understand), and hold to the truth that I do know.

> I have been reminded that unexpected turns in life’s journey are sometimes the best things that can ever happen to you.

> I have been reminded that motherhood looks different for every woman, but somehow we all share similar struggles, heartaches, sacrifices, and the deep knowing that there is nothing more important than loving and caring for a child.

> I have learned that the kindness of God knows no bounds, not even my own stubborn, anxious heart that sometimes tries to stand in the way of what God would give me. He gives what He gives, and with a particular posture, I can often discover the wisdom in it, whether or not I understand it right away.

> I have learned that traveling inches forward through the toughest seasons is every bit as victorious as logging miles behind me in the easy ones.

June

In June, I discovered I was pregnant with our son who is due in February 2016. Of course I didn’t know then that he was a he, but I was excited nonetheless.

> I have learned that no matter how many times one has been pregnant, pink lines are still exciting, and a little bit terrifying.

> I have been reminded how quickly the heart can grow to love a new person, even if they are smaller than a poppyseed.

> I have learned that there are two parts to forgiveness…the part where I choose it in my heart (to forgive) regardless of the other party’s involvement, and the part where I give it directly to the other party when they ask for it. It especially makes me think about from whom I may need to seek forgiveness from.

> I have learned that five kids in a strawberry patch is a pretty fun thing to watch.

> I have learned that sometimes important kids questions come at unexpected times, and no matter how many I have heard in my day, I always feel like I’m fumbling to answer well.

Check back next week for Part II

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“When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.” Titus 3:4-8

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Update on run/walk goal for week 49 (the goal is to complete at least 10 miles per week): 9 Run/Walk miles traveled, 579mi in 2015

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1151. ongoing discussions with a 3-year-old about childbirth, 1152. the ‘big, fun baby’ in my belly, 1153. sleep-in morning, 1154. handmade ornament-making, 1155. sewing lesson for a 9-year-old, 1156. ice cream, 1157. PNB Nutcracker performance with my daughter, 1158. craft party with friends, 1159. cozy days at home, 1160. sweet christmas cards arriving in the mail

Family / Thoughts

Leaves and Bumps

One sibling photo a week throughout the year. 42/52

October will soon come to a close and the holiday season will be upon us. I’m a little bit excited about it. We had a long drive this weekend, and my husband and I planned out our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals in detail. You know, so we can be prepared and all. It was actually his idea, which I thought was a little funny since he’s the Christmas music nazi that doesn’t want the holiday tunes playing until after Thanksgiving. We won’t tell him that we have already been listening to our favorite songs a few times a week since the beginning of October.

I am excited for November because: Thanksgiving. Not just the food, but also the way everyone starts to get all reflective about the things they are thankful for. I secretly love the Facebook posts that list people’s gratitude lists, and the general pause that comes with becoming still enough to recognize what has whizzed by this previous year. I’ll probably be in that space myself, even more than I usually am. I love seeing all the people who get serious about NaNoWriMo and write their hearts out. I don’t write novels, but I do think I’ll try and join in the push for focused writing effort in November, perhaps resurrecting my abandoned writing goal this year which was to write 10,000 words a week. I have the ideas stored up in my heart, but we’ll see if I have the time or discipline to write them out.

People have asked about our pregnancy, and it’s going very well. Nothing major to report, other than the little guy seems healthy and is getting more active by the day. I have enjoyed a tremendously energetic 2nd trimester (barely feeling pregnant) but I’m starting to feel the aches and discomforts that come with sharing one’s body space with another (growing) human. I have to attribute my energy and gusto to the walking I’ve been able to keep up on since the beginning of the year. This week, I surpassed the 500th mile for the year (I started tracking in January) which feels a little bit like a giant accomplishment for me. I’ve been on a health journey for a long while, but this year has been the first that I have been able to diligently and consistently get myself moving. I have offered every excuse over the years for why I couldn’t/didn’t/didn’t want to exercise…depression, busy with too many toddlers, pregnant, no time, etc….its all hogwash friends. You can’t afford to neglect your own body while you tend to all the other things. One day, when all those other things are a distant memory, you’ll still have your body – in whatever condition it is in by that time. It’s worth it to make time. You are worth it. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, find a way to make it happen. I don’t think I even realized how unwell I felt back then, but I’m converted. I have gained only a fraction of the weight I typically gain by this stage of pregnancy, and my life is more full, more busy, and more ‘interesting’ than it has been in any previous season. So put the excuses out with the trash, look in the mirror at your beautiful face, figure out what you can do to get moving, and then do it. I will cheer for you.

Our new little man, safe in his cozy spot, at 23 weeks.

“I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13:5-6

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Update on run/walk goal for week 42 (the goal is to complete at least 10 miles per week): 12.5 Run/Walk miles traveled, 501.5mi in 2015

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1071. surpassing 500 miles traveled on foot (with purpose) for the year, 1072. weekend getaway, 1073. growing and kicking baby, 1074. box of apples, 1075. where hair-brained ideas lead, 1076. yummy chicken salad sandwiches on the road, 1077. planning out some new ideas for improving our household organization & spaces, 1078. pink puppy, 1079. new little girl boots, 1080. party plans for halloween with friends

Thoughts

Top 10 things I don’t do well…

1 – Plan Parties/Celebrations – So, I have to start out with this at the top of the list because the whole reason I thought to do this post is because of a blog entry I wrote nearly 2 years ago that I never published but happened to re-discover in my drafts folder this week. In the post, I mentioned that ‘planning kid birthday parties is probably in my list of Top 10 things I don’t do well’. That got me thinking about what things would really be on that list if I made one, so here you go: a slightly silly, but partly serious look at my weaknesses. I can make a kid party happen, but it is never a thing of beauty or Pinterest-worthy details. I can do all the purely practical things. I can make food for dozens, put dates on the calendar and communicate to the invited, but I am not a decorator, I loathe kid-party games, and even though my kids are so grateful for whatever fun we cook up, I spend the entire party feeling stressed out. I have been seeking to do better in this area and enjoy the process, but it is still not one of my strengths. We have a certain pal turning 6 years old in our house this week, and this year, to cope with my party-execution disability, I have outsourced the lego-madness/party activities to daddy. Bless the man.

2 – Follow Rules – The very presence of a rule makes me want to challenge it. Now, to be fair, I am a fairly straight-laced girl and I follow plenty of rules if I understand the benefit of them, but telling me I have to (or can’t) do something without giving me a reasonable explanation of why or why not will only make me push back and investigate a little deeper. I think this can be both a strength and a weakness because some ‘rules’ deserve to be challenged, and I think it is important to understand why we do or don’t do (or should/shouldn’t do) certain things as we navigate life, but that does sometimes get me into trouble.

3 – Follow Recipes – This goes right along with the following rules thing. I love recipes. I consult them and glean what I want from them, but I do not execute them. I really dislike step-by-step instructions for most things. I like figuring out stuff, and charting my own path to a destination. When I’m in the kitchen, I like to experiment and combine and detour from recipes and make my own creations (re: messes). This results in many failed attempts at (mostly baking) endeavors, but I have to say, I learn something new every time I flop.

4 – Rest – I’m convinced I don’t really know how to do this well. Now, I have a love for simplicity and have put a lot of energy in simplifying my life in all areas over the past few years, so I don’t feel like I’m in desperate need of rest from running ragged–but give me some open time and no responsibility, and I promise you I will find something productive (i.e., not restful) to do. I read books, but most often do so while walking on the treadmill. I write to pour out my soul, but it most often happens between unloading dishes, running toddler-terrorism interference, and cooking another meal. I study the bible, and fit in my lessons while I’m managing lights-out with 5 kids, which is no sedentary job. I usually only really rest once I’ve crashed after a long week and have no other choice because my body shuts down. Although, I do sleep awesomely for about 7 hours each night, which is a total gift because I might not otherwise make it through the daytimes.

5 – Let Things Go – I stew and think and mull and wrestle with literally everything that goes through my mind. There is not much that slips through without a good mull-over. I am always seeking to grow in wisdom and love, and I feel everything I experience right down deep into my bones. Good things. But when its time to let go of a season or a friend or a situation, the whole process of those things feels like tearing/stretching/torture to me. It’s because I care a lot, and because saying goodbye to things feels like a deep loss, every time, even if it is a good thing at the right time. I am learning to accept that about myself, but I’d love to be more (immediately) resilient when it’s possible.

6 – Clean House – It’s a deep shame, if I’m honest. It’s also the area I work harder at than any other thing in my life. The combo of my creative, always-turning brain, and my giant load of ‘helpers’ (re: also creative brains that make lots of messes) make it a losing recipe for me. I strive for peace, health, simplicity, and organization in our collective space, but truthfully, it is an area that causes me a lot of grief. People who keep minimal, tidy spaces are fascinating to me and I honestly cannot figure out how they do it. I can only hope and pray they will love me anyway, and not judge me in my weakness. I am learning, and I’m attempting to pass on some sense of orderliness to my children, but every bit of success in this area is hard-won.

7 – Have Fun – I’m a serious soul. I’m not a fun friend. I totally know it, and I’m mostly ok with it. I’ve made some truly awesome friends over the years who draw me out and make me have some fun, but its not what I’m good at all by myself, I admit. However, if you have an emergency, a problem to work through, a broken heart, or a need to blubber out your worries, I am totally your girl. As weird as it sounds, I actually love being that girl.

8 – Say No To Sugar – It’s a thing, I admit. Sugar is my thing. Makes sense. It’s in everything, everywhere, and every bite is so gratifying. I have come a long way, learning about what will really nourish my body, and choosing those things over the other things. I find it a little easier during pregnancy to make healthful choices, since it is for the baby’s benefit as well, but sugar remains a total weakness. For the record, ice cream, donuts, and other forms of dessert are currently banned at my house. We’re going for the fruit-for-dessert these days! Still sugar, but the kind that is straight from nature. MMMmm.

9 – Take Vitamins/Swallow Pills – I’m just not good at this. I try my best during early pregnancy to take prenatal vitamins, but I am not always successful. I avoid taking pills for any other reason whenever possible. Honestly, if its between taking tylenol and any other option to fix a temporary condition, I will choose the other option. Not to mention that sometimes I actually can’t get a pill down without a rather comical production.

10 – Watch Movies – If it’s not a kid-flick, or its not 10+ years old, chances are, I haven’t seen it. I don’t have time (or take time) to watch many movies these days. I’ve found that it is a rare movie that really captures my attention, and given a 2-3 hour window of time with nothing else to do, seeing a movie is not high on my list. That said, I do have some die-hard favorites that have enriched my life in many ways, so I am not against movies, I am just a bit out of touch. My watch again-and-again favorites include: Life is Beautiful (Italian version), Dan in Real Life, Anne of Green Gables, The Man from Snowy River, What About Bob…like I said. Old ones…old ones I haven’t watched in several years! If you have some recommendations for entertaining, heart-warming, or thought-provoking flicks, I’m open to suggestions!

“I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62: 1-2

1051. lavender soap, 1052. long, comfy dress, 1053. baby turns, 1054. new math-plan, 1055. made-ahead dinner, 1056. new thrifted costumes for all, 1057. tv-free days, 1058. the girl making paper feathers, 1059. “ominic” 1060. grace

Family / Thoughts

Real Talk: An Invitation

One sibling photo a week throughout the year. 40/52

I sat with a friend at a coffee shop recently, talking about ideas and real life and such. It was dark outside with some wind and rain, but warm inside with a chocolate-dipped cookie and ideas bouncing back and forth about this and that. This blog has been on my mind lately. It has become a space that is representative of a small portion of my personal journey…ordinary life, quest for truth and understanding, a chronicle of my journey toward self-discipline and health, and some rumination on the beauty of this season of life. I have committed to myself to show up at least once each week, with the photo of the kids together and some bits of what we have going on or what is on my mind. For the most part, I have done that fairly well. The whimsy of it all probably fits the time we’re in, and what lands here may be just as whimsical going forward, but…

In an effort to be intentional about everything that I give my attention to, I have realized that there are a lot of things that I just don’t share here. I think some kinds of sharing come easily for me (hello deep-heart-of-the-ocean-land), and some take a little more effort.  My desire is to share honestly about our adventures and challenges as a family and encourage others on the motherhood (or parenting) journey. While I feel like my life is an open book, I don’t always know what would be of interest here in this space, or be helpful for others to know about our lives. I do receive questions from friends, on occasion, and I would love to move toward sharing some of my answers to those questions in a more public way, in case they are helpful to others.

So, I would love to invite you to provide some input about what you might like to read about here in this space. I’m ready to put a little more form to what I write here, and learning what you would like to know about, or see more of, will help me march forward with intention in that pursuit. I have a short list of ideas that I brainstormed with my friend, but I’d like to know from you what you think would be helpful/interesting/encouraging to read about. Ask me anything! Tell me what topics you’d love to see here. Some things to get your wheels turning: more on my health journey, homeschool and what that looks like for us, helps/thoughts for mamas of littles, practical life stuff with a big family, meal planning, parenting challenges/victories, pregnancy, marriage and family, overcoming depression, crafting/creativity, photography, devotional thoughts, more prayer guides (and if this, what topics?)…What are you curious about? What have you found helpful or encouraging that I could write more of? I invite you to give your input. Feel free to email me (or if you happen to be a fb friend, a quick message will do) —  lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com — if you have any questions to ask (for yourself, or questions you think others might benefit from answers to) or input to give! Thanks so much.

How precious is Your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of Your wings. You feed them from the abundance of Your own house, letting them drink from Your river of delights. For You are the fountain of life, the light by which we see.” Psalm 36:5-9 NLT

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Update on run/walk goal for week 40 (the goal is to complete at least 10 miles per week): 14 Run/Walk miles traveled, 476.5mi in 2015

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1041. new fancy pencil sharpener, 1042. daddy home from a week away, 1043. beach adventures, 1044. oranges for dessert, 1045. caring friends, 1046. covalent molecule-building, 1047. quick-to-forgive hearts, 1048. community bible study, 1049. early bedtimes for mama, 1050. costco run by myself (a rare occurrence)

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Injustice

I don’t often write about current events. It takes me time to process what I see going on out there, and because I purpose to do my best to speak hope, to live love, and to encourage others, I find it difficult to respond to much of what is going on in the world in such a manner. I am deeply disturbed by the many stories I hear of violence, injustice, and a general disregard for for human life.  I lose sleep over these stories. Some days I cannot function because of my anger and grief on behalf of those who have been wronged. On some days, paralyzing what-ifs and terrorizing fears hold me at the throat.

nature-0001

What I find especially sad today is that for some people, many people, life is not about what-ifs and fears. It is about devastating loss, real injustice, and clear dangers that they cannot escape on their own. We live in societies with systems and structures that do not reflect value for all human life, because behind the systems and structures there are real people who either have no respect for life, or they hang back and watch the systems run and with inaction and silence, thereby passively condoning the injustice.

We promote oppression with attitudes and responses that diminish the pain and plight of others. We speculate. We justify. We stereotype. We hide. We close our eyes and ears to reality because the mess is so big, we can’t bear to acknowledge it. We don’t want to be responsible for doing something about it. I understand. I feel overwhelmed too. I’m a nobody. What can I do?

Can we open our eyes (or even better, our hearts) to the oppressed? Can we acknowledge that we are part of systems that oppress other people, even if we ourselves do not mean to harm anyone? Can we start talking about how to connect with the people around us, to hear their stories and struggles no matter how different they might be from us, and seek understanding? Seek real solutions? Can we be honest about our own fears and attitudes and how they keep us from loving others? Can we seek to live out love instead of just debating issues and taking sides in a useless war of words that help no one? Can we acknowledge our ignorance?

Somewhere along the line, calling someone ignorant became derogatory. The word simply means, “to have a lack of knowledge or information.” If we’re honest, can we acknowledge that every one of us is ignorant about something (probably many things)? Can we own that we often see (and align ourselves) with only one side of a story, which is a lot easier to do when we refuse to listen to other perspectives, often out of self-preservation? One side of anything is not the whole reality, and in some cases, is not reality at all for those who are directly involved in a situation.

We have to learn to listen to each other. We have to care about the long-term effects of the attitudes we cultivate, and we have to care about the things we teach our children, both by what we say and how we live. We have to know that we passively participate in injustice if we do not actively seek to end it by choosing love first and always, sometimes at a great cost to ourselves. We have to value every human life; the unborn, elderly, black, white, homosexual, heterosexual, married, single, divorced, rich, poor, housed, homeless, male, female, sick, healthy, and every other category that exists.

To those who carry deep wounds because no one has taken the time to hear your story, to walk beside you, and love you with more than words, I am sorry. I am sorry for the times I have missed those opportunities because I was busy, ignorant, or selfish.

You matter. Your story matters.

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“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:3-5

 

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Christmas Thoughts

Fog falls heavy and hard on the soul and I can’t make sense of how things can be so carefree in one moment only to feel completely frustrating in the next. Twists and turns of unexpected and frantic searching for the peace that is supposed to be here this time of year but feels more absent than usual.

There is no crisis, except one in my own heart, at the place where I couldn’t grasp and hold and control all that I wanted the days of December to be. I wanted laughter and meaning and the weightlessness of a perfectly beautiful season suspended in time and memory for the years to come. Instead I was met with the paradox of beauty found in the miry, desperate place…beauty that is missed when we make glossy the things born out of hardship.

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

I thought for sure, being rather pregnant this Christmas season, that I would feel drawn to the story of Mary, carrying child in the expectation and uncertainty of what is to come, but that has not been the case. I still look and feel very pregnant, but my heart has identified most closely with the helplessness, the smallness, and the humility of baby Jesus. I have been pounded from all sides with struggles and sadness that derailed all my great plans for a carefree Advent, and while I have felt not-at-all comfortable in my moments of struggle, I do see how each one has given me a way to glimpse into the truest beauty of the of the Nativity…the gifts that come in unexpected packages, in unexpected places, but also with intention and purpose.

This month I have been truly humbled. Not the kind of humility the ego aspires to…that brand of humility that makes one appear noble or selfless when they really may not be under the surface. But the humility that rubs against tender places, the humility that hurts and costs more than maybe we thought at first glance, but also produces fruitfulness that would never be possible if we didn’t journey through seasons that put us in touch with the dirt, our faces in it, with mud made from our tears of lament and loss. It’s only in the dirt the seed can germinate, and yet, I do my best to resist going there until I have no other choice and am dropped right down in it.

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

It seems like at Christmas, we want to make everything merry and bright and totally forget the ways the heart hurts and the soul struggles. But wounds are real, and acknowledging our struggles does not take anything away from the beauty of the Christmas story…if anything, it makes the story of the coming of Jesus as a helpless babe, entering into filth and humanity, all because of His great love for us…all the more beautiful. You can’t convince me that the Nativity was a scene of an immaculately kept barn, a warm and picturesque place of birth with angels singing and animals gathered round and an effortless arrival of a newborn child. I know way too much about natural childbirth to believe that. In the moments leading up, I imagine it was cold, dark, dirty, and desperate…which makes me feel just a bit better that this month for me has been anything but picturesque. It’s ok. The upside-down Christmas is maybe the truest one…The King of Glory surprising everyone and coming in the lowest way imaginable, not as a conquering King, but as a humble one, showing us even from the first moments of His life on earth that our journey with Him will be messy beautiful and not always perfectly merry and bright.

And so, I guess I wish you a messy Christmas…one that is hopefully merry and joyful and filled with magic, but more than pinterest-perfect, I hope it is full of deep meaning, connection with God and the ones you love, and marked by perseverance through your own struggles and trials with the promise that out of humble places come the greatest gifts.

http://solacearts.com

 

 

 

Life & Faith / Motherhood / Thoughts

What You Lose When You Compare

I’ve been having this conversation in my head for a while. It seems like we all compare ourselves to others–or others to ourselves–more often than we might say out loud. At least, I’ll say that’s true for me. The things I compare are not always the normal things…I’m not much for fancy cars or houses. Simple is fine with me. But I do compare. Even when I don’t mean to. Even when I don’t want to.

I see friends post snapshots of their lives on Facebook. Trips to exotic places or delicious food from high-class restaurants, and suddenly have a pang of discontent with my little life. I see moms post pictures of their summer activities and think they must be doing something engaging, exciting, and fun with their kids every single day of the summer, while I wonder if my kids will someday tell stories of long days of never-ending summer boredom at our house. I might run into an acquaintance at Costco who has a toddler with a cute outfit on, and a darling first haircut,  while my children hang off of all sides of the cart with mis-matched clothes and unbrushed hair and wish I had found the gumption to get us a little more together before venturing out. I see the happy, successful, picture-perfect moments and think that perfection must surely extend into every area of their lives, while over here, I’m a mess, tired to the bone, going nowhere except the grocery store, and feeling like there is rarely a time I measure up.

http://solacearts.com

There is a well known quote by Theodore Roosevelt…”Comparison is the thief of joy.” It pops up in my life in different places. It’s a great quote, and I do think it’s true. But thinking a little deeper, I think comparison steals more from us than only joy (which is a travesty all by itself).

What are the other things you lose when you compare?

Confidence. You can be doing the best that you can with what you’ve got for that day (here, here all ye moms on 2 hours of sleep), and valiantly so, but when you come up against that comparison thing, you lose all steam and crumble in defeat and self-pity, starting to believe that you cannot do what you were clearly already doing. Awesomely serving your family.

Courage. It takes a lot of guts to tackle parenthood. Or workplaces. Or dreams. And if you waste a minute comparing your journey to someone else’s to your own detriment, your courage slinks away and it can be hard to get it back.

Opportunities. Seriously. When you’re looking through the ‘noculars’ (as my kids call them), at your neighbors yard, all these opportunities can be whizzing by your face and you can’t see them. Opportunities to grow, to serve someone else, to do important, meaningful, or fulfilling things. And the problem is, you won’t even know what you’ve missed most of the time.

Friendships. Be honest, how many times have you seen someone who looks happy and amazing, and you think to yourself, “She’s way too cool. She would never want to be my friend.” Yeah, I’ve thought that. And I still feel that way sometimes. But I’ve learned that sometimes (or most times) there’s so much more to a person than what you see on the outside, whether they are happy and outgoing or more melancholy and shy. And some of my dearest and most meaningful friendships are with women who I may have missed if I was trying to match us up side-by-side, looking for commonalities and comparing what little I actually knew about them.

I’m sure there are more things we lose out on when we compare. But maybe these few will get you thinking about how to approach those comparing thoughts a little differently. Instead of comparing, try connecting. Reach out and make an unexpected friend. Instead of feeling ashamed about your not-togetherness, laugh about it, and know that every mom out there has not-together moments. Lots of them. Instead of wishing you had things that you don’t, take steps toward doing things that bring you joy and bring joy to others. And when you look in the mirror, hear God say to you, “You are beautiful just the way you are.”

 

Creativity / Life & Faith / Thoughts

The Stories We Do

I’ve been away from the blog for a few days. My mind is active with new ideas and new vision for the coming months as it relates to my creative work, most specifically photography, but also sewing, writing, and kid projects. I go through cycles of creativity…spending weeks or months doing a little here and there and then a burst of energy and inspiration hits and I’m lost in a sea of thoughts and daydreams and lists and a totally insatiable desire to roll out a new creative piece in whatever form I’m working on at the moment. Unfortunately that means my whole home routine falls to the wayside and I find myself at three in the afternoon wondering where the day went, up to my ears in dishes and the messes that spring up around the house when the kids more-or-less entertain themselves while I’m deep in thought for hours on end. I’m not totally proud of the fact that they don’t have my full attention on these daydreaming days, but the truth is, I think it’s actually as good for them as it is for me. There is less bickering (because they know I’m just going to tell them to work it out) and they really are content to imagine and play together without needing me to pull out one activity after another to entertain them.

purple-0001

I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell with our lives and creative work. I don’t just mean in the art we create (although that is a big part of what I’m thinking about for myself), not just the words that we use to tell stories, but all the things that are created through our action or inaction. How we create meals to nourish and fill, curate home spaces for growing and learning, how we build relationships by taking risks to step out of our comfort zones and into someone else’s world…to see from new perspectives. How we make a life with a spouse and how the decisions we make together mold and shape our river’s path to the ocean. How we speak loud without words what we really value by what we do and don’t do with our time, talents, and resources.

The story I’ve been telling for so many years is changing. I feel like the words of amazing grace are hitting in a deeper place than ever before. I once was blind but now I see. So many things. I was rejected. Low. Lost. Hurt. Broken. I cried out for anyone to notice me and tell me I was important. Loved. Spent all my energy trying to meet expectations (my own or others’) that never led to satisfying fulfillment or gold stars, but mostly led to disappointment after disappointment and the need to dig deeper and do more to fill the hole. Doing more isn’t the answer. Doing better isn’t the answer either. I see, possibly for the first time in the clearest way, that God’s story expressed inside my story is one of freedom, peace, and complete surrender to what He has for me…which is admittedly easy to say and much harder to do.

Instead my story is becoming one of low, found, restored, healed, and eyes fixed of Jesus. Notice the low part stays the same. I think low is something we really need to pay attention to. Emptying ourselves out, laying ourselves low at His feet so we can hear what He speaks and receive what He gives…both of which are often missed if we are not in the right position before Him, both of which can be easily misunderstood if we don’t understand His upside-down ways. I’m learning God’s expectations and desires for me are more simple (not easy) and clear than I make them.

I’ve learned that it’s not enough to speak a story out loud for it the story to change you. You have to live the story, to do the story, for the whole point of the story to be made real. What this means for me is that I have to live the faith I talk about having. As I daily surrender and listen for His voice and do what He says, I am made more like Him. Pouring out myself like He poured out Himself, all because of love.

Thoughts

Setting Up the Pins

Total love affair with the music of Sara Groves. Well, one album at least. I haven’t stopped listening to Fireflies and Songs long enough to listen to any other albums of hers. Every song is great and speaks volumes to me. Most for deeper-heart reasons, but this one is just simple goodness. It helps me remember that it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing…there are treasures to be found, riches to be mined, and a sweet blessings that come when I just do what is in front of me with diligence and joy. For me, the pins are the staple household chores…laundry, dishes, sweeping, and setting order to the house. They never have been my favorite tasks, but just hopping to ’em seems to set everything else in the right place for the day, and really, when I’m not dragging my feet and finding every other thing I could be doing, they get done faster than I think they will. Anyway, I highly recommend this album. And now I’m off to do the morning dishes!

saragroves

Setting Up the Pins

man in a silk tie heads downtown
setting up the pins for knocking em down
people in cars all rushing around
setting up the pins

let’s get rich find a way around
setting up the pins for knocking em down
we’ll get gadget with a whirring sound 
for setting up the pins

everyone everywhere some way some how
are setting up the pins for knocking em down

you can find joy in the fertile ground
setting up the pins and knocking em down
you can try to fight it till you’re anger drowned
setting up the pins

everyone everywhere some way some how
are setting up the pins for knocking em down
it can feel simple but it’s really profound
setting up the pins

rent a tent, build a stage, throw a party, get a gown
buy a ticket, rent a car, pack a bag and leave town,
cook a dinner, clean the kitchen hit the light
brush your teeth, read a book, say a prayer good-night

everyone everywhere some way some how
are setting up the pins for knocking em down
it can feel simple but it’s really profound…

my grandmother had a working song
hummed it low all day long
sing for the beauty that’s to be found
in setting up the pins and knocking em down

Life & Faith / Thoughts

When Things Become Clear

I don’t know if you can relate to the feeling of being ‘in a fog’, but I have to say, I’ve been there for a lot of years of my life. In most recent years, I have been in the ‘mommy fog’ of the early years with my kids where the combination of disrupted sleep, compromised brain cells (I have to be real–the tack-sharp memory disappeared with the first pregnancy, and I have yet to see it return), and the sheer volume of tasks to be done in a day make it hard to start and finish one task, or even one thought without a really concerted effort. For example, I sat down 2 hours ago to begin this post and promptly got distracted with approximately 100 other things…and my children are even sound asleep in their beds and are unable to distract me.

http://solacearts.com

The fog is a familiar place for many, I hear. Bumbling through life with some sense of direction (or maybe not), but also with a lot of questions and uncertainties, wondering if we’re making the right choices or doing the right things. Obviously some choices are clearly right or wrong from the outset. But a lot of choices are more ambiguous….like the question ‘which one do you like better?’ Is there really a wrong answer to that?

As I mentioned, for the past few years I have lived in the mommy fog. Changing, feeding, bathing, rocking, nursing, cleaning, driving, cooking. Many days all a blur and spent on auto-pilot, just doing what I had to in order to make it to the end of the day. I found my own ways to ‘escape the madness’ for a few blessed moments via my hidden sugar stash, afternoon movie time, mandatory naps for all (which can no longer happen without dire late-night consequences), time on facebook or editing photos. Normal stuff. And while I don’t think any of those ‘escapes’ are bad in and of themselves, I did start to notice an increasingly ugly attitude in my heart toward my kids was something more like, “Can we just skip past this hard part where you need so much of my attention and energy and get to the easy part when I won’t have to physically do so much for you so I can do the other things I want to do?” Just honest.

http://solacearts.com

And then I bumped into a few reality checks. Time is short. The future is uncertain. Today is what I have.

I feel the weight of the gift of this moment. This home. These children. And each day I have the choice to escape to my own world or press in to theirs…to do the same tasks I was already doing, only with a new perspective, a new joy, and in the process, discover a lot of things I was missing in the fog. I have discovered a clarity and a deep sense of purpose as I have become the homemaker I never wanted to be, or at least, never set out to be. And truthfully, as I have invested more of myself in the mundane tasks of mothering, seeing them less as necessary tasks and more as a willing investment in the health and wholeness of my family, I have noticed that each of my children, my husband, and even myself have a sharpened sense of direction moving forward, deep inner peace, and a lightness to our days. Lots of days are still hard…but not nearly as hard as when I had no idea why in the world I was put here at this place, with these responisbilities. Somehow, understanding that tilling the soil, planting the seeds, and watering the ground makes it possible for God to bless and grow something truly beautiful in your field, it makes the hard work worthwhile.