Saturday, September 20, 2014

How to Change Frustration to Thankfulness


Let’s play a game. What do a rock, a magnetic letter “R”, and a fruit snack wrapper have in common?

Can you guess their commonality?

Aww, it may be a trick question since their connecting point is simply that they have all been found in my purse.

Yep, you got it. A rock, an R, and a wrapper lived in my purse for a time.   

Sometimes when I notice such things, I get a ‘burst of love’ and I delight in the children that put them there. But, unfortunately, there are the many other times that I just get frustrated. Often, I sigh, “Why is this in here? Who put a rock in my purse? Why do they think my purse is a garbage can?”

On those days, all I can see is work, inconvenience, and thoughtlessness. Rocks need to go outside. Toys need to be put away. Wrappers need to go in the garbage can. Why am I the only one who cares about such things?

When I first became a mom, it was easier for me to be thankful because there was a time when I thought that I couldn’t have children. Sadly as the years sail on by, I easily forget these words that I penned long ago:

“There are so many hopes and dreams tied up into having a baby that I never fully realized were there. Until now. When we are really trying.  And it’s not happening. I can’t believe how much it is a daily ache within me. Yet, I am still hopeful and know that it’s the Lord who opens and closes the womb. And He can choose to do that for us.”

 Eventually, God granted our hope and dream of children.

About nine months after my firstborn son arrived, I said, “The hardest of days with my child are better than the best of days when the longing was so great.”

I wish I could hang onto those feelings of overwhelming gratitude.

But, to be honest the day-to-day grind takes its toll. I often do not stop to ponder and delight in my children. Nor am I thankful for all things at all times.

However, I recently discovered how to change my frustrated thinking into thankfulness. Angela Thomas, in her book Tender Mercy for the Mother’s Soul, says:

The blessings of motherhood have been honored through the ages. Somewhere inside of us, God has told us that this assignment and these relationships surpass any calling on earth. Somewhere in your soul, you know that to hold your own baby and kiss the back of his neck is a holy privilege. The blessings of motherhood are the kinds of things that take our breath away—the moments you hold in your heart forever.
            One day someone asked me, “What are the three hardest things about having four small children?”
            I quickly responded, “No sleep, the never-all-folded laundry and talking to little people all day.”
            Then he asked, “What are three of the best things?”
            I immediately realized that the blessings came attached to the frustrations. “The best things are having my three-year-old crawl into the middle of our bed around 2 a.m. and hold my hand the rest of the night … clean-footed pajamas on freshly bathed toddlers, scooting around the house until bedtime…and the tender words that come from the pure heart of a child.”

 ‘Blessings come attached to the frustrations.’ To learn how to see the blessing that is tied to the frustrations of life is the key to learn how to give thanks for all things at all times.

So, here, I’ll go first.

What can I be thankful for with this rock? Well, when I ask my children who made the rocks, they gladly shout, “God did.” I am thankful for their tender hearts that so easily claim the truths of Jesus.

What about the letter “R”? When I think of this letter R, I can see my two-year-old handing it to me and saying, “Here go, Mommy.” It is a gift from the hand of a two-year-old just because she loves me.

What about the fruit snack wrapper? I can remember the delighted whoops in the grocery store when I finally said “yes” to one of their repeated demands of ‘Mommy can I have this?” Truly, it takes so little to please them.

I am deeply thankful to have children. Therefore, I am glad that I have a rock, a letter R, and a fruit snack wrapper in my purse. They are reminders that God has fulfilled a deep longing in my heart.

And so you just might find a rock in my purse and wonder why it’s there.

Well, I left it there to remind me to be thankful for the frustrations in life because they are really just reminders of how God has fulfilled a deep longing of my heart.

How about you? 
Can you think of the blessing that is tied to a frustration in your life? 
Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Endurance takes a long time to learn



You would think that as a distance runner I would have understood better the need for time in building endurance. I have run a full 26.2 marathon and will soon run my fourth half-marthon.

I know that endurance is not gained quickly. My daughter and I started training months ago in preparation for our event. Slowly but surely we have increased our runs from two miles to twelve miles. Even though I ran this same half-marathon event a year ago. I must still keep training or I will not be able to do it.

So why did I expect anything different in my spiritual life? Quick endurance does not exist. So, why am I surprised to still need the spiritual pluck to keep moving on in this season of non-crisis?

James 1:2-4 says, " Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

When we had bonus children come and stay with us for 9 weeks back in the spring of 2012, I recited these verses as often as I could in the few isolated moments that I could find. I focused on considering it pure joy by saying the phrase over and over. "Consider it pure joy...."

A few months later, after the kids returned to their families, my father-in-law went into the hospital and stayed for almost 5 months. My husband and I lived close so we were part of the hands-on care. While it was a privelege to serve family, care-taking is exhausting.

During this season, I began to recite James 1:2-4 again. This time the focus was on the perservance. 

It has been two years since I first clung to these verses and, honestly, I am tired of clinging. I would like the lesson to be learned so that I can check it off my list. Perhaps even sing of the joy of the lesson learned. Instead, I am still here putting one step in front of the other, wishing that the feelings of joy came more often.

And today, just a few moments ago, I realized that endurance is not quickly learned. 

"Stop being surprised, Kathleen, that endurance takes time!" I almost laughed out loud at this revelation.  I need to keep on, keeping on in my considerations of joy.

I need to consider even these days of non-crisis but full of chaotic life-that-I-can-hardly-keep-up-with-three-teenagers all joy.

If one can only learn to run for hours by running for hours, it should come as no surprise that endurance in the spiritual life can only come through enduring trials for a long time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

When good enough IS special

Why is it that when I am asked to bring a dish to share that I want to try something new? Something fancy? Something 'company worthy'? I definitely want to bring something more special than my everyday offerings. This is for company after all.

This realization of my compulsion came one night as several couples were meeting at a home with each of us bringing something for dinner: either the main dish, the salad or the dessert. As I walked in with my side dish, I was interrogated about whether or not this was a new dish or a tried-and-true dish.

It was new. Never before been tried.

Just like the other women. We each brought a new offering. Not our tried-and-true everyday offering.

I dismissed the gentleman who had asked me as he shook his head. He said the men always prepare what they know will get rave reviews -- not something new.  Not something untried.

I dismissed him. I understood the women. There are always new recipes that I want to try and use these sorts of occasions to try them out. Otherwise I just don't have the time to try something new.

This question about new versus known stuck in my brain. The years raced by and we got  a spontaneous Superbowl  party invitation with just one other family. I have even less time than I did years ago to prepare new and special. I am craving chocolate. I don't even have to bring anything to this event.

But I'm craving chocolate so I quickly whip up my home-made blonde brownies. It's quick. It's cheap. It's chocolate. And if I share with others I won't eat too many.

I bring them. This is no big deal. This is my everyday offerings to my family, who get bored with them because I make them so often.

The family raved about these brownies. Well, I should say the dad of the other family raved about the brownies and ate and ate and ate them. I wondered if anyone else was going to be able to get any. I surely grabbed one or two because I made them for my chocolate craving after all.

Honestly, I had no idea they would be raved about. I didn't think they were that good. They are just what I make on ordinary days and serve to my ordinary, lovely family, who sometimes wishes I would make new things.

The incident, though, got me to thinking about that dinner at that couple's house years ago with that man shaking his head. "Why not bring your tried-and-true recipe that you know everyone will rave about?"

Again, I thought of that couple's dinner and realized that I didn't offer my everyday items precisely because I thought that they were ordinary. I don't want to offer ordinary. I want to offer special. Spectacular. Especially to company.

But, here was the great surprise. My day-in and day-out offering to my family was special. It IS special. I am offering special things all the time. 

Sometimes it just takes offering them to company to notice.


 * * *
 Home made Blonde Brownies
from my mother's kitchen, tweaked by how I make them

2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsps vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and mix with brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar, butter, and vanilla mixture. When completely mixed but not overly, pour into 13x9 pan and spread out. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One sign that time has been well-spent

When time is well spent, it breaks your heart to say goodbye. Even though you know it will only be for a little while and that you'll not always be  apart, it can still rip your heart in two.

When time is well spent, miles and years can never really separate what has been deeply intertwined in your heart. Because being together has changed who you are. Not because they changed you but because they gave you the courage to be who you really are. To be vulnerable. You were you. And they were they. And you loved each other. Kindred spirits.


And now it is time to say goodbye. For awhile.

I think sometimes the 'for awhile part' makes people think that the goodbye doesn't hurt as much. But that is not true. The only time goodbye doesn't hurt is when it was time NOT well-spent.

There was a vivid time in my life when goodbye didn't hurt. I was glad to be leaving. I look back on that very difficult year of my life and there is not much redeemable from that time, certainly no relationship or connection from that time.

God profoundly used that time in my life in other ways. But at the end of that school year, goodbye didn't hurt. It was a relief.

It was one of the few times in my life when goodbye didn't hurt. Maybe the only time.

So now I know that I don't really want to feel only relief and gladness to be getting away. Even though I don't want to be feeling this. This heart-wrenching good-bye. Even though I don't want to say goodbye right now, even though I don't want to hurt this way.....it is good.

It is good. Time has been well-spent.

I have been given an amazing gift. As a friend reminded me last night, sometimes we don't know how much the Lord has given until He takes it away.

I knew they were special. I knew that I loved them. But I don't know if I knew what a great, grand gift I had been given in their special friendship throughout the years.

We have stories of rattlesnakes, flat tires, wet camping trips, and shivering trips tubing down a  river. We've been at each others weddings and graduations and baby births. We've held each others hands as we've said goodbye to a mom and a dad. We talked and laughed and camped and cried. We've jumped off cliffs. Played cards til the wee hours of the night.  Brewed coffee, run races. Watched chickens and flowers grow. We've spun our lives together for more than twenty years. What a gift.

Soon these kindred spirit friends are moving far away -- four thousand miles far away -- for at least three years. I love their courage, their pluck to live their calling.

I am inspired.

And sad.

My heart is breaking. It feels like it may never recover.

Time has been well-spent. Thank you. Amen.

*  *   *
How about you? Any painful goodbyes recently?

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How less can cultivate gratitude

One sweltering afternoon my oldest son played a baseball game. His five family members cheered him in the stands and melted in the fresh hot of summer. One player even fainted from the heat.

After the game, my husband went to the concession stand and purchased cold ICEE drinks for all four children. Inwardly, I groaned.

I braced myself for the moans and laments that would surely come. I was ready for a snotty toned "Well, it's about time" since it was the first slushy of the season and the season was done.

I expected an immediate return to the attitude of last season. The one where they asked for an ICEE as soon as we drove into the ball park and continued pestering until it was obtained.

My husband and I would delay the purchase as long as possible. We wanted them to wait a few innings because the games were long. Yet, we did want them to have a treat because we felt sorry that they had to watch those long games.

It also seemed fair to buy the watchers a treat since the ball players received one after the game. Thus began our toleration for their pestering demands that in a different situation I don't think we would have tolerated. 

Besides, it was only a dollar. So we bought the cool drinks.

We didn't set out to buy those slushies all season long. But that's what happened.

They nagged. We bought. At Every. Single. Game. We had set up quite a system. We thought we were directing the buying of the ICEE treats.

After awhile, though, something bothered us. But it was just easier to keep walking up and buying the cold  ICEE drinks instead of evaluating the problem. 

We just wanted to watch our oldest son play baseball and keep the others happy. It didn't cross our minds  to evaluate what was annoying us.   Thankfully, during next year's ball season it would work itself out naturally.

But I didn't know that yet.

Instead, I was braced for complaints the day those purchases were made on that hot sweltering day.

The flavors were selected. The sips were taken. And the children came running to their dad, saying, "Oh, thank you Daddy!" They were thrilled and thankful for what they had.

I was surprised! Shocked!

What did they say?

Thank you?!?

For this one ICEE on the very last day that the concession stand was open? It was the only one that they got all season long. Could these be the same children who the season before had complained, whined, and even demanded ICEEs?

How could this be?

****


It didn't begin as a noble effort to reduce whining, complaining, or children driving demands. Instead, we simply stopped buying ICEES due to the budget. They were only a dollar. But we had four children and more than one was playing ball that season.

We saved money. Instead of us buying treats, they spent their own quarters and dimes on ring pops and nerds. It was a bargain. One season we bought an ICEE for every child at every game.

The next season we stopped. Just like that.

Yet, we had done something to cultivate gratitude without knowing it. We gave them less. They became more grateful.

It was eye-opening. It was shocking how much MORE grateful they were with LESS.

Less demand. Less expectation. More gratitude.

And so less really can cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.

When they expected to get a treat, they began to demand to get a treat. And when it became special, they were thankful.

The lesson of an Icee. When we are given less, we expect less. When we expect less, we are thankfully surprised when something is given to us. And we are grateful.

It was an amazing process. It shocked me at the time and taught me a wonderful principle about how
less can cultivate an attitude of gratefulness.

*   *   *
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, 
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." 
Philippians 4: 12

* * *
How about you? When have you been surprised lately? Join us HERE to comment on the blog

You can also join the SDG sisterhood with Jen HERE.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How a song reminded me of the beauty in release

On Saturday, my oldest daughter's choir sang a haunting melody about giving a loved one the freedom to fly away from you and to trust that they will, in the end, come home to you somehow.


It seems that just yesterday I was the eighth grader struggling against the cocoon to become my own person. Now, I am part of the cocoon that my young adults must struggle against to become who they are.

Some days I just want to close my eyes and wake up in the middle of their adult lives and breathe a sigh of "Whew! We made it"

But, before I can even finish that thought I practically hyperventilate at the thought of my children gone from home. How can this be happening already?  Gone from home? Not yet!

As they sang their choir song, a memory came to me.

Once upon a time in college, I was broken-hearted, lonely, and sad. I had friends but our schedules no longer easily overlapped. It was tough to even make them touch occasionally. I was quite lonely. Then, I met a kind boy. He befriended me. He pursued me. His friendship brought healing to my heart.

Over time, I began to flourish. I wasn't needy in the same overt ways.

I had changed but he didn't know what to do.

He began to smother me. He put me in a box. He wanted me to be the person he'd first met: needy and overly dependent. He couldn't let me be the true me because it wasn't the me he'd known. I no longer fit in the box of who he thought I was.

The weight of this box stifled me. I couldn't breathe. Something had to break: the box, the relationship, or me.

I didn't want the relationship to break because I was quite grateful for his friendship that had given my lonely heart hope. But eventually, though, the relationship broke.

That experience created a strong resolve within me to never confine or stifle anyone like that. It is better to let them be who they are even if it means they can't be with me.

The beautiful, haunting melody of Saturday filled my ears and my heart. As the choir sang, I thought of stifling, confining boxes. I thought of how much I hated them.

Then, I thought of emerging butterflies and the beauty of watching them fly.

I need to let my children become the people that they are even if they are not the people I knew before or who I think they are.

This is the way of letting my children unfold before me even though it means they will fly away from me someday soon.

It would be much better to merely watch the beauty of the butterfly flit around me for a few moments on its journey rather than to crush it in my hands because I so desperately want to keep it for myself.

It means there is struggle in the cocoon of home as they discover who they are. There is struggle as I discover my different role as I begin to release them to the world, careful not to crush their emerging wings, careful not to keep them to myself.

Their beauty is to be shared.

A quiet wave of peace settled over me as I thought of my young adults that need to fly from me. I became transformed from either holding my breath or hyper-ventilating to being able to delight in these remaining flitting moments of these butterflies as they practice their nearby soaring before they take off on their own.

And I can trust that they will find their way back to me somehow.

Have you ever had a similar experience either being stifled, or being released to become your beautiful self or been inspired through a beautiful song? Music inspires writing for me, how about you? Click here if you would like to comment in the blog community.
 
Linking with Jen at SDG.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A lesson learned walking in the shadows of post-crisis


Although I've been heard saying 2012 was one of -- if not the -- hardest year of my life, now that I have endured 2013, I change my answer. 2013 was harder. It was a year of living in the gray shadows of the drama of 2012.

In 2012, I felt pulled and tugged in many different directions. The two major events were four bonus kids for nine weeks and Kip's dad being in the hospital for 5 months. During these times, I have never felt more exhausted in my life. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. Responsibility-wise.

Yet during this time, people surrounded us. People noticed us. Hauling eight children around is quite noticeable. Having four children in hospital waiting rooms is also quite noticeable. In addition, the family of God surrounded us with prayers, cards, gifts, and hands-on-support. It was beautiful.

Many memorable moments of deliverance were woven into our lives.

Then in 2013, things quieted down. Quite thankfully! I no longer wrote daily on the Caring Bridge website. I no longer texted desperate pleas for immediate prayer. I had time to sleep. I had time to cry. 

Yet, it felt harder than it had before. 

That was so strange to me.

Was it because I like being center stage? Was it that people prayed more during that time? Was I more spiritual then? Did I have my focus in a better place?

Or perhaps it was something else.

Not that I had sinned. Not that I had fallen from grace. Not that I needed attention.  

Instead I am re-learning to walk by faith after a long season of flying on eagle's wings.

Isaiah 40:31 says, "Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary."

It feels strange. As though I am walking on land after riding on a boat or a roller coaster for a long time. Familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. I have walked on land most of my life. As most of my life has also been non-crisis.

But what is truly different is that I haven't walked in daily life after crisis before.  I am walking in the land of shadows, both in the shadow of the drama of 2012 and in the shadow of the valley of death.

It has felt strange this walking in the strange, gray shadows. He is still sustaining. Still giving grace. Still making me aware of how much I need him.

But now I am learning to walk in this new place. Not a place of grieving from far away, as it was with my brother-in-law's death. But this time a place of grieving from nearby and up-close and personal. And from a responsible human being perspective.

He is still sustaining. But I don't need wings anymore so I'm relearning the walk of faith from here on this side of the strange, gray shadow lands. A needed walk, step-by-step.

Walking in the land of gray shadows. Learning what it means to walk by faith after having been mounted on eagle's wings.

What lessons have you learned walking in the shadows of difficult seasons?
 
Also linking with Jen at SDG. 

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