When Blessings Become Focus-Central

If you’ve spent any time around me, AT ALL, you know I’m a planner.

When I say that…it’s more than a word. I remember being so excited for syllabus week during each college semester. I’d come home with my new semester plans for each class, hand write them in my big giant planner and schedule library time to start serious research sessions for each paper (I was a writing major) that was due over the following weeks. At home? I can’t do clutter…my mind can’t keep up. I spend a solid chunk of every day making sure there are no piles of “stuff,” that the crumbs are off the floor – there are a LOT of crumbs! ha – and that family events, from meals to events and vacations are organized and written in the calendar. Planning is an integral piece of who I am, organization and order often rank top and center.

In recent years, especially since kids, this has started to change. I think our God has a sense of humor, and that it manifests in the fact that I have four kids fairly close in age. Sometimes, chaos reigns supreme and we’re forced to just go with the flow. I’ve learned to accept it, even seeing it as a welcome break from my standard plan-controlled life.

But in other areas, I’m not so easy going.

Over the past year, Johns and my professional lives have been busy, to say the least. From his international travels, crazy work hours and pursuit of an MBA, it’s been interesting, to say the least. But then, things started changing for me as well. A regular opportunity became more of a full time opportunity. I’ve begun work on my own book. I’m taking part in another writing project that I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of. I have a little passion project that I get to be a part of.

Through all of it, I’ve tried to keep part of my focus on anticipating my kids’ needs, spending one-on-one time with them, building it up and ensuring they get to chase the dreams that they’re starting to develop on their own – which is amazing to watch, by the way!

When life feels “crazy,” it’s easy for me to snap. I think a lot of you can probably relate. While it’s my goal to stay level headed and to keep a sense of order in our home, when I feel like things are “out of control,” I start to spin. I become short tempered. I feel like the water is moving in and it’s a downward spiral from there.

I think, though, that through this season in life, that there’s a specific lesson that I’m supposed to be learning. Once I caught wind of it, things started to change in big ways.

It’s no secret that ever since our move to NC, and the following move back to PA, complete with added children and many unknowns, God has been working in our lives. He’s been working on opening our eyes and making sure that we are open to following his plan…even if it feels “crazy” on this end.

See…these opportunities that I’ve been presented with, they all center on something I LOVE to do, something God has blessed me with: writing…creating. Even better, these opportunities are with good people, people I truly love spending time with, learning from, creating with and growing with. I find that instead of feeling bogged down or tired after a trip for work or a day filled with more work hours than planning, I feel invigorated, I feel proud and I feel ready to keep pushing through.

Maybe this is standard for some of you. But, for me, as a planner who likes anticipating what’s around the corner and maintaining a sense of “peace,” this is new to me.

I think for me, it has a lot to do with this ongoing initiative to look for and appreciate blessings. I think we, as a culture, are trained from a young age to find stress in what surrounds us. We inherently look for and focus on the negative, not because we’re negative people, but because that’s what we are trained to do. After busy workdays on television shows, most of the characters meet at a bar, or pop open a beer with the need to put there feet up and unwind themselves from a day that has wound them tighter than they think they should go.

Are there days, situations and ongoing life events, losses, illnesses and dire situations that warrant this kind of unwinding? Absolutely; I want to be clear that I’m in NO way undercutting this. I don’t think, however, that that’s supposed to be our norm, or that those are the situations that tend to consume most of our thoughts. I don’t think we’re supposed to live in that space.

I think that, when we can focus on what and who we’re designed to be, and the gifts, abilities and other positives that stem from that, and when we purposefully remain open to whatever lies ahead and thankful for all of it, that those “stresses” can instead be re-framed as blessings, things to be grateful for.

I don’t know what that looks like for you. For me, it means that when the whirlwind inside seems to start picking up speed, I stop, I shut my eyes and I  remind myself that I’m surrounded by things I’m passionate about: my family, work that I get to love, beauty outside, the ability to remain active and more. I also remind myself that it’s okay to break the bigger picture down into smaller chunks, and to work slowly toward end goals, that I don’t need to have it all wrapped up tomorrow.

This life is a journey. One filled with highs, lows and lots of in-betweens. But, I think that when we focus on the stress, on the harder parts, that they become our focus. I think we’re made for more than that.

 

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Embracing a Not-So-New Decade

For those who don’t know me well…I have something to share. Probably something many others can relate to.

I fought turning 30, and leaving my 20’s behind like nothing else.

Maybe it has something to do with wanting to hang on to the sense of freedom I thought I felt during that glorious decade that included college, starting a new life and having fun. Maybe it’s something else. But, regardless of what it is…I’ve been celebrating the “anniversary” of my 29th birthday for longer than I’d like to admit.

But the other day, after talking with a friend and just putting some thought into where life is right now, I realized something: the 30’s…they’re great!

It all started when I decided that I’d rather be comfortable in what I was wearing than worry about whether something was on trend. I opted for bright patterned leggings with a knotted t-shirt dress and sweater. To top it off? i decided to keep slippers on in the house for the day. Don’t worry…I’m not eliminating all other clothing for yoga pants; but, if I wanted to…why not?

I then put a little more thought and contemplation into it…and realized something really great: for the first time in my life, I’m starting to be able to think about my own passions, what I enjoy and what I want to put my time into…instead of focusing on everyone around me and worrying about how every step I made would be perceived by those around me.

Things I’ve realized:

  • Yes. I love the beach. The ocean will forever call me. But…I enjoy a quiet mountain escape in a cottage with no internet connection just as much.
  • It’s okay to wander.
  • I can read 3000000 historical fiction novels and fall behind on current news topics; it’s okay!
  • I don’t care about whether my yoga poses are Instagram worthy; I enjoy the practice for myself.
  • If my kids show up at school in sweatpants, that’s okay. Certain things just aren’t worth the battle.
  • I can enjoy what I do for a living without worrying about the rat race out there. There’s something to be said about that.
  • I don’t have to feel guilty about needing a little time to myself. It’s not selfish, it’s restorative.
  • My Christmas tree is still up and we’re nearing mid-January. I think it’s a time to continue the celebration, not pack it away…I’m not on anyone else’s deadline.
  • I’d rather spend money on travel and experiences than “stuff,” and want to share that passion with my family. Memories are more important than ever.

Most importantly, perhaps…I’ve realized that it’s okay to just live. To follow what I believe, to pursue things as they come and to slow down, breathe and take it all in.

A few years ago, as I sobbed over leaving my 20th decade, I wish I could have felt this feeling. It feels like me…and it’s wonderful.

If you’re nearing a big change, a new decade, a new pace of life…don’t fight it. You might just love what’s around the corner!

Grace that Falls Like Rain: Starting Year Ten

When people ask how John and I met, when we started dating, or more about our “story,” they’re often shocked. We’ve known each other forever. We started dating in high school. John proposed while he was still 19. We got married in college. Started our family right away.

We get mixed reactions, ranging from “aww” to very uncertain “wow’s!” The truth is…the way we did things doesn’t necessarily reflect today’s normal. And for us…that’s okay. We’ve struggled and we’ve celebrated. We’ve grown up together and have learned how to face this life together.

Today, as we celebrate nine years married, and get started on living year ten, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.

For our wedding celebration, way back when, we had a slideshow made to the song “A Page is Turned,” by Bebo Norman. It’s a sweet song, perfect for a wedding slideshow…which is why we picked it. But, today, one of the verses of that song means so very much more to us; in fact, it brings us to tears whenever we hear it:

“A page is turned in this life, he’s making her his wife,
And there is no secret to the source of this much life.
When the grace that falls like rain, is washing them again,
Just a chance to somehow, rise above this land.

Where the God of second chance
Will pick them up and He’ll let them dance
Through a world that is not kind
And all this time, they’re sharing with the one
That holds them up when they come undone
Beneath the storm, beneath the sun
And once again, here you stand
And once again, here you stand
Your day has come”

We thought back then that we knew what this song meant. That we were made for each other. We were THRILLED to jump into everything married life had to offer and we did just that.

But then…like many married couples, real life hit. We experienced lay-offs. Health concerns. Complicated pregnancies. Long commutes. The loss of loved ones. Cross country moves. Life got real. It got hard.

But, there was also a lot of joy. In our nine years, we’ve gotten to welcome four amazing new lives into this world…lives that we created together. We’ve traveled and seen many parts of this crazy world. We’ve made lifelong friends with whom we’ve celebrated great victories and mourned absolutely heartbreaking losses. We’ve watched pieces of complicated puzzles come together in ways that were better than we could have ever dreamed.

Most importantly, we learned to trust. We learned how true the words of the song above really are. We learned to follow and to embrace grace that truly falls like rain.

In our early stages, we were both Christian. We believed in our savior and used our mouths to claim we were ready to follow his leading for our lives. But, our understanding, our beliefs, were shallow. They failed to reach what mattered most…our hearts.

But somewhere along the line – I think mostly because of the hard parts – we learned to follow. We gave up control and learned about what faith and reliance really are. Most importantly, we found out that our efforts, desires and plans would fall short every time if they were not inspired and directed by our Savior.

To some, this probably sounds hard to swallow. Who wants to learn through hardship? But, I don’t want to focus too much on that. You see…when we learned to rely upon God’s plan for our lives…the struggle and the conflict that we faced so often early on actually lessened. We found a joy greater than anything we could have worked for, accomplished or achieved on our own. We felt the power of saving grace and are still brought to tears when we think about what that has meant to us, on a personal level.

We are grateful. We are changed.

As we look forward to the next year and beyond, there’s a sense of lightness that comes with just following and looking forward to the surprises that might be in store, instead of dwelling on what we “need” to accomplish, work for or push toward.

It might be hard. It might be easy. It will probably be both. But no matter what, I’m grateful for the foundation we have that’s so much more than we could have imagined; and I can’t wait to face it with the one that was created for me.

Happy nine years, John!