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!

Using True Gifts

Christmas is a magical time. Enjoying the peace and promises of the season, time with loved ones and reflection is truly amazing, isn’t it?

As the season begins to wind down and we start to look ahead to the new year, I’ve been focusing on taking it all in and making the most of this season.

If your house looks like mine, it’s probably a little fuller than normal. Between Santa, grandparents, friends and other exciting events, we have toys, clothes and other gifts scattered everywhere. In a way, it’s fun. I love watching my kids remember a present, break into it, have a blast, then move onto another. The process keeps repeating itself. They’re having fun and spending a little less time in front of the television (unfortunately…no less time arguing 😉 ).

I’ve been thinking about how it all applies to my life. How can we make the spirit of Advent last a little longer? I think it does start with gifts…but not the gifts found under the tree.

I don’t know if any of you watch Nashville. I’m a guilty watcher. I’ve always been drawn to music and certain songs have always stood out to me. One of them is from the show’s soundtrack…it’s called “It Aint Yours to Give Away.” Maybe you’ve heard it…maybe you haven’t.

The following are a part of the lyrics to the song:

What if you’re just a vessel
And God gave you something special
It ain’t yours to throw away
It ain’t yours to throw away

As I drank a cup of coffee the other day, watching the tree and bundling up against the freezing temperatures outside, this song came to mind.

We may not all be gifted with money, extraordinary musical abilities like the actress in this show or anything that feels super exciting, but, we’re all gifted just the same. None of us is alike, none of us has the exact passions or drives as others.

It became a convicting thought for me. One of the gifts that I’ve often taken for granted as something I just enjoy, is writing. I’ve loved putting my thoughts to paper forever; in fact, it’s often the easiest way for me to communicate or make a point. Ask me to speak in front of 100 people and the results may be less than applaud-worthy. Ask me to sing, dance or perform an amazing task, I’ll fall short (though I’d have fun trying). Numbers? Science? Forget it. Writing, however, is my happy place.

As such, as the year gets underway, I’ve decided to create an Advent devotional for next year. I get to keep the season going while using something that I feel I was given as a gift. Maybe it’ll just be a fun project, but, maybe it will be more. Right now, I’m following in what I feel led to pursue.

More than just me; I believe we’re all provided with little gifts. Maybe you know sure as day what yours is. Maybe you’re less certain. But, I’d encourage you to think about what you enjoy, where you find your heart and your head when you’re not focused on everyday tasks, what you long for, to acknowledge it as a gift and to pray about how God is leading you to pursue it as this advent season comes to a close. Let’s keep the season going, even when the world says it’s time to move on!

Putting Down Roots

(Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/jwhitmanphotography/)

Our family has been blessed by adventure over the past few years. Many of you have followed our journey. But, as quick snapshot…

John and I got married in college. Living between John’s roommates and my still great friend/roommate was an adventure of it’s own (ha!). But, from there, we came home and started exploring next steps. We found an apartment in Hershey…but it was short lived.

The opportunity to purchase a home presented itself! We bought our first home, knowing it wasn’t our forever home. But, we poured our time into it, made it our own and loved it! As we started exploring what was next, we were given the opportunity to move to Asheville, NC. Our house sold quickly and we moved in with my parents over the holidays (with two children in tow) until we left Pennsylvania and headed south!

We knew Asheville wouldn’t be our forever home, but we thought it would be home for longer than it was. We developed amazing friendships, traveled back to PA for as many holidays as we could, doubled our family and tried to enjoy one day at a time.

Almost two years in, the calls we’d waited on came and we learned we’d head back to PA. So we did. We lived in a hotel for three months (this time with four kids and a dog in tow) and waited until our home in NC sold, to move into our new home in PA.

Now…here we are.

It feels strange in some ways. There’s nothing “new” right beyond the horizon. We have no more plans for children (though we are hoping to begin a foster journey in the near future). Our kids have started a school that we see them in for the long term.

We’ve begun to talk about our house as though it might be where we actually stay. We talk about projects, we invested in landscaping, and we talk about what we might want to do (gasp) a few years in the future.

We’ve settled into a church that is starting to feel “home.” Our kids are developing friendships and we’re meeting their families. We are making a targeted effort to get to know our neighbors (which is a little different in the Northeast!).

We are planning for our first holiday season in our own home in five years…no travel required!

This weekend, we took another big step – at least it was for me. I started to literally put down roots. I planted bulbs, laid grass seed, and purchased bushes and trees that have started to go into the ground.

Given our past 9 years, it feels strange to think ahead a few years – let alone to spring – as though we may still be in the same place without any life-changing moves or changes in store. It feels hopeful.

Yet…we remain open. I never want my “roots” to prevent us from following where we are lead. We feel strongly that this life is not meant to be a product of our plans…but instead, that we are supposed to be part of a bigger plan…our lives are not our own.

Even so…roots feel strangely comforting for this stage in life! For that, I will be grateful. One moment at a time! Here’s to the journey!

When Thoughts are Jumbled and Words Aren’t Enough

 

 

I woke up this morning thinking about how the day was going to go, getting my ducks in a row and thinking about the to-do list I keep in my head.

Then I opened the news (something I do every morning), and was stunned. Last night, while many of us slept, tragedy unfolded on the west coast. I’m sure you’ve seen the details, and I’m sure you sat in shock as you read or watched first hand accounts from those who’s lives were interrupted by complete and utter chaos and terror.

My hearts go out to those who saw the unimaginable, those who lost loved ones and those who must begin the long journey to recovery. Like most of us, I just can’t wrap my head around this and other acts that seem to dominate the news cycle in recent years.

This year we’ve seen tragedy at home and abroad, we’ve watched natural disasters unfold in real time, we’ve searched for ways to reach out, to connect with those we’ve lost touch with and to provide tangible assistance where it’s needed most.

I’d encourage everyone to continue in these efforts. Small acts of kindness, prayers, “reaching out,”…they all make a difference.

We won’t have answers, we won’t be able to understand the “why,” and that’s hard, especially when we value control. But, if you’re looking for something extra, something to hold on to as you start your day, as you try to find ways to help and as you think about the world your kids are venturing into, I wanted to share scripture that I am holding onto, that I found during devotions this morning.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 1 John 14:27.

As I read this, I realized it really is the whole picture. It’s easy to resort to fear, maybe to anger, when it feels hard to find something to ground ourselves to. But, we’re called to find peace, peace that can only come from one place. We aren’t to live lives of fear.

I think all of us could use a little of this, especially on days like today, how about you? Look for ways to be a light, to reach those who need it most, and move forward in real peace that’s promised. This world? It will be filled with trouble, with tragedy and with hurt – we see it every day, but peace is promised.

Praying for those in Las Vegas. Praying for peace.

The Place You Chose for Me…

I love when I can share a little bit about what’s going on in our lives. Sometimes, that level of honesty is terrifying. But, lately, I’ve heard from a lot of you that you can relate. So, I’m going to keep the trend moving.

Moving from NC to PA has been a challenge, but not the challenge that we expected.

See…we never expected Asheville to feel like home. We didn’t expect the longing we’d feel every day for that amazing little haven that we had in the mountains. We didn’t expect to miss the life we built and the independence that was a part of it.

All we saw was the small picture, the homecoming to PA.

And a homecoming it has certainly been. But, again, not the way we thought it’d be. You see, we changed in Asheville; we grew together and (literally) grew our family. We changed the way we looked at the world and at this life.

Here’s the thing; our friends and family back in PA grew too. Whether it was having more kids, changing life views or other – really exciting – things, it’s not quite the place we left. And that’s a GOOD thing. But, it’s a hard thing when you’re trying to make the pieces fit together.

Throughout it all, a song that has meant a lot to us is by Sidewalk Prophets, called “To Live is Christ.”

Here are a few of the lyrics:

If I rise, let me rise on you
Not on all of my successes, my esteem or my pursuits
If I lose, let me lose my life
Cause if I belong to Jesus, the flesh is crucified

If I grow, let me grow in You
Wilt the seeds of wanting more
Rippin’ pride out by the roots
And if I’m still, let me hear You speak
Not the tone of my transgressions,
But the song of the Redeemed

My great desire is to be with You
But this is the place you chose for me
This is the place you chose for me
To lift my cross and give everything
This is the time you gave to me
This is the time you gave to me

Lots of lines from the song stand out to me. But, the one that really hits home is that this is the place he chose for me. This is the time he gave to me.

Think about it. There have been thousands of years of human history. Thousands of time periods to live in. A million places to live…and we are here. In fact, our decision to return was bathed in COUNTLESS hours of prayer. We know that this is where God sent us, just like we knew Asheville was where he sent us back in 2014. These decisions weren’t made lightly or on our own accord, they were grounded in prayer and a whole lot of time in scripture and deep discussion.

So…what do we do with it? Where do we go when our expectations or comfort levels don’t quite match what we thought they’d be?

For me, the answer to that question lies in looking up. In reminding myself that this world? It’s temporary. I have this place, I have this time and I have the blessings that God has poured out on me to make the most of them.

If I sit around questioning everything, or longing for a place that I wasn’t meant to be in forever, I’m wasting the “right now” and the “right here.” I’m throwing away the potential for a lot of great things. A little perspective change goes a long way.

We were blessed to get to travel back to Asheville for the first time since October, last week. It was amazing and that place will always have a little bit of my heart. But, instead of longing for it so greatly that I miss what could happen here, I’m going to keep it tucked in that little place, saving it for when I get to go back. How lucky are we to get to call lots of places home?

Where are you at today? Are you longing for something that “was” or something that “could be” and overlooking the now? Let’s do this life together, and let’s do it well!