A Matter of Focus

Yesterday afternoon, I was talking with a friend that I admire for her strong commitment to her family and her ability to set boundaries to keep her focus on what matters most. I was confessing to her that I felt a little overloaded lately. As a people pleaser, boundaries have always been a little tricky for me. I like to help, so I end up helping too much. I like to serve, and sign up for too many things. It eventually catches up with you.

Life has been hurried as of late. New beginnings, new jobs, new roles, new school year. Hurry is not a friend. It brings stress, anxiety, exhaustion. It robs you of peace. There is a huge difference between activity and hurry. Activity is healthy, necessary. Hurry is too much activity and the state of mind it brings. This hurry, undoubtedly, has been brought about by weak boundaries and out of focus priorities. So for the last few weeks, there has been a struggle in my heart. To stop the hurry, sacrifices will need to be made. What good things need to go to make room for the best things? How do I gracefully step away from things I love because this isn’t the right season? How do I invest in myself so all my pouring out of time and energy doesn’t leave me drained?

The Lord put a very vivid picture of my reality in front of my face last night. It was no coincidence. I was hunched over a crib, back aching from being in that position for 45 mins, humming lullabyes to and patting a teething, sleep deprived, separation anxiety-experiencing toddler. I was tired from comforting him and just wanted to lay down. Especially because I knew, if the recent pattern held, he would be up again at 3 am. As I stood there, frustrated and just done, something caught my eye. Because of the way I was leaning, my necklace hung before my eyes. I have been wearing a silver crucifix lately, the one I received on my first communion, nearly 25 years ago. The funny thing was, because of my position, I couldn’t see the charm. My eyes couldn’t focus on Jesus from where I stood. It was like God was saying to me, “You need to make a change in position to properly focus on Me.”

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A few minutes later when those little eyes finally closed and I was back in bed, I started to really think about what it will look like to change my position and find my focus. Here are a few things I am doing and/or committing to do to aid in this journey:

1. Learning to say no and withdrawing from commitments– I read a great quote on the Proverbs 31 ministries page recently that said, “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.” There is so much truth here. I have committed to not accept any more commitments this year and to pray about which current commitments may need to leave my plate. All of these commitments have blessed me is some way, but they also require my time, resources, and energy. Thankfully, a few of those commitments are time bound and coming to an end soon. Two great resources I would recommend if you deal with boundary issues like I do are the books The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst and Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud.

2. Defining a focus for our family– N and I have talked for a few years now about creating a mission statement or creed for our family. A mission statement will clearly define who we are, what we stand for, and what direction we will move. We have committed to creating this document and displaying it in our home by year’s end. The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler has some fantastic ideas about creating family mission statements.

3. Realizing my family is my ministry-I serve in a few capacities at our church. I enjoy service, it’s a way I see the work of God in those around me. I am realizing, however, that my first and most important ministry is my home. If that is not in order or is causing stress, I am not mentally or physically in a good place to serve outside my home. This means that service may look a little different for me from now until my chickadees leave the nest. And I am okay with that. My days with them are few and precious.

4. Seek out mentors-I have been blessed the past few weeks to run with a mom further in her journey than I am. Our long runs go by quick and I don’t notice little twinges or aches physically as much because our conversation is engaging my heart and mind. Her encouragement and challenges to me have made me feel at peace with my decision to let go and slow down.

5. Fill my cup first-Serving, whether it’s your own family or to the church or community, is often referred to as a “pouring out”. But when you are serving, it’s important to be “poured into” as well by activities and relationships that feed your soul. Nothing can be poured from an empty cup.

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I can’t be a good wife, mother, or servant if I am depleted. I have joined a women’s Bible study lead by a mentor woman from our church and committed to exercising every day for my “pour into” activities.

6. Don’t lose sight of God– This is the final, but most important piece. Busyness and hurry are caused by too much activity. Too much activity leaves little room for quiet time with God and experiencing our relationship with Him fully. My eyes knew something was wrong when I couldn’t focus on Jesus on a piece of jewelry. It was a direct reflection of what our hearts know: life unfocused on God is not the right way to live. I may not always get the length of study and quiet time I want, I may be stepping on cereal and moving crayons to make way for my Bible. But that is okay. The habit of being in the Word everyday is what keeps your focus intense. I am reading through the Gospels and completing 1-2 short quiet times per day with a devotional I am working through with my Bible study group.

I certainly don’t have this all figured out and I am sure hurry will continue to try to creep into our lives. But I have a game plan going forward. If you’re like me and this week has been pulling your heart in different directions, stop, change your position, and focus on Him.

-L

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America, the Beautiful

We had the amazing opportunity to take a 15 day road trip out west this summer. Just loading these pictures today makes me want to do it all over again.

Over the 15 days, we spent more than 72 hours in the car and traveled over 4,000 miles. When I tell most people that, they look at me like I am crazy. Everyone asks how we survived the trip with 3 kids, aged 6 and under, and no electronics other than books on CD, on a trip like that.

The truth is, although we had a few hiccups and moments of frustration and tension, we didn’t just survive. Our family thrived on this trip. It was a tremendous blessing to be able to spend 15 straight days with my husband and kids as we visited family and saw amazing sites like Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rushmore. We were able to laugh, play, and eat (and eat and eat) with family we only get to see every few years. In fact, my in laws got to hold our baby boy for the first time. Friendships with cousins were forged over trampolines, water parks, and late night viewing of Back to the Future.  My Uncle Don shared his love of nature and ancient artifacts, tangibly, with my kids who brought home fossils and arrow heads. We got to show our children are part of the country that was part of both mine and my husband’s childhoods. Our kids delighted to see bison, elk, even 2 Grizzly bears right outside the car window. We listened to the Little House books on CD as we traveled in some of the same country as the Ingalls family so many, many years ago and learned facts about every state we passed through. I could go on and on about the adventures we had.  We have memories that are “now funny, then scary” like J getting a rock stuck in her nose (she blew it out!) and C almost stepping backward into a hot spring (good thing for my cat-like reflexes).  I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

In this day and age, we are always in such a rush to get places and so distracted by technology as we get there. Would it have been easier to fly and rent a car? Maybe. Would it have been as special and memorable, probably not. Would my kids have liked to watch a movie in the car? Sure. But they would have missed all the beauty of God’ creation right in front of them.

Family vacations, especially the road trips, make up some of my favorite childhood memories. We are hoping to create the same opportunity for memories for our own children. One thing we do to make this possible and affordable is to forgo things in favor of experiences. I am currently typing this post on an external keyboard attached to my 8 year old Macbook that I spilled tea on 2 years ago. Sure, I would love a new computer. But I when I think that I could take that $2,000 to make a lifelong memory with my family, it’s suddenly very easy to look past my ridiculous computer set up and look forward to talking about getaways like this one in 25 years with my children and their children.

In this world, I feel closest to God in two places: with family and in nature. Combining both is healing for my soul and I am so thankful for chances like family vacations that combine the two.  Enjoy the pictures from some of the highlights of our trip, like Denver Children’s Museum,Idaho Falls, Yellowstone National Park, and Mt. Rushmore.  I pray that you take time to find rest and explore with your family too, and experience the many blessings that this brings.
-L

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We Are Headed North

We were lucky enough to join in the time-honored tradition of heading to the Northern part of the state for Memorial Day weekend. Some dear friends of ours recently moved to a city on the water and we came for a short visit. The trip was filled with laughs, walks, sightseeing, s’mores, relaxing, some adult beverages, game night, and staying up WAYYYY too late for a meteor shower. The trip was a welcome rest in what has been a busy, and at times stressful, past few months. We loved the active, outdoorsy, and simple ways of life up North. The lifestyle seems a perfect fit for our friends and we are so happy it has all worked out for them.  And, of course, they treated us like royalty-we barely lifted a finger the whole weekend.  We are already dreaming of our next trip. Here are some photos from our wonderful weekend.

The big kids

The big kids

Two of my very favorite ladies

Two of my very favorite ladies

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This was a trip filled with silly faces

This was a trip filled with silly faces

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Ukelele jam

Ukelele jam

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View from the UP

View from the UP

Silly faces

Silly faces

 

Learning From Storms

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After a particularly long winter, our spring has been a stormy one. The weekly forecasts call for rain almost everyday. Six straight days of rain can really impact your mood, especially when you have two little voices begging to go outside and play. It’s enough to make one weary. But I can’t help but think that God is trying to teach me something with all these storms.

Our family is going through our own storm right now. It all started back in January. About a week after our move, my mom came to visit and help us unpack. I could tell when she arrived that something was bothering her. That first night, after the kids were asleep, she broke the news to N and I. My brother had recently had an MRI on his ankle for an injury we anticipated to be a stress fracture at worst. He is a personal trainer and he been teaching some really intense classes. His ankle bothered him after the classes, so my parents thought he should get it looked at. No one could have foreseen the result. The pain my brother was having was not caused by a fracture. He had a tumor growing on his bone. Words like tumor cause hearts to skip beats. We were of course worried and a little scared, but we all resolved to be optimistic until the biopsy results were in.

The next two months were an emotional roller coaster as biopsy results proved inconclusive, specialists from all over the country were consulted, and surgeries were scheduled and postponed. The doctors were fairly sure the tumor was malignant, but couldn’t pinpoint the exact diagnosis. Our hopes were all lifted when a third doctor said he was fairly certain it was a benign tumor and my brother underwent surgery to remove it and complete a more thorough biopsy. Then, on March 28, my father’s 56 birthday, we got the news. Cancer. How do 24 year olds get cancer? Why do 24 year olds get cancer? So many questions with no good answers.

Since that time, we have a definitive diagnosis of the tumor and my brother is currently receiving chemotherapy treatments. We are all optimistic about the outcome and are willing to help in the fight in any way we can. But there are still days I feel worried, sad, or angry. Gloomy days seem to be the worst. But this week, God has placed some truths on my heart that have deepened my faith in this situation and given me some new perspective.

What I am Learning from the Storms

1. Storms Happen

We are not guaranteed an easy life here. In fact, Jesus promises we will have trials and that life won’t be easy (John 16:33). Ironically, the current sermon series at our church is about the storms of life. Our pastor said in the first sermon of the series that we are either coming out of a storm, in the middle of a storm, or going into a storm. Some storms are quick and violent, others are long and tiring. We will face storms, but we don’t have to face them alone. The fact that most of my days I feel peace about the situation I can only attribute to faith. The verse mentioned above has two parts, “In this world you will face trials. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (emphasis mine). God is carrying us through this.

2. Storms Cause Growth

I see this outside my window daily. The rain is causing everything to green. Buds on leaves and flowers are dripping with rain one day, opening in vibrant color the next. Without the rain, nothing in nature would grow. It’s the same with us. You find out who you really are in a storm. It tests your stamina, your will, your faith. At first, you are in shock. I think of the little tomato plants we transplanted to the garden last week. We have had almost 2 inches of rain since they were planted. They look a little weathered. But I know the strong plants will be made stronger from the rain and we will see, feel, and taste the fruits of this growth. We are over our shock, I now see the resilience and strength in my family as we rally around my brother to fight. This storm won’t be short: a 28 week intensive chemo protocol and scans for life. But we will get through it and I think we will emerge stronger as individuals, and a family, for it.

3. Storms Make Us Appreciate the Sun

In the midst of a storm, it’s easy to lose sight of the sun. But blessings remain despite the dark. While under tornado warning this week in one of our spring storms, I calmed the kids by reminding them of our blessings: a safe, sturdy house, a cozy basement to wait in until the storms past, electricity and TV that alerted us to the possible danger.

I am overwhelmed by the blessings in my brother’s situation when I begin to count. The fact that he lives close to home, that my mom works part time and is able to get him to appointments, the fact that my parents decided to keep him on their health insurance one more year, the amazing specialists he has access to at a state of the art cancer center, having a few oncology nurses in the family who help us know what to expect, friends and family who’ve rallied around us with prayers and practical care, finding the cancer early before it spread…the list goes on. I am so encouraged by my brother.  I can’t imagine what he is going through, but he is taking it in stride.  He is stronger than he knows.  It’s a blessing to help him in any way I can and this storm has made me pray for him daily. Counting your blessings surely brings perspective on dark days. People often ask God “why” when these hard things happen. I am sure I did from time to time. But now I am asking two new questions: “where?” and “how?”. Where is God working in this situation? How should I respond in light of His work? It’s impossible for me not to see God’s hand blessing our family even during difficulty.

4. Storms End

This one seems simple enough, but it’s easy to forget when you’re in the storm. Rainy days feel like they run together, nerves still get frazzled when high winds send objects from one end of the yard to the other. But the storms pass. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as the clouds moving on. Other times, there is mess and destruction and you have to adjust to a new way of life. A little over a year ago, N’s uncle’s family lost everything they owned in a horrific tornado. No house, no cars, no clothes. No wedding photos or grainy videos of baby’s taking their first steps. They lost every tangible piece of their former life. When contacting them to see how we could help, Uncle K had the best perspective. He said you learn very quickly what you can live without and it all didn’t matter because he, his wife, their daughter, and grand daughter were safe. Life is still hard, but you can choose to see the good.

I don’t know how our storm will end. But there is a lot of joy on the horizon. In just a few weeks, my brother and his girlfriend will welcome their first child into the world. As a parent, I can’t wait for that moment for them, know how it will change them, and give him a new will to fight and live. Treatments should be over in October, giving our family much to celebrate when we all get together this Christmas. It’s going to be quite the party.

After a crazy deluge this week, our yard was full of puddles. C and J asked to go outside to play. I told them to put on their boots and have fun. A few minutes later, when I went to check on them, my first reaction was shock. They were covered.in.mud. I had never seen my children this dirty. But after watching for a minute, the thing that outshone the mud was joy. Crazy, jumping, squealing joy. I immediately ran for the camera ( you can see the pics below). Seeing this reminded me that one day, all there will be is joy. A promise that every tear will be wiped from every eye. Storms will continue to rage. But even in the storms, I choose joy.

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The Great Easter Bunny Fail of 2014 AKA a trip to the ER

N and I often joke that since becoming parents, there are so many phrases we say that 10 years ago, I never would have imagined would ever come out of my mouth.  Things like, “Put that down, it’s poop.”, “Yes, doctor, he swallowed a glass bead.”, “Animals are not to be licked”, “Please stop eating mulch”…. I could go on and on.  A new one to add to the list just occurred a few weeks ago on Easter Monday.  The Easter Bunny was out shopping at Target and noticed some adorable metal and wood children’s garden shovels. The Bunny knew these were the perfect basket items for C and J, who were very eager to start work in our garden.

And of course, C and J were delighted with the shovels when they found their baskets on Easter morning.  They liked the shovels almost as much as the candy that they would later that afternoon hide in their room and EAT ALL AT ONE SITTING.  I must have been having a very naiive moment when I allowed them to take the baskets up for nap.

Monday morning, the kids were so excited to try out the new shovels.  So as soon as it was warm enough, we all headed down to the garden and started digging up weeds.  We worked for a good 2 hours before I heard baby M wake up on the monitor and I ran inside to get him.  As I came back out with the baby, I noticed J was walking up the hill crying.  And then the blood started.  Oh my word, do heads bleed!!!  And C was as white as a ghost.  He quietly admitted that he threw his shovel into the air and it came down on J’s forehead.  My first response was “Why would you throw a shovel?!  We don’t throw shovels!” (One of those things you never think you will have to say).  After taking J inside and getting her calmed down and cleaned up, it was pretty obvious she would need to see a doctor to determine if stitches were necessary.  Coincidentally, my good friend was on her way over to hang out for the afternoon. With her 4 kids. So she was able to watch the boys while J and I went to the local ER (she is up for sainthood in my book).  Thankfully, we were seen quickly and the doctor, who happened to be the same doctor we saw when C swallowed a glass bead last fall, was able to close the wound with dermabond and a few steri-strips.

J is almost fully healed and shovels have been removed for use only when supervised. And I am prepared with Frankincense and Helichrysum for any scarring she may have. But this experience, just like the many before it, reminds me that we are never fully prepared for what parenthood will throw at us.  Especially when that something is a garden shovel ; ).

-L

Spring…Finally!

 

 

After what seemed like the longest winter ever (and I am normally someone who tries very hard not to complain about weather), it’s finally starting to feel like spring around here.  There is nothing like feeling warm sun mixed with cool breeze on my face in the early morning when I go let the hens out on the run.  The mornings smell like dew and earthworms.  We check buds daily to see what is opening in the yard.  One day crocus, the next day daffodils.  Seeing the renewal of the earth never gets old for me.  I love this time of year.  Here are a few pics from the last few weeks.

 

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Hens on the run. We are getting about half a dozen eggs a day now!

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