Heavenly Grounds: A DIY/Real Estate Journey

August 2014, my husband rented a home off the coast of Northern California to celebrate our 15-year anniversary. It was probably one of the best weeks of my life. This property was among the most beautiful I had ever seen. The views were AMAZING, the sounds, the smells, the wildlife…  It literally took my breath away. The interior was beautifully decorated and furnished with every luxury to make us feel right at home. I doubt we touched a cell phone, watched TV, or tuned into anything that distracted our attention from the magic of our time together. Instead, we unplugged. We talked. We walked. We sat. We vision casted. We reminisced. (Of course we did some other stuff too, lol. But that’s for another time!!! 😊) The home gave us the means to focus our attention solely on each other. And the atmosphere set the tone for optimal enjoyment.

I took a million pictures, hoping to somehow capture, contain and even share some of the wonder of this place, but it just didn’t transfer. I wished EVERYONE I knew could just witness and experience it. I remember thinking to myself that one day I wanted to give this amazing gift to others. I wanted to somehow share the magic of my time here. I wanted people to experience a place where they could surrender all their daily worries and stresses. They could unwind and create memories with their loved ones that would add meaning and rest to their journey.

That house was over a million dollars!!! How in the heck could I own and furnish a home like that, let alone, GIVE or LOAN it to someone else??????  I mean think about it, the house was right off the ocean. The property alone was a TON of money. Now consider the decorations, furnishings, the landscaping, the upkeep… YIKES!!! After a week of sheer bliss, we returned to our normal lives at home. And as outlandish as it seemed, I kept that dream in my back pocket. Not to let it die, simply to rest for a while… And back we went to our regularly scheduled program…

If you know me, or follow my blogs, you know 5 years ago, we sold everything we owned, and built a home in the North Georgia mountains. It was a dream for us. We had vacationed there as a family for over 10 years. It was our happy place. But to actually live there was completely unplanned, yet completely miraculous.

We enjoyed every bit of watching that home being built by one of our favorite builders. It was hand crafted with so much care and detail. Upon completion, I couldn’t WAIT to furnish every square inch!!! I had a TON of ideas, but I was a stay at home mom, and we were limited to one salary. There was no way I could afford the purchases necessary to accent the gravity of this house. The walls were custom. The fireplace, showers, floors and cabinets were hand made. I could not obstruct its beauty with cheap décor. The only alternative was to birth these ideas I had in my brain with my own hands. And that is what we did.

It took almost 3 years to do it, but just about every room was embellished with colors, textures, wall hangings, and ideas that came straight from the heart. It was my goal that my family and our visitors would be submerged with a spirit of love, joy and peace each time they entered. We enjoyed countless good times, memories, laughs, and best of all, we were able to share them with our friends and family during our many gatherings.

(Swipe left to check out some of our projects here)

Our “forever” plans were recently interrupted by a job transfer for my husband and college endeavor for my son. We have successfully relocated to the Phoenix area. For several reasons, this was a bitter/sweet move. However, the sweet has been a full-circle kind of sweet.

For the past several months, we have been able to take that old dream out of our pocket and experience it in its full splendor. Our home has become the vacation rental property for families to enjoy. It has been an opportunity for us to share one of our favorite places on earth with others. Our walls are filled with meaningful accents that highlight our journey. There are pictures, window treatments, signs, walkways, landscaping all created with love, I’d dare say more meaningful than money could buy. It’s our best work. This house has become a gallery for some of our greatest DIY projects, and I am so blessed to be able to share them with others.

We simply named the home “Heavenly Grounds.” To us, that is exactly what it is. It sits on a mountaintop where views from miles away can be adored. It’s on a dead-end dirt road where deer, turtles, wild turkeys and even bears freely dwell. During the fall months, the leaves paint a new scene every day, while snow dustings cover the mountains during the winter. There are paths and trails once walked by my children and their beloved dog. My son got ready for prom there. My daughter enjoyed her cross-country party there. We hosted several gatherings there. We camped by the fireplace there. Read books, baked cookies, cooked smores, and counted stars there. And now others can do the same.

God has shown me time and time again that His ways are so much higher than mine. That He cares about the large and small desires of my heart. And that my wants are never too big for Him. I thought once I stepped away from my teaching career, I stepped away from a major opportunity to bless others and produce income using my greatest talent. I never considered all the other ways I could give of myself to still be a blessing. Though in a different location, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share the splendor I experienced in California those years ago. It is better than any picture I could have taken.

I pray that you too take moments to dream. That you hold fast to the desires of your heart. Know that you don’t have to grind or toil to enjoy the journey of those dreams coming true. Know that His grace is sufficient. Write that book. Start that business. Pitch that idea. Apply for that job. Write that song. Know that if you make a habit or hobby of using your gifts and talents to spread love and joy to others, He will support it. May your dreams be too big for you to accomplish on your own and may you see them all come to pass…

Pics: Courtesy of Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals/Rachel Callihan-Cowart

LETTING GO… A Parent’s Guide to Enjoying the Journey

Last week, I had the amazing privilege of dropping off my son to the place he will call home for the next four years. While this was CERTAINLY difficult to do, (I mean, he’s my baby… my first born… He’s never been away from home for an extended length of time before…) it was one of the proudest moments of my adult life. I took him to one of the greatest universities in the country to live, eat, breathe, think, and grow on his own. How could I possibly have made it through this ordeal without completely losing it????? Well, I did it. He did it. And we are all off to the start of the newest chapter of our awesome journey. BUT HOW???? How can letting go be so easy?

As a parent, letting go is not easy. It has never been easy. But if you think about it, we have been practicing “letting go” for a while now. When it was time for them to get out of our bed and into their own. When it was time to transition them from breastfeeding to a cup. When they advanced from diapers to “big-boy” pants. When they went from crawling to walking, being at home to going to preschool, training wheels to “big-boy” wheels, baby teeth to permanent teeth, elementary, middle and high school, all have moments in which we are constantly letting go.

Where the ease comes is knowing that in order for them to grow into the beautiful person God called them to be, we HAVE TO let go. We cannot hinder their maturation because of our selfish (let’s face it 😊) desires to hold on to the beauty of this amazing stage and not let them advance to the next. The intimate moments of breastfeeding were SO miraculous to me. I breast fed both of my children for a year, and I cherished that bonding time I had with each of them. Similarly to having them in the bed with me, or at home with me, and even in my belly. However, at some point, holding on to those moments, verses setting them free can become detrimental to their development.

My ability to let go, rests in two things: preparation and faith. Throughout the process of their growth, I have come to invest heavily in preparing them for the upcoming chapter of life. While enjoying the crawling phase, I am mindful that ultimately, our goal is for him to walk. Though he is SOOOO cute crawling around at top speeds on all four legs and I would love to hold on to these precious moments, I have to prepare him to not grow comfortable with being on four legs, but two. It is scary. I mean, what if he falls, he will hurt himself. He is several more feet off the floor on two legs than four. There are many more dangers at that height, I will have to buy him shoes, and he will walk so slowly and wobbly for quite a while. This is all so true, but not enough to stop the need to advance him. As parents, we need to do as much as we can to prepare our children for the next phases in their journey. When we do that to the best of our ability, we can rest in that preparation when ‘go time’ comes.

Finally, we have to have faith. While parenting, we become heavily reliant on our ability to control the situations in our child’s life. As long as they use our methods and do things our way, in our presence, they will be safe and free from harm. We shackle them (with good intentions of course 😊) to our best practices we deem THE ONE TRUE WAY. While we certainly have our child’s best interest at heart, we must have faith in not only all we have taught them, but in a God who has them in the palm of His hand. Surely, we don’t want them to fail. It is gut-wrenching to watch them fall off that bike all 25 times after removing the training wheels. But I often ask the question, “DID THEY DIE THOUGH????” As silly as it sounds, it is so true. They did not die, they got better. They got up, brushed themselves off and went right back at it until they nailed it. Have faith in the learning process. Have faith in all you taught them, and ultimately, have faith in God.

Though we are only on week one of this great college journey, I am excited about the growth that will happen. My son knows we are here to guide and help him throughout his adventures. However, the training wheels have been removed and ultimately, I have had to relinquish the reigns and come to terms with a lifetime of increased ‘letting go’. As time goes on, I will find myself letting go even more as he pursues a career, a home, a wife, family and life of his own. The thought of it can be overwhelming, but the other side of birth, bottles, diapers, training wheels, baby teeth, and kindergarten, are great adventures that help them become all God has called them to be. I am SO grateful to be a part of the great preparation process. And now I will rest in faith that he will continue to exceed our greatest expectations. In the meantime, we will be right here in the stands cheering him on through his amazing journey.

No matter what chapter you and your child are currently scripting, know that letting go is all a part of your beautiful story. May you enjoy it to the fullest!!! 😊

BEYOND THE LABELS…

Black, white, doctor, Christian, teacher, stay-at-home-mom, parent, honor-student etc.… These are all labels at which we can be identified. They are titles we wear with honor like a badge for all to know who we are, where we’re from, and what we’ve accomplished. They are a major source of pride at which we may have spent years of time, money and labor to attain and require a certain level of respect from people to address us as we live by the standards of the weight they carry.

What about the labels that are not so honorable? The titles we have been assigned. The tags that carry a negative connotation and sometimes even stifle our ability to thrive. Single-mom, at-risk youth, divorce’, overweight, retarded, hot-tempered, emotional, 3rd string, nerd, dead-beat dad, naïve, etc.…

From an early age, our children run the risk of being tagged with various labels that can define the way others see them and more importantly, how they see themselves. They can be given by teachers, peers, mentors, coaches and even us as parents.

When my son was three years old, we noticed he was not meeting the typical developmental milestones for children in his age group. He wasn’t talking, making eye contact, showing signs of expression or interactive response.  Doctors and school officials performed several tests to further investigate these concerns. Thereafter, they diagnosed him with autism. And there it was, my son had been labeled. The experts in the field, used professional, fact-based information to determine that he was socially/developmentally “disabled.”

My husband and I were devastated to receive this news.  We were so young. So new to parenthood. We were clueless. The only word we heard was “disability.” The depth of that term left so many uncertainties and filled my imagination with limitations to abound. After grieving for a few days, feeling sorry for myself, and researching aimlessly on how to solve this problem, I prayed. And then, believe it or not, I LISTENED. I heard the Lord tell me so clearly, that He was the God of possibility. That in Him, we are ABLE to do ALL things. So if the Word was true, the term “DISABILITY” was contrary to His Word.

I picked myself up and decided that I was going to turn my brain off on this matter and be led by the Holy Spirit on EXACTLY what my son needed in order to prosper in every area of his life. I must say, this journey has been one of the greatest, yet toughest of my life. However, I am a teacher. I am a Christian. I LOVE children. My husband and I were well equipped for the road ahead and we took it step by step.  We were not going to let the label given by the doctors trump the label given by the Word of God.

For the last several years our family took each stage of this process day by day. Every step was completely new to us. Every challenge required a custom plan that I couldn’t find in a book, online, or from friends. I completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit. For an example, there was a season when my son would cry over everything. Each day there would be an instance at school or at home that seemed very feasible, but for some reason it was overwhelming for him. Now my natural response would have been, “suck it up. You are a big boy! You can’t be crying over this little stuff!” However, that would have broken him. Nevertheless, I still couldn’t allow him to let his emotions govern his behavior. The Lord simply gave us positive incentives for him to work toward in order to stop crying. Sounds super easy, and IT WAS. GRACE. He stopped crying and hasn’t had a problem since.

Of course, over the years, my son has battled many other struggles throughout his developmental journey, such as staying focused in class, managing time properly, playing well with other kids, using language appropriately, articulating his thoughts accurately, participating in group activities, building confidence and so many others. Most of them didn’t come with a two-week solution. Many of these challenges took YEARS to conquer and some of them required extreme decisions in order to ensure his success.

When homework and daily routines became a bit overwhelming, I stepped away from a 15-year career in order to be at home. We downsized our living expenses and even moved to a smaller home in a rural area in order to meet the growing needs of our family. And as always, we saw God’s hand throughout the entire process. We had all the tools, and resources; we knew the places to be and times to be there. He blessed us with amazing teachers, pastors, friends, coaches, classmates and role models to help aid and support us throughout our experience.  This was certainly a team effort. And whilst we had great individuals involved in our mission, we never made his diagnosis public. We never gave explanations, concessions or excuses for his performance or behavior. As a matter of fact, we never even muttered the word autism in his presence. He had NO clue. We simply assessed his abilities and held him to the standard of excellence. If you can be great, BE GREAT. If you can’t be great, let’s do whatever we can to help you be YOUR greatest.  

Cole’s diagnosis was given when he was 3 years old. Last week he turned 18. And last month he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. In that moment, on the football field of a school in North Georgia, my closest family and I held a sign with the words “GO COLE” in HUGE capital letters. He sat in the front row in the top 10% of his class. He wore a sash around his neck that said, “HONOR GRADUATE,” along with a gold cord for his involvement in the National Honor Society and a purple one for the National Technical Honor Society. Earlier that week, he was given several awards along with $40,000 in local and national scholarships. Two weeks before that, he was named Prom King of his high school, earlier that year he was named Most Valuable Runner of his cross-country team and set 2 new school records for his times in the 1600- and 3200-meter run. He founded the chess club, was active in FCA, TSA, academic club, and volunteered to run the live broadcast of the boys’ and girls’ basketball games. He started his freshmen year with few friends, little to no involvement, while struggling to keep up socially, academically, and certainly athletically. By his senior year, he had grown the respect and admiration from so many. They simply loved him to greatness.

During his journey, no one had a CLUE of the tremendous effort it took for him to reach his goals.  The extra hours it took to complete his homework assignments, the weekend/off season practices he devoted to or the level of commitment it took for him to stay on top. He quietly pressed his way…

In February of this year, after two weeks for testing and meeting with several school and state officials, Cole’s autism diagnosis was reversed. Teachers and staff members were thrilled for him and all the progress he made over the 15 years of his journey. Shortly after that meeting, we carefully revealed to Cole of the label he was given early in his life. He was so shocked. So proud. So grateful. We reflected for HOURS, making sense of all the various steps we had taken, and all the beautiful people who were so helpful throughout.

In the fall, Cole will attend Grand Canyon University, in Phoenix, Arizona. There, he will study Electrical Engineering and Technology. We are beyond grateful for the first part of his incredible journey and how God used him to defy the labels given to him early on and replaced them with ones that carry great honor. I cannot wait to see what is in store for his bright future.

As we all endeavor to establish our identity, as we go on our own growth and developmental adventures, take on many different roles, hats and labels, I pray that we will BOLDY seek out the labels given to us by our Heavenly Father. I pray that if you or your loved one has been assigned a label, description, prescription, diagnosis, or title that doesn’t line up with what you know is true,  I dare you to push past the limitations of that label given to you (even by the experts in the field).  That you fight the good, and sometimes seemingly long fight of faith. And that you run your BEST race… not to the best of YOUR ability, but to the best of HIS ability!!!!! That tag doesn’t have to be a life sentence. YOU WERE BORN TO WIN!!!!! †

Forgiving Mom…

I recently had the honor of speaking at a Women’s Day event at a church in my area. There, in front of a few hundred amazing ladies, I was able to share my testimony and some of the amazing ways God has been so faithful in my life. It was a great time of fellowship, celebration, food, fun and most of all, love. At the conclusion of the event, I was able to exchange with some of the ladies one on one. They opened up and shared some of their testimonies with me. They noted many of the commonalities we had in our stories. One topic that kept coming up in my discussions was the many women affected by “mom hurt.” What is mom hurt, you say? It is the hurt many encounter during a painful childhood, mostly due to a difficult experience with their mom.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I’d like to address this issue head on. I realize it is a REAL pain. Though many women have had a wonderful relationship with their mother; she was supportive, caring, loving etc. SO many women/men have experienced the opposite. Perhaps their mom wasn’t around. She abandoned them during their childhood. She put them second to a career, addiction, boyfriends etc. Whatever the case, she did not perform her duties/responsibilities to THEIR standards. And of course, THOSE standards are the “normal,” reasonable expectations that should come very naturally to ANY mother. I GET IT!

But what if those typical/normal/reasonable standards DIDN’T come naturally to her? What if she TRULY did the BEST she knew during that time? What if, she was completely consumed with immaturity, selfishness, greed, etc.??? What if she was only doing what was done to her? What if the pain she inflicted on her children was not intentional? And even still, what if she DID know how badly she was behaving, but did it anyway? That HORRIBLE mom is not worthy of love, honor, respect, or ESPECIALLY forgiveness. I mean, LOOK AT ALL THE PAIN SHE CAUSED!!!!

I can TOTALLY relate to these feelings. My mother-daughter childhood experience was interrupted by some of the very things I mentioned earlier; like addiction, neglect, abuse and abandonment, and it had some MAJORLY devastating impacts on my life. However, a wise person once told me, you can’t expect someone to give you what they don’t have. It is like walking up to a friend and asking them for $1,000, but all they have is $400. Because it seems NORMAL for us all to have $1000 on hand, does it give us a pass to lay in perpetual bitterness? Gloom? Doom? If they only have $400? “I mean, if they had $1000 to give me, I would be SOOOO much better off.” “What in the world can I POSSIBLY do with only $400????” “I NEED ALL $1000!!!!!!”

Many people today have suffered YEARS of pain, frustration, bitterness and unforgiveness because a mom did not live up to the expectation she was charged to fulfill. Though this can have a major impact on the life and welfare of children, it does not give ANYONE a license for a lifetime of unforgiveness.  As we grow older, we can find healing and ways to repair the brokenness caused by a negligent mother. When we accept a relationship with Christ, He can fill the holes and suffering left from our painful encounters. He can and will send replacements for the loneliness and sense of abandonment, to where the absence of a loving mother will seem insignificant. However, we block His hand when we choose to hold on to feelings of resentment, revenge, anger and bitterness.

If we simply consider the scripture, we have no choice but to forgive our mom. “You have NO idea what my mom did to me!!!” You say. Though I have not been in your situation, I DO understand how you feel. As children, our moms take up the greatest real estate in our heart. They are the givers of life. They are supposed to love us like no other. They are supposed to cherish us and sacrifice their very life so that we become all God has called us to be. I DO UNDERSTAND THAT. However, we are called to honor our parents. We are called to walk in love, even when that person has hurt us deeply.

After YEARS of a strained relationship, my mother and I are restoring a beautiful bond. It has not been easy, but true love and forgiveness has guided our hearts to mend and repair what was once broken. I am so grateful my kids get to see my mother at her BEST. That I get to enjoy a renewed exchange while we are both mature, healthy, and whole. That we get to share this beautiful time together free of residue or expectation.

The relationship between a mother and child is paramount. There is nothing like it. When it is damaged, it can hurt like no other. And though it can cause some major scars, God is the ultimate plastic surgeon. It is nothing that can’t be repaired.  Surely, you may never be best friends, go over each other’s house every day, or even do the things you once did. Nevertheless, I pray you get your heart to a place of forgiveness. Where your current day or future success and happiness are not hindered by hate or anger. Where you are not plagued by the expectations that weren’t met in your life. That you no longer hold her accountable for unpleasant outcomes you endured. And that you release her from the bondage of your grief. Instead, may you seek love freely given by the greatest healer. May you let HIM heal your wounds and fill your heart with the greatest love of all. And may you go on to Mother from a place of grace and peace, because no person, encounter or thing has the power to stop you from enjoying every drip drop of your amazing journey!!! BLESSINGS TO YOU!!! HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!!

It’s Time, Girl, For GIRL TIME!!!

Hey you… Super Girl! Yeah, YOU!!! I know you are busy out there getting er’ done, rockin’ out like the BOSS that you are. On top of ALL the things you do every day, you are also going to church, working out, reading and serving, and doing all the things to help keep your awesome self, awesome. However, I have yet ANOTHER way to help extend the life of your awesomeness…You already know what it is, GOOD OLD GIRL TIME!!!!! YEEEESSSSSSS MA’AM!!!!

I don’t know about you, but I am fortunate enough to have been surrounded by amazing gals my entire life. Whether in high school, college, during my career, at church and even as a stay at home mom, I have been blessed with some GREAT girlfriends! Though life can get super busy and seasons change, friends move away, the benefit of time with friends never changes.

I’m not talking about any old gals. I’m not talking about getting together to gossip. To compare titles and status.  I’m talking about those equally-yoked friends. Those ones that challenge you to be great. Ones that celebrate with you. Ones that can pray for you in times of need and talk you off the cliff. Ones that will come to your baby shower and share their parenting experiences for extra support. And YES, ones you can, eat, shop and enjoy life with.

As we get older, our schedules and calendars are bombarded with so many tasks. We wear so many hats and are responsible for so much. Of course, the grace of God is sufficient to get it all done in excellence. But sometimes, we don’t allow time in our schedule to breathe. Our lives are out of balance. We don’t make time for ourselves and we don’t make time for our friends. Sometimes we even go into an isolation phase, where girlfriends or anything else becomes yet another item to check off. I GET IT!!!!! However, we were created for fellowship. Sometimes a couple hours with some amazing gals, is just what we need for some rejuvenation, redirection, recharging and some REAL laughs out loud!

For the last few months I have been intentional about making time for the beautiful women God has blessed me to know. I know they are not in my life by accident and we don’t even talk every day. But whether enjoying a girls’ night out, brunch, shopping, dinner and movie, massages, vision parties, morning walks, or even road trips, my life would not be as rich without them and our amazing time together. They inspire me. They push me past my comfort zones. They celebrate me and love me right where I am and I am better because of it.

I also realize my friends are not here to just benefit me. I am careful to bring my supply to my crew as well. Whether an encouraging text, a kind gift or gesture, a thoughtful act, a love exchange or time together, my girls know I got their back and am here for them too. Sometimes we can underestimate our role in a friend’s life. We think they seem to have it all together and don’t need us. Quite the contrary, there are gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, experience and other goodies we have that add so much value to the lives of people in our circle.

Anyone that knows me, knows I LOOOOVE my kids. I make time for my husband, take care of our home and maintain a busy schedule. However, over the years, I am FULLY aware of how rich my life is with the women God has strategically placed in my path. They add SO much color to my life. Our time together is so valuable to me. I look forward to it and am so replenished after each encounter. I pray that you cultivate relationships with gals that brighten your life. That you know how much your light brightens theirs and that you allow those relationships to add amazing experiences to your awesome journey.

I meet with these AWESOME gals every month (ish) 🙂 for dinner and great times. We all “Mom So Hard” yet make time to get together for some much needed girl time… I am so grateful they all live close by. They are SUCH a blessing to me!!!!

This awesome gal and I have been friends for 10+ years. We used to teach together, but since I have retired, we are sure to meet monthly for girl time, brunch, shopping, movies, family celebrations and even road trips. She makes EVERYTHING a BLAST!!!

I don’t get to see these awesome ladies often, so when we are all in town together, we are sure to connect for great fellowship. We love and laugh and share our dreams and hold each other accountable. They are such an inspiration to me…

I was recently able to enjoy another great day with this awesome gal!!! Though she is younger than me, we are able to share our experiences and celebrate the various milestones on our journey. She is a major talent on the rise. I love sharing adventures with her…

At the beginning of the year, I enjoyed a vision board slumber party with these amazing gals from my church. It was a great time of food, fellowship, shopping, movies, girl talk, and creating and sharing vision boards. Though we see each other in church, we also celebrate on holidays and other major dates. I love doing life with these gals…

An AMAZING friend, whom I’ve loved and admired for 20+ years came down for a weekend. We enjoyed great conversation, eating, shopping, massages and just unfiltered time together. We don’t get to see each other often, but when we do, it is so refreshing. We had a BLAST and I look forward to another getaway soon!!!!

SEASONS CHANGE…

By now, we are all ready for Spring to hurry up and grace us with her presence. We’ve enjoyed our dose of snow and cool boots and sweet scarves. It is time for some sun shining, birds chirping and buds blooming. Interestingly, we all forget how we embraced the idea of November and December and Christmas and snow and holidays and family gatherings and all the great things that make winter a beautiful wonderland of sorts. We are now filled with the hopes of what a new season will bring. Nevertheless, by the time summer rolls around, temperatures rise to 90+ degrees, we will once again find ourselves crying the blues and looking ahead to what’s next.

How often do we have these same reflections in our daily lives? While single, we can’t WAIT for God to bless us with the perfect partner to share our lives with. We are thrilled about the new promotion we just got. We celebrate the monumental experience of buying our first home. And can’t even contain the joy of our first child. However, as the days go on, the tasks pile up, or even boredom sets in, we find ourselves looking forward to what’s next.

I certainly understand and subscribe to the idea of moving forward.  The future forecast always seems to bring about hope and growth and newness. However, where do these hopes of promise leave us in our current season? How do we not grow stale? Bored? Frustrated with the “right now”? How can we maintain our contentment and appreciation while we wait on the next season?

I remember when I was pregnant with my first child. I was SOOOO happy at the thought of carrying a life inside me. How miraculous!!! As time went on, I got bigger, well let’s say, HUGER and HUGER and tired and grumpy and when I tell you I couldn’t WAIT to deliver the baby… I COULDN’T WAIT!!! Speed along to his arrival, I was ELATED!!!! OMG!!! Happiest days of my life, right? OF COURSE. Then the real work began. The real commitment. I soon looked forward to toddler time… at least then he could walk and talk and do things on his own, right? UUUUGGGGHHH. That season brought about a whole new slew of challenges. Speed this along 17 years… As I sit here and consider that this same child is now a senior in high school, that he will be graduating in a few short months, and moving onto college to start a life of independence… What I wouldn’t give to see him walking around with drool running from his mouth, hobbling in his overalls with a saggy diaper…

Moral of the story is that as we look to brighter days and new seasons, whatever season of life we are in, good or bad, we have to know that the season WILL change, that things get better, that tough times don’t last always, that people grow, that increase will come, and spring is indeed on the way! We must know that every single day and every moment of our journey, good or bad is one to embrace, learn, and grow from, but most importantly, to enjoy.

This may be tough because some of us reading this right now are in the hardest of winters. Perhaps you are enduring a season of illness, a tough marriage, a financial hardship, a job you don’t like. I get it. However, you have to dig deep, and for some of us REAL DEEP, to see the lesson, the beauty, the growth and opportunities that lie in the moments of this part of our journey. How can we get better here? What tools will I gather for my next season? What can I do to enjoy this season right where I am?

As we look on with great expectation to the next chapter, it is so important that we not just endure this undesirable time in our life. We can’t fill our mind with thoughts of stress, depression, doubt, boredom, and gloom. Life is about seasons. While every day won’t be one on the mountain top, we can do our best to maintain a mountaintop outlook. We can see the beauty in the moment and focus on the good times we have. We can learn and grow during these seasons, so we can carry our new insight into our next season and share with others. If we are too busy focusing on the spring, we can miss out on the beauty of winter we were so excited about in the beginning. If you are single and desperately waiting to get married, ENJOY your freedom and not having to cater to or be responsible for another human. If you are a stay at home mom looking forward to getting back to work, though it is a challenging right now, ENJOY not having to get up every day and report to an office. If you are living in a tiny apartment and can’t wait to get your first home, ENJOY not cutting grass or having to heat such a large area. Or a new graduate, eager to start your first job, ENJOY not having to pay student loans and living with your parents during this last stretch of time…

As I look forward to my son graduating from high school, I realize these days won’t be here for long. I can only imagine how much I would miss if I wasn’t intentional about making every moment of this season count. While I am driving him to yet another senior obligation, early morning SAT exam, academic banquet, athletic event, I am careful to embrace the beauty of our time together. As you go about your season, I pray you can squeeze out moments that make you smile. Times to help you grow. Lessons you can take into your next season. That while you look forward to the what’s to come, you enjoy every drip drop of the portion of the journey you are on right now. This season will not last forever. Enjoy it while it’s here! Spring is on the way… 😊 🙂 🙂

NO RECEPTION…


If you are anywhere near my age, you remember, or at least have heard of a day when after a certain time of night, the TV screen turned dark and was covered with various colored lines… when all the streets were still, the stores were closed… When dinner was served sometime around 6pm and after about 10pm, there was nothing left to do but sleep…
I’m not quite sure when exactly it began, but somewhere along the timeline in the last few years, stores and restaurants began staying open until 10/11pm, TV and all other forms of media stayed on all night and cellphones allowed people a 24-hour all access pass to anything and anyone… WOW!!!! Times have surely changed. Seems like a total maximization of 24 hours!!!! Sounds AMAZING right????
Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday (HEEEEEEEEEY!!!! 😊). Because it falls on the Christmas holiday, my family and I were on our Christmas family vacation in Phoenix. What a BEAUTIFUL place, during an AMAZING time of year, with my FAVORITE people on the planet!!! We had a wonderful time together. However, my birthday was EXTRA SPECIAL. My husband took me to the Grand Canyon. And though we had lived in Arizona a few years back, I had never been. I guess I just never had the desire to see a giant hole in the earth?????? Nevertheless, we grabbed our coats, put on our sweats and hiking shoes and made the 3 ½ hour drive to Flagstaff.
The ride itself was BEAUTIFUL!!! But I must say, when I arrived at the Canyon, I WAS SPEECHLESS. The sight of it literally took my breath away. I was overcome by awe and cried instantly. What an unbelievable wonder to behold!!! Every step I took allowed for a different view of this monument of gloriousness!!! But what was equally as amazing as the sight, was the nothingness that happened during our time there…
It was EVERYTHING!!!! My husband and I did what we do often in our moments like these. We vision casted. We reflected. We reminisced. We laughed. We held hands. We talked. And talked. We were present in every moment together and we weren’t distracted by calls or text messages or agendas or requests or social media or ANYTHING!!!! It was MAGICAL!!!
I find that though I am present and active as a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, mentor etc. I have to be intentional about making time to go “offline.” This time that my husband and I spent was SO necessary. It was a perfect time to reflect on all that happened in 2018 and our goals and dreams for 2019. It was great to laugh at our mistakes yet reflect on God’s goodness. There were even moments of silence, when we just inhaled and rested in bliss.
I could go on and on about my short time at the Canyon a few days ago. It was truly one of the best days of my life. However, I have to be honest, after 42 years of life, I have come to understand how necessary these experiences are. I, on purpose, make plans to regularly dwell in places where I have no reception. If only for a couple hours a week or even for an hour a day, I retreat. I unplug. I “out of office.” Of course, it is not always at the amazing Grand Canyon, but perhaps on other hikes, or baths, or quiet drives, or star gazes, or the library or lake or whatever. I find it so therapeutic to take time to turn off the noise. To cancel the “all access pass” for a little while.
This year, I will be even more intentional about insuring a bit of quiet time. Though our days have been filled with what seems to be maximum productivity, we need to unwind. To unplug. To turn it off. I am SO much more productive when I get that period of peace. I hear God’s voice SO clearly. I am less agitated and so much more creative. I pray that while you are out conquering all the amazing adventures put before you, that you take time to exhale. That you embrace moments of beauty, rest and solitude. That you take time to dwell in places with no reception. During these moments, may your peace, joy and love be renewed and restored… HAPPY 2019 TO YOU!!!!


A Different Take on Giving This Christmas…

Ok. Before I get started, let me tell you what this is NOT. This is not some amazing philanthropic endeavor, or way to feed 10,000 families in a starving land. Honestly, I wish I was sharing that kind of news, but this is a much simpler idea I’d like to share to help spread the art of giving right in the four walls of your own home.

If your family is like mine, Christmas goes a little something like this: Mom pays careful attention to amazing details of her children. She has listened and taken stock of the desires of her family’s heart for the last 2-6 months. By the time the holidays roll around, she has an amazing list of all the great things she plans to buy. She then tells the hubby, who nods in appreciation and acceptance of these great ideas and after her thoughtful hunt and purchase, she then finds great wrapping paper, stockings and gift bags to present these lovely trinkets on Christmas day. Meanwhile, the kids are ESTATIC with anticipation for yet another joyful season of GETTING!!!! Christmas Day rolls around and Mom sits back and watches her successful gathering session pay off with excitement and happiness for a day where each member of the family feels like someone took the time to consider EXACTLY what THEY wanted, and made those wishes come true. Some amazing moms even yield the credit to a big man in a red suit as the benefactor of this great extravaganza… 🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼

WELL… after watching that scene for the last 17 years, our family has agreed to switch things up a bit. First of all, I have really been into the idea of enjoying experiences vs. THINGS. As I get older, I have come to realize how short-lived the happiness of obtaining items can really be. It is a plight that sends many into debt and even depression after realizing once you get “IT”, there is always a desire for MORE… “IT” is never enough…  and “IT” never gives the lasting high created by memories or experiences that leave a lasting impression, a lifelong memory or moments for reflection and growth. Over the years, I have come to replace high ticket items, technology, and great trinkets, with opportunities of adventure and togetherness.

While our family will take another trip this holiday season, we will still attempt to give them the “gift under the tree” experience, but this year it will be with a bit of a twist. This year we have set a spending budget of $400. Each member of our family will pull a name from our family of four. They will keep that name a secret. For the next several days THEY will conduct research on their person. They will study them. Listen to them. Consider the desires of their heart. On December 15th, we will wake up early and venture out to the mall. Each family member will get $100 in cash. They will then be responsible for searching for great gifts for their selected family member. As the mom, I will be on hand for advice or guidance if necessary, but it is up to them to make this a memorable experience for their person to enjoy on Christmas day.

I love this idea because it does several things:

  1. It allows EVERY member of the family to appreciate the art of GIVING as well as receiving. I SOOOO love to give. Though our family is a family of givers, I hope our children will see how great the entire giving experience is and make it a part of everyday life.
  2. It helps everyone appreciate and understand the importance of a budget. Though we would LOVE to give a lot more, we must spend according to what we have. Apple can’t determine that amount, we must. There is no joy in giving when you have to pay for it for the next several months. I love that we can share this experience together. Look for deals! Find the sales… Make that money stretch!
  3. It requires everyone to consider another’s desires over their own. They will have to conduct the necessary research in order to be successful in their experience. Too many times we are so wrapped up in our own wishes, we fail to consider anyone else’s.
  4. It takes the weight off one person producing for everyone. Though I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas hunt, purchase, wrap and presentation session, it is a joy I would like my family to practice as well. Especially as my kids are getting older, it will be imperative for them to learn the art of giving for their current and future relationships.
  5. It is a reminder that we all get things throughout the year… All the time!!! We can’t possibly buy EVERYthing for EVERYbody in one month… (Whoever came up with such an idea??? 🤔🤔🤔 lol!)
  6. It helps highlight the idea that the family trip is our true Christmas present. Our undivided time together and the adventures we will share will supersede any thing we could wrap and place under a tree.

As a country, the secularization of Christmas has created a “get” mentality in many of us. A lot of our giving is out of obligation vs. the genuine desire to share. Many of us go into debt to meet unrealistic expectations and fail to see the true beauty in what this amazing time of year is all about. While we will still decorate the tree and enjoy the lights and holiday music, I am hopeful to help create experiences that spread love, joy, peace and the true beauty of cheerful giving, (within a budget of course) that will help produce memories that last a lifetime. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Here’s to all the wonderful ways you choose to celebrate God’s love this holiday season! 😊😊😊😊😘😘😘

Photo: Bplans

OFF THE WALL…

When I was in 6th grade, I remember our middle school having a big dance. Though it was held in our gymnasium, and the teachers were our chaperones, somehow, to us, it was considered a MAJOR event. I knew most of the kids in my grade and even the upper classmen. We had been going to school together since elementary. I was actually considered decently popular (if there is such a thing in 6th grade… 😊) And though the DJ was BLASTING some of that year’s greatest JAMS, it did not stop my tremendous fear of getting on the dance floor. I literally sat there the entire time watching all the kids dance wishing I had the guts to get out there and jam right along with them. Instead, I played it safe, and stayed my butt on the wall the entire night overcome with great envy and fear. I was so disappointed in myself. Over time I matured. I gained a bit of confidence and by the time I was in the 8th grade, I was not only helping to organize the dances, but I had choreographed routines to Bobby Brown and Janet Jackson’s greatest hits in order to show off my dance skills with my friends!!! Lol!

Speed this up to 2018, 30+ years later, recently, I have been listening to Michael Jackson’s awesome hit song, “Off the Wall.” If you get a chance you should check it out. But the lyrics made me remember that 6th grade experience. I wonder how many of us get stuck in that same “wall” rut. We get caught up in our mundane routines of life. At one time they may have seemed thrilling, but as we get up, go to work, take the kids to school, come home, eat, sleep, and then repeat… we find ourselves slipping into a bit of boredom and even despair. We are frustrated with the monotony, but don’t really know any other way. The kids HAVE to go to practice. We HAVE to work, do laundry, cook, clean, etc… and it becomes too easy to lean up against that wall and watch everyone else enjoying themselves. Because, for us, the thrill is gone…Yep. I get it.

HOWEVER. There is SO much more to life than a job. Than taking kids back and forth to practice. Than sitting in traffic. Than living that predictable, controlled, mundane life. Life is supposed to be ENJOYED!!! Full of adventure and love and zest and FUN!!!!!! It can seem a bit intimidating to step outside our comfort zones and try new ideas, travel new terrain, explore unfamiliar scenes. I mean, who has time or energy or even money for all that???? But getting off the wall doesn’t mean we have to go do a solo dance routine. Doesn’t mean we have to purchase a tuxedo and meet with a dance instructor or to audition for Julliard…

It could mean getting up and watching the sunrise. Committing to a new hiking destination once a month. Making a dish inspired by various countries all over the world. Road tripping twice a year. Getting that new pixie cut you’ve been too scared to try, renting a convertible for the weekend, buying silver boots to wear to the concert of your favorite band, learning a new language online, saving up to see a new country each year. Renting a pontoon for the family vacay. Taking dance lessons. You get the idea. Whatever the case, YOU GOT TO GET OFF THAT WALL!!!! The safe route is a road that leads to stagnation. Boredom. And Despair. Yes, you have a job. You have to be a responsible adult, spouse, parent, employee, homeowner etc… But we MUST commit to doing things on a REGULAR basis that, though may be uncomfortable, or cost a little money, or require a little planning, force us to get off the wall and enjoy this life.

As it stands right now, I have two teenagers, a husband and a dog. All of them require my time, energy, love and commitment. I am FULLY devoted to them. However, I understand that in order to live a balanced life, in order to be 100% for them, I HAVE TO do things that stimulate my joy, stir up my excitement, put thrill back on the scene. Some of the things I do/have done in the past have been simple, free, inexpensive, or sometimes not so much, but I am committed to doing something carefree and fun at least once a week and if possible once a day!

It is so cliché’ to say life is short, but it is so true. When we leave this beautiful place, we can’t take our jobs, our cars, our houses or clothing with us. It won’t matter what items or titles we’ve acquired. What will matter, are the experiences we enjoyed and how much LIFE we lived and the amazing memories and lessons we gained along the way. We must be intentional about squeezing every drip drop of this awesome journey.

I pray that you don’t get on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc… and look at everyone else on the dance floor. That you don’t scroll through their pictures of trips to the ocean, but that right where you are, you make those moments for yourself.  Get so good at living off the wall, you have choreographed dance numbers for every song that is played. You are jammin’ so hard, you inspire others to jam as well… And in the words of the great Michael Jackson, you will be sure to find, “Life ain’t so bad at all… if you live it off the wall!!!!” 😊

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Catalogue Your Journey… Capturing the Moments that Count.

Ok. So when we hear the word “souvenir” we all think of the 3 for $10 trinkets we buy when on vacation to let people know we were thinking of them, or perhaps an artifact to remind ourselves of the time we enjoyed while there. Unfortunately, most times, those items are bought without real thought and they ultimately collect dust for a few weeks before winding up in the garbage. I mean, how can we keep up with all that “junk” over the years anyway? Great point. However, I started looking at this souvenir thing in a different way. I had a desire to capture a bit of the joy, peace and memories that were happening throughout this awesome journey. And even though I carry them in my heart and mind all the time, there is something about the nostalgia of bringing your mind right back to that space in time which you held so dear.

Maybe because I have very few pictures or artifacts from when I was a child, but mostly because I am amazed with how the time is flying and how many miracles happen every single day, I just have the desire to catalogue my journey. I found that it is simply a way to bottle up that moment, that feeling, that memory, so that it can be relived in some small way. You can do this in so many ways. Perhaps by journaling, taking pictures and videos of the “highlights”, making playlists, marking your child’s growth progress on a wall, stamping their hands and feet, saving medals and trophies, making 1st day of school signs and pics for every year, collecting a pen for every hotel you visit, etc. Whatever the case, one of the greatest ways to keep gratitude in your heart is to recount the many blessings you experience on a day to day basis. A great way to slow down the time is to catalogue and take stock. Be intentional about it and customize it to make it meaningful to you.

One of the ways my family and I catalogue is by collecting a Starbucks coffee mug on every place we travel. Over the last 5 years or so, we have been successful. It was pretty cool when my husband and I added our collection to a space on our wall a couple weeks back. What a super conversation piece. What a great motivation to travel more. What a super way to enjoy and capture the journey and even share with others. I hope you find a way to capture the awesome moments during your adventures. And that you intentionally discover meaningful ways to recount the joy you experienced while there…

HOW TO TEMPER YOUR TURKEY TIME… Tips to Reduce Holiday Indulgence :-)

Ok. We are just a couple days away from the incredible holiday season!!!!! Awesome days filled with joy, peace, laughter, rest, and fun. Great memories are made with all our FAVORITE things to enjoy; football, family, friends; time off work, and the best of all… SHOPPING AND EATING of course!!!! I tell you, I am an AVID Black Friday shopper!!! I will be out there with the BEST of them searching for a super steal (yeah right… do they really exist???? But I WILL be out there nonetheless!!!) and of course will enjoy a wonderful FEAST on Thanksgiving and Christmas day!!! However, I have learned over the years the good old adage “a moment on the lips, equals a lifetime on the hips” to be SOOOO appropriate during this season. We can actually apply it to not only food, but spending as well. Here are a couple ideas to consider when making choices about eating and shopping during the holidays.

For the sake of establishing my point, let’s look up the definition of 2 words. 1st indulge. Indulge simply means “to take unrestrained pleasure in.” 2nd temper. Temper means to “restrain. To serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to something.” Ok. So, the teacher in me is coming out. Lol.

Here’s the deal. Holidays are a time for great indulgence. We will all be tempted and most likely give in to eating without restraint and sometimes spending without restraint. We will be welcomed REGULARLY with treats, candy, cupcakes, muffins, lattes and other goodies each day. I mean, sugar is lurking on EVERY corner! At work, church, friends’ houses, school celebrations, holiday parties, etc… The Thanksgiving Day dinner alone will be loaded with DELICIOUS appetizers, meats, sides, desserts and drinks!!! HALLELUJAH!!! And we will commence to filling our bellies until we look like the stuffed turkey lying on the platter!!! We are quick to tell ourselves… “Oh, it’s the holidays… go ahead and indulge!!” FOR SURE!!! I get it!!! IT IS THE HOLIDAYS!!!!!

We do the same thing with spending. We have Secret Santa gifts to buy, Amazon is having super sales, phones have no more memory, everyone in the family needs a SUPER-DUPER gift, and shoot, while you were out looking for your mom’s present, they had a buy one get one 20% off sale, so you had to get one for yourself as well!!!! I KNOOOOWWWWW!!!! AND… It’s the break and the kids need something to do, so why not Disney, or at least the movies, dinner, a theatre production, and ALLLLLLLLL those great goodies. Everyone is coming over to your house, so you must UPGRADE your otherwise ANCIENT Christmas décor… I KNOOOOOOOWWW!!!

This has all become the beauty of the celebration. At this point, it wouldn’t be the same without it. However, we have to get real with ourselves. We run wild during this time only to spend the next few months cleaning up the mess we made, or even worse, ignoring it. Our credit cards are smashed full and our waist takes an unrepairable hit! I can admit, I have come back from many a holiday break weighing more than 5-8lbs more than when I started!!! We drudge through to New Year’s with yet another promise to get it all back in order… uuuggghhh.

Perhaps there is a better way. Simple temperance during this time can save us a ton of headache in the months to come. How can we do this? Here are some simple ideas to help temper your spending and eating during the holidays.

Temper your eating:

  1. Treat yourself, but limit yourself to one plate only. (No 2nd’s/No doggy bags!!!)
  2. Load your plate with double the amount of veggies, salad, soups over everything else.
  3. Commit to an extra workout regime during the month of December.
  4. Don’t arrive starved. Have a healthy snack or drink 2 big glasses of water before going to any holiday party (it’s tough to overeat when you are already full!!!)
  5. Bring your own favorite healthy option to the party… EAT THAT!!! 😊

Temper your spending:

  1. Make a holiday budget based on cash vs. credit.
  2. Get creative with your gifts, décor, and recreation (cook/bake/DIY-type gifts/board games/light viewing etc.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to say NO to commitments beyond your budget.
  4. Condense gift buying (Everyone pull a name. This is the person you will buy for this year.)
  5. BUY USED (You can always give gently used video games, books, toys etc. instead of the brand-new version)

I KNOW. I KNOW. This all seems to take the fun out of the experience, BUT ultimately, you have to get your mind, will and emotions in check. Let them know who’s in charge!!! If you make it a practice to operate in discipline during the most DIFFICULT of situations, there is no temptation you can’t completely obliterate!!! You can DO THIS!!! Trust me, your waistline and bank account will be much better off because you used wisdom and restraint. In the meantime, remember what this season is all about. Though you have a heart to give the most and best, though you want to enjoy great memories and times with loved ones, it will be much more enjoyable today and tomorrow when it is done with love and self-control.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOUR CREW!!! 🙂

 

Photo cred: Pinterest

CHOOSE JOY: How to Overcome a Season of The Blues… (My Journey Through The Valley)

Ok, so it has been a couple months since I posted. I wish I could tell you it was because I was out enjoying my journey to the fullest. But if I can be honest with you, it was actually just the opposite. I was in the dumps, overcoming the blues… my peace was under attack and I have to tell you, it was a major struggle. Though it took just about 2 months, now that I have come to see the light, so to speak, now that I am back, I want to share what I have learned from my experience. Because let’s face it, we all have our rough patches, walk through valleys, experience pain and drama and let downs. And though I consider myself one tough cookie, and a pretty happy person, sometimes, these occurrences/circumstances/ordeals/setbacks/rough patches can indeed try to steal our joy. Sometimes these situations are devastating and a mere “suck it up buttercup” just won’t do.

For an example, surely you can have a bad day at work, or a heated exchange with your spouse, or leave your favorite scarf at the restaurant, or your kid gets a bad grade on his report card and this can be super frustrating. However, you can make a few adjustments, take a few deep breaths and bounce back soon after. But what about the more devastating experiences???? The big blows that throw you off your rocker, that shake your entire world. Like a death of a loved one, a CONTINUAL exchange with your spouse, a child who is perpetually in trouble, a job loss, a bad medical report, etc… How can we overcome the devastation that comes with these situations, especially when there is minimal evidence the circumstance will change?

Well without going into the details of my ordeal, I will confide some of the ways I was able to get my joy back and how I plan to maintain it. First of all, I realized quickly that my mind was completely filled with sadness, frustration, and even anger. Once that happened, there was no room for me to see anything with the right perspective. EVERYTHING seemed wrong. Everyone was bad. My efforts were worthless. Nothing had value to me. There was a fog clouding my mind and because of it, my vision was blurred. My perspective was off. Regardless of the fact that I otherwise had a pretty great existence, I literally could not see that. I was consumed by my grief. Overwhelmed by my doubt. Immersed with fear and frustration. I WAS going to church, I WAS reading the bible, I was doing all that blah, blah, blah. But my situation was there every day looking at me in the face like a huge dark cloud of reality and all I could do was roll around in it with self-pity assuming it would never get better.

So, let’s start there. Let’s assume that your situation doesn’t get better. Maybe that child won’t come to his senses for 5 more years, the bankruptcy has left you with bad credit for 7 years, your spouse won’t get the job he’s been believing for for another 5 months… how can you keep your spirits up? I submit that though those situations can bring devastation to you and your need for control, your peace and joy cannot be contingent upon them getting better. Once I came to that realization, operation Get My Joy Back, was in full swing!!! Here are the four steps I took to help me stop, drop and roll out of my gloom.

  1. Eliminate the waste/Take out the trash: In order to get rid of my stinkin’ thinkin’ I had to get rid of the negative influences that were clouding my vision.  It wasn’t deep. I mean, I don’t hang around or have regular exposure to negative people, but I had to eliminate the subtle contact. Like the images on social media, some of the TV shows, the songs, news, and even the conversations with people who were regularly complaining about their own drama. It was too much. Some of those songs will have you ready to jump off the mountain you are supposed to be moving!!!! They will subliminally fill your head with images and ideas that are not related to you. For example, some of the regular commercials on TV will make you think EVERYONE is depressed, EVERYONE has cancer, EVERYONE’S man cheats on them!!!! SOOOOO NOT TRUE!!!! TURN IT ALL OFFFFFF!!!!! TUNE IT ALLLLL OUT!!!! Those images will only hinder your path to mental clarity and set you back miles on your journey.
  2. On the contrary, immerse your mind with positive: Pretend your mind is a cup. As much as you possibly can, overload that cup with positive images, messages, thoughts, words, ideas and people. During my time in the valley, I ordered 4 new books, read great magazines, followed several sites that uploaded positive quotes and images, watched a series of faith-based movies, listened to Joel Osteen every time I got in the car, listened to uplifting music and conversed with positive people.  It is SOOO easy to want to call your best buddy and unload your issue on them. Often times they will even help you sit in your stew. But I connected with a friend of mine who challenged me. Who encouraged me. She helped me lift my spirits and help me get my eyes on what was important. Surround yourself with positivity. Great sources that will help center your focus upward.
  3. Minister to yourself: I know this is so cliché, but I was on a plane recently and the flight attendant went through the whole spiel about “securing your oxygen mask FIRST before trying to take care of others’…” That really spoke to me. It is SOOOOO important that we minister to ourselves, not only during the tough times, but REGULARLY. I dare say, EVERY DAY!!!! During my frustration, I went to the movies, went on long walks, had some quiet book reading in the coffee shop, took long hot baths, went window shopping, baked, and even went on a weekend getaway with just myself. Whatever you enjoy doing, which more than likely, you have somehow forfeited… DO IT!!!! It is therapeutic. It is necessary. These are the things that help you ENJOY life and should not take a back seat to busyness. Furthermore, intentionally doing some of these things on a regular basis, is a great way to stay out of the rough patch.
  4. SEEK THE LORD: Jesus is the ultimate supplier of joy! Seek Him first thing every single day! I personally don’t answer a text, a call, open social media, exchange with humans at all until AFTER I pray and read the Word/devotional each morning. If you don’t have a daily regimen or don’t know where to start, Pray in the shower. Download the Bible App on your phone. Read a chapter of the bible a day. Find a devotional that ministers to you. Get a good bible based book. Whatever the case, I have found that no person, no thing, no idea, no quote, no method can renew my strength, feed my spirit, restore my joy like Jesus. No house, no spouse, no clothing, no weight loss, no achievement, no surgery, no drug, no degree, or pursuit can provide the lasting joy like a relationship with Christ. Once I surrendered my worry, doubt, frustration, fear, anger and sadness over to Him. Once I took my hands off the wheel and released the need for control, I was able to allow His peace, hope, joy, faith, and love to fill my heart completely. And the best part is, He was right there all along. When He has preeminence in your life, it is difficult for outside forces to get in…

Now. Does that mean that we will never experience a rough patch ever again? Of course not. But I am confident that as I used these steps to recover my joy, if I make them a regular practice, I can use them to maintain my joy, regardless what the circumstances are around me. No doubt life can be tough. We have a TON going on and so many things coming at us each day. However, joy is a choice. It is contingent upon nothing other than our decision to activate it… Here’s to getting back out there and making the decision to ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR JOURNEY!!!! As for me… I CHOOSE JOY.

 

Photo cred: Stephanie Archer

The Most “Unloveable” People Need Love the Most…

I was watering my bushes a few days ago. I noticed that after a year and a half of planting and watering just about every day, some of the bushes were beginning to grow and the buds were actually blossoming! I was THRILLED at the SIGHT of life, because up until now, though I was diligent with their care, my flowers seemed pretty unresponsive. The new blooms motivated me to water more. I even watered the couple with the biggest blossoms a bit longer because they had become my prize. I then looked over to the four that were not blooming and I grew frustrated. I didn’t even want to waste my time watering them. Something must be wrong with them if they couldn’t produce the same results after the same care! THE NERVE!!!! I mean, they have given no evidence of even THINKING of blooming!!! I even considered uprooting them and planting something more “suitable” for success.

At that moment, the Lord showed me the correlation between my frustration about the non-budding bushes with how often times we as a society can become toward others that behave in a similar manner. Think about it. How easy is it to write a person off, to become offended, to hold a grudge or withhold mercy on a person who acts in an unbecoming manner that may be different from otherwise attractive behaviors. How often are we repelled by a co-worker, a neighbor, a child, even a spouse who seems to have missed the mark on seemingly obvious objectives. ESPECIALLY when you have gone out of your way to extend an extra amount of mercy toward them… THE NERVE!!!!!

I remember my last year teaching, I had a student in 1st period named “John.” Since I actually loved teaching and even more so, LOVED the students, I never had many discipline problems. My students could see my sincere care and determination for their success, it created a mutual relationship of love and respect. However, “John” was one of the toughest in all my career. He showed up late just about every day, he sat in the front row and attempted to sleep regularly; when he WAS awake, he sat there, unprepared and unmotivated to do ANYTHING, and often times became a MAJOR distraction. Though I had to continually redirect him, something in me could not give up on “John.” This kid challenged me to my CORE, but I knew he was capable of fulfilling the tasks put before him. It was his senior year, he had made it this far, and I was NOT about to let him FAIL. He required EVERY drip drop of my patience, but I wouldn’t accept less than his best and I encouraged him to get through.

I realize extending this kind of grace takes an enormous amount of tolerance, perseverance, and strength. People can be super- extra difficult at times! It is SO easy to just throw our hands up and quit. I mean, even if “John” MAKES it out of high school, even if those plants do get a little stronger, it is so much easier to devote the energy to a person/plant that appreciates the love, or at least shows PROMISE of success.

I remember my students asking me that same question… “Mrs. Harper, why do you keep working with “John,” you know he’s not even going to graduate! He doesn’t even care!” What they didn’t know, and what I didn’t even know until later, was that John’s dad walked out on their family the year prior. It had a devastating impact on them emotionally and financially. His mother had a to carry a weight that was too much for her. They lost their home, and were forced into some very unbearable living conditions. This certainly took its toll on “John” and he began to act out, lose interest in school and everything else.

From somewhere deep inside, without knowing this prior, I was devoted to seeing “John” win. I remember explaining to the class that if we all treated John the way he deserved to be treated based on his behavior, he would see frustration and annoyance from his teachers, his mother, his classmates, his family and everyone in his life. How would that make him feel? How could he POSSIBLY blossom in that case? But what if we treated him like we hoped he would be. What we wanted him to become? What if we loved on him. What if when he acted out, we didn’t retaliate with anger, but redirected him with compassion? Considering how challenging his behavior was, this seemed a near impossible task. But I was up for the mission and was sure to model it in front of my students.

I know this is not easy. I know. But what I have come to appreciate is the one who is the most challenging, the one who is the most unloveable, the one with the threat of failure, is the very one that needs love the most. We simply cannot give up on people who don’t have it all together, who present a challenge, even those who act out. That is the expected response. That is what they are used to. That won’t help promote a change or motivate them to rise higher. We must reach deep into our hearts… DEEP (lol) and find that compassion. Extend that mercy. Overlook that offense. I am convinced that love never fails. I am settled that if we rise to a higher place, we can win over the hardest of hearts.  We can inspire that tough individual to overcome.

I will never forget graduation 2014. I sat on the field during the commencement as a proud teacher of the graduates. We were to sit with them, help supervise, and escort them off the field after the ceremony. One of the proudest moments of my teaching career happened at the end as the graduates engaged in a procession off the field. “John” came up to me with tears streaming down his face, beaming with pride and gratitude. He looked me in my eyes, and with all sincerity told me, there was no way he would have made it to this moment without me. He apologized for being so difficult to handle and concluded his message with, “thanks for never giving up on me!!!” It was the last class of my career, but that lesson was one of the greatest of them all.

Though you may put forth great effort, though you may not always understand, though that difficult spirit may push you to your limit, somehow go to that place deep down in your heart and activate that compassion, extend that mercy, muster up that hope, water those plants and love the seemingly unloveable. It may just be the very ingredient necessary for them not to fail…

 

 

Photo: picturequotes

TIME DOES NOT HAVE TO FLY… A Back to School Reflection.

Ok, so both my kids are in high school!!!!! 😲😲😔 WHAATTT???!!! This blew me away!!! I mean, it seems like YESTERDAY I was nursing them and teaching them how to use the bathroom!!!! I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed them, or getting them bundled in alllll their layers of clothing in order to weather the cold, and carrying them in their car seat and wondering “how in the world was I going to get through this????” I mean, it seemed SOOOOO hard and because they were only 19 months apart, it seemed there was no relief. Something as simple as getting ready for bed meant individual baths, and getting them dressed and keeping one entertained while the other was being attended to… it was literally EXHAUSTING!!!!

I remember some of the elders, (ie. WISE, BRILLIANT people we tend to ignore because they just don’t understand our specific situation) used to tell me, “enjoy these moments because they fly right by…” I remember WISHING they would… 😂😂lolol!!! Now that those beautiful babies have grown into amazing 14/16-year old’s right before my eyes, I’ve learned that time does indeed FLY by and I have come to appreciate allllll those tough times as fond moments in this AMAZING journey. Because I have come to value each phase of parenthood, I have also learned how to seize the moments and literally slow down the time.

How in the world can you slow down time, you say? It is actually quite simple: Make each moment count. BE PRESENT. Adjust your perspective and see the joy in that perfect place of the journey. Especially you new moms, or moms of toddlers, or moms of those goofy pre-teens, and OMG… MOMS OF TEENAGERS!!!! YIKES!!! Know that each phase brings about a new terrain. It can be tough, especially when you haven’t tread that path before. It completely sucks when they learn the word “no”, or when they THINK about talking back, driving, dating, or wanting to go on field trips, or getting a new cell phone, or starting HIGH SCHOOL!!!! OMG!!!! IT’S A LOT I KNOW!!!! Each phase brings new challenges indeed, but they are times you will never get back. Ask any empty-nester what they wouldn’t give to put that perfect part in their daughter’s hair with pigtails for the first day of school. How they wish they could sit through just ONE more basketball game. How they wish they could watch one more Disney movie together…

I remember my daughter being rushed to the hospital because her appendix ruptured. We had no idea, but it actually ruptured days before she was admitted, which put her in a critical position. Infection had spread through her body and we were in the hospital for several days. I was still working during that time. I remember actually wrestling with the idea that I had 150 final exams to grade and report cards to post while my daughter had a tube sticking out the middle of her stomach!!! 😦😦😦 It dawned on me then, that my job was taking WAAAAY too much of my attention. That it hindered me from fully focusing on the monumental moments of my children’s lives. I considered how much of my attention COULDN’T be on them, because I was trying to be excellent at my career. That was my last year of teaching. We downsized our lives, I retired from my job and am at home to fully serve my family. Now, I am by NO means suggesting anyone quit their job. For me, I HAD to, and it has made all the difference. But there is surely a way you can slow down the time in your life right now. Whatever way God leads you specifically to enjoy your journey, be sure to adhere. Realize that though we have our entire lives to indulge, chase after dreams, seek promotion, gain advanced education, get overtime hours, one thing we can’t get back is the time that passes and the events that happen throughout. Figure out how YOU can be present for your kids and get to it ASAP.

It doesn’t even have to be super deep. Being present in the moment looks like this: Attuning fully when they show you their 7,456th completed page from their coloring book, listening like you are at a concert when they ask you to hear that song they learned on the flute in band class today, sitting with them while they struggle through that English project, putting your phone down and talking to them in the car on the way to EVERY WHERE, turning off the TV and listening to them during dinner, helping them make that sign for their student council election and the like.

Parents have a tough job. We seem to constantly need relief from the weight it bears. However, if we adjust our perspective a bit and see each phase as a once in a lifetime moment on an amazing journey, we are sure to savor the time. When we purpose to enjoy each day of their childhood, we will never have to answer that horrible question, “Where did the time go?” Because we were right there in the middle of each one of those precious moments with them. Today is tomorrow’s “good old days…” so get out there and Carpe Diem!!!!

18 WAYS WE MADE IT 18 YEARS… AN ANNIVERSARY REFLECTION.

Today I celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary!!!! WOWZERS!!!! It’s hard to believe it has been that long, but what an INCREDIBLE adventure indeed. Especially jumping into marriage at 22, my husband and I grew up together. We have raised 2 children, traveled the world, bought and sold property, developed businesses, paid off debt, overcome challenges and setbacks, and learned SOOOOO much along the way. The best part about it, is that we did it all TOGETHER!!!!! And more importantly, with God at the forefront the entire time. We are by no means perfect, sooooo far from it. We have DEFINITLY had our challenges, but we are committed to growing and getting better and better as we go. Over the years many people ask, how do we stay together? How do we keep the love alive? Well, I truly believe that the secret sauce to a successful marriage is doing it according to the bible. Marriage is created by God. It is a sacred covenant between you and Him and when done in line with His Word, it can be the greatest journey of our lives. In honor of 18 years, I reflected on 18 specific things that I believe has kept our marriage blissful.

  1. Seek Godly/professional counsel during the tough times. Sometimes you just need a 3rd party who can shed light/Godly wisdom on an issue that neither of you can seem to agree on. We have sought counsel on several occasions during our marriage and it helped us regain our focus.
  2. Travel/ride through beautiful neighborhoods/test drive nice cars/connect with people you admire/try new foods… DREAM BIG!!!! It sets the tone for “the possible.” We are not called to settle and be stagnant. Step outside your comfort zone and dream/vision cast together. We do this ALLLLL the time. It is so much fun to explore the AMAZING possibilities that await.
  3. Do as many things as you can TOGETHER. Pretty much, if you see me, you see my husband and/or the kids. We are always together. We LOVE being TOGETHER. We grocery shop, walk, ride, go to basketball games, read, eat, worship, do yard work, etc. TOGETHER. We are a team. It makes EVERYTHING enjoyable.
  4. Divide chores and tasks evenly among each other. Because we are all stakeholders in this estate, we work together to help it run smoothly. He has strengths and so do I. We use them daily to help take care of the needs of our home/family in a balanced way so that no one is overloaded.
  5. Build your budget on one salary. Even though for a while we had 2 incomes coming in, it made it that much easier to transition into me stepping away from my job (both times) because we ALWAYS set our budget and spending on his salary. This takes the pressure off when babies come into the equation or any other demands that will require one of you to reduce work or step away from the job.
  6. Get out of debt and stay out. We eliminate the main area of contention when we don’t have enormous amounts of debt lingering over our heads. It takes such a load off and allows for great freedom to not have to use every dollar we make paying a bill. SOOO worth the sacrifice.
  7. Take vacation time. We go on at least 1 major trip and several weekend getaways each year. We enjoy the time SO much and it helps us recalibrate for all the great adventures ahead.
  8. Go on a date regularly. We go out at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but just getting dressed and out keeps the party pumpin’!!!
  9. Put the kids to bed!!! Many people allow the kids to stay up late, sleep in their bed etc. We never did that. The kids have a bed time. We spend a TON of time with them every day. But when it is bedtime, they go to bed. That leaves time for us to have some time each day as well.
  10. You build your family, let God build your enterprises. Though we have goals and dreams, we are careful not to rush them at the expense of our marriage and/or family. Enterprise and businesses will come. However, these precious moments to raise our kids and build a strong foundation takes time, effort and dedication. It is our #1 priority.  We leave the work at the office…
  11. Pray together daily. Though we pray and have our time with God each day independently, we also pray together as a family each day. It sets the standard in our home that God is the head. It helps us keep our hearts on him FIRST.
  12. See and celebrate each other’s differences as additions/bonuses to what you lack individually. Though I am super outgoing and passionate, Mike is laid back and calm. This helps complete the package vs. creating a source of division. Differences are assets.
  13. Keep a thankful journal. I write in a thankful journal every night. Often times when I get frustrated or FORGET how great my husband is, or how great things are in our life, I can look back on years of great things that have happened to me EVERY SINGLE DAY and it INSTANTLY gets my mind right back into perspective.
  14. Take a MILLION pictures, keep records, make playlists of moments during the journey that you can regularly reflect upon. It goes SO fast and there are SO many monumental adventures to cherish. They will help keep a smile in your heart.
  15. Build your foundation on the Word. Avoid TV shows, movies, songs, examples of marriages that don’t line up with the Bible. This thing IS NOT miserable. Instead, it is SOOOOO much fun, when done God’s way. (ie. Love is patient, kind… does not dishonor others… is not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs… etc) Look in the right places for wisdom and examples of marriage.
  16. Look good for each other, KEEP IT TIGHT!!! Lol!!! Put on your make-up, workout, dress nicely, be sexy for him/her as much as possible. Reinvent your game and stay SPICY!!!
  17. Spend time growing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc. as an individual to offer your best to the union. Read books, attend conferences, invest in yourself regularly in you can be a strong and healthy teammate.
  18. Last but CERTAINLY not least: Acknowledge that DIVORCE IS NOT AN OPTION. I KNOW times get tough. I mean TOUGH. But (with the exception of infidelity/abuse), it can be worked out. If you fight for your marriage, and don’t give any outside force a foothold, together you and your husband can put 10,000 to flight. Love never fails. I am thoroughly convinced!!!

Whew!!!! Aren’t you glad we haven’t been married 40 years!!! Lol!!! You would be reading forever!!! Lol!!!! I am thrilled to share this awesome ride with my best friend. We are having a BLAST!!! We have built something SO special and I am committed to seeing it through to forever. I hope some of the items on this list are a blessing to you. It was a fun reflection for me. Thanks for reading it!!! May you experience all the joys of an awesome union!!! Here’s to Happily Ever After…