The Power of a Village… THANK YOU!!!

Let me start this blog off by saying this: by no means is my son an Olympic athlete. He started running cross-country a couple years ago as a means to stay active and be a part of a team. Last week he had his first meet of the season. Up until then, he had regular practice each day and even ran some in the summer. He also grew quite a bit over the last few months and was excited about his new “man” strength! 😊 But somehow for the first time, before the race, I saw fear in his eyes. He was so nervous and spoke of pain in his ankle and shin, and just lacked confidence. Nonetheless, as always, we were on the sidelines cheering him on expecting a successful run.

After his race, he was near tears. He was so disappointed in his performance. He was passed by some of his underclassman teammates, finished with a lower time than his previous year and placed 56th overall. He was devastated. We of course, cheered him up, encouraged him and helped him refocus his attention toward the upcoming races as best as we could.

That next week went on like a typical week. The kids went to school, practice, church, and we had our normal family time each day. Oh yeah, we also had a little Labor Day get-together at our house, but other than that, the week was normal. Hindsight, I’ve come to reflect, that our week was anything but normal.

That Sunday, our pastor preached a message about the power of the Spirit. He talked about telling your body and your mind to line up with what God says about you. That Monday during our get-together, one of his great mentors went on a run with him, while some of the other fellas sat on the porch with him and watched a couple of his favorite shows. They spoke life to him and just treated him like the awesome young man he is. On Wednesday, he went to youth Bible study, where the pastor talked about “believing”/ having faith over fear and doubt.

By Thursday of this week, it was time for another race. On the way to school we gave him the typical pep talk, prayed and encouraged him to do his best. Later that day, as he stood at the starting line with 100+ young men, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were hoping for the best. As always, I made the 1-hour drive to be on the sidelines, while his dad got permission to leave an hour early from work to be there as well. When the gun went off to start the race, I saw a difference in him. I saw a confidence. A determination. As he fought his way to get toward the front of the pack, I was excited about how this race could go.

For the next several minutes, I watched him run through the woods, up and down the hills, and on the track with boldness. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, the terrain was steep, rugged and rough. He reflected later that on his toughest hill, we wanted to take a break and just speed walk a bit. But he remembered what he learned that week. He simply “believed.” He commanded his body and mind to line up. He listened to the cheers of his teammates and his parents. He realized that for the first time in his cross-country career, he was the lead runner of his team. It propelled him further. He gained momentum. At the last few meters of his race, I saw the fierceness in his eyes. He flew across that finish line with the fastest time he’d ever run, the highest ranking he’d ever had and the proudest he’d ever been.

He later recounted all the small things that pushed him to be great. And though I’d like to think he has an awesome team at home, I fully understand that, as parents we couldn’t possibly do this journey alone. That it is not just the training, love, wisdom, discipline he gets inside the four walls of our house, but it is the weekly Word he gets on a continual basis from our awesome pastor. It is the pep talk he gets from his loving Aunt when he sees her in the summertime, or the love he gets from his Grandmother that cares for him in our absence, or the visit from his Grandfather and Uncle, the beautiful people he sees at church that impart love and affirmation, the teammates that cheer him on from the sidelines, the ladies that served in the nursery and youth department, the teachers that encouraged him to be great, my colleague who drives 3 hours to cheer from the stands, the babysitters that cared for him with love, the positive TV shows that line up with the things we teach him at home… are all forces working hand and hand toward his success.

As parents, we are called to the beautiful yet sometimes challenging task of loving and training our children to become all God has called them to be. It is indeed a journey that lasts a lifetime, however, we also need to remember that it is a collection of the amazing people who surround them, who impart knowledge, wisdom and love that will aide in that journey as well. As graduation draws near, I am beyond grateful for the AMAZING people who have loved on our children past, present and future. I see the fruit of their seed come to life daily. I am also intentional about putting these type of people in their path from birth throughout.

If you are privileged enough to be a teacher, coach, aunt, uncle, mentor, pastor, or any position of influence over children, never doubt the power of your influence. My son still has the trophy given to him by his 2nd grade teacher. He remembers the $100 his uncle sent for his fundraiser, or the encouraging card his Godmother sends each birthday. He remembers when his mentor came to his chess meets, or when his Uncle took the time to read his comic book. You have more power than you know. Your words and acts of love STICK.

Parents, I pray you SUMERGE your children with love and encouragement inside and outside the home. Recognize that this is not a task you can do alone. That every single fabric of their life will leave some sort of imprint. May their journey be filled with people, places and things that bring hope, inspiration and love. In the meantime, thank you so much to all the amazing people all over the country, past and present who have left a beautiful imprint on my son and daughter’s life. You mean more to us than you know. You truly have made a difference in their life and ultimately are the hands and feet of God.

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Cover photo: Quotesnew.com
Text photo: Jenni Dixon

19 Year Anniversary: Fight or Flight???

My husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage last weekend!!! It was truly a major milestone!! Both of us come from single parent homes and are really figuring this all out as we go. Nevertheless, over the years, I’ve had many people say they look to us (and other couples) and see their #marriagegoals, an awesome union, the perfect little family… I mean, I work from home, my husband has a great job, we live in a cute little house in the mountains, we have two awesome kids, we’re all healthy, we live debt-free, and we love God… I mean, we kayak on the weekends and eat at the dinner table together every night for goodness sake!!!! WHAT AN AWESOME LIFE, RIGHT????

I have to admit, though all those things are true, this year was probably one of our toughest. It shook our marriage to its very foundation and had us considering some hard-core questions. It wasn’t because any THING happened. Nobody cheated, nobody lost their job, we didn’t file for bankruptcy or suffer from some major illness. It wasn’t that at all. Honestly, I can’t attribute this wall we hit to anything specific. Perhaps a build up of a ton of tiny little things, or even small transitions over time. Perhaps the fact that we have two teenagers in our home, or that we live two hours away from most of our affiliations, maybe that we were both growing at two different speeds and… I DON’T EVEN KNOW!!!! But whatever the case, the tension was mounting, we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything and the opportunities for disagreement seemed to abound.

This was heartbreaking, because, my husband and I have been best friends since I was 18 years old!!! Our connection has been so genuine and so rare. We do EVERYTHING together. We have SO much fun. We have an amazing history, and more importantly, what we have built and accomplished together is incredible.

Nonetheless, the devastation of our divergence took a toll on everything. It seemed like a dark cloud followed us everywhere we went. The fact that we knew the Word, that we had super friends, ministers and pastors we could turn to, we couldn’t even identify a problem to fix! I imagine this being the part in a person’s life where hopelessness sets in. Where you just say, “We grew apart,” “We just fell out of love,” “We decided to go our separate ways.” And though I admit, I was SOOOOOOOO frustrated and overwhelmed by the tension and stress, if you know me, you KNOW, I was NOT about to give up!!!!

19 YEARS!!!! 19 years of building life together. Making memories. Working through all other MAJOR obstacles. Building and growing. And most importantly, the kids. They were watching us. They were counting on us to step our game up and work this Word. To help them believe in the love we teach and preach about every day. NO SIR!!!! We could not let them down!

For the last several months I committed to doing my part in getting myself together. I read books and devotionals, talked to AMAZING friends, listened to teachings, filled my social media feed with encouragement and even created some alone time to focus on my own personal growth. I took the magnifying glass off my husband and put it on God. During this time, we still had disagreements. We still had rough days, but by now, my faith was so strong, I was confident that relief was on the way.

About that time, I saw an ad for a marriage conference come across my screen. It was called SPARK and it was being hosted by Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas. It just so happened to fall on our anniversary weekend. Though we had bought books to read together, committed to a marriage challenge and were both doing our own individual growth plans, we knew we needed something BIG to get us the proper tune-up. We both knew this conference was IT!!!!

My husband took care of all the accommodations and last week we flew to Houston for a life changing experience. We were in an auditorium with thousands of other couples. Newlyweds on up to people married for 50+ years. The atmosphere alone was inspiring, not to mention the amazing speakers and the wisdom they shared with all of us. My husband and I gleaned so much.  It was EVERYTHING we needed to get us back on track. We spent a couple extra days there just talking and refocusing. We got our first couple’s massage and did some of our old favorite things like walking on the beach, going out to eat, shopping, and just spending uninterrupted time alone to recharge and restore.

I considered how many couples experience hardships that cut deep, that shake the core of their marriage. Some of them have had affairs, suffered job loss, illness or even just hit a wall on their journey. It seems SOOOOOO much easier to quit. Like starting over would wipe away the deep pain they experience on a regular basis. “It’s not fair!”  “I don’t deserve this!”  “I can do better all by myself!” I get it!!! But quitting is NOT an option!!!! You have to FIGHT for your marriage! You made a promise before God and all the other witnesses that you would love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Now I know today contracts/covenants don’t hold the weight they once did, but that doesn’t make them any less weighty. What is the boundary on your “worse?” Does your “sickness” have a limit? Does “poorer” not include being unemployed for 6 months? We have to go the distance. We have to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to make this partnership work. No matter what.

Interestingly, when our brakes go out on our car, we don’t throw the entire car away. Most of us take it to the shop upon the first squeak. Some of us wait until the light grind, but we never just let the brakes go all the way out; and we don’t leave the car abandoned and go out and buy a new car, with new brakes. Yet too many times at the first sign of discomfort we are ready to trade in the old for “better.” Instead, we must be willing to do the regular maintenance necessary to keeping the car in tip-top shape. When it needs a tune up, tune it up. When it needs a small repair, do it. New cars are great, but their brakes wear down as well. They will need tune-ups as well.

People ask all the time how we made it 19 years. They see us and think we don’t have any real problems. We got it made. I have a GREAT husband, he has a GREAT wife. We don’t know struggle. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have our tough times. We have persevered through some MAJOR adversities. The difference is we have made a commitment to NEVER quit. We will take this baby to the shop over and over again. We will perform repairs and continual tune-ups over and over again. We will get up and fight every day to have the happy marriage we always dreamed about.

When times get tough, remember to give each other grace. Read a book, seek counsel, go to a conference, whatever is necessary to keep your marriage healthy and happy. Give your spouse the insurance policy that if he/she gains a few pounds, goes through menopause/post-partum depression, loses their job, gets sick, grows at a different pace, YOU will be right there fighting for them. Believing the best. Helping them win…TOGETHER, through the good and the bad.

No matter how tough it gets, there is grace for us to conquer our storms. And no matter what, quitting is NEVER an option!!!! As for me and my husband, we are going ALL THE WAY!!!! I am so grateful for 19 years and I am SO looking forward to the next 19!!! Here’s to you and your Happily Ever After…with your no- quittin’ self!!!

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