Life has a way of emptying us. It can leave us barren of energy and drain away our goodness. When the needle on the tank begins to settle on empty we are in trouble.
This last five-day trip to Albuquerque followed by a cold nearly purged me of all my zest. When I woke up this morning I gave myself a mission: refuel on good things. And, as I set out to load up my heart, body, and mind, God blessed me at every corner.
I filled my body with healthy food and lots of water. I could feel my energy begin to be restored even though I still had many activities on my plate for the day.
I filled my minds will great thoughts. I found rest from worry as I worked on our budget and filled out paperwork. God reminded me over and over that He has never left us and never will. I thought good things about myself and my family and my capabilities.
I filled my heart with hope as I worked with the girls. Micaela is starting to demonstrate that she understands so many age-appropriate concepts. And Adela's language has exploded in both English and Spanish.
I filled my soul with joy. I can feel God all around me and in me. He is bigger than all my fears and challenges. Every second I spend in prayer I can feel peace crowd out all my weary trials.
Life sets us in seasons of business that leak away that goodness in us. We usually cannot give ourselves a break, slowdown, or escape to a retreat. However, there are a plethora of ways to restore ourselves simply by focusing on the positive aspects of our world and concentrate on letting those good things fill us.
In the book of Luke Jesus says this: A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)
What are you storing up in your heart? We are blessed to have a choice about what is allowed to enter us. Not just physically (eating and drinking) but also emotionally and mentally. We can choose to focus our mind on wholesome ideas and dreams. We can choose to shake off the anger or sadness and live in joy.
Restoration is offered to us everyday.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Adela informed her Abuela and Abuelo (her grandparents) that she had lost her mom and dad. Unsure if Micaela would need another surgery to put her collarbone in place, we accepted Jovani's parents' invitation for Adela to spend the week with them.
That was a very long seven days for me. Hearing that she decided she had "lost us" broke my heart. I could not wait to get her in my arms and hug all that fear away. However, when I landed back on my doorstep, my hug from her was brief. She was more interested in what I had in shopping bags than being wrapped up in my arms (4-year-olds!) and she wasn't ready for my ten-minute cuddle until we had fully discussed what I had been doing while I was "lost."
Events like this are hard for me. I hate seeing my girls upset or insecure. I rack my brain for options and avenues that might help prevent the heartache. I want them to always feel loved, established, and settled. As I watched Adela happily play peek-a-boo with Micaela before supper I begged God to help me keep them together, to keep their life on an even keel. I prayed for less broken bones and illnesses. I prayed for less doctors and interventions. I prayed for normal and gulped back my weary frustrations.
But as soon as I let out that last request I received a whispered truth.
Even this is used. Even this.
I blinked and stared at Adela chasing Micaela around a chair, the room flowered with giggles and squeals, and my eyes widened. Even this.
Life has been crazy for our little family for a long time now. Micaela has been in our lives for over two years and while I beg for "normal" I push aside the reality that God is using every ounce of our lives for something amazing, something good.
It is hard, isn't it? Life crashes through our windows with so much we would rather do without. We feel cheated by the illnesses, the financial crisis, and the losses. If we could weed out all the bad with our bare hands our palms would be filthy with the dirt of everything we want out of our lives. But it is in the ugly that we see most clearly the perfect beauty of God's power.
I am just praying tonight that I can see it all a little better through His eyes. I am praying for faith that He is in control. I am praying for the hope that it will all be in His perfect will. I am praying for joy to settle deep in my soul as I live this crazy life in the love of my perfect Heavenly Father.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Stress eating has started to make its mark on my body. I knew better. I did. But that industrial-size bag of M&Ms that my loving little brother brought by to give me a smile was too easy to turn to each time I became frustrated and overwhelmed. And now I have some work to do.
In 1 Chronicles, David made preparation for God's Temple to be built by his son, Solomon. The instructions that David gave to Solomon touched my weary heart. What David said to Solomon is what we all need to hear about doing any long-term job that will be difficult and trying. From dieting, changing our attitude toward an acquaintance or spouse, or creating habits that will improve our physical or emotional life, David's instructions to Solomon struck a chord that resonated deep within me.
1 Chronicles 28:20
David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.
Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do the work.
There are many goals in our lives that are not going to come easy, but we cannot become discouraged or live in fear. I think of the goals I have for Adela and Micaela to be the best possible women of God they can be. I think of my marriage and my goal for it to always be strong and full of love. I think of my writing and dream to touch lives and encourage others. All these goals I cannot give up, set aside, or allow to be stolen by fear. And this latest goal of mine, to fight my way back to a healthier living style, I will not fail because I simply would not do the work.
It took Solomon twenty years to build the temple of the Lord. Two entire decades. He might not have pounded stone, drug logs, or crafted furniture with his own hands, but the work was still hard for him. For twenty years he was in charge of the painstaking care of making sure the temple was built to the exact specifications that God requested. He had to manage labor, materials, and money to make sure it was completed. And he had to do it while also taking care of all the other duties of being a king. It was a difficult job. But Solomon did not become discouraged or afraid. He did the work.
We all have work given to us by God. Some of us must build up corporations, serve meals to the poor, work to feed our families, fight cancer, encourage the imprisoned, care for crops, and countless other positions of work assigned to our lives. God doesn't give easy tasks to His children. He gives us mountain-moving goals and dreams. Why? Because He doesn't ask us to do it alone. He will never fail or forsake us.
Whatever you are working towards today, take heart. Be strong and courageous and do the work.
Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”
I curled Adela's little body into my lap and squeezed her tight. She smiled at me and giggled. We both know that she is rapidly getting bigger and that body doesn't fit into my arms as neatly as it did. But, never mind, hugs are often the glue that keeps our hearts intact these days. I held her tight to me.
Touch is so powerful, isn't it?
I cannot count the number of times in my life that a hug has made me feel stable when my world was rocky. A single kiss from my husband confirms ours affection and deep love for each other. The warm grasp of a friend's hand relays sympathy or shares in my joy.
But physical touch is not for all of us. It just isn't. I know several sweet friends who simply "aren't huggers". For them, physical touch does not relay that deepness of caring. These people are impacted more by heartfelt words and actions than they ever could be if someone held their hand.
In the four gospel books of the Bible--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--I am struck by how much Jesus' life on earth was full of touch. He used touch to heal the sick, lame, and the blind. He touched through the loving praises of the faith of believers and the tender innocence of children. He touched through service as he fed thousands and washed the feet of His disciples. He was constantly touching others.
What about us? How much do I withdraw into myself on those bad days and feel my skin too prickly and my words to be full of anger? How much do I resent providing for the needs of my family and do my work with half a heart? What is my touch like to those around me?
But I am learning something amazing about touch.
Today I might have needed that embrace with Adela much more than my four-year-old did. A tension headache has pulsed at the bottom of my scull for days. It is momentarily relieved by a good laugh, a visit from a friend, or devotional time with my Bible. But it comes back, a painful beat keeping rhythm with my anxious heart. My mind is filled with Micaela's hurts, preparing for five or more days of doctors/clinics in Albuquerque, and packing up Adela to spend a week with her grandparents. I am not quite at my wit's-end, but I am horribly aware that my thoughts and attitude need altering. That moment I spent with Adela wrapped in my arms was the highlight of a very long day.
And that was when I realized something amazing about touch.
When you touch someone through the gentle squeeze of a hand, heart felt words of love, or acts of service, you are touched too. When we reach out, filled with God's love pouring through us, we are touched as thoroughly and deeply as the person we sought to reach. Touch is not a one way street but an impact of hearts.
How often does everyone out there get a hug? A smile? A comment spoke to warm their day? My life is in constant contact with others because little ones fill my home and fill my heart. Touch is a consistent part of my world. And, so are words of praise and encouragement. As I focus on telling Adela and Micaela positive things I fill my home with the touch of words. As I lovingly care for my family's needs I fill my home with the touch of service. And each time I scoop my children up in my arms or hold my husband's hand I fill my home with loving physical touch.
As the trip to Albuquerque looms ahead of me, I think of all the parents I will meet in waiting rooms, the friends I will reconnect with, and the dozens of strangers that will collide with my life. I pray for God to fill me with love and understanding so that I can touch lives in His way.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Life without carrots would be horrifically boring. I'm not saying that because I have rabbit-like tendencies (though I do love my veggies). A "carrot" is another term used to describe a reward or reason for working. Perhaps I am secretly a very un-motivated person, because my life is filled with prizes I use to keep myself moving forward.
Rewards are essential for the stay-at-home life. We usually don't have many people around us telling us we have done a good job. Nor do we have clock-out times or commute time to decompress. We are our own bosses, more or less. Though supportive husbands, appreciative children, and loving friends & family keep us strong, we also are in charge of encouraging ourselves.
You don't have anybody but yourself watching what you do or what you accomplish. I know how frustrating that is. By 9am you might have the house immaculate with happy children who have read books and did art. But by 5:30pm when your spouse comes home the floor is littered with chaos and grungy grumpy children answer the door. Nobody but you knows you spent the day cleaning, teaching, caring, cooking, and organizing. But YOU know. And more than likely whether or not you rewarded yourself with 10 minutes of crosswords puzzles or a iced tea as you chatted with a friend, the 5:30pm result would be the same. The only difference is you--an emotionally healthy human being who feels appreciated and successful. Your spouse wants that person to meet him/her at the door and your kids what that person putting them to bed, not the frazzled, angry, human who didn't get a break today and desperately needed one.
I have not kept a job outside of the home for over five years. At first it was difficult for me. As a teacher I always had the drive of deadlines and learning goals to keep me focused and active. When that was gone I was stuck in a weird cycle of working-too-much and not-hardly-working at all. I had no balance. And balance, no matter where or for whom you work, is key.
If you are a stay-at-home body (parent, stay-at-home job, retired, etc) I recommend trying a reward system of your own. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but it can help you keep your drive and enthusiasm for each day. Plus, who wouldn't want a world in which you get to pick your own goals and prizes?
Just today I have lined up the following rewards:
A serving of jelly belly jelly beans if I exercise and eat healthy today.
Micaela's entire nap full of writing for me if I finish the house chores.
A walk outside as soon as I finish the laundry.
Uninterrupted audio book and drawing time after the girls have gone to bed.
As you can see, each prize is designed around my own interests and personality. I also use a good movie, reading, social networking (but I have to give myself a time limit or I will fall into that black hole of Facebook and Pinterest forever), and baking as prizes to keep myself motivated.
Sound fun? It is.
This is very simple.
1. Make a list of things you enjoy, both big and small.
2. Think about how you could break up your day with short rests & rewards. Think of bigger rewards for weekly or end-of-day prizes.
3. Assign appropriate incentives for chores, errands, etc. that allows for a balance of both productivity and rest.
4. Get started and enjoy.
My carrot system also eases a lot guilty feelings for me. I think "I can sit down and enjoy a chapter of my novel. I just finished all the cleaning chores of the day. I can work on the bills in a moment. I earned this." instead of saying, "Oh, my goodness. It is already 11am and I haven't even started doing paperwork. Guess I will keep going." Because though I can keep going, by the end of the day I am not looking forward to tomorrow at all except that there will be another pot of coffee to drink.
Most of all, your reward system has the potential to make you even more productive.
1. It motivates you. There is always going to days when you don't feel like doing this all over again or you want to procrastinate important jobs that need doing. A reward will get you going and give you something to look forward to.
2. It keeps you focused. Multitasking has been proved over and over to be less productive than focusing on one thing at a time. If you concentrate on doing one thing so you can get to your prize you will find that you get more done in less time.
3. It reminds you of your successes. You do a lot of thankless jobs. Not that nobody appreciates them, simply no one is around to see your hard work. But you can remind yourself to feel satisfied in your own accomplishments.
Take care of yourself. Recognize your worth, your uniqueness, and all the things you do for your home and family. You deserve to be cared for and if you care about your family, then you should be taking extra-awesome care of your family's chef, housekeeper, child-care provider, smile-maker, and encourager.
May your day be fun and full of carrots.
And may it be a very blessed day.
I spent hours holding a fussy, sometimes screaming, toddler the last couple days. It took a strong mind not to linger on all the things I would rather have been doing. Micaela is going through a rough patch: teething, grasping at independence, and giving herself a lot of bumps and bruises along the way.
My eyes drifted to the clock over and over as I watched entire hours drift away unproductive and unclaimed by my other plans. Every spare minute that I wasn't keeping Micaela calm I was spending time with Adela or frantically trying to get the laundry done. My day was spent with my mind and emotions on edge.
When the girls were in bed I drug myself to my Bible with a heavy heart.
A prickly thought triumphed over my mind. What if I miss my calling?
Years down the road will I never fulfill my passion or realize my dream because I was wiping noses and encouraging little fingers to hold a crayon correctly? Will this be it?
I stared bleakly at the swimming words covering the pages of my Bible. God, when will I be the woman you have settled in my heart to be?
The two words resonated and lay still.
I gasped with joy and relief as the truth filled me. Even days like this one when I feel so disconnected from my hopes, I am right where I am intended to be. I took a deep breath of peace as I settled into His promises. I can trust in this: that even the mundane and trying has been perfectly inserted into my life. My girls, my husband, my life, my world--they are incredible and beautiful. Walking in His truth and on His path I move towards the dreams God has placed in my heart. I just need to trust Him. I need to relax and enjoy being a mother. I need to rest in His care.
A different life lies a single thought away.
Perception is reality. It doesn't matter what we are doing or what we are facing, the way we are thinking is what establishes our world.
I bit my lip as I wrote those words above. I believe every syllable and they give me hope. But they also confirm that I have a lot of work to do on my heart.
As I read through the book of Psalms I noted that it burst with words of hope and joy. The authors, or Psalmists, do not deny their times of pain and trial, but their faith defines their life as blessed by their God. Blessed. Not cursed or too difficult or unfair. Blessed.
I have a new challenge for myself this week. For seven days (today through Sunday) I am going to concentrate on changing my focus. Because if I can have faith that God's will and plans for me are full of good and love, then I have no reason for fear, for worry, for frustration, for depression, or for defeat. If I believe that every moment is filled with the powerful presence of my God then my view will be pleasing and joyful.
I want a world of joy. Don't we all?
I want a world where I am excited about the mundane. I want a world where the challenges are accepted with faith and not fear. I want a world in which I smile at my troubles knowing that God has never left my side.
I can do this. With God I can change my world.
Life doesn't get easier. Part of me has been waiting for a vacation from the difficulties and fretting that relief never arrives. As I wait I become a victim to the struggle. And yet, victory lies a single thought away.
Last week Micaela saw four different doctors. I was constantly tossed out of my routine and comfort zone. I was angry and exhausted. I clung to the idea that somewhere, at some point, there will be relief and rest, but in the meantime I grew tired of my world. That is normal, we are human after all. But why continue like this if the one thing I have true control of is my thoughts and my thoughts are controlling my world?
I have a feeling it is going to be a beautiful week. Let the change begin.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
I took deep breaths, you know the kind, the kind where you exhale a thousand worries and inhale His peace. The kind that you stop and breathe because you are about to tear someone down, or tear something apart, or tear-up. The kind you take when you are too close to the edge for comfort.
Today was one of those days. It began rushed and frantic. I handed kids bags of fruit loops and put the toddler in her car seat with a mess of uncombed hair. It began with me skipping breakfast because coffee seemed more important. It began with a hundred chores on my plate and not nearly enough time to attempt any of it. It was one of "those days" before it even began.
Micaela's tonsils are still swollen which makes over three weeks with them being at a "plus four" i.e. huge. At the end of her appointment today we added another specialist to our growing collection: Ear, Nose, & Throat Doctor. But that didn't seem to frustrate me as much as coming home to dishes and toys scattered simply everywhere. Life today felt cracked and smattered to bits with peanut butter holding everything together. But, though rushed and frazzled, I still felt whole.
On the radio a few weeks ago a man announced that a recent study shows mothers to be more stressed than ever. He said that in the study mothers were confessing to feeling unsatisfied with their life and their roles in their families. These women were often turning to unhealthy habits to cope such as drugs and sex outside of marriage. My heart shuddered at the statistics, not with anger or condemnation, but with a deep sadness. I know, I totally know where these women are coming from and they could be me, could have been me, if I didn't have God.
God is Who calms me in my storms. God is Who holds me so I don't fall apart. God is Who lifts me out of the mess and sets me on a rock. God is Who quiets my worries and forces away my fears. God is Who fills me with love over and over so that I can give back and give to others without being emptied.
I understand those women, I do. I understand the aches, the pains, the deep hurts of not just our feet and backs but of our hearts and spirits. I know that by the end of our hardest day we have been beaten down to our last ounce of self-will and it is so easy to simply give in to whatever will provide a little comfort.
That is where the victory is, though, for us women of faith. At the end of the day we can see our aches and pains through the light of God's will and God's works. We can give over to Him the desperate struggles of our hearts. We have hope for every day to come and faith in a gentle Father who walks beside us. And we are never lonely or needy with His love filling us to over-flowing.
My heart aches for those mothers out there, the ones so desperate for relief, strength, and comfort. May not one of us pass you sweet mothers by. We are praying for you and loving you. We are.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
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"...and God was already there with me."