Saturday, July 28, 2012

My mother, Ann Voskamp, and the Lord

My mother told me about this book she was reading, a farmer's wife with six children and finding joy in the every day. She couldn't remember the author's name but was really enjoying it. And I jumped on the bandwagon, downloading Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts to my phone and read it in one sitting.

And it was poetic, lyrical. And moving. So right there I started my own list. Even though admitting I was moved by something popular and culturally relevant was hard. My ego still longs to be a little special. I'm working on it, and God showed me this was one bandwagon to be on.

I've been keeping my list, marking beautiful moments in the everyday: my husband's bare shoulders next to me in the bed, my daughter's belting out Disney's latest when she is in the bathroom and thinks no one can hear her, the feel of our air conditioner as soon as I open the door from the 100 + degrees.

Focusing on the joy, the gifts, has reduced stress in ways I could never imagine.

Not to say I haven't struggled. There have been moments, more than moments of worry and question. But those are diminishing. And I am seeking to replace those moments with new blessings.

I don't think it is time to move on yet...I think I need to stay where I am, learning and enjoying. So this is where I'll be if you need me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My house is on fire and a dark knight

I had new resolve. Vigor. Prayer. Sleep.

So I made a list.

1. Call Book Mart about using cafe for weekly church Bible study
2. E-mail John, Laura, and Hubs
3. Selection for Bible study
4. Assignment 1, Part 1
5. Assignment 1, Part 2
6. Paper 1

Work was interspersed throughout the day.

@ 3:18 my phone rang. My dad, who was the ultimate professional all those years, never called during work hours. Except once. Over 10 years ago. He had cancer. He is healthy today. Thoughts run to my mother. She is healthy too.

I am too cheerful when I answer, as if that can ward off whatever evil it is he has to tell me.

The house hubs and I own, six plus hours away from where we actually live, that is rented out to a great tenant was struck by lightning and is on fire.

IS on fire. They are on their way.

Husband and I wait. My phone calls the thirty miles away to his job, his building. No answers to tell. Just wait.

Call to the rental management company. Preliminary insurance phone calls.

Finally, the call from my dad.

No one home.
Fire was contained and extinguished. Extensive damage to two rooms.

Thank you, God. Maybe a little at first, that no one was hurt. But not much more.

The deductible on the insurance (not thank you God, I have insurance that pays all but what I spend on eating out in a month)

Does it nullify the lease (not thank you God, your provided us with a tenant these past 6 months)

I have three assignments due in 30 hours (not thank you God that I am able to go to school, have a family that supports me)

I am trying not to be DONE.

I am proud of myself that I finish (with some help) 5 of the 7 pages of my paper and 3/4 of one of the other assignments, that I contact the realtor, the disaster cleaners, the insurance agent, that I actively engage with my husband and daughter for a good thirty minutes.

I am proud of myself when I go to bed.

And then I wake up to the news that a dozen people were killed at A MOVIE.

Someone there had probably finished a summer school assignment to go; someone was taking their baby to spend more than thirty minutes with them.

And suddenly I wasn't that proud anymore.

Please God let me find joy and thanksgiving in everything, even those things I think I can't handle. Let me delight in them because my true joy is in You.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The World Was Made Wrong

There is a picture somewhere of my great, great aunt. (I think that is her branch on the tree.) She is straight mouthed and wrinkled, her white hair pulled into a bun. The caption underneath reads simply, "The world was made wrong. -Mrs. Smith" (Please note: my great-grandmother from this side was nick-named HIPPY GIANT. And with good cause. Despite this they are a wonderful family. Hello Mom and Aunt Jane.)

The world was made wrong.

And that was my day yesterday. A morning MD visit, lunch with the most handsome man in the world, and then an afternoon of self-pity, procrastination, and blahs.

No particular rhyme or reason. Just fleeting thoughts that in a couple of weeks I will have no job! That I will be covered under another person's health insurance. What will I be then? Graduation in 3 weeks. Assignments due tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

I finally told my husband I was quitting school (please refer two lines above where I say that I am graduating in 3 weeks), not cooking, and.....

"And?" he said.

The words stuck. Huge statements caught at the back of my throat. "I'm tired and overwhelmed."

There I had said it. There went my pride.

No one came and took my superwoman bangles. My mom card was intact.

And my ego was a little smaller.

Prayer (which I had failed to do all day), sandwiches from Lenny's, help with a spreadsheet, and asleep before 10 all conspired to make the day end on a brighter note.

Lessons learned from Day 1 of stress-free week: Do things early. Get up and do something, anything. And sharing the load really makes it lighter.

Here's to a cumulative effect!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Do they make a pill for this?

Ahh, stress. My life-long frenemy. It is my public persona (some of the time) that I remain cool and collected even as your breath tickles the back of my neck.

"It's not stressful. You just take one thing at a time." Smile. Speak slowly. Solve problem.

Maybe it isn't the stress I like, but the feeling needed?

Or that I just have bad habits to cope with the stress?

I was going to try this week after I leave my job, but I decided cheating really isn't conducive to the Spirit of 7! And really, how stress free is a week of no work, kid at summer camp, watching whatever (Law & Order, Mentalist) marathon USA has on!

So, this week, I'm trying to really decide what things help me find my happy place

1. Prayer and spending time in God's word (currently I'm reading through Acts)
2. Watching stand-up comedy with my husband
3. Having baby girl curl up next to me
4. Resting on my husband's chest

And some things that will probably help me de-stress, but that I may or MAY NOT enjoy.
1. Exercising 15 minutes three times in 6 days (please, please don't send me any pictures of you running a marathon or 10k or 5k or to the mailbox)
2. Admitting when I'm overwhelmed and overwrought, no matter how much it is going to hurt my pride

And at the prospect of the above, I. Already. Don't. Love. This. Week.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jesus had a step-dad

I know how much I love baby girl; it is something visceral, almost animal-like in its intensity and ferociousness.

I try to imagine if I would or could feel that way if I had only known her a year. Would I open myself up to her? Set-up at times for rejection and failure? Would I joyously go back time and time again, slowly chipping away at the walls she built? Would I take her to school and summer camp every morning? Would I bring her a bouquet of flowers or mail her a card because she worked hard and accomplished a goal? Could I love her because I was in love with her parent?

I don't know what kind of step-mom I would be.

But watching my husband diligently and quietly go about the business of parenting a little girl he met just 18 months ago tells the story of what kind of man he is.

Step-parenting is sitting through a Selena Gomez movie and teaching a giggly eight year old how to use chop sticks. It is making homemade popcorn and watching Wizards of Waverly Place, over and over again. It is playing Just Dance, checkers, War and Garbage. It is praying for her, taking her and her mother to church. It is turning the other cheek when a nine-year-old is trying to push you away. It is setting boundaries when you know she needs them. It is doing the right thing when she is watching and when she is not. It is loving her mother and loving her, even when they are not at their most lovable.
She has taken to raiding our closet, rummaging through his t-shirts, finding just the right one to wear. I warn him they may get ruined. He tells her to take anyone she likes. Morning after morning, his stack of memories dwindles, only to be returned covered with fingernail polish and glitter. Once he held up his college orientation shirt and said, "Did they slaughter hogs at camp today?" She wore yet another t-shirt the next day.

Success in step-parenting is an ebb and flow. There doesn't seem to be that one "Eureka" moment. It is a little forward progress, a step back, and resolve to push onward. Victory is the moment baby girl tells her friend, "L__ is fun in the pool, but he is so hairy. It's gross." It is the glance she gives him when she burps so loudly for the second time at the dinner table because she knows he will be a little amused when I am not. It is her waiting for him to open her car door because she has learned that, that is how a man should treat a lady.

I don't know what Joseph thought of being a step-dad. But I can imagine that worry crossed Mary's mind. How could a man love her child enough, if it wasn't his? Though I know Jesus was, by far, not the ordinary stepson; I believe God knew that in His plan we would encounter a similar situation...that families would blend. And though, the Bible doesn't tell us much about Joseph as a dad, it tells us he and Mary were worried when they couldn't find Jesus. "Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." Luke 2:48

Both worried.

There have been so many moments of my life I wanted a do-over, to make baby girl's road easier, better. Wishing her earliest years had been more traditional, less of my mistakes. And though in her early years she was fortunate enough to have my dad as a surrogate, I wonder if the perils I read about girls with absentee dads or split-up parents will befall her?

And then I remember that Jesus had a step-dad. That God knew centuries ago that He needed men to raise His children even when they didn't father them. And that being called to be a step-dad is not a consolation prize, but a role that the MOST HOLY GOD allowed in the life of his Son.

Being a parent is hard. Being a good step-parent, I imagine, is much more so. And I am thankful for the Josephs of the world, my husband especially, who father children that they didn't make.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Whip backs on concrete

It was a Memphis street, a tourist destination off of Beale, a boy of 11 or 12 sets out a large yellow bucket and proceeds to flip down the concrete. Back handsprings, back tucks, whip least a dozen in a row. Stopped now, grinning and sweating, in the thick 90+ temperatures.

People applaud and approach, drop change and loose bills into his bucket. Ask for more flips and off he goes. Baby girl and I watch, amazed. "Momma, it's a whip back on concrete!" And then, "What a cool job." Her stepdad hands her a ten and she shyly tells the boy that his flips are awesome and drops the money in the bucket.

I try to explain that it is kind of a job, that he is helping his family earn money and that because he is too young to work in any kind of store that this is what he does.

Then because I am a cheer mom and sometimes dumb, I quickly launch into my "Baby, you can do most of those should get out there with him. It will be fun! Please. Pops can get some picture. C'mon"

"Will you give me money, too?” Ahhhh, greed.

She relents under the promise of $2. Does some back flips. The young boy comes and tells her she is awesome too.

Her stepdad hands her $2, and we find an air conditioned store and begin to pick out t-shirts.

"Momma, I'm going to go back outside with Nana." I only ask if she wants a t-shirt, mug, something. "No, ma'am. I'm good"

20 minutes later, husband and I are back outside, bags full of shirts we may or may not wear. I hear applause; the boy and his bucket are still working the street.

Baby girl sits on the curb, watching. My mom is misty-eyed, looking back and forth between them. And I know she feels badly for him.

She smiles, though, when I approach and whispers. "Baby girl gave him one of her two dollars."

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Ode to Johnny Paycheck

"Take this job and shove it....I ain't working here no more."*

I grew up listening to classic country....this song was old 30 years ago, and it has been playing in my head all day.

Though I hope my resignation was more professional and demonstrated a little couth....the end result is the same. In roughly 45 days, I won't work there anymore.

I have prayed about it, talked about, cried on my husband's chest...unsure what in the world to do.

I knew I was unhappy. Hubs knew I was unhappy.

But I was worried. We would be cutting our income by exactly 50%. I have always worked had a career, which made me feel important. I helped people. I was in charge of people. I made good money.

And I was tired. Tired of phone calls, budgets, complaints. I craved my home and my family.

But we NEEDED my income. (Why is it always about money?)

So it was 2:30 on the morning of my 36th birthday. My husband sound asleep, baby girl off visiting grandparents. And I lay awake, asking the Lord what He wanted me to do.

Though I believe in the burning bush and am fully convinced the Lord could call me via my Android device if He so chose, I was stunned when he answered my question.

That food pantry you can't find, the one, you want to volunteer in. START YOUR OWN.

So, I e-mailed my husband (yes, we do actually talk, out loud and face-to-face, but it was almost 3 am at this point), outlined the whole idea, got up, got dressed and went to work early.

Because my husband is the best, he brought me a birthday breakfast to my office.

The card he gave me read,

"I would be happy to serve with you and the food pantry in any way."

So today was it.

Take this job....or rather "It is with mixed emotion that I must tender my resignation..."

Either way. (Pray for me. Pray for us.) I am almost unemployed!

*Johnny Paycheck. "Take this Job and Shove It"

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Making change

"Jesus said unto him, 'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, then thou shalt have treasure in heaven and come and follow me.'" Matthew 19:21

Oh, how I like money or, at least, the comfort of knowing I have some money if I need it. I like knowing we could feasibly eat out most every meal, buy new clothes when we like, pay our bills, and save a little. I like giving...buying a meal here, a shower gift there, a little to this group, a little to that. I do envy people who I perceive have more than I do or seem to work less for having about the same.

But I have never known what it is like to not have. Never.

My mother told me one of the most humbling experiences of her life was having a wallet full of cash, checks, and cards but standing on line at the Salvation Army waiting for diapers during Hurricane Katrina. Money could not help her then.

So why do I think it can help me now?

Save a few weeks here and there, I have essentially been on-call 24/7 for the last ten years. My phone rings almost every night and every morning, multiple times. I get called away from home, trips, and birthday parties. I don't want to sound ungrateful...that career allowed me to (mostly) support my daughter and me all those years alone. But now, now is different; now I'm different. Is the money worth the trade?

I'm not that woman I was 10, 5, even a year ago.

So why is how I look at, what I do with, and what I sacrifice to get money the exact same?

I don't know either. Spending/money week is continuing.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

TMI, CRAP, and what the Lord showed me

I thought clothes week was over. Really, it should have been appearance week. Make-up, jewelry, clothes..But I thought it was over.

My husband kissed a sleepy me bye this morning; he left early to set up the sound booth and perform sound check at our church (which meets in a movie theater and is a loving, come-as-you-are kind of place), and I dozed back off.

Phone rings.


It is a young lady I invited to church. She and her husband are there. Where should they meet me?


I'm running a few minutes late. I'll be there in 15 minutes.

Quick call to the husband. Please find them and make them feel welcome.

CRAAP. Why did I fall back asleep? Why didn't I get there early?

Shortest shower in history. No time to shave my legs. CRAAAP.

My toenails have only the remnants of a teenage mutant ninja turtle green pedicure baby girl gave me 4 weeks ago!

No time to wash hair.

Dry off. Throw on a dress. There is a spot from our father's day (I wore this two weeks ago!!!) Mexican fiesta that didn't come out in the wash.

A little hair spray, a few strategically placed bobby pins, the stained dress, my husband's flip flops (don't ask. they are only a size too big and were the ones by the door), torn-up pedicure, and I'm out the door.

CRAAAP. 10 AM and 95 degrees in the car. A quick trip down the road, a check in the mirror. Eyebrows (and lip) in need of a waxing. Dark circles under the eyes. Hair a little wanky.

I'm only 10 minutes late. Hug my co-worker, squeeze my husband's shoulder.

I made it!

But the guest of honor was already there. He had been there long before.

He didn't need my legs to be shaven, my toes to be painted, my eyebrows waxed, my face painted. He didn't need me to show up at all. I had done my part, a passing invitation to a hurting heart. I had been in scrubs when I had done that, sweaty from 104 degree temperatures looking for something in an outdoor supply shed.

How vain, how arrogant to think that anyone came to this little theater to see me. Or short of arriving naked, would notice my appearance at all.

Lord, let them not see me, ever. Lord, let it be all about you.

If you think of me this week, pray that I am reminded that God looks on the inside. That my goal is not a pleasing appearance to others, but a pleasing heart to Him that made all parts of me.