Thursday, January 27, 2011

Buck Up Little Camper

Do we need to toughen up as parents so that our children toughen up?

As I further contemplate Isabelle's need to control her emotions I wonder. 

Here is a brief history of my parenting philosophy:

When I was pregnant with Jake I read a sum total of zero books on parenting or raising children.  I am not totally clear what my plan was but it never occurred to me that I needed to read any books on the subject.  I have always been a bit of a realist and combined with the fact that I was the first person I knew to have a child I really didn't go through a, "when I have a child I will be the perfect parent" phase.  I figured I would just plug forward one foot in front of the other and everything would be fine.  I never stressed about Jake's behavior problems because I always said I wasn't trying to raise a 2 year old I was trying to raise a Man.  Take the long range view of parenting when your kids misbehave.

Of course parenting is a little challenging so I did glance at a few parenting books over the years.  However, I hate being told what to do and really hate being told I am at fault for my child's behavior so basically I hated parenting books.

Finally I found one that didn't tell me parenting was a one size fits all pursuit and actually encouraged the positive reinforcement style I had sort of developed (and gave me the phrase "positive reinforcement" to describe my parenting style) while suggesting some structure around it. 

I also really believe in open communication with my children and will tolerate a higher level of what some may see as disrespect from my children than most as long as I feel like they are trying to communicate something to me and not just being mean, insulting or trying to manipulate me.

And I really think it is important to understand my child.  Each person is going to respond differently, be motivated by different things, be hurt by different things, need a different style of parenting.

All that to say I am not a very tough parent.  I am not super strict.  My children do get away with murder, they don't always obey and I often do nothing about it.

Just thought I would share.

So two things come to my attention recently as I think about my daughter and her emotional drama.

(As I side note I do realize that 5 year old girls are known for emotional drama and this is not a permanent phase but I just want to establish something now that will lay ground work for a lifetime of being an emotional woman.)

First of all:  I was with some friends recently, one of whom is a middle school nurse.  On her shoulders has fallen the management of several students who have panic attacks about going to school.  What struck me about it was she talked about parents who come and rescue their children as soon as an attack happens rather than making them work through it at school.  She felt it gave the kids the message that they could not work through it at school.  Now this isn't supposed to a commentary on the validity of mental health, I realize I am simplifying here, but rather a question about whether or not we are creating children who can't deal with trouble because we don't ever ask them to.

Second of all:  Have you heard about this new book by the tiger mother.  I imagine you have all heard about the woman who wrote a book about being a "Chinese mother" and the borderline abusive behavior she and other chinese mothers bring to parenting in order to get the high achieving results many chinese mothers get.  Here is what strikes me about that:  they don't wonder if their children are gifted or not, have musical talent or not.  They assume they do and just a good dose of hard, very hard, work will draw it out.  They don't coddle children thinking they need "down time" to recover from the hard work of 30 minutes of homework but are busy insisting on 3 hours of piano practice a night and zero social life.  I spoke with a woman at our church who was raised by a "chinese mother" and she said, "yes", it is real, that is how chinese mothers raise their children.  And A- is a bad grade.  I mentioned Jake's B's which while I wish were A's I am still proud of and she told me if her mother was there she would be giving Jake a lecture about his poor grades and what he needed to do to pull them up. (Which sort of made me wish she was there...)

I cannot tell a lie.  I am a coddler.  I still carry my 5 year old around like she was 1 year old and I did the same with my now 16 year old.  I can't remember exactly when I stopped carrying him places but I assure you it was til at least 5 years old.  I am thinking 8 maybe.  In my defense I don't have other children to carry so there is no obvious moment when I need to stop.  And it is WAY faster to carry them in than walk through a cold parking lot with a slow 3 year old or a stubborn 5 year old.  Just saying.

Are you still reading this because I am very close to my point...

Last night Isabelle came into our room, told me she had a bad dream and waited for me to roll over so she could climb in bed with me.  Now I do not parent in the wee hours of the morning so mostly I just roll over because I do not want to even wake enough to speak to tell her to leave and I know she will just bug me until I am actually awake if I try to ignore her.  But somehow in my unconscious consciousness all this struck me and I wondered if letting her get in bed with me after a bad dream rather than developing coping skills while laying in her own bed was really the loving parent thing to do.

I mean, yes, I remember laying in bed as a child in terrifying fear because of a bad dream or simply because I had worked up some crazy terror over the shadows on the walls.  And, no, I don't want my child to have to go through that torment.  But then again everyone goes through it.  So why does my daughter need to get in bed with me?  Why can't she be scared too?  I still sometimes wake up from a bad dream scared but I don't have to call my mom in the middle of the night to over come it.  I do what I did when I was little.  I pray and ask God to protect me and believe he will.  He always has. 

So I pulled myself out of my sleep stupor enough to tell Isabelle to go back to bed and pray about it.  She cried and I wanted to roll over and rescue her from that cry (or was it rescue my sleep from that cry?) but I didn't and she was in her room and back to sleep within a couple minutes, actually more like a minute.

OK so is there some sort of balance between the "helicopter mom" who rescues their child from everything and the "chinese mom" who pushes to extreme limits?

So what I am wondering here is this: Am I feeding into some of her emotional issues by not letting her learn coping skills on her own?  Am I so afraid she will learn unhealthy coping skills that I am keeping her from learning them at all?

I think a plan is starting to come together:

Step one: Teach her to tell herself the truth.
Step Two:  Be Joyful.
Step Three:  Buck Up.

Parenting is exhausting.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Be Joyful

This year one of my main goals is to help my daughter better control her emotions and tell herself the truth.  As I listen to her complain and watch her break down emotionally over the smallest things I can see how this will be one of the most important lessons I can teach her.

I see in myself and others how often we tell ourselves lies and respond as if they were true.

I might wake up one morning and decide I am fat and my hair is bad.  Everything I do that day reflects this faulty thinking.  I will dress a little more sloppy, not put as much effort into my usual morning routine, avoid interaction with other people and show little confidence when I do talk with others.

Our self talk, controlling our mind and telling ourself the truth are vitally important to every part of our lives.

In her dramatic 5 year old world she tell herself much more serious lies.  When I am combing her hair and it pulls she will yell out, "I wish I were never born!"  While the extremity of the statement may be funny, to let that negative thinking continue can become much more serious as she gets older.  She will tell herself her friends don't like her if they don't sit next to her in a group, her life will be "ruined" when she doesn't get her way, and it will be "the worst day ever!" if I ask her to try new food.

So we are learning to think differently around here.  We can choose to have a positive or negative outlook on life.  I don't believe we have innate optimistic or pessimistic views of life but rather we develop habits and thinking patterns throughout our lives. 

OK from a biblical view I would say we have an innate pessimistic view of life, and without God it is probably well put, but we can choose to be free from our sinful, pessimistic self with the help of the Lord.

So this year I am going to be working to help Isabelle start her life on a positive note which I pray she will continue throughoutt her life.

I was telling a friend about my big plan recently and she thought it was wonderful.  Yes that was a good idea.  "How do you do that?", she asked.  I don't know!  I have identified the problem and the need.  Isn't that enough?

So far my plan has consisted of simply pointing out the lies and negative thinking.  "Why wouldn't you want to be born?  I would miss you." "If you lived with Lauren you would still have to...take a bath, brush your teeth, comb your hair, make your bed..."  This morning as she stood in -20 degree weather waiting for the bus and yelling, "I hate winter!  I hate being cold!"  I controlled my urge to join her and instead jumped up and down (to warm up) and said, "we love how strong and adventurous MN winters make us!" (maybe someday I will believe it.)

Today the Lord began giving me some spiritual direction for this journey.  I came across a note in my Study Bible about being joyful.  It starts out, "unlike much of contemporary society, the Bible does not confuse joy with happiness."  I was reminded that we choose joy.  And that is exactly what my daughter is not doing.  We aren't going to love every moment of our lives but that doesn't mean we have to climb in the mud because of it.  The commentary goes on to say, "joy is more of a process, often developed most profoundly during periods of chaos and suffering. (like suffering through a MN winter?)  The deep, sustaining joy of the Lord comes from an assurance that he is with us and will deliver us...from this scarred and stained world.  Such joy is able to express its hope, even in the middle of legitimate sadness."

My girlfriend who asked me how I was going to help my daughter think differently actually turned out to be the one who had the answer all along.  That same evening during a different conversation she shared the fact that her boys tease her about the word "joyful" being one of her top 5 words she says all the time.  "Be joyful."  Thank you friend.

1 Thes 5:16
"Be joyful always."

John 15:11
"I have told you this so my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reclaiming a Room

If you have kids I probably don't have to explain what happened.  I don't have to tell you how busy I am, how tired I am at the end of the day or how quickly it all goes awry.  I don't have to explain to you how this happens to my daughter's bedroom:

But sometimes walking in a room like this can be so overwhelming that you just want to walk right out.  Where do you begin?  I thought I would break down the steps for restoring order.  Not sure the steps for keeping order, that is for another day, another season in my life.  For now lets just figure out how to transform a room that looks like this:

Step one in all my bedroom cleaning tasks, make the bed.  It is big and quickly gives me visual hope I can conquer the task.

Next remove all dirty clothing, put away clean clothing.

I had dedicated a bunch of time to this project so I straightened the drawers too.  I like to stack her shirts on the side so I can see them all.  She is more likely to wear a variety when she can actually see all her choices.

So we are looking a little better:

Next remove large furniture that doesn't go in there and all the videos that accompany it.  Looking even more manageable.  And I added a helper to the project at this point.

Put helper on the shoe detail while you tackle the books.

Once the books are done the hard work begins.  All that is left is the junk.  The little random pieces that you don't know what to do with.  Normally I toss them all into a couple catch all bins on that shelf but the purpose of this project was to organize toys and cull the room of unnecessary toys and junk.  My plan is to put away half the toys so she has a more manageable amount to play with and then switch them when she starts getting board.  I will have to report on the success or failure of that plan in the future.

Today I just organized what was there and packed up some junk I am sneaking away.  A couple hours after starting the project her room looked like this:

(side note:  She has over 20 pairs of shoes.  Where do these things come from?  She has more shoes than I do!)

But then I decided I still had a little energy left and it was time to make one more change to the room.  I removed the rocking chair:

Yes, that is better.  More room to play.

Just don't ask me where I put all the stuff I took out.  And stay away from my office...

Monday, January 17, 2011

A life well lived

Last week my family cared for Dorothy as she left life here on earth and entered Glory.  She is with the Lord, her Lord, and today we will be begin the 3 days of celebrations she planned before her death.  Visitation, funeral here and funeral in her home town followed by burial.

I look back with gratitude that Dorothy was part of our family.  She lived a full life yet lived very simply.  She exuded peace and joy.  She enjoyed everything she was part of and the people that were part of her life.  She loved her life and the people in it.

She died like she lived.  Full of peace and love.  Even as she lay dying she had a brief smile for everyone who came to see her.  For a woman who never married or had children of her own her cup runneth over with family and friends who loved her.  She did not die alone.

Oh that I can live and die as Dorothy did.

I read once that as we age our true selves come out more and more.  If you are really a bitter person you will find it harder and harder to fake being kind as you age.  But if your true self is peaceful and loving you will become even more so as you age.  I remember this with my grandpa who was always a little ornary but as he aged his true peaceful self became more and more evident.  He didn't fight old age and death but was at peace knowing his final destiny was with the Lord.

So it was with Dorothy.  She just became more wonderful as she got older.

Today as I link up with the gratitude community I am so thankful for Dorothy and the life she lived:
  1. The bonus grandma I had in my life.
  2. Running back and forth between Grandma's cabin and Dorothy's.
  3. The banana chair hanging from the porch ceiling at Dorothy's.  We always got in trouble for swinging it to high but it was worth it.
  4. Dorothy's old table and chairs which we bought after we got married.
  5. The extra years after Grandma's death to continue enjoying and get to better know Dorothy.
  6. Dorothy's example of consistancy in life.
  7. Dorothy's red shoes.
  8. Dorothy's laugh.  She used it often.
  9. Stories from Dorothy's childhood told to my son for a school project.
  10. Another person in my children's lives who loved them.
  11. Time to sit and listen to hymns and while reading a devotional to Dorothy.
  12. Knowing God and knowing Dorothy's final destination is with the Lord.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Useful Minnesota Skills

I bought Isabelle a pair of ice skates at a garage sale last spring so on a lovely winter day we gave them a try.  She wouldn't wear snow pants because she insisted you wear fancy dresses when skating.  I did convince her to wear tights under those pants so she has a double layer.  No idea how we got out of the house without a skirt.  After seeing all the regular people skating she did concede that next time she will wear the snow pants.

It was a little scary for both of us as I am not that sure on my feet anymore after so many years off skates but I managed to stay on my feet the entire time.  She learned pretty quickly although she didn't really want to let go of my hand.  But I managed to get away a couple times and get her to go on her own.

You can rent walkers at this place which she kept telling me she wanted/needed but I was too cheap to go spend the 5 bucks and made her actually learn to skate. 

She is so funny because she could see other kids her age zipping all around the ice and was feeling like she was the only one doing it wrong.  I had to remind her over and over that it was not their first time skating and when they first learned they fell on their butt a lot too.  Keep trying, keep trying, keep trying.  Life is so full of valuable lessons.  Stop looking at what other people are doing and just be where you are at.

I mostly wanted to add this one so you could hear the music piped in while skating.  It just creates this wonderful, fun, relaxing and nostalgic experience.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's all good

I think the older I get the less things rattle me.  Not that I have ever been one to get all crazy emotional over things but definitely in my youth I was much more easily overwhelmed.

This weekend within a day and a half I had 3 things hit me.  One was Dorothy which i mentioned in the previous post, another was a big fight with my son and his girlfriend and the third was some potentially stressful news regarding my new job.  Normally I might shut down.  But, while I would definitely say I was off my game, this weekend I never felt rattled.

I know God is here.  I know he is working.  I know God has placed me in this job and whatever He has for me there I am ready to walk through.  I know my son and I believe God is walking with us as we prepare him for adulthood.  And I know God is with Dorothy.

I don't know why God does what He does.  I don't know why he socks us with so many things at once, why he doesn't spread these things out a little more.  But I know this..."in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Rom 8:28

So I am just going to relax and watch God work.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Glory Care

Dorothy is a friend of our family.  Sort of.  I say sort of not because she isn't really a friend but because the word "friend" doesn't exactly cover the depth of our relationship.  What started out as a friendship with my grandma many years ago when my dad was a small boy (or maybe even before he was born, I don't recall the exact origin) has become a welcoming into a family as Dorothy never married and lived away from family.  She was at every birthday party and Christmas eve my entire life. She owned a cabin a couple doors down from my grandparents so all my cabin memories involve Dorothy as well.  Pretty much all my grandparent memories include Dorothy.

When my Grandma died a few years ago Dorothy was there, part of the family.  And since then nothing has changed in our relationship with Dorothy.  In fact our love and bond for her has grown as she became the last of her generation in our family and we have appreciated her and gotten to know her individually.

Last week the beginning of the end came.  What initially looked to be a mild stroke has turned into a catalyst in her body to begin shutting down.

Yesterday she was to be transferred to a hospice care facility.  My aunt rode in the ambulance with her to the facility and upon arrival made an immediate decision.  Dorothy could not stay there.  She called my mom and I am told said something to the affect that "We cannot usher Dorothy into Glory in this place!"  Immediately everyone knew it was time to do what they all really wanted to do in the first place, bring her home.  Within 3 hours Dorothy was laying in her own bed, meds delivered and a hospice nurse was preparing the family to care for her.  Peace in all our hearts.  In this place we could send her to Glory.

My dad said he woke up that morning asking God, "what are we doing?  This isn't what she wanted."  While there are lots of wonderful hospice facilities where we all might have been very comfortable, I believe God's plan was for the family to choose an unacceptable location so that we would find our way back to Dorothy's home.  The Lord works in many ways and comes along with us on our journey.

After telling a friend the story she emailed me back the next day asking about the "glory care".  I love that.  Glory Care.  I love knowing that soon Dorothy will be in glory with the Lord.  Full of joy and peace.  I don't want to loose her but as I told God I wasn't ready He helped me see how selfish it was to ask her to stay here when she had a chance to be with Him.  And I love Dorothy too much to deny her that.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How I Journal

OK random post about how I journal just in case anyone wants to know.

It actually started about 15 years ago when John and I were in a bible study group.  We were doing a study that was part of some 24:7 series.  I really don't remember anything else about the title.  Anyway, this particular study required weekly scripture memorization and daily bible reading.  In order to facilitate accountability with the bible reading there was a little form to fill out.  We were encouraged to simply read a section of scripture ranging anywhere from a few verses to a chapter or two, whatever we wanted, and then pick out one verse that really jumped out at us, write down the verse and one or two sentences about why that verse jumped out.

I think it was the simplicity of the format that stuck for me.  I didn't feel like I had to have any answers or be particularly profound and since nobody else was reading it I could be totally honest in it.  Sometimes I just wanted to write things down because what God was telling me was so profound I didn't want to forget.

I don't think I realized that God was speaking to me through those journals for many years but as I continued to journal and write what I was noticing I started wanting to pray about it.  I started writing prayers based on what I had learned.  Asking God to forgive me or help me improve and change in a particular area or both.  Then as I wrote I would think of ways it related to my life or action steps I wanted to take as a result and I would write those things down too.  And in that I began hearing God's voice.

The whole thing has really been a process.  Some days I still really only write one or two sentences but other days I can go on for a page or more.  And those journals have been key to greater understanding of who God is and what he wants from me. 

Honestly I almost never go back and re-read them.  In fact it has only been in recent years that I have started glancing back at all.  I was sort of afraid they were just full of nonsensical ramblings and I would just feel embarrassed for myself.  Yet as I did start looking back I was pleasantly surprised to see that I really was learning things through this process.  Now, as I have started sharing with my family some of what God is teaching me it is fun to be able to say during the discussion, "Oh I just journaled about that a few days ago, let me find it" and be able to share a relevant scripture or quote from some devotional I am reading.

So that is most of how I journal.  I know some people want to journal their thoughts and feelings and this may seem like just a devotion tool but I find that when I write about my thoughts and feeling around a scripture I learn a whole lot more than when I just try to work it out on my own.

On a more practical note:  You know how people are always giving you some cute notebook/journal?  I had these empty pages around my house for years and didn't know what to do with them.  They were too cute to toss but taking up space.  Finally, I used them for my journals.  And I have noticed that I am using them faster.  I think the first one I used over a span of about 3 years because of how sporadic I was but now I am going much faster.

I have also developed a second journal of sorts that I use daily.  It is more of a practical life notebook style.  I keep it near by and sometimes toss it in my purse.  I write to do lists, grocery lists, menus, phone messages, phone numbers, financial notes for date night, currently I am working on my 2011 goals (although I will move those to another notebook I keep but that is for another day.)  I have read enough organizational books to tell you there are several ways to be more organized and efficient than to just have this type of notebook but I find the best thing to do is start simple and this is very simple.  What I do like is that I can look back on past menus or to do lists and see if I missed anything.  And if I loose a phone number likely I wrote it in there at some point.  It isn't organized into sections.  The information is not at my fingertips but must be searched for.  More than one topic might get scribbled on a page and some pages are simply full of Isabelle's scribbling.  But it has really helped me be more organized, avoid lots of loose pages cluttering up my house and always know where to write down whatever information I need to jot down.  Plus I am using up even more of those cute journals laying around my house.  I might even have to buy one myself pretty soon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Out of Control

I have been thinking alot about control for the past oh...10 years. I am a first born and while I don't carry all the typical traits of a first born owing to the fact that my second born sister has a much more dominant personality, I do have a few first born quirks and a deep need to control everything is definitely one of them.

I don't like surprises. A simple surprise is OK. I don't like to know what I am getting for Christmas. But on the other hand it does irritate me when I don't get what I really want. So I have learned over the years to be clear, especially with my husband. This year I told him that he could cash in the points he gets filling up his gas tank to get a gift card to a store that sells something I would like as a gift to me that costs no money. I might have wanted him to come up with that idea on his own and surprise me but he wouldn't have so why suffer through the disappointment? I just told him.

What is hard as a first born control freak is realizing that there are things I cannot control. My first big lesson in this came when I could not control pregnancy. We spend a lot of money on birth control because we think we are in control but when it doesn't happen as we plan, or does happen when we don't plan as is the case for some, we realize how little control we really have in that area of our life.

One thing I have come to learn in my many years of life is that the number one thing you cannot control is other people. Once again we can have perceived control over another person. We might think we are in control of our children or maybe we have an employee that we think we control from 9-5. But when it all hits the fan, when that kid decides to throw the tantrum of his life while standing in line at the grocery store or that employee quits in the middle of a big project we realize we cannot control people.

I might want to control people who don't appear to be under my control. I want to control my spouse when we are making decisions, I want to control friends and family members when I need them for something or simply disagree with what they are doing.

I always think I know best and if people would just realize this and accept that truth we could all move on with our lives much smoother.

But the truth is that we are not in control. I can't control other people, I am not really even in control of my own life. I make my own choices, yes, but God has ultimate control over the outcome. And we aren't called to a life of control but a life of submission. A life of submission to other people but mostly to God.

And while it would be nice if my friends and family would take my advice and avoid adversity, the truth is I have learned and grown the most in the tension of trying to control. Why would I take that gift from someone I love?

When we try to control our lives, the situations we are in and the people around us, we will always be disappointed. But when we place our lives in God's hands and let him take control there we will find true joy.

I can definitely say that my life has not played out the way I would have planned it if I was in charge. But despite some of the trials I am certain the life I am living today brings me greater joy than anything I could have made up myself.

Heb 12:9b "How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!"

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Practice of Making a Habit

This year, as I have many years before, I want to try to at last make a habit of eating dinner at the table with the family.

I grew up eating dinner at the kitchen table every night with the family.  I would never have imagined dinner any other way.  I couldn't understand people who spoke of being too busy to eat as a family.  We were always home for dinner or it waited.  We ate dinner as a family every night of my life.  Until I was married.

Maybe it was just another rebellion.  I purposely fold my towels different than the way I grew up because I wanted to do it MY way.  Is that why we didn't eat dinner at the table after we were married?  Simply because we didn't have to?  I assumed that as we had children we would just find our way back to the table.  Yet here we are 20 years later and we can't seem to break the habit we started the first day of our marriage eating dinner off our laps in front of the tv.

We have tried.  And we do like to eat together.  Our son has even been known to request this practice.  That is when you really feel like a failure, when your child is begging for family time.  We go through periods of eating together but as soon as a little hiccup in life comes we are back on the couch, back in separate rooms eating in front of the flickering blue box.

This year I have resolved above all other things to begin eating at the table regularly.  As I have learned over the years and blogged about in the past a new habit doesn't come from figuring out the perfect plan or new routine that will make you suddenly yearn daily for your new habit never to think of your old routine again but rather happens as we daily recommit to the new task.  As we turn back to the new routine again and again we slowly break the old habit and strengthen the new habit until it really does become part of our lives.

In some ways we have been developing this habit for a few years as we have tried and failed to make this a regular habit.  So really this year we are just strengthening our resolve to break our bad habit and further develop the habit of eating at the table.

Last year we finally turned a corner on breaking the habit of eating out.  We are eating at home much more.  And cooking at home more just gives us that many more opportunities to succeed at eating dinner together.

A new habit needs some accountability.  So we discussed it as a family, agreed we all enjoyed this practice and wanted to make it a habit.  And we all agreed that if one person suggested we be lazy and go watch tv the others would stand firm rather than falling in line behind the weakest link...which is what normally happens.

Can I count on all of you to stand with me as well?

I Corinthians 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Word of the Year

Isn't it funny how you come upon something almost by accident and you think it is your own original ideal of genius.  And in some ways it is your own idea.  But then you realize other people have also had this original idea.  That is me today.  I was, I am, going to post about having a word for the year.  Then I started reading a couple other blogs I follow and wouldn't you know both blogs I pulled up talked about their word or phrase for the year.  I guess I am a few days behind on my genius.  I would have loved to link up to my favorite blog where she was asking others what they were naming their year but I guess that wasn't where God wanted me this week as I am only finally sitting down to plan 2011 now that it has finally arrived.

Last year as I was writing my goals I found myself feeling compelled to name the year.  I wrote "simplify in 2010" at the top of my goal page.  And in a lot of ways that is what last year turned out to be all about.  Keeping it simple.

The word isn't really a goal, there are no specific actions attached to it.  The word is about the attitude of the year.  The feeling in your heart.

As I looked back at 2010 and the difficult year it was in many ways and then looked forward to 2011 the word that God placed on my heart several different times was, "maintain".

So many years I sit down and set goals that would totally change my life.  I am going to become a whole new wonderful, pulled together woman.  I have that eternal optimism of belief that gets me fired up each January 1.  This year as I sit down, yes I want to improve some areas, but mostly I want to maintain the simpler life we have been forced into during a slow fiscal period in our life.  I am optimistic that we will return to our more normal tight budget moving away from the "help us Lord" budget but as I look to the future I see how maintaining the lessons of this past year will free us as we go into future years.

After a particularly rough fall we are starting January in a good place.  New kitchen remodel job signed, bills paid, money in the bank for the first time all year, new plow contracts and Monday I start my new job.  It is tempting to fall into old habits and run to the mall for new clothes, start thinking about all the house projects I want to do and all the ways to spend the money that has suddenly landed in our bank accounts.  But I know that in March we could be back where we started.  Wondering where the next job is going to come from and worrying about how we will pay the mortgage.  If I spend all our money today where will I be then? 

This is a year to maintain.  To stay focused on finding the jobs, doing the work and raising a family.  To continue trusting God with the same intensity I had during times of desperate need.  To continue to turn to Him for direction, for strength, for answers, for hope.

Despite the struggles I loved 2010 and the opportunities to rely heavily on God.  I look forward to more of the same in 2011.

What is your word of the year?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reflections on 2010

Happy New Year!  I am diligently working on my goals for 2011 today and looking forward to what this next year brings.  But in doing that I also looked back on the goals I wrote last year at this time and although this is typically a December 31 sort of topic I thought I would start this year by reflecting on how 2010 went.

Although I did write my typical goals that look like this:

Personal Goals--
Spiritual:  study bible more, go to bible studies, etc
Physical: work out more
Mental: Read more, finish crafts
Family Goals--

I also did something new last year which I think I shared last January but am too lazy to look back and check.  I wrote out several "I want" paragraphs.  Not like "I want a new pony" but new things I want to do or ways I want to improve my life.  Sort of like goals only phrased different.  Although I don't know that I meant them as such, they turned out to be a prayer of sorts.  And as I re-read them I saw that although not all of them played out exactly how I had in mind, God did reveal himself in each area.

"I want to spend this year focused on what is really important and not get caught up in the trivia of the day to day."  Now my thought here was to avoid being a pampered housewife and instead find some significant activity.  However, as I look back on a year of serious financial difficulty I see how God caused me to re focus my life by stripping me of the ability to be trivial and create a great need to solely rely on Him for each day.

"I want to be 'gazelle' intense regarding our money."  Now I was thinking I would intensely save money and plan ahead for all the purchases we wanted to make.  However, God still answered this by creating a situation where we had to reevaluate what was a need and what was a want and teach us to live more frugally.  When money is tight you have no choice but to be "gazelle intense".  If you look away for a second it could all fall apart.

"I want to learn to spend more time with my dinner together, etc."  While I wouldn't say this really happened, I am going to put this one on my 2011 sheet, but definitely as we have stripped away so many activities what is left, what we still prioritize, are things we do together as a family.  Whether it is finding a way to take a weekend at a friend's cabin or just all going to watch Jake wrestle, those are the things we find really important.

"I want to do a marathon for my 40th birthday."  OK this turned into a triathlon within a few weeks of the new year and I did do it!  Hurray.

"I want to grow in my faith.."  Here is what I wrote in my journal on Dec 29th, "Lord, as the year comes to a close I am grateful for my relationship with you in a way I have never experienced.  I have seen you work in my life and change me in new and wonderful ways.  I see you with new eyes, experience life with new confidence."  I told some friends recently that I feel like I have grown more spiritually this year than I have in many years.  And I know it is because of the financial trials of this year and my need to totally rely on Him.

"I want to live a life of simplicity that turns my focus to my family and to Christ..."  I don't know exactly what I was thinking here but it definitely wasn't a simplicity that comes from having nothing and no choices.  I wanted to CHOOSE simplicity, not have it thrust upon me out of need.  Still, I have learned lessons through this year that I would have otherwise never fully grasped.  I know how little I really need to be happy.

"I want to find joy in feeding my family every night..."  Of all the struggles I think this is the one that was the easiest and best.  I would be lying to say that we never ate out this year, I am sure my quicken file would still reveal more than I care to admit, but mostly this became true.  We choose to eat at home over eating out.  And we like it.  John and I find ourselves talking about eating out and realize we no longer crave any of our favorite restaurants as much as we crave our own home cooking.  It is a MAJOR change in our life and one that we are thoroughly enjoying.  However, I will admit that if our finances had not forced it upon us I don't know that we ever would have made as significant a change and broken the eating out habit.

God may not always answer our prayers exactly the way we have in mind but he never fails us.  He always shows up and gives us not necessarily what we want but exactly what we need.  Praise be to God.