Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Persistent Post Mom Life Crisis

It has been 2 years since I re-entered the work force and Tuesday I quit my 3rd job. I knew this job was wrong for me almost from the moment I started.  But, I had just done a job search and wasn't inundated with job offers.  I needed to work and I felt I couldn't just quit without another job.  So, I told myself it would get better after I got to know the job better, learned the routine, found my groove.  But that never happened.  It was just confirmation after confirmation that this was not the right job for me and I was not the right person for them.

I worried about how it would look to have so many short term employments in a row on my resume.  That doesn't look good, who would want to hire someone that is clearly going to quit after a year?  So I kept staying and feeling trapped.  Until one day I reached the end, hit the wall, couldn't take it anymore.  And I quit.  Actually, I spent a day in bed with the covers over my head (literally).  THEN I quit. 

It is terrifying to not know what is next but not nearly as terrifying as having to continue to wake up every morning and feel trapped.

Honestly, I was feeling like a bit of a looser.  When you make 3 bad job choices in a row you have to start to wonder if the problem is the job or you.  Maybe I am not a good employee.  Maybe, and this was my biggest concern, I was just a quitter.  When the going gets tough do I just give up and quit?  I like to think I am a hard worker but maybe I am just a wimp that wants it her way or no way.

Then today I read this great article on persistence.  The author says:

"I see people who give up – just short of what would have likely been success. However, I also see people who are “persistent and determined” but are off track in what they are doing.
If you’re losing money on each watermelon you sell, don’t be persistent and determined to sell more. Stop what you are doing and change direction. If you are miserable in your job, persistence may just get you more of what you are already experiencing."
He goes on to say that successful people "don't just persist.  They quit quickly and often."  Well if that is true then I am on a rocket ship to job success.

 The nice thing about having a series of bad jobs right in a row is that with each experience you learn a little more about what you want, what you don't want and where you are going.  With each bad experience I have a little bit better idea of what I am looking for in a job.  And I take away a few more skills to bring with me on my search for my future career."

I have several friends who have returned to work after years at home.  I am not the first; I will not be the last. As I look back on the path a couple of my friends have taken on the way to their post-homemaker career I can see that I am not alone.  This rapid career jumping is not unique to me. And when I am struggling to figure out what I am doing it is nice to look around and realize I am not alone.

So I am back in the job search.  This time I am trying something totally different.  So far I have had great response to the inquiries I made and have even had a couple interview requests.  I think I might be on the right track this time.  Hopefully this next move will get me through the next few years rather than just the next few months.  But, either way, I will keep moving forward.  My two friends have now been settled on a career path for a few years, they didn't give up but kept trying new things and believing the right path was out there for them.  And I am not going to give up either. I am persistently searching for the answer to my career path and our financial stability.

And so "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Phil 3:13-14

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kenya Rich

"Are we broke?" Isabelle asks us as we are sitting in the kitchen sharing the stories of our day.

We tend to be honest with our children and so we admit we don't have any extra money right now, we can't do whatever we want or sometimes even what we need to do.  But there is nothing for her to worry about.

"I wish we were rich." she responds.

"We are rich." was our immediate united response.
When you are a working class family living in an upper class community this is a truth you are always trying to teach your children and remind yourself.  It is all about perspective.  The people of our community have much more than us but in the big picture we have much more than some others.  John reminds her of the kids she played with in Kenya.  He reminds her that those kids sometimes only have 1 meal a day, live in little houses with dirt floors, can't go to school, have to work  hard to survive and only have a hole in the ground for a toilet.  This is a truth we remind ourselves of every day as we struggle to survive while John is in school.  We may not have much but we are never hungry, we live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with good schools and an excellent city works department that brings us clean, safe water and a sewer system to flush our toilets into.

Isabelle's listens patiently and then responds just as quickly, "Yes, we are Kenya rich but, I wish we were rich, rich."

We pause and look at her.  "Yep, that would be fun."

Some days it isn't about the lesson, it is about the dream.  And without a dream, where are we be going?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Planes, Trains and a Relentless River

I took 2 airplane trips during my childhood, both to California.  I didn't step foot on an airplane until I was in 7th grade and then again before 9th grade.  That is all I flew with my family.  I also took two spring break trips with friends, one to Arizona and one to Florida, both were chaperoned.

Then I decided I wanted to attend a little Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia.  My parents put my 18-year-old self alone on an airplane to visit the school.  They walked me to the gate, you could do that then, but I was alone after that.  There are no direct flights from Minneapolis to Lynchburg so I would have to navigate my way through the Charlotte airport and find my way to a second gate where I would get onto a tiny commuter plane where every seat was a window seat and I would pray the entire bumpy flight that I wouldn't die.

I remember feeling like such a grown up on that trip.  That was a defining adult moment for me.  I still feel most like a grown up when I travel.  Going to visit a school that I thought would give me the freedom I craved.  Proof it would give me that freedom as I experienced so much independence on the trip out and back.  I loved it, I was exhilarated by it.

I still remember the book I was reading on the trip to visit a very conservative Christian college.  "Real Christian's don't Dance."  My need to read a book that rebelled against the Baptist tradition of not dancing as I went to visit a Baptist college that forbid dancing should probably have been a clue that this was not going to be the right school for me.  But desperate for freedom and independence I closed my eyes to those details and ran straight toward the freedom I was desperate for.

Last spring we put our son alone on a plan for Boston.  He has been on many plane trips around the country and around the world, sipped coffee with us while we waited for connecting flights as well as ran through airports hoping to catch our plane.  He is an experienced traveler.  We dropped him off at the door to the airport.  We hugged him at the curb, never even went in, you can't do that anymore.  He didn't have to find a connecting flight to get to Boston but he did have to find the right train and take that into the city and his destination.  His opportunity to experience that freedom and independence he is so desperate for just as I was.  And just as my experience was smooth and successful so was his.

We didn't let him go to that school across the country this year.  We held him back one more year as he pulled against our reigns desperate for freedom and independence.  It was the right thing to do.  I think we both know it but, it was a hard thing to do.  For both of us.  Just as my little Christian school was the wrong place for me, Wheaton is the wrong place for Jake.  Yet I am so glad I had my semester in Virginia and I am so glad Jake has his year in Wheaton.  I learned so much during that semester about myself, who I was at that time and what I wanted.  I was far more prepared to commit my life to both John and God when I came home at Christmas than I was when I left in the fall.  And I know Jake is more ready to begin making his own adult decisions and grow in his own faith as well.

He will make mistakes, he will get lost but, that is part of the journey.  I look back on my 20's, as John and I began a marriage and a family and I see two people who were just rushing forward as fast as we could.  We didn't know where we were going and would sometimes run straight into a wall.  We would stumble back, look around and start running forward in a new direction.  I guess that is what you do after high school.  You rush forward trying to find this elusive thing called freedom and independence.  You try lots of new things in an effort to define yourself and find your path.

It has been more than 20 years since I boarded that plane toward my independence and started rushing headlong into life.  Lately I have found myself feeling a lot like my 20-something self.  Rushing forward trying to find something, get somewhere, anywhere but, not really knowing what I was looking for.  I guess it isn't surprising considering the fact that with John in school full time and me back at work we are sort of re-living our early 20's.  This time we have a house, a 2nd grader and a son in college to add to the fun of the uncertainty and instability of this stage of our life.  It is a brief stage in the grand scheme of things; that is a truth I could not have appreciated in my 20's.  But still I have struggled to want to rush forward in any direction just to find my way to the other side.  Running into walls, staggering back only to rush forward again.  Trying to grasp something not in my reach and solve problems that are not mine to solve.

Until I finally just stopped.  And sat.  And, frankly, napped.  And then I picked up Ann Voskamp's book, "One Thousand Gifts".  A book I have desperately wanted to read for a few years but haven't been able to slow down long enough to do so.  This lent I promised myself I would read it.  I borrowed it from a wonderful friend who brought it to me after I found myself running to fast to go get it from her.

I have been reading Ann's blog long enough to know the story.  A woman who found herself deciding to write down 1000 blessings from God, 1000 things she is thankful for and how it changed her life and her perception of God.  A list of 1000 gifts God has given her.

I sat reading it one afternoon in the quiet of my house and couldn't keep my eyes open so I just let the darkness overtake me.  What I thought would be a 20 minute cat nap lasted almost 2 hours.  When I woke up I picked up the book again and there God spoke to me.  As Ann took the time to actually stop and observe and really look at a bubble in her sink, colorful from the shining sun, she realized her list wasn't just about seeing the blessings and being thankful but really experiencing them.  Not just rushing by but being present.
"Time is a relentless river.  It rages on, a respecter of no one.  And this, this is the only way to slow time:  When I fully enter times current, enter into the current moment with the weight of my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I'm always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter."
How do I stop running headlong into walls, rushing through life going nowhere?  When I enter the moment, and not just any moment but, the moment that I am aware is filled with God's glory.  And when you are looking you discover that is every moment.

Reading further she says,
"Life is so urgent it necessitates living slow.  It is only amateurs--and that I have been and its been ugly--who think slow and urgent are contradictory, opposite poles."
I have been living a life this past year where urgent is contradictory and opposite of slow. I have been running and rushing and pushing.  And, I would agree with Ann, at times it has been ugly.  And exhausting, without reward.
"The fast have spiritually slow hearts"
So I am slowing my pace to quicken my heart.  I am not slowing my pace to do nothing but to live this very urgent life present in God's grace and experience His blessings.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I'm Just Fine.

Some days I just function. I feel like I may have fallen into the exact hole I was afraid of falling into when I went back to work and somehow now that I am here I am not sure where else to be.  I work, I take care of my home and family, I have occasional enjoyable interactions with others, I function through life. I am not unhappy. Really, I am doing just fine.


Not great but not bad.  Fine.

There is no problem. There are challenges, I am busy, I have worries, but we keep going forward.  We are still on track toward our goals.  We are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing right now and going exactly where we are supposed to be going.

It is all Fine.


I realize why I have struggled so much to transition from homemaker to working mom, because when I was at home I wasn't just fine, I was thriving.  I was growing, I was experiencing, I was living.  I loved every day, embraced every struggle.  I think the fact that I was doing so well and thriving so much is what allowed me to launch into working full time so enthusiastically and optimistically.  I was AWESOME, I could do ANYTHING.  Bring. It. On!!!!

And now I am fine.

How are you?  I'm fine.

So.  Now what?

My favorite bible story is Joseph.  I love it mostly because frankly Joseph's life sucked but he kept a positive attitude throughout.  It started out pretty good.  Favorite child of a wealthy man, spoiled rotten.  Then something went terribly wrong and didn't go right again for a very long time.  In fact whenever things started to go right, they went wrong again.  And the wrong wasn't really his fault.  His brother's sold him to slavery, Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him and that Baker totally forgot him.  And yet, Joseph never stopped doing his best, never lost sight of the Lord and just kept moving forward in faith.  We know that he eventually interprets Pharaoh's dream, is released from prison and promoted to a high ranking official that gets the nations ready for a famine and ultimately is reunited with his family saving the future nation of Israel.  We know the story.  We know all that suffering put Joseph in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to share God's message and save His people.  But Joseph didn't know that during those years he was in slavery, those years he was in prison.  He only knew that he was a nobody going nowhere but if that was where God put him he would do his best for God.

Compared to Joseph my life is looking pretty good.  But, like Joseph I am sort of in the middle of it right now.  I am in the middle of raising children, middle of John's education, middle of working and frankly I am in the middle of my life.  I have definitely left the folly of my youth and am deeply entrenched in my mid-life crisis.  And as I go forward I am trusting with all my heart that God is leading us somewhere.  We are not in the midst of this huge life change simply for an opportunity to struggle.  There is a purpose.  Joseph's story gives us hope.

So maybe instead of being fine I am really hopeful.

How are you?

I have hope!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Battling the Winter Funk

Last week as I sat quietly one morning with God I had a revelation.  I am in a winter funk.  I live in Minnesota.  Winter and Funk just go together at the end of January.  I spent years between mid January and mid March in the blahs.  It is cold, you don't go outside and some winters even if you do it is cloudy for so many days you still don't see the sun.  Blah.  Over the years I have learned to start building steam in November and December to prepare me to push through these months.  Each year I would make it a little further before the funk set in until I finally started feeling like I was making it through winter feeling cheerful.  Last winter I had the opportunity to sit at a desk in front of a wall of windows.  The sun might not have come out much but every time it did I was sitting there soaking up the good feeling vitamin D.  This winter between the stress and sickness we have endured it is no surprise I forgot to build up a little steam to push me through.

I am really not up for spending the next 6 weeks in a funk but I can't afford to go recharge in Florida.  So what is the next best thing?  Como Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul.  They have indoor gardens and greenhouses.  The tropical garden is downright hot.  We quickly lost our winter coats as we walked in and a couple minutes later Isabelle had stripped down to her tank top.  I brought a notebook and Isabelle brought art supplies.  We found a spot in the sunken garden where they are having a winter flower show (you can see it in one of the pictures on the front page of the web site above.) Isabelle got to work drawing all the various flowers and I was able to write out plans, prayers and general thoughts.

Wish I could put new pictures on this blog...Isabelle was a joy.  I am really seeing her artistic skills begin to develop.  The art teacher actually held on to one of her paintings from this fall for an art show the school will be doing this spring.  I can assure you nothing I ever created in art class was considering for an art show.  Many people walked through as Isabelle was drawing flowers and several commented on what a great job she was doing.  Yet she was totally focused.  It was fun to watch her walk over to a flower to study it further and then return to add a detail.  And I love this age where walking includes an occasional skip or two as you go.  I could have sat in this glass building on that sunny day surrounded by beautiful flowers and watching Isabelle do something she loves all day long.  As it turns out they close at 4pm and we didn't get there until after 2pm.  When they announced there was only 30 minutes left til closing Isabelle panicked because we had intended to go see the animals as well.  So we quickly threw our jackets back on (it is an outdoor zoo) and ran out to see a few of our favorite animals.  We managed to make it to the building with the zebra, kudu and giraffe and then ran off to see the polar bears as they were giving us the 15 minute warning.

We got back into the car feeling happy and refreshed.  As a bonus we didn't bring any electronics for the car and I got 30 minutes in the car each way to chat with Isabelle.  Something I loved doing with Jake as we drove to school every day but haven't gotten to do as much with Isabelle.

All in all a great day to push us out of our winter funk.  I just might return once a week for the next couple months.  I will call it my "treatment" day to keep me mentally healthy.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rejecting Discipline

A few weeks ago as I was contemplating my word of the year I mentioned discipline as being an option.  I tried to make Discipline my fall focus with utter failure.  Actually I have been trying to develop a more disciplined life for years.  Conceptually I really want to be disciplined.  I want to get up and be productive, focus on my tasks and accomplish more.  I want to be organized and never forget an appointment, never be buying a birthday present on the way to a party.  I want to set goals, create a plan for accomplishing them and know I will follow it and succeed.  Conceptually I love the idea of discipline.

But practically I am learning to accept that it just isn't me.  My sister talks about the fact that she could eat the same thing for lunch for the rest of her life.  I can barely eat the same thing for lunch for a couple days.  I hate that structure.  I feel like the walls are closing in on me to have to do the same thing forever.  I do recognize that there is some comfort in the familiar and have some things in my life that stay the same.  But, I love an adventure.  I love to try new things.  New Things! (that is what God is doing in my life this year Is 43:18)

So, I have decided to reject the word discipline from my vocabulary.  I am no longer seeking to be a more disciplined person.

I was reading through Timothy a few months ago and came across I Timothy 6:11 "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness."  And I got stuck on the word endurance.  Pursue endurance?  So I looked at other versions and got:  patience, perseverance, steadfastness, steadiness.  My commentary said, "Endurance is the won't quit determination of God's servants in the face of opposition to the gospel."

"Won't quit" determination.  I love that.  I can totally get my brain around that concept.  I cannot get my mind around discipline but I can totally endure.  How often do I march forward despite the impossibility of the task before me?  I keep going.

Then, for a little confirmation a friend emailed me this blog post.  In summary it says we shouldn't work on our weaknesses but instead strengthen our strengths.  He suggests that rather than trying to be well rounded by becoming mediocre at everything we should focus on being great at our strengths.

And with that I am abandoning completely the idea that I will ever be "disciplined".  I am also abandoning the idea that I will ever be "detail-oriented".  But I am great at planing, organization and that stubborn "can-do" attitude.

Around the same time I also listened to a pod-cast by Michael Hyatt about developing discipline.  He claims to not be naturally disciplined so I thought it was worth a listen.  Ultimately his suggestions boil down to being organized and having a plan.  Two things I am good at.  So I am focusing on those aspects and rejecting the structure of discipline that I find restricting.

So in summary:  I am going to stop trying to shore up my weaknesses, like living in structure, and instead focus on strengthening my planning and organization skills coupled with my stubborn tenacity to endure and keep moving forward.