Tuesday, April 30, 2013

If You Want Your Life Canvas to be Colorful, You've Got to Pick up the Paint Brush

I got a B in elementary school art.  For some that doesn’t mean anything but for my fellow perfectionists you will completely understand when I say I recoiled from all things art related.  My little mind processed the “less than exceptional” mark to mean that I was bad at it and I just wanted to be done.  I’d choose long division over that blank piece of paper any day and when the opportunity came for me to pick my specials you better believe I stayed far away from the art wing.

I’d like to say this childish mentality left me but it wouldn’t be true.  I’d still prefer to sit down with the kids to help with homework, or play games, or do a “dance recital,” or at least color because the coloring book affords me known boundaries and a definite end point. 
I find comfort when I know I will have a “successful” end result.

Today Hannah was playing without abandon.  Her braids bounced with her step and her giggles filled the room.  It was a moment I wish I could bottle up and store forever.  Exuding the innocence of youth, her eyes glistened and she was loving every second of my full attention (something I know won’t be the case years down the road).  A stolen glance at the calendar made clear that she has only has five days of preschool left before preschool graduation.  In a matter of months these late morning snuggles and afternoon play dates on her days off will be a thing of the past.  And, in true mother form, I kicked myself for not cherishing every second I’ve had.  Especially since she was being so cute and listening so well today. 
Every honest parent admits that makes a difference.

“Mom, want to paint?”

Suddenly I saw the elementary school me.  The one that couldn’t quite get my abstract shapes right.  The one whose colors bled together and proved the color wheel correct when I wasn’t supposed to.  The one who couldn’t quite get things the way I wanted them to look.

The honest answer was “no.”  But, this was a five year old girl, my girl, asking for my heart not exemplary skill. 
Before I knew it the paints and paint brushes were organized in front of her on the table.  Carefully selecting her color, she started painting a heart.  “We can take turns and work together on the same page.”

So I took my cutie pie up on her invitation despite my artistic inadequacies. 
Sometimes the young make us brave.

I didn’t know what to do and when she first handed me the brush I fumbled.  So many colors.  So many options.  A blank canvas in territory that didn’t feel familiar.
Will what I do even be recognizable?

I started making a heart.  It’s a basic shape but as I did so Hannah was peering over my shoulder whispering,

“That’s so pretty.”
I smiled knowing somehow her affirmation unleashed silly strong holds and I got daring enough to try entangled hearts to say they were like ours and eventually a man in a tie and woman in a cute dress to be my husband and I.  Actually, the girl was trendier than I am but that’s beside the point.  As long as I was trying to be more creative I figured I could dream of what the trendy me looks like too, right? J

This looks so beautiful.  This is going to be so pretty, mom,” Hannah’s whisper continued over and over again until our paper was filled with color.  Hannah declared it officially complete and asked to teach me how to play “Mr. Fox, What Time is It?” while it dried. 
Skipping her way to the bathroom, Hannah went to wash her hands and I started placing lids on the paint before game time.

“If you’re gutsy enough to try working on the same page with me I could show you new successes too.”
Somehow Hannah’s repeated whisper over me as I tried something outside of my comfort zone caused me to envision the way God must champion us as we accept His invitation to try things without condition.  I happily do the things I know will lead to success, but I am far more hesitant to follow His call when it causes me to question myself.

Success isn’t innate.  It is always birthed out of a God-given gift.  But I’m pretty sure I limit the success the Lord dreams for me because I’m afraid that I’ll fail.
Can you relate?

Pick up the paint brush, my friend, and hear Him whispering over you.  That’s so pretty.”  I think we’ll all climb to new heights.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

When the Trees Fall and Splinter Your Spirit

I grew up in a family of non-movers.  A neighborhood actually.  When I was only four my parents moved into a new construction home on a street yet to be paved.  They landscaped their dream yard and met neighbors who could better be called family.  Our parents chatted late into the night and we kids took advantage of the late bedtime playing kick the can and hid a handkerchief behind the trees for area wide capture the flag.  I'd call that place home until I married the summer after college.  Most of my beloved neighbors are still there.

More memories were made in that space when I can count.  Some happy.  Some sad.  Some down right hilarious.  Amongst the funny moments was the evening a possum decided to make our front tree home.  Noticing it hanging upside down, my dad, not a "creature" fan, promptly freaked out and grabbed the fish net from the garage.  Our next door neighbor, Vern, who knew my dad taking care of household situations could sometimes be more dangerous than helpful, promptly appeared like he always did.  My dad quickly sat down in the passenger seat of Vern's car and together they drove off into the country to let the creature go.  I was in the sixth grade and I can still remember the hilarity of seeing the length of the fish net hanging out of the car as the two drove off.

And after my dad passed away, it is one of the memories I apparently filed away into my memory box. 

This past week our city survived a devastating ice storm.  People who planted dreams spent time this weekend in melting snow and chilly rain hauling the piles of broken branches that were littering the yards and streets and threating the safety of their homes and decks.  Shade was lost.  Beauty was stolen.  Muscles ached and spirits were splintered.

Because my husband and I live in a new neighborhood we had no trees capable of causing the horrific damage others endured.  We didn't live the constant firework like sound of trees continuing to fall or chainsaws removing the threatening branches.  But, as the sad pictures filled my twitter and Facebook stream, my mind went to my childhood home.

Yesterday we finally ventured out, and I visited my place.  What I saw threatened tears.

The large tree that possum wanted to make its home was bungeed up - I suppose to keep siding and roof safe - and with it some of "my place" was destroyed. 

I didn't think I was super attached to trees and I struggled to figure out where these feelings were coming from, until I realized that our homes - inside and out - are part of our identity.  Those spaces are the built with purpose to show who we are and they become the site of the memories we forever carry. 

I suppose in all the disarray the new look threatened some of the "me" I hold on to, as silly as that may sound.

On the way to church this morning another huge tree fell across a well-traveled street, rerouting traffic.  It made me anxious to hear a Word that always stands.  And, after I listened to an incredible sermon about our lives feeling turned upside down, my eyes drifted to the huge cross centered behind.

Your identity is in a different tree.

We just recently finished Holy Week with our eyes on a loving Jesus, nailed to a tree for and for me.  Through relationship with Him, that tree makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible.  It gives eternal hope and because of His great love we never walk alone.

He fills us up as we clean up our mess and shed the tears.

It's easy to see our spaces and places destroyed.  It's scary to know our damage has no finality because more trees are falling, making driving down the street, allowing the kids to play in the snow, or even an innocent walk feel like a dangerous game of Russion roulette.  But if we look around and see the good Samaritans performing random acts of kindness and neighbors helping neighbors we see new memories being made.  Memories of being a strong, caring people.  And, if we will choose to look upward we'll see life not from the vantage point of childhood memories or our day to day surroundings but through the eyes of our God who chose lumber to give us abundance.

A gift we are all thankful for.  Especially right now.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

15 Motivational Songs for the Unenthused Runner

Since my last post people have asked me how I get motivated to run.  Apparently I'm in good company preferring a bowl of ice cream to the exhaustion of the treadmill.  :) 

Obviously my first and primary motivation was wanting to get healthier, but the process of making that idea into reality takes the second motivation - GOOD MUSIC.  I cannot tell you how important this is.

The first day of my 0 to 5k runner was most definitely my most miserable and it wasn't because my shoes were shot and my feet hurt.  It was because my phone told me I needed to keep it on to hear my "trainer" tell me when to do what and I had NO music on my phone.  I've always used my iPod.  And, since I would totally be the person that slips and falls off the treadmill while trying to look up to watch the TV, I felt my only choice was to look forward and sing to myself in my head.  Unfortunately, the song that came to me was "Father Abraham."  You know, the song you sing in preschool Sunday School with all sorts of wacky arm and leg movements?  Ya.  That one. I clearly haven't sang it in decades so I have no idea why it suddenly occupied my brain space, but it did and it made for one L-O-N-G, miserable workout. 

By the time I returned, I was loaded with many Christian and secular favorites with a beat.  Hearing them pump through my ear buds energizes me  to get through the workout until I can get to my calmer stretching selections.  If you need help with the get up and go, I recommend these - from one unenthused runner to another :)

1.  "Gold" Britt Nicole
2.  "Any Man of Mine" Shania Twain
3.  "Happy Girl" Martina McBride
4. "Lose My Soul"  TobyMac
5.  "If You're Going Through Hell"  Rodney Atkins
6.  "Rolling in the Deep"  Adele
7.  "Shine"  Newsboys
8.  "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)  BeyoncĂ©
9.  "That's Not My Name"  The Ting Tings
10.  "Brainwash"   Nicole C Mullen
11.  "Some Nights"  Fun
12.  "Take a Chance on Me"  ABBA
13.  "We Live"  Superchick
14.  "Alive Again"  Matt Maher
15.  "Born for This"  Mandisa

These are the type of songs that come on the radio and you HAVE to turn them up because it just feels wrong to play them any other way.  And, if I've heavy exercised my way through 15, it's time to call it a day.  Heck, I'd deserve a little ice cream :) 

When the music is off, I'd honestly still place myself in the unenthused running category.  Yet, in crazy weeks like this one where our city is part of a declared state of emergency because of a catastrophic ice storm that has leveled trees, downed power lines, damaged homes, and started fires making travel to the gym (or elsewhere) dangerous, I find myself excited to get back at trying it.  I have to think this is the Holy Spirit breathing new possibility into me.  So, if you're feeling like you're beyond hope, join me in pumping up some good tunes.  He'll help you with the rest.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mom, Are You Taking Time to Care for You?

I've always abhorred running.  Like truly despised it.  But, as last year neared an end I looked into the mirror and dared to dream a new dream - to "reclaim" my body. 

After having three beautiful babies in seven years and feeling a God-given sense that our family is complete, I no longer saw my body as an incubator in transition to clothe in whatever was cute and fit at the time but mine to be what I wanted it to be.

The idea was both exciting and completely frightening.  To accomplish this goal would require a new level of accountability and demand that I step outside of a comfort zone that I'd somehow created for myself. 

I knew I needed to get out of the shell of my postpartum body and be healthier for me, for my husband, for my children, and, most importantly, for my God.

A couple years ago I joined a gym with some money from a writing contact.  In my head it was my gift to care for myself but the honest truth is that I chose a gym with no contract because I really didn't think I would follow through with it.  Telling myself the kids have never been in daycare and wouldn't like the playroom, I was giving myself an out before I even started.

Much to my surprise, they loved it and so did I.  Monday through Friday I'd go and walk the treadmill, ride the bike, use the weights, etc.  And, I continued the pattern until the day I delivered baby girl number three.  But, when she was finally old enough to go to the kids room flu season was in full swing and she hadn't had her shots yet.  Then she got a respiratory issue and the protective mama in me continued to wait.  Far.  Too.  Long.

Until I heard God whisper Your body is not your own, remember?  Treat it like the Holy Temple it is. (1 Cor 6:19).

It is a verse I reference to my girls all the time.  "You only get one body and the Lord made it with care so you have to treat it right," I preach when they should rest because they are sick, or want to eat more candy instead of fruit. etc.  It isn't about the number on the scale but the wholistic care of the one body we get.

And I was failing my own message.

So back I went...again fearing that Ava wouldn't like the kids room and again happily surprised that she loved it.  However, as the sweat began to fall I'd slow myself down.  The old routine wasn't good enough. Something needed to change.

I'm pretty sure the last time I ran a measurable distance was in elementary school when I was required to run the mile for the physical fitness award and that does not conjure up pretty memories.  I made it and somewhere in my mom's storage is a jean jacket with a bunch of patches sown on it.  Doesn't that scream cool? :)  Oy.  But my primary memory is the teacher hanging out at the finish line screaming, "Hurry up!  30 seconds.  15 seconds.  10 seco..."

Still I downloaded the couch potato to 5K app on my phone - not to run a race just to properly build endurance - and bought myself a sweet new pair of kicks

That made me smile merely by looking at them and off I went.

I'm happy to report that since sharing my goal I'm half way to meeting it.  There was a little hiccup when I went from the free lite version to having to restart when I bought the paid for version but that is okay because I honestly still approach each new week with some element of fear.  I nervously look to see how much longer it is going to make me run before the voice comes over my phone to relieve me with walk time.  But, I miss it if life situations force me to miss it.  Shhh...

And this one little step in caring for myself and my own identity first is coming full circle in living out the Bible verse.  When I workout I honestly crave healthy foods rather than chips and salsa.  I want water rather than pop.  And, even more, time away from my kids is making me a better mom when I am with them.  When I take the time to care for myself, He has time to fill me with Himself and out of that I have more to give my kids.  I'm more patient.  I have more energy.  I'm more excited each day.  So, when I look in the mirror, I see a better me.

One of the most challenging things for us to do as mothers is to set aside giving time to our kids to give to ourselves, but what the Lord has revealed to me is that in gifting ourself we gift everyone around us in the process.  So, grab a good book and head to the coffee house, go get a pedicure, attend a women's conference, or join me in logging miles at the gym, but do something for YOU.

Never forget that you are a Holy creation, completely loved and totally unique.  Treat yourself as such. 

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gigi: The Princess Your Girl NEEDS to Know

Her name is Gigi.  She doesn't hail from the famous Disney line of princesses, but after the wild popularity of my last entry Victoria's Secret, Hollywood, & Our Jesus, I think it is important you get introduced.

Knowing our identity is critical to making wise choices, and yet if culture reinforced anything in the last week it is that the strong messages of our world can threaten to drown out the Lord's still small voice that promises so much more.

To work with (often times struggling) teens and listen to adults puts me in an interesting place when I look at the face of my three precious girls not yet exposed to painful lies about what gives them value.  When I look into their eyes I see an answer to prayer that we waited for.  I see my heart moving around outside my body.  And, I see hard work.

Because it is my job to teach them age appropriate truth in their formative years well enough that when they first get exposed to the ways of the world they will recognize lies and reject it.  {Oy.  This parenting gig is no small task.}

My girls love princesses.  They have Disney favorites and watch them with a sparkle in their eye.  Yet, they know that it isn't what is on the outside that promises escape from hardship or a fairytale life thanks to Sheila Walsh's "Gigi: God's Little Princess."

Gigi is a normal young girl.  She's curious.  She thinks she wants what other people have.  She is trying to figure out what to think and how to act with her family and friends.  However, woven into these cute stories about dream houses, dance classes and the soccer field is a unique message of God's love and special plan specifically for her.

Stories of our girls' own everyday circumstance creatively reiterates that they are claimed and extravagantly loved.  They hear that there is a Way and to walk in it.

The other day Grace came home from school and told me that a classmate said her dream was to be a princess when she grows up.  "I told her she could pick another dream," she said, "because she's already a princess since God made her."

My heart smiled.

Yes I try and give her this message but I fully credit Gigi for my daughter's evangelizing because she makes it come to life in an authentic cool way.  And, while I can't know what choices my girls will make down the road, I'm grateful for these books and movies that continually whisper I always love you and have a plan for the best for you into their soul.

I'm hopeful that because they want to read/watch something Gigi daily these kid crafted messages will translate into greater confidence and a stronger love for God's design in the future.

Today is International Children's Book Day and it is my prayer that those of you with little girls can avert your eyes from the problems around us and start focusing on the solutions in front of us.  This book line offers unique hope.  If our girls take this message to heart in their young years, it could change the face of their tomorrow.

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