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My dearest Lilly,

Well, kiddo, we did it.  We made it.  When you came to us on August 1st, 2016, we weren’t sure what to expect. I know you didn’t either.  It’s been a time with lots of ups, and some downs, but I wouldn’t trade these past 10 months for anything.

20160801_231817 Tomorrow we’re flying you back to California – to a place with lots of memories for both of us.  Tomorrow ends your journey at our home in Texas, and re-starts the journey with your Mom and Lunna and everyone in California. You’re closing this chapter and tomorrow you start the next chapter of your life.

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Before you do, I want to remind you how much you are loved.

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It’s easy to look back at the past year and only remember the really strong memories.  But there were so many other moments of joy, fun, and laughter. 20160924_162151

You’ll find that life is mostly good, but sometimes bad.  It’s easy to remember the bad moments. It’s easy to focus on the things we really wish we had done differently, instead of remembering the moments we got stuff right.  But Lilly, when I really think back about the last few months, it’s been incredible to think of how many good moments we had.  Moments where we hung out, and grew together. Moments where we shared our life with you and you shared your innermost thoughts with us.  Moments where we laughed and played and went on adventures.

20160914_183929 Moments where there was lots of love.

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You’ve made some new friends – friends I hope you keep in contact with throughout the next year, friends who loved you when you had good days, and loved you when you had bad days. And you’ve gained two brothers who love you – and two parents who will continue to love you from 2000 miles away. 20170315_181949

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IMG_20170318_161531_909 You’ve gotten to know aunts and uncles and extra cousins you didn’t know before – and they’ve loved you and poured their wisdom and kindness into you. 20170316_165925

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We drank a lot of coffee this year!

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We did a lot of camping this year – and adventures in the outdoors. We swam and camped and took hikes.

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You struggled with your identity a lot. That’s pretty normal at this age – and we tried to help as much as we could. This is something you’ll struggle with more as you grow and mature – and I hope we helped you learn some new ways to identify the next steps.

CYMERA_20161012_181905 IMG_20161231_153024_770 You’ve got the world at your fingertips. You’re almost 14 – so close to adulthood – and about to start high school. The next few years of your life are going to fly by, but every day is going to feel like forever. I hope your time here was full of moments you’ll be able to think back on with fondness.

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I hope you walk away from us stronger, healthier, happier, and more self aware. I hope you take Jesus with you everywhere you go.

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I don’t think we were perfect parents for you, but we were what you had for this time of your life. And at the end of the day, no one is perfect. We’re all just struggling along trying to find our way. We mess up. We do stuff the wrong way. But through it all we tried our best to love you like Jesus loves you. We tried to show you a way different from what you’ve tried before. And I think – I hope – we did that. I hope, when you get back to California, you’ll have an opportunity to use the lessons we’ve taught you. I hope you can call me one day and tell me about some situation where you made a good, loving choice…even when it wasn’t the first thing you thought to do. I can’t wait for that phone call.

But until that phone call comes, I’m going to hold on to the memories we have. I’m going to remember the fun, laughter, and joy that you brought into our life.

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I’m going to remember how much Eli loved it when you played with him.

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I’m going to remember letting you play hookie on your last day of school so you could come watch me teach.

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I’m going to remember how hard you worked.

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I’m going to remember you achieving your goals.

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I’m going to remember that today, 10 months later, you’re a better person than you were when you came here. You have grown and expanded how you understand the world in ways that make me so proud of you. I love you so much – even when the words are hard to come by, I’m glad God gave you to me, even for this short time. I can’t wait to see what your future looks like.

Love,
Mom aka Aunt Jennet

Dear self,
Yesterday you turned the big 3-0. Thirty.  Take a deep breath. That’s right. You are officially out of your 20’s.

Your 20’s were good to you. They brought you your husband. Your kids. Your career. Your passion.

But they were rough, too. The loss of your brother, your parents. Chronic sinus problems. Back trouble. Bad feet.

You’ve had some good times – times you’ve laughed until you’ve cried, times you’ve cried until you laughed.  Sometimes those events were the same day!  There’s been lots of lessons learned.  Lots of friends made, and more than a few you’ve lost touch with over the years.  You’ve learned relationships are tough.  Sometimes really tough.  Tough just to keep going – tough to put the extra work in to keep the flame alive.  But oh, so very, very worth it.

I guess I wanted to write you this to give you some advice. Advice you probably won’t listen to, but you’ll nod and smile and say you’ll listen, and I wanted to write it out here so there were witnesses, so to speak.  So here it is. The big advice for you going into your 30s:  Do hard stuff.

Life is hard.  Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Friendships are hard. Work is hard. Faith is hard. Cleaning is hard. Downtime is hard.

Cooking is hard to find time for in light of all that other stuff.

Be kind to yourself – but also, be good at doing hard stuff, because at the end of the day that’s really what life is about.  Dig in to the moment, be present and real with people.  Acknowledge that you’re doing something hard, and then do it.  Give yourself a break when you fail, because you’re going to. Just be ready for it.  Every day you’re going to wake up with 57 things to do and you are going to fail to do most of them.

Try to do them anyways.  Don’t half-ass it, either, because who wants half-ass attention? No one. So do one thing really good. And then do another, and another, and another.  You may end up with 14 good things by the end of the day. Awesome. You did good.  You failed at 43 things, but they don’t matter because you rocked at 14 things.

When you turn 30 (if you’re me) you start to think about your legacy.  At the end of my life I want to be known as someone who was real.  Someone who had to dig her way through life with broken nails and tear stains and dirty tennis shoes who was a real person to the people she interacted with.  I don’t want people to think I’m something I’m not. I’m a mess – just like every other human being on this messy broken earth.

By the grace of God I’d like to fight against that brokenness – the brokenness that destroyed my parents, the brokenness that threatens to take others every day… I’d like to BE KIND and DO HARD STUFF because it helps fix some of that brokenness. And if on any given day I can only do 14 good things, or even just 1 good thing, it means the world is that many more things better than it was yesterday.

Last years, if you’re so inclined.

Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2012 began?
At Uncle Scott and Aunt Tina’s house.  Benjamin stayed up almost to midnight and LOVED the fireworks.  He kept calling them BOOM.

Who were you with?
Justin, Benjamin, Tina, Scott, Serena, Logan and Mandy.  We had a LOT of fun!

Was 2012 a good year for you?
Mostly. It was a pretty insane year – LOTS of changes – LOTS of projects – LOTS of weddings – Did I mention lots of changes? Yeah. BUSY.

What countries/states did you visit?
California to see my sisters and best friend get married, and Mississippi to visit some of Justin’s family.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions?
YES! I am SMOKE FREE! Yee-haw!!! But, I’m not really sure I did very well with living a life of balance. This year was really, really crazy.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Jake and Reba had their baby Feb 14th, 2012!  No one else super close to me, but there’s some friends I have made at church with young ones, but the babies were born before I met the parents, so I’m not counting those.

Did anyone close to you die?
For the first time in a long time, no deaths of anyone close to me.

What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Hm, Teresa and James got married March 3rd, and Amy and Keith got married May 5th, so I think those days will be remembered fondly each year.

Experiences:

What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Matron of honor (x2!), flew with a 2 year old, become an instructor, taught an 8 hour class, served as a vice-chair on a committee, attended my first “gala”, received my first real promotion, became a supervisor, ran a food truck at a charity event, stood by my husband while he quit a job he had grown to be dissatisfied with, and most recently I sat on the couch while someone I love very, very dearly told me they had been diagnosed with cancer. 

Did you have fun in 2012?
Yes. Definitely. I also spent most of it exceptionally tired.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I had trusted God more with my money. I’ve stressed out unnecessarily.  No, things aren’t perfect, but they’re not terrible either.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Eating unnecessarily! 🙂

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 28, and I worked, and my birthday this year sucked pretty royally.  My coworker was irritated at me, which made me irritated at her.  The only upside was that my husband bought me a really awesome old desk. 

What did you want and get?
To find Cherry Lake!!!

What did you want and not get?
To put some work into my savings account. Life happens though.

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration?
Two people come to mind.  My husband, for being my rock, my motivator, and my calm in the storm.  My husband, also, for having the strength to quit his job and step out in faith to be the best stay-at-home-dad that Benjamin could have.

This year I’d like to add my mother-in-law, who is an incredibly strong woman who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis with grace and trust in God.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
I’m usually very non-specific here.  However, I’ve witnessed so many people recently be so ugly and judgmental in a negative way. I’m still not getting specific, on purpose. Can we just agree to love and respect each other despite our differences? Respect means the most when it’s towards someone you disagree with. Anyone can love someone who agrees with you. It takes real strength to love – truly love – someone who vehemently disagrees with you.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2012?
Not really.

Who were some new people you met?
New coworkers, new church people. 

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2012?
May. My trip to California took up half of that month and it was pure awesomeness.

What was your favorite moment of the year?
Again, as usual, several:
Toasting James and Teresa at their wedding. I cried, but only a little.
Toasting Amy and Keith at their wedding. I cried, again.
Finding Cherry Lake with my sister Jean. That priceless moment when she screamed out the window of her car in excitement.
Finishing up my first SAFVIC for TCPs class. It was pretty amazing.
The look of relief on my husband’s face when we finally decided it was time for him to quit his job.
Getting the phone call with my promotion job offer.
Any of the number of times my son squeezed me and told me he loved me soooo much!

What was your least favorite moment of the year?
Listening to one of my officers call for assistance.  It was a recording, and I already knew the outcome when I heard it (that they were all OK), but listening to it gave me goosebumps and shook me to my boots. I love these guys, especially the ones in that recording, and hearing it made me realize how close I came to losing one of them. 

What was your favorite TV program?
I worked my way through Monk this year, and I have to say, it was awesome. I totally loved it! Very well acted and scripted.  Got a little boring at parts, but not too bad overall.  I tried working through the Mentalist next, and while it’s good it wasn’t able to hold my attention in the long run. Now I’m happily watching Dr. Who reruns, when I get the chance.

What was the best book you read?
I reread the Hobbit and that was pretty awesome.  I read several training books at work and enjoyed those, but other than work related stuff and blogs I haven’t really had a chance to read anything. 

What were your favorite films of this year?
The Avengers and The Hobbit, and yes, I know how nerdy I am.

 What was your favorite video game you played this year?
Borderlands 2. I really like Tiny Farm too (I play it on my phone) but Borderlands 2 is the game I play with my hubby, so it wins.

What was your favorite new technology/application?
No clue. I’m getting too old/busy/bored to keep up with it…

What was your greatest musical discovery?
KRISPY KREME! Just kidding. Epic Rap Battles of History! I show everyone when they come visit at my house. It’s becoming a tradition.
 
What was the best thing you bought?
My desk, and my hubby bought it, not me. I love it!

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Promotion at work!!! I have worked very, very, very hard for this position and I’m VERY proud of myself.

What was your biggest failure?
Gaining back all the weight I lost last year. Fail.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yeah. I messed my leg up at the end of the year, and allergies continue to be the bane of my existence certain times of the year.

Where did most of your money go?
Family.

What kept you sane?
Love.

What political issue stirred you the most?
Meh. Pass.

Who did you miss?
My sisters and Amy. Leaving them in California is very difficult each year I get to visit.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Weddings!

Compared to this time last year, are you:
I. happier or sadder? I don’t know, but I never know. This has been a pretty stressful year, and my mother-in-law is facing lots of health issues.  I’m about the same, I suppose.
ii. thinner or fatter? Fatter. Ugh. So mad at myself.
iii. richer or poorer? Definitely poorer.  But, we’re a 1 income family and still surviving. It’s worth the trade-off.

Did you fall in love in 2012?
Every year I say “over and over and over again” but every year it’s true.  I love my husband so much, he’s my best friend.  I am incredibly blessed.

Did you lose anything important this year?
Immediate family being cancer free, I suppose.

What was your proudest moment of 2012?
My husband deciding to quit his job. It took a lot. I’m very proud of him.

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2012?
Having to admit that the reason for my ankle injury is because I made a stupid, stupid decision to run in the dark in the grass.

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Very Good
• Emotional Health – Fairly Good (less good than last year. Too many little things stressing me)
• Physical Health – Fairly bad (Ankle. Nose. Headaches. Need to visit a chiropractor. Weight gain. Lack of exercise most of November/December due to ankle injury.)
• Social Health – Good (I’ve hung out at least a few times a month with at least 1 friend, and participated in several church functions.)
• Spiritual Health – Fairly Good (I’m still a lame slacker, but I’m learning to trust God more.)
• Intellectual Health – Good (Teaching and attending training FTW)
• Financial Health – Fairly Bad (I’ll just say, sometimes there’s not a lot you can do to help this one – maybe next year!)

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas?
At least part of it at the hospital with my mother-in-law. We’ll bring the presents to her!  The rest of it with my brother and his wife and my niece.

How will you be spending New Years?
Working the day before and the day of… so… sleeping!

What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
Haha, a second kid, maybe? 

What are your plans for 2013?
Get back on track with my health.

Will you make any new years resolutions for 2013?
Last year I resolved to stop smoking, and I did. This year, I haven’t decided yet. I think I’ll resolve not to buy any candy at the store. Or something like that. Something else challenging and health related. Maybe do 20 push ups a day?  Hmmm. We’ll see.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012:

The world is broken. Evil exists in this world. There is not really a whole lot we can do on a legislative level to stop evil.  We can’t increase laws and get evil people to stop being evil – sorry, but we just can’t.  It won’t work.  On an individual level, I think we all need to do our very best at trying to saturate the world around us with as much love and goodness as is possible.  You can turn something like the Newtown tragedy into a sound bite for a law you want to pass, but I don’t think that’s the best we can do.  I think we can do better.  I am choosing instead not to debate gun control (or even mental health, in spite of how much as I am passionate about it) and choosing instead to try to increase my output of good into my community.  We can debate gun control and mental health another day; I think an appropriate response to this type of evil is not legislation, but love.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

This year has been a whirlwind of change, the least of which is not the leaps and bounds my child is growing in.  I wanted to write a few memories down, just so I won’t forget them.

  • A few nights ago we sang our bathtime song, which goes “Bath time, here we go! / Bath times a good time, you know! / Bath time, everybody LOVES bath time it’s bath time, you know!” and repeats ad infinitum.  We sang it before bath time like we do almost every night.  After bath, we were downstairs snuggling and playing and I told Justin that we needed to put Benjamin to bed, soon, so we could take a shower.  Benjamin proceeded to look at me and say, “No Mommy, I need shower too, it’s shower time. Shower time, here we go! Shower times a good time you know!”  Sorry, Benjamin, but it didn’t get you out of bedtime.
  • I made whoopie pies for coworkers and as the cakes were cooling I gave Benjamin one.  He enjoyed it a lot – “Yum, delicioso!” After a few minutes, he started whining, and I asked him what was wrong. His response? “I don’t have a cookie in my mouth!!”
  • Did Benjamin get another cookie? Yes, yes he did!
  • I feel bad sometimes, because I work so much and everyone else gets to be home with Benjamin more than I do.  To combat that, I try to take Benjamin with me to social events that would drive me husband crazy.  So the other day we went to a concert in a local park where they were playing 80s music.  Benjamin and I danced and danced and danced. We had SO much fun!
  • During the concert, Benjamin got antsy and wanted to get away from the loud music, so we took a walk. I followed him all the way to the edge of the park, where we played around. At the end of the walk I told him it was time to head back, and we could be like Dora and go “through the woods, across the field, to the concert!” So we did that, and midway through I made the mistake of saying “We need to keep an eye out for Swiper! That tricky fox is always trying to get out stuff!”  So… we get ALMOST to the concert, and he turns to a random stranger and starts holding out his arm yelling, “SWIPER NO SWIPING! SWIPER NO SWIPING! SWIPER NO SWIPING!!”  I was so embarrassed. Apologized. Moved on. Poor lady was freaked out…
  • Last night Benjamin was cranky and overtired.  It was a rough hour before bedtime, but we survived, and I was snuggling with him in our rocking chair before bed. I asked him if he wanted to pray, or sing, and he wanted to pray so we did. I said, after our initial prayers, “Benjamin, who do you want to bless?” He said Frankie (our dog). So we prayed, “Dear God, please bless Frankie.” Then I asked him, “who else do you want to bless?” He thinks for a minute. Lucky, he says, the other dog. “Dear God, please bless Lucky.”  I ask him who else. He says, in the cutest voice, “Me.” Oh, Benjamin, you want God to bless you? “Yes,” he says to me, and my heart swells and gets all sentimental, and we pray a blessing over him too.  I thought how brave of him, to be willing to ask God, but then I realized he doesn’t know any better. He is at the age where he can boldly go to the throne without baggage. What a lesson for me!

 

Today is my first day back to technology for almost 3 weeks.  The vacation was amazing and lovely, and I came to work with 1000+ on my Google Reader and over 600 work emails.  As I work through the deluge of information I came across one scripture listed two different places (here and here).  I really, really, really like the scripture – which is one of the types of scriptures that you’re just going to read over until someone makes you stop and see it for the first time all over again.  Here is the scripture in its entirety:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

There is one other part of the bible in the New Testament that sums up what we should do:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 
 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40, NIV)

I like how it’s worded in both portions of scripture.  The second one is much more well-referenced, and for good reason since Christ says it is the greatest commandment.  But the first – to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly – I think it sums up a lot of what we need to do now.  But when I think about how much outrage and judgement I see on a daily basis (not just from Christians, mind you) I think that the first scripture from Micah is a good reminder that we maybe should see a bit more often.  Because loving mercy is hard.  Walking humbly is difficult.  Acting justly – while loving mercy – now THAT is tough.  If we can maintain love throughout it all I think the world would be pretty amazing.

I haven’t done a “Miscellaneous Monday” in a while, and there’s all sorts of tasty goodness on my blogroll and out in the world today so I am going to share! 

The problem with “Homosexuality” – Justin Lee writes openly and honestly and I really enjoy his thoughts.  He raises some good questions here and I think they merit further consideration.

Counting the cost – Scott discusses the importance of thinking about the “real” cost of self-defense, and the link provided is, in my opinion, essential reading for anyone who thinks they have an opinion on what the media reports on the Martin-Zimmerman case.

Bicycle clutch – You don’t have to read this, you just have to admire the beauty. I am currently using a lunch tote tied up, but this would double as a purse once I’d arrived at my destination! Brilliant!

Old & New Project – A collaborative project for graphic artists to display artwork themed around bible stories.  Some of them are incredible, all of them are interesting.  So far my favorites are Judah&Tamar and Deborah’s Song of Jael. If you want more amazing visual scripture, be sure to check out Jim LePage’s solo project Word.  Don’t ask me to pick a favorite, I can’t, I mean, 2 Corinthians is amazing, Hebrews makes me smile and I can’t forget Titus, 1 Timothy, Habakkuk, Job, ok really, I have to stop, just go. Look. Learn.

Peace like a River – Breathtakingly beautiful honesty. I can relate to this post in a lot of ways and I think a lot us can.

So, did any of these pique your curiosity? Which ones? I’d love to see if anyone else enjoys these as much as I did!

So for lent, all the things I gave up, I failed at.  I did not increase my prayer time, I did not read my bible more.  I did not grow closer to God.  I did not stop checking facebook, I just stopped posting.  I did not cut out my sweets, I just didn’t go out of my way to eat them.  I did not stop watching TV with my son, the whole family got sick and that was all we could do.  With just two weeks left I’m calling this Lent a spectacular disaster.

I suppose, though, that if I look at it honestly – I did become more aware of my utter brokenness.  I am now, more than ever, aware that I fail at being good on my own.  So I guess it wasn’t a complete disaster.  In fact, I suppose, I kind of actually accomplished something in my failure.  Or maybe I’m just saying that to feel better. Who knows?

I guess I’ll just keep being me, and keep trying (and failing) and eventually, maybe, I’ll get the hang of this thing called faith.  If not, it will probably continue to be quite an adventure…