Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 13 - It's all about the Benjamins Baby

This week has been financially frustrating. Well, it's been frustrating period, but specifically in the area of money. First of all, I still haven't slept well in days. Just when my kids started to get healthy, I got sick, and then it was off to work feeling like garbage. Some days just feel like hiking up hill with a 50 pound weight strapped to your back.

I have to say that for the last few years, money hasn't been too big of a stress factor for me. It's not like I have a lot of it, but I live pretty simply, don't have any debt, and have a job that covers the bills. Making the transition to running my own business has changed that in a lot of ways. This Christmas the boys had plenty of presents thanks to extended family, but we didn't really exchange gifts with anyone else. I didn't even really mind. It wasn't until this last week that the financial situation has started to feel a little overwhelming.

First on the list is the fact that I never got to see my immediate family at Christmas. This was the first year I haven't been with my siblings & mom and dad for a Christmas celebration. I figured we'd use a free ticket I had to fly out in January instead. Then, everything just fell apart. My free ticket wasn't available for use, and all my plans started to fall through. I could still go, I just have to come up with $900 to fly out of Spokane. Sweet.

Then, there is the digital camera. I have been salivating over it for years. Every Christmas, Costco marks it down a couple hundred dollars. And, every year, there have been other things the money I had needed to go toward. Photography has always been a love of mine. I've worked in a portrait studio, taken photography classes, developed my own film, learned photoshop...I just don't have the camera. It sounds silly, but it's a dream I have, and I felt like I had to lay "my Isaac" on the altar this week, and let it go.

On top of everything, I felt God prompting me to give above and beyond what I normally do on Sundays. He just told me to give everything. Everything? Yep. Everything I had in my wallet - which was a good chunk! (I make tips & get paid in cash!) Ugh. I was happy to give, but it just didn't make sense in light of everything that was going on.

I guess it's another part of what God is teaching me. We live so richly in this country. Do I really need a Canon Rebel XSi SLR 12 megapixel camera with live video capabilities? Okay, maybe not, but I do know that I serve a God that knows everything, that has promised to ALWAYS provide, and who cares about even the little things that concern me. I had to remind myself of that today as I am trying to let go and trust Him with my future and my finances.

Sorry, P. Diddy, it's NOT all about the Benjamins!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 12 - At the bottom of the Mountain

Before you think that I am the biggest slacker in the world, let me just inform you that my children have not been healthy for a week. Having sick kids can be one of the most exhausting things in life. It's especially challenging when they are young, and there isn't much you can do, and they don't understand why they don't feel well! I know, excuses, excuses! My brain is so fried that I'm not sure I could write a book report on "The Very Hungry Caterpillar". This could be a little rough to read!

I did get a little bit of a break over the weekend while the boys were with their dad, but emotionally I feel like I've been through the wringer as well. Church on Sunday really hit home. The pastor talked about the Practical Atheist - one who claims to believe in God, but acts as if He doesn't exist. While we sat in the service, I listened to an outline describing a person that sounded a lot like me. Don't get me wrong, I don't just go to church for show. I was raised in a wonderful home where I was taught what it looked like to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and how that relationship actually changed lives. It scares me to think what kind of woman I would be without the grace of God in my life. But, as I've gotten older and had to deal with pain, it seems like parts of the relationship are easy for me to want to ignore. The pastor talked about being a "cafeteria Christian" - how we want to pick and choose what we like about God, and leave out the parts we don't. I laughed when I picked up my Bible reading for the day: Zechariah & Revelation. I skipped straight to the Psalm. Reading about God healing the brokenhearted & binding up their wounds is much easier than reading "Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword which will strike down the nations" or "You must die because you have told lies in the Lord's name". Yikes.

It even reminded me of writing my blog. I thought it would be so fun to share inspirational stories about overcoming - something that would make a great feel-good movie like "The Blind Side". I had no idea how difficult this journey would be when I started it. It seems like it would be so much easier to continue going about my life, which by most people's standards isn't even that bad, go to church on Sundays, and read some warm, fuzzy verses about how much God loves me every now and then. Instead, I feel like an obese person who has just visited the physician and been told that if they don't make some changes to their diet, the results could be fatal. I've never been obese, but I do know how overwhelming it can be to lose weight and make changes when it seems like things change so slowly. I feel a little overwhelmed right now. I know that there are some changes I need to make that seem almost impossible.

This does not feel like a very inspiring blog entry. I don't have any great lessons that I learned or tidbits of wisdom to dwell on while going throughout the day. I just have a tough road ahead. I guess that's why Jesus said "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt. 7:13) My hope lies in that I don't have to do it alone.

Lord, thank you for meeting me in my exhaustion. Thank you that you love me enough to pursue me, and move me to change. Thank you that you've given me everything that I need to live a life that honors you. I pray that you would give me the strength to take one step at a time toward where you want me to be. I don't want to waste what you've entrusted to me. Thank you that you always do love me, even in spite of me. Thank you for every aspect that makes you who you are."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 11 - Agape Love

It's midnight. I should probably be sleeping, but I decided to read my Bible before I went to sleep, and the reading for today just so happened to be one of my favorite chapters - Psalm 139. I started thinking of a song written about Psalm 139 that I knew in high school, so I had to get up and try to find it on iTunes. Once I found it, and listened to the words, I wanted to share it.

I've realized over the last few weeks that my audience does not consist solely of single moms, or even those with children, or even people that firmly believe in God. It's been tough for me at times to be so transparent with my life knowing that it may solicit criticism, disagreement, or even just awkwardness. I have to say, that even despite that knowledge, I want to keep writing and sharing what I am learning. Just because I believe in God certainly doesn't mean I have it all figured out. After acknowledging that I didn't have it all figured out, it made all the difference in the world, however, to know that I didn't have to have it all together. Listening to the song I downloaded reminded me why I believe what I do. At the end of the day, I think in the deepest part of our being, we all want to be loved unconditionally. It's what we all chase whether we recognize it or not. It was a wonderful feeling tonight to find what I search for on a daily basis. This interpretation of Psalm 139 says it so well:

You've searched me, you know me
You see my every move
There's nothing I could ever do
to hide myself from you
You know my thoughts, my fears & hurts
My weaknesses & pride
You know what I am going through
And how I feel inside

But even though you know
You will always love me
Even though you know
You'll never let me go
I don't deserve your love
But you give it freely
You will always love me
even though you know

Having someone on this earth to love and go through life with is a wonderful thing, but there is nothing that can ever compare to knowing that you are loved - no mater what. Period. I initially titled this blog "Try, try again" because I feel like I've been failing so much. I even started the last post that I lost with a "report card" of how I have been doing. I am so thankful that life doesn't depend on my ability to be perfect, because I would never even get in the same universe as that standard.

I can go to bed tonight knowing that despite all the mistakes I have made in my life and all the times I've failed to do the right thing, I am loved. No mater what. Period. What an amazing thing!

My Prayer:
"Lord, just like it says in the psalm - How precious to me are your thoughts O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. It amazes me that you love me - even with all my flaws. Thank you."

For reference:
If you want to hear the song I downloaded, run a search in iTunes for Psalm 139. It is the 3rd most popular song by Rebecca St. James
Another AMAZING song on this topic is called Child of God by Vineyard UK. I highly recommend downloading it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 10 - Massive Frustration

I spent 3 days trying to piece together my last blog. I finally wrapped it up a little while ago, felt pretty good about it, and promptly received an error message after trying to publish it. I lost the whole thing even though it said it had saved. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting time. I've thought about how in Nazi concentration camps soldiers made prisoners move piles of rocks from one place to another, just to torture them. How effective.

In the meantime, I'll work on plan B.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 9 - Thank-yous

Yuck. This is where the rubber meets the road - where I have to practice what I preach. It's 2:00 in the afternoon & I have to go to work in an hour and a half. Tyler and Joren have been climbing on my lap for the last hour asking me to pay attention to them. I've been trying to get a little bookkeeping done, and I've already spent the whole morning doing it. I had a bunch of errands to run, because I just got back from vacation. It seems like there are never enough hours in the day! I want to pay attention to my kids & I have SO much to do!

When I was unpacking my suitcase this morning, I found a little note I had written during a church service last year after Thanksgiving. It was a list titled "I'm Thankful for:". I had written down
1. God's grace
2. My boys & family
3. AP
4. Health
5. Provision
6. Friends like Carmel
7. Freedom

I never did come up with all 10 things. It seems kind of sad to me that I couldn't think of 3 more things to be thankful for. I remember a college professor telling me that if I was ever having a rough day, I should take out a piece of paper and write down the 10 things that were frustrating me. Then, I should rip that paper up, let it go, and write down 20 things that I was thankful for. It was such a great exercise for me then, and I still do it fairly often. Today definitely feels like a day that would be good to remind myself of all the things I have to be thankful for!

1. Still have to put God's grace at #1!
2. My boys & Family
3. AP (could probably be family now :-)
4. A warm, safe place to live
5. A job! (or 3!)
6. Freedom
7. Life
8. Life + Health
9. Healthy Kids
10. Good friends to spend time with
11. A great church to go to
12. A vacation I just got to take
13. Plenty of clothes to stay warm
14. Enough food to eat
15. Lots of opportunities to celebrate Jesus' birthday!
16. Health Insurance
17. Grandparents that are very generous & involved in my life
18. A vehicle that runs & is paid for
19. A new house
20. An opportunity to have RELATIONSHIP with God because Jesus was born

I was listening to the radio today & heard a pastor talking about the fact that Mary could've been stoned for getting pregnant and not being married. When the angel came to her and told her she would have God's son, that MUST'VE crossed her mind! But, she still sang praises to God. I can't relate to immaculate conception in a time that pregnancy out of wedlock could mean death, but I've certainly felt overwhelmed by my circumstances. I'm going to tape my list on my bathroom mirror to remind me that there are always things to be thankful for, even when the day seems miserable. Then, I'm going to go play "wrestle mania" on the floor with my boys!

"Lord, thank you. For EVERYTHING."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 8 - Back on the wagon (not the one involving alcohol)

I'm sitting on a airplane wrapping up a 5 day vacation. We are returning from a visit with family to celebrate the holidays, and it occurs to me that it was a great idea to take a vacation in the middle of winter to Minneapolis. Even though it wasn't a tropical climate, after being in -4 degree weather, the 30 degree temperatures we are returning to will feel quite warm.
My parents always tell me that it doesn't feel like Christmas when it's warm outside. They've spent the past 5 years between San Diego and Dallas. I just don't think I'd mind not having sub-zero wind chills in December - nothing like pain to get one into the Christmas spirit, right? Regardless of the temperature outside, Christmas still comes, and I was reminded over the weekend that few seem to escape the overwhelming busyness of the season.
It's been a while since I've lived in a large metropolitan area around the holidays. One afternoon in Minneapolis we decided to venture to the mall to do a little gift shopping. Bad idea. I was shocked to see the parking lot so full, and I figured we'd have a good half-mile walk through the slush before we got inside. Fortunately, we found a spot a little closer, but it wasn't much of a relief once we were indoors. I'm female, so obviously I have some genetic defect that makes me enjoy shopping, but THIS was not shopping. People were standing in a line that consisted of an hour-plus wait to see Santa. Some carried so many bags, they couldn't fit through doors. Girls dug through a pile of sale jeans - on sale for $200. Two hundred dollars - on sale. Yikes!
It's tough to escape being busy during the holidays. A lot of people have to travel, there are Christmas programs to attend, work parties, gift exchanges, special church services - it's enough to throw off the usual routine. Being on vacation certainly threw off my routine, and I will admit that I didn't really take any time during any of the 5 days to spend time alone with God. It seems ironic that in celebrating Jesus' birthday, I forgot about Jesus.
So, maybe this is the 400th thing you've read in the last month talking about making sure to focus on the meaning in Christmas. Why? Obviously, we all, including me, need to be reminded on a regular basis, because we all get too busy! While I was writing this, I started to wonder, during this season of giving and wanting, what does God really want? What can I give him?
In a letter home to parents, my son's preschool challenged us to make sure and spend time with our children, even amidst our busy schedules. They pointed out that children can get cranky with their routines off and all our running around. Last week, I found that to be true. My three year old seemed to be in a bad mood all day. Finally in frustration I asked him "What do you want?!"
"I just want you, momma", he replied.
I sat down to read him a story, and as he cuddled up to me on my lap, his bad mood seemed to slip away. Wow, those teachers are smart!
Maybe you see where this is going. I really think I failed to give God the one thing he wanted on my vacation - my time. It's crazy to me how long it takes for me to learn things sometimes. Didn't I just write about this a week ago. Good thing God is gracious. Give him some of your time today. I finally did, and I feel so much better. (Also, I forgot my razor on my trip, so showering helped too :-)

Lord, thank you so much that it doesn't depend on my own amazing efforts to be close to you. Thank you for meeting me where I am at, and loving me at all times. Change my heart so that I continue to desire to spend time with you each day. Help me to spend quality time with my children as well - even when I am busy. Thank you for family and times of celebration. May we always remember why we are celebrating.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Okay, so I had to make an executive decision:

As much as I really want to blog on a daily basis, I have found it almost impossible to have the time on certain days. Believe it or not, it actually takes me a good chunk of time to write! I am still going to try and post almost every day, but the whole idea is that I'm not taking time away from my kids or other important things. I'm still going the distance for 30 days - it just might take me 40 to get there! :-)

Stay tuned...Gorillas part 2 is coming next!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 7 - The 800 Pound Gorilla

I've been putting this one off for a while...

I took a class my senior year of college called "Strategic Management". It was a summer class, and one of my favorites. My teacher had a passion for the topic that was evident as he lectured, earnest for us to grasp the concepts. When we looked at different businesses, he used to refer to the business that dominated the market as "the 800 pound gorilla". McDonald's is an 800 pound gorilla in the fast food industry. Wal-mart holds the honors for retailers. Starbucks probably puts drugs in their drinks to earn the title, but you get the idea.

When I think about my life as a single mom, and the things that are competing for my heart, one things stands out: S-E-X. I don't care who you are, controlling sexual desires is a BATTLE. It certainly isn't a struggle limited to single parents, but we do seem to have a unique dilemma when it comes to sexual purity - we know what we're missing!!!

If you've ever read any books about what drives men and women, you may know that typically, for men, the sexual act itself is a bonding experience. For women,(which I will address more specifically since I know a little more about them than men!) we are much more driven by the emotional aspect of the process. Women live to be loved and desired. Stasi Eldredge says this:

"A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she's loved. Cut off from love, rejected, no one pursuing her, something in a woman wilts like a flower no one waters anymore. She withers into resignation, duty and shame. The radiance of her countenance goes out, as if a light has been turned off. But this same woman, who everyone thought was rather plain and unengaging, becomes lovely and inviting when she is pursued. Her heart begins to come alive..."

After walking through a divorce, many of us have experienced some form of deep emotional pain. Naturally, finding someone to fill that empty place in our hearts is where we tend to focus our energy. I certainly did. We want to be desired. I've found that most of my life the quickest way to be desired was to be sexy. Granted, it isn't the way I really want to be desired ultimately, but it feels good - again - shallow, but honest. Whenever I find myself struggling with a little insecurity, I can almost bet that my inclination will be to throw myself at Adam. It's a good thing I wear a metal chastity belt, and the key is at my dad's house in Dallas. So uncomfortable... :-)

Putting the pieces of my life back together after divorce has been a long and difficult process to say the least. Dealing with the sexual aspect has been overwhelming at best. Most of us know what God has to say about the subject. I wish I had some secret to share, or magic formula to follow, maybe even a prayer to say that would make our sexual desires dormant until the right time. I don't really have any advice to offer. Even if I did, I imagine that it wouldn't be some eloquent combination of words that would challenge you anyway. There are practical bits of wisdom we can learn from, and remind ourselves of God's truth, but I think the place the battle is really won or lost is in our hearts. I've been praying for the past few weeks that God would change my heart. I just want to share one thing that was meaningful to me, again from Stasi Eldredge's book Captivating:

"The vast desire and capacity a woman has for intimate relationships tells us of God's vast desire and capacity for intimate relationships. In fact ,this may be the most important thing we ever learn about God - that he yearns for relationship with us. Oh, how we've missed this! How many of you see God as longing to be loved by you? We see him as strong and powerful, but not as needing us, vulnerable to us, yearning to be desired. God wants to be a priority to someone. From cover to cover, the cry of God's heart is 'Why won't you choose me?' It is amazing to me how humble, how vulnerable God is on this point. 'You will find me,' says the Lord, 'when you seek me with all your heart' (Jer 29:13). In other words, 'Look for me, pursue me - I want you to pursue me.' Amazing. God wants to be wanted".

I am challenged by that thought, and this verse:

"O Jerusalem, often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matt. 23:37)

The battle is for our hearts.


"Lord, you know my heart, the struggles, the insecurities and the secrets in the deepest places. Remind me today that you long for ME and want to heal me of the pain I've experienced. May my heart be yours so that I long to pursue you. Change my heart. Help me to make you my priority, so that I'm filled with your love, and not empty when someone else comes around. Give me the discernment to distinguish between true love, and a temporary fix. Remind me that my longing for romance really can be fulfilled in you."

Side note:
Becky Patton, who is like a mother to me, recently started a ministry called Truessence that is devoted to the concept of Holy Sexuality. Check it out - it won't be what you expect. Becky always challenged me to invite God in - let him be a part of my sexuality - and see how He changes me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 6 - The Plastic Smile

I'm finding myself in another day without fortune cookies, sudden moments of inspiration, thought-provoking incidents or frankly, much ambition. (see day 5!) After a few minutes of quiet time, I realize I might not be alone.

In their book, "What Every Mom Needs", authors Elisa Morgan and Carol Kuykendall say "Moms of preschoolers are said to be the most exhausted, fatigued, and worn-out strata of our society. Functioning on little sleep, unbalanced nutrition, little exercise, and frazzled nerves, we're expected to constantly juggle a jumble of balls without ever dropping one or losing our footing. Often, the cycle of exhaustion intensifies as moms push themselves harder and harder to perform better and better, until they collapse into helpless heaps".

I have to say that exercise and balanced nutrition aren't the things I struggle with most, but I can relate to collapsing into a heap - behind closed doors, of course. One of the things I found to be very fascinating about single parenting was the desire to prove to everyone that I wasn't a failure. My marriage may have fallen apart, but I was bound and determined to show everyone that I could still get a college degree, and be a good mom while doing so. I wanted so badly for people to approve of me. Being a mom is hard enough without putting pressure on ourselves to appear to have it all together.

Being transparent about the challenges of parenthood has been very liberating to me. I'm reminded that no one has it together, and it doesn't do us any favors to try to appear that we do. I thought today that I might try to hide being tired and emotionally drained from a pretty eventful week, but I'm sure it would be apparent in my writing. I can't say enough that I don't want to be fake. Today that means that I might not get a pat on the back for a creative, thought -provoking blog. I do want to honor my commitment to 30 days of writing. I also want to honor today being a day of rest. I know from experience that it is absolutely vital to set time aside for ourselves to be refreshed. It allows us to be better parents - real parents - ones that are aware that parenting is tough, who aren't afraid to admit it, and who know when it's time for a break.

"Lord, thank you so much that you are the author of rest. Give me the discernment to know when I need to rest, and the strength when I need to just keep pushing through. Remind me that it wasn't the people that looked like they had it all together that you spent time with. It was the sinners - the ones who acknowledged that they needed you. Change my life like you did theirs. Thank you for what you are doing in my heart. Thank you that there is never a circumstance that you cannot redeem. Use me in spite of me."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 5 - The First Miles are the Toughest

It's Saturday, and I find myself going to a source of wisdom that has served me well over the years - the Chinese fortune cookie. Of course I'm kidding, but I have been very amused by the little paper thoughts in the past, and today was certainly no exception.

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon when my kids are away, as I've already mentioned, is on the couch with Adam watching some football. Adding his big, comfy sweatshirt, a Montana Grizzly playoff game, and some sesame chicken into the mix means this afternoon couldn't be much more relaxing.

For those of you that know me, it may not come as a surprise that I ate the fortune cookie before we even opened the main dish. I really love desert - especially when it contains a hidden treasure and doesn't have too many calories! I broke the cookie in half, pulled out the paper, and laughed aloud as I read "You may lack the ambition, but not the ability to succeed". Classic me. I am not a "task-oriented" person. Writing every day for 30 days is quite a challenge for me. I am very good at having the desire to do something, but following through is an entirely different matter.

Last year, during my final semester of college, I took a "filler" class just for credits called "Personal Health and Wellness". Thirty percent of our grade was doing a Behavior Modification project. We had to choose a behavior at the beginning of the semester, that we felt needed to be changed, and then journal about the process throughout the course. According to our text, there were certain stages to go through before a behavior was modified. Now, before you think I'm going to put you to sleep with a classroom-style lecture, let me just say this: there were two steps that I still remember as being critical to the process - awareness and action. I think I could confidently say that for the majority of the time I've been a single parent, I've been aware of things I've needed to change. Making the change - or the action - was always the part that was overwhelming to me.

Over the summer, I trained for and ran the 3rd annual Missoula Half Marathon. I am certainly not built for running distance races, but I wanted to challenge myself and try something new. One of the things I remember very well was that every time I would go out for a long run, the first few miles were the hardest. After I got past 2 or 3 miles, I would get into a rhythm and feel a little more comfortable. It wasn't that running was easy after that, because it was still a challenge, but I always did feel a little better once I got going.

I think of those runs often when I think of change. Gaining momentum always seems to be the toughest part. Taking the first step towards a change of behavior is almost certainly met with opposition. Satan doesn't want us to change the things that are keeping us from being effective, and when we take steps in the direction of doing so, you can bet he won't sit back and cheer.

We're all in different places in our lives, but I'm willing to bet we all have areas that could use a little work. I would much rather have someone say about me that I lacked ability, but that I gave everything I had, and possessed a heart that was open when God prompted me to change.

" Lord, my prayer today is for my heart. I know the next couple of weeks may be difficult as you reveal areas in my life that need some change. Please open my eyes to be aware of those areas, and give me the courage to take action. Thank you that you are with me through the first few 'miles' and that I never have to walk alone. Thank you that you are able to do 'immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, according to YOUR power.' May I be someone with ambition for you. Remind me that your power is perfected in my weakness, and you are always on my side. Please help me to gain momentum as I pursue change."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 4 - To drink, or not to drink, that is the question.

It's Friday. Can I hear an "Amen"? Friday is the one day during the week that I get somewhat of a break. For the last 2 1/2 years I have worked Friday nights, until just recently when I gave them up to devote more time to building my bookkeeping business. Or something like that...

There was a time, right after I was separated that I LOVED to go downtown and party. I used to work a shorter shift on Friday nights, and as soon as I got off, I would change in the bathroom at work and go straight downtown. I think the appeal for me had a couple different elements. First of all, I never drank when I was younger. I consumed my first shot of alcohol at the age of 24. I never had a fake ID, and I never felt like I was missing out on anything until I was single again. Secondly, I loved the attention. I think women, in general, struggle with their self-esteem, but I have struggled in the past more than most. It amazed me how showing a tiny little bit of skin would make all the guys stare. I'm not saying that I ever acted on the attention that I got, but it felt good to have it. I think I felt like a used car after ending my marriage, and I wanted to know that someone would still want me. It sounds shallow, but it was true.

Not long into my party phase, something happened that was like a slap in the face to alert me that what I was doing was unhealthy, at best. I was with a group of friends one night that decided to head to a house party after bar time. I knew most of the people I was with, but there were a few new faces. I don't remember much after arriving at the party. I still don't know if someone put something in my drink, but I woke up the next morning and didn't know where I was. By the time I got home, I realized there were bruises all over my body. I was nearly raped. I thank God that he protected me amidst my foolishness.

After that incident, I was definitely more careful about where I went and who I was with. Still, I chose to go downtown on a regular basis. There were many weekends where I even rolled into church Sunday morning quite hungover. It took another incident, a little more recently to finally make me seriously evaluate what I was doing. I'll just say it ended in me not even being able to keep water down for 24 hours, and left Adam pretty hurt after some things I said in my drunken stupor.

It's ironic to me that as parents in general, it seems like we never get enough sleep, like there is never enough money to go around, and on top of that, the enemy is trying to destroy our relationships - why then would we stay up until 2 a.m., and spend $50 on a night of alcohol around people that just want some short-term gratification? I told someone once that getting divorced feels like someone cut your heart out, replaced it with a vacuum and left the wound open. I just wanted anything to fill the void that was consuming me. Drinking seemed to make it all go away...until I woke up the next morning, even more miserable.

I'm not saying that I completely disagree with drinking. (My friends would be quick to point that out!) In fact, I love beer. So much so, that I would probably weigh a little less if I didn't like it! I do still find it enjoyable to go downtown occasionally, too. Last weekend, Adam and I went and played pool, had a couple beers and had a blast. We left early, and were perfectly safe to drive home. I don't want to get in to the debate over whether or not it's okay to drink alcohol. I think for some people it is, and for some it's not. Obviously, just like everything else in life, there has to be some moderation and wisdom about the situations we put ourselves in. God has really been challenging me lately to have some consistency in my life - to practice what I believe. I want people to know that there is something different about me, but it's tough to see that difference if I'm sporting a low-cut blouse and downing shots of tequila.

This is a tough one for me, because at the end of a long week, I'm ready for a beer. Adam and I have been brainstorming about ways to have a fun weekend without so much alcohol. I like our game nights at home with friends, and I'm looking forward to finding some other ways to relax and have a good time(with maybe just 1 or 2 beers instead of 7!). Tonight we're going to a basketball game...GO GRIZ!

"Lord, you know that this is still a struggle for me. Please give me a heart that is soft earth to the seeds that you are planting, and to what you are showing me. Open my eyes to the motives of my heart, and meet me in my desperation. Help me to put energy into creative alternatives, so that I can honor you with my behavior. Help me remember that no one can fill the empty places in my life except you. I've certainly learned that the hard way in the past. Show me how to be wise, to take care of my body, and treat it like a temple. Be the restoration team to come in and clean up the damage I have done to your house. Thank you that you are so good at making something beautiful out of ashes. Help me to remember that 'he who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe' (Proverbs 28:26). Thank you that you loved me through all my foolishness, and love me still."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 3 - Bean-counting, Barbeque Sauce, & Boxing

It's 3:30 in the afternoon, and I've hit "the wall". It occurs to me that by the time 5:30 rolls around, I will have worked 3 different jobs in 24 hours. All I really want to do is curl up into a ball and nap away the afternoon in the warm sunshine streaming through my window. Fat chance. Being a parent is tough. Being a single parent is like living in a circus (minus the cages, although they could come in handy once in a while...just kidding). As part of the circus, I'm trying to learn how to juggle.
If you looked at my resume, you might find it rather comical. I have a college degree in accounting, with an art studio minor. I've worked at a barbecue restaurant for the last 4 years, and I teach aerobic kickboxing at the YMCA. Yesterday, at 1:00, I had to attend a class for a certification in safe alcohol service. Afterwards, I went straight to the restaurant, poured beer for 7 1/2 hours and got people extra ranch, more butter, another diet Pepsi, a bigger chicken breast, a few extra muffins, one of those big huge Kahlua brownies with whipped cream, directions to Kalispell, the phone number to the hotel, and a side of fries - with a smile on my face the whole time (most of the time anyway). I got off work, slept for what felt like 5 minutes, got up, and went to the CPA's office I work in. He helped me prepare an 1120 for a corporation whose books I keep. Highlight of my day. Then, I picked my kids up, ran home, changed and drove to the Y to teach girls how to pulverize a punching bag. By the time I make it to my laptop, I realize that I will probably still smell like a combination of hickory and sweat, have bloody knuckles, and a growling stomach. I muster my best Martha Stewart effort... and pick up some Little Ceasar's.
"Eat your vegetables" I tell the boys.
"Mom, it's just pizza", Tyler says.
"Well, there's tomato sauce" I reply.
"Mom, tomatoes are fruit because they have seeds" Tyler answers.
Shoot. I guess I'm fired. Cursed is the day you can no longer outsmart your children.

Being a single parent sort of eliminates the choice to stay home or work. You have to work. It has to be enough to feed and clothe your children, which means sometimes dreams can get put on hold, maybe indefinitely. Life is also busy, and there is no way around that. Today I was reminded that not every day holds something that seems "blog-worthy". Life can be mundane, and we all have responsibilities. In light of the Christmas season, however, I was challenged by one thing in the middle of all the chaos.
First of all, I love buying gifts, especially at Christmas. This year, it seems like the slumping economy has finally caught up to me. I've tried to be very smart with my money over the last few years and have almost no debt except for a very small amount of student loans. Oddly enough, graduating from college and having a degree actually caused me to take a pay cut. I've felt the monetary shortage even more since sending my son to Christian school, which was very important to me, and draining my savings account to buy a house. It ocurred to me today while I was running around between jobs that the whole reason I work hard is supposedly because I want to take care of my kids. It would be easy to think that I needed to work even more to have enough money to buy them all the presents they want for Christmas. It wasn't until after dinner when I was getting the boys ready for bed that I was reminded that, more than anything, they just want my attention.
I was reading a newsletter for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) this morning ,written by my friend Melissa, who challenged all of us to focus on the relational rather than the material this Christmas season. It reminded me of a tradition my family used to do every year during December. My mom would find a shoebox, cut a little hole in the top, and then wrap it in the prettiest wrapping paper we had. It was our gift box to Jesus. Every time one of us observed a family member say something nice, do something thoughtful or help around the house without complaining, we'd write it down, and put it in the box. On Christmas morning, we'd read our gifts to Jesus - gifts offered out of love, not something purchased.
I don't have enough energy, or time, to make my house look like something in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I don't have enough money to buy my kids everything they want, and I don't want to miss out on their lives trying to get more. I'm going to wrap a shoebox and start giving gifts to Jesus. One of the ways will be by trying to spend more quality time with my kids. It's hard but it's worth it. (If I had a dollar for every time I heard "Mommy!" while writing this, I could buy all the presents they want!) I'm really tired tonight, I don't feel very creative, and I don't want my words to sound fake. I really do want to be a better mom - that's why I'm here.

"Lord, being a parent can be very tiring. Thank you that I don't have to do it on my own strength. Help me make good decisions regarding what I commit myself to. Give me the courage to put my children first, and trust your promise to provide for me. Help me to teach my children the real meaning of Christmas - that we are celebrating the birth of your Son, who was the best gift ever. May I never chase after things, but seek you first, knowing that everything else will be added. And, please, help me get some good rest tonight. :-)"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 2 - The Offensive Lineman

Okay, before I get started, let me just say that I do realize my target audience is largely mothers. Who don't watch football. Or like it. I have to blame my father for my interest in the sport. When I was little, he coached our high school team, and I watched from the sidelines, rode the bus to away games and cheered as loudly as I could (in true tomboy fashion as my father would have died if I joined the cheerleaders). Now, I spend most of my Sunday afternoons curled up on the couch next to Adam watching the games. It's how I grew up and how I love to relax. But, still, you are wondering, what on earth does football have to do with anything spirtitual or anything related to parenting? Here's what Tony Dungy, former coach of the Super-Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, has to say about it:
"Football is just a game. It's not family. It's not a way of life. It doesn't provide any sort of intrinsic meaning. It's just football. It lasts for three hours and when the game is over, it's over. And, frankly,...the fact - that when it's over it's over- is part of football's biggest appeal to me. When a game ends, win or lose, it's time to prepare for the next one. The coaches and players really don't have time to celebrate or stay down, because Sunday's gone, and Monday's here. And no matter what happened yesterday, you have to be ready to play next Sunday. That's how it works - just like life. It's the journey that matters. Learning is more important than the test. Practice well, and the games will take care of themselves. Whether you've been kicked in the teeth or life couldn't get any sweeter, it keeps rolling on...and then there's another game."

Part of my goal for this journey is to be really honest and transparent with my struggles.
Yesterday, I was having a dialogue with God and I felt like the first thing I needed to address was "quiet time". One of the most important parts of our relationship with God is maintaining a connection with Him. I've heard many analogies in my life in regards to alone time with God - such as the comparison of spending time with God to eating. Of course we wouldn't go for days and days without eating, so why wouldn't we "fuel" our spiritual walk with the "bread" that is God's word? I've also heard it likened to a friendship. How great of a friendship would you have if you never called the other person to see how they were doing? In terms of analogies, last night I thought of the offensive lineman(insert -"huh?"). First of all, I would say if I was going to liken my relationship with God to football, I'd have to say I've been on the bench the last few years. Even though Adam and I committed to reading through the Bible this year, I've only done okay - sort of a mediocre effort. I'll read ahead, leave it on my nightstand for weeks at a time and then catch back up. But, back to the linemen...
An offensive lineman's job is pretty tough. They are the biggest, strongest guys on the field, but they get no glory. In fact, they don't even get a spot in fantasy football, because, unless they do something wrong, there aren't really any stats to speak of. The play starts, and that player's job is to use all his muscle to help someone else. They protect the quarterback. They block to let the running back through. If they don't, someone gets hit. Lots of behind-the-scenes work, and not much glory- kind of reminds me of being a parent. So what makes a good lineman, other than just being built like a house? Lots of hard work, and lots of training. Can you imagine what would happen if the lineman started to shirk his workouts during the week? It might not make too much of a difference at first, but after a while, after the ball was snapped, the enemy team would start to run all over that player! The quarterback would get sacked, the running back would never make it past the line of scrimmage - the lineman would be ineffective.
God gives us lots of "game-time" situations in life where we need to represent Him, fight off the enemy and do the right thing. When the situation is over, win or lose, it's over and all we can do is prepare for the next time. It's a tough thing to be a parent. There are so many things that we have to do that no one else sees. All the thanks we get is often an "I don't like you!" or "I want to go to Daddy's"! In light of those challenges, I can't imagine anything more important than going to the source of wisdom for help on a daily basis. So why is it that daily time in God's word is so easy to put off? I think it's just because the enemy wants us on the sidelines. I was challenged to think about it like this:
Every day when it seems like I just don't have enough time, or I just don't "feel like it", I'm going to picture the offensive lineman. I'm going to imagine that my children are in the backfield, and it is their salvation and well-being on the line. Because it is. Would you ever let a 6'8" 300 pound lineman have an easy shot at your children? I don't think so. "Hello!" you say, "How on earth are we supposed to fight off someone twice our weight? Your analogy is breaking down, Shannan." Wouldn't you know, this is what I read in my Bible, just this morning...
"I lift my eyes up to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep." Psalm 121:1-4

Will you commit with me to make time with God a daily habit? It's easier to workout when you have someone to do it with right? It's December, so that means football playoffs are coming soon. Football is going to be on a lot for the next two months. Everytime you see or hear someone talking about football, remind yourself with me that the enemy wants to defeat us, and there is a lot at stake.

"Lord please help me to see the game plan of the enemy that is to make us ineffective, and put us on the bench. Help me to see the weight of what is on the line, and give me the desire to further your kingdom - to not be content with just getting by. Thank you that I don't have to do it alone. Thank you for your promises. Thank you that you love my children more than I ever could. May my time in your word instill in me the heart for them that you have."

...and please help the Vikings win the superbowl! :-)


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 1 - A Little Perspective

Yesterday, after much reflection, I decided that I was going to chronicle a 30-day journey. The "Cliff's Notes" version is that I have spent almost 3 years of pain and heartache trying to learn how to be a single mom following a very painful divorce. During that time, I had a crisis of my faith. The pieces of my life are slowly starting to come back together, but during the process I have met so many people that seem to be in the same kind of pain, the same state of disarray. On top of that, divorce is a tough topic in the church. It is clear that it is not God's design for families to be split up, but then there are some tough circumstances. It seems easiest, in the midst of our pain during divorce, to retreat into solitude, to withhold the dark struggles we face on a daily basis for fear of judgment being passed upon us. Instead of seeking God, we often avoid him, afraid that we have irrevocably destroyed our lives and our dreams.

I started to wonder what on earth I could do. I'm certainly not a counselor, and I DEFINITELY don't have everything figured out yet. Then, God brought someone across my path that reminded me how powerful it is when we can share each other's burdens. So, that's why I'm here. I'm here because I know all too well that there are many of you walking through the quicksand that seems to be so common for those of us that are in the middle of, or trying to heal from a divorce or separation. I'm also here, because there were many, many times that I looked for various things to ease the pain I was experiencing only to find it lacking the comfort I sought. There are still many struggles I am faced with on a daily basis. My hope for this blog is that through this process, God will renew in me the passion I once had, and that maybe one or two of you will come along and experience the same thing. That said, here was my start to day one:

Nothing could have prepared me for how my morning would start. My alarm went off, as usual, and I hit the snooze button 5 times, as usual. I got the boys ready to head out the door. Ty is in his first year at school, and it is certainly an adjustment for 6 year-olds to have to get up at 7:15 a.m. on a daily basis. It wasn't until I returned home, however, that the difficult events began to unfold.
I am fortunate enough to be experiencing the ups and downs of dating again. Adam, my wonderful man, called me this morning with the news that his closest high school buddy, John, lost his wife in a car accident earlier today. They had only been married a little over a year. Unfortunately, tragedy was already too well known to John. He lost his father in a similar accident during his high school years. My heart aches for him.
I started to cry looking at pictures of the young couple. Suddenly everything else seemed so minute. The stress of wrestling two young boys turned into joy looking at their precious faces. Agonizing over my future, my career, and my relationships became meaningless as I praised God for the air in my lungs, even as tears continued to fall down my face. My body that I sometimes despised for it's scars and imperfections was so beautiful to me, because it was full of life. Adam held me in a vice grip as we prayed for John, his family, and his wife's family and friends.
Whenever we lose someone we love, we tend to think about how abruptly life can end. On the flip-side of that, as I was driving to school, I thought of something I heard Chris Rock say in a movie. (While I wouldn't really consider the man a good source for spiritual wisdom, he managed to have a very profound thought for once) Rock's character is wrestling with the temptation of cheating on his wife and his voice over thought is this: "You know, some people say that life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it's your last. Bull#$@!. Life is long. You're probably not going to get hit by a bus. And you're gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next 50 years."
I don't want to undermine the pain that John, his family and Kelly's family is experiencing right now. Tragedy can be an unbearable thing, and for those that experience it, life is short. But, it made me realize that whether life is short and we only have a brief time here on earth, or whether we live a long time, one thing remains true: we become the sum of our choices. The sum of my choices over the past few years have been very selfish, fueled by a desire to ease the pain I had experienced. I was challenged last night by this excerpt of Stasi Elderedge's booklet "You are Captivating":
"The more we lay down our lives and our control...the more true life we will offer and receive. It is difficult to love. I know! We won't always choose well. I certainly don't. And dear heart, there is grace for us! But, so often, someone will have to pay the cost to love...either in loving or in not being loved. Sometimes we need to lay aside our time, our days, even our careers for a season so that our children will receive from us what they so desperately need - ourselves! And yes, it is hard to do! But in our relationships with our children, when someone has to pay, when someone has to lay their life down...let it be us. Not our children."
The sum of our choices, more than anything, has a profound effect on our children. Today, may we be reminded of the choice God made to give up his son for us. He knows the pain of losing someone. He knows the number of our days, but we don't. May we choose today to lay down our lives, for they are not ours anyway. May we give of ourselves to our children and put their needs before our own. Our lives may be short, or we may live to be 100. All we know is that we have today.
"Dear Lord,
Thank you for giving me life. Thank you for blessing me with the ability to bring life into this world. Today, I surrender my life to you. May the sum of my choices honor you and put your love on display to my children. Comfort those of us who know heartache and tragedy. You are the lover of our souls, and you long to partner with us and shoulder our burdens. Help us to let go of our burdens and not retreat into solitude to fight our battles alone. Wrap us in your unconditional love so that we are rooted and established "to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18) Fill our empty places with yourself, and may we have the courage not to try to fill the void with anything else. Thank you that we never truly have to parent alone, for you are always by our side. Amen"